Wednesday, November 30, 2005

An evangelical critique of the pro-war position

Hat tip: Jarrod Cochran.

by Samuel J. Ross

In February of 2003, shortly before the U.S. declared war on Iraq, I asked my pastor if I could make a one-minute announcement from the pulpit about a letter I wrote to President Bush opposing the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq, giving congregants the opportunity to respond. As a Christian, I opposed the war on many grounds, and was concerned with the reflexive response of many of my fellow Christians to stand with President Bush and the current administration without critically thinking through what a Christian response might look like. My motivation was to give those in my local church the opportunity to sign the letter if they wished, to begin thinking soberly about their specific response, with the promise of sending it on to Washington the next day.

My request was flatly denied, despite having preached many times from this same pulpit (thirteen times in all!). A year earlier, a complete stranger had been granted unquestioned access to this same pulpit to make a lengthy announcement promoting a “God and Country” rally shortly after the tragic events of September 11th. One of the concerns the pastor and elders had with my peace-promoting announcement was that our particular church had no policy or stance on the topic of war. Is this to suggest that if they did have a policy, it might read, “No member of this congregation shall promote peace from the pulpit”? Furthermore, why was I not afforded at least equal access as the stranger who was permitted to speak for nearly 10 minutes on the merits of wedding God with country? I’ve discovered three reasons why my pro-peace announcement was so unpopular. Ironically, one of these reasons was revealed by the stranger who was permitted unbridled access to the pulpit that day to promote God and Country.

I’ve discovered many strangers in the pulpits of evangelical churches in this post-9/11 era. Some of the names of these strangers are nationalism, populism, corporatism, and patriotism. Many of these strangers are given unquestioned access to American pulpits. These strangers aren’t required to submit their sermons for review, won’t appear in the church bulletin, on church marquees, or in the Saturday church section of your local newspaper. These strangers don’t request the pulpit to make one-minute announcements, paid-political advertisements, or special guest appearances. Instead, they receive unrestricted, voluntary, and unexamined access to America’s pulpits. Why?

Many Christians in the American evangelical church have made a practice of defaulting to the right-wing political position that Republican politics provides. In recent decades, the evangelical church has become a spawning ground for a popular, pervasive, and unexamined Christian nationalism, despite plentiful biblical evidence opposing that position. This is nothing new. This penchant for power has been alive throughout the history of the church. Since Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century, the Catholic Church has made an art form of being on the power side of politics, from the inquisitions to the reformation age, and more recently during the Nazi era from 1930 to 1945. During the early 1940s the Nazis were fond of saying, “Deutschland uber alles!” which translated means “Germany over all!” There is a striking similarity of this popular Nazi chant and the desire that many evangelicals possess today to make the rest of American culture conform to their moral template of success for America. This reflexive posture is promulgated by many prominent Christian television and radio personalities and largely disseminated to the culture through the pulpits of America’s local evangelical churches.

After the stranger had finished his unabashed promotion of church and state, I had the opportunity to approach him and ask him what biblical basis existed for uniting God and country. He had no response to this, choosing instead to launch into a rant about the dangers of abortion. Many evangelicals, like this man, have a deep-seated desire to impact the political process through legislating their own beliefs on the country. As a Christian, I oppose abortion too, but ironically, making abortion a crime again won’t make America a more “Christian” country. What it will do, however, is broadcast to the culture at large that Christians in general and evangelicals in particular are more interested in law than grace.  Civil laws may change behavior, but only God can truly change people’s desire, their motivation, or why they believe what they believe. Most Christians are very comfortable with their pro-life position, but they are often guilty of making it the ONLY issue. They are not unlike single-issue politicians. Since Roe v. Wade was enacted in 1973, an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy, and manpower has gone into overturning this political mandate (it is still law, by the way). The opportunity costs, that is, what could have been done with that same time, money, energy, and manpower, have been nothing short of astronomical. All other issues, including the death penalty and war (issues which also involve death) have taken a very deep backseat to the issue of abortion. The culture knows where evangelicals stand on the abortion issue, but it sees them taking a stand for little else. Like one-issue candidates, they are seen as unworthy of serious reflection and consideration. This was the problem with the stranger in the pulpit. His agenda was not really wedding God with country for its own sake (as unbiblical as that is). His real goal, and that of many evangelical Christians, is to attain a Christian majority and overthrow Roe v. Wade once and for all. The question that begs to be asked if this ultimately became reality is: In what would Christians invest their time, money, talents, and energy next?

While a Christian majority might seem like a desirable goal (especially if you are a Christian), it reveals a fundamental flaw in the thinking and theology of evangelicals. Often, their thoughts and subsequent actions reveal a God who is too small. Isaiah 50:2 contrasts the disobedient young nation of Israel with the true servant. Isaiah asks, “Is my hand so short that it cannot ransom (save)? Or have I no power to deliver?”  The big flaw in the American evangelical church is that it erroneously believes it must be a majority to impact the culture. God’s arm is already plenty long enough without a Christian majority to change people’s lives. Indeed, history confirms the power and potential of minority groups and their life-altering character. Several pivotal historical events over the past five centuries testify to this truth. From the Reformation in 1533, to the founding of this country in 1776, to civil rights gains in the 1960s, the power and potential of minority groups have been clearly demonstrated. Clearly, Christianity works better as a minority movement than a monolithic majority. Biblical history is replete with the underdog rising up and overwhelming the powerful majority. The story of Israel rising up over the Egyptians, David defeating Goliath, the vindication of the prophets’ message, the incarnation of Christ and his ultimate victory at the Cross, and the spread of Christianity across the globe all demonstrate the power and potential of minority movements overcoming the entrenched majority.

Finally, and the reason why I was not allowed to make a one-minute announcement about promoting peace on the eve of war is that many evangelical Christians have little appreciation for disagreement of any kind. Like the stranger in the pulpit, many evangelical Christians have a very narrow tolerance for dissent as well as dissonance. Dissent can simply be defined as disagreement with the majority opinion. By dissonance, I’m referring to the level at which dialogue of an issue quickly reaches a harsh, discordant, and disharmonic pitch. Unresolved dissonance prevents us from reaching out in tangible ways to others who may be hurting, extending grace to the needy, clarifying differences, moving toward the middle to gain perspective, consciously becoming vulnerable, or offering forgiveness or confession. My dissent (on the war) created a level of dissonance (bolstered by the currently popular political position) that was not easily overcome. Because many evangelicals believe that they must be a majority to impact the culture, they have not thought through what life as a minority might look or feel like. Nor have they given serious consideration to the impact they might have on issues other than abortion. Perhaps this is one reason why my church had no policy on war. Not only was it a convenient first-line excuse, sadly it was true. There are many more questions the American evangelical church must ask itself and work through if it wishes to impact its culture in a way which creates curiosity rather than confusion, intrigue rather than interrogation, dialogue rather than dissonance, and leaves in its wake grace rather than legalism.

If evangelical Christians in America want to have a voice in the culture, they must accept their minority role and accept and work through the dissent and dissonance (even amongst their own) that naturally result when wrestling with issues that matter. Lastly, they must do this by resisting the temptation to default to the popular majority political position (be it Democratic or Republican). This reflexive default to power will not gain them a wide hearing, but will render their message more difficult to hear and relegate them further to the margins of American society. And that just might be a fate worse than hell for most American evangelical Christians.

