Letter to Tim Challies 2

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 22, 2009 in Letters

Following my letter exchanges with Vox DayMark van Steenwyk, and Tom Gilson, here is my second letter to Christian writer Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. See our past letters here.

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Tim,

Thanks for your cordial response. I’m not at all offended by the “fool” part – I understand you’re being honest about what you believe, and I appreciate that.

But I think you’ve misunderstood me.

Your strongest reaction was to a certain paragraph, in which I explained why I converted to atheism:

I studied the New Testament texts and the Historical Jesus. I discovered that much of what the church had taught me was untrue or gravely misleading. Many of the New Testament letters are known to be forgeries even by the most conservative scholars. The books of the Bible are written by very different authors with very different theologies. The gospels contradict each other all over the place. And if there’s any consensus at all about who the Historical Jesus was, it’s that he was a Jewish apocalyptic prophet; a failed one at that, since the end of the world did not come in his generation. And the religion of Jesus was quite different than the later religion about Jesus, apparently launched by Paul. Moreover, I started to wonder: How could I accept the miracle stories about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?

You sum this up with your own paraphrase of my letter: “All thinking people acknowledge that the foundations of the Christian faith are complete nonsense.”

But that is not at all what I was trying to say.


First, my paragraph above says nothing like “the foundations of the Christian faith are complete nonsense.” Yes, many NT books are known to be written by imposters pretending to be Paul or Peter. Yes, Peter and Paul and Matthew and the author of Hebrews had different theologies. Yes, the gospels tell slightly different stories, and that entails some contradictions. And yes, the religion that Jesus preached was apparently different than the religion that Paul preached. But it wasn’t atheists who discovered all that. It was Christian historians and theologians who discovered these things. If these discoveries really meant that “the foundations of Christianity are nonsense,” then all those Christian historians and theologians would have converted to nonbelief. But they didn’t. And neither have most of the Christian scholars who accept these mainstream views about the Bible and Paul and Jesus.

Some books of the NT are pseudonymous, but that doesn’t mean they are “nonsense” or that they don’t contain history. The authors who wrote letters that were later collected as “Scripture” had different theologies, but that makes the NT library diverse, not “nonsense.” Jesus and Paul had different theologies, but that doesn’t mean the NT is “nonsense,” either. Like I said, Christian scholars have known all these things for centuries and not concluded that Christianity is nonsense.

Second, I would never claim that “All thinking people acknowledge that” my statements about the Bible and early Christianity are true. There are many very smart Biblical scholars today who would reject some of the mainstream positions given above, for example N.T. Wright and Ben Witherington. And I would never echo the New Atheists in saying that Christians are generally an unthinking bunch. I read too many philosophy journals with articles by brilliant Christian academics to believe that.

Third, remember that I listed those things in the context of my personal story. Those were the reasons I initially came to doubt Christianity. Maybe some of those things are false. For example, I think it’s quite likely that Jesus was not a failed apocalyptic prophet. But still, those were the reasons I rejected Christianity at the time.

Tim, you say “Surely you see how such statements are fallacious.” It sounds like you think they constitute a fallacious argument from authority. But I made no arguments in my letter. Not a single one.

Nowhere did I say that “Most scholars believe that several NT books are pseudonymous, therefore several NT books are pseudonymous.” I never made any such argument. Moreover, even if I made arguments to back up each of the reasons I left Christianity and all those arguments somehow succeeded, it still wouldn’t mean that Christianity was nonsense, as I explained above.

I would never say that something is true just because “most scholars” think it’s true. If I wanted to argue for the truth of something, I would present the specific reasons that convinced me - for example, the textual evidence that 2 Peter was not written by Peter.

So I didn’t mean those statements to be “sweeping and antagonistic,” Tim. I’m sorry you took it that way. Remember, I was telling you my story. I was telling you the reasons why I left Christianity. You are free to deny my statements, though many Christians would not. You don’t even have to explain why you reject them. But there was nothing antagonistic about what I said.

The Fool

Yup, I know that the Bible proclaims that every nonbeliever is an immoral fool. (Though to be fair, it also commands you to kill your family if they try to persuade you to switch religions, and I’m quite grateful you’re unwilling to obey the Word of God on that point!) Therefore, you believe I am an immoral fool, and that I have deliberately chosen to deny the evidence before my very eyes. I don’t know what to say in response. I guess I’m lucky my worldview doesn’t force me to accept a priori that everyone who disagrees with me is both immoral and foolish. But preaching such a doctrine is a pretty good strategy for building “us vs. them” bigotry. Muslims preach the same doctrine about unbelievers.

Frankly, I wish you could spend one minute inside my brain, and you would know that I am not willfully denying the evidence. I tried very, very hard to preserve my faith. I just couldn’t see any evidence when I looked with honest eyes. I look around me and I don’t see a world that looks anything like what an all-good, all-powerful God would create.

Certainly, such a being would not create AIDS and congenital diseases and so many poor designs. Surely such a being would not create humans to inevitably fail, and then condemn them to eternal torture for failing, and then decide to resolve this problem by sending himself to the ancient Middle East to perform a few miracles and then sacrifice himself to himself. (If your theology is different, fine, that’s just the theology I was raised with.) I look around the world with honest eyes and I see a world that looks exactly like it wasn’t designed.

What I’ve Lost

Tim, you asked me: “What have you lost? Who do you thank?”

I lost quite a bit when I left Christianity. I lost many friends. My family relationships are a bit uneasy, now. I lost my entire social community that I had at the time. I lost the comfort of knowing I would go to a nice place when I died. I lost the comfort of knowing that I was on the winning team – that I was a servant of the unquestioned Lord of the Universe. I lost the ability to feel like I was doing something by praying when there was nothing else I could do.

As for gratitude, I just don’t have an issue with that. Do you believe that everything good that happens is a gift from God, or is some of it luck? Is every lucky parking space the result of God intervening in the natural order just for you? If not, then you must think that many fortunate things happen to you for which you have no person to thank. So now when good things happen to me I thank the people who are responsible, and if there aren’t any such people, I’m just happy, and that’s it – like I am when I get a lucky parking space.

A Better Place

Tim, in my first letter I asked what you think Christians and atheists could do together to make the world a better place. After all, it seems like we have lots of common goals. Don’t we both want to improve human flourishing and reduce suffering, poverty, and oppression? Or do you think the goals of Christians and atheists are too different for us to work together on making the world a better place? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Cheers,

Luke

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{ 95 comments… read them below or add one }

cartesian December 22, 2009 at 8:40 am

Luke,
You said:
>>Tim, you say “Surely you see how such statements are fallacious.” But statements cannot be fallacious. Only arguments can be fallacious. And I made no arguments in my letter. Not a single one.>>

I agree with you that “fallacious” has a very narrow meaning in philosophy-speak, and, in that particular idiom only arguments (or, more generally, inferences!) can be fallacious. But from what I can gather about your pen pal, he’s not a philosopher. So he was probably using “fallacious” in a wider sense, governed by the conventions of the English-speaking world, not just philosophers. If you’d like a peek into those conventions, the dictionary is a good place to start:
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fallacious

According to the dictionary, lots of things other than arguments can be fallacious. Anything that can be misleading, deceptive, disappointing, or delusive can be fallacious. For example, testimony. And presumably the statement that your pen pal was referring to could also be fallacious, in this wider, ordinary English sense of “fallacious.”

I like you Luke, and that’s why I’d caution you against presuming that philosophy-speak is somehow the correct or authoritative idiom. It may be much more precise than English in general, and that’s why philosophers use it, but at the end of the day we’re just talking about conventions.

During the first week of my classes, when I’m introducing students to logic, I say something like “Now ‘valid’ has many different meanings in English: you can have valid ideas, valid suggestions, etc. But in this class, we’ll be using it in a very narrow sense, to mean just this…” When a student fails to use “valid” in this narrow way, I just gently clarify what they meant: did they mean “valid” in philosophy-speak? or “valid” in ordinary English? If they meant to use ordinary English, I don’t criticize them for misusing the word. I think the same thing goes with “fallacious.” So I think it was a bit out of bounds to criticize Tim in this way.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 8:52 am

Good point, cartesian. I updated my letter to fix that; hopefully that will be okay since it was published only a couple hours ago and Challies probably hasn’t read it yet.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 8:54 am

>>(Though to be fair, it also commands you to murder apostates, and I’m quite grateful you’re willing to disobey the Word of God on that point.) >>

Well, what that command (in Deut. 13:6-11) to the ancient Israelites really says is this: if your brother, or children, or wife, or close friend suggests serving other gods, you should kill them.

You say that Tim is disobeying God by not killing you. But there are at least three reasons to think you’re wrong on that:

Since Tim isn’t an ancient Israelite, it’s unclear that this command even applies to him. And a person can’t disobey a command that doesn’t apply to him.

Even if the command applied to him, you’re not his brother, child, wife, or close friend. So Tim’s not violating the command by not killing you.

Even if you were one of those relations, you’re not suggesting to him that he worship other gods. So again, Tim’s not violating the command by not killing you.

So your allegation that Tim is disobeying God on this point is wide of the mark. He’s not.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 9:00 am

cartesian,

Fixed again. If Challies doesn’t think that command applies to him, then that’s fine, I just hope he will explain to me how he decides which commands to the Israelites apply to him and which do not.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 9:04 am

>>I don’t see a world that looks anything like what an all-good, all-powerful God would create.>>

Think about Genesis 3. This world, according to Christians, is fallen. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. So that it fails to look like Eden around here doesn’t count against Christianity. That’s exactly what Christianity predicts.

Now ask yourself whether a world like this is what you’d expect on atheism. I honestly don’t know if the answer to that is “yes.” Why expect any world, on atheism? Why expect there to be something rather than nothing? It’s pretty weird that there’s something, if atheism is true. It would be even weirder if there were always something, or always very many things (like multiverses)!

So it seems to me that this world — non-Eden but a world nonetheless — is exactly what Christianity predicts, but not what atheism predicts. So the world provides evidence for Christianity over atheism.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 9:07 am

lukeprogI just hope he will explain to me how he decides which commands to the Israelites apply to him and which do not.  

I think one standard response among conservative Protestants is this: If a moral imperative from the OT is repeated in the Epistles of the New Testament, then it still applies to us. The Epistles are to the Church what the Mosaic Law was to the Israelites.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 9:09 am

>>Is every lucky parking space the result of God intervening in the natural order just for you?>>

Haha, my dad actually sincerely believes this. He’s an all-around nice guy though, and it seems like a harmless belief (that I can’t rule out conclusively), so I don’t challenge him on it.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 9:14 am

cartesian,

I’m not a Bible expert, but it seems to me there are many OT laws not repeated in the NT that conservative protestants nevertheless take seriously, including a few of the Ten Commandments. And there are many commands of the NT they decide not to take seriously, either, for example Paul’s decree that women should be silent in church. (I think that’s an interpolation, but most conservatives don’t like the idea that the Bible as they have it is so badly corrupted.)

As for Genesis 3: So, are you thinking there weren’t earthquakes or major diseases before “the Fall”, whenever that is supposed to have taken place? Geological and anthropological findings concerning our ancient ancestors suggests otherwise.

As for cosmological arguments, well, I continue to write about them in other posts. But I get what you’re saying.

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Kay December 22, 2009 at 9:37 am

Hi Luke,

I came across your blog through Tim Challies’ link to your letter exchange, which I must say I am quite enjoying. (Full disclosure: I’m a born-again Christian, who believes the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God – a statement which probably needs to be unpacked for full understanding, but I hope it will at least give you some kind of context for my comment/s.)

My question pertains to a statement you made in the comments to this post: “I’m not a Bible expert…”
By this you could of course mean that you have not devoted your life to studying the Bible, you have no degrees related to Bible study, etc. But this statement struck me because, based on your previous comments about how earnestly you tried to hold on to your faith, I kind of assumed that you would consider yourself an expert on the Bible. Have you not studied it in depth?

I hope this doesn’t come across as offensive; I’m genuinely interested to know how much you have studied the Bible, since that naturally has a huge impact on your biblical views.

I look forward to your continued correspondence with Tim.

