Saturday, February 28, 2009

God, Ethics, and Weariness in Well-Doing.

One might imagine getting tired of being moral, if you keep seeing immoral people getting advantages and honest people doing badly. (CEOs who crap out their companies get golden parachutes, honest workers get laid off). Does a theist have a better answer to the thought "why bother being moral, it clearly doesn't work."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Is Patriotism a good thing?

Emma Goldman argues against patriotism. Anyone care to defend it with real arguments? Or is this something your shouldn't have to debate?

Leibniz's Cosmological Argument

Defended by Alexander Pruss. From the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Plantinga-Dennett exchange

It seems like discussion by the pros can be about as acrimonious as it is here in the comboxes of Dangerous Idea.

Reply to Clayton on the APA Petition

Clayton: First, "Whose side are you on" is not an argument. I'm rather proud of the fact that I have managed to disagree with virtually everyone in the four years I've been blogging. I voted no on the Arizona version of California's Prop 8 that was on the ballot last fall. But this is a different type of issue.

The use of the term "discrimination" has some negative connotations which implies some degree of condemnation on the part of the APA. The ordinary context for the use of that term has to do with racial discrimination, where someone is denied opportunties based on a characteristic that is entirely beyond their control and clearly has no relevance to performance. The same is the case in the area of gender. When you get to sexual orientation, it gets a little dicier, since there are some issues about the role of human choice in sexual orientation. But I will set those aside for the time being.

But when you say that a code of conduct is discriminatory, you cross and important line. Unless we've all gone hard determinst here, we do choose our conduct and are responsible for our conduct. So this is a step we have to watch very carefully. It raises a whole host of issues. Are no-drinking codes discrminatory? Are bans on heterosexual premarital sex discriminatory? Are we going to be hearing from NAMBLA attorneys saying that some got denied a job because of being a pedophile?

Christians schools often require their professors to sign statements of faith. I'm sure in many of them you have to sign statements that either entail or virtually entail that you believe that homosexuality is a sin. Is that discriminatory? If that isn't discriminatory, then why would a code of conduct be discrminatory? If you're gay by orientation but you are ready to sign a statement that entails that you believe gay conduct to be sinful, why should you not also be expect to sign a statements that says you won't engage in any of the conduct that you just agreed was sinful?

What is is the evidence that the APA actually took the step of treating a code of conduct as discriminatory? Did everyone who signed onto this step think of it in this way?

The miscegenation parallel has some serious problems. First of all, there is pretty substantial rational consensus on this issue. Given our level of reflection on racial matters, we have reached a point where the community as a whole views this objection as prejudicial.

Second, there opposition to homosexuality has support from the founding documents of Christianity (and of other religious traditions) that is missing from the debate surrounding racial discrimination of miscegenation. In fact, leaders of the civil rights movement were largely Christians who made their appeal from the point of view of a Christian world-view. (It was Rev. King, remember).

There is nothing equivalent to Rom. 1: 26-27 to consider when it comes to the racial issue. But any Christian who thinks seriously about the issue of homosexuality has to at least come to term with passages like this one. I'm not saying "that settles it" by any stretch, but you do have to come to terms with these kinds of passages.

So while the moral discussion of the ethics of racial discrimination and opposition to miscegenation is essentially over, both within and without communities of faith, there is far more discussion and dialogue needed before a similar conclusion can be drawn concerning homosexuality.

The petition wants these schools who have the conduct policy to be asterisked, but given the use of the term "discrimination" would such an asterisk be viewed as a scarlet letter?

Are the laws preventing gays from marrying unjust? They may be. But we don't have a rational consensus on this issue. I have to object strongly to the APA treating the conscientious moral beliefs of serious Christians (and others) who hold that homosexuality is a sin as merely prejudicial. This strikes me as Dawkins-style militant secularism, designed to marginalize Christianity in the academic community in the name of gay rights. It is a refusal to share intellectual space with people you don't agree with.

I'd like to meet the gay person who would have gotten a job at Biola if it weren't for Biola's code of conduct. Maybe there is one. But who could it be?

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Different Kind of Debate

Between a theistic evolutionist (Giberson) and an ID advocate (West). You may need to scroll down a little to find it.

Scientologists are on the defensive about the Travolta tragedy

Perhaps someone who knows more about Scientology than I do can refute or confirm my suspicion that this Scientology spokesperson is lying about Scientology not denying that autism is a disease. I can't see how a Scientologist can possibly believe that autism is a disease.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A charge of incoherence against The Chronicles of Narnia

Hat tip: Jim Lippard. I think I'll let other people take a crack at this one before I weigh in.

