Thursday, July 28, 2011

Laudan's commentary on the Overton decision

This is a redated post.

Way back then, the judge decided he had to define science. This seems to have happened all over again. This is the text of a philosopher of science's critical response to that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Who said this?

"As for the Church and science, it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings."

a. Richard Dawkins
b. Sam Harris
c. Daniel Dennett
d. Christopher Hitchens
e. none of the above

Komarnitsky's Cognitive Dissonance Theory of Christian Origins

An attempt to explain how Christianity could have been founded without a Resurrection.

Boghossian on moral relativism

HT: Bob Prokop

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On defining the natural, and the supernatural

In order to understand what the supernatural is, we need to understand what it is to be natural. I have developed a definition of what is natural, which has to do with there not being any mental explanations at the basic level of analysis. If something normative, subjective/perspectival, purposive, or intentional is at the basic level of analysis, then it isn't naturalistic according to my definition. This is, I take it, the basis of what I call the skyhook ban, based on the cranes/skyhooks distinction from Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea. I have also developed the argument that if everything is natural in this sense, then reasoning and science itself are impossible.

However, I am open to the possibility that this definition of the natural might be rejected. It is the naturalist who needs the notion of the supernatural, because they need to know what to exclude from their worldview. If it turns out that my Christian ontology is real, but that it's all really natural in some sense and therefore not supernatural, I don't really care. Thus, for example, the attempt to exclude all theistic explanations from science on the grounds that they are supernatural is, I believe, a fundamental error. Therefore, I am inclined to reject all "demarcationist" arguments against creationism and intelligent design, even though I don't necessarily advocate those positions. We could in theory discover laws governing what to expect from God, and include those in science. The fact that that would "naturalize" God doesn't bother me in the slightest.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The New Aphilatelism

Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

I've heard this a few times. Interesting statement. So, somewhere on the internet, there's got to be a site called Debunking Stamp Collecting, in which people try to get convinced stamp collectors to take the Outsider Test for Stamp Collecting. What is more, there is now a batch of writers out, advocates of The New Aphilatelism, who are attacking stamp collecting as delusional. They are authors of such books as 

The Stamp Delusion
Stamp Collecting Is Not Great
The End of Stamp Collecting
Breaking the Spell of Stamp Collecting
Why I Became an Aphilatelist
The Miracle of Stamp Collecting 
C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Stamp Collecting
The Stamp Collection that Wasn't There
Sense and Goodness without Stamp Collecting
Aphilatelist Universe
The Stamp Collecting Brain
The Stamp Collecting Debates
The Case Against the Case for Stamp Collecting
The Portable Aphilatelist
Letter to a Stamp Collecting Nation
The Blind Stamp Collector: How Evolution Shows a World Without Stamp Collecting
Debunking the Stamp Collector's Bible
The Cambridge Companion to Not Collecting Stamps

I have linked to a post by Matteo at Cartago Delenda Est making the same point. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feser on Not Understanding the Cosmological Argument

HT: Tim McGrew

Let's get Aquinas right shall we?

A redated post.

From Theodore Schick's The 'Big Bang' Argument for the Existence of God (1998*)

The traditional first-cause argument rests on the assumption that everything has a cause. Since nothing can cause itself, and since the string of causes can't be infinitely long, there must be a first cause, namely, god. This argument received its classic formulation at the bands of the great Roman Catholic philosopher, Thomas Aquinas. He writes:

In the world of sensible things, we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known ... in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go to infinity, because . . . the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause.... Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate, cause . . . therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name god.[4]
Saint Thomas's argument is this:

1. Everything is caused by something other than itself
2. Therefore the universe was caused by something other than itself.
3. The string of causes cannot be infinitely long.
4. If the string of causes cannot be infinitely long, there must be a first cause.
5. Therefore, there must be a first cause, namely god.
The most telling criticism of this argument is that it is self-refuting. If everything has a cause other than itself, then god must have a cause other than himself. But if god has a cause other than himself, he cannot be the first cause. So if the first premise is true, the conclusion must be false.

VR: Does Aquinas actually use the principle "Everything is caused by something other than itself?" Where is he getting that. This, of course, opens the door to the "Who Made God" objection. But Aquinas is not stupid. What exists contingently is what needs a cause, according to Thomas. This error was, of course, commited by Russell, and has been committed by "refutations" of the CA in thousands of introductory philosphy classes. But I was surprised to find it still surviving in print in 1998.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Atheistic presuppositionalists

The issue wouldn't be inerrancy, but rather something I would call general historical reliability. Using a Bayesian model of evidence, X is evidence for just in case X is more probable given Y than given not-Y.

I would expect accurate reports of miraculous activity to come from sources which make serious attempts to describe the facts, and which have good enough access to the relevant facts to have a great deal of general historical reliability. So, it seems to me that evidence that Scripture has historically accurate content is evidence that the miracle claims contained within are true; that evidence could be outweighed by the overall plausibility of naturalism in the minds of many reasonable persons.

