Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wau! A New Religion

I just became an abolitionist!

Now why would I need to do a thing like that? Because just as torture didn't end with the Spanish Inquisition, slavery didn't end with the Emancipation Proclamation, even in America, sad to say. I'm afraid that a lot of what you buy in the store was made by slaves. Where's Frederick Douglass now that we need him?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tom Gilson was on this a long time ago

This was published by BreakPoint, critical of Dawkins' claims about child abuse.

From my exchange with Parsons on Secular Outpost

You have a duty as a parent to teach your children what you think is true, not what you think is false. Whatever goes wrong when a parent teaches Young Earth Creationism to a child goes wrong when someone comes to accept those beliefs, not in teaching the doctrine to one's children. Creationists don't think that what they are teaching is false, they think it's true, otherwise they wouldn't teach it.

As a Christian I think it's wrong to teach atheism to a child, since, on my view, it gets the wrong answer to the question of God. I also think it's wrong to teach YEC to children because I don't believe that, and I think it especially regrettable if the parent teaches the child that anyone who dissents from YEC is something less than a real Christian. It;s unfortunate that they hold those beliefs, but they still have a duty to be honest in teaching their children In most cases, however, a parent should not be shy about tell a child what they themselves believe.

It's wrong to teach dogmatic and narrow-minded Christianity to children, just as it's wrong to teach dogmatic and narrow-minded atheism to children. In view Dawkins-style atheism is just another brand of fundamentalism. Anybody who thinks that nonbelievers have a monopoly on open-mindedness has beeen drinking Kool-Aid.

I'll stand by my basic claim: Dawkins' comparison of religious upbringing to child sexual abuse is horrendously irresponsible. Even where teaching the doctrine of hell is concerned, you have to consider how it is done; what understanding of hell is presented and how the presentation is done. It can be harmful, but it need not be. No such distinctions need to be drawn in the case of child sexual abuse. We have solid documentation of the claim that however it is done, child sexual exploitation does grievous harm. Speculating about needed to protect children from religious "indoctrination" raises the automatic question as to who will do the protecting.

We all want our children to get the "right" answers to the big question in life. We have to look closely at the concept of indoctrination. Parents will give the child a world-view which does give that child a set of control beliefs--I don't see how that's avoidable. But of course they're bound to question those when they grow up.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reply to Bill Snedden on teaching hell

