Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mark Nelson on reductio versions of the Argument from Evil

A redated post.

The is from Mark Nelson's paper Naturalistic Ethics and the Argument from Evil,' Faith and Philosophy, vol. 8, no. 3, 1991.

Nelson argued in this paper that the moral premise of the argument from evil is undermined if the atheist construes that premise in a non-realist way, that is, he does not think that any propositions about what one ought to do can be true.
For reference, here are 1, 2 and 4 to which he refers in the paper.

1) if there were an all-good, all-powerful God, then there would be little or no evil in the world.

2) But there is much evil in the world.

4) If there were an all-good God, he would want there to be little or no evil in the world.

He writes, concerning the possibility of a reductio version of the argument:

Third, while not taking the argument as a reason for atheism itself, the naturalist can still try to offer the argument as an ad hominem argument that anyone who holds the non-relativistic ethical theory that the theist in fact holds should reject theism. That is, even if the naturalist does not believe premises 1 and 2, she can argue that the theist must (or at least does) hold premises 1 and 2, and that these jointly entail 3 (atheism-VR). Since few theists these days deny 2, the real issue is whether the naturalist can show that the theist must, or does, accept 1. In the present context, this boils down to whether the naturalist can show that the theist must, or does, accept 4, and this is a tall order. While some theists accept 4 or ought to, given their other philosophical commitments, it is by no means obvious that all do or even should, since, for theists, the acceptability of 4 depends to some extent on the truth about morality, and even among theists there is considerable disagreement about what this is. In sum, it's not as if the naturalist can point to a set of moral propositions to which all theists must share and say "See! These commit you to 4!" And the theist should be wary of letting her critic pin some definite moral theory on here, since it may be difficult to say what moral theory a world view commits us to, except from a vantage point "inside" it, as it were. Moreover, the theist might regard the ability to handle the problem of evil as a condition of adequacy for any theistic theory of morality. Finally, such an ad hominem argument does not satisfy the conditions for a disproof of the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God.

The Intentionality Delusion

This is a Vallicella post about Rosenberg's denial of intentionality. You have to wonder how he avoids that conclusion that, since no statements are about anything, his own statements are also not about anything. But I suppose it is consistent naturalism.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Conflating atheism with materialism

Parbouj has been making the complaint that Lewis, and those like myself who make use of his philosophical ideas, conflate atheism with materialism.

The interesting thing about that is that when Lewis himself became persuaded by anti-materialist arguments, he didn't become a theist, he attempted to avoid traditional theism by adopting an alternative philosophy that was very prevalent in his own time, namely, Absolute Idealism.

Here's what he wrote about it:

It is astonishing (at this time of day) that I could regard this position as something quite distinct from Theism. I suspect there was some willful blindness. But there were in those days all sorts of blankets, insulators, and insurances which enabled one to get all the conveniences of Theism, without believing in God. The English Hegelians, writers like T. H. Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet (then mighty names), dealt in precisely such wares. The Absolute Mind—better still, the Absolute—was impersonal, or it knew itself (but not us?) and it was so absolute that it wasn’t really much more like a mind than anyone else….We could talk religiously about the Absolute; but there was no danger of Its doing anything about us…There was nothing to fear, better still, nothing to obey.

Lewis never supposes that anti-materialist arguments (such as the argument from reason) establish theism  immediately and directly. Nor do I. I do think the my argument does establish that what is basic to reality is something mental, and that it is cannot be fully described in non-mental terms. I also think that that mental something at the base of things, is most coherently drawn out in terms of a theistic philosophy.

I have always been very explicit about this, see, for example, here.

Subjectivism and the argument from evil as a reductio

The reductio requires that you establish that a particular conception of goodness is essential to Christianity. I think it's a mistake to just say "no problem, it's just a reductio." Even if you argue that a theist must accept an objective standard of right and wrong, you then have to show that the standard that God supposedly violates by allowing the type of evil you are highlighting is a standard that Christians, in virtue of being Christians, are committed to. That's a bit of a demanding chore, in my book.

If you're a subjectivist, you can't say "This is the true standard of right and wrong, God violates that in virtue of allowing the evil he does allow, therefore, an omnipotent being, if he exists, can't be good." What you have to say is that Christians are committed to the standard that God is violating. Showing that commitment on the part of Christians is bound to be difficult.

A two or three years back on DI I got into some dialogue with Calvinists, in which I argued that a God who predestined some to heaven and some to hell would not be a good being in any recognizable sense. I still think that's right, but they argued that what it is for God to be good is that God's actions promote his own glory, and by glory they mean that God acted in such a way as to be able to exercise as many of his attributes as possible. God's goodness, as they understood it, required him to required him to exercise both his merciful forgiveness of sinners, which he does by giving them saving grace and welcoming them into heaven, but also by leaving people in sin and exercising his attribute of hostility to and punishment toward sin, which he exercises by punishing people eternally in hell. The Calvinists I was discussing with denied that they were theological voluntarists. God is seeking glory in this sense is, on their view, satisfying an objectively true standard of ethical conduct. Nor would I make the case that Calvinists aren't Christians.

I still think that this leaves us with too big of a disconnect between goodness as we understand in human relationships and goodness as practiced by God. But making that case as someone who believes in an objective moral standard is difficult enough. Making such a case if you are an ethical subjectivist strikes me as being just plain impossible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

C. S. Lewis on Subjectivism and the argument from evil

A redated post.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I com­paring this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: A fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the uni­verse and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Mere Christianity, II, 1

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Against Gandhi

If Bnonn is right in this essay, Gandhi is not the saint he was cracked up to be.

I suppose few "great" people are quite what they have been cracked up to be.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Great Sin

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis on Pride: The Great Sin
I first read Mere Christianity when I was 18 years old. At the time, I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and had spent much of my time until then in the Arizona competitive chess scene. (Just so you know, the competitive chess scene, especially amongst teenagers, is not a hotbed of humility).
In addition, I have spent much of my life since in pursuit of achievement, especially intellectual achievement. So this chapter of Mere Christianity was a like a hard kick in the stomach.
Today many people with a “psychology” orientation would say that “self-esteem” is very important.
Aristotle said that humility is a vice.
27 years ago, I wrote a sermon counterbalancing was an overstated case in this chapter. However, a properly balanced chapter on this subject would not have had the impact on me that the actual chapter did.
I should warn you that those who know me best might tell you that I am the last person on earth to be lecturing anybody about humility.
Further, the Christian tradition’s emphasis on humility effectively demolishes the theory that Christianity is the product of wishful thinking. Who would want this to be the main sin of the human race?

