bookmark_borderThe Perfect Goodness of God – Again

I have been struggling for weeks to try to re-state Richard Swinburne’s argument concerning the coherence of the idea of there being a perfectly good person (from Chapter 11 of The Coherence of Theism, hereafter: COT). I think I can now at least point the way as to how to do this. The overarching argument goes like this:
1. The statement ‘There is a perfectly free and omniscient person’ is a coherent statement.
2. The statement ‘There is a perfectly free and omniscient person’ entails the statement ‘There is a perfectly good person.’
3. Whenever a coherent statement entails another statement, the entailed statement is also a coherent statement.
Therefore:
4. The statement ‘There is a perfectly good person’ is a coherent statement.
Swinburne argues for (1) in previous chapters of COT, and I will not challenge that premise here. Premise (3) seems right to me, and the logic of this argument is fine. As far as Chapter 11 is concerned, the question at issue is whether (2) is true. It is the argument for (2) that I have been struggling to re-state.
Swinburne does not spell out a definition of ‘perfectly good person’ but he states various necessary conditions, which, presumably, when taken together, amount to a sufficient condition:
A person P is a perfectly good person IF AND ONLY IF:
(a) P always does the morally best action, in circumstances where there is such an action, and
(b) P always does at least one equal best action, in circumstances where there are such actions, and
(c) P always does at least one morally good action, in circumstances where there is no morally best action and no equal best action, and
(d) P never does a morally bad action.
The entailment claim that Swinburne makes in (2) can be put in terms of a conditional statement:
2A. IF there is a perfectly free and omniscient person, THEN there is a perfectly good person.
If (2A) can be shown to be true, then (2) will be shown to be true, so long as we understand the conditional statement to mean that the antecedent entails the consequent. But because the concept of a ‘perfectly good’ person involves at least four different necessary conditions, a line of reasoning to show that (2A) is true would be rather complicated, too complicated for my taste and ability. So, I think the best approach is to use the basic strategy of mathematics and modern philosophy: analysis. We can deal with each of the necessary conditions one at a time.
Let’s focus on just the first necessary condition for being a perfectly good person:
(a) P always does the morally best action, in circumstances where there is such an action.
So, rather than try to prove (2A), I will make a more modest effort to prove the following conditional claim:
(2B) IF there is a perfectly free and omniscient person, THEN there is a person who always does the morally best action, in circumstances where there is such an action.
One can use conditional derivation to prove a conditional statement.  You start out by supposing the antecedent to be true, and then work at trying to prove the consequent to be true.
PFO1. There is a person P who is perfectly free and omniscient.  [supposition for conditional derivation]
PFO2. If there is a person P who is perfectly free and omniscient, then there is a perfectly free person P such that if P is in circumstance C and action A is the morally best action for P in C, then P knows that P is in C, P is in C, P knows that A is the morally best action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C. [this is a necessary truth that is based on the meaning of ‘omniscient’ and on the principle that ‘ought implies can’]
PFO3. There is a perfectly free person P such that if P is in circumstance C and action A is the morally best action for P in C, then P knows that P is in C, P is in C, P knows that A is the morally best action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C.  [deduced from (PFO1) and (PFO2)]
PFO4. There is a perfectly free person P such that if P is in circumstance C and action A is the morally best action for P in C, then P believes that P is in C, P is in C, P believes that A is the morally best action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C.  [deduced from  (PFO3) based on the meaning of ‘knows’]
PFO5.  If there is a perfectly free person P and P believes that P is in circumstance C, P is in C, P believes that A is the morally best action for P in C, and P is able to do A in C, then P will do A in C.   [a necessary truth based on the meaning of ‘perfectly free’ peson]
 PFO6. There is a perfectly free person P such that if P is in circumstance C, and A is the morally best action for P in C, then P will do A in C.  [deduced from (PFO4) and (PFO5)]
PFO7.  There is a person P who always does the morally best action, in circumstances where there is such an action.  [deduced from (PFO6)]
PFO8.  If there is a person P who is perfectly free and omniscient, then there is a person P who always does the morally best action, in circumstances where there is such an action. [ conditional derivation from (PFO1) through (PFO7)]
=====================
Proving Conditional Statements vs Proving Entailments
I believe my logic is OK, but my philosophy of logic is not, at least not here.
Proving a conditional statment by conditional derivation does not prove that the antecedent entails the consequent.
In conditional derivation, you may use a given (something known to be true) in order to derive the consequent from the antecedent.  But a given might only be a logically contingent factual claim.
Given: Q (a true factual claim)
Show that ‘IF P THEN Q’
1.  P    [supposition for a conditional derivation]
2.  Q  [ a given, a known fact]
3.  IF P THEN Q  [based on conditional derivation (1) through (2)]
Q could be a logically contingent factual claim, such as  ‘Obama was re-elected in 2012’.
P could be any statement you like, such as ‘The Space Needle is in Seattle”.  So, conditional derivation allows one to prove the following conditional statment:
4. IF the Space Needle is in Seattle, THEN Obama was re-elected in 2012.
Clearly, it is NOT the case that the antecedent of this statement entails the consequent. It is logically possible for the Space Needle to be in Seattle and for Obama to have failed to be re-elected in 2012.  The truth of the former claim does not guarantee the truth of the latter claim.
In my conditional derivation above, I did not use any logically contingent facts; I used only necessary truths as premises (other than the initial supposition).  However, that does not put my proof in the clear.  For one can prove a conditional statement using only necessary truths (other than the supposition of the antecedent) and still fail to establish an entailment.
Q might be a necessary truth, such as ‘All triangles have three sides’.
Show that ‘IF P, THEN Q’.
1a. P  [a supposition for conditional derivation]
2a. Q [a necessary truth]
3a. IF P, THEN Q.  [based on conditional derivation (1) through (2)]
P may, once again, be any statement you like, such as ‘Zebras have stripes’.
The above proof would thus show the following conditional statement to be true:
4a. IF zebras have stripes, THEN all triangles have three sides.
Clearly, the antecedent of (4a) does NOT entail the consequent of (4a).  The two statements are logically unrelated to each other.
I believe that the reasoning I gave above does (setting aside objections to the necessary truth claims) show that the statement ‘There is a person who is perfectly free and omniscient’  entails the statement ‘There is a perfectly good person’, but a conditional derivation of the related conditional statement is NOT sufficient to prove this, so there must be other constraints that I have observed here, but which I am not currently able to point out.
 

