Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Putting words into a person's mouth

In this post, a student drops a class by a philosophy instructor who identifies himself as a theist, but says that God can neither be proven or disproven. The student assumes that the teacher was claiming that it follows from the fact that he believes in God but thinks it unprovable, that he believes in God because he considers the negative to be unprovable. But he said no such thing, or at least is not reported as saying any such thing. 

I wrote in response:

Let's see, the professor believes A) that God exists, and B) one cannot either prove or disprove that God exists. He never said B therefore A, that I can see.
I take it that the professor does not accept strong rationalism, which is defined as follows:
"Lets start on one end of the spectrum, with strong rationalism. It proposes that “in order for a religious belief system to be properly and rationally accepted, it must be possible to prove that the belief system is true.” By ‘prove’ it is meant that it is possible to show that a belief is true, in a way that is convincing to any intelligent person. "
But do we expect this level of proof with respect to other beliefs? It seems to me that I can be reasonable in thinking that a lot of things are true even if not everyone ought to believe it. I think that Hillary Clinton is more likely than not to win the 2016 Democratic nomination for President, but if someone assessed the evidence differently, I wouldn't necessarily think they were being irrational. 

Actually the definition of strong rationalism should be altered a little, because what it actually says is that it ought to be convincing to all intelligent persons. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Judicial Activism

It is interesting that when the SCOTUS came up with things like Roe. v. Wade and Miranda v. Arizona, conservatives complained about judicial activism. Now with Citizens United, the liberals are complaining about it. 

Thom Hartmann, a liberal talk show host, wants to get rid of judicial review completely.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Should torture killers be tortured? Or are we coddling murderers?

Does a person who tortures someone to death deserve to be tortured to death? If not, then the killer gets something he denied his victim, a painless death?

Am I a supernaturalist?

Without a good definition of the supernatural it's going to be awfully difficult to prove any cases. In fact, I just say I believe in God et al., but depending on how you define the supernatural, I am not sure I believe that supernatural entities exist. I can imagine saying that God, angels, and souls all exist, but that science just hasn't developed enough to analyze and predict the activities of these entities. So they are supernatural from the standpoint of present science, but then so are lots of things that science will someday discover. But since we don't know what "ultimate completed future science" will include we can't say for sure whether these entities are natural or supernatural. 

If science has to screen certain entities out because they are by definition beyond the competence of science to analyze, then it is a boring result that science hasn't found evidence for them. Science, on that view, can't either support of deny their existence. On the other hand, if it is within the competence of science to show that these entities do not exist (as in Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a World Without Design), then if someone has offers evidence for something like God, then it can't be thrown out of court a la Judge Jones because science has to stick to the natural and not the supernatural. 

As the Statler Brothers say, you can't have your Kate and Edith too. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Notes on the Courtier's Reply

In response to the Skeptic Zone here.

The Courtier's Reply is a term that has come to be used for the response to the
Courtier's Reply, and so you are right to say that it might be more proper to call it the Courtier's Reply Reply, but that gets awkward to say.

Here is the problem. Sure, I don't have to understand the difference between, let's say, Sunni and Shiite Islam if my disagreement with Islam has primarily to do with whether I believe that Allah, through the Angel Gabriel, dictated the Qu'ran to Muhammad in Arabic. Both Sunnis and Shiites agree on this, and the question of how the succession in the Caliphate should have gone is not relevant to the fundamental issue between myself and Muslims of either stripe.

On the other hand, if something is relevant to the reasons why one believes that Muhammad did receive this revelation, then I had better understand the reasons Muslims have for believing this I am going to seem pretty ignorant to my Muslim interlocutors. I need to know what their best reasons are. Or, I should at least show that I have tried to understand it. A person's time is limited, so I could reject Islam without this kind of information. But if I want to write The Muslim Delusion, then I need to know what the best Muslim scholars have to offer on why they think Islam is true. If I write a book that makes no attempt to understand this, then they have every right to complain that I am arguing from a position of ignorance, even if Islam is delusional.

When you do something like say that all forms of the Cosmological Argument fail to the "Who made God" question, there are some obvious ways that argument defenders have of responding to this, and you ought to know what those are and rebut them.

Now, I think there is further discussion which might develop the "Who made God" response to more sophisticated version of the Cosmological Arguments. For example, some people argue that if there was a time prior to the beginning of the universe, the causal principle should apply that whatever begins to exist must have a cause, but if there was no prior time, and time began at the Big Bang, then the causal principle should not be applied.  But a popular kind of response to arguments like Aquinas's and Craig's, sometimes given in intro philosophy classes, makes it seem as if they somehow didn't think to ask the question "Who made God," a question asked by most grade school children.

On the famous Trilemma argument, he gives a two paragraph rebuttal the completely ignores a wide range of arguments on both sides. John Beversluis wrote a chapter in his revised C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, which he considers to be an effective take-down of the argument, but in a footnote criticizes as too quick and too easy Hitchens's three-paragraph refutation. I'm sure he would say the same thing about Dawkins's two paragraphs.

Now Dawkins has a quadrilemma concerning those who believe in God, (or, as he puts it, don't believe in evolution) and that is that they are either ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked. But I think he think that theism is really a stupid position.

So, if Dawkins has reasons for rejecting theism in general, then, sure, he shouldn't be expected to know understand, for example, the filioque controversy about the procession of the Holy Spirit. But he should be expected to understand, or at least make an effort to understand the reasons why someone might think that the evidence for God is reasonably good, or that it can be justified as a properly basic belief.

