bookmark_borderAtheist Critics of Philosophy of Religion

There are some atheists (such as Boghossian and Coyne, among others) who criticize the philosophy of religion as undeserving of respect. They unwittingly contradict themselves by … doing philosophy of religion! (Hint: if you’re writing about how God is fictional, faith is an unreliable epistemology, etc., you’re doing philosophy of religion whether you know it or not.)

bookmark_borderMore Craziness

This guy is as bizarre as Ken Ham, but whereas Ham only runs a “museum,” this guy might go to Congress!
As Charles P. Pierce observes in Idiot America, there have always been crackpots, but it has never been so easy to be one as now. Characters who were previously relegated to corner soapboxes now get elected to Congress. The whole thing exerts a certain perverse fascination, like a gruesome traffic accident. Whenever you think that the bottom of nuttiness has been plumbed, someone goes even lower. This is not merely the strain of anti-intellectualism that has always been present in American politics and culture. This is something new and much worse–the positive exaltation of nuttiness. Not only is being a nut not a hindrance to public office, it is a positive qualification. Here in Texas, Republican primaries now are a matter of who can sound most convincingly bonkers.

bookmark_borderCrazy–Even for Ken Ham
Spock, ET, Marvin the Martian, ALF, Mork, the Third Rock from the Sun group and many other lovable aliens are all going to hell, I guess. In the pictures I have seen of this guy, his hair is combed, and his shirt is buttoned up. He looks like he has bathed recently. How can that be? Who takes care of him? I would think that a guy this crazy would be bouncing off the walls of his rubber room. I think that this supports what I have long said. The chief danger of creationism, or any other such extreme nonsense, is that if you believe that, then you will believe anything (except the truth, of course). Further, as Voltaire observed long ago, anybody who can make you believe absurdities can also make you commit atrocities.

bookmark_borderHard-Hitting Critique of WLC’s Moral Argument by John Danaher “Necessary Moral Truths and Theistic Metaethics”

To be precise, this paper applies to WLC’s moral argument for God’s existence as follows.
1. WLC argues that God exists because objective moral values and duties exist.
2. Critics (theist, agnostic, and atheist) of WLC’s moral argument have pointed out that, according to one version of moral realism, moral truths are necessary truths. Necessary truths neither have nor need an explanation. Therefore, God isn’t needed to explain necessary moral truths and, hence, isn’t needed to explain objective moral values and duties.
3. WLC (and Mark Murphy) object to point 2 by providing counterexamples to show that necessary truths, including necessary moral truths, can have an explanation.
4. John Danaher defends point 2 against the counterexamples in point 3.
Here is the abstract:

Theistic metaethics usually places one key restriction on the explanation of moral facts, namely: every moral fact must ultimately be explained by some fact about God. The problem is that the widely-held belief that some moral truths are necessary truths undermines this claim. If a moral truth is necessary, then it seems like it neither needs, nor has an explanation. Or so the objection typically goes. Recently, two proponents of theistic metaethics — William Lane Craig and Mark Murphy — have argued that this objection is flawed. They claim that even if a truth is necessary, it does not follow that it neither needs nor has an explanation. In this article, I challenge Craig and Murphy’s reasoning on three main grounds. First, I argue that the counterexamples they use to undermine the necessary truth objection to theistic metaethics are flawed. While they may provide some support for the notion that necessary truths can be explained, they do not provide support for the notion that necessary moral truths can be explained. Second, I argue that the principles of explanation that Murphy and Craig use to support theistic metaethics are either question-begging (in the case of Murphy) or improperly motivated (in the case of Craig). And third, I provide a general defence of the claim that necessary moral truths neither need nor have an explanation.


bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus – Part 2

In When Skeptics Ask, Norman Geisler presents eight reasons in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. In my previous post on this subject I argued that six of those reasons should be quickly set aside as weak or defective reasons. In my view, only two reasons out of the eight reasons are worthy of serious consideration.
Both of the remaining two reasons are related to various alleged wounds and injuries of Jesus that supposedly occurred just prior to or during the crucifixion. First let’s consider the third reason:
3. When His side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out. The best evidence suggests that this was a thrust given by a Roman soldier to insure death. The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced His right lung, the sack around the heart, and the heart itself, releasing both blood and pleural fluids. Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross and probably before this wound was inflicted. … The final wound to His side would have been fatal in itself (v.34).
(When Skeptics Ask, p.121)
The quick-and-dirty objection to reason (3) is that the story about the spear wound to Jesus’ side is found ONLY in the historically unreliable Fourth gospel (John 19:31-37). This fact gives us good reason to doubt that the spear wound story is true. But there are other problems with the spear wound story, and since reason (3) is widely used in Christian apologetics, I’m going to take a bit more time to beat this particular deceased horse.
First, there are some general reasons to doubt the spear wound story:
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
GR3. The Passion narratives of the gospels are historically unreliable
GR4. The Passion narrative of the Fourth gospel is historically unreliable
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
(GR1) is a big topic that would take a book, or at least a few chapters in a book, to cover properly. But I’m just going to quote from a leading N.T. scholar, to show that this is more than just the opinion of a skeptical atheist with an ax to grind against the Christian faith.
According to N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders is “Probably the most influential NT scholar in the English-speaking world.” (The Original Jesus, p.155). If you look up “Jesus Christ” in the Encyclopædia Britannica, you will find an article written by E.P. Sanders. So, I think it worthwhile to give serious consideration to Sanders’ view of the gospels and of the effort to figure out what Jesus actually said and did:
Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obliged to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom obtained. A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such a warning. We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime. They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and in any case the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved. We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him. Today we do not have good documentation for such out-of-the-way places as Palestine; nor did the authors of our sources. They had no archives and no official records of any kind. They did not even have access to good maps. These limitations, which were common in the ancient world, result in a good deal of uncertainty.
Recognizing these difficulties and many others, New Testament scholars spent several decades – from about 1910 to 1970 – saying that we know somewhere between very little and virtually nothing about the historical Jesus. Excess leads to reaction, and in recent decades we have grown more confident. Confidence, in fact, has soared, and recent scholarly literature contains what I regard as rash and unfounded assertions about Jesus – hypotheses without evidence to support them.
My own view is that studying the gospels is extremely hard work. I sympathize with the scholars who despaired of recovering much good evidence about Jesus. I also think, however, that the work pays off in the modest ways that are to be expected in the study of ancient history.
(from the Preface to The Historical Figure of Jesus[hereafter: HFJ], p.xiii)
Sanders is not a skeptic, nor is he an atheist looking for a way to attack the Christian faith. He is a leading mainstream N.T. scholar who warns us of the historically problematic nature of the gospels and that only with “extremely hard work” can we expect even “the modest” sort of results common to investigations of ancient history, and that there will unavoidably be “a good deal of uncertainty” concerning the words and deeds of the historical Jesus.