VR: "And if someone believes in hell, it then gets problematic to argue that they ought not to teach the doctrine at all (keep it secret?). At most one is left with the constraints about age-appropriate teaching, which I was trying to cover in my post."
Bill S.: I don't find it problematic at all to argue that people who believe in morally repugnant notions ought not to teach them. If a concept is morally evil, then it shouldn't be taught as good, period. Whether a person believes that concept to be good is wholly beside the point.
Parents who are KKK members and believe that miscegenation is morally evil should not teach such rubbish to their children. That they disagree is beside the point.
Your point about different views of the doctrine of hell is well taken, I think. However, if we were to agree that a doctrine of eternal torment was morally repugnant, would we not also agree that it should not be taught to anyone (as true), much less children?
VR: I think some of the discussion has gotten a little off track here, and I think I ought to get it on track.
First, we might distinguish between ways in which we might assess different versions of the doctrine of hell.
1) Doctrines of hell which are morally coherent and at least plausible from within a Christian perspective.
2) Doctrines of hell that, in the final analysis, are morally incoherent, but which can be held in good conscience by at least some Christians.
3) Doctrines of hell which are morally incoherent, and where the moral incoherence should be evident to anyone who reflects on it.
I realize that there are arguments for the claim that no doctrine of everlasting punishment falls into category 1, and that this case is made not only by atheists but by universalist Christians like Tom Talbott. Another position might be that while the DEP may not be incoherent, many popular versions of the doctrine are morally incoherent. If the missionary's truck broke down on the way to the village before the dying man preached the gospel to him, and he ends up in an eternal torture chamber rather than in eternal bliss because of it, then I've got to be concerned about the concept of eternal punishment in use here.
Another example of a doctrine that I find morally incoherent is Calvinism. In spite of the biblical and moral arguments which I have heard over the years, this view just seems to be just completely incoherent morally. It's a view that leaves me just shaking my head at how anyone can actually believe that God can do that and be good. And yet, I know that there are Christians of good will and good conscience who believe it.
I'm not saying this to launch a debate on that topic. I'm saying I would oppose the claim that people who believe this should refrain from teaching it to their children. That's what they honestly think is true. If they don't teach it to their children, they would be liars. It now becomes a matter, and a matter only, of how they teach that doctrine.
Suppose, however, the doctrine could not be held by a reasonable person. That is what Bill is suggesting when he talks about the KKK and people who oppose miscegenation. The problem here seems to be that the doctrine shouldn't be believed by any reasonable person. But if, my some intellectual failure, it is believed by someone, I think I would still have to say that you can't argue that it is wrong to teach the honest truth to one's children. The error, the intellectual dishonesty if that is what is involved, occurred when the belief was formed. I don't see how you could give someone a reason not to teach some particular version of the doctrine of everlasting punishment to children (even a version of it that you or I might both find detestable) without at the same time giving the holder of the belief a reason to abandon the doctrine itself.
If I fire a gun at someone I think to be and armed robber, and I shoot an innocent 15-year-old boy instead and kill him; if we assume that I am within my rights morally to shoot an armed robber under these circumstances, then depending on how I formed my belief that the moving object over there really was an armed robber, I could be morally in the clear for firing the shot, even though an innocent 15-year-old died as a result.
You have to act on the beliefs you have, not the beliefs that someone else might wish that you had.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On teaching the doctrine of hell to children

More from my response to Parsons' thread on the Secular Outpost.

Any world view, except the sunniest forms of theistic universalism, I take it, commits you to unpleasant realities that you probably are not going to be too eager to teach to your children, and if you do teach them to your children, you would have to do so in a gingerly way, exercising a certain amount of caution in making sure that the teaching was done in an age-appropriate way. A Christian who taught the doctrine of hell to a five-year-old, or a Christian who used made a special effort to present the doctrine of hell in an especially terrifying way, with the intent of scaring the child into proper behavior, would be teaching the doctrine abusively. But an atheist who constantly emphasized to their children that their Christian schoolmates who hope for an eternal life in heaven are deluded, and that when you die you rot, rot, rot, would be teaching the atheist view of death in a way that seems to me abusive as well. If you had someone who, through no epistemic fault of their own but due to some unfortunate intellectual circumstances, came to hold that the Jews controlled the banking industry and that black people were inferior (Darwin seems to have held that latter belief), then one would have to teach those beliefs to one's children in some sort of appropriate way. You can't teach your children what you think isn't true, you have to teach them what you think is true. That's what makes this nonsense about "teaching falsehoods to children" nonsense. I have trouble believing that an educated person today could hold those kinds of beliefs without some sort of culpability, just as I am sure Dawkins doesn't think that anybody could believe in the doctrine of everlasting punishment without some culpability.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On the Tolkien Estate

HT: Colin Duriez. With some information about previously unavailable Tolkien work.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The New Atheists and the Religious Right: Two Peas in a Pod?


VR: "I would object myself to compulsory religious education in the public schools, which you could have surmised if you, well, read my comment. Of course Dawkins can complain about that; I would complain about it myself and I think, so would C. S. Lewis. My complaint is that some of the people in the New Atheist group start sounding like they want the government to actively support atheism. You can't advocate that and at the same time object to such lovely institutions as prayer in public schools. If you subscribe to the thesis that whoever is in power gets to promote their own favorite beliefs in the area of religion (the thesis that got 1/3 of the population of Europe killed in the 17th Century), then you're on the same page with Oliver Cromwell, Cotton Mather, and Charles V.

