Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The first part of a critique of Beversluis

At the time of this writing, the most comprehensive analysis of C. S. Lewis’s Christian apologetics from a philosophical perspective is John Beversluis’s C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Since this book came out 20 years ago, in many ways I find this to be rather unfortunate. Even my own book, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, is primarily concerned with one of Lewis’s arguments and does not attempt an overall evaluation of Lewis’s apologetics, though in the first chapter I do touch on a few other matters.
Published by William B. Eerdmans’ press, it was touted as the first truly critical study of Lewis’s philosophical theology. This statement implies that what people had written about Lewis until that time had been largely uncritical. In addition, I think there would be some justice in that understanding of the Lewis literature until that time. People who like C. S. Lewis and write about him have a tendency when writing to write for people who already like Lewis, and what they say often fails to imagine what someone who think Lewis just has things wrong must be thinking. I remember many conversations with my good friend and atheist philosopher Keith Parsons when I was a seminary student and he was a beginning philosophy graduate student. I would point to aspect of Lewis’s thought that he I thought he would find appealing, and he took my remarks seriously for awhile, only to find out a few days later that he had read some things in Lewis which seemed to him to be argumentatively very weak and guilty of superficial thinking. The Lewis I portrayed to him always sounded like a serious Christian thinker, the Lewis he read always sounded to him like someone who stood in need of a good intellectual pounding.
A good deal of the secondary C. S. Lewis literature is often very appealing to people who like what he has to say, but has little to say to people who inclined to be skeptical. I do not exactly fault secondary writers for exhibiting too much enthusiasm. What I fault them for is a failure to get inside the minds of people who really think that Lewis is wrongheaded and superficial. To read some Lewis fans, we should expect every unbeliever who reads Lewis to slap their heads and say, “I never thought of that. Gosh, I should be a Christian.” (And if they do not, of course they are wicked.) Further, secondary writers have a tendency not to advance the discussion any further than it was after Lewis wrote.
Anyone who wants to see how C. S. Lewis sounds to people who find his apologetics woefully inadequate should read C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. I say this as someone who believes that Christianity is credible for approximately the reasons that C. S. Lewis said that it was credible. I disagree with just about everything in the book, and sometimes I cannot see how he can possibly make the statements he does about Lewis. But a thinker’s ideas are best developed in a dialectical atmosphere, in which proponents of a thinker’s thoughts face a loyal opposition, an opposition that finds his ideas interesting enough to discuss but thinks them mistaken. So far, the closest thing to the “loyal opposition” that Lewis has had (if you discount the one-issue criticism of Anscombe) has been John Beversluis.
We can expect book critical of a well-known apologist to follow one of two patterns. One pattern we might call the Debunking Job. The apologist is, on this view, simply an intellectual fraud; deserving of as complete a demolition as anyone can imagine. We see this is the kind of books some years written by defenders of the theory of evolution against scientific creationism. A similar tone seems to emerge in most books written by evolutionists in response to the Intelligent Design movement. The target deserves no respect, and the goal is not merely to criticize, but to discredit. The critic perceives the apologist’s project to be wrongheaded from start to finish, and it is the duty of the Debunker to expose the apologist as a complete failure whose reputation is undeserved.
Another type of book that a critic can write in response to Lewis would be what I would call the Constructive Criticism. This is what we find in Thomas V. Morris’s critique of Francis Schaeffer’s apologetics, written in 1976. For Morris, it is not that Schaeffer’s attempt to defend Christianity is simply misguided; the problem is that his overly simplistic arguments are thought to prove a good deal more than they really do. A more modest, more philosophically adequate, Christian apologetics is recommended in place of the overblown and simplistic apologetics advocated by Schaeffer.
Beversluis’s book was published, as I indicated earlier, by Wm. B. Eerdmans press, a Christian publishing house that had published some of Lewis’s writings, and had cove recommendations from Christian philosophers William Alston and Alan Donagan. For this reason, someone who picked it up might very well expect that it would be a treatment of Lewis similar to the treatment Morris gave Schaeffer. Most people who read the book thought of it as a Debunking Job. The arguments found in Lewis’s apologetics are portrayed as abject failures, and Beversluis does not offer the Christian apologist an alternative. Lewis’s arguments, on Beversluis’s account, frequently commit egregious fallacies which freshmen students are taught to avoid in introductory logic classes.
Further, at one point, Beversluis impugns Lewis’s intellectual honesty, suggesting that the unbeliever needs more desperately to accept the conclusions of his apologetic arguments than he needs to understand those arguments. What he seems to be implying is that Lewis is prepared to make his case appear stronger than it really is because people need to accept Christianity more than they need to honestly reflect on the legitimacy of his arguments. I don’t know what this can be except a charge of intellectual dishonesty.
However, if Beversluis or anyone else were to prove that C. S. Lewis was a petty hack, and a less than honest one at that, what would follow from it? Not much, I take it, about the believability of Christianity, except, of course, that many people who thought they had good grounds from Lewis to believe it actually lack those grounds. But surely Beversluis knows that there are Christian philosophers who are highly regarded even by non-believers, and the lesson from a debunking of C. S. Lewis would have to be that apologetics is something best left the pros like Alvin Plantinga, a product of Beversluis’s alma mater, Calvin College, or Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne.
Therefore, the argument that Lewis failed as a Christian apologist is one theme of the book, but it is not the primary theme. There is, for Beversluis, something fundamentally amiss with the very enterprise of Christian apologetics itself, and Lewis, as opposed to others, was perceptive enough to see the problem, even though he was unable to find an adequate solution to it. The problem is as old as Socrates’ Euthyphro. If, as Lewis had throughout his apologetic career insisted that it must, “good” must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If one the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that “Good” in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of Christianity goes by the boards.
This perception comes in the throes of his experience of grieving for his wife, in his book A Grief Observed. It was a great surprise to me, but perhaps it should not have been, that when A. N. Wilson published a scurrilous, tendentious biography of Lewis essentially psychoanalyzing away Lewis’s Christian commitments, Beversluis, the one-time bad boy of Lewis studies, would have none of it. In fact, he dismisses as “pure fiction” the claim he mentioned favorably in his book; that Lewis abandoned the rational defense of Christianity after his encounter with Elizabeth Anscombe.
However, this is going to pose a dilemma for Beversluis. How could C. S. Lewis have been both a petty hack as an apologist, and a dishonest one at that, but also be the hero of A Grief Observed? The grieving hero of A Grief Observed is a man of great intellectual perceptiveness and intellectual honesty, even though he was not successful as a Christian apologist, and though, in the final analysis, he avoids facing the logical implications of his own position on God and suffering. If Beversluis just sticks to demolition, of course, he avoids this problem. If, on the other hand, Beversluis’s approach to Lewis is that of the loyal opposition, then Lewis has to come across as a plausible and interesting thinker who, nevertheless, got it wrong (here’s why).
Although I think he originally intended the book to reflect the view of the Loyal Opposition, its tone for much of the way is that of a Debunking Job. I believe that the complimentary images of Lewis that Beversluis intended to convey were lost on most of his readers, both supporters and critics. That is not surprising, given the book's overall tone. Given the tone of his criticisms throughout much of the book, it is hard to believe that this same C. S. Lewis could be hero of A Grief Observed, who wrestles mightily and unsuccessfully with the problem of human suffering.
This is unfortunate, for reasons explained in Thomas V. Morris’s review:
It is Beversluis’s aim to put his readers into a position where they can see Lewis's failures. In representative passages, he characterizes Lewis's 'irresponsible writing' as exhibiting a persistent tendency toward carelessness, inaccuracy, and oversimplification whenever he discusses opposing views," and blasts Lewis's own positive positions as "confused," wrongheaded," shipwrecked," "disgraced," "considerably worse than fuzzy," "tendentious" and "desperate". Colorful passages in Lewis are labeled as "bellicose outbursts," and we find that Lewis doesn't just state his positions, he "gives vent to them." The overall tone should be evident.
One of the big problems I have with much of the book is that Beversluis finds bones to pick with what Lewis says, and then declares his argument hopeless. No attempt is made to see the insight behind what Lewis has written, no attempt to develop the argument and produce the strongest version of the argument possible before saying that it fails. If Beversluis had given a more adequate treatment of Lewis’s apologetics and then concluded that the arguments were unsuccessful, this would have made \his account of Lewis’s grief experience more believable. As it stands, I myself was inclined to consider Beversluis’s favorable comments about Lewis to be somewhat disingenuous, until I read his review of A. N Wilson.
Again, consider these comments by Morris:
My main philosophical criticism of this book is that Beversluis seldom comes anywhere near digging deep enough to really appreciate a line of thought suggested by Lewis. All too often he gives a facile, fairly superficial reconstruction of a line of argument, and after subjecting it to some critical questioning, declares it bankrupt and moves on. What is so disappointing to the reader who is trained in philosophy is that in most such instances a few minutes of reflective thought suffice to see that there are very interesting considerations to be marshalled in the direction Lewis was heading, considerations altogether neglected by [Beversluis].
It is a mistake to expect Lewis to have arguments sufficiently polished to pass muster in present-day philosophical journals. Lewis, of course, simplifies them for general consumption. The real question is whether they provide legitimate insights that can be developed into good philosophical arguments. If someone is tempted to think that Lewis can do all of our thinking for us, then it is worthwhile to be reminded that there are things the skeptic can say back. However, this is hardly sufficient to establish a verdict of philosophical failure against C. S. Lewis, but that is what Beversluis does.
Consider, for example, Beversluis’s treatment of the argument from reason. Beversluis’s discussion is marred by two red herrings. First, because Lewis uses the term “the validity of reasoning,” Beversluis gratuitously assumes that Lewis thinks that the only kind of reasoning is deductive. However, of course, the term “validity” can be used in a broader sense to mean legitimacy. If everything except what comes from a “valid” cause is irrational, then, as Beversluis points out, we will have nothing to reason about. When Lewis says naturalism is incompatible with the validity of reasoning, he means by the phrase “the validity of reasoning” the reliability of reasoning as a means to truth, and does not have the formal deductive concept in mind. This requires intentionality, mental causation, and all the other things that AFR defenders find mysterious from the point of view of naturalism.
Second, because Lewis says that all possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning, Beversluis presumes that the argument depends crucially on the claim that we infer even perceptual knowledge from sense data. If this is the case, then Lewis’s position depends on a philosophy of perception that is rejected by most philosophers and is a vulnerable point in his argument. However, Lewis does not say we draw inferences when we perceive physical objects, he says that we will have to be able to make some inferences if someone challenges our perceptual beliefs. Second, even if we grant that perceptual knowledge is non-inferential, the conclusion that there are no rational inferences is epistemically disastrous for the naturalist. This is because the naturalism depends for its credibility on the natural sciences (which in turn relies heavily on mathematics), and philosophical argumentation.
These are, of course, not the only criticisms Beversluis makes against Lewis’s argument from reason; he does use a version of Anscombe’s argument from different explanation types against Lewis’s revised argument. I would refer the interested reader to my published discussions of that. But my point here is not to respond to his critique of Lewis’s argument, but to show that he very often reads Lewis in a tendentious manner, and that he treats as decisive objections that could be overcome with fairly simple improvements. Of course, Beversluis could have treated Lewis in a fairer way and still found his apologetic arguments wanting, and this would have made for a stronger and more effective critique.