Andrew T on Inerrancy and Methdological Naturalism

The fact that abandonment of a belief might result in one’s being expelled from one’s institution of education doesn’t mean that the position is indefeasible. Someone who starts doubting aspects of Darwinian biology might have similar fears about their status at their own institutions of learning. I don’t want to uphold the whole “Expelled” claim, but I think there is considerable pressure within many academic biology departments not to stray from Darwinism. Further, people in places like Talbot got positions at places like Talbot because their thinking led them to think that inerrancy was true to begin with. There have been people who have left their Christian academic institutions because they had doubts about the doctrinal commitments of the institution. And sometimes these institutional statements are given fairly liberal interpretations. If you apply at Calvin College the official statements affirm the Canons of Dordt, but I know that some people who teach there are not five-pointers (Plantinga, who taught classes there while at Notre Dame, openly said that the Canons of Dordt may not have gotten things right.)

Further, exactly what is built into inerrancy is a little complicated, and what it takes to be guilty of “denying the Bible” may have more to it than just rejecting some popular hyper-literal interpretation of Genesis. The medievals said “Authority has a nose of wax” and that is, I think, true of inerrancy, although there are occasions where you get explusions, or attempted explusions, from groups like the ETS. However, the attempt to get Open Theists out of the ETS failed a couple of years back. I take it you have read the Chicago Statement and know what the doctrine is actually thought to mean by its contemporary advocates.

There are stronger and weaker versions of MN, just as there are stronger and weaker versions of the commitment to inerrancy. It is a framework believe that the advocate will call into question only in the face of considerable evidential pressure.

One of the things I tried to explain in my long exchanges with the Calvinists was that someone might in fact believe that inerrancy is true, but at the same time hold, based on their moral understanding, that the Calvinistic conception of a reprobating God was morally unacceptable. They might think that the biblical evidence supported anti-Calvinism rather than Calvinism, and therefore accept both inerrancy and anti-Calvinism. However, if presented with sufficient evidence (based on Calvinist exegetical arguments) that inerrancy and anti-Calvinism could not be held simultaneously, they might choose, in the hypothetical situation, to give up inerrancy. It wouldn’t follow from that never really believed in inerrancy in the first place.

Even if Craig would believe in inerrancy regardless of whether there were strong evidence for it or not, it could be that he could say he was confident that there were lots of good arguments and reasons for being and inerrantist, or he could say that it was an article of faith. One's faith that something is true doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to make all sorts of ......stuff up to support one's beliefs.

APA peitition supports discriminatory policy

One of the freedoms that I cherish is the freedom to disapprove. Any conception of tolerance that takes away my freedom to disappove, and to act on my disapproval, is a significant freedom lost.

Even if, at the end of the day, it turns out that homosexuality is morally acceptable, it does not follow that gays and their supporters have the right to punish people who disapprove of them and believe them to be acting immorally.

HT: Francis Beckwith.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Compliment from a Surprising Source I Hadn't Seen Before

My arch-critic Richard Carrier:

I'm no longer sure. The more see of their arguments and speeches and debates the more cynical I get about their honesty. It becomes hard to maintain once you put all the facts together. So far there is only one apologist I know whom I actually trust as honest: Victor Reppert. I think he tells the truth as he sees it and doesn't make sh*t up or play rhetorical games or get angry when he runs out of arguments. That doesn't mean I consider all others to be dishonest, since most I simply don't know well enough to say either way. But those I do know a lot about (e.g. Habermas, Geivett, Craig, etc.) I just don't trust--or in some cases, actively distrust. Sadly, I've had so many experiences with dishonest Christians I can't afford to give any Christian the benefit of a doubt, so it's fair to say the liars have really hurt their cause.

I don't share his dismal view of my fellow apologists. I really do think that apologetics should be a matter of reflecting as carefully and honestly as possible on the issues, and if your reflections support your religious, then you ought to be able to say so, and why so.

Anyway, I do appreciate responses of this sort to my efforts.

And you thought Christianity was sexist?

From the Hindu Padmapurana:

There is no other god on earth for a woman than her husband. The most excellent of all the good works that she can do is to seek to please him by manifesting perfect obedience to him . Be her husband offensive in manners debauched, immoral, a drunkard, a gambler live in open sin with another woman a wife should always look upon his as her god . She must on the death of her husband , allow herself to be burnt alive on the same funeral pyre then everyone will praise her virtue . In his presence, she ought always to be cheerful and never show signs of sadness or discontent.

Yet, India has had a female prime minister (as has Islamic Pakistan). America has never had a female President.

Some biblical support for gender equality

A Rule for Definitions of Religion

My rule is that a definition of religion has to pass two tests. The definition has to include Buddhism. And it has to exclude the Dallas Cowboys.

Inerrancy and Methodological Naturalism

This is something I put in the combox of the last post, but it need to be treated separately here.

I think there are difficulties with Craig's apologetical operation. I have some fundamental differences in methodology, etc. I'm not comfortable with what he does with his appeal to religious experience and the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

However, I fail to see how pre-commitment to biblical inerrancy is any worse than pre-commitment to methodological naturalism. If a naturalistically inclined biblical scholar finds it difficult to account for the founding events of Christianity, well, by golly, my hallucination/legend/whatever-else theory may not fit all the facts as we know them, but at least it's better than admitting a miracle. We can't let a divine foot in the door, now can we?

