bookmark_borderThree Amazingly Good Books

I am currently reading three amazingly good books.

I can sum up all three books in one word: “Wow.”

If you are interested in the philosophy of religion (and, if you’re reading this blog, you probably are), then you should run, not walk, to the nearest bookstore to get your own copies.

If any theists read this post and are looking for a change of scenery from rehashing the problems with the “new atheists,” then I encourage them to read these books.

bookmark_borderJesus Married?

So, Jesus was possibly married?;=maing-grid10%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl3%7Csec1_lnk1%26pLid%3D207309 Wow. What would his home life have been like? I guess we are allowed to indulge our imaginations: “Well, Mr. Big Shot! Mr. ‘Son of Man!’ Out with “the boys” all night again, huh? That Peter calls himself a fisherman. He looks like he is fishing for free meals to me. And that hussy Magdalene! She looks like she knows a few centurions by their first names, if you know what I mean! Healing lepers? Hah! Maybe you could heal our checking account! If you spent as much time on carpentry as you do sermonizing we would be living in the biggest palace in Jerusalem by now.” Uh oh. I seem to be blaspheming a prophet!

bookmark_borderAnselm for Undergrads

I have lately had the unenviable task of trying to explain Anselm’s ontological arguments to undergraduates. Over the years I have read many expositions of ontological arguments and many critiques. However, I had never sat down and gone through Anslem’s arguments line-by-line. Now I have done so in an effort to make a hand-out that will, I hope, things more tolerable for my students. I enjoyed doing it and I found it an instructive and challenging exercise, and I am appending it below.

There have been many attempts to reconstruct Anselm’s argument. Instead of adding another I am just going to quote Anselm’s own words, breaking up his argument into numbered segments (and omitting some unnecessary or redundant sentences). I will then explain and evaluate the argument with reference to those segments. I begin with the argument in Proslogion II:

1…we believe that thou [God] art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.
2. Or is there no such [being] since the fool hath said in his heart there is no God? But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak—a being than which nothing greater can be conceived—understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; although he does not understand it to exist.
3. Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived.
4…that than which nothing greater can be conceived cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.
5. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which none greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible.
6. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which none greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

(1) Anselm begins with a definition of “God:” God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Let’s shorten this by saying that “God” means “the greatest conceivable being (GCB).” What does this mean? It means that we conceive of God as possessing every good quality to the maximum possible degree. For instance, God’s power is unlimited, that is, he is almighty or omnipotent. If anything is doable, God can do it. Similarly, God’s knowledge is unlimited. If anything is knowable, God knows it. A being that thus knows as much as any being can know is said to be “omniscient.” Further, God’s goodness is maximal; God possesses moral goodness to the highest possible degree. It follows from this definition that God cannot lack any perfection. If a property is a perfection, God must possess that property. It also follows that it is impossible to conceive a greater being than God, since a greater being would have to have a perfection that God lacks, and this, by definition, is impossible.

(2) Referring to the psalmist’s fool (Psalm, XIV) who says in his heart that there is no God, Anselm notes that at least the fool understands what he hears when he hears that God is the GCB, and what he hears exists in his understanding. What is in the fool’s understanding? It would not be right to say that the fool understands that God is the GCB, since this would seem to imply that the fool thinks that there is a God who is the GCB. However, Anselm notes that the fool does not think that God exists. What must be in the fool’s understanding then is the meaning of the concept “God.” “God” means “GCB.” By the way, in analyzing Anselm’s argument it is very important to keep clear at any given time whether you are talking about God, the putative being, or the concept of God, so when speaking of the concept, I’ll enclose the word G-o-d in parentheses, and when speaking of the putative being, I will omit parentheses. So, the fool understands the concept “God,” but does not understand (since he does not believe) that there actually is such a being. OK, so far so good (I think!).

