Monday, June 29, 2009

Whose idea?

Whose cockamamie idea is it so award the league MVP based on the regular season in the NBA? The regular season barely exists in the NBA. To prove my point I have two words: Dirk Nowitzki.

Dawkins responds to the AFR

I am redating this post with some fresh comments.

I finally got the chance to listen to this. Holy cow, Dawkins says that if we are deluded, we would have died out long ago.

Let's take a look.

T = We believe in God.
D = We are deluded.
X (for extinct) = We would have long ago become extinct.

T -> D
D -> X

So the fact that theists have not long since become extinct effectively refutes the central claim of Dawkins' book.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I am not a selfplex

An old post I redated

In a previous post I had written:

"Now let's try a plain vanilla argument from consciousness.

1. Probably, if naturalism is true, there is no consciousness.
2. There is consciousness.
3. Threfore (probably) naturalism is false.

Now, on the face of things, it looks as if the naturalist can respond by denying 2. Ah yes, what you think of as consciousness really doesn't exist. Or perhaps they will give you a definition of consciousness which eliminates salient features of what we common-sensically think of as concsiousness, while retaining the name. I take it that's what's going on in Dennett's Conscoiusness Explained, and that is why some have suggested the title should have been Consciousness Explained Away."

Ahab on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board wrote: I don't quite understand why you think a naturalist would bother trying to deny #2. It is #1 which seems obviously flawed by its question-begging assumption that if naturalism were true there would be no such thing as consciousness.

Well, consider this from Susan Blackmore in The Meme Machine.

“each illusory self is a construct of the memetic world in which it successfully competes. Each selfplex gives rise to ordinary human consciousness based on the false idea that there is someone inside who is in charge."

or Pinker from "Is Science Killing the Soul?"

"There's considerable evidence that the unified self is a fiction--that the mind is a congeries of parts acting asynchronously, and that it only an illusion that there is a president in the Oval Office of the brain who oversees the activity of everything."

Now if I am right rational inference is an inference done by some person. The same person must have the thought "All men are mortal" that thinks "Socrates is a man" and "Socrates is mortal." When I think of consciousness I mean that there is an individual, unified person who is conscious, and to tell me that there is no unified person is to tell me, in effect, that there is no consciousness. And this kind of a denial of a unified consciousness, on my view, undermines the possibility of rational inference on which the natural sciences rest. No one could prove the Pythagorean Theorem if there were no president in the oval office making the rational inference.

This is why arguments from consciousness can be part of the argument from reason family; because denials of what I take consciousness to be, denials made by major league naturalistic scientists and philosophers, have disastrous epistemological implications.

Arguments from Reason and Arguments from Consciousness

A redated post, since someone asked.

One fundamental issue between myself and Richard Carrier (and his is not alone in this by any stretch of the imagination) is the difference between arguments from reason, which people like Lewis, Hasker, and myself have developed, and arguments from consciousness, such as we find in people like Swinburne and R. M. Adams. Here is the central difference. Suppose we look at an anti-naturalist argument from, say, objective moral values. The argument goes like this:

1. Probably, if there are objective moral values, the naturalism is false.
2. There are objective moral values.
3. Therefore, (probably) naturalism is false.

In J. L. Mackie's the Miracle of Theism he pretty much agrees with 1, on grounds that objective moral values do not fit well within a naturalistic world view. But he rejects 2, and says that he thinks objective moral values do not exist. Now, I have here argued that rejecting 2 would be a prett y costly move. You would, for example, have to accept the idea that we don't have the kinds of inalienable rights that the Declaration of Independence says we have; and that statements like "It is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement' are not objectively true. But moral subjectivism isn't incoherent; it's not inconsistent with the possibility of science, or the possibility of argument.

Now let's try a plain vanilla argument from consciousness.

1. Probably, if naturalism is true, there is no consciousness.
2. There is consciousness.
3. Threfore (probably) naturalism is false.

Now, on the face of things, it looks as if the naturalist can respond by denying 2. Ah yes, what you think of as consciousness really doesn't exist. Or perhaps they will give you a definition of consciousness which eliminates salient features of what we common-sensically think of as concsiousness, while retaining the name. I take it that's what's going on in Dennett's Conscoiusness Explained, and that is why some have suggested the title should have been Consciousness Explained Away.

But we can make the AFC into a species of the AFR if we can use the following orgument:

1. If consciousness does not exist, then reason does not exist either.
2. Reason does exist.
3. Therefore, consciousness exists.

Now there is a "transcendental justification' for 2. The sciences, and the very process of argument that, say, Carrier and I are engaging in, presupposes that what we are really doing is supporting claims, instead of doing something that perhaps has the grammatical form of rational inference but is really not rational inference.

All arguments that block denial moves by using an argument like the above are arguments from reason. This is a strength that arguments from reason have that other arguments against naturalism do not have. Some things can't be eliminated without eliminating science and reasoning.

I wouldn't exactly call them transcendental arguments themselves; as I am thinking about it the various AFRs are straightforward arguments, but if the opponent wants to say that the object that I am claiming fails to fit in with a naturalistic view doesn't exist, then there is a transcendental argument saying that it does.

J. D. Walters on the argument from naturalistic explanations

A redated post.

This is J. D.'s rebuttal, which he put in the comments line.