I am not as optimistic as Sanders is about discovering the historical Jesus through hard scholarly work. I am more of a Jesus agnostic, who has serious doubts about the possibility of “knowledge” about the words and deeds of Jesus and the events that he experienced (if he in fact existed). But Sanders view of the gospels is much more sane and reasonable than that of Norman Geisler.
Geisler simply makes all sorts of speculative claims about the crucifixion of Jesus based on the assumption that every detail found in the Fourth gospel is absolutely true, historical, and accurate. In doing so, Geisler shows that his views are completely outside of the mainstream of N.T. scholarship, and even outside of any resemblance of scholarship of any sort that deserves to be called such. E.P. Sanders would gag upon reading the crap that Geisler spews in his case for the death of Jesus on the cross. So, although I am more skeptical than Sanders, my views are much closer to those of mainstream N.T. scholarship than are the views of Geisler (and other Christian apologists who make similar naive bible-thumping arguments).
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
Again, it would not be difficult to write an entire book on this one issue. So, I cannot do this topic justice here and now, but I will simply quote E.P. Sanders once again, to show that my skeptical views about the Fourth gospel are closer to mainstream N.T. scholarship than the naive and unreasonable views of Geisler.
Here is Sanders’ conclusion concerning the use of John as a source of information about Jesus:
The synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] are to be preferred as our basic source of information about Jesus. Yet their authors too were theologians and were capable of creativity. …There are no sources that give us the ‘unvarnished truth’; the varnish of faith in Jesus covers everything. Yet the synoptic authors did not homogenize their material, as John did. The joints and seams are visible, and the contents are quite diverse. There is nothing like the sameness of the Johannine monologues. The synoptic authors, that is, revised traditional material much less thoroughly than did John.
(HFJ, p.73)
Sanders discusses some differences between the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Fourth gospel (John):
1. Narrative Outline/Framework
2. Contents – Jesus’ activities
3. Contents – Jeasus’ teaching
Sanders says these differences “are very substantial” (HFJ, p.66). After spelling out some differences in the narrative outlines, Sanders sums up his view about these differences between the synoptics and John:
The synoptic framework is at least as plausible as John’s, and it may have a slight edge.
This discussion may seem to imply that we must accept one or the other: either John (three Passovers; early cleansing of the Temple; informal trial) or the synoptics (one Passover; late cleansing; semi-formal trial). It is tempting to alternate between them on the basis of plausibility or intrinsic probability, while compromising on the question of duration: a ministry of eleven to twenty-five months (compromise); cleansing of the Temple near the end (synoptics); informal trial (John). We must, however, entertain another possibility altogether: perhaps none of the authors knew what took place when (except, of course, the trial and crucifixion). Possibly they had scattered bits of information, from which they constructed believable narratives that contain a fair amount of guesswork. Or perhaps they did not care about chronological sequence and arranged the material according to some other plan (for example, by topic). This would have resulted in chronological clues being scattered at random, and we could not draw good inferences from them.
(HFJ, p.69)
Both the synoptic gospels and John have somewhat plausible narrative frameworks. There is no clear winner here, and as Sanders admits, it might well be the case that neither narrative framework is based on actual history; the frameworks might be largely “guesswork” by the authors, or might be based on non-historical considerations, such as arranging events by topic.
The specific contents of the synoptics vs. John are what drives the judgement that the synoptics are a better source of information about Jesus. Sanders notes a couple of significant differences in terms of Jesus’ activities:
(1) In the synoptics many of Jesus’ healings, in fact some of those on which the story turns, are exorcisms. In John there are no exorcisms. …
(2) In the synoptics, when asked for a ‘sign’ of his authority, Jesus refuses to give one (Mark 8:11f). Among the most prominent aspects of John is a series of ‘signs’ of Jesus’ status and authority (John 2.11, 23; 4.48, 54; 6.2, 14; 7.31; 9.16; 11.47; 12.8, 37; 20.30).