(3.) This is a bit confusing. By referring to “something…than which none greater can be conceived,” if Anselm means God, the being, then obviously this premise is false since nobody, not even the fool, is going to hold that God Himself exists in the understanding. What exists in the understanding is concepts, ideas, notions, etc., not real, substantial, mind-independent entities (as God is held to be). A cat does not exist in your understanding, but in the external physical world. What exists in your understanding is the concept or idea of a cat. Similarly “God” may exist in your understanding, but not God. To speak of cats, or God, as existing in the understanding is to commit a gross category mistake. A category mistake occurs when we apply concepts appropriate for one type of thing to something to which those concepts cannot apply. F0r instance, you would commit a silly category mistake if you thought that the statistical abstraction “the average American” was the flesh-and-blood guy living next door. It is just as big a category mistake to speak of cats, or God, as existing in the understanding.

(4) This is where things get really confusing. When Anselm refers to “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” here is he referring to a concept or to an actual being? “God” or God? If he is referring to God, then, as we noted above, this sentence is just gibberish. You cannot even coherently suppose (second sentence) that God exists in the understanding alone, any more than you could suppose that you could live next door to the Average American Family with their 1.6 cars and 2.3 children.

Nevertheless, Anselm seems to suppose that God can have two modes of being, one in the understanding and one in reality, and that the mode of existing in reality is superior to the mode of existing in the understanding. Again, though, it is very hard to see what it could mean to say that one mode of God’s existence is as a concept, unless this is just a very roundabout and confusing way of asserting that there is a concept “God,” where “God” is defined as “the GCB,” and that people, including the fool, understand that concept. In any case, in denying that God exists, the fool is not attributing some inferior mode of existence to God. He is not saying that God exists but only in an inferior way as a mere concept. If that is what the fool was saying, then, he would indeed be saying something foolish. He would be saying that God exists, but only in an inferior mode. However, God, if he exists at all, cannot exist only in an inferior mode. If the GCB exists in some mode, he must exist in the best mode, or he is not the GCB! What, then, is the fool saying when he says that God does not exist?

When we say that a being is the GCB, the phrase “the GCB” is what philosophers call a definite description. A definite description is one in which the description picks out one, unique entity as the bearer of a property. For instance, if we describe something, x, as “the smallest prime number,” or “the meanest man in Texas,” or “the GCB,” each of these descriptions picks out something, x, as being the unique bearer of the stated property.

Eminent English philosopher Bertrand Russell addressed puzzles about definite descriptions in a famous paper “On Denoting” published in 1905. For instance, how do we understand a sentence like “The present King of France is bald”? There is no present king of France (the French Revolution took care of that). So do we say that the sentence is false? But to say that it is false seems to mean that there is a present King of France who is not bald. If, on the other hand, we say that the sentence is true, we seem to be saying that th
ere is a present King of France who is bald. Either way then, whether we regard the sentence as true or false, we seem to be committed to saying that something, the present King of France, exists when it does not exist. How can we sensibly talk about something that, we all admit, does not exist without apparently positing its existence? When we make such statements are we, as some philosophers thought, referring to mysterious non-existent objects (e.g. mermaids, golden mountains, and honest politicians) that are in some sense real (since we can refer to them) even though they do not exist?

Russell’s brilliant analysis avoids appeal to such mysterious quasi-entities. As Russell interprets it, to say that some unique F is G, is to say, (1), that there exists something which is F, (2) that there is nothing else which is F, and (3) that if anything is F it is also G. So, to say “The present King of France is bald” is to say (1) There exists something which is the present King of France, (2) Nothing else is the present King of France, and (3) If something is the present King of France, it is bald. In the language of predicate logic, what we are saying is this:

(∃x) {Fx & [(∀y) (Fy → y = x) & Gx]}

Further, on Russell’s analysis, to say that the present King of France exists is just to assert (1) and (2) above. To deny that the present King of France Exists is to say either that nothing is the present King of France, or that more than one thing is the present King of France. Hence, to deny that the present King of France exists is not to say that there is a present King of France who has the property of not existing. It is to say that there is nothing which is the present King of France or that more than one thing is.

