Friday, November 30, 2012

Sauce for the goose

Perhaps I can pose the question concerning the multiverse and ECREE this way. Look, if people consistently denied the probabilistic relevance of the multiverse in all contexts, that would be one thing. They could say "Regardless of the multiverse, we have to look at what is probable in the world as we experience it. but in fact, the multiverse theory is used to mitigate the initial improbability of a finely-tuned universe without a designer." But, if you can help yourself to the multiverse to blunt the effect of the fine-tuning argument, can't you also use the multiverse theory to blunt the effect of the initial improbability argument against miracles such as the Resurrection.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Steve Hays on some implications of combining the multiverse with ECREE

Here. Another line on multiverse arguments., which I think complements one that I linked to from Graham a couple of weeks back.

I suppose, if the multiverse is true, then Jesus did rise from the dead. Just not in this universe! On the other hand, why not?

Are logical laws true by convention?

From my C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea

“It is often supposed that the laws of logic are true by convention. But this is clearly not a coherent idea. Before conventions can be established, logic must already be supposed. If logical laws are human conventions, then presumably it is at least possible for us to have different conventions. But the laws of logic are conditions of intelligibility; without them we could not say anything. Part of what it means to say anything is to imply that the contradictory is false. Otherwise, language simply does not function in a declarative way. So the reality of logical laws cannot be denied without self-refutation, nor can their psychological relevance be denied without self-refutation” (82).

Any relevance for religious debate today???

From G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man

"[T]he next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. ... [T]he popular critics of Christianity are not really outside it. They are on a debatable ground, in every sense of the term. They are doubtful in their very doubts. Their criticism has taken on a curious tone; as of a random and illiterate heckling. ... Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith." 

HT: Bob Prokop

An ingredient of good dialogue with opponents

One thing that I notice when a conversation with an opponent has been good is how much time we spent simply describing and explicating our views. When I am not thinking about persuading the person to think as I do, but am trying to give that person a sense of how and why I think as I do, and my opponent does the same, I find discussion is often very satisfying. With a lot of discussions I have been seeing between believer and unbeliever, I think this is being lost, and I find this most regrettable.

Some Problems for Skeptics About the Paranormal, including James Randi

Here.  By Triablogue's Jason Engwer.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The New Atheists and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Here. Oh, I forgot. It's just believers who suffer from cognitive pathologies.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Propaganda, Mockery, and Following the Argument

An important distinction has to be made about the whole mockery issue. If we are talking about mockery in and of itself, I don't see the harm in that. When I watch Life of Brian, for example, I see things within Christianity that no doubt deserve to be mocked. However, I don't think people should be making decisions about something as serious as religion based on mockery. You can mock, for example the theory of evolution with no trouble. And you can certainly mock people who have a quasi-religious devotion to the theory of evolution. The trouble is that perfectly good ideas can be made to look ridiculous.

Usually when I hear people mocking what I believe, it makes it seem less likely that they understand what they are mocking. I could be wrong, the could be capable of taking the time and effort to engage in a serious critique. But evidence of mockery points the other way. Of course, the mocker can come back with the Courtier's Reply: Your position is so ridiculous that I don't even have to understand it to critique it." I think there are difficulties inherent in the situation when you want to criticize something, but you don't want to give it a place at them table of dialogue. If atheists want real dialogue with believers, they have to treat them with respect at least in the interests of the discussion. If they just want to engage in propaganda, they can do that, but they should at least have the honest to call it what it is.

In philosophy we do have a argument method called reductio ad absurdum. But if absurdum doesn't involve an actual contradiction, then it's always possible to just say "So? Not that there's anything wrong with that!," and just reject the reductio. That's just life in the world of thought.

But I have a real problem with mockery as a strategy of persuasion. It functions pretty much like peer pressure, which is always a lousy way to decide what to do. I also think it undercuts dialogue and drags discussion down. It is tempting to think that what we believe is so important that whether someone comes to believe it for good reasons or bad, the important thing is that they believe what we agree with. But that is a huge mistake.

Real dialogue just follows the argument where it leads. What someone does with the argument once you are done is up to them. I think Lewis had a point when he separated apologetics from evangelism. These are two different operations, whether you are on the theist side or the atheist side.

I think Dawkins' strategy also leads to something else--people treating the person with whom they are engaging the discussion almost as if they weren't there, and shouting over them to possible "fence-sitters" who will be somehow peer-pressured into accepting atheism through the display of naked contempt. The message is "You're a hopeless faith-head who won't listen to reason. But maybe if I express enough contempt for what you believe, people who are thinking of agreeing with you will tip my way instead, since they don't want to be laughed at." The process matters, and if we are engaged intellectual dialogue, we have to respect that process. Propaganda is essentially anti-intellectual, regardless of what propositions are being supported by it.