A new blog entitled Energies of the Trinity

Hat Tip: Perry Robinson.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A radio discussion of the argument from reason

Kenneth Samples presents and defends the Argument from Reason on this Reasons to believe broadcast. Go under 1-17 and click on the link to "What is the Argument from Reason" and you can listen to it on a Realplayer.

Were our ancestors flat-earthers?

Hint: No.

Loftus and the fallacy of chronological snobbery

This post, from John Loftus. seems to me to commit the fallacy of chronological snobbery, as described by C. S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy. Here Lewis is talking about his discussions with Owen Barfield:

In the first place he (barfield) made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Argument from Desire

This is Peter Kreeft's defense of the Argument from Desire. This post received a belated comment from Steve Lovell, so I am redating it for people to react to.

Mere Christianity Book III Chapter 4

Mere Christianity
Book III Chapter 4
Morality and Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is the psychological technique invented by Sigmund Freud
When Freud talks about how to cure neurotics he is talking as a pro
When he speaks as a philosopher he is an amateur
Two things involved in a choice
One of them is the act of choosing
The other is the psychological raw material that affects the choice.
The psychological raw material can be either normal or abnormal.
Psychoanalysis seeks to remove the abnormal feelings, to give people better raw material to help make choices
Someone may go to war with abnormal feelings and fears. If they are cured of their fears they may choose to be brave, or may choose to be cowardly
“When a neurotic who has a pathological fear of cats picks up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have in winning the V. C.”
Nice people may have done so little with their good upbringing that they are really worse than fiends. What would we have done if we had had the psychological makeup of, say, Himmler?
That is why we are told not to judge. God does not judge the raw material, God judges the choices made. And when he does so there may be surprises.
Every person is either slowly turning themselves into a heavenly thing or a hellish thing.
Christian writers seem very loose at one point (everything is forgivable) and at other times very strict (very severe even about thoughts). But the important thing is not the actions but the choices of the inner self. Some people just look funny when they give in to anger, others can get hundreds of people killed when they are angry. But every temptation given in to, regardless of its effects, will result in a person finding it harder to repent of the evil the next time and perform the right action.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Patrick Reardon's Critique of Materialism

Hat tip: Rob Grano

A Reply to John Loftus

Loftus comments can be found here:

John: I'd very much like to see your response to this paper, by Steve Lovell, on the Euthyphro dilemma.

If there are objective moral values then we have a situation in which there are two sets of facts; facts about the way things are, which are describable, perhaps, by science in naturalistic terms, and facts about how things ought to be, which, at least on the face of things, defy scientific description. At least if Hume was right in saying you can't get an ought from an is.

There seems, on the face of things, to be a profound tension between moral success, on the one hand, on most understandings of morality, and Darwinian success, which is measure in terms of the extent to which a person passes on his genes. Consider the case I mentioned earlier on this blog of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who managed to pass on his genes anywhere from 50 to 75 times. This is the ultimate in Darwinian success, but I don't think it comes close to being a moral success, by anyone's standards.

Contrast this with the view of human beings as the product of a loving God, whose in which case fulfillment of human nature and doing the will of God can be identified. Simply having an intended purpose by a designer does nothing by itself to provide underpinnings for morality, since we could be being raised for food by aliens, in which case our good and the good of those who made us would be at odds. But if God has created us in such a way that our intrinsic good, what fulfils our nature, and the purpose intended for us by the one who made us, are the same, then it is hard to argue that, yeah, that's what God wants for us, but why should we do it?

Mattill on Jesus and Jonah

The following is from A. J. Mattill's critique of Lewis's Modern Theology and Biblical Criticisms. My replies are below.

I. Distrusting the Divines as Literary Critics

A. Jonah, John, and Jesus

To defend orthodoxy, Lewis challenges the authority of New Testament experts, “the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass” of age-old beliefs (153) Lewis is “sceptical about this authority” because specialists in New Testament lack “literary judgment”(154). They fail to reconstruct convincingly the genesis of biblical tests: “what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences”(158).

An example of their poor judgment is their classification of the Fourth Gospel as a “spiritual romance,” as “a poem not a history” (154).

Lewis may well be correct in claiming that most, if not all, New Testament scholars are more or less incompetent as literary critics, since they spend their time in detailed study of the New Testament and lack “a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general” (154). Lewis, however, in criticizing the literary acumen of Johannine students, ensnares himself. He accuses them of “crass insensitivity” in judging the Fourth Gospel by the same canons as the book of Jonah, for any competent literary critic could recognize that the former is a history whereas the latter is “a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident” (154).

Lewis here is repeating his earlier assessment of Jonah, when he placed Jonah at the opposite end of a scale of historical writings from the memoirs of David’s court (2 Samuel 9-20, 1 Kings 1-2), Mark, or Acts.[2]

What Lewis fails to note is that Jesus himself regarded Jonah as a historical book, factual and authentic. Jonah was a sign to Jesus’ generation. The men of Nineveh repented at his preaching, and ‘‘as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the big fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-42; 16:1-4, Luke 11:29-32).

If Lewis is correct about the non-historical nature of the book of Jonah, then Jesus lacked literary judgment. And if Jesus cannot be trusted even as a literary critic, how can he be trusted in spiritual matters as Lord and Savior? Lewis can hardly shore up Christian orthodoxy by undercutting Jesus’ authority.