The "special pleading" charge, as in the case of Russell's analysis of Aquinas, carries with it an implicit classical foundationalism that has been rejected in numerous areas of inquiry. We don't come to the data as a blank slate to be written on, nor should we. We are humans, not Vulcans. And pretending to be a Vulcan when you aren't one is just one more way of being irrational.

Now, a methodological naturalist could treat MN as a defeasible working hypothesis, but an inerrantist could do the same.

Robert Price's attack on WLC's intellectual honesty

Does Craig's appeal to religious experience make his apologetics dishonest? Robert Price seems to think so. But it seems that we could discover truths through different routes. We could reach the conclusion that the Kingdom of Israel existed in ancient times by accepting the inerrancy of Scripture. But we could also reach that same correct conclusion through a purely secular study of history.

I will turn to specific arguments below, but first, a look at two fundamental axioms of Craig's work is in order. The first is what strikes me as a kind of "Double Truth" model. The second is the old red herring attempt to evade the principle of analogy by means of the claim that critics reject miracle stories only because they espouse philosophical naturalism. The second follows from the first. Both commit the fallacy of ad hominem argumentation even while projecting it onto the opponent. Let me note, I have no intention of discounting any of Craig's arguments in advance by trying to reveal their root. Rather, I shall take what seem to me the important ones each in their own right.

William Lane Craig is an employee of Campus Crusade for Christ. Thus it is no surprise that his is what is today euphemistically called "engaged scholarship." Dropping the euphemism, one might call him a PR man for Bill Bright and his various agendas. One thing one cannot expect from party hacks and spin doctors is that they should in any whit vary from their party line. When is the last time you heard a pitchman for some product admit that it might not be the best on the market? When have you heard a spokesman for a political candidate admit that his man might be in the wrong, might have wandered from the truth on this or that point? Do you ever expect to hear a Trekkie admit that the episode about the Galileo 7 was a stinker? Heaven and earth might pass away more easily. And still, there is just the outside chance that Craig might have become convinced through his long years of graduate study that Bill Bright has stumbled upon the inerrant truth, that needle in the haystack of competing world views and theories. But I doubt it. I think he has tipped his hand toward the end of the first chapter of his book Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, "Faith and Reason: How Do I Know Christianity is True?"[2] There he draws a distinction between knowing Christianity is true and showing it is true.

What, then, should be our approach in apologetics? It should be something like this: "My friend, I know Christianity is true because God's Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it's true, I'll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that's my fault, not God's. It only shows that I'm a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I'll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself." [3]

A little further on he saith, "unbelief is at root a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem. Sometimes an unbeliever will throw up an intellectual smoke screen so that he can avoid personal, existential involvement with the gospel."[4]

Craig, then, freely admits his conviction arises from purely subjective factors, in no whit different from the teenage Mormon door-knocker who tells you he knows the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm, swelling feeling in his stomach when he asks God if it's true. Certain intellectual questions have to receive certain answers to be consistent with this revivalistic "heart-warming" experience, so Craig knows in advance that, e.g., Strauss and Bultmann must have been wrong. And, like the O.J. Simpson defense team, he will find a way to get from here to there. Craig would repudiate my analogy, but let no one who can read doubt from his words just quoted that, first, his enterprise is completely circular, since it is a subjectivity described arbitrarily in terms of Christian belief (Holy Spirit, etc.) that supposedly grounds Christian belief! And, second, Craig admits the circularity of it.

It almost seems Craig has embraced a variant of the Double Truth theory sometimes ascribed to Averroes, the Aristotelian Islamic philosopher, who showed how one thing might be true if one approached it by the canons of orthodox Islamic theology while something very different might prove true by means of independent philosophical reflection. Can it be that Craig is admitting he holds his faith on purely subjective grounds, but maintaining that he is lucky to discover that the facts, objectively considered, happen to bear out his faith? That, whereas theoretically his faith might not prove true to the facts, in actuality (whew!) it does?

I think he does mean something on this order. But what might first appear to be a double truth appears after all to be a half-truth, for it is obvious from the same quotes that he admits the arguments are ultimately beside the point. If an "unbeliever" doesn't see the cogency of Craig's brand of New Testament criticism (the same thing exactly as his apologetics), it can only be because he has some guilty secret to hide and doesn't want to repent and let Jesus run his life. If one sincerely seeks God, Craig's arguments will mysteriously start looking pretty good to him, like speaking in tongues as the infallible evidence of the infilling of the divine Spirit.

Craig's frank expression to his fellow would-be apologists/evangelists is revealing, more so no doubt than he intends: he tells you to say to the unbeliever that you find these arguments "really convincing," but how can Craig simply take this for granted unless, as I'm sure he does, he knows he is writing to people for whom the cogency of the arguments is a foregone conclusion since they are arguments in behalf of a position his readers are already committed to as an a priori party line?