(S. J. Ross is a freelance writer who lives in central Ohio. He is a doctoral student at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, OH. His thesis attempts to impact evangelical churches toward considering an anti-war position.)

A note from Mr. Schellack

Mr. Reppert,
I write to you on an impulse, and I hope you will forgive any  incoherence on my part.  I have appreciated your work on Mr. Lewis'  argument from reason.  I actually used something like it a few weeks  back at a debate held by the Vanderbilt Socratic Club.  Oddly enough  the response by my interlocutor was "Of course, I accept all your  arguments.  My thoughts are merely functions of my brain and are  neither rational nor reliable sources of knowledge, reason, or sound  beliefs."  He was OK with that.  Does not all communication break  down at that point!!

VR: Aristotle responded to this kind of position this way. He said "Either you are saying something or you're not. If you are, then the rules of logic and reasoning apply. If you're not, then we should treat you as a plant, because you don't really have a statement to be considered.

S: I have been pondering that point, as well as a good many other  thoughts deriving from my prayer time and Scripture reading on how  Agape should look in daily life of a Christian, and I am hard pressed  to believe that rational arguments hold much sway these days.  They  are very important for me, but it seems for a great many, if not the  majority of people my age are not at all interested in whether or not  Christianity is true.  Rrather they are interested in whether or not  they need it.  The logical response is "Of course you need it!  If  its true, you will have to face it!  Not to mention you will be  living your life in spite and contraposed to the fabric and flow of  the universe."  But their response is, "I get along just fine without  believing; why does it matter?"  Once again, they are not interested  in truth or falsehood.  Even when proved they shrug it off.  The  modern post-Enlightenment period benefited a good bit from rational  argument--people understood the rules and could generally recognize  (as I think Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters somewhere) when an  argument had been defeated.  So I am beginning to believe that the  power and relevance of Christ these days must be demonstrated in and  through our actions.  The message of Jesus is the 'transvaluation of  all ideals", and I am beginning to think that is the only thing that  will wake people up to the truth of who God is.

Grace and Peace,
Benjamin Schellack

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mea Culpa

Mike at rereason takes me to task for a misleading post about reading Narnia in Florida. He's right of course (though I'm not sure I agree with AU's position).

Monday, November 28, 2005

Here we go again with Anscombe nonsense

Nuff said. No, let me repeat what I posted back on June 28:

My researches into the Anscombe exchange show pretty clearly 1) Anscombe provided some legitimate objections to the formulation of the argument against naturalism as found in the first edition of Miracles. 2) Lewis seems to have felt discouraged in the immediate aftermath of the exchange, as shown by comments he made to literary friends. 3) Lewis did not think that Anscombe’s considerations put the naturalist in the clear; in fact, Lewis employs Anscombe’s distinctions in the response that appears in the very issue of the Socratic Digest in which Anscombe’s paper appeared. 4) Anscombe considered the revised argument much more serious than the first edition, although she did not endorse it. 5) Lewis's revisions, along with other philosophical considerations, show that Lewis's argument, properly reformulated, can survive Anscombe's objections. 6) Although Lewis published no more books about apologetics after the Anscombe exchange, he did write many articles devoted to apologetics, revising and expanding the controversial chapter of Miracles for the Fontana edition. You don't expand a chapter you think has been proven wrong. 7) Attempts by A. N. Wilson and others to identify the Green Witch in Narnia (who attempt to persuade the children that the Overworld does not exist) with Anscombe are complete and utter nonsense.

A list of logical fallacies

Mike Darus wanted to know where you can get a list of logical fallacies. Well, this is it, from Wikipedia, with links to other sources on fallacies.

An atheist perspective on Mere Christianity

This is an attack on C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity I found on the Internet Infidels discussion board. And then there's a link to another piece of Jack-hammering.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Notes on The First Two Chapters of Mere Christianity

Book I: Right and Wrong as the Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

I. General Considerations:
A. Mere Christianity is a work in Christian apologetics. It attempts to show that a rational person can and should be a Christian believer. In response to the view that Christianity requires “blind faith” Lewis responds by saying “I am not asking anyone to believe in Christianity if his best reason tells him the weight of the evidence is against it. This is not where faith comes in.”
B. This is not a book for experts. Lewis says that he is attempting to “translate” Christian theology into the language of non-specialists. In fact he says that if you can’t explain it in terms that non-specialists can understand, you don’t really understand it yourself. This book, in fact, was a series of talks given over the radio during WWII.
C. Lewis is concerned that modern people, coming to Christianity, very often lack much of any idea of what it is they need to be saved from. He thinks Christianity does not make sense unless people have a sense of themselves as sinners.
D. Although what he presents is known as the moral argument for belief in the existence of God, its goal is also directed not so much toward atheists as common people who may have some belief in God but do not think that they need to be saved by Christ.
II. Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature
A. What is “The Law of Human Nature?” How does it differ from a) the speed limit, and b) the law of gravity?
B. Lewis says the phenomenon of quarreling implies that people implicitly believe in the Law of Human Nature, whether they think they do or not. That is, they criticize others for acting wrongly, and when they are themselves criticized for acting wrongly, they respond in ways that acknowledge the standard of right and wrong. That is, either they excuse their actions, or they say that their actions really meet the standards set by the law, etc. They do not typically refuse to acknowledge the law itself.
C. At this point Lewis poses the question of moral relativism. What Lewis is defending here is a doctrine opposed to the doctrine of moral relativism, or moral subjectivism, according to which something is right or wrong not absolutely, but only relative to a particular individual or culture’s preference. Depending on what version of relativism you are talking about, moral judgments are not simply true or false, they are true or false relative to what some individual or society prefers. The relativist position goes back to Protagoras from Ancient Greece, who said, “Man is the measure of all things." Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle opposed relativism, and said that moral judgments can be objectively true or false.
1. Is this relativist point of view something you hear a lot in today’s world? Do you have any tendency in your own mind to accept it yourself? I find that people will defend this position in the interests of tolerance. But, of course, tolerance is a true value only if there are objective moral values.
D. Do people have different moralities, which are true for them? Yes, but a study of different moral codes from different times and countries show an underlying similarity.
E. Consider, for example the abortion controversy. (The example is mine, not Lewis’s) This seems on the face of things to show how deep and irresolvable our ethical differences are, but really this is false. You never hear pro-life people saying that the quality of life is not a value, and you never hear pro-choice people saying that human life is not valuable. The combatants in this controversy agree on the basic values; what they disagree about is how they apply to the case of human fetuses, and whether quality of life considerations ever “trump” the value of life.
F. The second claim Lewis makes is that human beings do not live up to the moral standards that they themselves believe in.
III. Chapter 2: Some Objections:
A. Is the moral law just herd instinct?
1. Lewis says that the moral law is not just an instinct, it is something that adjudicates between instincts and tells us which one to obey.
B. Isn’t the Law of Human Nature just social convention?
1. The differences of morality are not all that great
2. When we think of moral differences, we think that the morality of one people is better than another.
3. Some people are “pioneers” who have a better sense of the moral law than other people
a. Examples (mine, not his) Gandhi, King, Wilberforce, etc.
b. To say that laws are most just today with regard to race than they were 50 years ago implies that there is a standard of right and wrong according to which both today’s laws and laws 50 years ago are to be judged.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bart Simpson's Thanksgiving Prayer

We paid for this ourselves, so thanks for nothing.