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Taranu December 22, 2009 at 9:44 am

Luke, why do you think it’s quite likely that Jesus was not a failed apocalyptic prophet?

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 9:52 am

Kay,

What I meant by that statement is that I haven’t memorized every verse in the Bible. Instead, I’ve read a lot about what scholars (both conservative and liberal) have said about the Bible, how it was written, how it comes to us, etc.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 9:53 am

Taranu,

Because I think it’s at least as likely that Jesus, as presented in the gospels, is largely a myth.

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Roman December 22, 2009 at 10:02 am

Hi Cartesian,

“Think about Genesis 3. This world, according to Christians, is fallen. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. So that it fails to look like Eden around here doesn’t count against Christianity. That’s exactly what Christianity predicts.”

“So it seems to me that this world — non-Eden but a world nonetheless — is exactly what Christianity predicts…”

I think it’s interesting that you are talking about what Christianity predicts. I don’t know if you’ve read Dawes’ ‘Theism and Explanation’, but there he says that theistic explanations, if they are to be successful, should meet at least these criteria:

“If a proposed theistic explanation is to have any significant degree of empirical content, it must view the explanandum as a means towards a divinely willed end. It must posit the existence of a particular divine intention.”

And:

“Given a posited divine intention, the explanandum must be the best way in which this intention could have been achieved. If it is not, then positing this intention simply fails to explain, for the explanandum is not what a theistic hypothesis would predict.”

It sounds like you think that Christianity predicts that the world would look post Eden like if it were true. So here are two questions for you:

1. Do you think that for Christianity to be a good explanation of the world it should satisfy these criteria?
2. If yes, what do you think is the divinely willed end towards which the ‘post eden like world’ is a means? And whatever that end is, do you think the post eden like world is the best way in which this intention could be achieved?

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Roman December 22, 2009 at 10:19 am

Cartesian,

I only ask because it seems to me that ‘Theism and Explanation’ is CRUSHING to a case for Christianity made on the basis of it being the best explanation of things. It is a new book though, and maybe some good criticism of it will come out.

It seems to me that Christianity has a better chance with deductive arguments.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 11:14 am

I wouldn’t say that Theism and Explanation is a “crushing” case against Christian explanations, and I don’t think Dawes would, either. It’s more like the very start of a conversation.

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Roman December 22, 2009 at 11:21 am

Hmmm, by “crushing” I mean that its arguments make me believe that so far all theistic explanations have either been worse than competing non-theistic explanations or if there are no competing explanations, that the theistic explanations are not good enough to believe.

But perhaps it shouldn’t make me believe that. Do you think I should suspend judgement about this? Or maybe you don’t think that believing this is crushing to believing in Christianity on the basis of arguments to the best explanation?

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drj December 22, 2009 at 12:25 pm

cartesian: Now ask yourself whether a world like this is what you’d expect on atheism. I honestly don’t know if the answer to that is “yes.” Why expect any world, on atheism? Why expect there to be something rather than nothing? It’s pretty weird that there’s something, if atheism is true. It would be even weirder if there were always something, or always very many things (like multiverses)!

I think this world is a very startling occurrence – under theism or atheism. Regardless of which way you look at it, it is surprising, strange, and baffling. And it seems to me, that it should have just as much, if not more, force to ask, “Why is there a God (ie. something) instead of nothing?”. Theism clearly has no explanatory advantage there, that I can see.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Hi Roman,
I think those are good questions, thanks.

Roman: 1. Do you think that for Christianity to be a good explanation of the world it should satisfy these criteria?

Just as an aside, I don’t think this really engages the sketchy little argument I presented in my last comment. There, I didn’t say anything about explanation, but only prediction.

Anyway, just to be clear, the criteria you’re referring to are in those quotations you provided from Dawes?

“If a proposed theistic explanation is to have any significant degree of empirical content, it must view the explanandum as a means towards a divinely willed end. It must posit the existence of a particular divine intention.”

This sounds like a requirement on a theistic explanation’s having significant empirical content. It doesn’t sound like a requirement on a theistic explanation’s being a good one, unless we’re meant to assume that a theistic explanation is a good one only if it has significant empirical content. That assumption looks pretty dubious to me. There are lots of good explanations that don’t have any significant empirical content, on a natural understanding of “significant empirical content.” If you can’t think of any, let me know and I’ll share the ones I have in mind. So there’s one worry for Dawes: if he says that a theistic explanation is good only if it has significant empirical content, he’s wrong.

Anyway, I’ll take it that Dawes is claiming this: A theistic explanation is a good one only if that which is to be explained is viewed as a means toward some divine end. Is that right? Is that the criterion you wanted me to consider?

I think this was meant to express the second criterion:

“Given a posited divine intention, the explanandum must be the best way in which this intention could have been achieved. If it is not, then positing this intention simply fails to explain, for the explanandum is not what a theistic hypothesis would predict.”

So I guess this, together with the last criterion, says that a theistic explanation is a good one only if (i) it views that which is to be explained as a means to some divine end, and (ii) that which is to be explained is the best way in which that divine end could be achieved.

So far so good? Did I understand Dawes right?

If I did, I think he’s wrong, for two reasons:

First, perfectly good explanations can appeal to an intention of an agent, even when there is a best way to acheive that intention, and that which is to be explained is not the best way to achieve that intention. For example, you might ask me why the stove is on. I say “My wife wants to make tea.” This is a perfectly good explanation, even if it’s true that the best way to make tea is with a microwave. My wife may not have a microwave, or she may not believe that the microwave is the best way to make tea, or she may know that the microwave is the best way to make tea, and yet nevertheless on this occasion she just wanted to use the stove. Stoves are perfectly fine ways to make tea, after all. She’s not crazy for preferring the good to the best on this occasion. (Sometimes I use chopsticks rather than a fork just for the hell of it, after all.) So here’s one example of a perfectly good explanation in terms of an agent’s intentions, even though that which is to be explained (i.e. the stove’s being on) is not the best way to achieve the agent’s posited end. So condition (ii) above is not necessary. So Dawes is wrong.

Second, there are many occasions on which there is no BEST way to achieve an end. For example, you might desire to visit a foreign country. Someone presents you with a ticket to France and a ticket to Italy, but you can only choose one. Both trips will cost you the same, take the same amount of time, are just as attractive to you, etc. It seems in this case there is no best option. Each option is equally good. Yet, if you take the ticket to France, it seems that a perfectly good explanation is that you desired to visit a foreign country. And yet on this occasion taking the ticket to France isn’t the best option, since there was no best option. So again (ii) is unnecessary, and so Dawes is wrong. (Or consider Buridan’s ass: a donkey has a sack of feed on his left, and another on his right. No reason to prefer one to the other. When he chooses left, a perfectly good explanation of why he’s eating from that sack is that he’s hungry. Yet eating from that sack wasn’t the best way to satisfy his hunger, since there was no one best way.)

Now consider a case involving God. Suppose God wanted to create a good world, so he surveyed all the possible worlds, and all the good-making features of all these worlds. It’s pretty plausible, when you think about it, that there is no single best possible world, but rather a continuum of ever-increasingly good worlds. (Try to imagine the best possible world. Can’t you make that world better, for example by adding one more tulip in Holland?) Suppose God realizes there is no best possible world, and so just creates a really good world. It seems like a perfectly good explanation of why he created this world is that he wanted to create a really good one, even though creating this very world was not the *best* way to achieve that end (since, recall, there is no best possible world). So again, (ii) is not necessary as Dawes claims it is.

Or, perhaps there is a best possible world, but God decided on this occasion to just make a really good world. Just as we wouldn’t fault my wife for preferring the good stove to the better microwave, I don’t think we should fault God for creating a good world instead of a better world. He’s not obligated to create anything, after all, and omnibenevolence doesn’t require incessant supererogation. And I think a perfectly good explanation of why this world exists would be that God wanted to make a really good world, even though that which is to be explained would not be, on the current hypothesis, the best way to achieve that goal. So again, (ii) is not necessary as Dawes claims it is.
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Anyway, suppose I do accept Dawes’ criteria for a good theistic explanation. You then ask:

Roman: 2. If yes, what do you think is the divinely willed end towards which the ‘post eden like world’ is a means?

I’m not totally sure what God’s ends are, but I guess I have some faint idea. Something like a heaven full of perfectly free creatures with perfectly formed characters, doing that noble thing they were designed to do (enjoy a beatific vision, or whatever). These creatures are like Aristotle’s virtuous person. And these creatures are significantly responsible for the past formation of their characters. I think that sort of character formation requires a post-Eden world like this. And I guess some more of God’s ends involved those “towering goods” of the incarnation and the atonement. Those were pretty awesome, and at least the latter required a fallen world.

Roman:And whatever that end is, do you think the post eden like world is the best way in which this intention could be achieved?  

Well, IF there is *one best way* in which to achieve this end, then yes, I’d say this is it. But it might be that this is just a really good way to achieve it, and that’s enough. Like the stove and the microwave example again.

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Mark December 22, 2009 at 12:43 pm

I studied the New Testament texts and the Historical Jesus. I discovered that much of what the church had taught me was untrue or gravely misleading

What part? “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thy self”? Yeah, that’s a gravely misleading one there.

And I would never echo the New Atheists in saying that Christians are generally an unthinking bunch. I read too many philosophy journals with articles by brilliant Christian academics to believe that.

WHAT?! You do it all the time! You just recently called your own mom’s Christian thinking “dumb”! Look at the anti Jesus cartoon you just put up. You routinely write Christians off as superstitious, gullible idiots and you know it. Stop faking the funk Luke! :)

I look around me and I don’t see a world that looks anything like what an all-good, all-powerful God would create.

There you go again with the “all good” and “all powerful” descriptions while conveniently leaving out “all wise” and “all just” ones. I look around and what I see is PARITY. Where there is black, there is white. Where there is hate, there is love. Where there is a 0, there is also a 1. Where there is evil, there is good. Where there is sin, there is grace. This is by design. This is the way it had to be.

When you look around , you can’t get past the darkness to see the light on the other side. That’s like preaching sin, but not forgiveness. And if you think this place looks undesigned, envision for a moment in your mind a world without stoplights. What if were to turn all of them off right now. All three red, green, and yellow. Poof. Now THAT would be a world that would appear to have no design. The one we live in is far too orderly to be an accident.

So now when good things happen to me I thank the people who are responsible, and if there aren’t any such people, I’m just happy, and that’s it – like I am when I get a lucky parking space.

Interesting. When I wake up in the morning I say THANK YOU God. That I can walk, talk, write, read, kiss my kids goodbye in the morning, eat, go to work.. man…. I can’t even fathom thinking “I’m just happy. That’s it. Happy day for me.” That seems so.. self-centered.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 12:48 pm

drj:
I think this world is a very startling occurrence – under theism or atheism.Regardless of which way you look at it, it is surprising, strange, and baffling.

Well, let’s suppose you’re right that the world is baffling on both views. Do you really think that the existence of the world is *as* baffling on Christianity as it is on atheism? Couldn’t we agree that the existence of the world is baffling on both views, but that it’s *more* baffling on atheism? If so, then the world counts as evidence for Christianity over atheism. And it seems pretty clear to me that the world is at least a little more baffling on atheism than it is on Christianity. Christian contains at least a few doctrines about God and his intentions. Given those, it’s not very surprising to me that the world exists. And at least on Christianity we get an answer to the question “Why does all this stuff exist, rather than nothing at all?” We can’t in principle get an answer to that question on atheism.

And it seems to me, that it should have just as much, if not more, force to ask, “Why is there a God (ie. something) instead of nothing?”.

Yeah, I think that’s a good worry you bring up there. I guess one relevant dissimilarity between theism and atheism here is that, whereas the physical universe is clearly something that could have failed to exist, it’s not clear that a greatest conceivable being could fail to exist. So theism does have at least a slight advantage here.