bookmark_borderReligious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism

Abstract:
The cognitive science of religion is a new field which explains religious belief as emerging from normal cognitive processes such as inferring others’ mental states, agency detection and imposing patterns on noise. This paper investigates the proposal that individual differences in belief will reflect cognitive processing styles, with high functioning autism being an extreme style that will predispose towards nonbelief (atheism and agnosticism). This view was supported by content analysis of discussion forums about religion on an autism website (covering 192 unique posters), and by a survey that included 61 persons with HFA. Persons with autistic spectrum disorder were much more likely than those in our neurotypical comparison group to identify as atheist or agnostic, and, if religious, were more likely to construct their own religious belief system. Nonbelief was also higher in those who were attracted to systemizing activities, as measured by the Systemizing Quotient.
LINK

bookmark_borderPetition about Boy Scouts Atheism Ban

The Boy Scouts of America is in the news again because it is apparently reconsidering its ban on homosexuals. Since their discrimination against nontheists doesn’t seem to get nearly as much attention, I wanted to use this opportunity to remind Secular Outpost readers of the Change.org petition to the BSA to stop their ban on atheists from being members. If you haven’t already signed the petition, please do so!

bookmark_borderFeser Insults (Insulted?) Parsons Again

If Edward Feser is not yet the JP Holding of theistic philosophers, he seems to be well on his way. I don’t always read his blog, but his latest item caught my attention.
God and Man at HuffPro
In that brief article, he links to this older article:
So you think you understand the cosmological argument?
I hadn’t seen that article before. In it, he makes the following statement, “Like every other academic field, philosophy of religion has its share of hacks and mediocrities.”
And the word “mediocrities” is hyperlinked to his previous attack on Keith Parsons:
The Brutal Facts about Keith Parsons
Like Parsons, I don’t have much to say, other than I think it’s rather sad to see a professional philosopher, such as Feser, use invective (or continue to endorse older posts where he used invective). To be clear, I am not saying that Feser relies upon invective in place of argument. But I find his abusive style of writing rather off-putting. By default, I assume that anyone who has a Ph.D. in something probably has insights about that topic. That includes Feser. If you’ll pardon the metaphor, I don’t want to dig through a dung pile to find nuggets of gold. (For the record, I’m not calling Feser’s posts a dung pile; I’m simply trying to use a graphic image to make my point.)
And I can’t be accused of writing this just because I am an atheist and Feser is a theist; I have been equally critical of fellow atheists who I thought were out of line.
Can’t we all just get along?

bookmark_borderHillarious Summary of the Argument from Shotgun Weddings Against Same-Sex Marriage

Over at Preliator pro Causa, Joe McKen presents a hillarious summary of what has to be one of the absolute worst arguments ever made against same-sex marriage.

Marriage should be limited to unions of a man and a woman because they alone can “produce unplanned and unintended offspring,” opponents of gay marriage have told the Supreme Court.
By contrast, when same-sex couples decide to have children, “substantial advance planning is required,” said Paul D. Clement, a lawyer for House Republicans.
Lawyers defending California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act want the high court to decide it is reasonable for the law to recognize only marriages between opposite-sex couples.