In the Soviet Union they didn't send believers to re-education camps, they just made sure that kids were taught Soviet atheism in the public school and prevented parents from teaching Christianity to children. The New Atheists at least sound as if they are suggesting the same idea. If they are saying that, they are making themselves hypocrites when the oppose the sort of joining of Church and State advocated by the Religious Right in America. If they're not saying that, then they need to be a lot more careful about what they say."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reply to Parsons on the New Atheism

Keith: We've discussed this quite a bit over at my place. It is one thing to criticize critics of religion for excessive rhetoric and inadequate justification for the assertions they make. I think that case can be made against Dawkins and company. It is another thing to criticize them for being unduly harsh. Here it gets tricky. One should be entitled, it seems to me to attack real intellectual fraud in as harsh of terms as is necessary. However, if one is really making an intellectual fraud charge, or if one is accusing an opponent of being culpably wrong, one assumes a much higher burden of proof. I, for example, in one post, took my friend Dick Purtill to task because he challenged Dr. Beversluis's intellectual integrity while at the same time misidentifiying the central claim of his chapter on A Grief Observed. The safest road is always civility, just because if you aren't civil you've really got to prove it. If people like Dawkins were to take the sort of tone they take but provide careful analyses of the doctrines they criticize, taking the time and effort to get things right, I would think better of him than I do now. A third problem is if these New atheists" have actually advocated doing thing that undermine the principles underlying the separation of church and state. Did Harris say, or did not say, that the death of God should be taught in the public schools. I'm sorry, but can you imagine what would hit the fan if a Christian were to say that he wanted the Resurrection of Jesus preached in the public schools? Did Dawkins describe the education of children in a particular religion in a religious faith as child abuse, or did he just think that an upbringing that made undue use of the fear of hell is child abuse. From the quotes I have seen it looks like he thinks all religious upbringing, including the education of my own daughters as Christians, is abusive. Am I being unduly sensitive if I am not too happy with Dawkins for implying that my wife and I are child abusers? Did Dennett say that we shouldn't let religious people teach falsehoods to children, such as teaching them to reject evolution? It's one thing to teach evolution in the public schools, it's another thing to tell parents that they can't tell their kids that it's all false. How would you enforce that sort of thing, without undercutting the foundations of the separation of church and state? In the "new atheist" literature they have gone beyond the sensible thing that one might say on these matters and have said things that to me undermine the underlying prinicple behind the doctrine of the separation of church and state. Maybe they didn't mean it, but then I have to say that people need to pay attention to what they are saying, and what these claims imply. Of course vigorous critique and debate is never a bad thing. If the main problem with Dawkins et al is that they aren't nice, that would be a minor problem. But I think they are open to more serious criticism than that on several fronts, including, I think, a rejection of the prinicples underlying the separation of church and state. If they don't mean these things, they should be speak more carefully in the future.

Chad McIntosh defends the Conceptualist Argument

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Further dialogue with anonymous on telology at the basic level

Anon: I disagree. With theism, you have teleology that God doesn't cause right there in God's nature. If we allow brute, bedrock order/teleology/functionality in *this* case, then why not for the universe?

VR: Yes, you could have an immanent teleology built into the universe. That would make you, um, an idealist, or maybe a pantheist. I'm not arguing against those positions.

Anon: It's not as though the claim that all order/teleology comes always and necessarily from minds is a synthetic a priori proposition. But if not, then we need a poseriori evidence for it. Unfortunately, this isn't what we see. Order/teleology is observed to come from minds, but it also comes from instinct (e.g., the functionality and order of spider's webs), and it is observed to come from prior internal principles of order (e.g., seeds give rise to rosebushes). So we have multiple observed causes of order/teleology.

VR: But are those cases of teleology part of the real world, or something nonteleological that mimics teleology. I would say that if you take that hard-core Darwinian position with no background teleology the purpose of your eyes is not to see, but the eye is placed in the head through trial and error in such a way that it does what it would do if it were designed, even though it isn't. If this is so, whose purpose is it pray tell me?