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

This is includes my most recent work on the AFR. Interestingly enough, I think J. P. Moreland's essay on the Argument from Consciousness hits quite a few points similar to mine. I've just started delving into that one.

The road to religious persecution

The thinking that leads to religious persecution seems to go like this.

1) Our beliefs are true, and others are false.
2) Whether you accept our beliefs or not determines whether you go to heaven or to hell.
3) The people who promulgate these other religions are putting other people's souls in danger.
4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to hell.
5) Therefore, the use of force in the name of religion is justified.

However, you should notice that none of the other statements on this list follow logically from 1. The problems come further down the list.

Religions don't kill people, people kill people.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What if

Would we feel any better about a pollitical leader who, after a sex scandal, came before the public and said "Yes, of course I had an affair. But this is really no problem, because my wife and I have practiced open marriage throughout our married life. "

Friday, June 26, 2009

Salvation, Scripture, and Sovereignty

There are three sets of scriptures that one has to account for in dealing with this issue.

1) Scriptures apparently asserting the absolute sovereignty of God.
2) Scriptures apparently indicating God's universal love and universal intent to save.
3) Scriptures apparently indicating that Satan, and many humans, are punished eternally for their sins.

I say apparently because the "apparent" implications of one set of passages has to be only apparent. You have to deny the apparent implications of one of these sets. And Christian Bible interpreters have alternative interpretations for each of these sets. You can say that the sovereignty passages do not mean to imply that God doesn't permit humans to choose freely. You can say that the universal intent to save passages have implicit in them a limited reference class that limits the scope of God's love and/or the intended benefit of God's salvific actions to the elect. (Actually, Calvinists are split on whether God loves everyone, even those that God reprobates.) And, interestingly enough, there are Christians who have argued that "eternal" punishment for the wicked is only age-long, not forever, and is designed to bring about an eventual redemption, which means that eventually everyone will be saved. In the first four centuries of the church, universalism was far more prevalent that what later became known as Calvinism.

Or, of course, you can say that, based on Scripture, we are not in a position to extrapolate and decide what the correct answer to this issue is.

And just in case someone gets the wrong idea, there is nothing in here intended to attack Calvinism.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Religious and non-religious determinism

The best way to look at determinism is to see it as the view that everything is inevitable. This can be looked at from a religious perspective, and a non-religious perspective. From a religious perspective, this is the doctrine of predestination. Before the foundation of the world, God decrees everything that is going to happen, from the Fall of Lucifer, to the Fall of Adam, to the death of Christ, to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Columbine murders, the 9/11 attacks, and the election of first Bush and then Obama. All of this was predestined by God.

If this were true, would you say that everything was God's fault, or could wrong actions also be blamed on the humans who performed them? If compatibilism is true, then it can be our fault, even if determinism is true. If incompatibilism is true, then we would have to have something called contra-causal freedom (we could have done otherwise from what we did under the exact circumstances) in order to be truly responsible for our actions.

If we take non-religious determinism, then there's no God to cause everything, but we are simply collocations of atoms doing what the laws governing those atoms guarantee we will do. What this would mean would be that if we knew the position of all the particles in the universe on January 1, AD 1500 at midnight, you could know that Hitler would massacre the Jews, that Obama and Biden would run against McCain and Palin and win in 2008, and that the Cardinals would get to the Super Bowl and lost narrowly to the Steelers. Again, we can ask if anything would really be anyone's fault if that were true, since we would be pawns, not of God, but of nature.

Nice try, Eric

Who mentions my work on the AFR on Pharyngula (see comment 51) and gets one response back referring to Carrier's critique. Perhaps a casual reader of Internet Infidels might not know about my own published counter-critique in Baggett and Walls ed. C. S. Lewis as a Philosopher (IVP, 2008), (and in a couple of other places as well) but surely must have seen Darek Barefoot's response on Infidels?

Why Christianity and Islam cannot both be true

A redated post.

If two statements contradict one another, one must be true and the other false. That is the most fundamental law of logic. Thus the claims:
1) "God' final revelation to man is in the Qu'ran, where it is taught that Jesus never died by crucifixion."
conflicts with
2) "Christ's death on the cross atones for our sins."
1 logically entails
1A) Jesus did not die by crucifixion.
While 2 logically entials
2A) Jesus died by crucifixion.
Thus the central claims of Islam and the central claims of Christianity cannot both be true. The issue, by the way, is a factual issue. It does not even involve the supernatural.

When the secular foundation for morality wears thin

People who believe in a secular basis for morality usually look to our social needs and interactions to give us a reason to be moral. These motivations are legitimate, but may not hold up too well under the following circumstances.

1) People become convinced that appearing moral is all that is needed, as opposed to being moral.
2) People are in a position of control over others, and therefore do not consider their behavior toward those they control governed by ethics.
3) People just do not feel any need for social approval. Socially isolated persons often end up being serial killers, for example.

In these three situations, I do think the ordinary "social" reasons for leading an ethical life wear thin.

Ethics and World-Views

A redated post.

This is a response that I will be presenting to my students in Introduction to Ethics. I thought I would get feedback on it. The textbook is Jacques P. Thiroux and Keith W. Krasemann’s Ethics: Theory and Practice, ninth edition (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007)

In this chapter there is developed an account of what morality is, including some reflections on the relationship of religion to morality. I’ve got some pretty significant differences with the chapter, and so I am going to give you some points to ponder with respect to these issues.