Interview with an atheist:
Me: What exists?
Atheist: Just the physical universe.
Me: Why does it exist, rather than nothing at all?
Atheist: There is no answer to that question. It could have failed to exist, but it just didn’t. Nothing explains the universe’s existence, even though it sure looks like its existence stands in need of explanation.
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Interview with a theist:
Me: What exists?
Theist: The physical universe and God.
Me: Why does the physical universe exist?
Theist: God wanted to make it, and he had the ability.
Me: OK. But why does God exist?
Theist: He couldn’t have failed to exist. He’s that than which nothing greater could be conceived, and such a thing must exist. Nothing explains God’s existence, but his existence doesn’t stand in need of explanation.
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Judges’ scorecard: Theist wins this round.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Luke: And I would never echo the New Atheists in saying that Christians are generally an unthinking bunch. I read too many philosophy journals with articles by brilliant Christian academics to believe that.

Mark:
WHAT?! You do it all the time! You just recently called your own mom’s Christian thinking “dumb”!

I think Luke’s use of the word “generally” is very important here, and I think you must have missed that, Mark. It’s perfectly consistent to deny that Christians generally are an unthinking bunch, while simultaneously affirming that some Christians are unthinking. I think we can all agree on that. The same goes for atheists. And Muslims. And Germans. And rockclimbers. And…

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Mark:
Where there is a 0, there is also a 1.

I refute it thus: 0.

;)

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DR December 22, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Luke you began his exchange with: “I don’t want a debate or a shouting match. I’d like just like to share our views with each other and our audiences and come to some mutual understanding. In fact, one question I’d like to ask you concerns how we can work together toward mutual goals.”

Luke do you 1)think you may have already entered the debating match and thus fallen into a hole you didn’t want to enter, 2)think there will ever come a mutual understanding or there are any mutual goals? What are your mutual goals?

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Fortuna December 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm

cartesian, I’d like to ask to you to expand on a couple of things, if I may:

We can’t in principle get an answer to that question (why does stuff exist) on atheism.

How come?

I guess one relevant dissimilarity between theism and atheism here is that, whereas the physical universe is clearly something that could have failed to exist, it’s not clear that a greatest conceivable being could fail to exist. So theism does have at least a slight advantage here.

How do you know that the physical universe could clearly have failed to exist? Why is it unclear that a greatest conceivable being could fail to exist?

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Mark December 22, 2009 at 1:42 pm

To the unbelieving Luke. I challenge you to to cite this without the assistance of Google or any other reference.

“Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, bless yourself with holy water, have Masses said, and so on; by a simple and natural process this will make you believe, and will dull you—will quiet your **proudly critical intellect**

Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognize that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.”

Luke, I know you’re not a Bible scholar or anything, but surely you must have read all the greats in your “careful weighing of the evidence” prior to your deconversion, right? Surely this must have been evidence you at least skimmed enough to comprehend before you tossed it in the wastebasket with the rest of the theistic lunacy, yes?

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Mark December 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm

“Cartesian” said, “I think Luke’s use of the word “generally” is very important here, and I think you must have missed that, Mark. It’s perfectly consistent to deny that Christians generally are an unthinking bunch, while simultaneously affirming that some Christians are unthinking. I think we can all agree on that. The same goes for atheists. And Muslims. And Germans. And rockclimbers. And…

No, you are the one who has missed something–Luke’s blog content. The majority of his articles are in fact GENERALLY of the “Christians-are-idiots” variety. In fact his very position that the “empirical evidence” was overwhelming screams implicitly that the rest of us completely overlooked it all because we are not as smart as he is. Have you read his letter to his parents? You might want to do that for reference.

If Luke (or anyone else for that matter) wants to believe “free thought” leads to freedom, you know, that Christianity is some mental prison of sorts the rest of us are locked into and must be emancipated from if we are ever to be truly free, you know, completely ignorant of the reality that true “freedom” is in fact anarchy, then fine. I’m a huge proponent of free speech. I say go for it.

But when you position yourself as an authority on the Bible, bash it incessantly, cite bronze age Jewish law as proof God is evil, cannibalize Scripture to prove how horrible God is without ever acknowledging the extraordinary beauty of his creations, and you pass all this off as scholarly and philosophical, you should expect at least a whimper of protest from those who love God and can see that he consists of far more than merely wrath.

As you will find the more you read Luke, his idea of God is a “little invisible magical friend Jesus.” In this way he paints every Christian on the planet a schizophrenic. Don’t give him a pass on this. He wants to be a “famous philosopher,” and you’re not doing him any favors by going to bat for him when he is stating a falsehood. It is what is: he thinks Christians are generally “dumb.” Let it be, let it be, let it be, oh let it be, whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

Peace!

Schizophrenically yours,

:D

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ildi December 22, 2009 at 2:08 pm

I would never echo the New Atheists in saying that Christians are generally an unthinking bunch.

No, no, no, NAs say that PEOPLE are generally an unthinking bunch. They say that Christians are deluded. In fact, the difference between garden-variety and New Atheists is that G-V atheists THINK that Christians are deluded, but NAs actually come out and say it…

You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured.

Unbelief is an illness? Fascinating! I think of it more like a vaccine.

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Scott Scheule December 22, 2009 at 2:45 pm

“To the unbelieving Luke. I challenge you to to cite this without the assistance of Google or any other reference.”

Are you serious? I’d never even read it before and I could identify the author.

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ildi December 22, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Let it be, let it be, let it be, oh let it be, whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

Yes, Paul MacCartney singing about a dream he had of his mother Mary, who died when he was fourteen. Lovely song.

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Sly December 22, 2009 at 3:21 pm

cartesian:
Well, let’s suppose you’re right that the world is baffling on both views. Do you really think that the existence of the world is *as* baffling on Christianity as it is on atheism? Couldn’t we agree that the existence of the world is baffling on both views, but that it’s *more* baffling on atheism?

I would not agree to that at all. I would say that the world is actually more baffling on Christianity.

If we took a look at the universe as we know it today and went back and showed it too early Christians they would laugh at us. They had a very different conception of what the Universe looked like. Something very different was predicted.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Dawes thinks that God would have to do something in the ‘best’ way possible since he is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good. But there’s a whole lot more to say here, and I don’t have time to say it. Hopefully I’ll eventually get to do a post series on Dawes’ book. Or perhaps cartesian will have time one day to read it. It’s a very well-written, clearly organized book.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Mark,

How does calling one person’s thinking about Christianity “dumb” = saying that Christians are generally an unthinking bunch?

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 3:32 pm

cartesian,

Yeah, that’s right. I’ve written many posts on particular atheists who don’t seem to be thinking clearly. And I’ve written about times when I wasn’t thinking clearly.

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 3:34 pm

DR,

I don’t see any debate going on here. Neither of us has made a single argument.

I’ve said what I think our mutual goals might be. I’m waiting to see if Tim agrees.

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Scott Scheule December 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm

“I would not agree to that at all. I would say that the world is actually more baffling on Christianity.”

I think what’s needed here is an objective measure of the degree of how baffling something is: a metric baffle.

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Beelzebub December 22, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Mark: But when you position yourself as an authority on the Bible, bash it incessantly, cite bronze age Jewish law as proof God is evil,

So now the OT isn’t part of the Bible. Well, whatcha gonna do?

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Haukur December 22, 2009 at 4:15 pm

cartesian: it’s not clear that a greatest conceivable being could fail to exist.

You’ll have to explain this somehow. On this very thread you’re running Buridan’s ass to show that the “best possible X” doesn’t necessarily exist. What’s special about ‘being’ that makes Buridan’s ass not work on it? And why can’t the greatest possible being be identical to the universe?

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Jeff H December 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

I appreciate the irony of Mark criticizing Luke’s generalization of unthinking Christians by making generalizations of his own about Luke. If there’s one thing that might get me to admit that God exists, it’s the world’s great ability to always lavish me with a good dose of irony. Methinks that if God exists, he must be an author or playwright.

Oh and Mark…just to let you know, Pascal’s wager usually isn’t all that effective against atheists. Something about the idea of believing just for the sake of getting the rewards of belief seems a little…fake. It’s like asking someone to believe – truly believe – that 1+1=3 because it will bring great benefit to themselves. Even if I could do such a thing to myself, I would find it hard to bring myself to do it.

Scott, I like the idea. I’d say that the explanation of Christianity is about 5 metric baffles, whereas the explanation of atheism is only about 3. Lol. I think it could catch on.

Let me finish off by saying that I like this exchange between Luke and Tim so far. It’s a little bit of a different take, with the questions about “what do you miss?” and “what can we do together to make a better world?” instead of arguing the second premise of the Kalam cosmological argument. In the end, I think this is where the most important discussions lie – in what comes next after beliefs are settled.

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Feldmm1 December 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Luke, I would be interested to know how you would respond to Craig’s response to poor design (note that I differentiate the argument from poor design from the argument from evil – which, by the way, I may want to ask you a question on in the future, since I used to think it was solid, but now I am having doubts about it). In response to claims like “the universe is not fine-tuned because of its lifelessness”, he will first say that God has unlimited time and unlimited power, so efficiency does not matter to him. His second (and I think more convincing) response is that we should not anthropomorphize God and assume he is like a human (specifically, an American human, because if I am not mistaken, other cultures such as latino cultures do not value efficiency as much) and assume he values efficiency. Obviously, you are not convinced by either of these responses, so what are your thoughts on them?

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Scott Scheule December 22, 2009 at 6:09 pm

“Something about the idea of believing just for the sake of getting the rewards of belief seems a little…fake.”

Wikipedia has a discussion of this objection to the wager:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager#Assumes_that_one_can_choose_belief

It’s a fine objection, but I don’t think it quite goes through. See, for example, the movie “Memento,” where the protagonist plots his own deception.

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ayer December 22, 2009 at 6:24 pm

http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2009/12/if-god-is-perfe.html#comment-108191

lukeprog: Dawes thinks that God would have to do something in the ‘best’ way possible since he is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good.

I see no reason at all why that would have to be the case (though I look forward to reading the book). See the discussion here on God’s creation of a “good enough” world:

http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2009/12/if-god-is-perfe.html#comment-108191

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Feldmm1,

I suppose I’ll write about those things one of these days, no time right now.

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Roman December 22, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Hi Cartesian,

Thanks very much for your considered response!

Firstly I want to say sorry because my presentation of Dawes’ ideas was not very clear. I kind of thought that you had probably read Dawes’ book or were at least familiar with it, that’s why.

You said: “Just as an aside, I don’t think this really engages the sketchy little argument I presented in my last comment. There, I didn’t say anything about explanation, but only prediction.”

You are right, I understand that you were only sketching an argument. I also understand that explanation and prediction are not the same thing, although I think explanations do make predictions – hopefully the explanans ‘predicts’ that the explanandum is true.

You make some good points in response to the parts of Dawes I quoted.

What Dawes means by the phrase ‘empirical content’ is this:
“…as Karl Popper pointed out — the empirical content of a theory is measured by the possible states of affairs it excludes. It is only by excluding possible states of affairs that a theory can single out what is the case from what might have been the case.”

I am wondering, do you think there are good explanations that don’t have any significant empirical content in this sense?

With regard to your other objections to his criteria you make good responses based on the parts of his book that I quoted. It would take too much time for me to explain each of his criteria more fully (sorry!). He does offer answers to your objections (but maybe his answers aren’t good). It’s my fault for giving a very brief description of his views.

Lastly, thanks for your answer to my second question. (Actually they were two and you answered both). I find interesting the idea of creatures being significantly responsible for the past formation of their characters.

Here is one question I just thought of (don’t feel like you have to answer it): Is there a problem for this view because of those people who do not live long enough in this world to become significantly responsible for the past formation of their characters? It seems that for them, this world does not serve much purpose. They might help someone else achieve responsibility for their character, but they are not getting this for themselves out of their existence here. Are they getting something else valuable or are they merely being used as a means to an end?

Thanks again for your answers, I get the impression that you are very smart and knowledgeable!

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lukeprog December 22, 2009 at 9:05 pm

I’ll bip in once more and point out that ‘empirical content’ is certainly not Dawes’ only criterion for a successful explanation. In fact, he specifically rebuts those who reject theistic explanations on strict empiricist grounds – for example Pennock and Dawkins.