His is a position that exalts existential decision above rational deliberation, quite ironic in view of his damning Bultmann's supposedly nefarious existentialism! Rational deliberation by itself is not good enough for Bill Craig and Bill Bright because it can never justify a quick decision such as Campus Crusade's booklet The Four Spiritual Laws solicits. I do not mean to make sport of Craig by saying this. No, it is important to see that, so to speak, every one of Craig's scholarly articles on the resurrection implicitly ends with that little decision card for the reader to sign to invite Jesus into his heart as his personal savior. He is not trying to do disinterested historical or exegetical research. He is trying to get folks saved.

Why is this important? His characterization of people who do not accept his apologetical version of the historical Jesus as "unbelievers" who merely cast up smoke screens of insincere cavils functions as a mirror image of his own enterprise. His apparently self-effacing pose, "If my arguments fail to convince, then I must have done a poor job of explaining them" is just a polite way of saying, "You must not have understood me, stupid, or else you'd agree with me." His incredible claim that the same apologetics would sound better coming from somebody else (so why don't you go ahead and believe anyway?) just reveals the whole exercise to be a sham. Craig's apologetic has embraced insincerity as a structural principal. The arguments are offered cynically: "whatever it takes." If they don't work, take your pick between brimstone ("God holds you accountable") and treacle ("God still loves you").

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More on slavery and utilitarianism

It could well be that, looking at it over time (when there were no machines to be our slaves) it could be argued that slavery resulted in an overall positive balance of pleasure over pain. The game changed with the development of industrialization, when we could switch to machines as a source of physical energy.

A general rejection of slavery might have to be based on something else than utility.

Is Christian Faith Irrational?

That's not a biblical perspective.

Bertrand Russell accuses Aquinas of Special Pleading

There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know m advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given I in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. (H.W.P.p463)

VR: Funny thing. A good deal of present-day philosophy of mind could be accused of the same thing. In many discussions in the philosophy of mind materialism is a base assumption that is not to be questioned, and the debate concerns what version of materialism is true.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some old lecture notes on Christianity

•The Founding of Christianity II
•Paul, the Judaizers, and the New Testament
•I. Jesus’ apocalypticism
A.Jesus did teach about an impending final judgment.
B.Some passages suggest that he predicted his own return within the lifetimes of those present. This would cause some theological problems because he didn’t meet that timetable.
C.He viewed his kingdom as not of this world, and so was not a political messiah.
•II. Pentecost
A. The earliest disciples gathered in an upper room where they began to preach the message of Christ’s resurrection, and when they did the book of Acts records that people could understand it in their own language.
•III. The Jerusalem Church
A.The Jerusalem church was led by James, the brother of Jesus. It was a strong influence for 40 years but died out with the destruction of Temple of Jerusalem.
B.The non-Jewish, Greek-speaking branch of early Christianity began spreading throughout the Roman Empire.
•IV. Paul and the Mission to the Gentiles
A.Originally named Saul, Paul was a Roman Citizen, a fluent Greek speaker, and a scholar of Judaism.
B.He was at first virulently opposed to the early “Jesus Movement,” and according to Acts, supported the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.
C.While en route to persecuting more Christians on the road to Damascus, he had an experience of the Risen Christ which convinced him to become a Christian and to spread Christianity to non-Jews.
•V. Paul and the Gentiles
A.Despite his commitment to the Gentile mission, he always went to the Jewish synagogue first, on only when rejected there, went to the Gentiles.
B.Christians of Jewish origin, called the Judaizers, insisted that Gentile Christians follow the Jewish law. In particular, they insisted that all the males be circumcised. Paul insisted that faith in Christ, not obedience to the Jewish law, was what was sufficient for salvation, and that therefore Gentile converts did not have to be circumcised. In his mind, circumcision was replaced by baptism as the entry ritual, and rightness with God did not require ritual correctness in any event.
•VI. A Turning Point
A.This is the first major turning point in Jewish history. Had Paul’s opponents prevailed, Christianity would probably have remained nothing more than a Jewish sect.
B.Paul maintained that if we were to go by the Jewish Law, all are sinners and condemned for their wrongdoing. We need not strict observance but redemption from our sinful nature. Accepting God’s righteousness in Christ, not our own righteousness, is what puts us into right relationship with God.
•VII. So should we just party hearty?
A.Paul says no. The Christ who saves us also inspires us to lead a moral life, and to behave in a way that brings honor to the Gospel.
B.Jesus was proof of God’s love for humanity, especially demonstrated by Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.
C.Sin had brought to humans the punishment of death, but Jesus’ death is the atonement for human sins and Jesus’ return to life shows that eternal life in right relationship with God can be given to humans who have the Spirit of God in them.
D.For Paul, Christ was a cosmic figure who was pre-existent, and who reunites God and human creation.
•VIII. The New Testament
A.The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (Not John, Paul, George and Ringo).
B.Acts of the Apostles.
C.The Epistles
D.The Book of Revelation.
•IX. The Gospels
A.Portraits of the life of Jesus. Not biographies in the strict sense. The first three are called the Synoptic Gospels.
1. Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, and portrays Christ as the new Moses and as the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy.
2. Mark is the shortest Gospel, and focuses on the deeds, not the words of Jesus.
3. Luke contains many miracles, contains many portraits of women, emphasizes compassion for the poor and the oppressed.
4. The Gospel of John was written somewhat later. Shows a struggle between light and darkness. Portrays Jesus as the incarnation of God, the divine made visible in human form.
•X. The Acts of the Apostles
A.Part of a two-volume work by Luke whose first volume was the Gospel of Luke.
B.Portrays the early expansion of Christianity, culminating in Paul’s being taken to Rome to stand before Caesar.
C.Also contains a considerable miraculous element.
D.Some parts of it are remarkably well-attested by archaeology, in that it indicates correctly what types of governmental institutions existed in various cities and gives other details about the places it mentions which have been confirmed by archaeology.
•XI. Epistles
A.Many attributed to Paul, though some also to John, Peter, James and Jude.
B.Authorship of some of them is open to dispute.
C.Focus on belief, morality, and church order. The epistle to the Romans lays out Paul’s understanding of what Christ does for humans, and how Christ’s righteousness relates to the Jewish law. The Corinthian epistles deal with problems in the new Christian churches, and Galatians is Paul’s rebuttal to those who had insisted that Gentile Christian converts be circumcised.
•XII. Revelation
A.A series of visions that shows Christ’s final triumph over evil.
B.Highly symbolic language employed that would probably be understood by its readers but not by the Roman authorities, should they get a hold of the book.
C.The New Jerusalem descends from heaven and is ruled over by Jesus, who appears as a lamb. The evildoers are cast into the lake of everlasting fire.
D.Was very influential in Christian art and literature, such as the Divine Comedy by Dante and Paradise Lost by Milton.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wikipedia's version of the Argument from Reason