It seems to me you have to distinguish between saying

1) The evidence for X isn't good enough for me

and saying

2) There is no evidence at all.

What I suspect is that, deep down, a lot of skeptics are atheistic presuppositionalists. They think that in order to have evidence for something it has to have a naturalistic explanation, and to use inductive reasoning to support any claims with respect to the supernatural is to abuse the inductive reasoning process.

If that's the case, they shouldn't be saying we don't have the evidence, what they should be saying is that the kinds of claims Christians make are not the sorts of things that it is even logically possible to have evidence for.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Archaeological support for Jeremiah

Here is a Christian CADRE piece from a few years back about some archaeological support for Jeremiah.

Skeptical treatment of archaeological findings is rather interesting to me. When evidence is brought forward that supports the accuracy of the text, we are told that this really doesn't matter, since it doesn't support the supernatural content of the text directly. On the other hand, if there is a lack of archaeological support for what the text says, then we are told that this is good reason to reject the text, and especially, to reject the supernatural content of the text.

Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Aristotle and Aquinas on the true purpose of life

A redated post. 

Aquinas takes Aristotle as far as he can go, but then argues that human life is only really fulfilled in the vision of God. This has relevance to the argument from desire in Lewis.

Some notes from Notre Dame.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Loftus on bin Laden

I hesitated somewhat before doing another post on JWL. But these statements strike me as bizarre:

Osama Bin Laden was probably a good man; sincere, devout and God fearing. But all it takes to make good people do evil is religion. Keep that in mind. That is the lesson of his life. He was deluded in the same way as other believers. Some delusions cause more harm than others though, and he caused a great deal of it. The problem is he will never know he was deluded. Neither will any of the rest of them. What a waste of a life.

So all that is needed to make good people do evil is religion? So, is that how we explain Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi. Is that why they did so much evil? And how did Stalin manage to do so much harm, since he didn't suffer from and God delusion? 

I realize how crazy Christians sometimes appear to atheists. But this looks to me like out-of-control atheist 

I hope this doesn't touch off a new round of irrelevant Loftus-bashing. 

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Bradley Monton's Blog

Bradley Monton is an interesting philosopher, an atheist who is opposed to the witch-hunt against Intelligent Design.

I would put atheists in three categories. There are hostile atheists that make it their mission to smash religious belief. There are apathetic atheists who simple don't put a lot of effort into what they don't believe. And then there are sympathetic atheists who are willing to dialogue with Christians. Monton is clearly of the third type.

Friday, July 08, 2011

An Anonymous Commentator on the Evolutionary Explanation for the Success of Reasoning

I put this up earlier, and it didn't get much response. So I'm trying again. 
A few comments to some of Ahabs points:

In fact humans do not tend to respond positively to placebos. 70% or more of those taking them will not get better.

If 30% of those taking sugar pills will get better, then humans often respond positively to placebos. That's quite astonishing and fits well with other reasearch in psychology about the influence of positive thought about the future.

Actually, if one found out that they were taking a placebo they would want the real medicine and consequently increase their chances of survival.

I agree with this, but the point is that the placebo effect promoted survival in the past, not that it does now. Many traits don't serve survival well now but did so in the past (adrenaline in a stress situation).

But now you've jumped from an individual belief to a system of beliefs.

I agree that this is the best objection to the "systematic error" argument. I guess this could be turned into a good argument, but nobody has done this so far.

Natural selection does not select for individual beliefs. It selects for the mechanism which is capable of forming beliefs. A person whose brain is able to arrive at enough true beliefs to increase its chances of surviving the hazards of this dangerous world is, all else being equal, going to have a greater likelihood of passing on her genes than a person whose brain is less adept at good belief formation.

This is the typical answer to any argument from reason. I think the problem with this answer is that it requires and presupposes a huge metaphysical framework that is highly controversal and becomes less and less plausible. It requires the "naive" view of mental causation, the idea that the content of our thoughts directly influence behavior. David Chalmers has made a great case against the kind of mental causation required for this view.

Usually it also presupposes that evolution delivers an explanation for our phenomenological mental life. But this is highly implausible and disputed by many in the philosophy of mind. My zombie twin would have the same advante in natural selection that I have.

I can't make a cogent case against this objection in a comment here because it presupposes so much. But overall it seems to me that the premise of the objection is highly disputed and that contemporary philosophy of mind actually moves away from it. This makes the objection useless.

The reason why this objection is so common seems clear to me. It is very simple and fits very well with ordinary common sense convictions about the mental. This makes it attractive to anyone who is not familiar with the metaphysical problems it causes.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Interesting fellow Mr. Brain. Remarkable what he can do.

The Mr. Brain fallacy strikes again, in this response by Edward Feser to Jerry Coyne.