Morality, as I conceive it, is concerned with three different things. The first has to do with how humans relate to one another. The second has to do with how one ought to relate to oneself. The third has to do with how one should relate to one’s creator (if there is a creator). These are three different things, and so if we ask, for example, what relevance religion has for morality, we have to look at all aspects of these things.

In our present day, whether one practices a religion or not depends on what world-view one holds. One highly prevalent world-view springs from the monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religions maintain that one being is the creator and sustainer of the world, and as such has handed down or communicated certain moral imperatives. Even if you are the President of the United States, from the standpoint of these religions, you cannot rightfully set aside, say, one of the Ten Commandments and say that it does not apply to you.

A second world-view would be the world-view of many Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In those religions there may be concepts of deity or there may not, but the deities in those religions do not have personal wills and, for the most part, do not issue commandments. Nevertheless, humans are thought to be caught on a cycle of birth and rebirth, and certain states of character (such as nonattachment) are thought to help humans get free from this cycle.

The third world-view is the view of philosophical naturalism. On this view what is real is the world as described by the natural sciences. On this view humans are wholly and completely products of evolution. The processes which produced us had, in Bertrand Russell’s words, no prevision of the end they were achieving.”

And there are other world-views, or mixtures of the two. Aristotle didn’t think that God had any purposes for our existence, nevertheless there were purposes inherent in nature. Other world-views are polytheistic, and accept numerous deities without supposing that any one has an absolute right to give commandments.

Now let’s look at how different world-views might answer the question of what the purpose of human existence is. For those in theistic traditions, the purpose for human existence is given by God. This would be an intended purpose for human existence. Aristotle seemed to believe in inherent purposes but not intended purposes. For those in Eastern traditions, God does not give purpose for existence, but the desire to escape the cycle of birth and rebirth functions something like an inherent purpose. Eastern traditions operate on the presupposition that sooner or later (it may be several incarnations later) humans are going to want to get off the wheel of rebirth. Naturalism, on the other hand knows nothing of intended purpose or inherent purpose. They do believe in Darwinian function; for example a naturalist might explain the prevalence of heterosexuality over homosexuality by explaining that the former is far better suited to the passing on of one’s genes than the latter. However, we have no reason to believe that one’s chosen purpose (one that one chooses for oneself) is or should be identical to one’s Darwinian purpose, ethicists who are philosophical naturalists do not ordinarily oppose homosexuality because if fails to satisfy our Darwinian purpose.

Now, given this analysis, how is world-view going to affect morality? Let’s take human relationships with one another. Here, we are most likely to find the greatest agreement on moral matters. People of all religions and no religion desire to do what is socially useful or advantageous. If you want others to treat you will, it is often to your advantage to treat them well. Besides, we humans do have a natural sympathy for one another. Nevertheless there are some differences, because naturalists think that humans can expect about 70 years on earth on oblivion after that, while Hindus think we are going to be reincarnated, and Christians think that humans are headed for heaven or (perhaps) hell. Theists think that we have an intended purpose for our existence and naturalists do not.

In assessing our duties to ourselves, these world-views differ more markedly. Do I have a duty to myself not to commit suicide? How we answer the question of the purposes of human existence is certainly going to affect that question, will it not? And as for our duties to a creator, a lot, of course, is going to depend on whether one thinks a deity exists. It is plausible to suppose that if a deity exists we ought to worship that deity in public, but if no deity exists then the time we spend worshipping ought to be spent elsewhere.

The textbook argues that morality should not be wholly based on religion. I agree, in that whether we have religious beliefs or not, we still want to know how one goes about conducting relationships with other persons. He also seems to think that our inability to prove the existence of a supernatural being is a reason not to base religion on morality. I happen to think there are reasons one can weigh for and against the existence of God, so I am not sure how strong that reason is. Everyone has to assess, as best one can, what is true about the question of God, and if one decides that one does believe, then the fact that one may not be able to justify one’s beliefs to the satisfaction of all reasonable persons is not a reason not to base one’s morals on what one does believe. However, we have to share social space with people who differ with us religiously, and even people who are atheists have an interest in questions of how we ought to conduct ourselves. That said, I think that persons of differing world-views can only go so far in agreeing on their ethical convictions. I also think it would be silly for people who have moral convictions based on religion to set those considerations aside when doing ethics. If we are talking not about individual moral decisions but about decisions that have to be taken by legislators or society as a whole, then the solutions will have to come to terms with the fact that there is a plurality of religious viewpoints out there. That’s part of why ethics isn’t electrical engineering.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Popular and logical validity

•Validity is a huge concept. It is the centerpiece of discussion when it comes to all deductive arguments.
•An argument is valid just in case the argument is structured in such a way that if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. To put it another way, if the premises are true, there is no possible way that the conclusion can be false.

•Popular validity and logical validity
•Mind you that the definition I provided above is not the popular concept of validity. We sometimes just use the term “valid” as a word for legitimate. So, for example, we would not say that telling the teacher that the dog ate your homework is a valid excuse. (A goat maybe, not a dog). Nevertheless, that excuse can be made into a valid argument.

Let’s take this argument:
•If I say my dog ate my homework, then I have a valid excuse.
•I say that my dog ate my homework.
•Therefore, I have a valid excuse.
This is a valid argument, according to the logical definition of “valid” because if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Most of us would agree that the conclusion is false. But that is because we are inclined to reject the first premise. If the first premise were true, and the second also, then the conclusion would have to be true. The argument is valid (logical sense) even though the excuse is not (popular sense).