Lewis: this is where Christianity morality differs from other moral ideas.
No one except Christians ever admits to this vice.
However, no one who is not a Christian ever shows any mercy towards it on others. No fault makes a man more unpopular, but we are unconscious of it in ourselves.
The virtue is pride or self-conceit, and the opposite virtue is humility.
This, not chastity, is the center of Christian morality. This is the essential vice, the utmost evil. It was through pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to all other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.

(One time I mentioned to a class of students at the University of Illinois that there were 18 or so full-time faculty members at the U of I, and that as far as I knew 17 of them were atheists. One student raised his hand and said “Those atheists in your department, do they think of themselves as the supreme beings?” I was not quick enough to say “not all of them.”)

If you want to know how proud you are ask: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?” The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. Pride is essentially competitive, while other vices are competitive only by accident. Pride takes no pleasure out of having some thing, only out of having more of it than the next man has.

The sexual impulse may cause two men to want the same girl. However, pride will cause a man to take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but because he wants to prove he is a better man than you are.

Why do wealthy people want to make more money? Pride, and lust for power. Why does a girl spread misery by collecting admirers? Pride. Why does a political leader or whole nation go on and on, demanding increasingly? (This is my last territorial demand-Hitler.) Pride again.

Pride causes enmity because it is enmity. In addition, it is enmity toward God, as well as toward others. If you are always looking down, you cannot look up.

Why are people who are obviously eaten up with Pride say they believe in God and appear very religious? They are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing before a phantom God, but are really imagining how much this God approves of them and thinks them better than ordinary people. (VR: Pharisee’s prayer: I thank God that I am not as other men.)

Whenever we think that our religious life makes us better than other people, we are being acted on not by God but by the Devil.

The real test of being in the presence of God is that you see yourself as a small dirty thing or you forget about yourself altogether. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

Teachers appeal to a boy’s pride or self-respect, to get him to behave decently, you can even overcome other sins through an appeal to pride. (VR: I’m not sure about this one). However, the devil is happy with that, he is happy to cure your chilblains by giving you cancer.

However: Pleasure in being praised is not pride. Vanity, the pursuit of the praise of others, is a kind of pride, but it is the kind that is least bad—at least you care about what someone other than yourself thinks.

One should be glad that one has pleased another, and even more glad that one has pleased God. VR: I should think, as well, that one should be pleased to have achieved any worthwhile goal.

Someone can be “proud” of a son, or father, or school, or regiment, etc. If we mean admiration, then that is not a sin. However, if you give yourself airs because of it that is a sin.

God does not forbid Pride because it offends God’s own pride, but because God wants you to know Him, and your pride gets in the way.

Lewis says he wishes he could tell us what it is really like to get free from pride.

A truly humble person would not be a self-denigrating person; he would simply be a cheerful person who was very interested in what you said to him.

First step toward humility? Realize that you are proud.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cafeteria Conservatism and Corporate Prostitution

A redated post. 

It seems to me that the Republican leadership, while calling itself conservative, is prepared to abandon conservative principles whenever and wherever it helps the corporate bottom line. I respect conservatives, but I despise corporate prostitutes, and that is what I think these so-called conservatives have become.

I mean look at Medicare Part D. Now conservatism would say this is a bad idea, expanding gummint to cover prescription drugs for people on Medicare. It expands government bureaucracy, etc, all the arguments against Medicare from when I was a kid. Liberals are disappointed because Medicare can't negotiate prices for these drugs. So why do it? Cui bono? Who benefits? Not the people on Medicare, so who could it be? The drug companies, who are happy to see an increase in Federal bureaucracy so long as it help line their pockets?

Do you really need to be a liberal to point this out?

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Question for Frank Beckwith and Other Pro-Lifers

This is another way of posing the question I asked about embryonic stem cell research a few posts back. 

Frank: The abortion issue, of course, spills over into the debate about embryonic stem cell research, and raises a very interesting issue.

The pro-life, or conceptionist position, is that human life, and the right to life, begins at conception. This, of course implies that, once conceived, from its initial state as as zygote to when it dies, the human being possesses certain basic rights, including the right to life. Hence abortion is ruled out except in cases where homicide is justified, and homicide is not justified in the vast majority of abortion cases (danger to the life of the mother being the primary type of case where the requirements of justifiable homicide are met). But this protects not only fetuses, but also frozen embryos, which are created but not implanted. These are persons also, and therefore pro-life arguments extend to them, and it is homicide (and therefore murder if there is no moral justification for homicide) to use those embryos for embryonic stem cell research, since such use destroys the life of the embryos.

The question then arises as to what other rights these embryos have in addition to the right to life. I take it that ordinary fetuses have other rights besides the right to life. If embryos are frozen into the indefinite future, does this do a moral disservice to them? They get to live, but they never get a life, as it were. If life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are basic rights, then do we  not have an obligation to these embryos to give them the opportunity to grow up, be free, and pursue happiness, as opposed to leaving them in a frozen prison.

Or do embryos and fetuses have only the right to life? That strikes me as highly counterintuitive.

Has anyone developed a pro-life analysis of this issue?


Explicating Conservatism: Some Questions for Ilion and other self-described conservatives

Ilion, let's try to unpack your claim here.

I: Meanwhile, Prokop and his fellow leftist partisans *do* believe in, and *do* agitate for, using the violent power of The State to forcibly confiscate the honestly-earned wealth of [someone] so as to give it to [someone else] … and this is open theft. It is grossly unjust and immoral; that “the government” is doing it does not make it just or moral. Any society which tries to operate on this principle of mutual looting must utterly destroy itself.

VR: I think this is a fair statement of a standard conservative perspective. The presupposition seems to be that, before the government gets its greedy mitts on our money, it is distributed by markets, both the commodity markets and the labor markets. When this original distribution occurs, that distribution is relatively meritocratic; those who have more merit more. However this meritocracy is compromised by government's "well-intentioned" (and here I reference the signature statement on your blog), attempt to help the have-nots at the expense of the haves.

Now, I take it you do think the government has the right to ask that we all ante up to provide for our common defense, and probably some of this also needs to go to make sure the country's infrastructure is maintained. So there should be a military budget, there should be a budget for building roads and bridges and maintaining those, etc. As I understand it those should be paid for not at the point of income but at the point of consumption; those who use it should pay to use it.

