bookmark_borderWhat Was Richard Dawkins Thinking?

Richard Dawkins recently re-tweeted a tweet that is so obviously false, one has to ask, “What was he thinking when he posted it?”
I’m not going to embed the tweet here which is arguably NSFW, but I’ll provide a link and describe it. It has two photos. On the left is a picture of Matt Taylor, the scientist who wore an inappropriate  shirt. On the right is a picture of a Muslim woman being executed. The caption below the two photos reads, “One of these two pictures upsets Feminists. The other one shows the execution of a woman.”
I’m almost at a loss for words. One may agree or disagree with feminism, but I don’t know how someone as intelligent as Dawkins could actually believe that any feminist would not be upset about a picture showing the execution of a Muslim woman.

bookmark_borderRobert Kuhn’s Nine Levels of Nothing

If you’ve participated in many discussions about science or religion in which the word “nothing” plays a central role, you’ve probably noticed that “nothing” has different meanings for different people. Robert Lawrence Kuhn has put together a thought-provoking taxonomy of nine levels of nothing, which I think could be very useful for clarifying which “nothing” someone has in mind during such conversations.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 7

In the previous post in this series,  I argued that the Christian apologist James Sire makes a fundamental mistake in his book Naming the Elephant, by defining “a worldview” as being a kind of commitment.  A worldview is something that can be true (or false), but a commitment is NOT something that can be true (or false); therefore, a worldview is NOT a commitment.
One can have a strong belief or “intellectual commitment” towards a worldview, but in that case the worldview is the OBJECT of the commitment, not the commitment itself.  Although there are some other interesting points made by Sire in this book that are worth considering,  because Sire’s concept of  “a worldview” is fundamentally flawed, I’m going to set that book aside for now, and move on to consider another book by a different author who has also done much thinking about the concept of “a worldview”.
Ninian Smart is a recognized expert on religions, and in his book Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (3rd edition, 2000; hereafter: Worldviews), he advocates that the scholarly study of religion be conceived of, and engaged in, as “worldview analysis”.  An important part of “worldview analysis” is that it encompasses the examination of both traditional religions (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) and secular ideologies (Marxism, Secular Humanism, etc.).  In terms of my purposes here, concerning clarification of the concept of “a worldview”, Smart makes the interesting and plausible claim that a worldview involves six “dimensions”:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.  However, Smart’s six-dimensional approach seems quite sensible and plausible.  Of course religions and ideologies involve narratives/myths.  Of course religions and ideologies involve ethics or laws.  Of course religions and ideologies involve rituals or practices.  It seems undeniable that religions and ideologies generally manifest all six of these dimensions, and thus that beliefs and claims are only one small aspect of religions, ideologies, and worldviews.
If I am to maintain my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, then I need to explain and justify my viewpoint in relation to Smart’s interesting and plausible six-dimensional approach to religions and worldviews.  It is tempting to just say that Smart is right that religions and worldviews have these six dimensions, but that I am only interested in the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension).
The doctrines of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  The philosophical beliefs/claims of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  Since my concern is with the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of beliefs/claims that are “contained” in a religion or worldview,  I could just focus on the first dimension, and do so while acknowledging that there are other aspects of religions and worldviews that I am setting aside and ignoring.
But while this is a tempting route to take, I think it fails to recognize the central role that beliefs and claims play in religions and worldviews.  My task, then, is to try to maintain the centrality of beliefs and claims in religion and worldviews, while also recognizing that religions and worldviews generally do involve the six dimensions to which Smart draws our attention.