It is, of course, possible that Matthew and Luke err in their reporting of Jesus’ attitude toward Jonah. If so, Matthew and Luke are not the dependable historians Lewis would like them to be. Or it may be that Jonah is a historical book and Jesus, Matthew, and Luke are reliable literary authorities after all. But that would call into question Lewis’s competence as a critic and his distrust of New Testament scholarship.

VR: I don’t see that using Jonah as a type of himself entails a commitment to the historicity of Jonah. I could say “Just as Aslan died for the sins of Edmund, so Christ died for your sins” without committing myself to the real existence of Aslan.

Even if Jesus thought Jonah historical, a kenotic Christology that sees Christ as emptying himself of divine attributes to be human would, of course, limit Christ’s knowledge of literary scholarship. Jesus told fictional stories many times. Does that make him a liar?

Mattill says that if we can’t trust Christ in matters of literary scholarship, we can’t trust him in matters of salvation. Why? Was Jesus’ mission to introduce adequate techniques of literary scholarship? Or did He have better things to do with his time?

It's worthwhile to point out that Blomberg, in the interview that I linked to a few posts back, said that while he was prepared to defend the historical accuracy of John, his belief in the inspired status of John does not require complete historicity and historical accuracy.

And the argument that God does not lie may have problems with it. Jesus always does the right thing. Suppose Jesus were sheltering Jews from the Nazis. If the Nazis came and asked "Are there any Jews here," I believe Jesus would have said no.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Calvani responds to the comments

I had asked David Calvani what he thought of the comments on the entry that I had posted from him concerning the establishment clause.

I just looked at the responses to my original note at

I find it very interesting that there are 5 comments and only two

The anonymous comment that labeled you a theocrat is what one should expect
form anonymous commentary: an assertion made without the slightest
justification. It is this sort of comment that would incline me not to allow
comments if I had a web log. There was nothing in my note to indicate that I
want a theocratic state (which I do not).

As for Jim Lippard of http://lippard.blogspot.com/ I find it most amusing
that he goes on criticizing me for 3 posts but then has to admit that the
article he linked to in comment #4 "appears compatible with" my view!

Mr. Lippard errs from the very first. He says, "The 14th amendment
incorporates all of the protections of the Bill of Rights as limitations
against federal power into limitations against state power." This is wrong.
The judiciary tried to incorporate all of the Bill of Rights into 14th
amendment jurisprudence, but soon abandoned this approach as unworkable. (Of
course, if the 14th amendment's privileges and immunities clause really
authorized this total incorporation, the amendment would not repeat the 5th
amendments due process requirement as a new obligation of the states.)

After rejecting the total incorporation doctrine, the courts invented their
'fundamental constitutional rights' doctrine, saying that only the
'fundamental' rights granted by the Constitution were incorporated. But the
Constitution makes no distinction between 'fundamental' and
'non-fundamental' rights! The courts should stick with the actual language
of the 14th amendment: the privileges and immunities of a citizen of the
United States.

Jim Lippards second assertion is even more absurd. He wrote, "It's pretty
clear that an official state religion would violate the First Amendment
rights of citizens of the state who are not members of that religion." How
so? Does the United Kingdom lack freedom of religion because of the
established Church of England? If the tyrants of China ever leave Tibet,
will Tibet be without freedom of religion because the head of Tibetan
Buddhism and the King of Tibet are the same person, the Dalai Lama?

The first amendment treats non-establishment of religion and freedom of
religion in two separate clauses. As far as the U.S. Constitution is
concerned, they are distinct and separate matters.

Why Jim conflates the two is seen on his own blog when he states "A loving
God? The unmitigated level of sheer evil in the world belies this claim ..."
The Constitution does not share Jim's fear and hatred of religious thought.

David Calvani

VR: David sent me a note telling me he now realizes that the comment on the Lippard blog was actually from Einzige and not from Jim. But he thinks Jim probably concurs.

Phil Steiger on ID and explanation

This is an interesting discussion of the claim that design is explanatorily empty.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A question from Joe Markus on Michael Martin

Hello Professor Reppert,
I recently came across some posts involving the notions of necessity and possibility on William Vallicella's blog and it reminded me of a debate I had years ago with someone on the SecularWeb. I'm hoping that you can offer your impression of the topic.
As I'm sure you're aware, in Chapter 2 of his Atheism:a philosophical justification, Michael Martin argues that theological assertions are neither true nor false. He offers a modest defense of a variation of a verificationist style criterion of factual meaningfulness.
It has been claimed by some critics that Martin's overall position in Atheism is inconsistent. They claim that despite arguing that theological assertions are neither true nor false he does however proceed to offer arguments for the falsity of theism. Specifically, he argues that there is no good reasons to believe theism is true and that there are quite a few good reasons to believe theism is false. The critics seem to be saying that he cannot argue BOTH that theism is neither true nor false and then make arguments regarding its truth value.
Martin has defended himself here:
Martin claims that his critics are confused about the structure of his argument. He thinks his critics attribute to him the follow argument structure:
  (a) p is neither true nor false.
  (b) p is true.
However, he goes on to state that the actual structure of his argument is:
  (a) p is neither true nor false.
  (b) if p is either true or false, then p is true.
He goes on to summarize his argument ---"God exists" is probably factually meaningless. But if it's meaningful then it's false.
In my discussion on the SecularWeb, I argued that if Martin believes that theism is likely neither true nor false then he must believe that it is POSSIBLY true or false. My reasoning was that if you believe p is likely then you must believe its denial is possible. (It may be possible to deny that.) And if you believe something is possibly true or false then you must believe that it is possible that p is true.
If p is "God does not exist." and p is possibly true or false then "God does not exist" is possibly true. In other words, Martin must presuppose that theism is factually meaningful in order to even formulate his "fall back position" argument.
Anyway, I was hoping that you could make some comments or offer some suggestions about the issue. Is my reasoning completely bogus?
I appreciate your time. Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
  Joe Markus

I'd want to make sure we have a clear distinction between epistemic and metaphysical possibility. Martin thinks that theism is probably meaningless but holds out the epistemic possibility that it is meaningful (in which case he says it is certainly false). He might be saying something like this: According to every theory of meaning that I know and think likely to be true, theism comes out meaningless. But just in case those theories turn out not to be true, then I suppose it might be meaningful, but if it is it is almost surely false. So I don't know if he can be tagged with an incoherence here, on the face of things. However, I think the charge of meaninglessness against theism has been refuted time and again, and people should have realized the jig was up when ardent atheist J. L. Mackie, in The Mirace of Theism, maintained that Swinburne had effectively refuted the charge of meaninglessness.

Does Neuroscience solve all the problems in the philosophy of mind?

Apparently not, according to Jaegwon Kim, in an interview for ephilosopher. Hat tip: Joe Markus.

  "Jaegwon Kim: Some philosophers come to philosophy of mind from the psychology side, from an initial interest in cognitive science, computer science, neurobiology, and the like. And some come from the metaphysics side, and I am of course one of the latter. At first, the mind-body problem, to me, was nothing more than just another metaphysical problem. When I began working on the problem of mental causation in the early 1980's, though, things began to change. I thought I was involved in a problem that meant something to me personally. I felt the problem concerned an aspect of myself as a person, as a human being, that I thought I needed to understand.
Ephilosopher: How would you describe the burden sharing between philosophy of mind, as you pursue it, and more empirical approaches to the topic (such as cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, etc.)?
Jaegwon Kim: Not much. At the level of abstraction at which I usually work, empirical results are not really relevant. Certain theoretical and empirical findings that I sometimes read or hear about are interesting and may prompt philosophical thoughts, but I don't think there is a real connection between the kind of work I do in philosophy of mind and the results of the systematic sciences of cognition and consciousness. "

On the fawning C. S. Lewis fan club

Ed Babinski: Though I do disagree with you and others who appear sometimes to be fawning at C. S. Lewis's feet over his ability to argue his way past all the toughest problems in philosophy and religion, and imagine he has solved all questions concerning the unseen world and afterlife and history, all solved in favor of his particular orthodox faith and holy book, and solved via the use of picturesque analogies.

VR: This is a typical way of responding to people who think well of C. S. Lewis. If they agree with him on many issues, they just be "fawning" followers.