But here, it seems to me that conservatives draw a distinction between the protective role of government and the non-protective role. The protective roles of government have a constitutional mandate (provide for the common defense, etc.), the non-protective roles are, pretty largely, a matter of government overstepping its authority. So, for example, if health insurance companies have a policy of excluding people with pre-existing conditions, it is unjust government intrusion to come in and prevent them from doing this, so that more people can be insured. So, conservatives at least can be hawks when it comes to what we need to do to defend ourselves, although there was a time in our history when conservatives tended to be isolationists.

At this point I am trying to spell out what I think is the conservative vision as you understand it, and I want to invite others who describe themselves as conservative to look at this and see if their own view is accurately represented. Amend as you see fit, guys. I want to put the descriptive process first before I start talking about why I have trouble believing this whole story.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What happens to the unused embryos

Whenever I look at the arguments in the embryonic stem cell research debate, a question always arises in my mind. If taking the stem cells from the embryos is, as opponents claim, murder, then foregoing using them for stem cell research preserves them for what fate? If it's murder to kill them, then isn't leaving them forever and ever in liquid nitrogen any better? What kind of life are we saving them for? If every embryo is sacred, and God gets irate if they are destroyed, are we also wronging them if we don't give them a chance to have a life? At least, the "You could be aborting Beethoven" argument seems not to apply here.  

This is an article about unused embryos, and what happens to them. I'm sure some of you know more about this than I do. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Redistribution and parties

ADC wrote:

I'm more concerned with is how a particular candidate views the use government's monopoly on force. Will it be constrained to protection and defend individual rights - or unconstrained in attempts to shape and engineer a 'better' humanity?

VR: If this is your concern, then you cannot vote for members of either major party. Democrats believe in redistribution of wealth and income downwards, toward the poor and the middle class. Republicans believe in redistribution of wealth and income upwards, so that more money is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy.  Neither party practices laissez-faire economics. There is no advantage in voting Republican as opposed to Democratic, if you are a real conservative. Both parties do the same thing, just in opposite directions. The difference between them is that Republicans pay lip service to laissez-faire economics, while Democrats do not. There is no lesser of two evils here. 

May I suggest the Libertarians? 

McGrew on the Historical Reliability of the NT

This is a youtube video of a presentation given by Skype to the Belfast Reasonable Faith society.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On Clinton's Lies

Some people say that the problem with Clinton was not that he had an affair, but that he lied about it. But what do you think about people who have affairs and don't lie about them?

Ben Schuldt replies to Darek Barefoot

Darek Barefoot wrote a defense of the AFR against Carrier. This is Ben Schuldt's response.

The Ten Commandments

One of the central ideas in religious morality is the idea of a commandment. It is sometimes said that they are the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions. Does being commanded by God give something a status of absoluteness or finality that you can't find in secular morality?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Fundy atheists

This is an oldie but a goodie, from Tektonics. It is certainly possible to change your brand of fundamentalism.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Evolution and its impact on Christian theism

There are two aspects of evolution that raise issues for religion. One is the obvious conflict between the theory of evolution and the traditional literal reading of Genesis. If, as traditionalists assert, the Bible gives us a comprehensive genealogy of the human race, then the age of not only "the earth" but also the heavens can at least approximately be calculated, and it comes to about 4004 B. C. (at least, that is what Bishop Ussher thought). That, of course, conflicts with evolution, but it also conflicts with garden-variety astronomy, which teaches that distant stars can be a million light years away. This site attempts to answer that question on behalf of the traditional reading of Genesis.  But such a reading of Genesis was rejected not merely by moderns who have been shown the problems with this by modern science. It was rejected by St. Augustine, hardly someone running scared from modern science.

The other, and more serious issue, is that evolution attempts to provide an explanation of speciation which replaces design with a trial and error process without design. At least in theory, you should be able to get to any level of sophistication in the engineering of the human body through genetic replication, natural selection, and, of course, enough time. So we can't go as easily as believers would like from what looks like the tremendous engineering of the human body to an intelligent designer, much less a creator. What looked to even our eighteenth century forbears like overwhelming reason to believe that there was an intelligence behind our universe (even for deists, who claimed that God created and designed the universe, but did not interfere in its operation, and did not incarnate himself as Christ to save the world). Even Hume, depending on how you read him, seems to cave in to a very denatured form of the design argument at the end of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. But ever since Darwin, the sledding has been tougher for arguments from design to a Designer of the world. Some of the most popular forms of the design argument today make an end run around evolution, and look at the cosmic constants in place at the Big Bang, which, by definition cannot be products of an evolutionary process. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

Defending Carrier Against Me

This is a response by Carrier admirer Ben Schuldt to an early response of mine to Carrier. He uses the fallacy of composition charge against my argument.

Physicalist analyses of mental start by defining the physical by excluding the mental, but then combinations of the physical are supposed to be mental. Yet, when the physical descriptions are complete, it looks as if the marks of the mental have disappeared and have been replaced by something that doesn't look mental at all. I call this changing the subject, but Schuldt thinks that I am question-beggingly insisting on a "magical" analysis of mind. I say I am insisting on a mentalistic analysis of mind. The mental is what it is, and is not something else.

It doesn't seem that all part-to-whole inferences commit the fallacy of composition. For example, if every part of the shed in the back yard is made of wood, then the shed is made of wood, isn't it? (Even if it doesn't weigh the same as a duck).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Youtube Attack on my AFR

At least Richard Carrier read my book. I'm not sure this guy has.

For example, he makes the simplistic "argument from computers", which I responded to in my book, and numerous times subsequently, including here

I am not saying that there aren't more sophisticated ways of using computer science to critique the AFR, but this is not one of them.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

C. S. Lewis on the Hallucination Theory

"Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention that ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus (Lk 24:13-31; Jn 20:15; 21:4). Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that he would get the face of the hallucination right? Is he who made all faces such a bungler that he cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was himself?" (Miracles, chapter 16)

A more detailed response to hallucination theory can be found here. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two Jacks and an Aldous

A redated post.

I have one minute to get in my commemoration of the lives of Two Jacks and an Aldous, who passed away on November 22, 1963.