Hempel's Dilemma

This is the Wikipedia entry on Hempel's Dilemma. It raises some questions for physicalism.

Response to Rahim on Beversluis

I am Rahim.
I am writing a thesis on Lewis. I came across John Beversluis 'C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion'. He is showing Lewis like a amateur thinker who has many flaw. Could you give me some advice ?

Rahim: The first thing I would have to ask you is what version of Beversluis's book you have. The first version had a red cover, was published by Eerdmans press, and came out in 1985. The second came out in 2007 and was published by Prometheus Books. I differ with the conclusion of both editions, since he is an unbeliever who thinks that Lewis's apologetics are entirely unsuccessful. However, the second edition is considerably fairer than the first, and takes into account the criticisms of his book that were written by a number of people, including myself.

Secondly, you have to calibrate your expectations of Lewis in a reasonable way. Lewis got the best philosophical education there was to be had as a student of Greats at Oxford in the 1920s, and to my mind is an unusually insightful thinker. However, his career was in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, and so he didn't follow, and respond to, philosophical developments the way a philosophy professional world. He wrote only three book-length works, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles, which could be regarded as apologetic books per se. So in one sense, sure, you'd have to regard him as an amateur, if the contrast class is professional. You cannot expect the kind of technical philosophical work that you get from a Plantinga or even a Craig.

For example, Lewis's definition of naturalism isn't adequate, and so I use an account from William Hasker's The Emergent Self, which doesn't have some of the problems that Lewis's does. But that is the sort of thing you have to do when you are dealing with someone whose ideas you like, but who isn't operating in the "contemporary analytic philosophy" mold.

My book is, among other things, a response to the 1985 book. The book C. S. Lewis as a Philosopher (ed. Baggett and Walls, IVP) has some good material, including two discussions of Beversluis by Horner and Baggett. Although, once again, they are addressed to the 1985 edition.

I have been meaning to write a detailed review of the new book, but I haven't found the time yet.

Do capital defendants have the right to be DNA tested?

In a 5-4 ruling on June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower federal court ruling holding that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees a convicted inmate the right to a DNA test on evidence that might prove his innocence. The defendant, William Osborne, had been convicted in 1994 of sexual assault in Alaska and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Alaska is one of only 4 states in the country that does not have a law providing for access to DNA evidence (the other 3 are Alabama, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma, though Alabama recently passed a law allowing limited access to DNA for death row inmates). Osborne was willing to pay for the test, which the state admitted might have conclusively proven his guilt or innocence.
While acknowledging the revolutionary importance of DNA testing in the criminal justice system, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said that it would be better to allow states to develop their own procedures for utilizing this forensic tool. He wrote: "Federal courts should not presume that state criminal procedures will be inadequate to deal with technological change. The criminal justice system has historically accommodated new types of evidence, and is a time-tested means of carrying out society’s interest in convicting the guilty while respecting individual rights. That system, like any human endeavor, cannot be perfect. DNA evidence shows that it has not been. But there is no basis for Osborne’s approach of assuming that because DNA has shown that these procedures are not flawless, DNA evidence must be treated as categorically outside the process, rather than within it."

Mary Anne Warren's defense of abortion

But does it defend too much, such as infanticide?

Government run churches?

Charles Colson thinks that this is a real possibility.

Reply to Clayton on Intentionality

Clayton: Suppose the dualist and the physicalist square off. The dualist believes in mental substances and the modes, attributes, properties of such substsances along with physical substances and their modes and attributes. The physicalist believes in only physical substances. The dualist says that no description of the physical substance will allow us to work out 'what it's like' to taste chocolate or see red. The physicalist response is that no description of the mental substance will allow us to work it out either. Doesn't that mean that there's something wrong with the suggestion that to determine the ontology of the mental, we try to see what can be worked out from descriptions of the relevant substances?

VR: But when you look at what could possibly count as physical, you have constraints concerning what can be put in the basic level of analysis, and given those constraints, you can't "build up" to intentionality. If you lift those constraints, then intentionality fits in without difficulty.

To have a genuinely and consistently naturalistic view you perforce have to leave out intentionality or aboutness, purpose, subjectivity or perspectivality, and normativity. If we something exists because it means something else, if we say something exists because it serves a purpose, if we say that it does something because of its own point of view, if we say it does something because it satisfies some norm, then we are in effect mentalizing the supervenience base, unless we are expecting an analysis of a supervenience base that lacks all these things to entail states of this type.

For example, if we consider the position of the bricks and mortar to be the supervenience base, then it seems to me that a combination of these is going to give us a "brick wall" even though the word "wall" doesn't appear in the supervenience base. There is no logico-conceptual gap between walls on the one hand and bricks and mortar on the other. Rather, a wall is a set of brick and mortar states taken together.

But in the case of the mental, so long as you keep the four elements I listed above out of the supervenience base, it isn't going to add up to something in which those four elements exist. The logic doesn't work. There is always going to be a logical gap between something without those four elements and something with them. Listing truths in the constrained supervenience base is always going to leave the mental states indeterminate.

However, the problem can be overcome by lifting the contraint on the supervenience base. Dualism is one way of doing that, absolute idealism is another.