First, I wish to point out the apparent centrality of beliefs/claims in Smart’s discussion about the concepts of “a religion” and “a worldview”.  The very title of his book suggests the centrality of beliefs:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Note that Smart did NOT use any of the following alternative titles:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Myths
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Laws
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Rituals
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Experiences
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Emotions
 Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Organizations
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Institutions  
So, the very title of his book elevates “beliefs” above other aspects of religions and worldviews,  thus suggesting that the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension) plays a more important role than the other dimensions, perhaps a central role.
Also, in the introduction, Smart says things that also suggest the centrality of “beliefs”.  Here is a comment from the very first paragraph of the Introduction:
…at the level of everyday life, a knowledge of worldviews is increasingly significant.  First, civilizations are importantly interwoven with them.  Whether you believe them or not is beside the point.  (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Smart immediately characterizes a worldview as something that can be believed (or not believed).   Smart does not speak here of rituals, experiences, or institutions; rather, he speaks of belief, which suggests he is focused on beliefs or claims involved in a religion or worldview, and thus is focused on the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
Another comment from the very first paragraph also supports the centrality of beliefs/claims to religions and worldviews:
Second, religious values and more broadly those of worldviews are in debate among the humanities.  Anyone who reflects about human values has to take into some account the values of the religions. (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Although “religious values” could be taken to include the “ethical or legal dimension”, the word “values” encompasses more than just moral values; it encompasses any sort of norms and any sort of evaluation.  Also philosophy encompasses ethics, so the “ethical or legal dimension” clearly has significant overlap with the “doctrinal and philosophical dimension”.  (Perhaps “ethical” refers to fairly specific rules and norms of behavior while the “philosophical” dimension includes more general ideas and principles regarding morality and behavior.)
In any case, if “religious values” and “worldview values” are “in debate among the humanities”, then Smart is clearly talking about something that is intellectual or cognitive in nature.  He is presumably talking about claims or beliefs concerning how people ought to behave or what people ought to care about.  Once again, this is an indication of the importance or centrality of the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
The second paragraph of the Introduction also suggests the importance or centrality of beliefs/claims in religions and worldviews:
The modern study of worldviews…explores feelings and ideas and tries to understand what exists inside the heads of people.  What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true.  (Worldviews, p.1-2)
Here Smart mentions “feelings and ideas” in summing up what is studied when one studies a worldview.  The study of “ideas” clearly relates to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension of a worldview.  It could also relate to  the mythical and ethical dimensions, but the ethical dimension, as I have previously mentioned, can be encompassed by the philosophical dimension.
The word “feelings” points to the experiential or emotional dimension.  However, in the very next sentence, Smart talks about “What people believe” and “whether or not what they believe is true”.  This language again points towards the doctrinal or philosophical dimension.  Experiences and emotions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Rituals are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Organizations and institutions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).    While myths and stories can be thought of as being true (or false),  myths and religious stories are often believed to have significance apart from whether they are literally true (or false).