(1) For an assertion to be capable of truth or falsehood it must come from a rational source (see explanation below).
(2) No merely physical material or combination of merely physical materials constitute a rational source.
(3) Therefore, no assertion that is true or false can come from a merely physical source.
(4) The assertions of human minds are capable of truth or falsehood
Conclusion: Therefore, human minds are not a merely physical source (see explanation below).
The argument for the existence of God holds:
(5) A being requires a rational process to assess the truth or falsehood of a claim (hereinafter, to be convinced by argument).
(6) Therefore, if humans are able to be convinced by argument, their reasoning processes must have a rational source.
(7) Therefore, considering element two above, if humans are able to be convinced by argument, their reasoning processes must have a non-physical (as well as rational) source.
(8) Rationality cannot arise out of non-rationality. That is, no arrangement of non-rational materials creates a rational thing.
(9) No being that begins to exist can be rational except through reliance, ultimately, on a rational being that did not begin to exist. That is, rationality does not arise spontaneously from out of nothing but only from another rationality.
(10) All humans began to exist at some point in time.
(11) Therefore, if humans are able to be convinced by argument, there must be a necessary and rational being on which their rationality ultimately relies.
Conclusion: This being we call God.

The Anselmian argument for God

This is the wikipedia page on the OA.
Anselm's second argument
Anselm in his Proslogion 3 made another a priori argument for God, this time based on the idea of necessary existence. He claimed that, if God is that than which no greater can be conceived, it is better to be necessary than contingent; therefore, God must be necessary. To sum up:
1. God is the entity than which nothing greater can be thought.
2. It is greater to be necessary than not.
3. God must therefore be necessary.
4. Hence, God exists necessarily.
In Chapter 2 of “The Existence of Nature and God” Anslem′s Argument for the Existence of God is as follows:
1. God is something than which nothing greater can be thought.
2. It is greater to exist in reality and in the understanding than just in understanding.
3. Therefore, God exists in reality

Why I've always hated the Ontological Argument

Consider this dialogue about the modal ontological argument.
T: Surely, you think it's possible that there is a God, surely. I mean, maybe he exists, doncha think. I mean, you aren't one of those dogmatic atheists, are you.
A: Yes, of course, I admit that it's possible that God exists.
T: Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha! Since the existence of God is either necessarily true or necessarily false, the S5 axiom says that if a necessary truth claim is possibly true, it must be necessarily true. Since you have admitted that God possibly exists, you must therefore conclude that God necessarily exists!!!
A: Uh, could we maybe restrict the accessibility relation or something?

Bill Vallicella is dealing with an atheist argument on his site with much the same problems.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The other title I had in mind for my book

Was "If the Watchmaker were Really Blind, Dawkins Wouldn't Know It."

I think I chose the right title.

An explanation of the principle of charity

Some dialogue on Eastern religions at Richard Dawkins' site

Are religions like Buddhism and Hinduism unacceptable to someone who believes as Dawkins does? Atheists debate that issue here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Manata Responds to My Post on Islam and Calvinism

Sad to say, we don't have a lot to disagree about with respect to the particular points relating to this exchange.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Slavery and Utilitarianism

Let's say that we figure out a plan for enslaving 10% of the population. If we do that, then each of the other 90% will receive 10 units of happiness that they would not otherwise have. The slave will, of course, lose 50 units of happiness. However, 10 units of happiness spread of 9 people is 90 units of additional happiness, which outweighs the 50 units of happiness lost by the slave. Therefore, based on utilitarianism, we have a justification for slavery.