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atheismisdead December 22, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Looks like your website is under attack from supernatural forces…

http://dyn.politico.com/members/forums/thread.cfm?catid=2&subcatid=7&threadid=3449994

you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

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Roman December 22, 2009 at 9:48 pm

“I’ll bip in once more and point out that ‘empirical content’ is certainly not Dawes’ only criterion for a successful explanation”

Sure, according to him it is not sufficient, but it is necessary.

Dawes does not disagree with Pennock over the criterion. He disagrees over whether theistic explanations can satisfy the criterion.

Dawes disagrees with Dawkins over a different purported necessary criterion. Dawkins thinks that a successful explanation must not leave its explanans unexplained. Dawes rejects this.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Fortuna: cartesian, I’d like to ask to you to expand on a couple of things, if I may:
>>We can’t in principle get an answer to that question (why does stuff exist) on atheism.>>

How come?

Matter is typically taken as brute on the atheist/naturalist view. (For theists, mind is typically taken as brute.) Suppose the big bang really was the origin of the physical universe. For the atheist/naturalist, that’s the end of the story. The question “What caused the big bang?” has no answer, since any answer would posit non-natural, non-material things. And that’s not cool on the atheist/naturalist view.

Or suppose that matter has just always been around; the universe (taken broadly to include the multiverse, if there is such a thing) never began to exist. Again, the question “Why does all this matter exist?” has no answer on the atheist/naturalist view. There’s no ‘why’ about it. It’s just always been there. To give an answer to that question would be to posit non-natural, non-material things. And, again, that’s just not cool on the atheist/naturalist ontology.

cartesian: “I guess one relevant dissimilarity between theism and atheism here is that, whereas the physical universe is clearly something that could have failed to exist, it’s not clear that a greatest conceivable being could fail to exist. So theism does have at least a slight advantage here.”

How do you know that the physical universe could clearly have failed to exist?

Well, it seems pretty obvious to me, so I don’t know if there’s any ‘how’ about it. (It’s like if you asked me how I know that 7+5=12.) But if it doesn’t seem obvious to you, you could start small and work your way up. Your computer could have failed to exist, right? And likewise with my computer. And in fact you could have failed to exist. And I could have failed to exist. And indeed the entire Earth could have failed to exist. And the entire solar system. And our galaxy. And… Keep going for a while, until it’s obvious that every physical thing could have failed to exist. “The universe” just a collective singular term that refers to every physical thing. So it should be obvious that the universe could have failed to exist.

Did it work?

Why is it unclear that a greatest conceivable being could fail to exist?

Because existing is better than not existing. And existing necessarily is better than existing merely contingently. And so the greatest conceivable being would exist necessarily. Or at least that’s a line of thought that isn’t obviously misguided, as far as I can tell. And that’s all I’m claiming: I’m not claiming that an ontological argument works, I’m just claiming that it doesn’t obviously fail. I think even an atheist could agree with me there. If it *obviously* failed, we wouldn’t still be talking about it, and there wouldn’t be encyclopedia entries like this: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/

So whereas, from my point of view at least, the universe obviously could have failed to exist, it’s not obvious that the greatest conceivable being could have failed to exist. Do you disagree?

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Cartesian: I think Luke’s use of the word “generally” is very important here, and I think you must have missed that, Mark. It’s perfectly consistent to deny that Christians generally are an unthinking bunch, while simultaneously affirming that some Christians are unthinking. I think we can all agree on that. The same goes for atheists. And Muslims. And Germans. And rockclimbers. And…

Mark: No, you are the one who has missed something–Luke’s blog content. The majority of his articles are in fact GENERALLY of the “Christians-are-idiots” variety.

Again, I don’t think you’ve got much of a case here. It’s perfectly consistent for Luke to post frequently about dumb Christians, while simultaneously denying that Christians are generally unthinking. If that’s not obvious to you, maybe we have different understandings of the word “generally”…

My friend always talks about the girls who are attracted to him. Yet he doesn’t think that girls are generally attracted to him. That’s why he talks about the ones who are — because they’re so rare! Similarly, Luke may talk a lot about dumb Christians while not thinking that Christians are generally dumb.

Also, I think you’re overlooking the many posts that Luke does on smart Christians.

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cartesian December 22, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Haukur:
You’ll have to explain this somehow. On this very thread you’re running Buridan’s ass to show that the “best possible X” doesn’t necessarily exist. What’s special about ‘being’ that makes Buridan’s ass not work on it?

I elaborated a bit more in my last reply to Fortuna. Let me know if that helps.

I don’t really get the connection between Buridan’s ass and the ontological argument. You ask “Why’s so special about ‘being’ that makes Buridan’s ass not work on it?” But I don’t really get the question. How would Buridan’s ass “work” on being? (Resist the temptation to make a joke.) Do you mean that some insight gained by thinking about Buridan’s ass provides a compelling response to the ontological argument? What’s the insight, and what’s the response?

And why can’t the greatest possible being be identical to the universe?

Well, set aside that “the universe” doesn’t refer to one particular being, but rather refers to a collection of things. Here’s one reason the universe isn’t the GCB: it’s better to exist necessarily than not. But the universe doesn’t exist necessarily. So the universe isn’t the greatest conceivable being.

Here’s another reason: it’s better to be a person than not. But the universe isn’t a person. So it’s not the GCB.

I imagine there are lots of other reasons.

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Fortuna December 22, 2009 at 11:47 pm

cartesian;

Matter is typically taken as brute on the atheist/naturalist view. (For theists, mind is typically taken as brute.) Suppose the big bang really was the origin of the physical universe. For the atheist/naturalist, that’s the end of the story. The question “What caused the big bang?” has no answer, since any answer would posit non-natural, non-material things. And that’s not cool on the atheist/naturalist view.

The way I see it, we simply don’t have enough information about the why or the how of the big bang itself. We can pretty confidently mark it as the event that caused the distribution/behaviour of matter and energy in the universe as we see it today, but I do not think we have enough information to mark it as anything so grandiose as the “origin of the physical universe”. It’s a singularity beyond which we cannot peer at present. I’ll cheerfully grant you that the big bang is the end of the story for naturalists at the moment; that’s where our knowledge stops. I don’t, however, have to grant that there is no naturalistic answer to the question “What caused the big bang?” in principle, or that any answer must be non-natural; that’s simply presumptuous. You seem to want to leap from “there is no naturalistic answer based on current knowledge” to “there can be no answer sans the supernatural”. We don’t know that the latter is true.

Or suppose that matter has just always been around; the universe (taken broadly to include the multiverse, if there is such a thing) never began to exist. Again, the question “Why does all this matter exist?” has no answer on the atheist/naturalist view. There’s no ‘why’ about it. It’s just always been there. To give an answer to that question would be to posit non-natural, non-material things. And, again, that’s just not cool on the atheist/naturalist ontology.

Nothing to disagree with there.

Well, it seems pretty obvious to me, so I don’t know if there’s any ‘how’ about it. (It’s like if you asked me how I know that 7+5=12.) But if it doesn’t seem obvious to you, you could start small and work your way up. Your computer could have failed to exist, right?

I don’t know, could it have? It seems like if I could investigate the matter fully, I might discover a chain of causality leading inexorably to my computer. Of course, whether it was truly inexorable is an open question, another gap in our knowledge, but nevertheless I don’t think we have grounds to say that it is trivially obvious that my computer could have failed to exist, since determinism is on the table as an option.

“The universe” is just a collective singular term that refers to every physical thing. So it should be obvious that the universe could have failed to exist.

Since it’s not obvious to me that any given physical thing within the universe could have failed to be, I can’t quite get up to the universe. Besides which, the universe is our only frame of reference. We have never observed a state of total non-being…our sample size with respect to “being-ness” comes to a grand total of 1, and it so happens to be a universe that exists. If anything, I think it would be more appropriate to ask you on what grounds you think non-existence is even an option.

Because existing is better than not existing. And existing necessarily is better than existing merely contingently.

Better how, exactly?

And so the greatest conceivable being would exist necessarily.

While it seems to me that the exact definition of “greatness/betterness” has been left ambiguous so far, we don’t need to know what it is to see a problem with this argument. Greatness, whatever else it means, is here being defined as incorporating existence. So what this sentence boils down to is “a thing that I define as existing would exist necessarily”.

If we can use existence as a predicate in this way, we can reason ourselves into “proving” the actual concrete existence of all manner of non-existent things, including the existence of the greatest tropical island, than which none greater could be conceived. Surely that is a slight problem.

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Kiwi Dave December 23, 2009 at 12:18 am

Cartesian: “Because existing is better than not existing. And existing necessarily is better than existing merely contingently.”

The truth of those two value judgements is not at all obvious to me. An existing Auschwitz is better than a non-existing Auschwitz? If Auschwitz existed necessarily, that would be better than if it existed contingently, even though in every other respect they were they same?

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Haukur December 23, 2009 at 2:28 am

cartesian: I elaborated a bit more in my last reply to Fortuna. Let me know if that helps.

It did – I didn’t realize you were going for the classical ontological argument.

cartesian: Well, set aside that “the universe” doesn’t refer to one particular being, but rather refers to a collection of things.

I couldn’t parse this as meaningful until I found out that ‘being’ has a special meaning in philosophy-speak and that’s presumably the meaning you’re using. But granting the philosophy-speak meaning of ‘being’ and that people are ‘beings’ seems to cede a huge amount of the battlefield to Christians and other dualists. Then you get to run arguments like the brain-splitting one you ran in your debate with Luke and ‘prove’ dualism.

cartesian: But I don’t really get the question. How would Buridan’s ass “work” on being?

Well, you conceive of a great being, I conceive of another that’s just as great and send in the ass – it gets stuck. Alternatively, you conceive of what you think of as the greatest possible being. I conceive of the same thing but add one tulip to it. Why wouldn’t that argument work with ‘being’ if it works with ‘universe’?

cartesian: it’s better to exist necessarily than not. But the universe doesn’t exist necessarily. So the universe isn’t the greatest conceivable being.

That’s begging the question. Whether the universe exists necessarily is part of what we are discussing. Besides, it’s not even clear that everyone would grant the premise that it is better to exist necessarily than not. Would Buddhists?

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lukeprog December 23, 2009 at 6:33 am

Roman,

Good, okay, we’re on the same page with that.

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Michael December 23, 2009 at 7:53 am

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. – Romans 1:18-32

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cartesian December 23, 2009 at 8:52 am

Hi Fortuna,

Fortuna: cartesian;
The way I see it, we simply don’t have enough information about the why or the how of the big bang itself.

I agree with you. What I meant to do was give you a disjunctive syllogism (A or B. If A then C. If B then C. Therefore C): “Suppose the universe began to exist. For the atheist, there’s no answer to the question “Where did all this matter come from?” Now suppose instead that the universe didn’t begin to exist. Again, for the atheist there’s no answer to the question “Where did all this matter come from?” Therefore, for the atheist, there’s no answer to that question, regardless of how things turn out, i.e. in principle.

So it’s not important to my argument that we don’t know whether the big bang was really the beginning of it all, or whether there was always physical stuff. My argument only asserts that one of those is true, i.e. it only asserts the disjunction. But surely you can agree with the disjunction.

I’ll cheerfully grant you that the big bang is the end of the story for naturalists at the moment; that’s where our knowledge stops. I don’t, however, have to grant that there is no naturalistic answer to the question “What caused the big bang?” in principle, or that any answer must be non-natural; that’s simply presumptuous.

I’m asking you to *suppose* that all the stuff you’ll allow into your ontology (matter, space, energy, whatever) came into existence a finite time ago. Time T, let’s call it. Suppose that’s *definitely* true, not just the current state of our knowledge. Under that supposition, could you, as a naturalist, give an answer to the question “Where did all this stuff come from?” By hypothesis, all the stuff you’re happy with as a naturalist came into existence at time T. To offer an explanation of where it came from would be either to posit more of the same stuff before time T, and therefore violate the conditions of the thought experiment (we stipulated that all the stuff came into existence at time T), or to posit stuff that you’re not happy with in your ontology. Neither option seems available to you. The first is a contradiction, the second is non-naturalism.