We could just as easily say that you are a "fawning" follower of Robert Price. You think Price has a lot of things right, you admire his work, so you must be a fawning follower. What could be more obvious?

I have various disagreements with Lewis; for example you will have noticed that neither in my book nor on this site have I given a full endorsement of the trilemma argument.

If I thought Lewis had solved all problems, it wouldn't be necessary for me to write anything myself.

This procedure can potentially turn into dirty pool. You tell some negative story about Lewis, and impugn his arguments. I point out that Lewis can be defended on the point at issue, and you respond by saying that of course, as a devoted Lewis fan, I would say that. So any negative claim about C. S. Lewis gets a free pass, using this kind of argument.

Blomberg's Critique of the Da Vinci Cole

An article by Matt Kaufman on Arrogance (and immaturity) in academia

The Darwinist's Blinders 
by Matt Kaufman 

"This will be a nice slap in their big fat face."

The words sound like something you'd hear on a grade-school
playground, but they actually come from someone a little higher up
the educational chain: one Paul Mirecki, chairman of the University
of Kansas religious-studies department. And just which faces does he
delight in slapping? Why, the faces of Christians — and not just
because he wants to see if they'll turn the other cheek.

Mirecki, you see, is a faculty adviser to something called the
Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics. A few weeks back he e-
mailed members of that group telling them he'd be teaching a class
titled Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms
[sic] and Other Religious Mythologies." Note that last word, because
Mirecki stresses it. "The fundies [fundamentalists] want it all
taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big
fat face by teaching it in a religious studies class under the
category mythology," he smirked.

You may be wondering whether this is the sort of attitude befitting a
man who claims to be "open-minded," much less one who's overseeing a
whole department of religious studies. But it turns out to be par for
the course for the good Dr. Mirecki: He likes to address e-mails to
this group to "my fellow damned," and to close with "Doing my part to
____ off the religious right, Evil Dr. P."

For the complete article, go to:

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Mere Christianity Book III Chapter 2-3

Mere Christianity
Book II Chapter 2
The “Cardinal” Virtues

Traditional Christian moral philosophy taught that there were seven virtues: the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues.

From my essay “The Green Witch and the Great Debate: Freeing Narnia from the Spell of the Lewis-Anscombe Legend” in The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy: The Lion, the Witch and the Worldview (Chicago: Open Court, 2005) pp. 268-269.

Lewis, following an old Christian tradition, identifies the Four Cardinal Virtues as Prudence (sometimes called Wisdom), Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice, to which he adds the Three Holy Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. He defines Prudence as “practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what it likely to come of it,” and reminds us that Christ taught us to be not only “as harmless as doves” but also “as wise as serpents.” He continues:

He wants a child’s heart but a grown-up’s head. . . . The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. . . . It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a second-rate brain. He has room for people with little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. . . . God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.

I continued: Like many passages in Lewis, this one has tremendous contemporary relevance. Many people in the Christian community (and outside of it) have been slack in their intellectual responsibilities, and the results have been disastrous. The mass suicides in Guyana and the suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult in California are grim reminders of what happens when religious people give up on thinking critically and simply follow what a leader says. Or to take less dramatic examples, but ones closer to home, think about how millions of Christians get caught up in spiritual fads like the recent “prayer of Jabez” phenomenon or the sensational eschatology of the Left Behind series. How many people have given money they can hardly afford to television evangelists, only to find out that the money went for air-conditioned dog houses and visits to sleazy motel rooms? The Christian community suffers greatly whenever it is intellectually lazy and careless.

Lewis does not consider the exercise of faith, properly understood, to conflict with this requirement to be rational. “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him the weight of the evidence is against it.”

Temperance is controlling the impulse for pleasure. Temperance does not mean teetotalism. He says that Islam (He calls it Mohammedanism, but don’t say that in front of a Muslim unless you can run really fast. They don’t worship Muhammad, he’s just a messenger) is the teetotal religion. Jesus turned water into Welch’s grape juice, right? “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give a thing up himself without wanting everyone else to give it up.” But you can be intemperate about a lot of things: golf, cards, the Internet---oops, he didn’t mention that one, for some reason.

Justice is fairness in general, not just what is understood in the law courts: honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, etc.

Fortitude is a) willingness to face danger and b) “sticking it” under pain. You can’t practice any of the other virtues unless you practice this one.

Lewis places the emphasis on what type of person you are, not what acts you perform. Of course these go hand in hand, but traits of character are the right place to focus. There is a difference between doing a good act and having a good character. Even a bad tennis player gets a good shot in now and again.
1) Not only should you do the right thing, but it matters why you did it.
2) “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas he wants people of a particular sort."
3) Virtues aren’t just necessary in this life. ”There may be no need for brave acts in heaven, but there will be every occasion for being the sort of people that we can become only as a result of doing such acts here.” Not that God won’t let you into heaven if you lack certain virtues; but rather you won’t be the kind of person who will enjoy God’s presence forever if you lack these traits of character.

Book 3, Chapter 3
Social Morality
1) Christ did not preach a brand new morality. Johnson: “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.:
2) Christianity has no political program for applying “Do as you would be done by” to a particular society at a particular moment.

People say, “The Church ought to give us a lead.” But the people who know best how to represent Christ in the political sphere are not clergy, but laypeople who try to apply their faith to the political sphere. (Pat Robertson, James Dobson, please take note).

NT gives us an idea of what a Christian society would be like.
1) No passengers and parasites. If you don’t work you don’t eat.
2) Nothing spent on silly luxuries and sillier advertisements to get people to buy them.
3) No putting on airs—in this sense he says it’s Leftist.
4) It practices obedience from all to appointed magistrates, from children to parents, (this won’t be popular) wives to husband. (He knew this was unpopular some 25 years before the rise of “Women’s Lib.”
5) It is a cheerful society, it is courteous, and free of busybodies.

Some people will like parts of this more than others and will fight to get it.

The Ancient Greeks, the Jews of the Old Testament, and the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages all taught that it was wrong to lend money at interest. This was called “usury.” In fact, in Scripture, lending money at interest is sometimes found on a list of sins alongside homosexuality. In Dante’s Inferno, the homosexuals and the usurers are in the same circle of hell. Lewis doesn’t say that we should get rid of lending (which would be very tough to do in our culture), but he does take note of the problems that these three groups of people have had with the practice. (Some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.)

Giving: Lewis does not say we have to give 10%. (I’d just note that 10% of $20,000 annual income is a pretty demanding chunk; 10% of $2,000,000 is chump change, even though it is a larger amount of money. However, he says that if our charitable giving does cause us to reduce our amusements, we can be sure that we are not giving enough.

A Christian society will never arrive until we really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. Although Lewis does not say so, it’s clear he would oppose the attempt to make society Christian through legislation.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Gore's speech

This is the text of Gore's speech. If you disagree with it, please don't use Alberto Gonzales' tu quoque argument that the Clinton administration did something just wrong as well. That's a logical fallacy we teach freshman students to avoid.

John Loftus' new blog

John Loftus wrote: I just started a blog and I was wondering if you would mind if I
placed your blog as one of my links? I don't suppose I have to ask, but
I was also wondering if you'd dialogue with me, especially when it comes
to what I call the illusion of Christian moral superiority.

Check it out:

Then let me know, or post a comment.

John: I would be happy to be linked to, of course, and I will put an entry on my site about your blog. I'm not feeling too morally superior as a Christian these days, however, because of what our President and his minions are doing in the name of Christ. With Christians like that, who needs skeptics.

Craig on the empty tomb

This is the empty tomb article I was looking for.

And these are the comments I got last time on that, from Jason and MikeD:

At 7:12 AM, Jason said…

Haven't read Craig's article linked-to here yet, but a previous discussion with Steven Carr over Paul's notion of resurrection (down in comments for another article of WLC's) is about to run off the bottom of the page, so I'm proposing the discussion be carried on here, if that won't be a problem. (Basically Victor gave two posts on WLC's article, so discussion specifically on it--along with Jeff's response at I.I.--could easily occur in the comments to that other post.)

In case the other post runs off the bottom in the meanwhile, here is a ditto to what I posted down there a minute ago.



{sigh} (okay, trying a different tack...)

We _both_ agree that 1 Cor 6:13a is important. We both agree Paul wrote it. We both agree that the sentence means basically what it says. (Our disagreement is over _why_ Paul wrote it.) We're _both_ accounting for its existence in our claims.