(HFJ, p.69)
Although Sanders does not say this explicitly, N.T. scholars favor the historical reliability of the synoptics over John in terms of the above two significant differences in the activities of Jesus.
Sanders goes on to point out several significant differences between John and the synoptic gospels concerning the content and style of Jesus’ teaching (HFJ, p.70). Sanders then draws the following conclusions:
It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and that there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said, and another one the other 50 per cent, with almost no overlaps.
Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels and that John represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them.
(HFJ, p.70-71)
Sanders then argues that in at least some cases, the narrative outline in the gospel of John is “as strongly determined by the author’s own theology as its discourse material…” (HFJ, p.72). He concludes that, “…we can say neither that John was creative only with the teaching material, nor that he had a good source for his narrative and that he followed it faithfully.” (HFJ, p.72)
To be continued…

bookmark_borderThe Case for the Death of Jesus – Part 2

A challenge (or two) to my previous post “The Case for the Death of Jesus” came from a reader “hardindr”. Another reader, Tom Hanson, commented “Personally I’m with hardindr.” So in this post I will respond to comments from hardindr, with the intention of also responding to Tom Hanson’s concerns.
Here is the first comment by hardindr:
All of these lengthy blog entries on this subject have confused me. Does the author of them seriously believe that it isn’t a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth died, and more specifically, that he didn’t die by crucifixion? I can think of no serious biblical scholar (except for a few mythicists) who think otherwise. I am not sure if this is a gag or not.
The second sentence is a question. It appears to be a rhetorical question, a sentence in the form of a question but that is actually intended to make an assertion. Here is the question:
Q1.Does the author…seriously believe that it isn’t a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth…didn’t die by crucifixion?
I think hardindr was a bit confused by the double-negative in this question, and actually intended to ask the following question:
Q1A. Does the author seriously believe that it isn’t a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion?
If we take this to be a rhetorical question that is just a round-about way to make an assertion, then the claim being made by hardindr would be this:
1A. It is a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion.
I take it that the phrase “died by crucifixion” means “died as a result of crucifixion”. If that is correct, then hardindr is asserting this claim:
1B. It is a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth died as a result of crucifixion.
To be fair to hardindr, I suppose that the question might well have been intended BOTH as a sincere question AND as a way of making an assertion. hardindr wants me to clarify my position, to take a stand one way or the other on a key issue.
So, first I will treat the question as a sincere one, and attempt to give a clear answer to it:
Q1B. Does the author seriously believe that it isn’t a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth died as a result of crucifixion?
I would like to give a simple “Yes” or “No” answer to this question, but the phrase “a historical fact” is problematic, as is the term “Jesus of Nazareth”, not to mention “as a result of crucifixion”. Some definition or clarification will be needed before I can give a simple “Yes” or “No” answer to (Q1B).
But before we get into definitions and clarifications, let me try to briefly state my point of view. The following claim is an ordinary claim requiring only ordinary evidence to establish:
(AOS) Jesus was alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday.
The next claim is also an ordinary claim:
(DOC) Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday.
Christian apologists assert this claim:
(JRD) Jesus rose from the dead.
(JRD) implies the following conjunction:
(DTA) Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday AND Jesus was alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday.
(DTA) is an extraordinary claim, and to establish (DTA) requires extraordinary evidence. That means that extraordinary evidence must be provided in order to establish (DOC), as well as to establish (AOS). To establish (JRD) one must establish (DTA), and since to establish (DTA) requires that one must produce extraordinary evidence for (DOC), it follows that one must provide extraordinary evidence for (DOC) in order to establish (JRD).
The sketchy and dubious nature of the gospels make it virtually impossible to produce extraordinary evidence for ANY claim about Jesus, including (DOC). Thus, any attempt to establish (JRD) is bound to fail, because the available evidence is not good enough to be considered extraordinary evidence for (DOC).
I seriously believe that Jesus of Nazareth might not have existed. If Jesus did not exist, then (obviously) the claim “Jesus of Nazareth died as a result of crucifixion” is false, or at least NOT a true claim, since in that case the expression “Jesus of Nazareth” would not refer to any actual human being. However, I seriously believe that it is probable that Jesus of Nazareth existed, even very probable that Jesus existed. If I had to estimate a probability, I would say the probability that Jesus existed is about .8 (eight chances in ten).
Let’s set aside, for the moment, my doubts about the existence of Jesus. Suppose that he did exist. Does it follow that Jesus was in fact crucified? It depends on how you understand the name “Jesus of Nazareth”.