The Kansas ID controversy

The only way to really find out what the Kansas board of education decided about ID and evolution is to read what they actually said. This is a blog entry by John West concerning this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


This is the 42nd anniversary of C. S. Lewis's death. Oh yeah, there were a couple of other guys who died the same day. I forget their names.

Vallicella on Putnam and intentionality

This is another excellent piece by Vallicella on intentionality.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Robert Velarde replies to Gopnik

This is Robert Velarde's response to Gopnik, which appeared at Doug Groothuis's blog.

Mere Christianity Study Guide

This is a link to a study guide for Mere Christianity, which comes from Mississippi College. Since I am doing leading a study of that book at my church, this may be helpful to some people.

Some notes on Aristotle for my PHI 101 class

I. Aristotle’s Life
II. Relationship to his teacher Plato:
A. While Plato’s philosophy is idealistic, inspiring, otherworldly and perfectionist, Aristotle’s is realistic, scientific, this-worldly and pragmatic.
B. Styles are different largely in virtue of what has survived. Plato’s dialogues survived, Aristotle’s lecture notes survived.
C. Picture of the School of Athens: Plato points up (to the Forms), Aristotle point down (at the world of our experience).
D. For Plato the model for knowledge is mathematics. For Aristotle it’s biology. What’s the difference? Biology relies extensively on observation.
E. Example: Plato’s social/political philosophy defines an ideal society. He doesn’t care if it’s attainable, and even tells you how it will fall apart if it is achieved. Aristotle’s looks at actual societies to see which ones work the best. He surveys 158 constitutions and decides which ones work the best in what circumstances.
III. Theory of knowledge
A. All human beings desire by nature desire to know.
B. For Plato there can be no science (rational discourse) of particular things.
For Aristotle there can be, in fact knowledge begins with the study of particular things.
C. It is a mistake to study an abstract quality in isolation form concrete exemplifications.
D. Presupposes that language and thought are congruent to the structure of reality. How could we understand nature if there is no affinity between nature and our minds?
E. The ten categories
1. What is it?
2. How large is it?
3. What is it like?
4. How is it related?
5. Where is it?
6. When does it exist?
7. What position is it in?
8. What condition is it in?
9. What is it doing?
10. How is it acted upon?
Would Plato ask the questions that have been put into the ten categories?
F. The discovery of logic, the science of arguments. Aristotle discovered that you could distinguish the form of an argument from the content of the argument. Aristotle put statements into categories and show how you can determine, based on the structure of an argument, whether or not the argument is valid.
1. An argument is valid, just in case, on the assumption that the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. If an argument is valid, the internal logic of the argument is solid. The argument can only be challenged externally, but attacking the truth of the premises
2. Validity is a matter of logical form. A valid argument can be given in favor of a false conclusion, or even in favor of a stupid conclusion.
3. Other argument forms to not reliably get true conclusions if the premises are true. There are invalid arguments.
G. First principles
1. Aristotle maintained that there were certain fundamental principles in every discipline. Although some people would like to think they can, or should, prove everything they believe, Aristotle realized that you can demand proof for the premises every time proof is offered, and impose an infinite regress. Some things are so basic as not to require proof.
2. An example would be the law of noncontradiction in logic, the claim that a statement and its contradictory cannot both be true. The trouble here is that any argument for the law of noncontradiction is going to assume the law of noncontradiction, and thereby be open to charge of being a circular argument. However, if someone doesn’t believe in the law of noncon, Aristotle will ask “Are you really saying that?” If the person says they are making a statement, then Aristotle will say that the person has implicitly accepted the law of non-contradiction. If the person says “No, I’m not really saying that,” then Aristotle says “Well, if you aren’t really saying anything, then I really have nothing to respond to,” and treat the person as a cabbage.

Edward Feser on the argument from Intentionality

The following is from Philosophy of Mind: an Introduction, by Edward Feser. Hat tip: Joe Markus from the Internet Infidels Discussion board.

When you draw your mother, you are creating a kind of representation of her. But notice that it is not the particular physical features of the drawing itself - the form of the lines you make, the chemicals in the ink you use, and so forth - which make it a representation of her.........Someone looking over your shoulder as you draw might later on produce an exact copy of the drawing you were making. Perhaps the person admires your craftsmanship and wants to see if he or she can do as well. But in doing so the person would not, strictly speaking, be drawing a respresentation of your mother - he or she may have no idea, nor any interest in, who it was that you were drawing - but rather a representation of your representation. And, in general, the very same image could count either as a drawing of an X, or as a drawing of a drawing of X - or indeed (supposing there's someone looking over the shoulder of the second artist and copying what he or she was drawing) as a drawing of a drawing of a drawing of an X, and so on ad infinitum.......Even if we count something as a drawing, and therefore as possessing some intentionality or other, exactly what it is a drawing of is still indeterminate from its physical properties alone. The same is true not just of drawings, but also of written and spoken words (for to say or write "cat" could be to represent cats, but it could also be to represent the word "cat") and indeed any material representation, including purported representations encoded in neural firing patterns in the brain. There seems in general to be nothing about the physical properties of a material representation that make it a material representation of an X as opposed to a material representation of a material representation of an X.......Sometimes, however, you are determinately thinking about a particular thing or person, such as your mother. Your thought about your mother is about your mother - it represents your mother, and doesn't represent a representation of your mother (representations, pictures, and the like might be the furthest thing from your mind). But then your thought, whatever it is, cannot be entirely material. Given that there's nothing about a material representation per se that could make it a representation of an X as opposed to a representation of a representation of an X, if your thought was entirely material then there would be no fact of the matter about whether your thought represented your mother as opposed to a representation of your mother. Your thought is determinate; purely material representations are not; so your thought is not purely material.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Vallicella on intentionality

Because of some of the interest in the issue of intentionality, I have redated this post to today.

Vallicella has been talking about intentionality in several posts, here, here, and here.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The shorte version of Paradise Lost

"Milton's Paradise Lost, one of the most sublime works of Western
literature, was reduced to a four-line text message (txtmsg) yesterday with
the blessing of the Lord Northcliffe professor emeritus of modern English
literature at University College, London (fule)," reports London's Daily

It read: "Devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war.pd'off wiv god
so corupts man(md by god) wiv apel.devl stays serpnt 4hole life&man ruind.
Woe un2mnkind."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

An Internet Infidels discussion I started on intentionality.

I put a link to my response to Carrier on intentionality. I started the discussion and chose the topic, but somehow I'm guilty of the red herring fallacy. I didn't know that was possible.

David Downing on the C. S. Lewis nonsense machine

I sent a letter to fellow Lewis scholar David Downing warning him (as if he didn't already know) that the C. S. Lewis nonsense machine is about to kick into high gear.