When Smart talks about “what exists inside the heads of people” this relates most directly to beliefs and feelings and experiences, but not directly to rituals, practices, organizations, or institutions.
The focus on “beliefs” continues at the end of the second paragraph:
To some extent anthropology tried to give objective accounts of foreign beliefs, but often the other cultures were treated as uncivilized or inferior.  To some extent there were attempts through comparative religion to describe foreign beliefs, and sometimes Christian missionaries managed warm accounts of other faiths.  (Worldviews, p.2)
In these sentences Smart equates other “worldviews” and “other faiths” with “foreign beliefs,”  not with “foreign rituals” , not with “foreign practices”, not with “foreign experiences”,  not with “foreign organizations”, not with “foreign institutions.”  So, at both the beginning and the end of the second paragraph of the Introduction, Smart focuses on beliefs/claims, and this suggests that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion or of a worldview is more important, more central, than the other dimensions.
In paragraph three of the Introduction, Smart discusses the importance of “epoche” or suspension of judgment when one is studying the worldview of another people or culture.  One should, Smart says, “suspend your own beliefs about the other (whether that be culture, or group, or individual)”(Worldviews, p. 2, emphasis added).  So, the modern study of religions and worlviews attempts to acheive objectivity by setting aside one’s own “point of view”.  Thus, one’s own beliefs and point of view can bias one’s understanding of other religions and other worldviews.  Presumably, this is because the beliefs one has as, say a Christian, may conflict with the beliefs held by people who have a different religion or worldview (say Islam or Buddhism or Marxism).  So, it apears that paragraph three of the Introduction also suggests that beliefs are central to religions and worldviews.
Paragraph four provides a brief characterization of “worldview analysis” and once again focuses on “beliefs”:
The study of religions and ideologies can be called “worldview analysis.”  In this we try to depict the history and nature of the symbols and beliefs that have helped form the structure of human consciousness and society.  This is the heart of the modern study of religion.  (Worldviews, p.2, emphasis added)
Note that Smart does NOT say that “worldview analysis” depicts the history and nature of “rituals” or “experiences” or “feelings” or “organizations” or “institutions”.  I will argue later that “symbols” have a very close connection with the beliefs and claims of a religion or worldview.
At the beginning of paragraph six, Smart talks about our understanding of “others’ beliefs and values”, and about exploring the “thoughts and values of others” in characterizing efforts to “explore other people’s religions”.  At the end of paragraph six, Smart talks about bias that existed in the early history of “the comparative study of religion”:
But such explorations were often somewhat supercilious in regard to alien faiths.  Westerners were often inclined to dub other beliefs as primitive.  (Worldviews, p.3, emphasis added)
He does not say that there was an inclination to dub “other experiences” as primitive, or “other rituals” as primitive, or “other institutions” as primitive.  Once again, Smart’s focus is on “beliefs”, thus suggesting that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a worldview is more important, more central than the other dimensions.
In short, in the opening paragraphs of the Introduction to Worldviews, Ninian Smart repeatedly talks about worldviews in terms of “beliefs”, “ideas”, “thoughts”, and, perhaps most importantly in terms of truth (or falsehood):
What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true (Worldviews, p.1-2)
This emphais on “beliefs” is also present in the very title of the book:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Therefore, although Smart argues that the modern study of religion should touch on at least six different dimensions, it also seems to be the case that he recognizes that “beliefs” or the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is of greater importance (or is more central) than the other dimensions or aspects of a religion or a worldview.
In the next post, I will start walking though the other five dimensions of worldviews, and examining how they relate to “beliefs” or to the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of worldviews.