And I think we get the same result under the supposition that stuff in your ontology has just always been around. You seemed to agree with that part of the argument in your post. (You said “Nothing to disagree with there.”) So either way we go then, the atheist/naturalist can’t answer that question. Since those are the only two ways to go (the universe began to exist, or it didn’t), I think the atheist/naturalist can’t answer that question in principle.

It seems like if I could investigate the matter fully, I might discover a chain of causality leading inexorably to my computer.

Well, the deal with causation is that it is *not* inexorable. Any causal chain could go awry. It might require a miracle, a temporary suspension of the laws of nature, but I really don’t think it’s controversial that such miracles are broadly logically possible, possible in the broadest sense of the term. That’s why philosophers typically distinguish between “nomic” necessity and “metaphysical” i.e. “broadly logical” necessity. While it’s nomically necessary that I can’t jump 10 feet vertically (unassisted) — given the laws of nature, that’s just not possible — it’s nevertheless broadly logically possible– if the laws of nature were different, I could do it. If the gravitational constant were just a little different, it would be no sweat.

But even if I grant that the causal chain is inexorable in the strongest sense, all that would follow is that *given* the initial conditions and laws of nature, your computer (and everything else that actually exists) must exist. But unless the initial conditions and laws of nature were themselves broadly logically necessary, we’ll still get the result I want, namely that the universe could have failed to exist. Are you really going to claim that the initial conditions of the universe, together with the values of the fundamental constants, were all broadly logically necessary? Those things all seem pretty clearly contingent to me.

I said it’s obvious that your computer could have failed to exist. You disagreed. But think about what you’re saying there: you’re saying that, in *every* possible world, your computer exists. And the same thing goes with you, presumably. You exist in every possible world. There is no way things could have turned out that didn’t include your existence, according to you. But isn’t that pretty seriously implausible? Couldn’t a different sperm have found your mom’s egg? When you think about the numbers involved in fertilization, and then take that through the generations, each person’s existence is wildly improbable. But on the contrary, you say, each person’s existence is broadly logically necessary? That’s very hard to believe.

Of course, whether it was truly inexorable is an open question, another gap in our knowledge, but nevertheless I don’t think we have grounds to say that it is trivially obvious that my computer could have failed to exist, since determinism is on the table as an option.

It’s not just determinism that gets you that result. It’s determinism plus the claim that the initial conditions AND the laws of nature are all broadly logically necessary. I’ve never met anyone who claimed all of that. I’d present as a reductio the consequence that, on such a view, their existence turns out to be broadly logically necessary.

We have never observed a state of total non-being

Well, I don’t think it’s possible to observe non-being. It’s non-being, after all. But we do know that many things do not exist. Golden mountains, for example. And presumably some of you claim to know (however tentatively) that God doesn’t exist. And we all claim to know that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Etc. So we have lots of examples of things that don’t exist.

our sample size with respect to “being-ness” comes to a grand total of 1

I’m not sure what you mean here. Don’t we have lots of examples of things that exist? Me, you, this computer, your mom, etc.?

If anything, I think it would be more appropriate to ask you on what grounds you think non-existence is even an option.

Well, I already gave my best attempt to convince you that the universe could have failed to exist. But you balked at the very first step! :-) So I’m not sure if I can give you a satisfying answer.

Better how, exactly?

Just better, period. More good. I take it you know what “good” means, even if it’s awfully hard to give a satisfactory definition. And I take it you agree that goodness comes in degrees. Well, what I’m claiming is that existing is better than not, and existing necessarily is better than not.

Greatness, whatever else it means, is here being defined as incorporating existence.

Oh, no, I didn’t mean to give you a definition of greatness at all. When I say “A massage is better than a sharp stick in the eye,” do you think I’m giving you a *definition* of greatness? Surely not. I’m just giving you an *example* of the “better than” relation. But examples aren’t definitions. Well, likewise when I claim that existing is better than not existing. I’m not defining anything here. I’m making a claim about a relation that existence and non-existence stand in: the former is better than the latter.

So what this sentence boils down to is “a thing that I define as existing would exist necessarily”.

No, that’s not at all what I was saying. I think something was lost in the boiling down process. The only definition offered by the ontological argument is this: Something is God if and only if it is the greatest conceivable being. That’s it. Then, the argument directs your attention to the proposition that existing is better than not existing. That seems true. But it’s not meant to be part of any definition, just as “massages are better than sharp sticks in the eye” is not part of the defintion of greatness. Look up “greatness” in the dictionary, for example. You won’t find anything about massages, sharp sticks, or existence.

If we can use existence as a predicate in this way, we can reason ourselves into “proving” the actual concrete existence of all manner of non-existent things, including the existence of the greatest tropical island, than which none greater could be conceived. Surely that is a slight problem.

Well, it’s a very old problem, to be sure. And there’s a serious question as to whether Gaunilo’s reply even engages with Anselm’s actual argument. See this commentary, for example: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anselm/#ArgPro

In any event, I think Gaunilo’s reply has problems even if it does actually engage Anselm’s argument. The great-making properties for islands don’t have upper limits, and so it’s a serious question whether *the greatest island that can be thought* can actually be thought. For example, I suppose palm trees make an island great. So how many palm trees does the greatest conceivable island have? A million? A billion? I guess infinitely many. And the same goes with sexy natives, and delicious fruit, and beaches, and… So we’re meant to think of an island, with infinitely many beaches, infinitely many sexy natives, infinitely many palm trees, etc. I don’t know about you, but it’s awfully hard to think that thought, and I’m not even sure that it’s a coherent thought.

But things are different with the great-making properties for people. Those do have upper limits: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc. No weird infinities required to be the greatest person. So Gaunilo’s perfect island is not going to provide a counterexample to Anselm’s main inference, since the corresponding first premise will be true in Anselm’s case but false in Gaunilo’s case.

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cartesian December 23, 2009 at 9:05 am

Cartesian: “Because existing is better than not existing. And existing necessarily is better than existing merely contingently.”

Kiwi Dave: The truth of those two value judgements is not at all obvious to me. An existing Auschwitz is better than a non-existing Auschwitz?

There were very many things that made Auschwitz bad, but existing wasn’t one of them. It was mostly the starvation, torture, and murder that made the place bad.

While it’s true that, had it not existed, there would have been no starvation, torture, or murder there, the following inference is invalid: [Had x not been F, it would not have been G, where G is bad. Therefore, F is bad.] Here’s a counterexample: Had Matthew Shepherd not been gay, he would not have been tortured and murdered. Being tortured and murdered is bad, but it doesn’t follow that being gay is bad.

Existence was one of the few good-making features of Auschwitz. So was being located in Europe, in my opinion. Under very different circumstances, it might have been an awesome place. Had there been a bar instead of a gas chamber, a pool instead of barbed wire, etc., it would have existed and yet it would have been totally good. So its existence wasn’t what made it bad. It could have existed while being totally good. It was the starvation/torture/murder that made it bad. It couldn’t have had those properties while being totally good.

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cartesian December 23, 2009 at 9:07 am

There are lots of other comments that I should reply to. Yesterday I had a bit more time to write, but today I actually have a few things I should be doing. But maybe I’ll get back to the other comments in the future.

Nice talking with you guys! :-)

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Tony Hoffman December 23, 2009 at 10:11 am

I said it’s obvious that your computer could have failed to exist. You disagreed. But think about what you’re saying there: you’re saying that, in *every* possible world, your computer exists. And the same thing goes with you, presumably. You exist in every possible world. There is no way things could have turned out that didn’t include your existence, according to you. But isn’t that pretty seriously implausible? Couldn’t a different sperm have found your mom’s egg?

It appears to me that you’re confusing necessity and probability.

The probability that my father’s sperm found my mother’s egg is 1. (If the multiverse idea is true, then I imagine the probability of my existing in those universes is reduced by their number, but I don’t see how this is relevant, nor that my claim of 100% probability in this universe under determinism is affected.)

The probability of my existence being 1 does not mean that I am logically necessary, however. I am merely 100% probable under determinism, which is not the same thing as saying that I am necessary (although I am necessary to my children).

Why do you think that existence and probability are linked? (Why is non-existence imaginable, but an infinite regression absurd?) Or maybe a better way to ask is why do you think that existence could not have been, any more than 2 + 2 could not have been 4? Or what make you think that the physical constants could not be either brute facts of the universe or dependently related? Or maybe still better would be, assuming that existence must be explained, why the brute fact of a supernatural cause is better than the brute fact of existence, or a multiverse? And, along that line, how it is that a supernatural cause escapes the need for explanation that you find necessary to explain the universe’s existence? Isn’t a supernatural cause just another name for turtles all the way down and just as impossible to imagine?

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lukeprog December 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

cartesian,

I’m impressed with the substance of your replies to people – I’m surprised you had so much time. There are many, many comments here that I do not have time to reply to, so I understand your needing to hop off the train for now.

However, you and I should definitely do a letter exchange in the near future. We can always wait a few weeks between letters if that gives you time.

Luke

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abraxas December 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm

cartesian:
There were very many things that made Auschwitz bad, but existing wasn’t one of them. It was mostly the starvation, torture, and murder that made the place bad.While it’s true that, had it not existed, there would have been no starvation, torture, or murder there, the following inference is invalid: [Had x not been F, it would not have been G, where G is bad. Therefore, F is bad.] Here’s a counterexample: Had Matthew Shepherd not been gay, he would not have been tortured and murdered. Being tortured and murdered is bad, but it doesn’t follow that being gay is bad.Existence was one of the few good-making features of Auschwitz. So was being located in Europe, in my opinion. Under very different circumstances, it might have been an awesome place. Had there been a bar instead of a gas chamber, a pool instead of barbed wire, etc., it would have existed and yet it would have been totally good. So its existence wasn’t what made it bad. It could have existed while being totally good. It was the starvation/torture/murder that made it bad. It couldn’t have had those properties while being totally good.  

While I agree that this inference is invalid, I would also contend that it fails to accurately represent any argument being presented in this discussion. Try plugging the Auschwitz content back in and you get:

“Had Auschwitz not existed, there would have been no starvation, torture and murder, and those things are bad. Therefore, EXISTENCE IS BAD.”

EXISTENCE IS BAD? Has anyone here attempted to argue that existence is necessarily bad? Surely the only attempt to make any claim about existence as bold as that is your argument that existence is necessarily GOOD.

Perhaps a more accurate rendering of the claim that’s been made would be “Had x not been F, it would not have been G, where G is bad. Therefore, F is NOT NECESSARILY GOOD.”

Either way, your defense of the “goodness” of the existence of a bad thing seems rather unconvincing. Imagine that I helped a mass murderer kill a dozen people and escape from law enforcement. I get caught and must stand trial for aiding in his crimes, which is odd because surely, “helping” is a good thing! I mean, I take it you know what “good” means, even if it’s awfully hard to give a satisfactory definition. And I take it you agree that goodness comes in degrees. Well, what I’m claiming is that helping is better than not helping:

“Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there were very many things that made the killing spree bad, but my helping wasn’t one of them. It was mostly the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people that made the situation bad.

“While it’s true that, had I not helped, there would have been no indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, my helping was one of the few good-making features of this killing spree. So was being located in Texas, in my opinion. Under very different circumstances, it might have been an awesome situation! Had he been visiting sick children in the hospital instead of chopping their heads off, volunteering at the local animal shelter instead of setting fire to the elderly, I could have helped him and yet it would have been totally good. So my help wasn’t what made it bad. I could have helped him while being totally good. It was the the innocent people dying horribly that made it bad.”

If you were sitting on that jury, would you vote for an acquittal with a defense like that? Surely, “helping” is only conditionally good depending on the circumstances and the consequences. Why should existence be afforded any special privilege to the contrary?

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danielg December 23, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Hey Luke. I have responded to this letter as well, please see Letter To Tim Challies / Luke – Part II.

Thanks.

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danielg December 23, 2009 at 2:37 pm

>> CARTESIAN: I think one standard response among conservative Protestants is this: If a moral imperative from the OT is repeated in the Epistles of the New Testament, then it still applies to us. The Epistles are to the Church what the Mosaic Law was to the Israelites.