You're saying it hasn't kicked in already? I don't know which creates more weariness of the spirit--the relentless marketing of the movie (+ games, toys, Narnia McNuggets or whatever) or the jaded reviews by the critics.
Did you see the sardonic piece in the NYT by Charles McGrath? He drags out A. N. Wilson, Philip Pullman, all the usual suspects. Lewis wrote 60 years ago about "the habitual baseless arrogance of critics." It is clear things have only gotten worse since then. The film is not due out for another month, and I think I'm already coming down with a case of "Chronicles Fatigue Syndrome."
But I believe it will all be worth it if the current mania turns people's attention to the Narnia books, and then on to the rest of the Lewis canon. If even Balaam's ass could find his appointed place in the work of the Kingdom, then I'm sure Hollywood moguls and movie trinketeers might just find have their own part to play in a scenario much grander than any they could have imagined for the silver screen . . .

This is a link to Downing's book Into the Wardrobe.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Adam Gopnik on C. S. Lewis

Anyone who thinks that Wilson has written a good biography of Lewis should read John Beversluis's "Surprised by Freud." Beversluis is anything but a Lewis partisan; he wrote a full-length critique of Lewis's apologetics in 1985. But he has no use for the kind of psycholoanalyzing Wilson indulges in. Unfortunately, it's not online. Or you can read Gilbert Meilaender's critique of Wilson,

or this by Kay Lindskoog.

And what do we make of a comment like "Lewis never stops to ask very hard why this faith rather than some other," and again "He is never troubled by the funny coincidence that thsi one staggering cosmic truth happens to be the established religioin of his own tribe, supported by every institution of the state, and reinforced by the university he works in, what Gladstone called the "God-fearing and God-supporting university of Oxford."

Really. Isn't that where Richard Dawkins hangs out these days? And wasn't he refused a full-professor position at Oxford because of his open espousal of Christianity? And he wrote at some length about why this faith and no other, and it was "Mere Christianity," not some sectarian doctrine, that he spent his life defending.

Again we get the "C. S. Lewis cult" gambit. Lewis has a "cult following," therefore anything his supporters say about him must be bunk; we have the more realistic portrait here." I don't deny the existence of misguided devotion to Lewis; what I deny is the implied Bulverization of anyone who rejects some negative characterization in particular.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Now they're suing schools for reading Narnia

Here is a news release about the separation of church and state lawsuit concerning state sponsorship for reading Narnia in school.

Is the AFR a transcendental argument"

This is another redated post to answer a question that was asked my by Mr. Sabatino, and which gets asked from time to time. See also my response to Don Jones a few weeks back.

I got a note from Robert Larmer asking me if I thought the Argument from Reason was a teleological argument or a transcendental argument. This is a very interesting question. I personally prefer to just call it the argument from reason and not try to put it into any of Kant's classifications (ontological, cosmological, teleological, moral, etc.) Richard Purtill, in C. S. Lewis's Case for the Christian Faith, identifies it as a teleological argument.

I think the argument has a transcendental character to it that is absent, from, let's say, the argument from consciousness. The straightforward argument from consciousness is sometimes answered simply by denying that there is consciousness is the sense that the arguer means to suggest that there is consciousness. But if you deny that there is reason, but still try to reason, if is like writing a book to prove that books don't exist.

On the other hand, the terms Transcendental Argument has been hijacked by presuppositional apologists like Van Til and Bahnsen, and I want to maintain that there is a fundamental difference between Lewis's and my argument on the one hand, and theirs. Just for starters, the AFR is an argument in support of the claim that the universe, or what caused the universe, is mental rather than physical. In C. S. Lewis's Miracles we find it used to attack naturalism, but when Lewis gets to his chapter on Pantheism/Absolute Idealism we find him using other arguments. He does not argue that these positions, which are positions distinct from theism but which nonetheless claim that what is fundamental to the universe is rational but not nonrational, are false because they are inconsistent with the validity of reasoning. TAG, on the other hand, seems to be an argument against everything except Christianity. Its claim seems to be that we have to accept Christian Theism as an absolute presupposition, (and I think they mean by that Calvinistic Christian theism) because all other views lead to incoherence. I wouldn't say that, and neither would Lewis, Dick Purtill, William Hasker, and other AFR defenders.

Years ago I did listen to the debate between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein and I did think that Bahnsen posed some embarrassing questions to Stein. But Stein was not a philosopher. When you see a TAG defender going up against a real philosopher like Michael Martin or Theodore Drange, these philosophers seem to be able to expose serious weaknesses in the TAG methodology. Still, I would agree with Bahnsen that the question "What are laws of logic and how do they fit into a naturalistic world view" is an embarrassing question for a materialistic or naturalistic atheist.

A note from Mr. Sabatino

JS: First of all - great blog. You seem to be really interactive and up to date
on arguments for the existence of God and I really appreciate your presence
on the web. I have few a questions for you on the Argument from Reason...

Is the following argument by Doug Groothuis a species of the "Argument from

VR: In a word, yes. I think Doug wrote that one around 1990.

And isn't Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism also a kind
of Argument from Reason?

VR: It's certainly a version of it, and one that works from the point of view of an externalist epistemology. A few years back I expressed some reservations about its soundness, but I also present a very sketchy version of it as the "Argument from the Reliability of our Rational Faculties" in C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. In fact, I was at Notre Dame when Plantinga was starting to work on it, and I pointed out the connection between his argument in Lewis's. He acknowledged this in the final footnote of Warrant and Proper Function.

Further - don't these all fall under the category of Transcendental

VR: See the updated post below that I gave in answer to the same question I got from Canadian philosopher Robert Larmer.

A new book on C. S. Lewis

This is a book on Lewis's apologetics that apparently just appeared Oct. 9.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


This is from Robert Crowther (sorry I didn't include this at first). I report, you decide.

NPR Exposes Attacks On Scientists Skeptical of Darwinism (
Finally a mainstream media organization--and would you believe it is NPR?--is covering the glaring cases of viewpoint discrimination on America's campuses, and even at the Smithsonian Institution. The report ( on contemporary abuses of academic freedom aired today on All Things Considered and in it NPR's Barbara Bradley Haggerty describes the way Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education have organized attacks on scientists known to harbor sympathies for intelligent design and to doubt Darwinism.

Scott probably thought that she could count on NPR to edit out remarks of hers that make her sound like Madame DeFarge, the execution-relishing Dickens character from A Tale of Two Cities. But they did not. Apparently, there are still some editors at NPR who think academic freedom means something.

Hagerty reports that NPR spoke with:

"18 university professors and scientists who subscribe to intelligent design, most would not speak on the record for fear of losing their jobs. One untenured professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia wrote that talking to NPR would be 'the kiss of death.' Another said there is no way I would reveal myself prior to obtaining tenure."
I'm sure Madame DeFarge is searching out these secret skeptics even as you read this.

The first segment is about Richard Sternberg, the Smithsonian scientist with two doctorates in evolutionary biology who has been hounded by the NCSE and perfervid Darwinists at the National Museum of Natural History--deprived of his office, research materials and even his key to the building. Why? Because he had the temerity to publish a peer-reviewed article on intelligent design by Stephen Meyer, senior fellow of Discovery Institute.

(The after-the-fact censorship of Meyer's article didn't work; you and thousands of others have read it HERE.)
The Smithsonian's response to NPR's inquiries about the Sternberg case was to stonewall the reporter. Is anyone on Capitol Hill noticing this kind of behavior?

The story includes other organized efforts to get suspect professors fired or denied tenure or simply sent to Coventry, including biologist Caroline Crocker at George Mason University and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State, among others.