However, if you assert that the physical universe began with only elements which lacked these four elements (the description of the universe at the Big Bang doesn't seem very mental to me), then if those elements now exist, we need a fundamentally non-physical explanation to explain why they now exist.

If you read C. S. Lewis's books, especially Miracles: A Preliminary Study, you find that Lewis argues separately against Absolute Idealism and Pantheism. He doesn't use any version of the Argument from Reason.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A quote from Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured For Christ

This is quoted in William Lane Craig's "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality," to which I link.

The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The Communist torturers often said, 'There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.' I have heard one torturer even say, 'I thank God, in whom I don't believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.' He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflected on prisoners.8

Admittedly, persons with that kind of power over others often mistreat them, because they can. But does atheism, or just the failure to recognize God, remove a barrier to human depravity for those who are put in that kind of a power situation.

I realize that we don't have a controlled experiment here.

Another crack at explaining, and defending, moral objectivity

What it means for something to be objective is for it to be the sort of thing where if there are opposite positions taken, the law of noncontradiction applies and one person must be right and the other wrong. So, for example

1) The cat is on the mat.


2) The cat is not on the mat cannot both be true once we know which cat and which mat.

Now in a subjective matter, someone who says
3) McDonald's Quarter Pounder is better than Burger King's Whopper
and someone else who says

4) Burger King's Whopper is better than McDonald's Quarter Pounder

don't really contradict one another, because each implicitly includes a "for me" clause into their respective statements. The law of non-contradiction doesn't apply here.

Let's take another pair of cases.

5) Belching after dinner is rude.
6) Belching after dinner is polite

is again subjective, not because it is an individual judgment, but because it is a societal. When we say these things, we assume that we speaking on behalf of a social group of which we are a member. So if cultures differ on this, there is no real contradiction, and neither party has to be wrong.

What about

7) More than 50% of the abortions done in America today are done without adequate moral justification.

This is a tough question about which people might disagree. One's beliefs on this matter might be caused, to a large extent, by one's religious and cultural background or beliefs. It's a moral toughie, one we can argue about until the cows come home. Does that make it subjective?
You have to remember, though, in ethics class we deliberately pick out tough issues to deal with, ones where there are moral considerations on both sides. There are other moral statements, however, that are not so tough, such as

8) Whoever sliced the throats of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman did the wrong thing.

If you remember the OJ trial, you will remember that everything in that trial was controversial, except for the moral judgment implied in 8. Johnny Cochran would have been out of his tree if he had tried to acquit OJ on the grounds of justifiable homicide. But if you are a moral subjectivist, you hold that all moral judgments are subjective, including 8. Ayer's position implies that all moral statements are either true for a person or for a culture, and not across the board. When you think of all this includes, I think it is tough to swallow, although some people try.

When in Rome

If I follow the rule "When in Rome do as the Romans do," what in the world do I do on Lesbos?

Monokroussos on God and Steinitz

It's Steinitz who allegedly walked around barefoot challenging God and offering Him pawn and move, but I recall reading that the story may be apocryphal.

I suspect it may be. There are plenty of chessmasters who have done things to build the repuation of our royal game as a bastion of mental illness, but it is important not to multiply such stories beyond necessity.

The parallel with Dawkins, however, holds nicely.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The argument from intentionality

I consider the first-person essential to a full description of our mental life, including those states essential to reasoning. There is something that it is like to be in those states. Properly physicalistic descriptions are invariably third-person. Pile up third-person descriptions until doomsday, give me more and more science that has by definition has to be third-person, and the first person content simply won't make it in. It can't. "Ah, but this is just an appeal to ignorance. Once we get more sophisticated third-person accounts, the problem will disappear." No. Your commitment to third person, truly naturalistic accounts of mental states is going to make it impossible for you to produce an adequate account of intentional states, and all the science in the world is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

On the significance of truth

“One of the great difficulties is to keep before the
audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always
think you are recommending Christianity not because it
is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they
will at every moment try to escape from the issue ‘True –
or False’ into stuff about a good society, or morals, or the
incomes of Bishops, or the Spanish Inquisition, or
France—or anything whatever. You
have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the
real point.... One must keep on pointing out that
Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no
importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one
thing it cannot be is moderately important”
--C. S. Lewis, Christian Apologetics” in God in the Dock p. 101.

Should the existence of an understandable, law-governed world surprise us?

At least, apart from theistic assumptions? Einstein called the order in nature a "miracle."

“a priori one should expect a chaotic world which
cannot be grasped by the mind in any way...
[T]he kind of order created by Newton’s theory
of wholly different. Even if the
axioms of the theory are proposed by man, the
success of such a project presupposes a high
degree of ordering of the objective world.... That
is the “miracle” which is being constantly
reinforced as our knowledge expands.”

--Albert Einstein, Letters to Solovine (New York: Philosophical

Library, 1987), 131.
HT: Angus Menuge

Barthism, Bulverism, and Besonianism

I remember a paper written by Hugo Meynell a long time ago which was called Three Sophistical Devices. Barthism is the view of just merely asseting something without providing any reason for believing it, just plumping for your position. Bulverism is, well, Lewis's name for what in logic is called the ad hominem circumstantial. Besonianism the idea that instead of having to face criticisms of your own position, you find out what the other guy's overall position is and attack that. So, for example, if I offer some criticisms of Marxian dialectical materialism, and you find out that I am a Catholic, then somehow criticisms of Catholicism are good reasons for rejecting my criticisms of dialectical materialism, even though the criticisms could have been made by a Muslim or a phenomenologist.