Another example: Dawkins assumes that if believers just believe on tradition and pay no attention to evidence. Reading him, you would never guess that one of the most popular books on Christianity is Josh McDowell's book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, or that there is another book called Faith Founded on Fact. Now, these people may be all wrong, and it could be that they don't have good evidence, but a well-informed anti-apologist should be aware that there are Christians out there who think the evidence favors them.

Myers' presentation of the Courtier's reply appears stupid because he takes discussions that take place on the assumption that the emperor is clothed as a basis for answering the question of whether or not he is clothed, when in fact he appears naked. But if there are books offering reasons for thinking that the emperor is really clothed, then it is fair to expect someone defending the emperor's nudity to consider them.

I'm sure Dawkins is an intelligent person, but my complaint is that he projects and impression that he doesn't have to bother to understand his opponents in order to attack them. He has I believe an earned reputation for lucid explanations of Darwinian biology, but the lack of effort to understand the people he is criticizing, (and his excuses for making no such effort), means that if anyone is going to talk me out of my religious beliefs, it won't be him.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Lovell on Chesterton and philosophical skepticism

A redated post.

More on Craig and Reformed Epistemology

What I am suggesting is that the question of indefeasibility seems to be something on top of the issues created by Reformed Epistemology. 

I think that religious experiences like those Craig mentions, if you have them, give you a reason to believe in God that another person might not have. But to say in advance that this will outweigh any possible argument that could arise against theism, I still think of this as a stretch. 

But not one that justifies ad hominem attacks in the context of the philosophical arguments.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A naturalist attempts to define the supernatural

Does this look good to you?

Fallibilism and William Lane Craig's Epistemology

The following very honest discussion is presented by Bradley Bowen at Secular Outpost. 

I am glad to see someone getting off the bandwagon of bashing Craig because of his employment and application of Reformed epistemology, and, what is more than this, using this aspect of his thought as a basis for refusing to take seriously his arguments for belief in God that have nothing to do with this sort of a claim. I hear too much of "Forget the arguments Craig offers for theism. We know why he REALLY believes in God. It's because of the Holy Spirit tells him so."
While I don't deny that Craig could have a source of knowledge though acquaintance with God that other people might not possess, I wonder if he goes too far in granting those beliefs an indefeasible status.
I found this definition of fallibilism, and I wonder if a defense of this might raise questions about Craig's position. We could still have a properly basic belief in God, but shouldn't we regard that belief as fallible like all others?
Fallibilism is the philosophical doctrine that absolute certainty about knowledge is impossible, or at least that all claims to knowledge could, in principle, be mistaken. Unlike Scepticism (the doctrine that true knowledge is by definition uncertain), Fallibilism does not imply the need to abandon our knowledge, in that it holds that we need not have logically conclusivejustifications for what we know. Rather, it is an admission that, because empirical knowledge can always be revised by further observation, then any of the things we take as knowledge might possibly turn out to be false.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Do believers and nonbelievers have a common goal when they discuss religious questions?

I think that is critical to the pursuit of discussion. We want people to agree with us, but should this be our only goal? Is there, or should there be, a legitimate goal of trying to understand our differences, and trying to find our what really brings about the disagreement concerning the matter, or, say, belief in God or Christianity?

I think not enough attention has been paid to C. S. Lewis's remarks at the founding of the Oxford Socratic Club. He maintained that such a society was valuable at Oxford because by means of it we could hope to civilize one another.

I think the question we should ask people who are in dialogue about religious beliefs is what their goals are. I think that dialogue about religion isn't simply about getting others to agree with us. It is also about getting others to understand us better and to understand others better. Thus, if I engage an atheist in discussion, I consider it unlikely that that person will accept Christ as a result of what I say. I take that as a given. What I hope will happen is that they will understand my position somewhat better, and hopefully, gain some intellectual sympathy for my position. And with enhanced intellectual sympathy, maybe something will happen along the line. Or not.  But I do not assume that when I have failed to convince my interlocutor that I am right, that the discussion has been a failure. Far from it. 

What I hear from people out of the New Atheist camp, however, is something along the lines of "Yes, I am responding to you, but your reaction isn't important. I know that you are a hopeless faith-head. But, maybe other people might be listening who are more open to the truth, and maybe if I show zero intellectual sympathy with you and show just how much contempt I have for what you believe, maybe the fence-sitters will jump the fence my way." 

This is the Dawkins playbook, and it has been a great disappointment to see Loftus fall for it, for example. 

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. 

The strategy here is essentially to deny that believers and unbelievers have a common goal as well as an adversarial goal when the enter discussion with one another. If the common goal goes unrecognized, then we are going to not get anywhere, and that is why I have gotten considerably less satisfaction out of blogging than I did a few years ago. I don't know what to do about it, but I think it's important that people to look at what is being said not only in terms of what side it is on, but also whether the claims are well-supported or not. We have to be ready to criticize our own side if bad arguments are being used. 

Sexist passages

There are always two ways of looking at statements from the past where women are concerned. One of them is in comparison to our society. The other is from the standpoint of the society at the time. If you transport these statements into our time, the sound awfully sexist. After all, Women's Lib was a product of the 60s even in our culture (although there were earlier feminist voices). On the other hand, these statements may have sounded positively liberating to people back then. 
Thus, for example, people today react to passages in the Christian Bible that say "Wives obey your husbands." But I suspect that people in the time these statements were written were far more surprised by statements like "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church," since wives in that time knew that the culture expected them to be submissive, Christian or not.