Friday, July 31, 2015

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Foundationalism

When I was in grad school, there was a general consensus amongst epistemologists that classical foundationalism was on its last legs. This included Christian, but also secular philosophers. Here is an analysis of foundationalism. 

Is consciousness mysterious?

According to Galen Strawson,

This is the assumption that we have a pretty good understanding of the nature of matter—of matter and space—of the physical in general. It is only relative to this assumption that the existence of consciousness in a material world seems mystifying. For what exactly is puzzling about consciousness, once we put the assumption aside? Suppose you have and experience of redness, or pain, and consider it to be just as such. There doesn’t seem to be any room for anything that could be called failure to understand what it is.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Scientific anti-realism and science-bashing

A redated post.

According to anti-realists in the philosophy of science. 

... a theory should never be regarded as truth...Proponents believe that science is full of theories that are proved incorrect, and that the majority of theories ultimately are rejected or refined. Great theories, such as Newton’s laws, have been proved incorrect.

That sounds like science-bashing to me, doesn't it? But, do scientists take umbrage? No,

This is the attitude of most scientists; they try to ignore the debate and let the philosophers decide the fine details about the nature of reality! 

Nice of them to leave us philosophers with some work to do.

Actually, if you were a complete scientific anti-realist, the whole creation-evolution issue wouldn't even arise.

The freedom from atheism foundation

This should prompt charges of Christian paranoia. Here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

You can do science without believing the science

One remarkable and, to my mind, wonderful thing about science is that you can do very good science without even thinking that the science you are doing is literally true. Many great scientists have been scientific anti-realists. 

Reasonable Faith on Dating Advice for Hermaphrodites


What does causation mean?

Causation can mean a couple of different things. Something can be a cause if it guarantees its effect, or if it is a necessary condition  for its effect. When we say smoking causes cancer, we don't mean to say that it is guaranteed that if you smoke you will get cancer. Some people smoke and smoke, and never get cancer.

This is Elizabeth Anscombe's famous essay on the question.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Why the Prove-It Game can't be won

It's the regress problem. Here is a discussion by Maverick Christian.

Suppose we define evidentialism as follows:

A belief B is justified just in case there is a justified proposition C, which constitutes sufficient evidence for B.

I used to call this "the prove-it game." You need proof for everything you believe, and then proof of the proof, and then proof of the proof of the proof, and then proof of the proof of the proof of the proof, and then proof of the proof of the proof of the proof of the proof, until you finally get tired and give up.

Is there such a thing as science, or are there just sciences?

Opponents of Christianity sometimes argue that there is no Christianity, only Christianities. Could we just as easily say that there is no science, only sciences?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Determinism and responsibility

If determinism is true, then given the past, you could not have done otherwise from what you did. If you committed a murder, it is because, given the actual past, you could have done nothing other than commit that murder, and the past stretches back before you were born. If you bravely save people from a burning building, then given the past, which you did not control, you could have done nothing else. Ultimately, if determinism is true, whether we are virtuous or not is a matter of happening to be on the end of a good or bad causal chain. If that's true, how can anything really be anyone's fault, or to anyone's credit, any more than winning or not winning the lottery is to anyone's credit or discredit? 

If morality is subjective, everything is permitted

If morality is subjective, then the belief that it is wrong, always and everywhere to believe anything for insufficient evidence is also subjective. That I should care about truth as opposed to comfort is also subjective. That I should treat gay people as equal to straight people and not discriminate against them is also subjective. Or that I should treat black people as equal to white people and not put up "Whites Only" signs in my restaurant is also subjective. That women should be given equal pay for equal work, and not be restricted to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen is also subjective. That I should have sex with someone only if I have their consent is also subjective. That it is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement is also subjective. That I should care about the poor and the oppressed is also subjective. That I should want slaves to be freed from bondage is also subjective. That the Holocaust was despicable is also subjective. That 9/11 was morally wrong is also subjective.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

DougJC on the teaching of evolution

And I am just as concerned that teaching evolution as a recruiting tool for atheism would downplay legitimate data, downplay certain areas of uncertainty and basically present an incomplete and misleading picture. Educators (along with scientists) should be expected to be superbly trained at leaving personal philosophies at the door of the classroom.

VR: I find comments like this very heartening. I think that people trying to tear evolution apart should be perceived as doing a service to science. The harder a theory has to work to be defensible, the better the science in the long run. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Something I don't understand about the Kitzmiller decision

As I understand it, central to the argument in Kitzmiller was the claim that Of Pandas and People started out as a straightforwardly creationist textbook, and then was altered in response to Edwards v. Aguillard. But Edwards said that even though you can't teach creationism, you do some other things.