bookmark_borderBen Carson is Also a POLITICAL Nutcase – Part 2

Ben Carson is a religious nutcase, and he is a POLITICAL nutcase as well.  He is a double threat to the national security of the United States of America, and a double threat to the well-being of every American citizen.
Fortunately, even the know-nothing republicans of Iowa appear to have discerned that Ben Carson would make a lousy president. Hopefully, in a few weeks, Ben Carson will drop out of the presidential race and go back to fleecing right-wing idiots with his various books and book tours.
NOTE:  Jeff Lowder wants to keep political posts on this site to a minimum, and I’m in agreement that our focus should be on naturalism, atheism vs. theism, and philosophical critique of religious beliefs.  So, after this post, I plan to cool it on my political posts, and keep my focus on our usual issues and topics here at The Secular Outpost.
As I mentioned in the previous post on Ben Carson, the irrationality and stupidity of his political views has a striking similarity to the irrationality and stupidity of his religious views.  Seventh Day Adventism was founded by Ellen White, and White grew up as a Millerite.  William Miller was a The-End-Is-At-Hand alarmist who persuaded thousands of gullible American Christians that Jesus was going to return to the Earth and judge all mankind in October of 1844.
I’m not familiar with the writings of Ellen White, but she did have many “visions” and did take herself to be a modern-day prophet, so it appears that she did not escape from the irrational alarmist view of the world that she was raised to believe as a Millerite.  And it also appears to be the case that at least in some Seventh Day Adventist circles, there are still Chicken Littles who go about proclaiming that “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”.
The irrational alarmist tendencies of Ben Carson’s Seventh Day Adventism is similar to his irrational anti-communist paranoia and alarmism.  The anti-communist paranoia and alarmism of the McCarthy era was stupid back in the 1950s, but it is no longer stupid; it is CRAZY to be an anti-communist alarmist in the 21st century.  The hysterical anti-communists that can be found on the internet these days are like members of the Flat-Earth Society.  They are people who have lost touch with reality and who are in need of counseling, therapy, and in some cases, serious anti-psychotic medication.
There are at least three reasons to believe that Ben Carson is a POLITICAL nutcase:
1.  Ben Carson read The Naked Communist and thought it was a good book.
2. Ben Carson frequently promotes The Naked Communist and urges that everyone shoud read this book.
3. Ben Carson believes that The Naked Communist was a very prescient book: “You would think by reading it that it was written last year. ” (Quoted in the Preface of the current edition of The Naked Communist)
W. Cleon Skousen was the author of The Naked Communist, and Skousen was one of a number of hysterical anti-communist writers/speakers in the 1950s who made a living by stirring up fear and paranoia about communist spies, communist subversion,  communist conspiracies, communist plots, etc.  Skousen was an unhinged crackpot, so the fact that Carson not only agrees with Skousen but actively promotes Skousen’s book The Naked Communist, is a clear indication that Carson is a political nutcase.  For further details, see David Corn’s article in Mother Jones:
See also the background article on Skousen at
The last nail in the coffin, however, is reason (3) above.  Reason (3) shows that Ben Carson is most definitely a POLITICAL nutcase.  This point will require a bit of explanation, and some description of the contents of the book The Naked Communist (hereafter: TNC).
One important fact about TNC is that the first eleven chapters, spanning the first 240 pages of the book (out of 358 pages for the whole book), are devoted to an exposition of the history and philosophy of communism.  These 240 pages clearly date the book.
TNC was first published in 1958.  The most current book referenced in the bibliography is dated 1955 (Fifty Years in China by John Leighton Stuart).  There are also footnotes on some pages, and a few footnotes refer to magazine or newspaper articles from 1960 (see for example the footnotes on the bottom of page 216).  In the chapter called “Communism in the United States” the most recent document mentioned in footnotes is dated 1953 (footnote 69 on page 130).  In the chapter called “Post-War Communist Attacks” the most recent book mentioned in footnotes is dated 1955 (The FBI Story by Don Whitehead).
In the first 11 chapters of TNC, there are just a few publications or documents mentioned in footnotes that date from 1961 (footnote 99 on page 207, footnote 94 on page 198, footnote 111 on page 224).  So, Skousen apparently added a bit of new material after the original publication of TNC in 1958.  But, it is clear that Skousen’s exposition of the history and philosophy of communism is based on books and articles mostly from the 1950s and prior decades, with just a few points added from sources dated to 1960 and 1961.  So, the history and philosophy of communism presented in the first 240 pages of TNC is based on information that was available in books and articles from more than 50 years ago.