Next question: will the NCSE and Co. try to get Ms Haggerty fired? You just can't have reporters going around, you know...reporting.


Robert L. Crowther

Director of Communications

Center for Science & Culture

(206) 292-0401 x107

Read Evolution News & Views, our blog on media coverage of the debate over evolution at

Intelligent Design: The Future, a daily blog about the science behind intelligent design at:

More anti-Lewis gossip mongering

This is a link to a Sunday Times article that is critical of Lewis. The following is my response:

I pick up a technique in Lewis-bashing which strikes me as troublesome: you argue against people who suppose that Lewis was a plaster saint, argue that he wasn't and then sneak in all sorts of negative stuff about him, with the implication that if you disagree you are just one of those devotees who can't see anything negative in their hero. Has anyone found the cult of the perpetually virginal C. S. Lewis, except maybe Walter Hooper (and he has retracted the shameful unconsummated marriage claim)? Any card-carrying members in your acquaintance? Anybody deny that Lewis drank alcohol? Anybody try to argue that the beer in "Beer and Beowulf" was really O'Doul's non-alcoholic beer? As for Mrs. Moore, there is some inductive evidence to suggest there had been an intimate relationship. But Lewis his pre-conversion life with no belief in chastity so what do you expect. Though we can't be sure, unless Lewis comes back from the dead and tells us "I did not (or did) have sexual relations with that woman, Mrs. Moore."

And will people get it through their heads: Susan Pevensie did not go to hell! There's no reason to believe that she was permanently cut off from Narnia, or heaven, because she became a little too fond of lipstick in her late adolescence.

If you don't like C. S. Lewis, that's no excuse for writing nonsense about him.

Carrier on The Argument from Intentionality

This is a version of part of the paper I presented in England. I am bumping it up to today to help understand some of the intentionality issues we have been discussing.

This is what I now have in the intentionality section of my paper:

I. The Argument from Intentionality
The first of the arguments that I presented is the Argument from Intentionality. Physical states have physical characteristics, but how can it be a characteristic of, say, some physical state of my brain, that it is about dogs Boots and Frisky, or about my late Uncle Stanley, or even about the number 2. Can’t we describe my brain, and its activities, without having any clue as to what my thoughts are about?
To consider this question, let us give a more detailed account of what intentionality is. Angus Menuge offers the following definition:
1) The representations are about something
2) They characterize the thing in a certain way
3) What they are about need not exist
4) Where reference succeeds, the content may be false
5) The content defines an intensional context in which the substitution of equivalents typically fails
So, if I believe that Boots and Frisky are in the back yard, this belief has to be about those dogs, I must have some characterization of those dogs in mind that identifies them for me, my thoughts can be about them even if, unbeknownst to me, they have just died, my reference two those two dogs can succeed even if they have found their way into the house, and someone can believe that Boots and Frisky are in the back yard without believing that “the Repperts’ 13 year old beagle” and “the Repperts’ 8 year old mutt” are in the back yard.
It is important to draw a further distinction, a distinction between original intentionality, which is intrinsic to the person possessing the intentional state, and derived or borrowed intentionality, which is found in maps, words, or computers. Maps, for example, have the meaning that they have, not in themselves, but in relation to other things that possess original intentionality, such as human persons. There can be no question that physical systems possess derived intentionality. But if they possess derived intentionality in virtue of other things that may or may not be physical systems, this does not really solve the materialist’s problem.
The problem facing a physicalist account of intentionality is presented very forcefully by John Searle:
Any attempt to reduce intentionality to something nonmental will always fail because it leaves out intentionality. Suppose for example that you had a perfect causal account of the belief that water is wet. This account is given by stating the set of causal relations in which a system stands to water and to wetness and these relations are entirely specified without any mental component. The problem is obvious: a system could have all those relations and still not believe that water is wet. This is just an extension of the Chinese Room argument, but the moral it points to is general: You cannot reduce intentional content (or pains, or "qualia") to something else, because if you did they would be something else, and it is not something else." (Searle, Rediscovery p. 51).
Admittedly, this is merely an assertion of something that needs to be brought out with further analysis. It seems to me that intentionality, as I understand it, requires consciousness. There are systems that behave in ways such that, in order to predict their behavior, it behooves us to act as if they were intentional systems. If I am playing chess against a computer, and I am trying to figure out what to expect it to play, then I am probably going to look for the moves it think are good and expect the computer to play those. I act as if the computer were conscious, even though I know that it has no more consciousness than a tin can. Similarly, we can look at the bee dances and describe them in intentional terms; the motions the bees engage in enable the other bees to go where the pollen is, but it does not seem plausible to attribute a conscious awareness of what information is being sent in the course of the bee dance. We can look at the bees as if they were consciously giving one another information, but the intentionality as-if intentionality, not the kind of original intentionality we find in conscious agents. As Colin McGinn writes:

I doubt that the self-same kind of content possessed by a conscious perceptual experience, say, could be possessed independently of consciousness; such content seems essentially conscious, shot through with subjectivity. This is because of the Janus- faced character of conscious content: it involves presence to the subject, and hence a subjective point of view. Remove the inward-looking face and you remove something integral—what the world seems like to the subject.

If we ask what the content of a word is, the content of that word must be the content for
some conscious agent; how that conscious agent understands the word. There may be other concepts of content, but those concepts, it seems to me, are parasitical on the concept of content that I use in referring to states of mind found in a conscious agent. Put another way, my paradigm for understanding these concepts is my life as a conscious agent. If we make these words refer to something that occurs without consciousness, it seems that we are using the by way of analogy with their use in connection with our conscious life.

The intentionality that I am immediately familiar with is my own intentional states. That's the only template, the only paradigm I have. I wouldn't say that animals are not conscious, and if I found good evidence that animals could reason it would not undermine my argument, since I've never been a materialist about animals to begin with. Creatures other than myself could have intentional states, and no doubt do have them, if the evidence suggests that what it is like to be in the intentional state they are in is similar to what it is like to be in the intentional state that I am in.

In reading Carrier’s critique of my book we find, in his response to the argument from intentionality, terms being used that make sense to me from the point of view of my life as a conscious subject, but I am not at all sure what to make of them when we start thinking of them as elements in the life of something that is not conscious. His main definition of “aboutness” is this:
Cognitive science has established that the brain is a computer that constructs and runs virtual models. All conscious states of mind consist of or connect with one or more virtual models. The relation these virtual models have to the world is that of corresponding or not corresponding to actual systems in the world. Intentionality is an assignment (verbal or attentional) of a relation between the virtual models and the (hypothesized) real systems. Assignment of relation is a decision (conscious or not), and such decisions, as well as virtual models and actual systems, and patterns of correspondence between them, all can and do exist on naturalism, yet these four things are all that are needed for Proposition 1 to be true.

