Monday, May 30, 2011

The eye of the beholder

This review of Grand Miracle by C.S. Lewis knocked me out of my chair with laughter.
God is not cool because He's not seen as God. He's not seen as incredible and yet always near. The Grand Miracle knocks the wall down and helps the reader to think of God as the most astounding and needed being you will ever encounter--and there's not a bit of academic bilge anywhere in this book. Pour a cup of tea and read till you're crying.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Moorean Shift

G.E. Moore
If I don't know* I'm dreaming, then I don't know if I'm standing up.

I don't know I'm dreaming.
Therefore, I don't know if I'm standing up

Moorean Shift:
I know that I'm standing up.
Therefore, I know that I'm not dreaming.
"I agree, therefore, with that part of the argument which asserts that if I don't know that I'm not dreaming, it follows that I don't know that I'm standing up, even if I both actually am and think that I am. But this first part of the argument is a consideration which cuts both ways. For, if it is true, it follows that it is also true that if I do know that I am standing up, it follows that I do know that I'm not dreaming. I can therefore just as well argue: since I do know that I'm standing up, it follows that I do know that I'm not dreaming; as my opponent can argue: since you don't that you're not dreaming, it follows that you don't know that you're standing up. The one argument is just as good as the other, unless my opponent can give better reasons for asserting that I don't know that I'm not dreaming, than I can give for asserting that I do know that I'm standing up."  (Moore, G.E. 1959. Philosophical Papers. p. 247)
* "to know" for Moore  is synonymous with "to be certain"

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reading philosophy

Preface to Philosophy,” by Mark B. Woodhouse

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Steven Carr on EAAN

Steven Carr gave a tongue-in-cheek response to a post of mine regarding Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism:
Evolution could have designed us to move our limbs away from dangerous situations without pain being involved. We could have evolved the belief that fire was nice and warming and move our hands out of a fire because of a belief that that was the best way to get them warm.
There is no reason to think that evolution would give the true belief that pain is unpleasant, when we could have evolved to have all the benefits of pain-avoidance behaviour without experiencing pain. After all, a belief that pain is unpleasant is not something that is selected for.
The underlying claim seems to amount to this: humans wouldn't have evolved pain-avoidance behaviors without the feeling of pain or the belief that pain is unpleasant.

No doubt, feeling a pain confers many evolutionary advantages to an organism, and we needn't dispute that.  The EAAN is concerned with beliefs, and more importantly how the content of beliefs relate to relevant behaviors.  Given this fact, it should be obvious that only the second part of Carr's claim is even remotely relevant to the EAAN.  Now how might a "belief that pain is unpleasant" help produce adaptive behaviors?  Well that's easy: if the belief that pain is unpleasant causes one to pull his hand away from the fire, then we can easily fill in the story and conclude that this belief has indeed been selected for by evolution.  The man who believes this will remain ambidextrous and thus more likely to survive.

But ... and this is a big old but ... it can't simply be granted that beliefs (whatever beliefs are) are related to behaviors in the way we have just assumed.  In Plantinga's article, he cites four prominent views on the belief-behavior relationship, and shows how the probability of reliable cognitive faculties is low on each of them (conjoined with naturalism and contemporary evolutionary theory).  In response to the common sense view which Steven Carr assumed in his comment, Plantinga has this to say:

For any given adaptive action, there will be many belief-desire combinations that could produce that action; and very many of those belief-desire combinations will be such that the belief involved is false.
Carr's own example illustrates this well: "We could have evolved the belief that fire was nice and warming and move our hands out of a fire because of a belief that that was the best way to get them warm."

And we can of course imagine just this scene: we have the desire to enjoy the nice, warming fire with an accompanying belief that pulling our hands away from the fire is the best way to do so. Evolution would inadvertently favor this belief by selecting for fire-avoidance behavior. Here is the kicker: evolution would select for a great number of false beliefs so long as they result in the same fire-avoidance behavior.  This is Plantinga's reason for assigning a lower probability.

So I'm not sure why Carr has such an incredulous tone.  Given the set of belief-desire combinations of which any member could produce the same adaptive behavior, Carr needs to come up with a reason to think this set is smaller than Plantinga has argued. 1  Right now it looks like he's just kicking up dust.

1 - Of course, many philosophers are engaged with this argument.  One fine example being Steven Law.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Most Important Philosophy of Religion Articles

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Parity argument about freedom in hell?

I just commented on a post here regarding eternal punishment/reward for some finite sin/virtue.  For what it's worth, this is just philosophical reflection and not in any way a record of my position on heaven/hell.

Some atheists respond to free will theodicies (particularly those that claim free will is a necessary precondition for certain goods) by pointing out that, presumably, we can't sin in heaven.  So if free will is valuable why take it away in heaven?

First off, in what sense should we say one can't sin in heaven (by the way, I am putting aside issues about eschatology and catering to the common misconception that heaven is where we will spend eternity...sorry Randal!)?  Does this compare with my assertion that I can't run a mile in 2 minutes?  In that case the more general way of saying this is: given some set of prior conditions, it is true that we can't sin in heaven.

All that aside, we have neglected an important issue.  What about hell?  Can people in hell choose to be virtuous?  If not, might this help explain why C.S. Lewis thought that hell was locked from the inside?  It isn't that they are getting everlasting punishment for a finite amount of sins.  It's that they are continually sinning and being punished for it over an everlasting duration.  Sounds great, where do I sign up?