[Note 1: the catch-up note below is rather long, Steven, so if you want to skip past it, that'll be fine. It's just to bring new readers up to speed. Look for **** below. Aside from these notes, this post is identical to the one I made most recently in the previous thread.]

[Note 2: for those picking up on the discussion at this point, and/or without a Bible handy, the verse reads (NASV translation) "Food is for the belly, and the belly is for food; but God will do away with them both." Steven is defending a position held by some ancient Gnostics--a fairly early position, enjoying a resurgence in recent decades--that Paul was advocating this when he wrote it, therefore couldn't have been believing in a resurrection of Jesus' executed body per se.

I agree that the standard orthodox use of this verse tends to be very muddled, and it's simply often overlooked. I don't recall offhand whether WLC referred to that verse in the previous article Victor linked to, though he definitely discusses a lot of things that ought to be taken into account in relation to that verse. I don't know whether WLC advocates my use of the verse, which as far as I can tell is a fairly recent development, though one beginning to pick up steam in the next generation of orthodox scholars. I'm using "orthodox" here in a merely sociological fashion, btw, as meaning 'people who basically accept the Apostle's, Nicene and Athanasius Creeds'.

My position is that in 6:13a (and verse 12, fwiw) Paul is quoting the justification of the leader of a coterie he's opposing--specifically the fellow sleeping with his father's wife whom Paul has pronounced anathema on, back in chapter 5. I've been trying to work around to giving my reasons for this; and had given some of my reasons toward this conclusion in my previous post, but Steven simply backed up to 6:13a without addressing my reasoning at all in his reply.

For what it's worth, I'm quite prepared to agree that if Paul meant to advocate what is written in 6:13a, then it puts a serious problem in his apparent defense of the resurrection of the original body elsewhere, even if we also call note to Paul's concurrent transformation language. The Gnostics aren't, and weren't, pulling their position completely out of nowhere: they're taking a verse from Paul very seriously, and making a legitimate challenge to interpretation.

As I noted earlier, I've written 40K of notes on Steven's comments so far, but haven't delivered them yet. I would like to get around to them eventually, but for the moment I think it's worth focusing on 6:13a, since I've known for a while now that this is the lynchpin on which this particular Gnostic position is based.

Let me clarify that by identifying this position as Gnostic, I'm not making a moral judgment about it. Nor am I here discussing the question of its metaphysical cogency. In fact, I don't even consider Steven's position to be the key defining feature of Gnosticism--in my opinion, much of 'orthodoxy' over the centuries subsequent to Christ has been quite thoroughly 'gnostic' in its doctrine and operations! As far as I can tell, WLC is gnostic by the standard I'm recognizing, for instance. I'm not. But that's another discussion. I'm extremely doubtful that Steven is a gnostic of _that_ sort; I'm aware of no modern Gnostics who are.

Okay, thus endeth the long catch-up note... {g}]


I'm _also_ going on to use 13b, though--the rest of the verse. And the other verses through the end of the chapter. (Actually, I'm pulling together all the material from all first six chapters into a coherent progressive whole and noting the transition into chapter 7. But for the moment I'm willing to stay focused on the end of 6, if you want.)

So, I've said how I'm using those immediately subsequent verses (6:13b through the end of the chapter) in relation to 6:13a. They're obviously about 'soma' (the body), and the risen Lord, and moral use of the 'soma', and what God cares about how people use their 'soma'.

The topic is clearly relevant, and clearly linked to 6:13a.

So, since I've told how I read those verses, in relation to 13a, now you should have your turn (in a fair discussion) to relate how _you_ read those verses. How do _you_ put them together with 13a?


At 6:20 PM, Mike D said…


If I am following you correctly, I hear you saying that we have two choices for what Paul believed about the resurrection. One choice is that it was spiritual. The other choice is that is was physical.

The physical option is unsatisfactory because:
1. Paul described Jesus as “a life-giving spirit” in contrast to Adam.
2. “Flesh and Blood” is incompatible with immortality.
3. A current physical body for Jesus somewhere in the cosmos is inconceivable theologically (and probably scientifically).
The spiritual option solves these issues for you.
1. It identifies Jesus as a spirit. No physical body is required.
2. There is no need for physicality in eternity. Immorality can be a spiritual existence
3. It solves the issue of where Jesus is now. He can be an omnipresent spirit.

There is a third option to the physical or spiritual option. A combined physical and spiritual explanation is what I understand to be the majority opinion (not offered as a proof of correctness). The physical option assumed above could be a straw man (perhaps close to a Mormon view).

The combined position affirms a physical resuscitation plus a transformation of the physical body into something that includes both physical and new spiritual characteristics.

The advantages to the combined option:
1. It affirms the spiritual nature of Jesus as a life giving spirit.
2. It permits a transformed physical body to become immortal
3. It explains how Jesus could physically, visibly ascend yet also be omnipresent and present spiritually in the believer.
4. It explains why it was important that the tomb was empty. Jesus’ new material/spiritual body came from his material body.
5. It supports a hermeneutic that harmonizes the different accounts.
6. It coincides with an anthropology that affirms that human nature is both physical and spiritual (not just essentially spiritual).
7. It explains how the appearances had both physical supernatural characteristics. He is described as eating but also entering locked rooms and suddenly appearing and vanishing.
8. It explains how Jesus was sometimes immediately recognized and sometimes not.
9. It explains the confusion about whether Jesus body could be (should be) touched. Thomas was invited to touch. Mary was warned against clinging to him.
10. It affirms the importance of the physical body behaviorally. Jason’s point on First Corinthians 6 is important. Unless ‘soma’ refers to the physical body and the deeds we do with our body, the chapter makes little sense. There is both a physical reality of our bodies that act and are raised; and a spiritual reality of our spirits that are can unite with the Lord.

At 9:44 AM, Jason said…

Basically good comments, I think, Mark.

It's important to note that Steven (based clearly on what he's written so far) does _NOT_ identify "the first man of the earth, made of dust", as Adam. (1 Cor 15:47-49) He identifies this with Jesus' Incarnation.

(Or to be perhaps more accurate, Steven is saying that Paul identified him with Jesus' birth, life and death in Palestine. It's a little hard to tell whether Steven is actually _himself_ believing these things or whether he's only arguing that _Paul_ believed these things--i.e. as only a sceptical counter-apologetic to the Resurrection of the body of Christ's which died. I'm sure that this is only how Ed would be using this tack, for instance. Long experience with him... {g})

I definitely don't agree with that interpretation; I think it requires simply ignoring what Paul wrote two verses earlier, where Paul quotes in regard to Gen 2:7 (though at the same time calling Christ Adam, too: the last Adam.) Perhaps more importantly, it requires simply ignoring what Paul was writing earlier in the chapter (vv 21-22): "For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive."

But then, Steven never bothers to make positive use of any of 1 Cor 15 before v 35 anyway, for his position. (Not that he may not reference it on occasion, but if so it would be only to try to defend against what those verses are saying. At least, so far this has been the case.)

Of course, to whatever extent we can reach a historical conclusion about the empty tomb independently of Paul's witness, a lot of this becomes simply moot: Paul would certainly have known whatever the Sanhedrin knew and was willing to tell about the tomb. After that, it's extremely difficult to imagine why Paul would go through various convolutions to propose a bodily-risen Christ that wasn't _really_ bodily risen but only in some Platonically idealized non-physical sense. That would only be necessary in order to get around a _full_ tomb (so to speak): somewhat the way the Lubavitcher sect of hasidic Jews might try (or have tried) to get around the recent death of their Messianic claimant in New York recently. (Or, in a similar vein, the way Jehovah's Witnesses propose getting around the evident failure of a widely publicized 19th century prediction of Christ's Return, if I recall correctly.)