Anon: So what are the most fundamental causes of such *derivative* order? Well, the best we can do is reason from from the observed causes of order to unobserved, ultimate causes of order via arguments from analogy. But if so, then since there are multiple *observed* causes of *derivative* order, and some of these are non-intelligent in nature, then we have no principled way of ruling out that the *fundamental* causes of order are analogous to the *non-intelligent* causes we observe.

VR: But there are a lot of things left out here. Non-mental facts underdetermine intentionality, they underdetermine purposiveness, they certainly don't provide for the existence of a perspective that is different from another person's perspective (try getting indexical facts out of non-mental information), and they provide no norms in and of themselves. We look at something and decide that it does pretty well at fulfilling a purpose, but the poor dumb objects have no idea what is going on.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Answers to some questions from Anonymous

Q: I'm curious: why is naturalism (i.e., the denial of the supernatural) committed to the causal closure of the physical? Or is it?

VR: I wouldn't simply treat naturalism as the denial of the supernatural, because there are world-views according to which are mentalistic in nature but maintain that reality is, in the last analysis mental and not physical. If that is the case, the natural/supernatural distinction breaks down. I prefer to ask a different fundamental question, are the basic causes operating in the universe mental or non-mental. If we analyze down to the bottom, as it were, and reasons are still in the explanation, then we have a mentalistic world-view, even if it is not traditional theism. If we analyze down to the bottom and the mental is analyzed out, then we have a non-mentalistic world view.

Q: Second, are *theists* committed to the causal closure of the most basic level of reality?

VR: Certainly not the causal closure of the non-mental.

Q: Finally, if abstract objects exist, then they are arguably a part of "the basic level of reality". If so, then wouldn't that mean that there's no violation of causal closure even if abstract objects and the physical interact? If you don't like causal-talk here (perhaps it's rejected that abstracta and concreta can't causally interact, although they must be related in *some* way), then replace such talk with "influence".

VR: No, the non-mental world goes on without reference to the abstract objects. For objects in the space-time manifold to pay heed to abstract objects would mean that they do something other than what the laws and prior facts would indicate that the will. Hence, something that "doesn't fit in" to the physical is breaking in to the physical. Lewis says that that is "supernatural", but it isn't spooky or weird or ghostly. It's just irreducibly mentalistic.

Hasker's "How Not to Be a Reductivist"

Can't recommend this one enough.

A new infidels discussion on naturalism: the conceptualist argument

Perhaps this might bear following. It looks to be a version of the conceptualist argument.

Monday, March 10, 2008

For and against capital punishment

Lecture Notes on Socrates

III. Socrates
A. Dialectical method
1. Starts conversation
2. Isolates key term, asks "What is X"
3. Asks for help defining X
4. Asks for clarification
5. Shows definition to be inadequate
6. Repeats process until it becomes evident the “victim” doesn’t know what he’s talking about
B. Theory of knowledge
1. Socratic dialogue presupposes that there is something quality or property that the term refers to. Universal definitions can capture the truth. A sophist would say that words mean whatever you can get them to mean, for the purposes of advancing yourself.
2. The midwife of ideas
3. Doctrine of innate ideas
C. Metaphysics
1. The soul is the most important part of the person, not just the accompaniment of the body
2. The soul is worth caring for independently of whether or not it will last for an eternity.
D. Virtue
1. The goal of life is not just living, but living well. To do what is immoral in order to preserve oneself, as Antiphon suggested is to defend one’s body by harming one’s soul.
2. Being virtuous is fulfilling our nature. The good life is not just the pleasant l life.
E. Knowing a doing
1. Socrates said that to know the good is to do the good. No one chooses to do evil knowingly.
2. What he means is that when people do wrong they often do so out of a misplaced idea of what is good. Ex. Willie Sutton the bank robber. Why do you rob banks, Willie? Because that’s where the money is.
3. Knowledge isn’t just possessing the information. It is more like wisdom. What is involved in knowing that smoking causes cancer. You can read on every pack of smokes that it does. But if you really knew what you were doing to yourself would you smoke? (The answer to all of this may not, on reflection, support Socrates’ contention. Aristotle, for example, rejected it).
F. Political philosophy
1. Social contract theory- Socrates refuses to escape because he has agreed his receiving the benefits of society means he should accept the penalties it metes out.
2. Natural law theory: There is a universal moral law that can be known through reason and experience, not created by governments. Governments are just insofar as their laws conform to the natural law.