Because the exposition of the history and philosophy of communism in the first 240 pages of TNC is obviously dated, there is no good reason for Carson to say, concerning this portion of the book, that “You would think by reading it, that it was written last year.”  No.  Any person of modest intelligence can plainly see that the material on the history and philosophy of communism was written mostly in the 1950s,  with a few bits and pieces added in 1960 and 1961.
In fact, based on an examination of the contents of TNC, Carson’s comment only makes sense in reference to Chapter 12: “The Future Task” (p. 241-275).  The final chapter, Chapter 17 also has some material relevant to Carson’s claim, but that is because that chapter is basically a summary of the whole book (it is a speech delivered by Skousen in 1953).  Chapter 13 is more material on communist philosophy.  Chapters 14 and 15 are focused on American political philosophy and capitalism.  Chapter 16 is a very brief discussion of the relationship between Christianity and communism.  Nothing in Chapters 13 through 16 would provide a reason to view TNC as being prescient or as seeming to have been written in the 21st century.  Therefore, we can confidently conclude that Ben Carson’s frequent comment that you would think “it was written last year” is based primarily on Chapter 12, and perhaps the parts of Chapter 17 that correspond to the content of Chapter 12: “The Future Task”.
Chapter 12 of TNC contains a list of 45 “Communist Goals”, and these goals can be found all over the internet on web sites created by right-wing crazies who are convinced that Obama is a communist and that the communists have either already “taken control” of the United States government, or will do so any day now.
In repeatedly making the assertion that The Naked Communist is a book that seems like “it was written last year”,  Ben Carson is revealing himself to be one of the hysterical paranoid right-wing nutcases that can be found barfing up their paranoid anti-communist views across the internet.  Here is just a small sample of these looney-tunes wing-nuts:
What all of these right-wing nut cases have in common is a breathless awe at how Skousen’s 45 “Communist Goals so clearly predicted the future, and how (Oh My God!!) nearly every one of the 45 Goals has been attained.  The extreme stupidity of these right-wing crazies is what is truly worthy of breathless awe.
FIRST, although Skousen did provide many quotations and references to Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and various communist publications in support of his claims about communist philosophy and practices, there is not a single quotation or footnote supporting the list of 45 Communist Goals.  Since Skousen was a crackpot who often made wild and unsupported claims, we have no reason to believe that these are actual goals of any communist party or communist organization.  Skousen has provided no evidence supporting these claims, so he might well have just pulled them out of his ass, for all we know.
SECOND, there is an obviously false assumption made by Skousen and the right-wing crazies who are followers of Skousen:
If some communists are in favor of X that means that X is a bad idea.
A third grader of moderate intelligence can see the stupidity of such a broad generalization, but not these nutjobs, and not Ben Carson.  For them, if the commies are for it, then they are against it; no thinking required.
Even if communism is the worst and most evil ideology that humankind has ever produced, it does not follow that EVERYTHING that communists desire or have as a goal is bad or undesireable.  Communists want to eat food and drink water, so is it EVIL to eat food?  Is it EVIL to drink water?  Of course not.  To draw such a conclusion would be pure idiocy. Therefore, the fact that communists have X as a goal DOES NOT MEAN that X is evil or that X is a bad idea.  We have to look at each goal and each policy and do our own independent evaluation of it; we have to use our brains and think about this stuff.
To be reasonable, when examining a specific goal or policy, we should take into consideration not only right-wing and capitalist reasons and arguments, but also liberal, left-wing, socialist and even communist reasons and arguments about each specific goal.  In some cases the reasons and arguments of conservatives and capitalists will be stronger than the reasons and arguments of liberals, left-wingers, socialists, and communists.  In other cases, however, the reasons and arguments from liberals and the left will be stronger than those coming from conservatives and capitalists.  Thus, some of the 45 Communist Goals are simply GOOD IDEAS that were implemented because they were GOOD IDEAS, not because of some imaginary secret society or evil conspiracy.
Of course, if one is a dogmatic right-wing nutjob, then no arguments from liberals or leftists are given serious consideration, and so the right-wing point of view wins out on every issue, in spite of the fact that in many cases liberals or left-wingers have very good reasons to support their views on particular issues or policies.