Consider the following:
Returning to my earlier definition of aboutness, as long as we can know that "element A of model B is hypothesized to correspond to real item C in the universe" we have intentionality, we have a thought that is about a thing.
Because the verbal link that alone completely establishes aboutness--the fact of being
"hypothesized"--is something that many purely mechanical computers do.
Or again
Language is a tool--it is a convention invented by humans. Reality does not tell us what a word means. We decide what aspects of reality a word will refer to. Emphasis here: we decide. We create the meaning for words however we want. The universe has nothing to do with it--except in the trivial sense that we (as computational machines) are a part of the universe.
Now simply consider the words, hypothesize and decide that he uses in these passages. I think I know what it means to decide something as a conscious agent. I am aware of choice 1 and choice 2, I deliberate about it, and then consciously choose 1 as opposed to 2, or vice versa. All of this requires that I be a conscious agent who knows what my thoughts are about. That is why I have been rather puzzled by Carrier’s explaining intentionality in terms like these; such terms mean something to me only if we know what our thoughts are about. The same thing goes for hypothesizing. I can form a hypothesis (such as, all the houses in this subdivision were built by the same builder) just in case I know what the terms of the hypothesis mean, in other words, only if I already possess intentionality. That is what these terms mean to me, and unless I’m really confused, this is what those terms mean to most people.
Again, we have to take a look at the idea of a model. What is a model? A model is something that is supposed to resemble something else. But if we explain “X is about Y” at least partially in terms of “X is a model for Y,” I really don’t think we’ve gotten anywhere. How can X be a model for Y if it isn’t about Y in the first place.

Nevertheless we may be able to work though the critique and find how he proposes to naturalize the concepts.
Material state A is about material state B just in case “this system contains a pattern corresponding to a pattern in that system, in such a way that computations performed on this system are believed to match and predict behavior in that system.”

In correspondence with me Carrier said this:
As I explain in my critique, science already has a good explanation on hand for attentionality (how our brain focuses attention on one object over others). Combine that with a belief (a sensation of motivational confidence) that the object B that we have our attention on will behave as our model A predicts it will, and we have every element of intentionality.

But I am afraid I don’t see that this naturalization works. My objection to this is that in order for confidence to play the role it needs to play in Carrier's account of intentionality that confidence has to be a confidence that I have an accurate map, but confidence that P is true is a propositional attitude, which presupposes intentionality. In other words, Carrier is trying to bake an intentional cake with physical yeast and flour. But when the ingredients are examined closely, we find that some intentional ingredients have been smuggled in through the back door.

Here is another illustration:
The fact that one thought is about another thought (or thing) reduces to this (summarizing what I have argued several times above already): (a) there is a physical pattern in our brain of synaptic connections physically binding together every datum about the object of thought (let's say, Madell's "Uncle George"), (b) including a whole array of sensory memories, desires, emotions, other thoughts, and so on, (c) which our brain has calculated (by various computational strategies) are relevant to (they describe or relate to) that object (Uncle George), (d) which of course means a hypothesized object (we will never really know directly that there even is an Uncle George: we only hypothesize his existence based on an analysis, conscious and subconscious, of a large array of data), and (e) when our cerebral cortex detects this physical pattern as obtaining between two pieces of data (like the synaptic region that identifies Uncle George's face and that which generates our evidentially-based hypothesis that the entity with that face lives down the street), we "feel" the connection as an "aboutness" (just as when certain photons hit our eyes and electrical signals are sent to our brain we "feel" the impact as a "greenness").

Now did you notice the word “about” in step A of Carrier’s account of intentionality? If there is something in the brain that binds together everything about Uncle George, and that is supposed to explain how my thought can be about Uncle George, then it seems pretty clear to me that we are explaining intentionality in terms of intentionality.

What I think the deepest problem is in assigning intentionality to physical systems is that when we do that norms of rationality are applied when we determine what intentional states exist, but normative truths are not entailed by physical facts. In the realm of ethics, add up all the physical, chemical, biological, psychological, and sociological facts about a murder for hire, and nothing in that description will entail that it was a wrongful act. Similarly, scientific information about what is will not tell you what an agent ought to believe, but we need to know what an agent ought to believe in order to figure out what he or she does believe. According to Searle, for example, intentionality cannot be found in natural selection, because “intentional standards are inherently normative,” but “there is nothing normative about Darwinian evolution.” So any attempt to naturalize intentionality will end up bringing intentionality in through the back door, just as Carrier’s account does. When you encounter a new or unfamiliar attempt to account for intentionality naturalistically, look it over very carefully, and you should be able to find our where the bodies are buried.

Vallicella on the philosophy of mathematics

This is an entry by Vallicella on the problems naturalism faces in dealing with mathematics.

Contra Babinski

ED: I KNOW that both Christians and atheists have been unable to convince each other of the validity of each of their PHILOSOPHICAL proofs that they have sought to prove to one another. (Which is not to deny that occasionaly someone switches sides, most notably, Antony Flew, though Flew admitted to Richard Carrier that he had not been able to keep up with the debate or the literature concerning the topic of a fine-tuned cosmos. Flew is what, in his 80s? If Flew's change of mind provides substantiation it may be for my own view, namely that philosophy doesn't have the kind of proofs, in his case proof of negative atheism, that he formerly thought it did.)

VR: I've made very clear what I think "proofs" can do, and what they can't. My argument is that that the presence of mind makes sense if we assume that reason is in some sense fundamental to the univese, but it does not make sense as an evolutionary by-product. Naturalistic analyses of mind make conceptual "slides" which allow them to analyze mind in terms of non-mental matter. I have repeatedly made very clear claims about the scope and limits of philosophical arguments. I even devoted an entire chapter of my book to it. Do you balieve that there can be evidence or reason to be, or not be a theist? If so, you believe in the sorts of "proofs" that I am talking about. If not, why should there even be any discussion on this subject at all?

People make profound commitments to world views. They bet their lives on them. Because decisions have to be made, one way or the other, to live according to one world-view or another, we need to do the best we can to assess the evidence.

EB: It also seems obvious that "God" a "Designer" (or even "the Ideal") are great words to use whenever a philosopher faces a puzzling question. Those philosophers who use the word "God" as an explanation seem quite sure they have "explained" a puzzling question in philosophy. (I'm NOT asserting that naturalists have definitve answers to all the puzzling questions either.) But simply invoking the word, "God," amounts to "explaining" one puzzling question by invoking an even greater puzzle. I am criticizing the way philosophy claims to "answer" big questions via philosophical "big word" talk.

VR: I devoted an entire chapter to this issue as well. The argument from reason maintains that reason of humans only makes sense in a world in which reason is fundamental to that universe. One way to cash this out is in terms of theism. My point is that intentional explanations really do explain, and in many cases intentional explanations explain better than nonintentional ones. If you ask why I go to church, neurophysiology is not going to answer the question as well as knowing that I am a Christian who believes in corporate worship. Some explanations hae to be fundamental, and while some world-views allow mental states to be on the basic level others (naturalistic ones do nor). If we can't go on to explain intentional states in terms of non-intentional states, we still have explanations.

EB: I could of course go into detail concerning your own attempts to prove philosophically that naturalism is self-contradictory.

VR: We've already started to go wrong here. I do not say that naturalism is self-contradictory. Lewis changed the title of his third chapter of Miracles. A simple exercise for you, Ed. State my arguments correctly. Distinguish between what i do say and what I do not say.

EB: Pshaw. Nothing is self-contradictory in philosophy, not when it comes to the big questions. If Alvin Plantinga can explain how evil and pain arose, beginning with nothing but a perfectly good God who created an entire cosmos directly, nothing but a perfectly good God who created an entire cosmos directly, then surely nothing's inexplicable.