The name of a famous person could be defined or analyzed in terms of some key actions or events that are associated with that person. Since the crucifixion is a central event in the gospels, which are our primary sources of information about Jesus (assuming that there was a Jesus), it is tempting to define “Jesus of Nazareth” in such a way that ONLY a person who had been crucified in Jerusalem around 30 C.E. could COUNT as being “Jesus of Nazareth”. In that case, the assumption that “Jesus of Nazareth existed” would logically imply that Jesus was in fact crucified in Jerusalem around 30 C.E.
But that seems to be cheating, to beg some important questions in this context. In this context, where I’m challenging the existence of Jesus and also the crucifixion of Jesus, it would seem better to define or analyze the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” in a way that did not presuppose the truth of the traditional or widely held views that I am challenging. It is better to keep our key terms and concepts neutral, at least in relation to the issues that we wish to debate. We need an understanding of “Jesus of Nazareth” that does NOT assume that Jesus was crucified, nor that he died as a result of crucifixion, nor that he was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 C.E.
Suppose we define “Jesus of Nazareth” in a way that does not beg the questions at issue here. Setting aside my doubts about the existence of Jesus, would I then agree that Jesus was crucified? Again, I seriously believe that Jesus (assuming he did exist) might not have been crucified. However, I believe that Jesus probably was crucified, given that he existed, and I believe that it is very probable that Jesus was crucified, assuming that he existed. I would estimate this probability to be about .8.
What about the claim that Jesus died as a result of crucifixion? I’m not so sure about this claim. Even if we assume that Jesus existed and also assume that Jesus was crucified, I’m not certain that Jesus died AS A RESULT of being crucified.
Jesus might have been tied rather than nailed to the cross, and then died as a result of blood loss from other injuries (e.g. scourging), or Jesus might have been drugged or poisoned while on the cross (either by an enemy who wanted to ensure his death or to cause him additional pain or by a follower/sympathizer who wanted to mercifully put Jesus out of his misery or who was trying to give Jesus a drug for pain relief but unintentionally gave too large a dose causing death by overdose) and his death was caused by the drug or poison, or Jesus might have died as a result of a spear being thrust into his side (when he would have survived for two or three more days otherwise), or Jesus might have died on the cross because of having his legs smashed with a mallet (contrary to the 4th gospel) which caused massive internal bleeding, or Jesus might have appeared to die but was still alive when removed from the cross only to be killed by asphyxiation when Joseph of Arimathea wrapped him up in 75 pounds of linen and spices, or Jesus might have appeared to die on the cross, but was still alive when removed from the cross, and one of his female followers noticed he was still alive when he was buried and came back for him later and nursed him back to health (and then he died some years later from pneumonia). I cannot rule out any of these scenarios, and yet in none of them is the death of Jesus caused by his crucifixion.
Furthermore, we don’t know how crucifixion causes death, and since performing scientific experiments where human beings are crucified in order to observe what happens as they die would be clearly unethical, we probably never will know how crucifixion causes death. Given our medical ignorance about crucifixion, and given that there was no autopsy performed on Jesus, it will be difficult to show that it is very probable that Jesus died as a result of crucifixion, even given that Jesus existed and that Jesus was crucified, and even given that Jesus died while on the cross.
But we could just DROP the whole qualification “died as a result of crucifixion” and revise the question to be about the TIMING of Jesus death:
Q1C. Does the author seriously believe that it isn’t a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth died while he was hanging on a cross?
I seriously believe that Jesus might have been crucified but survived his crucifixion, given that Jesus did exist and was crucified. However, if Jesus did exist and was crucified, then it is probable that he died on the cross, perhaps even very probable that he died on the cross. I would estimate the probability that Jesus died on the cross to be about .9, given that Jesus existed and was crucified.
Estimated Probability that Jesus existed: .8
Estimated Probability that Jesus was crucified (given his existence): .8
Estimated Probability that Jesus died on the cross (given his crucifixion): .9
Estimated probability that Jesus died on the cross: .8 x .8 x .9 = .576 or about .6
A probability of .6 seems too low to be considered “a historical fact”.
So, I’m inclined to seriously believe that the claim “Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross” is NOT an historical fact.
Furthermore, suppose that William Craig or Norman Geisler or Gary Habermas are able to convince me that (AOS) is a fact, that Jesus was alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday. In that case, I have a new bit of historical data, data that has implications for my probability estimates. Once I know or firmly believe that (AOS) is true, then my probability estimate for (DOC) will necessarily be lowered. I would lower it down to just about 0. The truth of (AOS) would be very strong evidence that (DOC) was false, evidence that would surely outweigh the weak and dubious evidence for the death of Jesus on the cross that we find in the N.T.
To be continued…
Probability Tree Diagram (to supplement my response to hardindr current comments):