Some of the alleged “Communist Goals” seem to be good ideas to me, at least there are good reasons that can be given to support these goals:
12. Resist any attempt to outlaw the Communist Party.
13. Do away with loyalty oaths.
34. Eliminate the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
C0ncerning goal (12), I don’t want to live in a country where the government decides which political parties will be allowed and which will be shut down by the government.  That is contrary to the ideals of freedom and democracy.  If a political organization openly advocates violence and terrorism, then I have no problem with the government keeping an eye on that organization and placing constraints on the organization, and even taking the property and assets of the organization, so long as laws prohibiting this kind of activity are clear and the government follows due process constraints, giving such suspect organizations their day in court.  But to simply outlaw a political party because we strongly disagree with the views and policies of that party is contrary to American ideals of freedom and democracy,  and this is an obvious point that requires no significant study or investigation to discover.  Only an idiot would view outlawing a political party as being an unproblematic proposal.
Concerning goal (13), according to Skousen and the right-wing nutcases who follow him, the commies are evil to their core.  They are ruthless, wicked, immoral, lying, deceiving, murdering bastards.  So, what communist is going to hesitate to lie when asked to take a loyalty oath?  Suppose that taking the loyalty oath will give the communist access to top secret military information.  So, this evil, lying, subversive communist is going to refuse to take the loyalty oath, and give up access to top secret military information in order to avoid being dishonest?  Obviously not.
The people who will be hurt by loyalty oaths are people of conscience and integrity who have some hesitancy about publically giving up some of their independence and autonomy from the government.  People who don’t want to bow-the-knee before the U.S. government but who also don’t want to participate in making a dishonest oath.  So, loyalty oaths do NOTHING to prevent communist spies and subversives from gaining access to government jobs, but loyalty oaths do prevent some people with solid moral consciences and good moral character from gaining access to government jobs.  Loyalty oaths seem like an incredibly STUPID idea.  It would be a good thing to get rid of them.
Concerning goal (34), you would have to have shit for brains to think that the House Committee on Un-American Activities was a good idea.  This committee was a direct assault on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, due proccess, and the right to privacy.  Nothing could be more Un-American than that fascist committee of thought police.  Shutting down that committee was a very good idea.
THIRD,  many of the goals have clearly NOT been acheived, but are only believed to have been acheived in the confused and paranoid minds of right-wing idiots, like Ben Carson.  Here are a few of the alleged “Communist Goals” that have obviously NOT been achieved:
15. Capture one or both of the political parties in the United States.
17. Get control of the schools.  Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda.
18. Gain control of all student newspapers.
20. Infiltrate the press.  Get control of book-review assignments, editorial writing, and policy making positions.
21. Gain control of key positions in radio, TV and motion pictures.
23. Control art critics and directors of art museums.  “Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive meaningless art.”
37. Infiltrate and gain control of big business.
People who believe that the Communists have acheived goals (15), (17), (18), (20), (21), (23), and (37) are people who are likely to be suffering from mental illness.  Unfortunately, based on the fact that the internet is chock full of right-wing extremists who are amazed by Skousen’s prescient list of “Communist Goals”, mental illness seems to be a very widespread phenomena in this country.
In conclusion,  Skousen gives us NO EVIDENCE that any of the 45 alleged “Communist Goals” are actually goals of any communist party or organization.  Skousen makes the idiotic assumption that any goal supported by communists must be a bad idea.  Some of the 45 goals are clearly GOOD IDEAS (or at least can be supported with strong reasons and arguments), and many of the 45 “Communist Goals” have clearly NOT been acheived, particularly the “scary” goals to the effect that “The commies have taken control of X.”
Skousen is a crackpot and an idiot, at least concerning Chapter 12 of his book The Naked Communist, and this chapter is precisely the chapter that Ben Carson and thousands of mentally ill right-wing extremists have grabbed onto as the truth from on high.  Ben Carson’s comment that The Naked Communist seems like “it was written last year” reveals that Ben Carson buys into the very craziest Chapter of a book written by a fear-mongering crackpot.  Thus, Carson is indeed a POLITICAL nutcase, as well as a religious nutcase.