C. S. Lewis was the first president of the Oxford Socratic Club, dedicated to following the argument where it leads. His time there led to two things that might be regarded as setbacks: his exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe, and the launching of Antony Flew's career as an atheist philosopher. But, in neither case was the setback the end of the story.

I think we have to face the fact that the most intelligent people in the world are divided on these religious issues, for whatever reason.

Monday, November 19, 2012

An atheist on the new atheism.

Atheist Burgess-Jackson on the New Atheists.

Apparently he doesn't like the emphasis on non-rational persuasion.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lewis was right after all

This passage comes from A. N. Wilson's "Why I Believe Again." 

Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist "explanations" for our mysterious human existence simply won't do - on an intellectual level. The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: "It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names."

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah's Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just "evolved", like finches' beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where's the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena - of which love and music are the two strongest - which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

What Wilson has seen the force of, here, is the argument from reason, which was the argument that, in Wilson's own biography of Lewis, Anscombe is credited with demolishing so thoroughly that he was driven into to write children's fantasies instead of Christian apologetics. His was the most virulent version of what I have called the Anscombe Legend, the legend that Lewis critic John Beversluis (who had employed it in the first edition of his book on Lewis) dispatched with the following critique. 

First, the Anscombe debate was by no means Lewis's first exposure to a professional philosopher: he lived among them all his adult life, read the Greats, and even taught philosophy. Second, it is simply untrue that the post-Anscombe Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics. In 1960 he published a second edition of Miracles in which he revised the third chapter and thereby replied to Anscombe. Third, most printed discussions of the debate, mine included, fail to mention that Anscombe herself complimented Lewis's revised argument on the grounds that it is deeper and far more serious than the original version. Finally, the myth that Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics overlooks several post-Anscombe articles, among them "Is Theism Important?" (1952)—a discussion of Christianity and theism which touches on philosophical proofs for God's existence—and "On Obstinacy of Belief"—in which Lewis defends the rationality of belief in God in the face of apparently contrary evidence (the issue in philosophical theology during the late 1950s and early 60s). It is rhetorically effective to announce that the post-Anscombe Lewis wrote no further books on Christian apologetics, but it is pure fiction. Even if it were true, what would this Argument from Abandoned Subjects prove? He wrote no further books on Paradise Lost or courtly love either.

Language is a product of our ability to reason, and it if is to be explained naturalistically, it has to be as much a product of evolution as a finch's beak. If this is deeply problematic for evolution, then he is essentially embracing the conclusion that Peter Geach, Anscombe's husband, came to when he wrote: 
When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?] P. T. Geach (The Virtues). 

But to do that is to accept the conclusion of Lewis's AFR.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another of Veale's Replies to ECREE, and a question for multiverse defenders

Here.   I would like to ask someone who believes

1) That extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence


2) The apparent fine-tuning of the universe can be explained in terms of a multiverse as opposed to God

how in the world they reconcile those two commitments. A few years ago, I did a couple of posts entitled "Arguments that don't mix," and it seems to me to be pretty evident that this pair of responses belongs to that category. Why are we told that the existence of a multiverse is NOT a claim that requires extraordinary evidence, but the existence of a universe finely tuned for intelligent life, or that Jesus rose from the dead, does require extraordinary evidence.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Darwin's nominalism

"I look at the term 'species' as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other." (Origin of Species).

Does Darwinian theory commit you to nominalism? Logan Paul Gage, in his essay "Can a Thomist be a Darwinist," gives this as a reason why Thomists shouldn't embrace Darwinism.

From God and Evolution (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2010).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Doctor Logic, Placeholder Fallacy, and the football game

A redated post.

I am linking to Doctor Logic's presentation of the Placeholder Fallacy.

This is a very critical issue in the debate between theists and atheists. Theists point out the explanatory difficulties in materialistic explanations. Atheists acknowledge these problems, but then point out that bringing theism, or a soul, or something not materialistically helpful isn't going to help. They contend that we're stuck with materialism, because to offer, say, a theistic explanation is not to explain anything at all, but rather to provide a placeholder for the real explanation.