On this analysis, to say that the GCB exists is to say, in language of predicate logic, and where “G” stands for “is the GCB,” is this:

(∃x) [Gx & (∀y) (Gy → y = x)]
That is, in English: “There is an x that is the GCB, and, if there is a y that is the GCB, then y is identical to x.”
To say that the GCB does not exist is to say:
~(∃x)[Gx & (∀y) (Fy → y = x)]

Which is equivalent to:

(∀x) [~Gx v (∃y) (Fy & y ≠ x)]

Or, in English: “Either there is nothing that is the GCB or there is more than one GCB.”

However, there cannot be more than one GCB, so to deny that the GCB exists is really to say “Nothing is the GCB.”

On Russell’s analysis, then, when the fool denies the existence of God he is merely saying that nothing is the GCB. He is not saying, as Anselm seems to think, positing a GCB and then attributing to it an inferior mode of existence. He is saying that there is no such thing as the GCB. The fool has the concept “GCB,” he just holds that there is nothing, no real thing, that instantiates or exemplifies that concept.

(5) What, then, is the absurdity to which Anselm thinks the fool is committed? The fool would indeed be committing an absurdity if he were speaking of God as having some inferior mode of existence. However, as we just saw, this is not what the fool is saying when he denies the existence of God. The fool is not absurdly saying, or at least need not be taken as saying, that God has the property of existing only as a concept. Rather, he is saying that there does not exist an x such that x is the GCB, i.e. there does not exist an x such that x is God. Where is the absurdity?

Maybe Anselm suspects that there is something fishy about this argument because he immediately moves to a second argument in Proslogion III, which is so succinct that I will present as a whole:

So truly does such a thing [the GCB] exist that it cannot be thought of as not existing. For we can think of something as existing which cannot be thought of as not existing, and such a thing is greater than what can be thought not to be. Wherefore if the thing than which none greater can be thought could be conceived of as not existing, then this very thing than which none greater can be thought is not a thing than which none greater can be thought. But this is not possible. Hence something greater than which nothing can be conceived so truly exists that it cannot be conceived not to be.

Some recent philosophers such as Norman Malcolm and Charles Hartshorne think that this is a very different argument, and one which is much superior to the argument from Proslogion II described and critiqued above. What, then, is Anselm saying here?

Anselm once again seems to be making a distinction between two modes of existence, but it is not the same contrast as the one made in Proslogion II between existence-in-the-mind and existence-in-reality. Here the contrast is between a mode of existence such that anything that exists in that way could not conceivably not exist and a mode of existence such that anything that exists in that way could conceivably not exist. What does it mean to say that something, A, cannot be conceived not to exist? Anselm seems to mean that if we attempt to entertain the proposition “It is conceivable that A does not exist” we immediately see that this proposition entails a contradiction, an assertion of the form “p & ~p.” Therefore, it is not the case that it is conceivable that A does not exist, i.e. the non-existence of A is inconceivable. But if the non-existence of A is inconceivable, then we must conceive of A as existing, and, hence, A exists.

Anselm’s argument here therefore can be set out as below. Note that the argument has the form of what philosophers call a “reductio ad absurdum,” or “reduction to the absurd.” Such an argument works by making an assumption and then showing that the assumption leads to an explicit contradiction (something of the form p & ~p). We then reject the assumption and accept its contradictory.