I'm starting to see some Besonianism in the discussion of Feser's views on materialism

Feser on the Case for Materialism

A redated post.

The most formidable argument against dualism has always been what I would call the argument from the onward march of science. Science, we are told, always pushed in a materialist direction, and it invariably resolves problems for materialist understandings of things that may have seemed insurmountable to a previous generation. So prior to the 19th century, many otherwise naturalistic thinkers were reluctant to accept full-blown atheism, because they of what they took to be the undeniable evidence of design in nature, yet Darwin came along and showed us all how to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Arguments of any kind against materialism can do no better than point out some explanatory gap in the present materialist understanding of the world, but just as past gaps have been close by subsequent science, so difficulties that naturalistic science faces in coming to terms with things like consciousness, intentionality, and reason, are simply bumps in the road to be got over in good materialist fashion by the future course of science.

Edward Feser thinks this argument is not as strong is it might appear to be at first. He writes:

First, the advance of science, far from settling the mind-body problem in favor of materialism seems to have made it more acute. Modern science has, as noted in chapter 2, revealed that physical objects are composed of intrinsically colorless, tasteless, and odorless particles. Colors, tastes and odors thus, in some sense, exist only in the mind of the observer. But then it is mysterious how they are related to the brain, which, like other material objects, is composed on nothing more than colorless, tasteless, and odorless particles. Science also tells us that the appearance of purpose in nature is an illusion: strictly speaking, fins, for example, don’t have the purpose of propelling fish through the water, for they have in fact no purpose at all, being the products of the same meaningless and impersonal causal processes that are supposed to have brought about all complex phenomena, including organic phenomena. Rather, fins merely operate as if they had such a purpose, because the creatures that first developed them, as a result of random genetic mutation, just happened thereby to have a competitive advantage over those that did not. The result mimicked the products of purposeful design in reality, it is said, there was not design at all. But if purposes were “mind-dependent”—not truly present in the physical world but only projected on to it by us—then this makes that act of projection, and the intentionality of which it is an instance (as are human purposes, for that matter,) at least difficult to explain in terms of processes occurring in the brain, which seem intrinsically as brutely meaningless as and purposeless as are all other purely physical processes. In short, science has “explained” the sensible qualities and meaning that seem to common sense to exist in reality only by sweeping them under the rug of the mind, that is, it hasn’t really explained them at all, but merely put off any explanation by relocating them out of the physical realm and into the mental realm. There they remain, however, forming a considerable bump under the rug, one that seemingly cannot be removed by further scientific sweeping.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Keith Parsons' evidential argument from evil

A redated post.

Suppose we are all tenants in a large apartment building and we meet to discuss common problems. It is clear that the building has many faults. Walls are crumbling, ceilings develop cracks, the heat is sometimes off in winter and on in the summer, the elevators are unreliable, etc. The general feeling is that our landlord, whom none of us has ever seen, is either incompetent or selfishly indifferent to our fate. Some tenants, however, rise to his defence. They say he may have good reason for letting the building go on in this way, though when pressed they can't suggest any which sound convincing to most of us. Now what would we normally do if we saw no prospect of getting a reasonable explanation in the future? Surely we wouldn't just sit back and suspend judgement indefinitely. It is always possible that anyone really had good reasons for what he did, or what he did not do. Ignorance of possible motivation does not prevent us, in human affairs, from making a decision about someone's moral qualities.[8]

8] Roland Puccetti, "The Concept of God," Philosophical Quarterly, 14 (1964), p. 243.

Evil and compatibilist free will

Could God have created Adam (technical term for whoever the first human was) and given him free will, meaning by that that Adam could usually perform the action that he most wanted to perform. At the same time, God "wires Adam up" in such a way that his desires are always to do what serves God. If God does that, then Adam is free (in the sense that he is able to do what he truly wants to do) but nevertheless all of his actions are sovereignly determined by God in such a way that Adam freely does what is right.

If this picture of free will is accurate, then it seems pretty clear that the atheist philosopher Antony Flew is right. God could have created the world in such a way that everyone freely does what is right. Flew concludes that if God could have done this, and if he were truly perfectly good, then he would have done it, saving the world all the heartache that it has gone through these thousands of years.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Darwin's false predictions

This book claims that Darwinian theory has a history of false predictions which provides evidence against it.

Affirmative action for gays?

I think most people have too much conservative blood in them for this one. I do, anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy

•Psychoanalyzing people is not a substitute for considering the reasons that people give for what they believe. If you think that no reasonable person would ordinarily be persuaded by certain arguments, then you might find a psychological explanation for why people believe what they do. But this psychological explanation does not provide any reason to reject the arguments or the claim. Using psychological explanations as a refutation is to commit the circumstantial ad hominem fallacy.

A quote from Bulverism

The text of the essay is linked to in the title.

I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that “the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world.” Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that “the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting.” For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds - a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.

Why politics and religion are dinner table don'ts

And yes, I swiped the phrase "dinner table don'ts" from a blog of that name, to which I link.