Now, these calculations aren't accurate. But we are left with this question: is this the real reason that we oppose slavery. Because the pain of the slaves outweighs the pleasure of the masters? If utilitarianism is correct, then that must be our reason.

Howard Robinson's Stanford Entry on Dualism

Carrier's Atheistic Cosmological Argument

From the Carrier-Wanchick debate, which I am linking to .

Carrier's Atheistic Cosmological Argument from his Debate with Wanchick.

Atheistic Cosmological Argument (ACA)
The universe is almost entirely lethal to life. By far, most of existence is a radiation-filled vacuum, and there are easily a trillion times more dead worlds than life-bearing planets. Life is clearly an extremely rare and unusual product of the universe. We also know it took the universe billions of years to finally produce any life anywhere, and then only an extremely simple single-celled life form. Then it took billions more years of a long, meandering and often catastrophically failing process of evolutionary trial-and-error to finally produce human beings. CN explains this state of affairs better than BT, since this state of affairs is highly probable on CN but not particularly probable on BT.
Even if a God might have some reason to build a universe this way, he had many other ways he could have chosen (like the way the Bible literally depicts and early Christians believed), and some make more sense on BT (a God has no need of a universe so old or big, for example). But we know of only one way CN could produce human beings: pretty much the way they were, with vast ages of unguided trial-and-error spanning across vast stretches of life-killing space. For example, if CN, then (a) life could only be an accidental byproduct of the organization of the universe, but (b) the only way life could then exist is if the universe were so incredibly old and big that something as improbable as the origin of life would be possible, yet (c) that is exactly the universe we find ourselves in. We have no comparably good explanation for why the universe would be so old and big on BT, or for many other peculiar features of our universe. Therefore, CN is a good explanation for why we observe what we do, while BT is not.

P21: If CN is true, the nature and scale of the universe, and the history of life that we actually observe, is the only possible way we could exist that we know of, and is therefore what we would expect to observe.
P22: If BT is true, the nature and scale of the universe, and the history of life that we actually observe, is one of countless possible ways we could exist that we know of, including some that make more sense, and is therefore not what we would expect.
C10: Therefore, per logicum, CN explains what we observe better than BT.

Parody argument:
1. I crossed the street today.
2. If naturalism is true, then the only way I can do that is by walking.
3. If God exists, then there are many ways I can get across the street besides walking, because, for example, God could cause me to apparate across the street Harry Potter style.
4. Therefore, we have evidence that God does not exist, based on the fact that I walked across the street today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reply to Clayton on Russell

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

Clayton says: I don't see that Russell failed to take account of this point: If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.You say, "Cosmological arguments always tell you what needs a cause. Contingent things. Things that begin to exist". He doesn't think that cosmological arguments show both that all contingent things need causes _and_ the world is such a contingent thing. He doesn't think that cosmological arguments show that everything that has a beginning needs a cause _and_ the world had a beginning. Now, you might disagree with _this_ point, but I don't think Russell is guilty of quite the strawman you've suggested.

But it seems to me that there are attempts on the table (Russell could have been forgiven for not knowing about the Kalam argument, but the Thomistic argument is another matter) that try to point to a characteristic that the physical world possesses, namely contingency, which God does not possess, such that the world needs a cause and God does not. These attempts may fail, but Russell surely knew that they existed, and nevertheless he presents a one-parapraph refutation of all cosmological arguments that simply presumes that all attempts like this fail. In the process he makes theists look really retarded, because it looks as if advocates of these arguments simply had to be reminded of the simple point that James Mill made to his son John Stuart Mill, and the cosmological argument is a cooked goose. In fact a good deal of the impact of the paragraph has to do with not only that the argument can be refuted, but that this is something that can be done on one's lunch break.

I suppose you can say that here Russell is giving us the "short version" of an argument that can be defended at greater length. And of course lots of people do that sort of thing. You might think that in fact the universe has no cause-requiring properties that God would not equally possess. But in any event he makes it look easy, when it really isn't.

Islam and Calvinism

According to the linked site.

Beyond gaining a better understanding of Islam it is astounding to me how many of the verses from the Qur’an and how many of arguments Muslim theologians and commentaries use sound identical to those used by Calvinists to rationalize the doctrine of predestination. My guess is that if you removed the flowery language and substituted certain words such as Allah in many of the quotes from the Qur’an or Muslim commentaries with the word God that the statements would be indistinguishable from statements on doctrine from not just the Reformers of John Calvin’s day but also indistinguishable from those in modern Reformed Theology like John Piper, R.C. Sproul and others.