B: John is a bachelor.
D: John will go out on a date with a woman (who is not his wife) sometime in the next month.
~B: It is NOT the case that John is a bachelor.
~D: It is NOT the case that John will go out on a date with a woman (who is not his wife) sometime in the next month.
P(B&D) means “The probability that: John is a bachelor AND John will go out on a date with a woman (who is not his wife) sometime in the next month.”
P(D|B) means “The probability that John will go out on a date with a woman (who is not his wife) sometime in the next month, GIVEN that John is a bachelor.”
P(B & D) = P(D|B) x P(B) = .8 x .8 = .64
Probability Tree for Jesus:

E: Jesus existed.
C: Jesus was crucified.
~E: It is NOT the case that Jesus existed.
~C: It is NOT the case that Jesus was crucified.
P(E & C) means “The probability that Jesus existed AND Jesus was crucified.”
P(C|E) means “The probability that Jesus was crucified, GIVEN that Jesus existed.”
P(E & C) = P(C|E) x P(E) = .8 x .8 = .64

bookmark_borderDoes Evolution “Explain” Objective Morality? A Reply to Jerry Coyne

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne recently wrote about Leah Libresco’s conversion from atheism to Catholicism based on a moral argument for God’s existence. In his article, Coyne promotes the idea, which he has done many times before, that biological evolution somehow “explains” objective morality. While there is a sense in which Coyne is correct, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the kind of moral argument which Libresco finds persuasive. So while I join Coyne in rejecting Libresco’s argument, it’s unfortunate that such a prominent scientist as Coyne continues to perpetuate such an irrelevant response to such a popular theistic argument.

Two Popular Arguments for God’s Existence Based Upon “Objective” Morality

Allow me to explain. There are many types of moral arguments for God’s existence. Moral arguments based upon “objective” morality are arguments focused on moral ontology. Moral ontology is the branch of metaethics which is about the nature of moral claims; it asks whether any moral properties or facts exist and, if so, what metaphysical status they have (e.g., objective or subjective).
By itself, biological evolution is irrelevant to moral ontology. That doesn’t mean biological evolution is irrelevant to morality, of course. It’s clearly relevant to other branches of metaethics, such as moral epistemology and moral psychology. But it’s a category error to think that biological evolution explains moral ontology.
Consider the following two versions of the moral argument for God’s existence.
Version 1: William Lane Craig’s Deductive Moral Argument
William Lane Craig famously defends the following argument.
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists
Notice what this argument does NOT claim. Contrary to many atheist debaters and bloggers, it does not claim any of the following.

  • You cannot be moral without believing in God.
  • You cannot know right from wrong without believing in God.
  • You cannot have any motivation for behaving morally without believing in God.

Instead, the argument simply says that objective moral values exist, in the sense that moral statements like, “Rape is morally bad,” are true independently of whether any human believes it. If it’s objectively true that “Rape is morally bad,” then what makes that statement true? According to Craig’s argument, God–or, to be precise, being contrary to God’s nature–is what makes that statement true.
Version 2: C.S. Lewis’s Explanatory Moral Argument
I read somewhere that Libresco was persuaded by C.S. Lewis’s argument, so let’s turn to that version next. Lewis’s argument is much less clear for the simple reason that Lewis never stated his argument in its logical form. Nevertheless, we can reconstruct his argument. When we do, we find that Lewis argues that theism (what he calls the “Religious view”) is the best explanation for known facts in moral ontology, epistemology, and psychology.
Let’s begin by dividing Lewis’s evidence into B, the relevant background evidence, and E, the evidence to be explained. Then the evidence can be summarized as follows.
B: The Relevant Background Evidence
1. The materialist view entails that there is no Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is no Creator). The universe itself, as well as all the creatures inside it (including humans), are not the effect of a supernatural First Cause or intelligent Designer. (21-22)
2. The religious view entails that there is a Mind “behind” the universe (i.e., there is a Creator who is conscious, has purposes, and preferences). This Mind created and designed the universe partly to produce creatures that, like it, have minds. (22)
3. A Mind “behind” the universe could reveal its existence to us by trying to get us to behave in a certain way. (24)
E: The Evidence to be Explained
1. Human beings have moral obligations which are grounded in the Moral Law.
2. Most human beings know at least the general principles of the Moral Law.
3. Most human beings experience moral emotions related to the Moral Law, such as guilt and obligation.
With this evidence so defined, we may formulate Lewis’s as follows.
1. The evidence relevant to the Religious view is known to be true.
2. The materialist view has weak explanatory power.
3. The religious view has strong explanatory power.
4. Therefore, it is epistemically probable that the religious view is true.