Here's the problem I see with this kind of argument. I watch Sunday Night football with church friends most weeks. One of them, Butch, is as Dallas Cowboys fan. I know a number of things about Butch that enable me to converse with him. I know that he is an English speaker. I know that he is a Christian. I know he likes the Cowboys, so if Romo throws a touchdown pass, I know he'll be pleased, and if he throws a pick-6, I know he won't be happy. I know that he acts for reasons. Now, since I happen to be a dualist, I think that these teleological explanations are basic explanations and these explanations of his behavior can't be reduced to neurophysiological explanation. But even if I were a materialist, it seems to me just insane to say that the explanations that I employ in order to form expectations about what Butch will say and do are just placeholders for mechanistic explanations that might be supplied by brain science, or for the explanations that might be provided at the level of basic physics. These are real explanations, and if dualism is true, I can still use them.

But what about God. After all, God's not an embodied being the way Butch is. But people do seem to know what they are praying for when the pray, for example. It stands to reason that a God who is infinitely intelligent should want there to be other intelligent beings in existence. I may not get much detail in my predictions about God's conduct, but I can form probabilistic expectations concerning what God can be expected to do. I may see through a glass darkly, but I'm not completely blind. I simply do not see that "God raised Jesus from the dead to vindicate his ministry and show him to be God's own Son" is a placeholder. Of course it's a false explanation if Jesus never rose from the dead, but it isn't a placeholder.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More dialogue with Loftus on faith

Phrases like "thinking exclusively in terms of probabilities" don't get us anywhere unless you are talking to someone who say 'Yes, I believe that not-P is more probable than P, but I believe P anyway, as a matter of faith." Now a thoroughgoing fideist might say something like that, but someone who is that much of a fideist would probably not bother to argue with you. Who you are likely to encounter here are people who think the evidence for their religious beliefs shows their beliefs to be more probable than its contradictory. The idea of faith, to them is simply trusting the one whom they think they have good reason to believe in.

Faith in God is trusting God, and so I don't see any real problem with the concept of faith as commonly used by Christians. The fact that they use such a concept in no way implies that they are closet fideists or anything like that. Someone could have faith in a spouse in a very different epistemic situation, a situation in which the evidence that the spouse is having an affair is very strong, but the person persists in having faith in their spouse nonetheless. Even here there are two scenarios. One of them is where the person says "Yes, the evidence suggests that she's having an affair, but I choose not to believe it." The second is where the person says that the evidence supports their spouse's fidelity. In the first case, you have cause, perhaps, to complain about the "leap of faith" they might be taking. In the second, the person is not taking a leap of faith, they are just misassessing the evidence and the probabilities.

If someone thinks that Christianity is probably true, then it's not going to be much of an issue if you tell them to think in terms of probabilities. If someone is believing that Christianity is true even though their best reasoning tells then the weight of the evidence is against it, then of course you might try to say they shouldn't have faith. If your assessment of the evidence is correct, then "reasonable faith" would not be instantiated anywhere, at least where faith concerns beings like God. But "reasonable faith" would not be an oxymoron, a contradictory concept. The world could have been such that reasonable faith is instantiated. But, on your view, it just doesn't happen to be that way.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What are the social responsibilities of businesses?

Here is Milton Friedman's famous essay claiming that a corporation has no obligation other than to make a profit. Now, if corporations are persons, does that mean that persons have no obligation other than to make a profit?

Ryan v. Biden in Thomist perspective

This is my follow-up to the last redated post.

The difference between Ryan and Biden on abortion is this. For Aquinas, there are four kinds of law: eternal law, divine law, natural law, and human law. Since human law is aimed at human happiness and not salvation, it has to be based on considerations of natural law, not divine law. The claim that the right to life begins at conception, for Biden, is a matter of divine law. It is something that we couldn't discover by ordinary moral reflection apart from the Church's teaching on the matter. So, even though he thinks abortion wrong, he thinks it wrong because the Church teaches that it is wrong, and not because we could discover this on our own. Ryan, on the other hand, not only accept the Church's teaching on abortion, he thinks that human beings reflecting on the matter, could come to the anti-abortion position by natural reason alone. Even though much of our culture denies that abortion is morally wrong, those who do so, by thinking in moral terms, could and should reach the conclusion that abortion is, almost always, homicide without adequate moral justification. As such, he therefore believes it appropriate for government to legislate concerning it.

Aquinas on the natural law, or how to avoid centuries of bloodshed

A redated post

These are my class notes on Aquinas and the natural law. But notice something important. If Christians had realized from the 13th Century on that governments are set up to secure human earthly happiness, how much blood on the hands of Christians could have been avoided?