•When born-again Uncle Joe and atheist Uncle Jim get together at the dinner table during Thanksgiving, why do we not look forward to a stimulating debate about religion? Probably because we offend one another by making it about the person who are atheists and born-again Christians, rather than about theism or Christianity. Same goes for politics. Uncle Charlie is a dyed in the wool conservative who listens to 15 hours of Limbaugh every week. Uncle Bill is a Democrat who thinks Bush was evil and Obama will be wonderful. Looking forward to the debate while you eat your turkey? No? If these guys would just lay off the ad hominems, it might actually be fun to listen to.

The ad hominem fallacy

“We commit the ad hominem fallacy when we think that considerations about a person “refute” his or her assertions. Ad hominem is Latin for “to the man” indicating that it is not really the subject matter that is being addressed, but the person.

Brooke Noel Moore and Richard Parker, Critical Thinking (McGraw-Hill, 2007), p. 174.

Non-sexist Latin is an oxymoron.

Do you think your beliefs are true?

No, you’re not weird or dogmatic. It’s just what it is to have a belief that you think yours are true. If you didn’t think they were true, they wouldn’t be your beliefs, now would you?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Judges do make law

Yep. Legislating from the bench. Susan Estrich says there's no getting around it.

Dialogue with an imaginary student on moral objectivity

A redated post.

Question: What is the difference between a theory of moral values according to which morals are objective and a theory of values according to which morals are subjective?

Student Answer: Belief in objective moral values means that something can be right or wrong independent of what individuals or societies feel about it. If morals are objective, then regardless of how people feel about, say, human sacrifice, it is still really wrong. If morals are subjective, then the “last word” lies with a social group or the individual himself.

Question: Sounds good. Let me ask you this. If something is subjective, could everyone be wrong about it? What if something is objective?

Student answer: If it’s objective, then conceivably everyone has it wrong. If it’s subjective, that makes no sense. If it’s just a matter of how people feel about something, and everyone feels the same way, then how could everyone be wrong?

Question: So, could you give me an example of something that everyone would agree is objective and something everyone would agree is subjective.

Answer: The claim that the earth is round is objective. We can prove that it’s round, so even if everyone thought it was flat it would still be round. The claim that McDonald’s Quarter Pounder is better than BK’s Whopper would be an example of a subjective claim. It’s just a matter of taste buds and personal preference. You can’t even get an argument going.

Question: What about something like intelligent life on other planets, or whether or not God exists. We may not be able to prove those one way or the other. Does that make them subjective?

Answer: In those cases we could have overwhelming evidence one way or the other. For example, we could visit those other planets, even though we can’t now. And if everything started happening like is supposed to happen in the Book of Revelation, I suppose it would be just insane to be an atheist.

Question: So what about abortion let's say. Is it objectively right or objectively wrong.

Answer: That has to be subjective, because it might be right or wrong depending on the circumstance.

Question: Wait a minute. Does that mean that whether abortion is right or wrong is subjective, or that we need to know more about the case before we decide whether it's right or wrong.

Answer: But we're never going to agree on whether abortion is right or not.

Question: Of course, lack of agreement doesn't prove that something is subjective. Remember, you said that if something was objective everyone could have it wrong. Is the abortion issue subjective, or complicated?

Answer: Well, it looks complicated to me. But does that mean it isn't subjective.

Question: Well, I'm not arguing that it's objective either at this point. I'm just trying to get you to realize that something could be objective even if it's hard to decide. Let's change the example. Take the practice of forcing young girls to enter polygamous relationships with older men in Colorado City. They think it's OK, we don't. Is somebody wrong?

Answer: In that case I would be inclined to think that the practice is just wrong, no matter who thinks it right.

Question: So that means you think at least some moral judgments are objectively true or false.

Answer: Well, I suppose so.

Keith Parsons reviews Ruse's Can a Darwinist Be A Christian

A redated post.

The Woman Who Stood Up to C. S. Lewis---And Harry Truman

Although Elizabeth Anscombe is best known in Lewis circles for her challenge to the early form of the argument from reason, she also is known as the woman who challenged Harry Truman's honorary degree because of his dropping of the atomic bombs. Read her remarks in the link below.

Were we right to drop those bombs?

Who's to decide?

Does the existence of right or wrong require that there be a "decider" of what is right or wrong? If this is so, then we either have moral relativism (different cultures decide it differently) or divine command theory (the most powerful being is the decider)? Or can something be right or wrong even if there is no one to decide that it is?

"I'm the decider. I decide what's best." -George W. Bush

Ross's Prima Facie Duties

Is this ethical theory too vague to be helpful? Or too vague to be wrong?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

God's necessary existence.

Many believers think of God as a necesary being. By this they mean not that it is epistemologically certain that God exists, but rather, that reality could not have fail to have God in it. God's existence, on their view, isn't the sort of thing that could either be true or not, because God by definition does not depend on anything other than Himself for his own existence.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Russell-Copleston Debate

Before there was William Lane Craig, there was...The Russell-Copleston debate. Who do you think won this one?

A redated post

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On the importance of commas

My mother would often call me to the dinner table with the words “Come and eat Victor.” However, as that sentence stands, it would certainly provide a good reason for me to avoid the dinner table or even call Child Protective Services on my parents. Fortunately, the true implications of the sentence would be brought out by a comma in written language between the words “eat” and “Victor,” suggesting that perhaps fried chicken, and not fried little boy, was on the menu.

Monday, June 08, 2009

What is an argument?