Not quite. More specifically, the ceremonial and dietary laws are all dismissed (fulfilled) in Christ. That leaves the moral law. Most protestants argue that while the moral law is still valid as to what is right/wrong, the punishments specified were part of the Israelite theocracy.

Not only were those civil penalties specific to Israel, the NT view of Christianity entails a separation of church and state powers, though not the total separation that secularists support. See:
Uneasy Neighbors – Church and State
Augustine on Christians and Civil Government
Separation of Church and State, but not God and State
What is “Separation of Church and State”?
The Four Historic Models for Church/State Interaction

Additionally, we are not under the Covenant made w/ Moses, but arguably under the Noahic and New Covenants (and perhaps the Adamic one too!). (See Capital punishment and rape – the bible says NO?)

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Sharkey December 23, 2009 at 2:58 pm

cartesian, for someone who implies that they teach logic, your logic is surprisingly sloppy. With regards to Anselm, you imply that his initial premise avoids “weird infinities” by being about a person, when the premise is describing a transcendental, omniscient being of infinite goodness. Weird infinities, indeed.

Additionally, your description of “existence” as “better” is illogical. The 20th century will be primarily known as the century of limits: a number of discoveries of the non-existence of entities, such as:
– a machine to determine an algorithm’s termination condition
– a mechanism for determining both a particle’s momentum and position
– an engine that will propel matter faster than light
Their non-existence is not ‘worse’, nor would their existence be ‘better’; it’s simply factual. Attempting to place a meaningful value-ordering on an entity’s state of existence is ridiculous.

With regards to the logical necessity of the universe, I’ll wait for the LHC results and the Planck survey data before commenting authoritatively, but the next decade should be an exciting time, for physicists and logicians alike.

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Andy December 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Luke,

Was forwarded this letter (Tim’s response) from a believer. Very well written and thank you! Its very comforting and rewarding to know others out there think like me.

I too grew up in faith and then grew out of it. However in growing up with it I feel it is an important part of who I am. I feel no animosity towards faith and think that the New Atheists such as Dawkins are too harsh and blunt, not really understanding how a believer feels. It’s a hard background to relate to others. The believers assume you lacked the resolve to keep it, or did not truly believe in it. And the hardcore atheists tend to have a stance that faith is ignorant, or at least blind to the empirical evidence around them and won’t accept reason.

I don’t wish to argue my positions or thoughts on here. I too am simply stating my story and insight. Rather than continue the tangential and unending debates of posts, I simply wished to convey my gratitude for what your doing. I hope that this cordial exchange of letters can lead to good representation of both lines of thought and open minds of readers on either side.

Also, I would agree that I too would be very interested in what the 2 parties can do TOGETHER with the same interests at heart… yet no one seems to ever comment on this point. It’s as though everyone keeps arguing about whether vanilla or chocolate is better, resulting in nobody getting any ice cream!

Cheers!

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Haukur December 23, 2009 at 4:17 pm

This Daniel guy has some pretty good responses up. I’ll pass on following the Noahide laws, though.

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danielg December 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm

>> ANDY: The believers assume you lacked the resolve to keep it, or did not truly believe in it.

Andy, I am sorry that this superficial approach is often used on those who have left the faith. I left the faith for 6 years, and then returned to it, and I really do understand many of the feelings that go along with the deconversion process – you can’t pretend to believe something you used to, and you really did in all honesty believe and experience all that the remaining believers did.

I think the answers given above are usually done to try to reconcile your honest departure with their (mis) understanding of such concepts as eternal security and prevenient grace. For them, it is theologically impossible for someone to have been a believer once, but no longer – it means that you are invalidating their understanding of Jesus’ promise to keep us to the end.

>> HAUKUR: This Daniel guy

Um, thanks for the vote of confidence, but do you have to speak about me in third person as if I’m some weird outsider or not really here? LOL.

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danielg December 23, 2009 at 4:59 pm

BTW, Haukur, i’m not sure that the noahic covenant entails much more than “fill the earth and subdue it” and a command to kill anyone who murders (i.e. capital punishment does not extend beyond murder).

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Kiwi Dave December 23, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Thanks Abraxas for your reply. I was using Auschwitz as an example of embodied evil and it didn’t occur to me that Cartesian would read it as a geographic entity. Next time someone assumes that existence is better than non-existence, I’ll use smallpox as my example.

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lukeprog December 23, 2009 at 8:12 pm

daniel,

Maybe. If I have time.

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Fortuna December 24, 2009 at 12:19 am

cartesian (hoping you have the opportunity to respond at some point);

I agree with you. What I meant to do was give you a disjunctive syllogism (A or B. If A then C. If B then C. Therefore C): “Suppose the universe began to exist. For the atheist, there’s no answer to the question “Where did all this matter come from?” Now suppose instead that the universe didn’t begin to exist. Again, for the atheist there’s no answer to the question “Where did all this matter come from?” Therefore, for the atheist, there’s no answer to that question, regardless of how things turn out, i.e. in principle.

So it’s not important to my argument that we don’t know whether the big bang was really the beginning of it all, or whether there was always physical stuff. My argument only asserts that one of those is true, i.e. it only asserts the disjunction. But surely you can agree with the disjunction.

OK, I see what you were trying to drive at, I think. I chimed in mainly to object to your claim that, on atheism, the Big Bang specifically cannot be explained in principle. It seems you were trying for the larger argument, that on naturalism, physical existence cannot be explained in principle.

I’m asking you to *suppose* that all the stuff you’ll allow into your ontology (matter, space, energy, whatever) came into existence a finite time ago. Time T, let’s call it. Suppose that’s *definitely* true, not just the current state of our knowledge. Under that supposition, could you, as a naturalist, give an answer to the question “Where did all this stuff come from?” By hypothesis, all the stuff you’re happy with as a naturalist came into existence at time T. To offer an explanation of where it came from would be either to posit more of the same stuff before time T, and therefore violate the conditions of the thought experiment (we stipulated that all the stuff came into existence at time T), or to posit stuff that you’re not happy with in your ontology. Neither option seems available to you. The first is a contradiction, the second is non-naturalism.

Agreed.

And I think we get the same result under the supposition that stuff in your ontology has just always been around. You seemed to agree with that part of the argument in your post. (You said “Nothing to disagree with there.”) So either way we go then, the atheist/naturalist can’t answer that question. Since those are the only two ways to go (the universe began to exist, or it didn’t), I think the atheist/naturalist can’t answer that question in principle.

If saying that stuff has always existed in some sense, or exists neccessarily, or is a brute fact aren’t counted as answers, then yes, naturalists can’t answer the question of where stuff came from. Would this not be true of non-naturalists as well?

Well, the deal with causation is that it is *not* inexorable. Any causal chain could go awry. It might require a miracle, a temporary suspension of the laws of nature, but I really don’t think it’s controversial that such miracles are broadly logically possible, possible in the broadest sense of the term. That’s why philosophers typically distinguish between “nomic” necessity and “metaphysical” i.e. “broadly logical” necessity. While it’s nomically necessary that I can’t jump 10 feet vertically (unassisted) — given the laws of nature, that’s just not possible — it’s nevertheless broadly logically possible– if the laws of nature were different, I could do it. If the gravitational constant were just a little different, it would be no sweat.

Um, ok then. Perhaps in future you could warn us when you’re using the word “possible” in a manner that departs from common usage. All due respect, no disrepect, but just how would I have known we were actually discussing metaphysical possibility?

But even if I grant that the causal chain is inexorable in the strongest sense, all that would follow is that *given* the initial conditions and laws of nature, your computer (and everything else that actually exists) must exist.

I’m really not asking you to consider it inexorable in the strongest possible sense, just that it sure seems like it would appear to be inexorable if we were in possession of a complete account of the causal antecedents (within this universe) that led to it.

But unless the initial conditions and laws of nature were themselves broadly logically necessary, we’ll still get the result I want, namely that the universe could have failed to exist.

This, I think, goes to the heart of the matter. I disagree that lacking broad logical necessity would get you to your desired result. That we can conceive of the universe failing to exist does not establish that it could have failed to exist in point of fact, any more than our ability to conceive of the law of gravitation having turned out differently establishes that it was actually free to vary.

Are you really going to claim that the initial conditions of the universe, together with the values of the fundamental constants, were all broadly logically necessary?

No, but I will claim that it may be the case that they were never free to vary in the real world, as it actually exists.

I said it’s obvious that your computer could have failed to exist. You disagreed. But think about what you’re saying there: you’re saying that, in *every* possible world, your computer exists. And the same thing goes with you, presumably. You exist in every possible world. There is no way things could have turned out that didn’t include your existence, according to you.

Yep, I’m saying that this may indeed be the case.

But isn’t that pretty seriously implausible? Couldn’t a different sperm have found your mom’s egg?

No, and perhaps not. If we could provide an account of all the causal antecedents that lead to my conception (ewww) we might well find that it couldn’t have gone any other way.

When you think about the numbers involved in fertilization, and then take that through the generations, each person’s existence is wildly improbable.

That is a problem with the underdetermination of the information available to us, not necessarily with the underdetermination of actual events in the physical universe. If determinism is true, then every persons’ existence is, far from being improbable, actually certain.

It’s not just determinism that gets you that result. It’s determinism plus the claim that the initial conditions AND the laws of nature are all broadly logically necessary.

I’d drop the “broadly” from the latter sentence, and then agree with you.

So we have lots of examples of things that don’t exist.

But no examples of anything at all failing to exist.

I’m not sure what you mean here. Don’t we have lots of examples of things that exist? Me, you, this computer, your mom, etc.?

What I was trying to say is that we don’t know that total nothingness is actually even an option, since we haven’t (and can’t) observe such a (no)thing. Therefore, trying to discuss the relative probability of something as compared to nothing becomes meaningless; we have no instances of total nothingness.

Just better, period. More good. I take it you know what “good” means, even if it’s awfully hard to give a satisfactory definition. And I take it you agree that goodness comes in degrees. Well, what I’m claiming is that existing is better than not, and existing necessarily is better than not.

For common parlance we need not define “good”, but I really think you would have to in this case in order to avoid making word salad. I’m afraid I still don’t see quite how existence is better than non-existence for the purposes of the ontological argument specifically, and I must ask you to explain it.

Oh, no, I didn’t mean to give you a definition of greatness at all. When I say “A massage is better than a sharp stick in the eye,” do you think I’m giving you a *definition* of greatness? Surely not. I’m just giving you an *example* of the “better than” relation. But examples aren’t definitions. Well, likewise when I claim that existing is better than not existing. I’m not defining anything here. I’m making a claim about a relation that existence and non-existence stand in: the former is better than the latter.

The ontological argument does, in fact, define greatness in terms of necessary existence. It happens the second one claims necessary existence is greater than existence, itself in turn greater than nonexistence. Once you’ve done this, any use of the word “greatest” is by definition referring to necessary existence, meaning that the argument ultimately restates its starting premise as a derived conclusion. A thing defined as necessarily existing (starting premise) —–> exists necessarily (conclusion).

In any event, I think Gaunilo’s reply has problems even if it does actually engage Anselm’s argument. The great-making properties for islands don’t have upper limits,

I don’t know if it engages Anselm’s argument, but it certainly engages the ontological argument as you’ve presented it here, which is naturally what I’m inclined to address. That being the case, it depends how you define greatness, doesn’t it? The greatest island conceivable could be maximally excellent (as an island) without having an infinite quantity of any particular thing.

But things are different with the great-making properties for people. Those do have upper limits: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc.

You seem to be implying that God is not infinite in any of those respects. If that’s so, there are frothing hordes of devout Christians that you really ought to bring that up with. I keep trying to tell them that infinite personal properties make no sense or contradict one another, yet few seem to listen.

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Rizmonster December 24, 2009 at 8:41 am

This series of comments is nothing more than an exercise in self-promotion. Look at me, look how smart I am, look at all the big words I know, and look at all the convoluted and disjointed sentences I have constructed. Blah blah blah.

The bottom line is that a relationship with God is not something that exists in one’s mind so someone who has never experienced it will simply never get it until they do. I don’t care if they grew up in church or not, I don’t care if they think they were once a believer, and I don’t care they think they can or cannot “prove” the existence of God.