I am not sure of the value of this line of argumentation in a critique of Calvinism, however. First, a similarity to something is Islam is not an automatic problem. Muslims do get some things right. Secondly, the Calvinist responses here seem to involve theological voluntarism, which is certainly a natural inference from some things Reformed theologian say, but I don't think is essential to Calvinism. I did say at some points in my exchanges with Calvinists a few months back that I thought that the theodicy moves they were making could as easily be made on behalf of Islam as well as on behalf of Christianity.

The comparisons are interesting in their own right, however.

Christianity: Unique, or Uniquely wrong

Christianity makes a claim on behalf of its founder that is unprecedented and unique in the whole world. No one else says that the God of the Universe walked on earth to save us. Christianity is unique, and uniquely wrong if it's wrong.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Secular Outpost: Stupid Philosopher Tricks

Keith Parsons thinks philosophers have said a lot of ridiculous things. I think in a lot of cases there is method in their madness even if, at the end of the day, we conclude that there was madness in their method.

The Secular Outpost: Stupid Philosopher Tricks

Is Morality Hard or Easy?

This is, or course, an echo of the chapter in Lewis's Mere Christianity where he asks, "Is Christianity Hard Or Easy?" I put this question on the discussion board for my ethics class, and got three responses, all agreeing that morality is easy, at least for them.

I find this a little stunning.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

At least he's not gay

Congressman Pete Stark is a out-of-the-closet atheist in congress. My title is based on one of the comments.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism

Explaining these three positions.

A Wikipedia entry

Meaning of life apologetics and the Keith Parsons rebuttal

Here is an account of a new debate by Bill Craig in Canada. One thing to notice about this debate, however, is that Craig is defending a proposition here about which he and Richard Dawkins profoundly agree. Both of them, emphatically, think the question of God is enormously important!! While the idea that the question of God doesn't matter is popular in the general public, there is something a bit strange in an atheist arguing the negative side of that issue.

Craig says: But I noticed that in the debate I was watching, he actually said exactly what I was going to argue that evening, namely, that if there is no God, then “the universe is devoid of any absolute meaning or moral sense.” I decided to camp on that point and added his quotation to the end of my opening speech.

A couple of points. First, while I think the question of God is profoundly important, and I do think that the type of meaning we might find in life is going to differ whether we are theists or atheists, I question whether these sorts of considerations are as devastating to atheism as Craig makes them sound. Keith Parsons, in his debate with Craig and in his essay on misconceptions of atheism, suggests a line of defense against this "meaning of life apologetics" that I have yet to see answered effectively.

The first point is that many atheists lead what they consider to be meaningful lives. They have friendships and other close personal relationship, they pursue the truth, they watch football games and eat pizza, etc. The meaning of life apologist then answers that this isn't "absolute" or "ultimate" meaning. The second point in the Keith Parsons rebuttal is to point out that this need for "absolute" or "ultimate" meaning is one that is imposed by a theistic or especially Christian world-view, and need not be accepted by an atheist. We can, to use C. S. Lewis's phrase "rub along quite well" without it. The typical next step in meaning of life apologetics is to bring out various nonbelievers who bewail the lack of meaning in life without God. Russell's "firm foundation of unyielding despair" is a typical one that Craig actually quoted in his debate with Parsons; a few quotes from existentialists like Sartre and Camus (the most important philosophical problem is the question of suicide) will do the trick also. But here Parsons can (and did) point out that the Russell quote is taken out of context if viewed from the perspective of the philosopher's total life, and the emotional reactions of people like Camus are surely not logically necessary for atheists, in fact, as Eric Koski suggested to me in correspondence, these reactions may be temper tantrums on the part of people who long for a lost faith, but hardly normative for atheists in general.

OK, so where does the Meaning of Life Apologetic go from here, in response to the Keith Parsons rebuttal? Maybe something like the Lewis-style argument from desire might be tried at this point. But I am claiming that, so far as I can tell, the Meaning of Life Apologetic as developed by Craig doesn't seem to me to have a good answer to the Keith Parsons rebuttal. Unless there is something I missed in Craig.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hasker on Scientific Naturalism

But science as a total worldview—the idea that science can tell us everything there is to know about what reality consists of, enjoys no such overwhelming support. This worldview, (often termed scientific naturalism) is just one theory amongst others and is no more capable of being “proved to all reasonable people” than are religious belief systems. To claim that the strong support enjoyed by, say, the periodic table of the elements transfers to scientific naturalism as a worldview is highly confused if not deliberately misleading.

From Peterson, Basinger, Reichenbach and Hasker, Reason and Religious Belief 4th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) p. 57.

I happen to know that Hasker wrote this.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Case Against Grad School

This author thinks that, for most people, graduate work in the humanities is a bad idea, and certainly a bad career move.