Vr: So now you go from misrepresenting me to misrepreseting Plantinga. Plantinga has said over and over he cannot explain why there is suffering.

EB: Likewise with the naturalist and the human brain-mind. In your argument you harp on molecules, atoms and that they know no reason. No kidding. Rocks don't appear to do much either, but erode or melt, but if you put those same atoms together in just the right way, you can get a computer and satellite TV network, out of mere rocks. Fact is the brain is a neurochemical organ capable of storing vast amounts of information. The brain-mind takes in the world around it via sensations and socialization. (Lacking socialization, people would just grunt). Taking in all of that data, storing data, informatino about consequences, causes and effects, similarities and differences, I don't see how the human brain-mind could AVOID discovering things that work compared with things that don't, and then generalizing, i.e., devising general rules that also work, rules of reasoning. As for those atoms, and molecules, and electrochemical impulses in the mind, they are being moved around due to the overall dynamics of the system, how it evolved, how it developed in its youth, and based on everything that person has learned in their lifetimes. Taking all of that in, it can't help evolving a reasoning ability. That is naturalism if you believe it. It's not self-contradictory philosophically.

VR: So you are saying that we have philosophical proof of materialism, on the basis of scientific evidence! So much for not believeing in philosophical proofs; I guess that just applies to Christians. Anyway, it strikes me as crazy to suppose that reason just had to evolve, and I wonder if even most sober naturalists would make such a claim. Lots of creatures, after all, survive with out reasonoing.

Whether this story is logically coherent and conceptually clear is another matter of course.

EB: t may seem impossible to those who are dualists like yourself and like to argue otherwise, but there are also CHRISTIAN mind-brain monistic naturalists. As I said, go figure. Or at least try to convince those folks that your view is proven superior by your philosophical arguments. You needn't even argue with skeptics or atheistic naturalists, just argue with your fellow Christians who have studies the brain and philosophy and come to a different conclusion than you have concering the brain-mind question. One such Christian brain-mind naturalist has a debate essay with a Christian brain-mind dualist in the book of such essays that was published by the Society of Christian Philosophers.

VR: A lot "materialist" views held by Christians in the philosophy of mind are really non-standard versions of materialism that would not be considered acceptably materialist by people like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. In fact, on some definitions of materialism, I come out as a materialist. Some are more orthodox materialists, however. But so what. I already said I fully expect my arguments will not convinced everyone, in fact I don't even hold that everyone should be convinced by my arguments. If you think otherwise, you haven't read me very carefully.

EB: Another thing I claim to KNOW is that tales of miracles and Near Death Experiences are far from consistent. With such inconsistancy concerning first hand anecdotal data about the afterlife and/or first hand anecdotal data about the divine, I tend to DOUBT that holding specific beliefs about the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, etc. are what life is all about.

VR: Non sequitur.

VR: A lot of people who have corresponded with me have told me that you must have a very intense hostility to evangelical Christianity. It isn't a matter of what you have read and haven't read. You can read and read and read, but if you can't exposit an opponent's position well enough to be recognizable by the person who holds that position, then I see a problem.

Of course, I'm critical of McDowell; my discussion of him in my book is pretty critical. Of oourse Lewis was not omniscient. I'm pretty clear about that, too. I have been interested in following the trail when I thought Lewis was on the right track.

I tend to get a little frustrated when I am constantly having to correct misunderstandings of what I have said. When that happens, I suspect that soemone is looking at me and figuring out what I must have said since I am in such and such a camp, rather than reading me and finding out what I did say.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

John DePoe on naturalism and the mind

This is something worth looking at.

Some more dialogue with Ed Babinski on idealism and intellectual conceits

One can be an idealist without being a theist; Berkeley was a theistic idealist but there are other types, such as T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet.

It's a lot more difficult than you realize to avoid intellectual conceit. The fact that you say you KNOW Christians (and atheists) can't make the kinds of claims they think they can make strikes me as if you are claiming to know something that everyone from Bertrand Russell to C. S. Lewis to Keith Parsons to Victor Reppert to Jason Pratt to Steven Carr has failed to figure out.

A lot of your reactions to issues strikes me as a re-action to "Christian fundamentalism." I spent a period of my life reacting to what I thought was "fundamentalism" myself. That is why, long ago, I went to a liberal seminary instead of a conservative one.

When you read something written engaged in apologetics and you say "That person is an apologist, so they must be saying this, even though they really didn't say it, because that is what apologist always do," I maintain that you are reacting like a fundamentalist.

You may not know what the truth is, but you are sure that evangelical-friendly people from McDowell to Lewis are full of baloney.

What I actually said, of course, was not that you were a fundamentalist, but that fundamentalists (or Christians who are caught up in the vice of fundamentalism), often talk about "vain philosophy."

Steven Carr on Derived Intentionality and Computers

This is a response to one of my old posts from Steven Carr, that appeared on the Infidels forum. I just found it recently. I'm going to let some other people take a crack at this one.

This is where it is on Infidels:

In Victor Reppert writes :-
'The intentionality found in the computer is derived intentionality, not original intentionality.'

A long, long time ago people thought there was something special about organic chemicals, until the first organic chemical was synthesised by a human.

Victor's blog strikes me very much like somebody claiming that there was still somthing special about organic chemicals, as the organic chemical was created by a human , and so derived, not original.

Victor's point is true, but irrelevant surely.

The point is that a purely material thing can manipulate very abstract non-material things (software classes, pointers, variables etc).

If God wanted to create us as purely material creatures, but still with intentionality, then He could do so.

Perhaps Victor would be right and our intentionality would be 'derived', rather than 'original', but that does not refute a claim that God had created us as purely material things, just the same as *we* can create purely material things that can manipulate non-material objects.

So the existence of computers refutes a claim that God cannot create purely material human beings.

If Victor wants to prove that God cannot create a purely material human being , then he needs another argument to the ones he is using.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Can Science Explain Everything?

Apparently not, if Denis Alexander is right.

Some dialogue with Ed Babinski

EB: I also heard from Austin Cline who runs the Atheism Guide at of whose pieces on C. S. Lewis you recently replied to.
Austin thought your replies were poor. He thought you misrepresented his
comments on Lewis' view about QM, and that you dismissed what he wrote on
the premise that Lewis couldn't really have meant such a thing, without
explaining why not.

VR: My big complaint about a lot of people who write critically about C. S. Lewis, including Beversluis, Tattersall, Cline and, yes, Babinski, is that they will often find something Lewis says that they can pick a bone with, without asking whether it is really a point essential to Lewis's argument. Often the point with which they have a bone to pick is tendentiously interpreted, and taken as a fatal flaw, when in fact the argument can be very simply corrected so as to eliminate the problem.

I may be mistaken in attributing to him a confusion between inexplicability in principle an inexplicability so far as we know. Of course, not everyone accepts the claim that QM shows that physics is indeterministic. Carrier, for example, is a thoroughgoing determinist, last I checked. Lewis does suppose that naturalism presupposes that nature is a system of determining causes, and that if some events are undetermined, this is an attack on strict naturalism. This is certainly not the way I would describe the scientific situation, writing today. I'll freely concede that Lewis's understanding of QM was limited. So is mine. However, please notice that Lewis is very explicit about saying that he doesn't base any argument on QM, one way or the other, and that his discussion of quantum indeterminacy is merely for purposes of illustration. Can't people read what he says?