The Natural Law
How right and wrong are based on reason
I. Human nature and the natural law
We can reflect upon human nature and find those things that will help us actualize our potentialities. This is what Aquinas calls natural law.
Human nature is the same from culture to culture and from century to century. So we can discover the natural law by reason.

II. Using reason to discover the law
How do we discover which objects, circumstances, and ends are good?
The good is determined by reason, what is in accordance with the natural law.
We can derive moral principles by reflecting on what is in accord with nature and our natural inclinations.
Since we have a natural inclination to preserve ourselves, suicide is against the natural law.
It is natural to care for our offspring, so we must educate our young to see that they reach their potential.
Since we are higher than the beasts, we must actualize out potential by pursuing the truth, including the knowledge of God.

III. Why don’t we all agree?
We are blinded by passion, bad habits, and ignorance.
Do we know these things in our consciences? Conscience is not a source of knowledge itself, but is that rational activity of apply moral knowledge to particular cases.
Conscience is fallible, but the best we can do is follow our informed conscience to the best of our abilities.

IV. Aquinas’s Four Laws
Eternal Law
Natural law
Divine law
Human law

V. The Eternal Law
The eternal law is the law by which God governs the universe.
Everything in natural follows the eternal law blindly, but humans have the capacity to obey it or disobey it.

VI. Natural law
Discussed earlier, the law available to reason that governs human moral behavior and is aimed at human happiness on earth. The virtues enjoined by natural law are temperance, courage justice, and wisdom.

VII. Divine Law
The divine law is given to us by revelation, and concerns how to achieve eternal happiness, in other words, how to be saved.
The virtues enjoined by this law are faith, hope, and love, the three holy virtues.
These can only be obtained through the grace of God.

VIII. Human law
Human law is instituted by governments.
If the law is legitimate, it must be rooted in the natural law. To obey such laws is to obey God.
Any human law that violates natural law is not a law at all.

IX. Aquinas and Dr. King
This raises a question of illegitimate laws, such as racially discriminatory laws (Jim Crow laws). Religious leaders in the South had written Dr. King a letter saying that while they approved of his coming to Alabama to work for civil rights, they asked that he obey the laws of the state while he was there. King didn’t follow their advice, and wrote the famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail explaining why. Aquinas says in some cass it is the lesser evil to obey a bad law to keep the peace, but in other cases civil disobedience in the name of a higher law may be necessary.

X. Aquinas an Human Laws
Some laws enforce the natural law  and should be uniform from one society to another (laws against murder and theft, for example).
Other laws set out details left open by natural law for the sake of uniformity in a society. It doesn’t matter if you drive on the right or the left, so long as everyone drives on the same side.
Other laws have to be reached on the basis of situational judgment. How old should a person have to be to drive a car. 16 seems to low of an age in urban Phoenix, but too high for rural Kansas.

XI. The extent of the law
Human law should not attempt to render illegal all kinds of immoral behavior. It should only be concerned with major evils that harm others and undermine and ordered society.

Political legislation should concern matter of justice, and should stay out of issues that concern spiritual matters or private morality. This is because human laws must be grounded in the natural law (aimed at human earthly happiness and not at salvation, and discoverable by reason) and not divine law (known by revelation and aimed at human happiness).

This represents the foundation of the separation of church and state, and on these matters the Catholic Church deviated from Aquinas’s teaching when they used the power of the government to enforce Catholic belief. After the Inquisition and the Wars of Religion (which left 1/3 of the population of Europe dead), we can see that Aquinas had it right.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

McGrew on ECREE

From his essay on 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(MT) > P(~MT) 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(TM) > P(~M) P(T~M) when both P(~M) and P(TM) 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(TM)/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.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Author Meets Critic

A redated post. 

Do Near Death Experiences support the idea of an afterlife? Or are they the hallucinations of a dying brain? Greg Stone challenges Susan Blackmore's research in support of the latter hypothesis.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

McGrew on Evidence


Eggstraordinary claims require eggstraordinary evidence

What about this claim that an egg was hatched after being inside the chicken. So we need extraordinary evidence for this?

Here is the discussion in Graham Veale's website, Saints and Skeptics.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

What DO they teach in those Catholic schools?

A commentator over at Debunking Christianity wrote:

In fact this whole "rational faith" is pretty new for me. I was raised in a catholic school and no priest ever told me that there's "historical proof" for the resurrection and the virgin birth. These things are faith issues, you accept them or you don't. No reason required or even allowed.

On the other hand, fideism was declared to be heresy by Vatican I. This is the entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

And, finally, the Vatican Council teaches as a dogma of Catholic faith that "one true God and Lord can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason by means of the things that are made".