A lot of times I have struggled with discussions amongst evangelicals where a certain type of evangelical vocabulary is equated with Christian faith or Christian orthodoxy. For example, the phrase "accept Christ as your Lord and Savior" isn't in the Bible at all, and while Scripture mentions being born again about three times, it never hyphenates the phrase "born-again" with Christian.

What happens is that people who don't disagree sound as though they do, but also people can appear to agree with one another because both can use evangelical terminology, while not agreeing with one another at all.

My philosophy lecture on the Sophists

I. The Sophists
A. Two central emphases
1. Skepticism- we have no knowledge
2. Success—we should do what will make us successful
B. Protagoras
1. Man is the measure of all things.
2. Is this man individually or man as a group? In either case Protagoras is a relativist
3. With respect to perception, Protagoras is an individual relativist. All knowledge comes from sense experience. Sense experience is person-relative. Therefore, all knowledge is person-relative.
4. With respect to ethics Protagoras is a social relativist. Society’s traditions are as good as any. Don’t rock the boat.
5. In philosophy of religion Protagoras is an agnostic who thinks it is nonetheless expedient to worship the gods.
C. Antiphon
1. The law of self-preservation is absolute-it’s the law of nature
2. Social conventions often enjoin is to do what is against the law of nature
3. Therefore, we should follow social laws when people are watching, but when we are alone (and can get away with it), the law of nature
D. Can you imagine that Sophist philosophy might be regarded as socially dangerous? It implies that in the final analysis, the actions of a Mother Teresa are not really better than the actions of an Adolf Hitler. While if you follow the teachings of Protagoras you won’t become a serial killer, it does mean that you will accept the practices of your community and have no perspective from beyond the norms of your community from which to say that the norms of the community are wrong.
E. But how do you answer these people?
1. One answer would be to appeal to the existence of an almighty, all-good God who commands people to act rightly, and who, at the end of the day, rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.
2. But the ancient Greeks did not have these kinds of beliefs available to them. The “gods” they believed in were amoral or immoral, and no one of them was in supreme command.
3. The philosophies of Socrates and Plato, and even to some extent Aristotle, are best seen as attempts to respond to Sophism.

Basic information on Socrates

This page is a good introduction to Socrates.

The new atheism and the role of government

Reading some of the comments made in defense of people like Richard Dawkins on atheism and in doctination, my suspicion is that the best you can come up with on their behalf is that they don't have a well-thought-through position on the relation of church and state, or rather, the principles that would underlie a church-state separation doctrine. That's how you can get comments about child abuse and protecting children from in doctrination, or even proclaiming the death of God from the public school classroom.

But this isn't very good, is it? If you say you want the death of God proclaimed in the school classroom, then you can't complain about the establishment of religion by religionists, otherwise your commitment to the separation of church and state becomes selective and unprincipled. That's my point. When it comes to granting freedom, the test is always whether you are willing to grant freedom to the other guys.

I see no good reason why atheists should be able to avoid the mistakes religionists have made when they engaged in religious persecution. Why does unbelief provide any immunity? I don't get it. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition from unbelievers, but in people like Dawkins and Harris we can see lines of thought that lead to the thinking of Torquemada.