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Philosophy and New Testament Scholarship

Randy wrote:
Since you agree that one can be an anti-Humean and come to the completely opposite conclusion regarding the historical validity of the Bible as you do, that seems to go along with my point that one's a priori commitement in regards to the supernatural is irrelevant in reaching that conclusion.
If an anti-Humean after closely examining the text finds that say John has almost zero historical validity while Mark has more, then why can't a Humean using that same methodology also be allowed to reach the same conclusion?
By the way, I looked into Stephen T. Davis. He appears to be a philosopher and not a biblical scholar. At least I could see little indication from his curriculum vitae, that he is personally engaged in analyzing ancient texts in their original language. IMHO, it's much better spending the time reading scholars like Brown or Metzger or Ehrman who actually work directly with the texts than a secondary work like Mr. Davis's. But if you can point me to info regarding Mr. Davis that indicates I'm mistaken about him, I'll be more than happy to try and get a look at his book.
5:38 PM

VR: I happen to like Davis because, as a philosopher, he is aware of the philosophical issues surrounding the study of biblical documents. To get the best answers in biblical studies you not only need to have studied the documents themselves, you need a familiarity with literary criticism in general, as Lewis pointed out, and you also have to be sure that you have a clear understanding of the underlying philosophical issues behind the study of these documents.

In 1990, I was a fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame. There was a conference on philosophy and biblical criticism. The philosophers tended to be more traditional in their understanding of the biblical documents and were critical of the left-wing biblical scholars because of a failure to understand logic, argumentation, and the underlying philosophical issues that bore on biblical studies. The Bible scholars thought that the philosophers didn't know as much as they ought to have about biblical studies to be making those criticism. Things got very heated because the keynote speaker was Michael Dummett, a Catholic philosopher of language who had done little in the area of philosophy of religion but had blasted left-wing biblical scholarship in a recent issue of New Blackfriars. His commentator, John Collins, was very harsh in his response and said that Jesus would be turning over in his grave if he could hear what Dummett had said.

The session that was fascinating to me, was a paper read by Marilyn McCord Adams on the miracle stories in Luke-Acts. Adams had just completed a divinity degree at Princeton thoelogy seminary, but for many years she had, along with her husband Robert M. Adams, been part of a highly-regarded husband-wife team of Christian philosophers at UCLA. She argued that much of the literature concerning miracle stories in Acts was driven (that's the word she used) by an attempt to avoid accepting miracles. She then pointed out that the literature on the rational acceptability of miracle claims did not show that one should avoid accepting them at all costs, mentioning, for example, Richard Swinburne's work on the subject.

A Bible scholar next to me raised his hand and said that in his studies he had simply been following Bultmann's lead on the subject, and that he was willing to study the philosophical literature on miracles to see if there was good reason to change his mind.

The point I want to make is that you can be very versed in the original documents and not have much of an understanding of literary criticism in general, which, as Lewis points out, is a serious problem. A lot of Bible scholars seem to me to adopt what I take to be a naive Bultmannian position with respect to miracles, or are influenced by those who do. When I read a Bible scholar who believes in biblical inerrancy along the lines defined by the early Pinnock, I expect these presuppositions to affect the conclusions he draws. And the same with question of Humean presuppositions.

Can someone who is operating from Humean presuppositions give arguments that might persuade non-Humeans that a passage is not authentic? Of course. But I expect the scholar to recognize that other people just might not share their Humeanism, and to address the issue with that in mind.

C. S. Lewis, the Gospel of John, and Boswell's Johnson

Ed Babinski wrote a rather lengthy reply on matters related to the trilemma on the comments line. In fact, it went for 15 pages when I downloaded it onto Word.

Let me begin with his discussion of Lewis's comparison of the Gospel of John with Boswell's Johnson. On the one hand, I am prepared to agree with Babinski that the Boswell comparison is not especially helpful. I think what is right about it is this: A commentator on John had called John a "spiritual romance," which prompted Lewis to ask, famously "How many romances has that man read." He then said that it either had to be the case that the whole thing was reportage on the order of Boswell's Johnson or it someone in the Second Century had to to have invented the modern realistic novel, which was unknown in those times. He was trying to claim that the Gospel is realistic rather than fictional in form, and I think that is correct.

In my own field of philosophy we have an example that I like a lot better, the dialogues of Plato. Now I don't know what Lewis thought in the area of Plato scholarship, but I'm inclined to think that the earliest dialogues represent the historical Socrates, since in these Socrates is mainly asking questions and is not pontificating detailed theories. As we go along, we find more theorizing, and the interlocutors start dropping out of the picture, often saying little more than "Yes, Socrates." When this starts happening, I think Plato has taken over. But even in these cases, there is a historical core. In the Republic, for example, there is a lot of interesting exchange with Thrasymachus and Plato's brothers, and then you get a lot of theorizing.

I think it's a lot easier to defend the claim that there is a historical core in John which has gets expanded than to defend the claim that the whole thing is accurate reportage. (Of course you can believe by faith that it's inerrant, but that's another matter).

What I suspect, however, is that Ed is trying to discredit Lewis because of this inapt comparison, that it goes to show that Lewis really didn't grow up intellectually, etc. And if this is really what is going on here, then I find it simply tiresome. I think Lewis was on the right track in most of what he wrote, I have never denied that he sometimes misfires, and I said "Great thinkers are always the ones that make us think harder for ourselves, not thinkers that do our thinking for us." (CSLDI p. 14).

A lot of people attempt to discredit Lewis by finding something that he said that seems silly to them and harping on it. This is a procedure that I have little patience for. If I were asking people to accept claims on Lewis's authority (Jack said it, I believe it, that settles it) that would be one thing, but I can't see how anybody can think that who has read my writings at all carefully.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

William Lane Craig's defense of the resurrection

This is Craig's defense of the resurrection.

Gilbert Meilaender Reviews several books

Including The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, to which I am a contributor.

Keith Burgess-Jackson's anti-Leiter blog

Keith Burgess-Jackson has started a blog detailing Brian Leiter's academic thuggery. One of Leiter's victims is Antony Flew. Hat tip: William Vallicella.

Reply to Randy on miracles

Randy wrote: "Dr. Wainwright's positions was that if you were prepared to accept the possibility of the miraculous, it is reasonable to so in many cases. I accepted that position then, I have seen no reason to change my mind since."
1. Miracles are possible.
2. A book contains accounts of many miracles
3. The book is historically accurate.
Looks like fallacious reasoning to me. Simple acknowledgement of the possibility of the miraculaous does not help us in determining the likeleood of the veracity of a book.
That is why I think your supernatualism vs. naturalism presuppositionalism is misguided. It is kind of like a red herring that distracts one from the real issues in interpreting and analyzing any ancient text. One has to look at the actual evidence and arguments the scholar uses in order to evaluate the validity of his analysis of a particular text.
9:23 AM

VR: That's not how I was arguing. I didn't say that the actuality of the miraculous follows from the possibility of the miraculous. Based on his study of the NT, Wainwright thought that it was reasonable to accept certain miracle claims if didn't take some hard-line Bultmannian or Humean view on the antecedent probability of the miraculous. Antecedent probability is an important issue because how you evaluate the NT texts depends on how you perceive the antecdent probability of the miraculous.

Take the resurrection for example. The best theory to explain the NT reports if there was no Resurrection is the hallucination theory. But a lot of people had to hallucinate the same thing if it was hallucinations, and then you still have to explain the empty tomb.

Michael Ruse on creationism

This is Michael Ruse's article on creationism for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, with reference to the current ID controversy.

Original Intent versus Original Meaning

David Calvani offers another correction:

I saw that you posted my note to you on your site (@ http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2006/01/david-calvani-on-establishment-clause.html) I was greatly surprised when I saw "David Calvani on the Establishment Clause" in the previous posts column. I wish you had e-mailed to let me know you were going to do this; I would have seen it sooner.
Regarding that post and the post titled "Clearing up some confusions" (http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2006/01/clearing-up-some-confusions.html#comments), I'm afraid you are making a mistake.
My objection to the federal courts' current establishment clause jurisprudence is not based on "original intent." My objection to this and other bits of judicial activism are based on original meaning. (As are those of most critics of activist rulings.) Every text has a meaning. That meaning does not magically morph over time. And no amount of intent on an author's part can change what he wrote into something he didn't write!
Imagine if someone a week, a year, or even a century from now read your various posts on your website and said "Since society and the use of language has changed since Victor wrote these posts, the meaning of these posts has changed." Such an attitude would destroy your writing. Applying this attitude to legal texts destroys the law.
When attempting to discern the meaning of a law, we must look to how the words and phrases within it were used in the legal parlance of the time when it was enacted. The "Lemon test" has nothing whatsoever to do with what the phrase "an establishment of religion" meant in the legal parlance of the time when the first amendment was written and ratified. The judges who created the Lemon test knew this as well as I do.
But even if the Supreme Court's Lemon test jurisprudence wasn't itself judicial activism, applying it to the states is still a power grab. The immunity created by the establishment clause is entirely for the states. And that immunity was not repealed by the 14th amendment. The 'justices' of the U.S. Supreme Court have removed authority from the citizens and elected legislators of the several states and placed it into their own unelected hands. That's tyranny, pure and simple.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On skepticism and biblical criticism

It is a standard evangelical complaint is that critics treat the Bible with a degree and type of skepticism that they do not employ under similar circumstances with other texts. I attributed this view to Lewis, but I did not actually make the argument myself.