bookmark_borderMy Posts for 2015

My Blog Posts for 2015

FAITH (17 posts)

Jesus on Faith (6 posts)
Leap of Faith & Lessing’s Ditch (2 posts)
What is Faith? (9 posts)


The Logic of the Resurrection (7 posts)
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? (5 posts)
The Slaughter of the Canaanites – related to whether Jesus is a true prophet (15 posts)
In Defense of Dwindling Probability (4 posts)

WILLIAM LANE CRAIG (23 posts in 2015 + 1 from 2016)

Happy Easter Dr. Craig (1 post)
William Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation – the Kalam Cosmological Argument (4 posts)
What is the Conclusion of the Kalam Cosmological Argument? (5 posts)
William Craig’s Response to My Objections on the Resurrection (13 posts in 2015 + 1 in 2016)

RICHARD SWINBURNE (7 posts in 2015 + 1 in 2014)

The Argument from Providence
The Argument from Religious Experience

OTHER TOPICS (14 posts in 2015 + 1 from 2016)

The Boy Who Did Not Come Back from Heaven
100 Key Psychological Studies Repeated
Farewell to Dr. Richard Paul
What is Atheism?
What is Philosophy?
How Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’? (over 2 billion ways)
Ben Carson: Nutcase
Republican Candidates Kiss the Ring of Kevin Swanson at Kill-the-Gays Conference
Trump: Make America Hate Again

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 6

Evangelical Christians buy T-shirts and bumper stickers that proclaim this slogan:
Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The problem with this slogan is that a relationship is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false):
1. If Christianity is a relationship, then Christianity is true only if a relationship is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2. A relationship is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
3. If Christianity is a relationship, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is true.
But the Evangelical Christians who buy T-shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming that “Christianity is a relationship” are ALSO going around proclaiming that “Christianity is true”.  These claims are logically incompatible.  If one accepts the view that “Christianity is a relationship”, then one must also REJECT the view that “Christianity is true”.  Thus, the T-shirt and bumper sticker buyers are (surprise, surprise) asserting logically contradictory claims.
The Christian apologist James Sire is more sophisticated than these T-shirt and bumper sticker buying Evangelical morons, but he, nevertheless, falls into a very similar self contradiction.  Sire asserts that the Christian worldview is true, but then he defines “a worldview” in a way that makes this impossible:
A worldview is a commitment…  (Naming the Elephant, p.122)
The same sort of objection applies to Sire’s proposed definition of “a worldview”:
1A.  If the Christian world view is a commitment, then the Christian worldview is true only if a commitment is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2A. A commitment is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
3A.  If the Christian worldview is a commitment, then it is NOT the case that the Christian worldview is true.
But Sire, like virtually all Christian apologists, asserts that “Christianity is true.” and that “The Christian worldview is true.” Thus, just like the morons who buy the T-shirts and bumper stickers, Sire contradicts himself by asserting that the Christian worldview “is a commitment”.
Religious experience is another thing that some Christians would like to identify with Christianity or the Christian worldview, but this is just another example of the sort of category mistake made by moronic T-shirt buyers and by James Sire:
1B.  If Christianity is an experience, then Christianity is true only if an experience is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2B.  An experience is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
3B. If Christianity is an experience, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is true.
If someone wants to claim that “Christianity is an experience”, then he/she will have to give up the widely held belief (among Christians) that “Christianity is true”.
People are free to define “Christianity” or “the Christian worldview” however they wish, but people are not free to define “Christianity” and “the Christian worldview” in a way that contradicts some other statement that they wish to proclaim to the world.  So, if Christians want to stop proclaiming that “Christianity is true”, then I have no problem with them re-defining “Christianity” to mean whatever they want it to mean.
However, if they decide to use the word “Christianity” to refer to a feeling, an experience, a commitment, or a relationship, I will then respond: I couldn’t care less about your feelings, experiences, commitments, and relationships; I’m interested in truth and knowledge, so please go away and don’t bother me with insignificant blather about your feelings, experiences, commitments, or relationships.  Don’t talk to me unless you have some (alleged) bit of truth or knowledge to share with me.
Wear the stupid T-shirt if you wish, but don’t wear the stupid T-shirt and then try to convince me that “Christianity is true”; just wear the T-shirt and shut your ignorant pie hole.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 5