McKen sums it up nicely:

So in their world, the fact that gay couples put thought and effort into family planning is why they shouldn’t be allowed to marry, whereas accidents are a good excuse for being forced into matrimony.
One would think this was satire invented to make opponents of same-sex marriage look stupid, but it appears they really did make this argument. Amazing.

bookmark_borderAn Argument Against Moral Facts

In a seminar on Metaethics (h/t John Brunero) , I encountered an argument against moral facts that I hadn’t heard before. Here is a brief sketch:

(1) We’re justified in believing in some fact only if it plays a role in the explanation of our observations and other non-moral facts.
(2) Moral facts don’t play this role.

(3) We are not justified in believing moral facts.

In order to motivate (1), we can appeal to some flavors of naturalism. Many will argue that a completed science will account for (or give an explanatory account of) everything that exists. That is, a completed science will explain all physical phenomena. We’re justified in believing in electrons, in neurons, and in germs, insofar as they explain our observations of the natural world.
As for (2), it seems that we can explain the world around us without resorting to explanations that involve moral facts. We can explain the behavior of human beings with reference to psychology, biology, and neuroscience without using moral terms. We can explain political, social, and cultural actions without requiring moral facts to be a part of that explanation. It’s hard to see what explanatory work moral facts do.
Thoughts?

bookmark_borderNew URLs for RSS Readers

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bookmark_borderHow the Distinction between Deductive vs. Inductive Arguments Can Mask Uncertainty

Everyone who has taken a philosophy 101 class has learned the distinction between deductive and inductive arguments. It goes like this. Only deductive arguments may be valid; an argument is valid if and only if the truth of its premises guarantees the truth of its premises. Otherwise, the argument is invalid. If an argument is both valid and contains all true premises, then the argument is sound.

Not all invalid arguments are worthless, however, and the concept of an inductive argument shows why. An (inductive) argument is (inductively) strong if and only if (1) it is invalid; and (2) its premises confer a high probability upon its conclusion. In order to reinforce (2), some inductive logic textbooks will place the word “probably” inside the conclusions of inductive arguments.

Notice that validity is a binary, all-or-nothing affair. Just as one cannot be “sort of pregnant,” an argument cannot be “somewhat” valid. In contrast, inductive strength is a matter of degree. Inductively strong arguments confer a high probability on their conclusion, whereas weak arguments don’t.

So far, so good. It seems to me, however, that this distinction can sometimes mask the fact that uncertainty is often present in “real world” deductive arguments.

Consider the following argument (Deductive Argument 1 or DA1):

(1) If A, then B.

(2) A.

(3) Therefore, B.

Question: What is the probability of B?

Since DA1 is a valid argument, we know that if (1) and (2) are true, (3) has to be true.  So the probability of B conditional upon A is 1. In symbols, Pr(B|A)=1. This is they key “insight,” if you will, of learning that DA1 is valid.

But we want to know the unconditional probability of B, Pr(B), not the contribution made to Pr(B) by the probability of B conditional upon A, Pr(B|A). So, again, what is the contribution made to Pr(B) by A itself? Answer: Pr(A). Suppose A is true by definition. In that case, its probability is 1 and so Pr(B)=1. Now suppose the probability of A is 50%. In that case, Pr(B)=0.5. The probability calculus implies, when Pr(B|A)=1, that the contribution to Pr(B) made by A alone will always equal Pr(A), so long as Pr(A) is not zero, which in “real world” problems is usually the case.

In his book, Objecting to God, Colin Howson makes a similar point and then writes this.

“A possibly more surprising feature of the logic of probability is that it subsumes the logic of conjecture and refutation. It tells us that if evidence is inconsistent with a hypothesis under test, i.e., if it is refuting evidence, then that evidence reduces the probability of a hypothesis to zero. The formal theory of probability implies that if H entails that E is not true then Prob(E|H)=0 so long as Prob(H) is nonzero, as in all applications it will be. Looking at Bayes’s Theorem, we see that if Prob(H) is nonzero and Prob(E|H)=0 then Prob(H|E)=0. Thus the logic of probability subsumes the deductive logic of refutation as a special case. What is more interesting is the vastly more extensive territory outside the relatively small and safe domain where deductive logic can play its protective role.”

Consider William Lane Craig’s version of the fine-tuning argument which goes like this.

1. The fine-tuning of the universe’s initial conditions is either the result of chance, necessity or design. (Premise)
2. It is not the result of chance or necessity. (Premise)
3. Therefore, it is the result of design. (From 1 and 2)

This argument is clearly valid. We want to know the probability of (3). As in the case of DA1, the probability of (3) will depend upon the probability of (2). If we have a very weak degree of belief that (2) is true, say we think Pr(2)=0.25, then, by itself, this argument only warrants the belief Pr(3)=0.25.

* Thanks to Robert Greg Cavin for helpful comments on an earlier version of this post.