A critique of my defense of critical rationalism

From a critical analysis of my book by Kyler Kuehn:

After dispensing with faulty understandings of Lewis’s apologetic stance, Reppert broadens the scope of his inquiry to deal with more general epistemic issues, in order to show where Lewis’s apologetic position fits within the spectrum of ideas. The first view described is fideism, which is comparable to the Presuppositional view of epistemology (and apologetics) held by Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame, and others. As an example of this view, Reppert quotes the well-known televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who opines (p. 29), “Man can’t use his mind to know the truth; if he uses his mind he just comes up with something stupid like the theory of evolution”. This captures the essence of fideism, which requires that one’s ultimate religious questions are not open to critical analysis by one’s mental faculties. The problems with mutually conflicting fideistic claims are obvious, and Reppert does not spill any additional ink reviewing them. Instead, moving on to strong rationalism, he describes the other extreme: the belief that our rational faculties are the sole arbiter of truth claims, so that claims that cannot be verified logically or empirically do not warrant our belief. Bertrand Russell is given as a paragon of strong rationalist beliefs, in that he explains away beliefs in the supernatural (and especially God) as the product of irrational fears. Interestingly, Reppert points out that claims to holding a “monopoly on rationality” are expressed on the theistic side as well, as shown by Josh McDowell’s statement in Evidence that Demands a Verdict that “a rejection of Christianity is usually not so much of the ‘mind’ as of the will, not so much ‘I can’t’ but ‘I won’t’”.

Now there are two main problems with such a view. The first is that at the very least a de facto, operational answer is given to the problem of the criterion by every single thinking, observing being. Either one begins with experiential forms of knowledge and one builds a worldview (including a definition of knowledge) from that starting point, or one posits logically necessary criteria for what constitutes knowledge, and then one seeks experiences and observations that fulfill such criteria. Unfortunately for Reppert, his view proves too much; if both options that are able to solve the dilemma of the criterion are disallowed, then it is not the case that definitions of knowledge are up for grabs, with radically different worldviews resulting in internally “rational” beliefs. Rather, no view of knowledge whatsoever is valid! Only radical skepticism denies in principle the attainability of knowledge; however, his entire purpose for writing is that he believes that true and rationally justified beliefs (i.e. knowledge) are attainable. And it is important for our later considerations to point out that there is a sense in which even those who doubt the validity of knowledge in general make practical use of (even tentatively held) beliefs—though they would not call such a thing “knowledge”, of course.

The second problem with Reppert’s analysis of critical rationalism is that he vastly overestimates the necessity of “neutral” ground from which to analyze competing truth claims. While it is true that no finite being can attain an unbiased “view from nowhere”, Reppert errs when he thinks such a view is necessary for clearly discerning the truth in any given situation. Yes, psychological effects can influence one’s beliefs, but they do not utterly overturn and negate one’s innate rational capabilities (once again, Reppert ironically appears to be attacking one of the foundational pillars of his argument from reason—namely, that truth actually exists and is knowable by humans). What is necessary, then, is not “neutral” ground, but instead common ground between disputants in any argument. In an adversarial situation, such as within a court of law, both the prosecution and the defense have a bias in that they want their own position to be true, but they have a mutually agreed upon framework within which to present their respective arguments. Indeed, the common presumption is that our legal system works precisely because both sides are biased towards their own view, and will thus work with all possible skill to prove their position true and their intellectual opponent’s position false. A disinterested defense attorney leads not to justice, but to a mistrial!

Since Reppert merely requires that his position be defensible given his assumptions, we will see that his argument, while valid, will not ultimately prove convincing to skeptics unless the further step is made to justify the premises of his arguments. This also colors his view of Lewis’s arguments, such that he seeks to explain away Lewis’s more confrontational statements as not being truly representative of his actual views. But if Reppert’s definition of critical rationalism lacks the clarity to distinguish between rationally acceptable arguments (valid solely within one’s framework) and rationally compelling arguments (that hold across all reasonable frameworks), then he will of course be at a loss to fit Lewis’s bold claims of exclusive rationality into a more tentative “critical rationalist” stance. But this is only a definitional problem for Reppert, not a consistency problem for Lewis.

This is a really nice powerpoint on Hume on Miracles

By Wes Morriston. Doesn't prove anything one way of the other (doesn't try to, really) but lays out the issues really nicely.

Wikipedia on Christian Faith

Chernikov replies to Koski, not Parsons

People believe the damnedest things.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Was it a fumble?

I promised I would not blame the game's result on the officiating. But it was pretty obviously an incomplete pass. Of course, all that would have resulted in was a chance for a Hail Mary in the end zone. Warner would just have to throw it into coverage and hope that Larry or Anquan came down with it. Two costly plays: the pick-6 at the goal line by Harrison just before half, and Aaron Francisco falling down and allowing the 46-yard Santonio Holmes catch.

On the other hand, the game with the Eagles could have gone the other way as well. The Panthers were not a championship caiber team, but the Eagles, the Cardinals and the Steelers were all championship caliber teams. The scoring history in the Eagles game and the Steelers game was remarkably similar, with the Cardinals in reversed roles.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23

The good news is that this is one of history's great Super Bowls. The bad news is, the Cardinals lost.