You either believe or you dont. You either have faith or you don’t. You either have been indwelled or you haven’t.

Luke clearly never really was any of those things regardless of what he once thought. I also know he will challenge this which is fine and expected.

But all these circular arguments prove nothing except how smart everyone is.

The real fact of the matter is that God is love. Love is a noun not an adjective. This is his very nature and essence. The same concept as water is wet. Amazingly God is love the noun while also being all the adjectives at the same time (just, powerful, all-knowing, etc etc etc).

Just because our finite brains are too “smart” to truly grasp this concept doesn’t make it untrue. Yes I also know that this isn’t a proof to the other side but merely an unfounded statement based on faith alone. Oddly, I’m okay with this.

I am suggesting that God is being lost on a lot of you due to your incessant need to self-promote.

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cartesian December 24, 2009 at 9:00 am

Hi Roman,
This will just be sort of quick. I had forgotten that I had thought about your question a bit. Here’s what I came up with:

Roman: What Dawes means by the phrase ‘empirical content’ is this:
“…as Karl Popper pointed out — the empirical content of a theory is measured by the possible states of affairs it excludes. It is only by excluding possible states of affairs that a theory can single out what is the case from what might have been the case.”
I am wondering, do you think there are good explanations that don’t have any significant empirical content in this sense?

I don’t think having significant empirical content is necessary for a good explanation.

It was startling for me to find out that 1=.999… until I got an explanation in the form of a mathematical proof. Here’s a simple but satisfying proof:
1/3=.333…
2/3=.666…
add up both sides. i.e. 1/3+2/3=1, and .333…+.666…=.999…
Therefore,
1=.999…

I take it that this proof counts as a good explanation. But this proof is just a conjunction of *necessary truths*, i.e. truths in every possible world. So there is no possible world in which they’re false, so asserting them does not rule out any possible world. So they don’t have any empirical content. So here’s a good explanation with no empirical content.

Also, someone might wonder why Lex Luther is attacking the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent works. “I don’t get it,” they say, “I thought Lex Luther hated Superman. But then why would he be going after Clark Kent?”

It seems like this is a perfectly good explanation: “It’s because Clark Kent IS Superman, dummy.”

But identity statements using proper names like that are necessarily true if true at all. Let me know if you’d like an explanation of why.

So there’s another perfectly good explanation that doesn’t have any empirical content, since the explanans (“Clark Kent is Superman”) is necessarily true.

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cartesian December 24, 2009 at 9:03 am

Also, all of you might be interested in downloading this very good but very expensive book for free. Or you might think that’s totally immoral. I leave it up to you:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/21291128/Oxford-analytic-theology-apr-2009-eBook-ELOHiM

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cartesian December 24, 2009 at 9:21 am

Hi Abraxas,

abraxas:
While I agree that this inference is invalid, I would also contend that it fails to accurately represent any argument being presented in this discussion. Try plugging the Auschwitz content back in and you get:“Had Auschwitz not existed, there would have been no starvation, torture and murder, and those things are bad. Therefore, EXISTENCE IS BAD.”EXISTENCE IS BAD? Has anyone here attempted to argue that existence is necessarily bad?

Well, I think you’re on to something here, and I’m finding myself inclined to agree that I didn’t do a good job of accurately representing the argument, but something’s being bad isn’t the same as it’s being necessarily bad. Throwing babies off buildings is bad, but only contingently. There are possible worlds in which that’s really good, say because humans fly in those worlds, and that’s how you teach them to fly or something. No, I’m not on drugs. ;-)

I thought the idea was that Auschwitz had a bunch of bad properties, so therefore its existence was also bad, or it would have been better had it not existed. I gave a counterexample to that general inference.

Surely the only attempt to make any claim about existence as bold as that is your argument that existence is necessarily GOOD.Perhaps a more accurate rendering of the claim that’s been made would be “Had x not been F, it would not have been G, where G is bad. Therefore, F is NOT NECESSARILY GOOD.”

Yeah, maybe that’s what he was getting at. I think that’s also a bad inference. Take the property of experiencing pleasure. Lots of people think that property is necessarily good. But imagine a mad neuroscientist wires you up without your knowledge so that, whenever you experience pleasure, a little radio transmitter in your brain signals some diabolical killing machine, which then kills some innocent people. I haven’t seen the movies, but from what people tell me, this is like those Saw movies.

In that case, had you not experienced pleasure, those people would not have been murdered, where being murdered is bad. Yet it doesn’t follow that experiencing pleasure is not necessarily good. It still seems like the pleasure itself was good, but it just led to a very bad result because of that jackass neuroscientist. I think the same thing goes with Auschwitz: its existence was by itself good, but it led to some very bad results because of those jackass Nazis.

surely, “helping” is a good thing!

I don’t think so at all, and I think your example shows that pretty clearly. We teach children to be helpful (just as we teach them to share) because what we assume, and what we imply to them, is that you want to help with good causes, and share good things. But just helping, or assisting, is not necessarily good. I’d say it’s morally neutral. It depends on what you’re helping or assisting. Assisting a noble surgeon: good. Assisting Nazis: bad.

Anyway, I’m not sure how these thoughts about helping are meant to threaten my claim that (necessarily) existing is better than not.

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lukeprog December 24, 2009 at 9:21 am

cartesian,

I think both your examples are using a different sense of the word “explanation.” One sense of ‘explain’ is ‘to offer a causal story’ and another is ‘to make clear.’ Arguments to the best explanation are using the first sense. Your examples use the second sense. For the math example there is no causal explanation to be found because you’re speaking of necessary truths. For the Superman example the causal explanation is not “Because Clark Kent is Superman” but “Because Lex Luther desires to destroy Superman, who is also Clark Kent.”

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cartesian December 24, 2009 at 9:27 am

Kiwi Dave: Next time someone assumes that existence is better than non-existence, I’ll use smallpox as my example.  

Well there too I don’t think it’s the existence that is making smallpox bad. It’s mostly the awful results of a smallpox infection in humans that is bad. I think this case is pretty much like the Auschwitz case, though sans Nazis. Smallpox could have led to really good results, had things been slightly different.

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lukeprog December 24, 2009 at 9:31 am

cartesian,

Your throwing babies off buildings example reminded me of something.

Were you the one who, a while back, insisted that rape was necessarily immoral – that it was immoral in all possible worlds?

I was discussing this someone, and I said that according to desirism, this claim is false, because there are possible worlds in which a desire to rape should be encouraged because it ends up fulfilling more desires than it thwarts. For example, consider a world in which rape was biologically the only way for the world’s sole sentient species to reproduce, and offspring tended to fulfill the desires of males and females more than anything else. (But the females had to be raped, because the intercourse was so painful in the moment that they would never consent.)

At that time, my interlocutor said something like “I believe rape is necessarily wrong because I can just see in my head that it is necessarily wrong, the same way I can see in my head that 2+2=4, necessarily.” Was that you?

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cartesian December 24, 2009 at 9:38 am

Sharkey: cartesian, for someone who implies that they teach logic, your logic is surprisingly sloppy.

Ooo, burn! ;-)

With regards to Anselm, you imply that his initial premise avoids “weird infinities” by being about a person, when the premise is describing a transcendental, omniscient being of infinite goodness. Weird infinities, indeed.

Well, I didn’t say “transcendental” or “infinite goodness.” So I think these allegations miss the mark. I just said that great-making properties for persons have upper limits, intrinsic maxima. And that’s unlike the great-making properties for islands. Knowledge is good. And there’s nothing incoherent in supposing that someone knows everything (though you might get into trouble if you assert that God knows the set of all truths, since there arguably is no such set). Same with power: that’s good. And there’s nothing incoherent in supposing that someone could do anything (where the “anything” ranges over things that are broadly logically possible, of course). And the same goes with benevolence. Nothing incoherent about supposing that someone is perfectly benevolent. No weird, incoherent infinities in imagining the greatest possible person, as there are in trying to imagine the greatest possible island.

Sooo… do you still think I went wrong somewhere? Where?

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Jeff H December 24, 2009 at 10:32 am

cartesian, I find it difficult to accept that existence is “good”. How are you arriving at this conclusion? People have given examples of different bad things that might be better not to exist, and you point out that it is the effects that are bad, not the existence itself. Fine. But really, the ontological argument doesn’t deal directly with existence vs. non-existence. It deals with real existence vs. imaginary existence. We conceive of the greatest being, but (so the argument goes), it is better to exist than to not exist – but here, the “not existing” is merely existing in imagination rather than in reality.

So let’s pose a different idea here. On the one hand, we have an imaginary Auschwitz, full of the nasty things that it was known for – gas chambers, forced labour, and the extermination of (imaginary) Jews. On the other hand, we have a real Auschwitz, full of real gas chambers, real forced labour, and the extermination of real Jews. Given these two options, then, is it better for Auschwitz to exist or not exist? Or, if you like, is it better for the bad effects of Auschwitz to exist or to not exist?

I think it’s ultimately better to say that existence is a neutral property of an object (or perhaps not really a “property” at all, like size and weight). It is not inherently better to exist than to not exist. It depends on the object or person that is being examined. Now, obviously if we change the properties of the object, like make Auschwitz into a playground for children and the Nazis into clowns handing out lollipops, that changes things. But that’s because we’ve changed the object that we are examining.

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lukeprog December 24, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Anyone else notice a difference between the Christian visitors coming from Challies site compared to the Christian visitors coming from Vox Day’s site? Seems to me the Vox Day readers are, on average, more combative and demeaning, whereas the Challies readers, on average, pop in just to say “Hey I like this conversation, it’s interesting, thanks for doing it.”

:)

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ayer December 24, 2009 at 12:37 pm

lukeprog: For example, consider a world in which rape was biologically the only way for the world’s sole sentient species to reproduce, and offspring tended to fulfill the desires of males and females more than anything else. (But the females had to be raped, because the intercourse was so painful in the moment that they would never consent.)

The problem with your example is that you have redefined “rape” in your alternative world; in our world, rape has no long-term benefit that outweighs the pain, but in the world you posit it does (production of offspring, just as in our world the pain of childbirth is outweighed by the joy of having children). A better example might be attempting to come up with a world where, say, “torturing babies purely for fun and entertainment value” is morally good.

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majinrevan666 December 24, 2009 at 12:37 pm

lukeprog: cartesian,Your throwing babies off buildings example reminded me of something.Were you the one who, a while back, insisted that rape was necessarily immoral – that it was immoral in all possible worlds?I was discussing this someone, and I said that according to desirism, this claim is false, because there are possible worlds in which a desire to rape should be encouraged because it ends up fulfilling more desires than it thwarts. For example, consider a world in which rape was biologically the only way for the world’s sole sentient species to reproduce, and offspring tended to fulfill the desires of males and females more than anything else. (But the females had to be raped, because the intercourse was so painful in the moment that they would never consent.  

In this situation, it is not that the rape that is moral, it’s just that the consequences of the rape appear to be salutary.
What you seem to suggest is unique to Desirism is, in this case, just a morally gray area.
This is quite different from the example of a several people popping into existence for a short duration in a
possible world with the majority deciding to rape the minority.

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Roman December 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Hi Cartesian,

Thank you for those counterexamples. I agree with Luke that there are different senses of explanation. Dawes is saying that empirical content is a necessary condition for a successful explanation of an event or state of affairs. So he is offering criteria for a more narrow definition of explanation than you are responding to. Which is again, my mistake for not making that clear!

Regarding your first example – the content of identity statements is neither a state of affairs nor an event, so even though you are providing a good explanation of 1=0.999… you not providing a good explanation of a state of affairs or event, which is what Dawes criterion tries to. (Sorry for not making that clear.)

Regarding your second example – the identity statement that ‘Superman=Clark Kent’ on its own does nothing to explain the event that Lex Luthor is attacking the Daily Planet. I hope we can agree on that. For a successful explanation of that event we would also need to say something about Lex’s desires and beliefs, etc.