1) “God” is defined as “The GCB.” (premise).
2) Something that cannot be conceived not to exist is greater than something that can be conceived not to exist (premise).
3) The GCB can be conceived not to exist (assumption for reductio).
4) If the GCB can be conceived not to exist, then it is not the GCB (because, in that case, an even greater being could be conceived, namely, one that cannot be conceived not to exist).
5) It (the GCB) is not the GCB (from 3 and 4 by modus ponens).
6) The GCB cannot be conceived not to exist (rejection of assumption; 5 is an explicit contradiction).
7) God cannot be conceived not to exist (from 1).
8) God must be conceived of as existing (Anselm appears to hold that if “not-p” is inconceivable, we must conceive that p).
9) God exists (Anselm does not explicitly draw this conclusion, but he apparently assumes that if we must conceive that God exists, then God exists).

This argument avoids making the fishy distinction, made by the argument in Proslogion II, between existence-in-the-mind and existence-in-reality. Of course, the distinction between existence that cannot be conceived not to exist and existence that can be conceived not to exist might be equally fishy (I think it is). However, for the sake of argument, let’s accept it.

To make things less cumbersome, let’s say that a mode of existence such that anything that exists in that way could not conceivably not exist is “necessary existence.” Anselm seems to be saying that necessary existence is an essential part of what it means to be the GCB just as having eight sides is an essential part of what it means to be an octagon. The fool who thinks that the GCB does not necessarily exist is like someone who asserts that an octagon does not have eight sides. Such a person either does not grasp the concept or willfully endorses a contradiction in terms. Hence, the fool who understands what “the GCB” means comm
its himself to a contradiction if he then denies that necessary existence is included within that concept. The fool in that case is just as ridiculous as one who says that the idea of an octagon does not include the idea of eight-sidedness.

However, the fool can say, just as much as Anselm can, that necessary existence is a part of the concept of the GCB, just as eight-sidedness is a part of the concept of the octagon. That is, if the fool were asked to explicate the meaning of “the GCB,” then, just like Anselm, he could say “The concept of the GCB is the concept of a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, necessarily existent…etc.” However, the fool commits no self-contradiction nor any other absurdity if the then goes on to say “However, there is no actual entity that exemplifies the properties of omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, necessary existence…etc.” This is no more a self-contradiction than to correctly define “octagon,” but then to deny that there is any real thing that exemplifies the property of eight-sidedness. You do contradict yourself if you affirm a concept but then deny that the concept contains one of its essential, defining predicates. However, this is not what you are doing if you declare that the concept, as a whole, is not instantiated.

In other words, the fool, just as much as Anselm, admits that “necessary existence” is part of the concept “the GCB,” here merely is making the further judgment that there is no actual entity that exemplifies the properties that constitute that concept. There is no contradiction at all in affirming that necessary existence is part of the concept “the GCB” and then denying that “the GCB” is instantiated as an actual entity. Put yet another way, there is no contradiction at all in saying that God, the GCB, exists necessarily…if he exists.

Throughout this discussion we have retained Anselm’s invidious characterization of his opponent as “the fool.” At this point, though, the fool is looking pretty smart.

bookmark_borderProsblogion: Physicist Sean Carroll on God and Modern Physics

Kenny Pearce at Prosblogion comments on Sean Carroll’s essay, “Does the Universe Need God?“, which we linked to a couple of days ago.

The article is a model of constructive dialog between philosophy and physics. Carroll shows engagement with the major philosophical arguments under discussion, and does not come off as condescending or dismissive. He also provides concise and helpful summaries of the relevant physics. Additionally, the article shows an admirable degree of epistemic humility, noting that there are many unsolved problems in physics and that our theory of the early universe is not polished and completed, while still arguing that we have enough information to shape our views on origins. The article is quite readable, and would certainly be helpful for students.


bookmark_borderOpen Question to Muslims

Let me preface this post by saying I know very little about Islam.

After reading the news about the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya and the U.S. embassy in Egypt, I’m really starting to wonder about how the attacks fit together with “mainstream” Islam. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are the facts as I understand them.

  • Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian who lives in  the U.S., made a movie which shows the prophet Muhammad having sex and calling for massacres. At the risk of stating the obvious, Sadek’s movie does not represent the views of the U.S. Government.
  • This “movie” is not being shown in movie theaters, but is available online.
  • Many (all?) Muslims consider any depictions of the Prophet to be offensive.
  • In response to this video, armed protesters in Libya, presumably Muslim, stormed the U.S. Consulate there, killing a U.S. State Department official and burning much of the consulate. Additionally, some 2,000 protesters in Cairo, Egypt stormed the U.S. Embassy, hauled down the U.S. flag, ripped it and burned pieces of it. They tried to raise a black flag with the words: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.”

Here, then, are my questions for any Muslims who happen to read this.

  • Do the actions of these protesters represent “mainstream” Islam? If not, do you condemn their actions?
  • If you are an American, do you believe Islam is compatible with the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press, even if that means someone like Sadek has the freedom to insult the Prophet?
  • Why does it seem that, whenever sometime burns a Koran or insults the Prophet, there are some Muslims who retaliate by destroying property or killing people that have nothing whatsoever to do with that?

bookmark_borderGod’s Goodness and the Resurrection of Jesus

Most defenses of the resurrection of Jesus have focused on historical questions, for example:

Q1. Was Jesus crucified in Jerusalem by Roman soldiers around 30 C.E.?

Q2. Did Jesus die on the cross on the same day he was crucified?

Q3. Was Jesus buried in a stone tomb on the evening of the day he was crucified?

Q4. Was the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed found empty on Sunday morning, about 36 hours after his body was removed from the cross?

But the belief that Christians hold is not merely that some Jewish man died, remained dead for about 36 hours, and then came back to life.  Christians believe that not only did this happen, but that it was a miracle.  That is to say, Christians believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

To establish this stronger claim, a defender of the resurrection belief must show that (a) it is likely that God exists, and also that (b) God would be likely to choose to bring Jesus back from the dead.  These background beliefs are essential to showing the Christian belief in the resurrection to be true.  

In The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003, hereafter: ROGI),  Richard Swinburne points out the importance of these philosophical/theological background issues:

Clearly, if there is an omnipotent God, there is a God able to bring about a miracle such as the Resurrection of Jesus.  I shall argue that, in so far as the evidence is against the claim that there is such a God, then the occurrence of such an event as the Resurrection is improbable.  If the evidence suggests that there is such a God, then it will give some probability to the occurrence of such a miracle in so far as God has reason to bring about such an event.  I shall argue that he does have such a reason.
 (ROGI, p.2, emphasis added)

As with Swinburne’s other arguments for the existence of God, a critical role is played here by God’s perfect goodness and by the purposes and motivations of God that Swinburne infers from God’s perfect goodness.  Swinburne argues that a perfectly good God would have good reasons to become incarnated as a human being:

…a perfectly good God who saw the sin and the suffering of the human race would want to do something about it.  He would want to help us to know which actions are good and which are bad…so that we might do good actions and by living good lives could begin to form characters suited to enjoy him forever.  He would want to help us to make atonement for our past sins in a serious way,  And above all, if he has subjected us to suffering…for the sake of good purposes, he would nevertheless want to identity with our suffering by sharing in it….Any serious reflection on how a good creator God would react to a race of suffering and sinful creatures whom he has created must give considerable force to the claim that he must become incarnate.
(ROGI, p.201)

So, God’s perfect goodness makes it somewhat probable, according to Swinburne, that God would become incarnate for the above purposes.  Assuming that God were to become incarnate for these reasons, Swinburne argues for some criteria to identify a person who is God incarnate:

If God is to become incarnate in order to fulfil all the purposes for becoming incarnate listed in Chapter 2 [summarized in the above quote], we would expect his life to show these five marks.  His life must be, as far as we can judge, a perfect human life in which he provides healing; he must teach deep moral and theological truths (ones, in so far as we can judge, plausibly true); he must show himself to believe that he is God incarnate; he must teach that his life provides an atonement for our sins; and he must found a church which continues his teaching and work.  
(ROGI, p.59)