However, my central point is that whether the physical universe is deterministically non-rational at the basic level, or indeterministically non-rational at the basic level, is neither here nor there when it comes to assessing Lewis's argument. Lewis says, “If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System.” I say, "If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System, insofar as it can be explained at all and is not the product of pure chance." But admitting the possibility of pure chance doesn't help the naturalist. If, however, QM is used as an opening to bring mental qualities into the most basic level of analysis, that would be another matter, but most naturalists would disallow this move as compromising to naturalism.

Bottom line: Lewis may not have understood QM, however QM is not going to resolve the problem Lewis poses for the naturalist, unless it is construed in a way that is fatally compromising to naturalism as we know it. See the posts on the concept of physicalism on this blog.

As for his claim that I dismissed his comments on Lewis because Lewis couldn't have meant such a thing, I take it he is referring to his claim that Lewis is committed to a bizarre epistemology when he says that perceptual knowledge, such as my knowledge that there is a blue marker before my eyes, depends on reasoning. I replied that 1) this kind of epistemology has contemprary defenders, and is not as easily refuted as some might suppose, 2) Lewis's claim, which I quoted at some length, is that perceptual knowledge depends on reasoning in the sense that if sense knowledge is challenged, we have to be able to reply to the challenge by producing an argument, which doesn't imply that we perform inferences whenever we perceive physical objects, and 3) Whatever Lewis's epistemology of perception may have been he doesn't need to say that perceptual objects are inferred in order to make his argument go, because the scientific enterprise depends crucially on logical and mathematical inference.

My main point is that he points he criticizes, in both cases, the one about QM and the other about inferences and perceptual knowledge, are incidental to Lewis's real argument. Criticisms like this perhaps undermine the claim that Lewis is omniscient, but they do little else.

EB: I replied to Austin by sending him my two web articles on your views and those of C. S. Lewis (one article is linked to the other above). I also reminded Austin that you presuppose that reasoning can't work in a
naturalistic cosmos. It's inconceivable to you that reasoning works at all
without some supernatural origin or guiding force behind it.

VR: The argument certainly does not prove that it is supernatural, although I realize Lewis did use that term. The AFR is compatible with idealism and pantheism; neither of these views make a distinction between the natural and the supernatural.

EB: I assured Austin that there is nothing I haven't tried over the past three years to point out to you the insufficiency and vanity of philosophy concerning many alleged "proofs" offered as "solutions to big" questions, except to remind you time and again that you don't have an argument at all but merely a presupposition/intuition that makes you mentally immune from
recognizing the weaknesses of words and of philosophical concepts
themselves, i.e., when it comes to using them to try and "prove things
about reality."

VR: Gosh. You sound like a fundamentalist Christian pontificating about "vain philosophy." Unfortnately we have decisions to make in this life about what seems reasonable to believe, and philosophical arguments can help us do just that. Atheists should not be too happy with your strictures against philosophy, since that means that their arguments against theism are equally vain. I believe in "proofs' in a limited sense, in that I believe that arguments can give us substantial reasons for accepting or rejecting world-views. It's arguments or tea-leaves, and I choose arguments. However, you will have noticed that I am sufficiently tentative about my arguments as to make some people who otherwise like my work uneasy, like Deejay, for instance.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

On the concept of physicalism part II

In my previous post on the concept of physicalism I wrote:

Physicalism, as understood in my book (and the definition is laid out clearly) is committed to three fundamental doctrines. 1) Physics is mechanistic at the most basic level of analysis. Whetever is happening to the basic stuff of the universe is fully determined by the laws of physics, the initial conditions, and perhaps a quantum chance factor. 2) Physics is closed. No physical event has a nonphysical cause. 3) Whatever exists in space and time that is not physical supervenes on the physical. Given the state of the physical, whatever states that are not physical must be the way they are and not some other way. So, for example, we can describe the braking system of a car in physical terms that does not mention the capability of stopping a car, but given the state of the physical, the braking capacities of the system are guaranteed to be there. Nothing in this definition requires reductionism, and this definition should encompass all forms of materialism, whether they are eliminative, reductive, or non-reductive. Is this definition of physicalism in any way a straw man?

But now that I go back and look at my book, I find that I wrote the following: (CSLDI, pp. 52-53).

1. The physical level is to be understood mechanistically, sucht aht purposive explanations must be further explained in terms of a non-purposive substratum. This will be called the mechanism thesis.

2. The physical order is causally closed. No nonphysical causes operate on the physical level. The physical is a comprehensive system of events that is not affect by anything that is not itself physical. (I really should have said physical in the final analysis.)

3. Other states, such as mental states, supervene on physical states. Give the state of the physical, there is onely one way the mental, for example, can be. Somethings this is called the supervenience and determination thesis. The idea is thatthe state of the supervening state is guaranteed by the state of the supervenience base. Thus it might be argued that biological states supervene on physicals tates. Imaginae a scenario in which a mountain lion kills and eats a deer. Even though "mountain lion" and "deer" are not physical terms, nevertheless, given the physical state of the world, it cannot be false that a mountain lion is eating a deer.

Now I don't know if I need an "and there's nothing else" clause. It looks as if according to this definition all there is is the physical and what supervenes on the physical. But I don't make any "in space and time" reference in my book's definition, but I did put it on the website. The "in space and time" was put in there to explicitly allow naturalists to be Platonists about numbers.

Can a physicalist be a Platonist about, say, numbers? Keith Parsons and Theodore Drange, in their responses to me, seemed to want to opt for forms of naturalism that allow for the existence of Platonistically conceived numbers, indeed this formed that centerpiece of his response to the argument from truth. I didn't want to argue that makes them not physicalists, what I wanted to say is that whatever these Platonic entities are, they can have nothing to do with anyone's brain states unless we reject the causal closure of the physical, and therefore such theories could not help solve any problem that had anything to do with mental causation.

Now I think I'd want to say that the causal closure principle, at least as I am understanding it, rules out any kind of causal influence by anything that is not physical, even if it is God's causing the world to exist or God's setting up a pre-established harmony between the mental and the physical. That gives you a non-physical entity causing effects in the physical world, and I really did mean to rule that out.

On the concept of physicalism

Another update from an old post, because getting clear on the concept of physicalism is important to some previous discussion.

Physicalism, as understood in my book (and the definition is laid out clearly) is committed to three fundamental doctrines. 1) Physics is mechanistic at the most basic level of analysis. Whetever is happening to the basic stuff of the universe is fully determined by the laws of physics, the initial conditions, and perhaps a quantum chance factor. 2) Physics is closed. No physical event has a nonphysical cause. 3) Whatever exists in space and time that is not physical supervenes on the physical. Given the state of the physical, whatever states that are not physical must be the way they are and not some other way. So, for example, we can describe the braking system of a car in physical terms that does not mention the capability of stopping a car, but given the state of the physical, the braking capacities of the system are guaranteed to be there. Nothing in this definition requires reductionism, and this definition should encompass all forms of materialism, whether they are eliminative, reductive, or non-reductive. Is this definition of physicalism in any way a straw man?