A Revised Rebuttal of the McGrews on the Resurrection

This is by Jeffrey of Failing The Insider Test. Tim responded here to Jeffrey's original critique.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Arguing for Dualism: The Identity Defense (Not to be Confused with the Twinkie Defense)

Bob Prokop wrote: Approximately one-twentieth of one percent of our bodies is replaced each day, through completely natural processes. At the end of 7 to 8 years, not a single atom remains in our physical selves that was there at the start of that period. Every particle of my today's physical self was either dirt, water, air, or another living organism 7 years ago. But I am demonstrably not a new person - I am the same Bob Prokop who was here eight, 10, or even 60 years ago, despite the fact that no trace of the original physical self remains. (I'd love to see someone try such a defense in court: "Your Honor, that wasn't me who committed that crime eight years ago. I wasn't even here. It was someone else with the same name!")

If that ain't proof of the existence of mind, or even of the soul, I don't know what is!

This is from an website entitled "Thought Experments on the Soul," by Kelley L. Ross.

If our concern then becomes personal identity, will the identity of material substance account for that? As I have argued, no. In physical terms alone, we know that there is a turnover of matter in our bodies. I believe that after 20 years or so, all the matter in our bodies is supposed to be different. A defendant in a legal case once even tried to argue that he was literally not the same person who had committed the crime, some twenty years plus in the past. His argument was not allowed as, indeed, we trace personal identity across that transformation. With the material objects, this can indeed produce some paradoxical results. The Stoics noticed that in their day the ship kept at Athens, which was supposed to have born Theseus to Crete, had finally been repaired so much that every single plank and other part of it was no longer original. Was it the "same" ship? In a way yes, and in a way no. One report is that this question was put to the Pythia at Delphi. With material objects, the less the original material, the less it is the original thing. There is no such ambiguity with people. And we can ask them.

Retributivism and the Similarity Requirement

Is there anything in Feinberg's definition of retributivism that requires, or even recommends any kind of similarity between the crime and the punishment? No.


Discipline: Philosophy
Theory of punishment whereby all or part of the purpose of punishment is the infliction of pain or disadvantage on an offender which is in some sense commensurate with his offence and which is inflicted independently of reform or deterrence.

For a weak theory the commensurate amount need not be inflicted but may be, and a limit is placed up to which reformative or deterrent punishment may go but beyond which it may not.
A strong theory insists that the punishment must be inflicted, but again places a limit beyond which it may not go.

Retributivism opposes excessive harshness as much as excessive leniency, and opposes the violation of the offender's rights in the interests of social expediency or personal spite and so on.
Mitigating circumstances, diminished responsibility, and so on are taken into account before determining the commensurate amount, but there are still problems in determining this, and the strong retributivist, especially, must justify violating the presumed moral ban on inflicting unnecessary pain.

J Feinberg, 'The Expressive Function of Punishment', Doing and Deserving (1970)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Question for People Who Combine Substance Physicalism with Property Dualism

Do these properties make a difference in what is caused to occur? If the non-physical properties cause anything, then can the substance that has the properties be a genuinely physical substance? If they don’t make a difference, then does our mental states have anything to do with what we actually do?

The Death Penalty and Retribution

I have brought up some objections to the deterrence argument for the death penalty, and also the expense argument for the death penalty. These, I contended, were undermined by the slowness of the appeals process. A speedier appeals process, however, makes it more likely that innocent people will be executed. So, the death penalty advocate faces a dilemma. A long appeals process makes it less likely that an innocent person will be executed (although the possibility still remains), but it also undermines deterrence and increases expense. A shorter process will increase the risk of executing an innocent person who might otherwise be exonerated, which is already a problem for capital punishment. So my argument had a dilemma structure that I am not sure people picked up on.

However, some have argued that the case for execution isn't primarily a matter of deterrence or even expense, it is a matter of retributive justice. I do accept C. S. Lewis's claim that it is extremely perilous to remove the question of desert from sentencing.

It should be the first consideration, though surely not the only consideration. I am quite sure that Lewis would have also endorsed this comment, which his friend J. R. R. Tolkien put into the mouth of Gandalf:

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” 

The retributive theory of punishment requires that we deprive the criminal of happiness to a degree commensurate to the wrongness of their acts. In order to fit the crime, the punishment does not need to resemble the crime. We wouldn't use that principle in the case of rape and torture, so why use it for murder? In order for the argument to go through that the death penalty uniquely meets the requirement of giving a criminal his just deserts, you need an argument other than the argument from resemblance, and I don't know what that would be. Executions are quick and physically painless, which was probably not true of the death of the victim of murder. The person executed knows for a long time that this is coming, which again would not be true of the victim. So, once we are deprived of the argument that a punishment that resembles the crime best fits the crime, how do we show that the death penalty is the best way of exacting retribution? 

We Just Sold Things People Want

From the Hullabaloo blog. 

Selling things people want

David Atkins

The Wall Street Perspective:

To put it bluntly, many on Wall Street still see the events leading up to the financial crisis as a case of banks having legitimately sold something - whether it be mortgages or securities backed by those loans - that someone wanted to buy.

Thomas Atteberry, a partner and portfolio manager with Los Angeles-based First Pacific Advisors, a $16 billion money management firm, says his success "wasn't a gift" and he had to work hard to get where he is. Atteberry says he understands the frustration many feel about income inequality. But he said the problem isn't with those who are successful, but rather our "tax codes and regulations."

There are many products and services in addition to spiking ARM mortgages, naked credit default swaps and BBB tranches of collateralized debt obligations that people want to buy. Also in demand are:
  • Professional hitmen
  • Professional sex services including underage prostitution
  • Animal crush videos
  • High grade heroin
  • Weapons grade plutonium
  • Fire insurance on our rude neighbor's home
  • Currency counterfeiting machines

Why does Big Government insist on restricting the flow of goods and services people want to buy with pesky tax codes and regulations? It's so unfair to the successful pimps, drug kingpins, arms dealers, mafia dons and human traffickers who have worked hard to get where they are.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Cameron Todd Willingham

Dudley Sharp wrote:

Not suprising, with all that care and time, there is no evidence of an innocent executed since the 1930's.

It looks like about 25 actually innocent people have been sent to death row since 1973, or about 0.3% of the 8100 sent to death row during that time and they were all released on appeal

Really? What about Cameron Todd Willingham?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

McGrew on Evidence

This has some discussion of Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.

Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence

Another common slogan, also popularized by Sagan, is that Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Much depends, of course, on what counts as extraordinary, both in a claim and in evidence. It cannot be simply that a claim is unprecedented. At a certain level of detail, almost any claim is unprecedented; but this does not necessarily mean that it requires evidence out of the ordinary to establish it. Consider this claim: “Aunt Matilda won a game of Scrabble Thursday night with a score of 438 while sipping a cup of mint tea.” Each successive modifying phrase renders the claim less likely to have occurred before; yet there is nothing particularly unbelievable about the claim, and the evidence of a single credible eyewitness might well persuade us that it is true.

The case is more difficult with respect to types of events that are deemed to be improbable or rare in principle, such as miracles. It is generally agreed in such discussions that such events cannot be common and that it requires more evidence to render them credible than is required in ordinary cases. (Sherlock 1769) David Hume famously advanced the maxim that No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish (Beauchamp 2000, p. 87), which may have been the original inspiration for the slogan about extraordinary evidence. The proper interpretation of Hume’s maxim has been a source of some debate among Hume scholars, but one plausible formulation in probabilistic terms is that

P(M|T) > P(~M|T) only if P(M) > P(T|~M),

where M is the proposition that a miracle has occurred and T is the proposition describing testimonial evidence that it has occurred. This conditional statement is not a consequence of Bayes’s Theorem, but the terms of the latter inequality are good approximations for the terms of the exact inequality

P(M) P(T|M) > P(~M) P(T|~M)

when both P(~M) and P(T|M) are close to 1. There is, then, a plausible Bayesian rationale for Hume’s maxim so long as we understand it to be an approximation.

It does not follow that the maxim will do the work that Hume (arguably) and many of his followers (unquestionably) have hoped it would. Hume appears to have thought that his maxim would place certain antecedently very improbable events beyond the reach of evidence. But as John Earman has argued (Earman 2000), an event that is antecedently extremely improbable, and in this sense extraordinary, may be rendered probable under the right evidential circumstances, since it is possible in principle that

P(T|M)/P(T|~M) > P(~M)/P(M),

a condition sufficient to satisfy the rigorous condition underlying Hume’s maxim and the slogan about extraordinary events. The maxim is therefore less useful as a dialectical weapon than is often supposed. It may help to focus disagreements over extraordinary events, but it cannot resolve them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some clarifications on my death penalty post (originally posted at Triablogue)

My argument is actually somewhat different from what you are describing. As the death penalty is now practiced in America, we take extra precautions with it, in virtue of its irreversibility. As a result, two advantages of the death penalty over life imprisonment are compromised. First, while most people think the state pays less by using the death penalty than it does in life imprisonment, the fact is that when litigation costs are factored in, execution is more expensive. Second, the deterrent effect is diminished, since not only does the criminal expect to get away with it (otherwise, he wouldn't commit the crime), but also, should someone actually be tried and convicted and sentence to death, death is hardly immanent, because the murderer can expect a long appeals process which is going to delay the execution for many years, assuming the execution occurs at all. This is probably the reason why crime statistics in states without the death penalty are no worse than in states with it. Having the death penalty just means that you might be sentenced to death, and then after 20 years or so, after your appeals run out, you may get executed, unless, of course, they decide not to execute you, which they might very well do.

So, it looks like the only way to make the death penalty do what we hope it will do is to "fast-track" it, eliminate the appeals, and make execution immanent for those convicted of capital crimes.

Of course, the irreversibility of the death penalty is an argument against its very existence. However, where we do practice the death penalty, we seem to concede an important point to its opponents, namely, that there should be a lot more appeals when we execute than when we imprison, because we can release exonerated prisoners, but not people we have executed. The result is that the two benefits of a death penalty seem to be either eliminated or greatly weakened.

So, if we have a death penalty that does what we want it to do, we have to accept the risk of executing innocent people and fast-track the death penalty. We have to not only risk executing innocent people, but we also have to increase that risk by curtailing the appeals process.

To do that, I think we have to abandon the idea that the execution of an innocent person is a more tragic failure of justice than the failure to punish a guilty person. I don't want to go there. But in order for the death penalty to have the advantages over life imprisonment that pro-death-penalty people think it has, it seems as if we have to go there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Execution Without Appeals--A Death Penalty That Gives Us What We Say We Want From It

Two favorable effects of the death penalty that make it seem desirable are that it is less expensive to execute than to imprison, and that it capital punishments deters capital crime better than life imprisonment. Both of these are compromised by the long appeals process, which is more expensive than housing a criminal for life, and also dilutes the deterrent effect, since a murderer probably won't be executed until long after they were initially convicted. Some people say that there is a class of "open and shut cases" which need not be appealed. Thus, we can get a swift execution without the lengthy appeals process.

To get what this suggestion is looking for you have to implement a special threshold of evidence where there really is no possible doubt, and no chance for a future exoneration. While we can, in a retail sort of way, mention cases where this level of evidence was achieved, the problem is that our system has to identify certain characteristics of cases that are so open and shut that we can't imagine an exoneration. The criteria for a conviction is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but even there we have had exonerations. In the case of Casey Anthony, one theory was that the jury was reluctant to convict because they would then have had to consider a death sentence, and since certain kinds of evidence were lacking, they didn't want to take that risk. And "beyond reasonable doubt" is a threshold of evidence doesn't mean that "beyond possible doubt." I don't think the development of an "open and shut case" category where the appeals process could be circumented is workable, although I understand why it would be appealing to many people.

There was the famous arson case in Texas---guy's name was Willingham, where the fire science of the time proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he had killed his family by arson. Only, the fire science of today contradicts that, but, unfortunately, he was executed and wasn't around to be released.

The question is whether it is the extent we are going to allow the risk of executing an innocent person.  I think that that is a horrible side effect of our system. While the system is run by human beings, I think it will remain fallible. If there is a death penalty, then you can't eliminate the possibility of it being used on an innocent person.

To really have a death penalty that does for us what most death penalty advocates would get from it, what you have to do is accept a higher risk than we already have of executing innocent people. (You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs).  What would really help with the deterrent effect would be getting rid of innocent until proven guilty. That's what they do in some countries. In the People's Republic of China, they would execute the prime suspect within a few weeks, and they did get a real deterrent effect there. 

Who are the most literal readers of Scripture? Atheists, of course!

HT: Bob Prokop.

This was written by Aslan (who is not a tame lion).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why is investment income taxed less?