Coyne on the Evolutionary Explanation for Objective Morality

Here is Coyne in his own words.

The reason she [Libresco] came back to Catholicism? “I’m really sure that morality is objective.” Libresco affirms that Christianity, in the Catholic form, offered her explanation that she found compelling. (I guess she doesn’t find evolutionary or secular explanations compelling. The rejection of those alternatives, especially given the evidence for them, baffles me. [italics mine]

The Irrelevance of Evolution to Arguments from Objective Morality to God

As my above remarks should make clear, I don’t think evolution is relevant to moral ontology. Regarding argument version 1, evolution is an irrelevant objection because it refutes neither premise of the argument. As for argument version 2, evolution at best helps the materialist explain moral epistemology and moral psychology. It does nothing to counter Lewis’s claim that the religious view provides a better explanation for moral ontology or objective morality (in his words, the “Moral Law”) than does the materialist view. Therefore, we should not be baffled by the fact Libresco (or anyone else) would find an evolutionary explanation for moral ontology compelling.

bookmark_borderEvan Fales: Deepak Chopra’s $1M Prize is a Publicity Stunt

(This is a guest post by Evan Fales about Deepak Chopra’s recent challenge to the new atheists.)
This is a publicity stunt.  He’s smart enough to have picked what may be the biggest unsolved puzzle for naturalism.  At the same time, his challenge is seriously vague in its wording.  What exactly does he mean by ‘biological basis’?  Would an invariant neurological correlate of a mental event-type do?  A neurological cause?  Does he need identity?  Supervenience?  What counts as a “valid” scientific explanation?  True?  Serious contender?  He’s got goal-posts he can move backwards, sideways, up-side down.
I actually have a possible solution for the qualia problem.  But it depends upon a solution to what I think is really the most fundamental (and hard) problem of consciousness:  the problem of (original) intentionality.  (Computers have imputed, or derived intentionality:  their operations “mean” what they do because we assign a semantics – and interpretation – to their syntactic operations.  But our mental states intend what content they have originally – not because it’s assigned to our minds by some other mind.)  I have no idea how to understand this physicalistically.  On the other hand, I have no idea how to understand it theistically either.  God could make a brain (I suppose), and impute semantic content to its operations (just as we can do for a computer), but how would he insert original intentionality into the thing?  I’m sure Chopra has no better explanation of that than I do.

bookmark_borderIs Empathy Just Another Feeling That Can Be Suppressed if Metaphysical Naturalism Is True?

Depending on the particulars, an argument from silence may be logically correct or incorrect. I’ve argued that the most charitable interpretation of arguments from silence is as explanatory arguments. In order to succeed, arguments from silence must successfully show that the non-existence or non-occurrence of the thing in question is a better explanation than rival theories, such as that the person or people who are silent never heard the claim in question.
Barry Arrington, writing at the Uncommon Descent blog, makes an incomplete (and thus logically incorrect) argument from silence by failing to discredit just this alternative explanation (that his opponents were not aware of the original claim). In a recent post, he says that he wrote a post “over three months ago” stating a major objection to metaphysical naturalism: if metaphysical naturalism is true, then empathy is just another feeling that can be suppressed on the basis of a cost/benefit analysis. But, he says, he hasn’t gotten a serious response to this argument. Therefore, he concludes, his post must be correct because there is no good objection available.
While Arrington succeeds in providing an example of a weak argument from silence — I, for one, hadn’t heard of his argument before now and I suspect many other prominent naturalists were equally unaware of his post–I am not sure Arrington succeeds in providing a good objection to naturalism. But since I’m feeling lazy, I’ll leave the critique as an exercise for the reader.