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. . . . Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.

OK, so the court says "You can't teach out and out creationism, but you can do this," so someone alters a creationist text in order to do just this, and then Kitzmiller says that it's wrong to do "just this."

This I don't understand.

Monday, July 20, 2015

On our fragile moral existence

This is an account of Langdon Gilkey's book Shantung Compound. One of my favorite questions is the question "Is it hard or easy to be moral." If we think it is easy, is it simply because we have lived much of our lives in relatively easy circumstances?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Five Concepts of Purpose

When we talk about the purpose for our lives, what are we thinking about? It seems to me that there are five conceptions of what the purpose is.

1) A personal goal. That is, a purpose the person selects, because it satisfies a desire of his own. I decide I want to be a fourth-grade teacher, so I start taking classes at Glendale Community College to fulfill that goal.

2) An inherent purpose. Somehow inherent in the object itself is a purpose for existence. If we say the purpose of your eye is to see, perhaps what that means it that the ability to see is part of the nature of eyeness, as it were.

3) A satisfying purpose. It wouldn't make sense to say a rock has a satisfying purpose, but a person is satisfied if it achieves this, and we can also speak of a pig satisfied as well. "You achieved your goal of becoming a millionaire, but you seem dissatisfied nonetheless."

4) A given purpose. Someone who is responsible for our existence has a goal for our existence. This however, might not at all be a purpose that we would select for ourselves. For example, the purpose for which we raise beef cows it for us to eat their meat, which requires us to kill them in order to achieve that purpose. But of course the cows don't want to be killed. On some Calvinistic theological theories, the reason that some people exist is for them to sin and for God to eternally demonstrate his wrath towards them. However, even though those damned to hell achieve the purpose God has for them, they receive no satisfaction from that. One possible thing we might mean when we say that God loves someone, is that we think that the given purpose for their existence, the one God wants for them, is also an inherent purpose and a satisfying purpose.

5) A Darwinian function. A pure Darwinist, one who excludes all intelligent design from the explanation of anything in nature, can say that the purpose of the eye is to see, but what the Darwinian means by that is that the structure of the eye was selected for by the ultimately blind process of natural selection because it made seeing possible, and seeing was helpful in enabling the creature to survive.

Three uses of ridicule

There has been a lot of discussion about the use of ridicule in debates about religious belief. It is my conviction that discussion of this tends to conflate three different ways in which ridicule is used.

The first way is simply to entertain ourselves. Think of the Dennett Lexicon, which lampoons various philosophers by giving humorous definitions to their names. Everyone is getting hit, so the Lexicon isn't really designed to change anyone's mind or get them to reject the views of any philosophers as opposed to another. Mostly, it's about having fun. I even once made up a Dennett Lexicon entry making fun of me.I find it easy to make fun even of ideas that I think are true, but has a ridiculous side to them.

Or consider Saturday Night Live spoofs of politicians. Sure Sarah Palin was lampooned by Tina Fey's impersonation, but Obama doesn't get off scot free either. Now it is quite true that the treatment of Palin in particular did play a role in many people seeing what was problematic about her place on the Republican ticket in 2008. But can you really say that Republicans are lampooned more severely there than Democrats? I understand that George H. W. Bush loved the impersonations Dana Carvey did of him.

There is also the colorful use of reductios ad absurdum. These are really designed to refute positions. But these have to be tested as to their adequacy and accuracy. In addition, what you think seems absurd might be cheerfully accepted by your opponent. I happen to think that materialistic atheism leads to absurd conclusions, namely, I think it leads to the conclusion that no one ever believes anything for a reason. However, obviously materialistic atheists themselves think that they do believe what they do for reasons. This is not ridicule in he sense that I would consider to be offensive. 

This is from RationalWiki, hardly a pro-theistic source: 

Reductio ad absurdum is only valid when it builds on assertions which are actually present in the argument it is deconstructing, and not when it misrepresents them as a straw man. For example, any creationist argument that takes the form of "if evolution were real, we'd see fish turning into monkeys and monkeys turning into people all the time" only serves to ridicule itself, since it mischaracterises the theory of evolution to an extreme degree.

Reductio ad absurdum should also not be confused with appeal to ridicule, although both see extensive use in satire. Appeal to ridicule simply dismisses a position as ridiculous, without explaining or arguing why, while reductio ad absurdum actually pursues the logical consequences of an argument.