On the highest levels people don't earn money from work, they earn money from investments. Unearned income is taxed at 15%, which is a lower rate than what it taxed for the money you work for. Why is this?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Deficits and "Conservatives"

When I was growing up, and Barry Goldwater was my senator, I learned that one thing conservatives were concerned about was budget deficits. They have returned to the charge in response to Obama's budget deficits. However, this is an article written in Business Week in 2004 chronicling the disappearance of deficit hawks from the Republican Party in the Bush years.

In the words of an old Donovan song from when I was a teenager, "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is."

Or, as John Kerry put it, "I was for it before I was against it."

This is Balfour's Foundations of Belief

This contains an argument very similar to Lewis's AFR.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cafeteria conservatism and the New Testament

The treatment of wealth and poverty in the New Testament fail to rule out all conservative positions as unChristian, but some versions of it strike me as unacceptable. For example, the ethics of Ayn Rand and the ethics of Christ simply can't be reconciled. Greed is not good.

You can't, as a Christian, say that the wealthy are wealthy because they deserve to be, or that a system that helps the rich get rich and allows the poor to get poorer is acceptable. Eric Cantor, for example said that he thought his role was to help the people on top stay there. That has to be un-Christian.

You can make the argument that helping the poor is perfectly good, but using the coercive powers of government to do so is to do it in the worst way. But it does seem that if you accept the laissez-faire argument, you can't turn around and back out of use the government to help your favorite industry. You can't oppose welfare and the support corporate welfare. I don't even know what disentangling the government from the economy would even look like. IF the government is going to help someone, it has to be the people on the bottom.

What I especially dislike is the kind of cafeteria conservativism that appeals to conservative principle so long as they serve the purposes of the big businesses that fund Republican campaigns. But that is what usually happens when you elect conservative candidates.

Watching the Republican debate last night, the argument seems to be that they kept arguing that markets have a regulating effect on economics, and on that account is should be preferred to government regulation. So, if businesses are profitable, they will create jobs. But, corporations are not national entities, they are international entities. And while workers' rights are guaranteed in America, they are not guaranteed in the Third World. At present, businesses have no incentive to create jobs in America. In fact the tax code actually supports outsourcing. So, as far as I can see, just letting capitalism run its course will NOT create jobs in America. Quite the reverse.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

WWJT: Who Would Jesus Tax

This is an article by Chris Giovanazzo.

Do you think the problem of debt could be made better by asking the wealthiest 1% to pay more in taxes? Jesus taught that the rich have a responsibility to help the poor, and sometimes he suggests that they are going to hell for failing to do so.  Shouldn't the teachings of Jesus be reflected in the tax code? Who Would Jesus Tax?

If you think that Obama is a class warrior, he pales in comparison to Jesus. 

An argument against religion: the argument from locality

A true religion, created by God worthy of worship, wouldn't have been started in any particular location. So this argument goes.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Theological Voluntarism

On the meaning of the term "God"

Is "God" a proper name, or a definite description? If "God" is a definite description, then that definite description is "a being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good," then whatever God does is right, but it also means that we aren't in a position to pick out God unless we are able to identify what good is, and recognize that God possesses that quality. Or, God could be picked out by his exercise of creative power, and then we could define "good" in terms of something being in accordance with whoever possesses maximal creative power. But, if we do that, then don't we end up saying that might makes right?

Steve Hays on the "Genocide" theodicy problem

The central issue in Steve's post seems to be this: 
Why is an outcome that God commands a different theodicean problem than the same outcome which God permits? If we already have an adequate theodicy to explain what God allows, why do we need a different explanation for what God commands? The end-result is the same. 
Critics of the passage have argued that God's ordering the Hebrews to kill Canaanite children is more deeply problematic than, say, having them all die in a flood, or allowing Joshua to kill them without actually telling him to. 
On the other hand, in end-of-life ethics people frequently argue that "pulling the plug" at the request of the patient is justified, while assisted suicide is not. But, as Steve says, the result is the same.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

outsider tests (lower case) versus The Outsider Test (TM)

Actually, the underlying idea of the OTF is perfectly legitimate, in that, it is frequently useful to, as a thought experiment, imagine oneself as having started with a different perspective from that which you have in fact started. This is a point that I have argued many times. Where it goes wrong is when Loftus says that to *really* take the outsider test you have to take the perspective of an outsider like himself, a modern, science-oriented materialist. But there are many was of being outside of orthodox Christianity besides being outside of it that way, so why privilege that position? Why consider the results you get from that position to be authoritative or objective?

In short, anyone who thinks seriously takes many outsider tests, but what is questionable is when it is suggested that there is The Outsider Test (TM), the results of which are definitive for the rationality of one's belief. Also, I have argued that directing outsider tests to religious faith, and not to beliefs in general, is question-begging.

Friday, November 04, 2011

An ecumenical Catholic Apologetics Page

There is a great wealth of material that can be linked to from this page.

The Best Skeptical Response to Resurrection Apologetics

There are two sets of evidence that Christians appeal to argue that Christianity is divine rather than human in origin. First, there was the evidence of the empty tomb. The tomb, apparently, was found empty. At least, that is what the early Christians proclaimed, and it was not refuted by those people who would have wanted to see the movement quashed. The second is the fact that various people claim at least to have seen appearances of Jesus following his death. Skeptics typically respond by saying that we have reasons to have doubts about the claim that Jesus was buried in a known tomb. Executed criminals typically had their bodies dumped rather than buried. Second, skeptics typically argue that the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus. Perhaps there weren't as many people who saw the appearances as the Bible claims. But people tend to hallucinate when they are very depressed, and are experiencing great cognitive dissonance, as must have happened to the disciples when their leader was executed on the cross. So, some people had visions, and the early Christians concluded that he must have been resurrected. 

This, I think, is the best response that skeptics have to the historical case for the Resurrection. While I don't buy the hallucination story, I do think it's the strongest skeptical response.

This is still, I think the best resurrection debate, between William Lane Craig and Keith Parsons.

On what needs to be caused

In order to get the cosmological argument to work, you have to find a set of things that needs to be caused, while God does not need to be caused. William Lane Craig argues that we have good reason to believe that the universe had a temporal beginning, and that the Big Bang theory shows this. What that means is that the Big Bang theory, which in popular culture is presumed to be an atheistic theory, is actually embarrassing for atheism, since it agrees with the Bible that there WAS a beginning. Craig maintains what whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has to have something other than itself cause it to exist. On the other hand, God, according to the definition, never began to exist, so he needs no cause of his existence.