The complaint Lewis made about texts was that biblical scholars made judgments about texts which conflicted with what he knew as a literary scholar. Some biblical scholar had described John's gospel as a spiritual romance along the lines of Pilgrim's Progress, and Lewis thought that someone who said something like that had had his nose in biblical texts for so long that he was unfamiliar with what romances are really like.

The impression that I have is that radical Biblical scholarship is forced to accept certain interpretations of texts in order to avoid accepting the supernatural content that you would have to accept on interpretations that would come more naturally otherwise.

However, by itself this is not a crime. Everyone evaluates situations based on what they take to be antecedently probable. Different scholars approach biblical texts with different credence functions. No one comes in from a neutral perspective, and we have no reason to expect that they should. However the fact that Bultmann has massive expertise in the study of the NT documents is going to cut a lot less ice with me than it would otherwise if I know that he rules out the possibility of the miraculous from the outset. Which he does (and offers appallingly bad arguments for doing so). What gets tricky is sometimes the expertise of someone like Bultmann will convince students that he has reached his skeptical conclusions based on the evidence, when in fact he has reached his skeptical conclusions by presupposing them to begin with.

Steven's real argument

I take it that Steven's argument is as follows:

1. Christians critiquing stories from the Book of Mormon or the Koran use the principle that if a passage in a later document bears a great deal of similarity to an earlier story, the later story was plagiarized and the later story is fictional.

2. But the New Testament contains stories that are similarly similar to earlier accounts in the Old Testament.

3. Therefore, those New Testament stories were plagiarized and are fictional.

I am not sure about the principle. It is a question of the degree and relevance of the similarities. History does repeat itself. Sometimes when I am listerning to the news about Iraq I could swear that I've heard this all before. And I have, in news reports about the Vietnam was. Does that mean the news reports in the 2006 were plagiarized from those in 1969? As Yogi Berra said, it's deja vu all over again.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Reply to Carr on Mormonism

Carr: Anonynous is correct.

The miracles in the New Testament can be treated to exactly the same analysis with which Christians treat the stories in the Book of Mormon and the Koran.

See my article Miracles and the Book of Mormon at

VR: The fact that Mormons claim that the angel Moroni revealed the book of Mormon to Joseph Smith on gold plates is not sufficient to condemn their doctrine. The Mormons believe a bunch of stuff that is contradicted by the evidence, and this is something that goes over and above the mere fact that their doctrine commits them to the miraculous. For example, if they are right, we should expect a DNA similarity between Native Americans and Jews, but there is none, if Mormonism is true we should expect Native Americans to have developed wheel technology enough to have chariots, but they don't, etc. Accepting the Christian story involves accepting divine intervention, but it doesn't commit me to the sort of conflict with the facts that Mormonism requires.

I am providing a link to an old post of mine on Mormonism, which makes essentially these points.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Mere Christianity Book II Chapter 5

Mere Christianity
Book II, Chapter 5

“The Christian belief is that if we share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy creatures.”

“People ask, ‘What is the next step in evolution?’ In Christ this new kind of man has appeared, and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us.”

How does God put life put into us? Someone like Billy Graham might say “It is put into us when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, and we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

Lewis says that there are three things that spread Christ’s life into us: baptism, belief, and Holy Communion. Why believe that there are these things? We believe it on authority: Christ has told us that this is so.

We believe lots and lots of things on authority; evolution, the solar system, the Norman Conquest, and the Defeat of the Spanish Armada. “A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

But Mere Christianity is supposed to be about things that all orthodox Christians agree upon. Many Christians would say that the sacraments are mere symbols; they are commanded by Christ, but they don’t cause Christ’s life to be put into a person. These are put there by grace through faith. Lewis’s Methodist interlocutor had some problems because he thought Lewis didn’t talk about faith enough.

Why does God not make His existence perfectly evident by “landing in force?” If God is omnipotent why doesn’t he make His existence perfectly evident and eliminate all evil by force? Why is God content to set up something like the French Underground in the devil’s world, when he could just clobber the devil and take over by force? Because he wants for people to choose to follow Him freely. “I would not have thought much of a Frenchman who waited until the Allies were marching into Germany before announcing that he was on our side.”

God will invade (the Second Coming), but when he does it will be the end of the world. Then, it will be too late to choose your side.

Ed Babinski Replies to C. S. Lewis

This is Ed's response to me on the Trilemma. My replies are in bold.

C.S. Lewis Replies to Ed on the Trilemma Argument?

Funny thing about Lewis' argument for the chief character in the Fourth
Gospel reading like "Boswell's Johnson," is that Boswell has since been
castigated by Boswell scholars for having both embellished and INVENTED
stories about Dr. Johnson. So I guess Lewis was not only lacking in his
knowledge of comparative Gospel scholarship but also could have benefited
from the results of more in-depth Boswellian scholarship as well.

VR: And do Boswell scholars agree on this? Is there consensus among them? Even if the book contains some embellishment, does anyone seriously think that Boswell's Johnson is as unreliable as Bultmann thinks John is? Perhaps we should hop into the TARDIS, bring C. S. Lewis back from the mid-century, and ask him what he thinks of this radical development in Boswell scholarship.

As Dr. Robert M. Price pointed out in "A Rejoinder to Josh McDowell's
Evidence That Demands a Verdict: 'Jesus-- God's Son'":

"Before one parrots the ludicrous dictum of C.S. Lewis (in "Modern
Theology and Biblical Criticism") that the Johannine discourses bear no
resemblance to ancient, non-historical genres, one owes it to oneself to
read the Gnostic and Mandaean revelation soliloquies abundantly quoted in
Bultmann's commentary on John, something I rather doubt any apologists
take the trouble to do. (I find it amusing that Lewis preferred to compare
John's discourses with Boswell's "reportage" of Samuel Johnson's
table-talk--which, as has recently been argued, seems itself to have been
a literary stylization of the kind critics suggest we find in the Fourth

Adding to Price, one should note that anyone reading the Fourth Gospel can
see it begins with the author's intepretation of Jesus, "the Word of God."
But the previous three Gospels begin merely by calling Jesus the Messiah
and son of God, both a far cry from "God the son."

But, as Lewis points out, at the end of all the Gospels, Jesus gets himself crucified by making claims on his own behalf, such as "I'm going to come back and judge the world." So maybe Jesus didn't claim to be god, he just claimed to be the final judge of all the nations. He could have been sincerely mistaken about that, no doubt. Arthur Wainwright, my Bible professor at Candler School of Theology, quoted Bultmann as saying that Jesus couldn't have said he would come on the clouds to judge the world, because if he said that he would have had to have been crazy. Maybe someone can give me the reference; I've been looking for it since. I remember Wainwright quoting Archbishop Temple: No one would bother to crucify the Christ of liberal Protestantism.

And in the ostensibly earliest Gospel, Mark, Jesus is merely chosen by God
at his baptism, where an ancient Hebrew coronation psalm that refers to
installing a HUMAN king, is used to illustrate Jesus' status, "You are my
son, this day I have begotten you." A human being chosen at his baptism.

There's plenty of debate about what Jesus claimed. Stephen Davis (in Davis et al ed. The Incarnation (Oxford, 2002) defends the claim that Jesus really did make the claims that generate the trilemma. And he has a formidable knowledge of biblical scholarship, I defy anyone to call him ignorant of the relevant literature.

Also, you can read responses to Lewis' "indirect" arguments for Jesus'
"godhood" in the books I mentioned in my original email to Vic. There's
some online responses as well. Too bad Lewis didn't live long enough to
read them, and instead remained far more ignorant of Biblical theology
than he lets on in his essays. In fact he never wrote an essay revealling
any intimate or detailed acquantance with the biblical sholars and deeper
scholarly questions of his own day, and instead begged off such studies,
admitting he was no expert!