Swinburne makes one more claim in order to tie these purposes and criteria to the Resurrection:

If God became incarnate as a prophet and lived such a life, he would need to put a divine signature on that life, to show his acceptance of any sacrifice, to confirm the prophet’s teaching and the teaching of the resulting Church, and thereby to confirm the divinity of the prophet.  To raise from the dead the prophet killed for his work would be exactly the kind of super-miracle which would provide such a signature.
(ROGI, p.202)

It is breathtaking how Swinburne infers so many very specific purposes and criteria that involve obviously Christian theological concepts from the meager abstract notion of God as a perfectly good person.  Nevertheless, I think Swinburne’s approach to miracles and the resurrection is very insightful.  I also believe that it opens up the Resurrection belief to a line of skeptical objections that can be added to the usual ones.  

Some of the usual skeptical objections:

O1.  If we assume that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, and that he died about 36 hours prior to the first Easter sunrise, then the evidence for the claim that Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter is too weak and dubious to establish that Jesus died and then came back to life on that Easter morning.

O2. If we assume that
Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter, then the evidence that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified about 36 hours before the first Easter sunrise is too weak and dubious to be used to establish that Jesus died and then came back to life on that Easter morning.

O3. The evidence on the existence of God makes it very unlikely that there was a God who existed and who could have raised Jesus from the dead.

To these usual suspicions we can add another objection that is based on Swinburne’s point that we need to take into account the purposes of God, given that God is a perfectly good person:

O4. If we assume that God exists, given the life and teachings of Jesus (as described in the canonical Gospels), God would be unlikely to have raised Jesus from the dead.

In the recent series of posts, I have argued that Jehovah was a sexist, and therefore Jehovah was a false god.  Since Jesus taught his followers to worship Jehovah and pray to Jehovah, Jesus was a false prophet, and thus the life of Jesus is clearly NOT the sort of life that a perfectly good God would want to “put a divine signature on”  and thus “confirm the prophet’s teaching” and “the divinity of the prophet”.  It would be a great deception for God to perform the super-miracle of a resurrection on a false prophet who taught his followers to worship and pray to a false god.

So, based on the purposes and criteria that Swinburne outlines, we have very good reason to believe that God would NOT raise Jesus from the dead, because to do so would be to confirm the mistaken teachings of a false prophet and to validate the worship of a false god.  So, we have at least one good objection of the fourth type to belief in the Resurrection.

Furthermore,  if new and powerful historical evidence is one day discovered that makes it very likely that Jesus died on the cross the same day he was crucified, and that Jesus was buried in a stone tomb that same evening, and that Jesus remained dead for about 36 hours, and that Jesus was alive and walking around on the Sunday morning (about 36 hours after being placed in a stone tomb), then this would not only NOT give us a good reason to believe that God exists, and it would NOT give us a good reason to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, but it would, instead, give us a good reason to believe that there is no God. 

A perfectly good God would not permit such a grossly deceptive miracle to occur, even if the miracle was caused by some being other than God (say, a stupid angel with good intentions, or by the devil with less honorable intentions).  If God cares as much about humans having correct moral and theological beliefs as Swinburne claims, then God would not permit the resurrection of a false prophet, especially a false prophet who taught his followers to worship a false god. 