Other versions of the cosmological argument maintain that whatever exists contingently, has to have a cause of its existence. The universe is the sort of thing that might or might not exist, so we have to explain why it exists. God is the sort of being who, if he does exist, has to exist, and needs no further explanation. Therefore God must exist, to explain the existence of the universe. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Why Atheists Care about Defending Atheism

Bob: A lot of academic atheists, when I was involved with secular philosophy departments, took relatively little interest in their position. They were dismissive of religious belief, but they sometimes complained about having to cover the problem of God in classes. 

But some atheists blame religious belief for 9/11, and they think President Bush's unfortunate response to it (in particular, invading a country in no way responsible for the attacks), was the work of a "praying President" who wore his religious beliefs on his sleeve, and so they see the conflict over terrorism essentially the effect of the damaging effects of religion on the minds of its followers. They also see the rearguard action of religious believers against biological evolution as of a piece with the failure to accept the scientific consensus in the area of global warming, and these are also intellectual tendencies that are damaging to our society. Joe Sheffer once told me that all evolutionary biologists receive a lot of hate mail from Christian fundamentalists. Whether we go forward in civilization, or backwards, according to people like Dawkins, depends on whether we are willing to chuck our antiquated religious beliefs and embrace science as the measure of all things. So I can see why some atheists care about sharing the Four Atheist Laws with believers.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Informal Fallacy Test

This was the Quote of the Day a year ago on Debunking Christianity

Faith is a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition in spite of evidence that the belief is incorrect. Faith is clearly NOT a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition that is SUPPORTED by the evidence, because if that belief was supported by the evidence, it ipso facto does NOT REQUIRE Faith.

Which fallacy, if any, is committed in the above passage? 

a. ad hominem
b. begging the question
c. red herring
d. no fallacy

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Because I Said So: The Straw Man of Theological Voluntarism

Is the essence of Christian ethics, in the area of sexuality as elsewhere, summed up in the familiar parental phrase "Because I said so?" A Catholic writing in the Stanford Review thinks not.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Flannagans on the nonliteral reading of the genocide order

The Flannagans are pretty conservative theologically, and this is their anti-literalist response to the genocide problem.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Never Ever Bludgeon Babies? You'll Get an Argument from Peter Singer and Michael Tooley

This links to a paper by Scott Klusendorf on the pro-infanticide positions of Tooley and Singer. Interestingly enough William Lane Craig has debated Tooley on the existence of God.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Amalekites, Canaanites, theo-utilitarianism, and skeptical theism

No, I do not hold that YHWH commanded the slaughter of the Amalekites. I hold that either God didn't do that, or there are unknown reasons why He did. I can see some reason why God might have commanded such a thing, so that in my view the case against it isn't a slam dunk. So I would not call someone a moral monster who thought that God had given such a command, I think it morally possible that God might have done so, but on the other hand treating someone anyone as outside the pale of moral consideration strikes me as problematic and not in accordance with what I know about God in the New Testament. In other words, I don't see how these actions could be justified without putting some limits on who is my neighbor, and the parable of the Good Samaritan says we can't really draw such limits.

I'm not committed to a theory of inspiration that would require me to defend such a thing. In another part of Deuteronomy, the Blessings and the Cursings, it indicates that people will get earthly blessings if they are obedient to the Covenant, and earthly cursings if they are not obedient. But you only have to look as far as Job and Ecclesiastes to see that that's questionable even within the Bible.   People as conservative theologically as the Flannagans don't try to defend the Amalekite/Canaanite ban as morally acceptable.

We are considering the possibility that God had a reason for doing something that seems to go against the grain of morality. Someone who feels committed to a sufficiently high view of inspiration and inerrancy to think that a moral defense of the passages must be available. I think if I were to make such a defense, it would have to be pretty much along the lines of skeptical theism, although, because of the need to preserve monotheism, I can see some of the reasons for it.

Part of this has to do with how much of a consequentialist you are. Does the possibility of good consequences that maybe God can see and we can't justify God in telling someone to slaughter a whole nation of people. I suppose if I were a theo-utilitarian, the possibility would be open that God could command an action, atrocious in itself, which would be justified by its consequences. Never Ever Bludgeon Babies? But what if you know that the baby is Baby Hitler?

I don't concur with Craig's position on this, but I think that it's easy to be too simplistic and glib in criticizing him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stephen Law's Debate with William Lane Craig

This debate really did take place. Thrasymachus has mapped the debate at the title's link.

Credit where Credit is Due

Has anybody noticed that, before Christianity, nobody ever dreamed that there were some things you couldn't do to noncombatants and defeated nations. If you conquered in battle, then the people belonged to you to kill, rape, or enslave as you saw fit. What the ban on, say, the Amalekites does is remove the last two options.

As I pointed out in one of the discussions, the just war theory was invented by Christians. Not secular humanists.

I still consider this an insufficient defense of the Amalekite ban. But people who criticize the Bible should recognize where the ideas come from by which they criticize it.

Of course, people like Dawkins help themselves to these moral ideas as if they were somehow obvious, when in fact they were pretty much unheard of before Christians came on the scene.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Amalekites, Mr. Spock, and the lesser of two evils

Anon: It's interesting how genocide is the 'lesser of two evils' between it and polytheism. Good to know.

VR1: Yes indeed. In order for God to save the world through Christ, there has to be a nation of people committed to the idea that there is one God who demands righteousness. The Canaanites, et al, if allowed to live, would have seduced the Hebrew people away from the worship of Yahweh. In fact, they did seduce many Hebrew into idolatry.  If all the Hebrews had become idolaters, then God would not have had a nation of people to send Christ to. As Mr. Spock says, the needs of the many (for Christ) outweigh the needs of the few (the Canaanites, Amalekites, etc.), so they had to be slaughtered.

VR2: Why do I not like saying this sort of thing? After all, according to a well-known secular ethical theory, utilitarianism, an act of any type can be right if it maximizes the total balance of pleasure over pain, up to and  including genocide. Nevertheless, my reply seems a little glib.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Amalekites, the Creation Hymn, and the Hebrew Learning Curve

I'm redating my post on difficult passages in the Old Testament. I would just add that the what is being referred to as the chaos argument is one that I would be inclined to resist, but has to be taken seriously.

Wagner said: Victor, it seems that you believe in some form of inerrancy.But how do you reconcile inerrancy and a "evolving moral consciousness"? Could you please recommend some essential reads about this problem?