Here is a treatment from Freethoughtpedia

It's no secret you can short-circuit somebody's brain with shame. How many of us were shamed into doing something stupid in high school?
But why does it work? There are these primitive, lower parts of your brain called amygdalae that controls base, emotional reactions. That's where things like contempt and shame come from, and stimulating it can completely shut down the analytical part of your brain. The gang calls you a coward and the next thing you know, you're wedging a roman candle between your buttcheeks. You'll show them!
You can thank evolution for that. Way back when humans started forming groups and tribes, social status was everything. It's what guaranteed you food, protection and ladies (that is, a chance to pass on your genes). Mockery developed as a "conformity enforcer" to keep people in line.
Making a person, idea or behavior the target of mockery gave it a lower social position, and made it clear that anybody who associated with it would share that lower position, leaving them out of the hunting/eating/fucking that made life in the tribe worthwhile. Thousands of years later, a good dose of mockery can shut down critical thinking and make us fall right in line, no questions asked.
Now let's look at the Dawkins statements I alluded to in a previous post. 

Dawkins: Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

I must ask, isn't he doing EXACTLY what the Freethoughtpedia says is the Appeal to Ridicule, a fallacy? Getting people to the right result is more important to him than fostering critical thinking and getting to the right result for the right reason. I do find this offensive, which is why my reactions to New Atheists are different from my reactions to atheists of another stripe. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

I was angry with God for not existing

C. S. Lewis wrote “I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.”

Some atheists have maintained that this shows that Lewis was never a real atheist. However, recent social science suggests that atheists really do get angry with God. 

Even those who didn't believe in God were sometimes angry at the deity. College students and bereaved people who were atheist or agnostic reported more anger at God than religious people in the same demographics. The findings don't contradict the participants' agnostic or atheist beliefs, either: The study asked people about past experiences, and many atheists and agnostics had stories of anger dating from their religious pasts. Many of the study questions also asked atheists and agnostics to imagine their feelings toward a hypothetical god.

Full discussion here. 

Vallicella on Homophobia and Carniphobia


If I believe that stealing is a sin, does that make me guilty of kleptophobia?

The Argument from Reason as a Theistic Argument

III. The Argument from Reason and Natural Theology
We might ask the following question: In what sense is the argument from reason a piece of natural theology. The job of natural theology is supposed to be to provide epistemic support for theism. However, the argument from reason, at best, argues that the ultimate causes of the universe are mental and not physical. This is, of course, consistent with various world-views that other than traditional theism, such as pantheism or idealism.
It's a good idea to look at what happened in the case of the argument from reasons’s best-known defender, C. S. Lewis, to see how the argument contributed to his coming to belief in God. Lewis had been what was then called a "realist", accepting the world of sense experiece and science as rock-bottom reality. Largely through conversations with Owen Barfield, he became convinced that this world-view was inconsistent with the claims we make on behalf of our own reasoning processes. In response to this, however, Lewis became not a theist but an absolute idealist. It was only later that Lewis rejected absolute idealism in favor of theism, and only after that that he became a Christian. He describes his discussions with Barfield as follows:
(He) convinced me that the positions we had hitherto held left no room for any satisfactory theory of knowledge. We had been, in the technical sense of the term, “realists”; that is, we accepted as rock-bottom reality the universe revealed to the senses. But at the same time, we continued to make for certain phenomena claims that went with a theistic or idealistic view. We maintained that abstract thought (if obedient to logical rules) gave indisputable truth, that our moral judgment was “valid” and our aesthetic experience was not just pleasing but “valuable.” The view was, I think, common at the time; it runs though Bridges’ Testament of Beauty and Lord Russell’s “Worship of a Free Man.” Barfield convinced me that it was inconsistent. If thought were merely a subjective event, these claims for it would have to be abandoned. If we kept (as rock-bottom reality) the universe of the sense, aided by instruments co-ordinated to form “science” then one would have to go further and accept a Behaviorist view of logic, ethics and aesthetics. But such a view was, and is, unbelievable to me. C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1955), 208.

Lewis did not, however, embrace theism at this point. Instead, he opted for Absolute Idealism, a philosophy prevalent in Oxford in the 1920s, although it is not widely held today. He wrote of this again in Surprised by Joy:

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.

Nevertheless, further considerations drove Lewis out of idealism into theism. He wrote:

A tutor must make things clear. Now the Absolute cannot be made clear. Do you mean Nobody-knows-what, or do you mean a superhuman mind and therefore (we may as well admit) a Person? After all, did Hegel and Bradley and all the rest of them ever do more than add mystifications to the simple, workable, theistic idealism of Berkeley? I thought not. And didn't Berkeley's "God" do all the same work as the Absolute, with the added advantage that we had at least some notion of what we meant by Him? I thought He did. So I was driven back into something like Berkeleyanism; but Berkeleyanism with a few top dressings of my own. I distinguished this philosophical "God" very sharply (or so I said) from "the God of popular religion." There was, I explained, no possibility of being in a personal relation with Him. For I thought He projected us as a dramatist projects his characters, and I could no more "meet" Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare. I didn't call Him "God" either; I called Him "Spirit." One fights for one's remaining comforts.
So did the argument from reason that Lewis accepted make theism more likely in his mind? It certainly did. In his mind it gave him a reason to reject his previously-held naturalism. Now you might think of Absolute Idealism an atheistic world-view, but is does deny the existence of the theistic God as traditionally understood. However the playing field was now considerably narrowed.