Since we have good reason to conclude that Jesus was a false prophet who taught his followers to worship and pray to a false god, the resurrection of Jesus would be strong evidence AGAINST the existence of a perfectly good God, at least on Swinburne’s view of what a perfectly good God would be likely to do, and to allow.

bookmark_borderEric Russert Kraemer’s Darwin’s Doubts and the Problem of Animal Pain

This paper interacts with (and appears to defend) Paul Draper’s version of the evidential argument from evil, the argument from the biological role of pain and pleasure. From the introduction: 

It is a truism that the influence of Darwin’s work on evolution is profound and ubiquitous. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the first chapter of Frans de Waal’s book, Good Natured, is entitled “Darwinian Dilemmas.” In this chapter, which sets the stage for his splendid discussion of observation of various kinds of moral behavior in primates, de Waal outlines the history of the debate over the biological status of morality since the implications of Darwinism began to be understood. Assuming Darwinism to be correct, moral behavior must have evolved along with all other features of living beings. The rest of de Waal’s book goes on to make a strong inductive case for the evolution of moral behaviors. In so doing, he provides a powerful attack on the traditional supernatural understanding of the origin of morality which takes morality to require a supernatural creator. Although most mainstream Western religious institutions now claim that evolution is consistent with their doctrines of the supernatural creator,1 the present discussion challenges this alleged consistency of traditional religion and evolution. The main contention of this paper is that if we take both evolution and concern for animal suffering seriously (as Darwin did), then we should reject traditional theism.

If one is earnestly moved by the sufferings of nonhuman animals, must this really affect the religious views one holds? For those concerned about animal rights who are not philosophically inclined, the question may not be one that causes any anxiety. But for serious thinkers, the relation between animal suffering and religion is one that needs to be examined. The present paper begins its exploration of the connection between traditional religion and animal suffering by considering the religious opinions of Charles Darwin, who had serious doubts about religion based on the problem of animal pain. Although not all of Darwin’s views on animal suffering have been appreciated by defenders of animal rights,2 Darwin’s religious progress is of considerable interest, as it demonstrates the development of a persuasive agnostic stance out of a strong concern for animal suffering.

The structure of my paper is as follows. Before setting out and defending Darwin’s arguments concerning religion, I begin by considering Alvin Plantinga’s recent (and influential) discussion of a controversial Darwinian passage (dubbed by Plantinga “Darwin’s Doubt”) which casts doubt on the standard interpretation of Darwin as a defender of both the rationality of accepting evolution as well as the view that human rational powers evolved from those of nonhumans.3 After critiquing Plantinga’s interpretation of Darwin, I set out Darwin’s real doubts, those about religion, which involve an animal variation on the traditional problem of evil. As this particular problem has recently received much attention from serious theistic philosophers,4 I defend Darwin’s views against two of the best recent attempts by traditional theists to deal with the problem of animal pain. Both efforts are shown to be seriously flawed. After discussing and rejecting some non-traditional attempts to save religion from Darwin’s argument, I conclude with a general assessment of Darwin’s claims about religion.


bookmark_borderPaul Draper’s Review of Goetz and Taliaferro’s Naturalism

There are many gems in this review; here is one.

To begin with, the alleged advantage that metaphysical theists have because they attribute necessary existence to God is not real, since there is no more reason to believe that a concrete non-natural divine person can exist necessarily than there is to think that nature can exist necessarily. The ontological argument, almost everyone agrees, is a failure, and we cannot just “see” the necessity of the statement “God exists” in the way that we can just see the necessity of statements like “all dogs are dogs” or “2+1=3.” Lacking both proof and the support of rational intuition, surely one cannot gain an advantage for a metaphysical theory simply by building necessity into the theory.


bookmark_borderAtheist Ethicist: Morality and Questions Belonging to Science

Over at the Atheist Ethicist, Alonzo Fyfe comments on Baggini, Krauss, and Coyne on science and morality.

In this field, among these people, it would seem that somebody would start weeding out the nonsense claims. Yet, I continue to find statements that would embarrass a student in Philosophy 121: Introduction to Ethics. If there is going to be progress made in this field, then those who dedicate themselves to talking about this subject need to make some minimal effort to clear out the junk so that the questions can focus on what remains.

On this dispute, I hold that (1) there is at least one question whose answer belongs to philosophy and not science, and (2) moral questions belong to science and not philosophy. (emphasis mine)

Atheist Ethicist: Morality and Questions Belonging to Science