With respect to inerrancy, I start by saying I don't especially like the term, and am not sure quite what is supposed to count as an error. I've covered the Amalekite massacres before here, and my view is that they strike me as morally unacceptable per se from a moral standpoint, suggesting that either there is something I don't understand about the situation, or the actions are wrong, and Scripture reflects what we now know to be an inadequate moral awareness.

It could turn out that, given where the Hebrews were on the moral learning curve, and given their proneness to be influenced by the more agriculturally sophisticated Canaanites, the best thing for God to tell them was to kill everybody in those tribes, even though someone with a better developed moral sense could not be told to do such a thing. It was an essential part of God's plan to sustain a nation of people dedicated to monotheism, and perhaps, under the circumstances, that's what God had to do. It is hard for me to imagine that someone who absorbed the message of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us essentially that there are no national boundaries on neighborness and hence no national limits in the requirement to love our neighbors, could engage in that type of conduct. What is worrisome to us about this is partly the fact that, even if the Amalekites and Canaanites were immoral people, God orders children to be killed, who could not possibly be responsibe for the evils of the tribes. But even the notion of individual moral responsibility doesn't come out of the chute immediately for the ancient Hebrews. It gets clearly articulated in Ezekiel 18, but I am not sure where before that.

The link didn't work about my holding to some version of inerrancy, so I'm not sure what I said. I think there is a lot of vagueness attached to the term. Interpreted broadly enough, I'm sure it's true, but I know those who use it have a more precise meaning in mind, and some, in the name of inerrancy, impose hermeneutical constraints that proscribe interpretations that I would accept. I know that there are passages in the Bible that sound as if they teach the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished on earth, but then Job and Ecclesiastes come along and deal with the fact that, so far as we can see, that ain't happening.

The creation hymn in Genesis seems appropriate to an early stage on the scientific learning curve, and I see it's message as metaphysical (the monotheism of the hymn vs. the polytheism of the Enuma Elish), rather than scientific. I don't think its literal words need to be defended vis-a-vis modern science.

In saying all this I am sure I am profoundly disappointing both the inerrancy police (putting your moral intutitions ahead of the Bible, tsk tsk), and the skeptics among you.

Of course, it is surely open for the skeptic to say that God could, and should, have given the Hebrews a faster learning curve, both morally and scientifically. That's, I suppose a version of the argument from evil. Why didn't God dispel scientific and moral ignorance more quickly than he did. I don't subscribe to a theodicy sufficiently fine-grained to give an answer to that question.

On Engaging the Real Arguments

I disagree pretty strongly with Craig's way of defending such things as the ban on the Amalekites. At the same time, if I refused to engage anyone who held a position that I considered to be morally repugnant, there probably aren't going to be a whole lot of people to talk to.

I don't really have trouble with the idea of Dawkins refusing to debate Craig, if, for example, he thought that the sort of timed debate that Craig excels at would be a bad venue for him. The problem is that his work attacks religious belief but never comes to grips with such things as the Kalam Cosmological argument, or some of the other arguments Craig uses.

It's one thing to be poorly informed about theology. It is another thing to be poorly informed about the kinds of arguments that are used to defend belief in the existence of God.

Dawkins makes the claim that the theist is delusional, by which I take it he means that the case against theism is overwhelming. Yet he doesn't, in any serious way, engage any of the arguments in natural theology, and he seems to imply that it is beneath him to engage leading defenders of belief in the existence of God, and their arguments. I don't care whether he does it in a debate format or some other format, but somewhere, somehow, he needs to show that he knows how the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Thomistic Cosmological Argument restrict the class of what needs a cause, so that a simplistic "Who made God" can't refute them in any direct way.

Craig is a leading defender of arguments for the existence of God. Regardless of whether some of his statements are morally repugnant, Dawkins needs to come to terms with him and those like him if he is to have any credibility with respect to his delusion charges. Putting his nose in the air with the "Courtier's Reply" does not replace confronting the actual relevant arguments.

Subjectivism and Evil Moral Positions

To hear Dawkins' talk, it sounds as if he's refusing to debate Craig because he holds an evil position, on killing the Canaanites.

But the fact is in Dawkins' universe, statements like "It was wrong of the ancient Hebrews to kill all those Canaanites and Amalekites" is neither true nor false. He may dislike it pretty intensely, and no doubt he thinks it conflicts with some strong moral intuitions that he has, but his philosophy doesn't even allow him to charge Craig with error on this point.

It isn't that Craig holds such a preposterous position that this proves his total irrationality. In fact, he holds a view that Dawkins himself would not consider to be false, let alone refutable.

Somewhere in England, an emperor is missing his lab coat.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dawkins explains his refusal to debate WLC

Now it's not about resumes, it's about genocide.

Is the Euthyphro a Pseudo-Dilemma

Doug Benscoter thinks so. This would be bad news for the people who scream "Euthrypho!" every time a moral theory with a theological basis is introduced.

HT: Ilion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Pro-Murder Position on Abortion

Most discussion in the abortion debate presupposes that if the pro-life person can establish the claim that abortion is murder, the debate is over and the pro-life position has won. Camille Paglia, somewhat to the consternation of her fellow pro-choicers, actually concedes what pro-lifers consider to be their central argument. The standard pro-choice position denies the claim that abortion is murder, Paglia's view embraces it, but defends the absence of laws against abortion nevertheless.

Let's take a look at her statements:

Let’s take the issue of abortion rights, of which I am a firm supporter. As an atheist and libertarian, I believe that government must stay completely out of the sphere of personal choice. Every individual has an absolute right to control his or her body. (Hence I favor the legalization of drugs, though I do not take them.) ....

Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue. The state in my view has no authority whatever to intervene in the biological processes of any woman’s body, which nature has implanted there before birth and hence before that woman’s entrance into society and citizenship.

It looks as if a logically consistent position can be maintained here, the freedom to do as one chooses with one's own body trumps the genuine right of the fetus to life.  For a lot of people, her position is counterintuitive. Is her position irrational? Well, Hume said "It would not be irrational to prefer the death of a thousand Orientals to the pricking of the little finger." So, how, exactly, does the argument proceed from here? 

Actually this reminds me of an old friend of mine by the name of Bill Patterson, (whom Bob Prokop also knew),  now an archivist for the Heinlein Library, who staunchly opposed abortion on moral grounds. But since he was an anarchist, he opposed legislation against abortion, since he opposed, well, legislation, period.