Consider the following argument:
1. Either the fundamental causes of the universes are more like a mind than anything else, or they are not.
2. If they are not, then we cannot make sense of the existence of reason.
3. All things being equal, world-views that cannot make sense of the existence of reason are to be rejected in favor of world-views that can make sense of the existence of reason.
4. Therefore, we have a good reason to reject all worldviews reject the claim that the fundamental causes of the universe are more like a mind than anything else. 

Now if you want to hold out the idea that a idealist world-view is nevertheless atheistic, then my argument merely serves to eliminate one of the atheistic options. But suppose someone originally thinks that the likelihoods are as follows:
Naturalism 50% likely to be true.
Idealism 25% likely to be true.
Theism 25% likely to be true.

And suppose that someone accepts a version of the argument from reason, and as a result naturalism drops 30 percentage points. Then those points have to be divided amongst theism and idealism. Therefore the epistemic status of theism is enhanced by the argument from reason, if the argument is successful in defeating naturalism.

The New Homophobia

From a sermon by Rev. Drahcir Snikwad, of Hellfire Baptist Church in Georgia:

I think we should probably abandon the irremediably gay precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven't really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

If it doesn't make them straight, it should at least keep them in the closet. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Plantinga on the "courage" of atheists

The God Delusion is an extended diatribe against religion in general and belief in God in particular; Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (whose recent Breaking the Spell is his contribution to this genre) are the touchdown twins of current academic atheism.1 Dawkins has written his book, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet. He and Dennett both appear to think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days; says Dennett, "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Apparently atheism has its own heroes of the faith—at any rate its own self-styled heroes. Here it's not easy to take them seriously; religion-bashing in the current Western academy is about as dangerous as endorsing the party's candidate at a Republican rally.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Does religion lead to violence? Yeah, and so do lots of other things


One little point about religion and violence. If you are counting up the tendency of religion to lead to violence, don't you have to subtract all the cases where someone REFRAINED from committing an act of violence out of obedience to, say, the Sixth Commandment.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Berkeley's arguments against matter

Can Berkeley be refuted? Lewis said that his arguments were unanswerable.

A redated post.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

On kicking the stone

Someone mentioned Johnson's refutation of Berkeley. This is a discussion of it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Keith Parsons on the positive impact of Christianity

I can name several atheist websites on which you would NEVER see anything like this. That is why Secular Outpost is head and shoulders above most all other atheist sites.


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

It's so obvious, or is it dogmatism? The Presumption of Amatterism

One of the differences you will notice in reading the writings of C. S. Lewis, if you are someone familiar with present-day philosophy, is the extent to which, in his time, Idealism simply had to be taken seriously. When Lewis accepted the Argument from Reason, he went, not to traditional theism, but to Absolute Idealism. 

At one point, philosophers not only were idealists, but thought it was obviously true, as Ed Feser points out in an entry from 2009. 

But has idealism been disproved? Consider this comment from a commentator at Debunking Christianity: 

I've been hanging around Mr. Loftus' Debunking Christianity for many years, and now my default position is that Christianity is thoroughly debunked since no Christian can show any Christianity-specific claim to be true. 

Hmmm. A position is fully and completely debunked if no one can demonstrate that any of its basic posits are true. 

Well, how about the existence of matter, the central posit of philosophical materialism. Has anyone refuted idealism, which denies that matter exists? So, by this reasoning, materialism is debunked, since no one can prove that matter is real. If we ought to accept the presumption of atheism, the view that we should be an atheist unless we can prove that God exists, shouldn't we equally accept the presumption of amatterism. 

Christopher Hitchens' attack on Mother Teresa

Before there was God is not Great, there was this. 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Is Young Earth Creationism disproven?

Even on an issue like this, absolute proof doesn't exist. For example, it's possible that God created the world in seven days, just like the Bible says it he did. However, he also put a bunch of fossils in the ground to make it look like evolution, knowing that scientists would come along and make fools of themselves by developing the Darwinian theory. The evidence is at least consistent with this possibility (though a God who did that would be hard to love).