What if some Christian were to say "I look forward to the day when the Resurrection of Jesus will be proclaimed in every school classroom in America." Have even people like Falwell said that??

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Anthony Horvath responds to Carrier on Flew

I've run out of steam when it comes to getting into it about the Flew controversy. But this is an interesting response from Horvath.

Brandon on exclusivism and tolerance

And keeping the two issues distinct. HT: John Depoe.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The first of Hasker's three arguments for libertarian free will

I. Why should we reject determinism and accept libertarian free will
A. Our experience of choice. “This experience seems to carry with it the strong conviction that the various alternatives were within our power.” Descartes thinks that this demonstrates libertarianism and that it is absurd to doubt what we inwardly experience
1. Hasker thinks this goes too far. What seems to us to be true may not be true. (I could be, for example, deceived by an evil demon. Or just unaware of the determining causes of my action).
2. However, the inner conviction of freedom deserves to be taken seriously. Consider (my example) my seeming to see a tree in front of me. I could have good evidence that my tree-seeing experience is not veridical. But in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, I have every reason to believe that I do see a tree. The arguments for determinism are less that persuasive, according to Hasker, so we do have a good reason to take our experience seriously and believe that my will is free in the libertarian sense.

Dawkins on child abuse

"God Delusion" author Richard Dawkins complains that "Our society, including the nonreligious sector, has accepted the preposterous idea that it is normal and right to indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them — 'Catholic child,' 'Protestant child,' 'Jewish child,' 'Muslim child,' etc."

Dawkins says those "labels" are "always a form of child abuse" and concludes:

"Maybe some children need to be protected from indoctrination by their own parents."

There you have it. Dawkins is at least playing around with the idea of using the powers of the state to prevent Christian parents from raising children in the Christian faith.

The whole idea of separation of church and state is that however much we might like to use the power of the state to advance a religious agenda, since the state is inherently coercive, we've got to back off. I may want to lead my third grade class in prayer, but if I get to do it, then I have to let the Catholic teacher next door do it, or the atheist or Mormon or Satanist down the hall do it, and I have to leave the atheist (or whoever else doesn't concur with my prayer) out, and so I have a duty to forbear out of respect for the beliefs of others.

The thinking that leads to religious persecution goes like this: those guys over there who are teaching false religious claims are exposing others to a greater likelihood of eternal damnation. So we have to stop these people no matter what it takes. Maybe people need to be protected from false teaching. Believe me, religious persecutors have everyone's best interests at heart.

So do anti-religious persecutors. Removing eternal damnation from the picture doesn't eliminate the temptation to persecute. They will say that these religious people may not be exposing people to hell, but they are spreading scientific illiteracy and possibly ushering in a new dark age, and they just have to be stopped.

If I were told that I could not teach Christianity to my children, you can bet I would consider myself to be a victim of persecution. (Unfortunately for Dawkins, we already "indoctrinated" our kids, and they are dedicated Christian adults now.)

Yes, yes, I know, Dawkins says maybe. And the next atheist that comes along will say definitely. And it will be more tempting for these people to say definitely the closer they are to acquiring political power.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Determinism has its own website!

The New Atheism and Separation of church and state

I think my previous link to this article actually linked to the last page of it. Atheists listen up. For years atheists have been the foremost advocates of the separation of church and state. I have always been a firm believer in church-state separation, though I haven't always been happy with the extent to which, say, the ACLU pushes it. Atheists like Harris and Dawkins want to use the power of the state, especially through the public schools, to advance atheism and destroy religion. The do NOT believe in any recognizable form of the separation of church and state. In short, these people are the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of atheism. How they can decry religious persecution or the religious right is beyond me. If Christians tried to do for their faith what the New Atheists are trying to do for atheism, they would be rightly condemned as fanatics and advocates of religious persecution.

I will defend the separation of church and state against those of my own faith who would push is in the direction of theocracy. Atheists who believe in church-state separation should do the same with the atheocrats amongst them.