"I have no claim to speak as an expert in any of the studies involved, and
merely put forward the reflections which have arisen in my own mind and
have seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They are all submitted
to the correction of wiser heads." [Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on
Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, The Role of
Revelation and the Question of Inerrancy (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979),
p. 22.]

He did, however, claim to have an understanding of ancient literature based on his professional career as a literary scholar. Lewis thought that the biblical scholarship of his day, which he did read, suffered from a presupposed methodological naturalism, either consistently adopted or inconsistently adopted, and a treatment of biblical texts which differs from the way in which other texts from the same time period are treated by scholars. So he;s not a specialist, but his own specialized knowledge makes him suspicious of what the biblical specialists say. I don't think his response is irrational.

The important thing to realize here is that Lewis's work should never be presumed to be a complete apologetic for Christianity. There is always more work to do.

Lastly, Lewis continued to refer people to the same book of Christian
apologetics that first converted him, Chesterton's book, The Everlasting
Man, as if it were the be and end all of Christian historical apologetics.
Lewis continued to hold Chesterton's book as the most demonstrative
apologetic word for him, even in some of the last letters he wrote, when
people inquired what a good historical apologetics work was.

Was he saying "This is a nice picture of what I believe, written in a style that laypeople can understand," or was he making some kind of inerrancy claim? I doubt the latter.

Lewis never grew up intellectually, never faced the questions a James D.
G. Dunn did, or the other scholars I mentioned in my original email
comments, many of whom began their scholarly biblical studies as
conservative Christians.

And John A. T. Robinson when from Honest to God to Redating the New Testament. Does "growing up intellectually" mean leaving the fold and agreeing with you? We can sit here and quote scholars all day. I object to this type of rhetoric. If I wanted to repay you in kind, I would say that this type of rhetoric implies immaturity on your part.

Let's take Ben Witherington as an example. Can you honestly say that he hasn't faced the questions? Would you say that he is ignorant of modern scholarship? How about N. T. Wright or Luke T. Johnson, who teaches at Candler now (or at least did last I heard)? Or, to go back a generation, Joachim Jeremias. All I'm saying here is that Jesus's claims are a subject for serious scholarly debate, and the conservative view of what Jesus claimed is ably defended in the literature. This may not be sufficient to defend the trilemma, but it is sufficient to rebut your charge of not growing up intellectually.

"A False Trilemma" by Dr. Robert M. Price

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A question from Cade Tremain about J P Holding

Cade: On your blog, you refer to JP Holding as being too much of an idealogue for your liking. He is one of my favorite apologists, and I especially love The Impossible Faith. Do you not think he argues his positions well and holds erroneous views, or are you just saying you don't like how vicious he can be to others? If you think his arguments are flawed, how come you think so? I was wondering why you said that, because I've always thought him to be very informed and always presented his case wonderfully. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your reply.

VR: I mainly have trouble with Holding's style, which strikes me as very strident and polemical. On the other hand I'll have to admit to finding Holding very entertaining (such as with the "fundy atheist" list). Contrast this with I Pet 3: 15:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

I think atheists, however, turn a lot of people off with their polemical rhetoric. There are many atheists and skeptics of other stripes about as strident as Holding. If your case is really so strong that no who isn't stupid can disagree with you, then you don't need to say it over and over again. I wish that someone in the atheist camp had written something like:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the atheism that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Wal-Mart Movie

If there is any truth in this movie (and it is hard to believe that there could fail to be), then Wal-Mart is an ethical nightmare. I for one will never darken their door again.

Clearing up some confusions

Anonymous: So much for the notion that ID supporters like Mr. Reppert do not wish to establish a theocracy in this country.

Some confusions.

1) I do not consider myself an ID supporter, or rather, my support for ID is very limited. I don't know how many times I have to say this, but I do not think that the previous Dover school board was justified in the way in which they attempted to bring ID into their curriculum. Criticizing arguments against ID is not sufficient to make one an ID supporter.

2) Saying that an argument along a certain line might be made is different from saying that I think the argument is a good one. The doctrine of "original intent" is a very tricky one. It is the doctrine by which political conservatives hope to reverse a number of judicial precedents, such are Roe v. Wade, but it's highly controversial and I have doubts about it. Further, I would vehemently oppose an official state religion in the state of Arizona or anywhere else for that matter. I do think that questions about the Lemon test might be made from the standpoint of original intent; I wonder whether jurists who are operating by that prinicple would endorse it. However the Lemon test is a currently accepted judicial interpretation of the doctrine of the separation of church and state, not the doctrine itself.

I'm reasonably sure that the founders intended were concerned about the establishment of a revealed religion, like the established Church of England or the Congregationalists in Massachusetts Bay Colony, who horsewhipped someone in the town square for advocating believer's baptism and hanged a few Quakers. A theocracy, I take it, would require revelation as the foundation for law. In the 18th century there was typically a distinction made between natural religion and revealed religion. A good deal of the argumentation in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, for example is designed to show that the "natural religion" established by the design argument doesn't establish much of God even if it does establish the existence of one. So one could argue, on that basis, that the attempt to defend "natural religion" through intelligent design does not in any way establish the kind of religion the founders didn't want established.

I'm not at all sure about the above line of thought.

The comment above reflects a "Whose side are you on, you're either for us or against us, anyone who criticizes criticisms of ID must be trying to establish religion" attitude which is a mirror image of the attitudes of Christian fundamentalists.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

David Calvani on the Establishment Clause


In your post "Angus Menuge on Dover " you are making an error about the establishment clause of the federal constitution.

I took the link in your post "Attacking ID with the wrong stick? " to the article by Alexander George. Professor George makes a similar mistake about the first amendment. I sent him an e-mail in which I told him this:

There is nothing in the constitution of the United States that forbids a state from establishing a religion. Yes, I know the federal courts disagree, but their rulings in this regard are a power grab. By arguing to the contrary in a public forum, you are helping the courts perpetuate their usurpations of authority.

The fourteenth amendment forbids the states to interfere with the "privileges and immunities" of a citizen of the United States. This is why constitutional rights like freedom of speech became binding on the states. But the non-establishment clause creates no privilege or immunity for any citizen at all. The immunity is for the states -- Congress cannot say anything at all "respecting an establishing of religion." Congress cannot create an official national religion, and it can neither forbid nor require a state to establish a religion. Nothing in the fourteenth amendment allows the logical leap that while Congress can't say anything about an establishment of religion, the courts can!

If you reread the first and fourteenth amendments I think you will clearly see that my argument is correct.

David Calvani

David: I've often wondered whether the separationist principle involved in the Lemon test would be in accord with the original intent of the authors of the amendments, and whether a "argument from original intent" could be used against it. Of course, that's the big issue in judicial philosophy these days. Of course, the Dover case isn't going any higher, since the school board was kicked out and the current one wants no part of this fight.

Jeff Lowder's blog

This is Jeff Lowder's blog.

Friday, January 06, 2006

William Lane Craig v. Jeffrey Jay Lowder

I received the following request from Keith Augustine to contact William Lane Craig for a clarification concerning a potential debate with Jeffrey Jay Lowder, the founder of Internet Infidels and an outstanding debater (his debate with Phil Fernandes is, I think, the strongest debate performance I have seen by an atheist, but of course it wasn't against Craig.)

Keith wrote:

Hi Victor,

Would you be willing to contact WL Craig to get an "official"
communication from him about whether he'd be willing to debate Jeff

We've heard conflicting things: James Lazarus tried to initiate a
debate between Lowder and Craig on the InfidelGuy Internet radio show, and
soon the project evolved into a real world debate prospect. In his
communication with Craig, Lazarus was told that Craig would recommend
Lowder for his next debate, but wouldn't do any debates unless invited
to do so by a university.

Subsequently, however, a student contact of mine talked to Craig's
people about setting up a debate on his campus and they said that Craig had a
right to refuse anyone and wouldn't debate anyone without a PhD.

We were thinking that if someone that Craig respected approached him
about the issue, we might be able to get a straight answer from Craig.

Craig's response is as follows:

Yes, I did say I'm happy to have a debate with Jeff.
My statement to whatever university group is referred
to is just my general policy to which I feel free to
make exceptions. Jeff is an exception.

But nothing concrete is in the works yet.