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Jeff H December 24, 2009 at 2:17 pm

lukeprog: Anyone else notice a difference between the Christian visitors coming from Challies site compared to the Christian visitors coming from Vox Day’s site? Seems to me the Vox Day readers are, on average, more combative and demeaning, whereas the Challies readers, on average, pop in just to say “Hey I like this conversation, it’s interesting, thanks for doing it.”   

I totally noticed that myself. It’s quite refreshing :)

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cartesian December 24, 2009 at 2:46 pm

lukeprog: cartesian,I think both your examples are using a different sense of the word “explanation.” One sense of ‘explain’ is ‘to offer a causal story’ and another is ‘to make clear.’

Well, I don’t know if the word “explanation” is itself ambiguous, or if there are just different types of explanation. “Dog” isn’t ambiguous just because there are beagles and labs.

I think mathematical proofs are a type of explanation. And I thought Dawes intended to give us a constraint on explanations generally. If so, then he’s wrong that explanations have to have “significant empirical content.”

But maybe you’re right, and he really only intended to give us a constraint on a certain type of explanation, namely causal explanations. Maybe his target is narrower than I thought.

So is it right that causal explanations must have significant empirical content? I’m not so sure. I don’t know if these counterexamples work, but they’re something to think about:

I ask Lex Luther why he’s punching that mild-mannered reporter in the face. “Because he’s Superman!” he answers. Seems pretty natural to conclude that the fact that this guy is Superman caused Lex Luther to hit him. It was at least a triggering cause. Lex Luther’s latent animosity was a structuring cause. (Example: the giant truck’s crossing triggered the bridge to collapse, due to its structural flaw, a crack.) But then we have a necessarily true causal explanation, i.e. a causal explanation with no significant empirical content.

My chemist friend loves studying oxygen, but I can’t figure out why he’s so interested in water. “Why are you studying water, friend?” I ask. “Because water is H2O!” he informs me. Seems natural to conclude that water’s being H2O caused him to study it. But then we have a necessarily true causal explanation, i.e. a causal explanation with no significant empirical content.

My racist neighbor hates people who actually have dark skin. He doesn’t really care that there are possible worlds in which we all have dark skin — he just cares about actually having dark skin. I find out that he hates Deepak Chopra, and I ask him why. “Because he actually has dark skin!” says my racist neighbor. Call the actual world @. “Deepak Chopra has dark skin in @” is true in every possible world, and yet it seems like a perfectly good explanation of why my neighbor hates Chopra. The fact that Chopra has dark skin in @ caused my neighbor to hate him. So here again we have a causal explanation with no significant empirical content.

Anyway, suppose we grant that causal explanations must have significant empirical content. Does something interesting follow from this? Why should the theist be worried?

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cartesian December 24, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Roman: Hi Dawes is saying that empirical content is a necessary condition for a successful explanation of an event or state of affairs.

Oh, OK then. Thanks for clarifying that. What do you think of the counterexamples in my most recent comment, just above this one? There we have explanations of events: Lex Luther’s punching the mild-mannered reporter in the face, my friend’s studying water, my neighbor’s hating Deepak Chopra. And yet these explanations don’t have significant empirical content.

Regarding your first example – the content of identity statements is neither a state of affairs nor an event

Oh, I don’t know. The line between propositions and states of affairs is pretty shady. Chisholm even thought they were just one and the same. It seems like for every proposition there’s a corresponding state of affairs, and vice versa. Jack is tall, and Jack’s being tall, for example. So you can just take my examples using propositions and straightforwardly translate them to examples using states of affairs, if you’d like.

Regarding your second example – the identity statement that ‘Superman=Clark Kent’ on its own does nothing to explain the event that Lex Luthor is attacking the Daily Planet.

Oh man, have I been misspelling “Lex Luthor” this whole time? How embarrassing. :-/

I think the identity statement explains why Lex Luthor is attacking the Daily Planet, at least for certain people.

If you don’t like that example, consider the correspondence between pain and C-fibers firing. Identity theorists in the philosophy of mind think that this correspondence is nicely explained by the fact that pain = C-fibers firing. I think they’re right that, if true, this would be a good explanation. Yet’s it’s necessarily true if true.

Gotta run! I’ll check in for your responses later.

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lukeprog December 24, 2009 at 4:30 pm

cartesian,

Whatever Luthor or your friend might say about why they are doing something, they have not offered an explanation in the sense that philosophers mean when they use the phrase “argument to the best explanation” or “inference to the best explanation.”

“Because Clark Kent is Superman” is no explanation of why Luthor is punching Clark Kent in the face. In order to explain that event we have to add something like “…and because Luthor wants to harm Superman.”

Anyway, I didn’t really want to get into a thorough review of Dawes’ arguments here, I just wanted to clear up the explanation thing.

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Sharkey December 24, 2009 at 11:01 pm

cartesian: You went wrong in assuming that the properties of benevolence, knowledge or power have fixpoints (i.e., a least upper bound), while the “greatest island” is weirdly infinite (i.e., no LUB). Why should knowledge have a fixpoint based upon the limitations shown by the self-referential paradoxes of Russell, Cantor and Epimenides, while the island cannot have a similar fixpoint given other limitations? For example, the island has logical limitations on the number of hammocks, banana daiquiris or sunsets given a population size…

Due to not defining ‘Perfect’, you (or Anselm) have arbitrarily limited the god’s properties. If ‘Perfect’ implies total omniscience, the god is no longer ‘perfect’ (i.e., Perfect(knowledge) refers to a property the god cannot achieve due to Russell’s paradox). If ‘Perfect’ implies ‘omniscience within logical constraints’, ‘Perfect’ is a predicate that doesn’t imply the status normally associated with the god; this may not be a problem for you or me, but you’ve got millions of theists to convince.

Also, you err in implying “existence is good in some arbitrary world” implies “necessarily existence is good”. That is not valid; rather, at least not in the modal logic I’m familiar with.

Finally: Happy Holidays :)

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cartesian December 26, 2009 at 7:16 am

Sharkey: cartesian: You went wrong in assuming that the properties of benevolence, knowledge or power have fixpoints (i.e., a least upper bound), while the “greatest island” is weirdly infinite (i.e., no LUB).

Let me try to put it a bit more carefully. The great-making properties of humans have ‘intrinsic maxima’, i.e. their maximal instantiations can be represented by universal generalizations that don’t lead to incoherence. For example, knowledge is good. Maximal knowledge just requires knowing all true propositions. Nothing weird or incoherent there.

The same is not true for the great-making properties for islands. Palm trees make islands great. So the greatest island has all palm trees? That sentence is pretty unclear — all actually existing palm trees? the island consists entirely of palm trees? all possible palm trees? — and it seems to me that, on any clarification, the claim is either incoherent, or false.

the island has logical limitations on the number of hammocks, banana daiquiris or sunsets given a population size…

Really? Suppose the island has five inhabitants. What are these logical limitations you speak of on the number of hammocks?

Due to not defining ‘Perfect’, you (or Anselm) have arbitrarily limited the god’s properties. If ‘Perfect’ implies total omniscience, the god is no longer ‘perfect’ (i.e., Perfect(knowledge) refers to a property the god cannot achieve due to Russell’s paradox).

I think perfect knowledge does imply total omniscience, but I don’t think this refers to a property God cannot achieve due to Russell’s paradox. I don’t think Russell’s paradox itself is even relevant here. There are reasons to think there is no set of all truths (maybe that’s what you had in mind), but it’s not necessary to take total omniscience to require knowing the set of all truths. Just take it to mean knowing all truths.

Also, you err in implying “existence is good in some arbitrary world” implies “necessarily existence is good”. That is not valid; rather, at least not in the modal logic I’m familiar with.

Where do you think I said that? I don’t think I said that.

Also, I’m not sure what “existence is good in some arbitrary world” means exactly, but if it means “existence is good in any given world” or something like that, then I think it actually does entail that, necessarily, existence is good.

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cartesian December 26, 2009 at 7:25 am

lukeprog: Your throwing babies off buildings example reminded me of something.

Were you the one who, a while back, insisted that rape was necessarily immoral – that it was immoral in all possible worlds?

I was discussing this someone, and I said that according to desirism, this claim is false, because there are possible worlds in which a desire to rape should be encouraged because it ends up fulfilling more desires than it thwarts. For example, consider a world in which rape was biologically the only way for the world’s sole sentient species to reproduce, and offspring tended to fulfill the desires of males and females more than anything else. (But the females had to be raped, because the intercourse was so painful in the moment that they would never consent.)

At that time, my interlocutor said something like “I believe rape is necessarily wrong because I can just see in my head that it is necessarily wrong, the same way I can see in my head that 2+2=4, necessarily.” Was that you?

I can’t tell if you’re being sort of sarcastic here. I mean, that does sound sort of like what I said. But are you really unsure? Might it have been someone else?

Why exactly do you think this is relevant to what I said about throwing babies of buildings? Do you think I’ve thereby committed myself to saying that rape might be morally good? I don’t think I’ve committed myself to that at all.

Some behaviors are only contingently bad, given the laws of nature, our nature, etc. We don’t have wings, we tend to fall down rather than up, and falling from the height of a building tends to injure us. This is why it’s wrong to throw babies off buildings. But all of these are just contingent truths — they could have been different. Had they been different in the right way, throwing babies off buildings might have been morally permissible or even obligatory.

I don’t see how the same thing is going to go with rape. Rape is wrong because it violently violates a person’s bodily autonomy and consent. At least, that’s what I meant by “rape.” I don’t think the wrongness of that is just contingent. There’s no way you could change things so that rape becomes morally permissible.

But of course that’s not what your view says! On your view, there are ways things could be such that rape is not only permissible, but obligatory. As long as the rape tends to satisfy more desires than it thwarts, it comes out as morally obligatory on your view. That’s clearly wrong, so I take that to be a decisive refutation of your view.

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lukeprog December 26, 2009 at 10:50 am

cartesian,

No, from your view that throwing babies off buildings is contingent wrong it doesn’t follow that rape is contingently wrong on your view. I was just asking for clarification, and you’ve clarified. So you think violating a person’s bodily autonomy and consent is necessarily wrong, whatever the consequences? All the standard objections to this deontological view follow. For example, are we then disallowed from imprisoning people without their consent? Must we never torture, even if it will save millions of lives?

As for my view, if all you can still say is “I feel really strongly in my heart that rape is wrong in all possible worlds,” then that’s not going to go anywhere, just like “I feel strongly in my heart that my knowledge of God is properly basic” leads us to an impasse.

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ayer December 26, 2009 at 11:38 am

lukeprog: So you think violating a person’s bodily autonomy and consent is necessarily wrong, whatever the consequences? All the standard objections to this deontological view follow. For example, are we then disallowed from imprisoning people without their consent? Must we never torture, even if it will save millions of lives?

Your caricature of deontology assumes an absolutist version, and ignores, e.g., Ross’ nonabsolutist version or Kamm’s Principle of Permissible Harm. But the question for you would be–is there any action that is always wrong in every possible world, e.g., “torturing babies purely for fun and entertainment”?

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lukeprog December 26, 2009 at 9:16 pm

ayer,

I didn’t mean to assume a naive view of deontological ethics. If you subscribe to a different theory, feel free to present it.

According to desirism, is there any action that is always wrong in every possible world?

I really don’t know. I’d have to think about it.

I don’t spend much time on applied ethics, or especially applied ethics in possible worlds that do not exist.

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Paul January 4, 2010 at 9:33 am

Luke,

Thanks for taking the time to share these letters and open discussion with Tim. I don’t have the stomach for extended debate (seems pointless when everyone is so entrenched), so I appreciate the exchange and even the comments.

I am a Christian (a label lacking in adequate distinction, but useful none-the-less), so I come to this with certain ideas. I just wanted to say thanks and also that I do think there are things athiests and Christians can accomplish together. Both sides need to drop the warfare long enough to do it.

Lots of thoughts, but only a short lunch break. :)

Paul

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Michael January 4, 2010 at 4:04 pm

he textual evidence that 2 Peter was not written by Peter

Interesting…So a false teacher would write a letter to the churches, in Peter’s name, telling them to stay away from false teachers? Am I missing the logic here or what?

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