Switching back to heaven now...perhaps we can choose only good but we get to choose between things like getting 100 virgins or getting 1000 virgins.  But isn't something fishy about the possibility of choosing 100 virgins when one could choose 1000 virgins?  That is just an instance of a general problem of extrinsic goods in heaven.  (Perhaps the same reason Anselm believed there could be a greatest conceivable being but not a greatest conceivable island.)

My intuition suggests that heaven is not lacking in the goods department.  But then how do we make sense of choices in heaven?  Do the goods in heaven continue to increase without end?  That seems to be a possible defeater for my problems with choosing 100 virgins.  On a potentially infinite road trip, it doesn't matter if you stop to pee 10 times or 100 times.  You'll still arrive at the same time.

But are't there people missing from hell...that might have contributed to some further goods in the endless long run?  And won't they be going on a potentially infinite road trip in the evil accumulating direction? And again, it doesn't matter if you have 10 in hell and 20 in heavy.  Given an endless amount of time, it seems to me that they'll net to zero.  What a catastrophe!  Luckily, I'm pretty sure I'm mistaken though I can't see where.  This is why philosophy is fun!

Actuality, Possibility, and Worlds

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to comprehend hard stuff more easily

Don't just read Locke; read Locke and see if he stands up to Adler's critiques.

Don't just read Plantinga; read Plantinga and look for Alston's fingerprints.

Don't just read Rowe; compare three of Rowe's essays on the same topic and see how the argument has taken shape.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Searle on Authors@Google

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Explanation and Argument

I just started this book:

Already having some interesting thoughts in the first chapter, where the authors explain the difference between an argument and an explanation.  An explanation is roughly the how something is true, while an argument is roughly that something is true.  The water in her lungs explains why she's dead.  Since her heart isn't beating and she isn't breathing, we can conclude she is in fact dead (argument).

But suppose we acquire a perfect knowledge of the fundamental law(s) of nature, and suppose such law(s) are deterministic.  Wouldn't this mean that any full explanation would entail the other words, be itself a deductive argument?

Suppose explanation is solely an identification of causes.  But that isn't good enough!  Why did the causes have that effect instead of another?  Why should water in the lungs cause drowning rather than a temporarily hilarious and high-pitched voice?  The inductive answer cites numerous examples of other dead women with water-filled lungs.  But is science satisfied with identifying some causes and citing some statistics?

It seems to me that science strives for the full explanation: the one that entails.  But much has been said about whether this is feasible or even coherent.

Thought experiment: you have a room full of marbles and a water gun.  You run around the room blasting water at the marbles, causing them to roll about and bang together.  Now suppose we scientists can't detect you or your water gun; all we can observe are the moving marbles.  And we rudely showed up late to watch this marble shooting frenzy.  Can we fully explain the final position of the marbles?

Helm on universalism in the early church

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Plantinga contra evidentialism (part 1)

W.K. Clifford famously asserted that, "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."  Alvin Plantinga famously maintains that one can rationally believe in God without evidence.  In this series, I will examine Plantinga's essay, "The Evidentialist Objection to Theistic Belief" (Religious Experience and Religious Belief, 1986).

First, Plantinga lays out his definition of a properly basic belief as one that can be rightly held without evidence.  But contrary to popular opinion, properly basic beliefs are not gratuitous or groundless (more about this term later).  What criteria determines whether a belief is being rightly held or not?  Many foundationalists maintain something like this:
(C) p is properly basic for S if and only p is self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses of S.
Unfortunately, this claim doesn't satisfy its own conditions for being properly basic (it is neither self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to my senses), so an argument is needed to support it.  In the absence of such arguments, Plantinga concludes that "the classical foundationalist is in self-referential hot water--his own acceptance of the central tenet of his view is irrational by his own standards."

Next, Plantinga examines objections to the Reformed view that belief in God is properly basic.  First, he notes three basic beliefs:
(1) I see a tree.
(2) I had breakfast this morning.
(3) That person is angry.
We will focus on (1) for simplicity.  We can see that a certain sort of experience, perhaps alongside other conditions, justifies one in in believing the proposition expressed by (1).  Here's the trick: some condition(s) attach to these beliefs and Plantinga says they are the ground of its justification; however, he doesn't take the experience of seeing a tree as evidence for (1).  So, why wouldn't Plantinga take my being appeared to treely as evidence for the proposition I see a tree?  Because we don't "infer that belief from others...[or accept it] on the basis of other beliefs."  In other words, we don't refer to any propositional evidence when justifying our beliefs about (1).  Plantinga then construes properly basic belief as follows:
(4) In condition C, S is justified in taking p as basic.  Of course C will vary with p.
C obviously includes the treely appearance, but is that sufficient?  No.  Perhaps I have taken lots of hallucinatory drugs; I'm clearly not justified in holding (1) in the properly basic way under such conditions.  But regardless, the point stands that some set of conditions attach to the belief that (1) is true, and they are the "ground of its justification and, by extension, the ground of the belief itself."  Next we'll see how this ties in with belief in God.

1 - recall Craig's showing versus knowing distinction

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Inaccurate MLK quote goes viral
Everything except the first sentence is found in King's book, Strength to Love, and seems to have been said originally in a 1957 sermon he gave on loving your enemies. Unlike the first quotation, it does sound like King, and it was easy to assume that the whole thing came from him.
I wonder if this tops of the charts for total number of false beliefs acquired in a short period.

(h/t: Eric Reitan)