Monty Python's argument sketch.

Kathryn Lindskoog's Critique of A. N. Wilson

Hell, Calvinism, and those wretched Dwarfs

You die a faithful believer, you are ushered into heaven, and as you begin to sing your song in the heavenly choir, you notice the people in the fires of hell, suffering eternal torment wailing and gnashing their teeth. Your initial reaction is to

A) Feel sorry for them, and ask, as Lucy did concerning the Dwarves in the Last Battle, what can be done for the poor wretches.

B) Sing louder, praising God that while God's glory is demonstrated in the just punishment of the wicked, you reflect on the wonderful graciousness of your own salvation, that you were spared, by grace, the punishment that you otherwise would have received.

I'm A all the way, which makes me a lousy Calvinist.

This is the passage from the Last Battle.

“Aslan,” said Lucy through her tears, “could you — will you — do something for these poor Dwarfs?
“Dearest,” said Aslan, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.” He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, “Hear that? That’s the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don’t take any notice. They won’t take us in again!”
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised the golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.”
But soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at least they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding nose, they all said:
“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”
“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being
taken in that they cannot be taken out.

This is the only conception of hell that has ever made any sense to me. But perhaps there is another option Aslan isn't considering here. Maybe Aslan can perform and act of irresistible grace and convert the dwarfs into dwarfs who are for Aslan as well as for the dwarfs, and can release them from the prison of their own minds. Or predestined that they never get into that state of mind in the first place. If either of those is a plausible alternative, then Aslan's reply to Lucy collapses.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Cultural Relativism and the Catholic Frat Boy

If what is right is what "my society" approves of, what if I live in many societies. A Catholic frat boy is part of one social group, namely, the Catholic Church, which disapproves of premarital sex, and another group, his frat, which thinks it's fine and dandy.

Calvinism and the use of language

The trouble I see for Calvinism is the fact that all over Scripture you find God saying he wants everyone to be saved, that he sent Christ for everyone, that he grieves when people are lost, and that he loves every person. John 3:16 is just one example of this type of verse. Calvinists and Arminians (anti-Calvinists) teach their children to sing the song "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so" without knowing whether God has determined that that child is going to be saved or lost. Is the song unbiblical?

But if one of those children in the choir goes to hell, and in the final analysis the only reason that child ended up in hell was because God sovereignly decreed that the child should go to hell, then were all the claims that God loved that child accurate? It strikes me as inconsistent with the proper use of the word "love" to maintain this.

Of course you can dodge these considerations by saying that the passages that say that God loves every person really only mean that God loves every member of the Elect. I think this does violence to the passages. I think you can only have a complete biblical case for Calvinism if you not only provide passages that support sovereignty, but also provide a plausible explanation for passages that imply a universal salvific intent. Otherwise, we should at least admit that the Bible doesn't adjudicate the Calvinist question.

It's a simple question for Calvinists. Does God love those whom he reprobates? The most interesting Calvinists responses here, I believe, are the ones that affirm that God loves those he reprobates. I will be following up and looking at responses later.

Notice that none of this requires an appeal to intuition, but rather concerns the proper use of langauge.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Rate yourself as a moral person

Do we really do a good job of living up to our own moral standards? If you were to carefully introspect over the past 24 hours, would you be able to reach the conclusion that you live up to our own standards. Have you behaved as a good person ought to behave, even as you define a good person?

We have a way of shielding ourselves from negative consequences here, and that is by comparing ourselves to other people, and finding people we think are worse than ourselves. But if we don't grade ourselves on a curve, can we say that we make an A based on our own standards.

Suppose someone were to do a survey. We ask them "Do you think of ourselves as more moral than most people, as moral as most people, or less moral than most people." How many people would put themselves in the bottom half ethically. How many people are in the bottom half ethically. Half, maybe?

An Essay on Lewis, Science, and Scientism

An atheist critique of the Screwtape Letters

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What part of gentleness and respect don't we understand

This is from Michael Patton from Parchment and Pen. For him who has ears, let him hear.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Abortion

HT: Steve Hays. The majority report here is a defense of the pro-life position, but there is a dissent at the end. I think I will stay with my views on the biblical arguments: they provide modest support for the pro-life position, in that it supports the personhood prior to birth, but does not necessarily support personhood all the way back to conception.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A biblical defense of the pro-choice position?

Does this mean God is pro-choice?

What it means is that trying to apply the Bible to contemporary issues has to be done very carefully.

10 Quick Facts about Human Trafficking and the Sex Trade

It is amazing that these horrors are still going on in the 21st Century. Sadly, it didn't end with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Dobson's case against gay marriage

I still have trouble getting around the idea that the state sanctions divorce and remarriage without restriction, and therefore sanctions what, according to the words of Jesus, are blatantly adulterous marriages. How can the government be the defender of traditional marriage when it comes to homosexuals, but completely bail out on biblical standards of traditional marriage when it comes to heterosexuals (standards that come straight from the words of Christ). If you run out on your wife and three kids and marry the centerfold, so long as you divorce your first wife before you marry your second, it's OK. Jesus says it's adultery. Now either the state has wrongly abdicated its responsibility to uphold marriage as a relation between one man and one woman for life, or else the church and state have different fish to fry, and the status of marriage as defined by the government is not as relevant as Dobson would have us believe to the status of marriage in the church or in society at large.