In his book The Universe Next Door (IVP, 3rd edition, 1997; hereafter: TUND), James Sire speaks of worldviews as things that can be true:
…I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own–why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.  (TUND, p.10, emphasis added)
In the opening pages of Chapter 1, Sire loosely equates faiths, worldviews, and collections of beliefs:
The struggle to discover our own faith, our own worldview, our beliefs about reality is what this book is all about.  (TUND, p.15)
This seems right to me.  The Christian faith can be thought of primarily as a worldview, as the Christian worldview, and the Christian worldview is basically a collection of “beliefs about reality”.  Furthermore, if this is correct, then it makes sense to ask the question: Is Christianity true?  This question would be equivalent to asking the question: Is the Christian worldview true?  These questions would make sense because a worldview is basically a collection of beliefs about reality, and beliefs are the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
This understanding of the nature of the Christian worldview is captured in Sire’s definition of “a worldview”:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. (TUND, p.16)
According to this defintion, a worldview is made up of a set of presuppositions or assumptions.  Presuppositions or assumptions are the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Thus, a “set” or collection of presuppositions can be true (or false) too, if all of the presuppositions in a set are true, or all of them are false.   If some presuppositions in a set are true and others are false, then the situation is more complicated, and some standard would need to be established to distinguish between sets that are “mostly true” and sets that are “mostly false”, and with sets of presuppositions we probably need to leave room for a gray area between truth and falsehood, where a particular set has a good number of true presuppositions combined with a good number of false ones.
But in a more recent book called Naming the Elephant (IVP, 2004; hereafter: NTE),  Sire takes a closer look at the concept of “a worldview”, and he changes his mind about the kind of thing that a worldview is, and he no longer considers a worldview to be “a set of presuppositions”.  His new definition goes like this:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides a foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (NTE, p.122, emphasis added)
I don’t think this is an improvement over Sire’s original definition.  There are a number of problems with this new defintion, but the most basic problem is that Sire now defines “a worldview” as a kind of commitment, not as a set of presuppositions.  The problem I have with this is that a commitment is NOT the sort of thing that can be true:
1.  If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment.
2. If the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
3. If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
Premise (1) is obviously true, and (3) follows logically from the combination of (1) and (2), so the only possible mistake here would be if premise (2) was false (or its truth was not known).
But it seems clear to me that a commitment is NOT the sort of thing that could be true (or false).  If I am correct about premise (2) being true, then one is forced to choose between Sire’s definition of “a worldview” and a claim that Sire and nearly all Christians wish to make: Christianity is true (i.e. The Christian worldview is true).
If I borrow twenty dollars from a friend and make a commitment to pay back the twenty dollars within a week, is my commitment true or false?  Does it even make sense to speak of my commitment as being true or false?  In this case, my commitment is basically a PROMISE.  Can a promise be true?  Can a promise be false?  I don’t think so.  Promises don’t describe reality.  Promises also don’t describe or predict the future.  In promising that I will pay the twenty dollars back next week, I’m NOT predicting that I will pay the money back next week.
I can be insincere in making a promise.  That happens if I have no real intention of paying the money back when I make the promise to pay it back.  An insincere promise is a deceptive promise, but that does not make the promise false, because the function of promising is NOT to describe how things are or even to describe how things will be in the future.
If I was sincere in making the promise to pay back the money, then the promise was a sincere one, but even so I might fail to pay the money back.  Perhaps a theif steals all my money shortly before I was going to pay back the loan.  Perhaps I have enough money to pay back the money but I get into a car accident and because of a head injury I go into a coma that lasts for two months.  Does this mean the promise I made was false?  No.  Truth and falsehood don’t apply to promises.  In these scenarios, I fail to keep my promise, but have a good reason for my failure.
If a promise is not the sort of thing that can be true (or false), then this suggests to me that a commitment is not the sort of thing that can be true (or false), since a promise is a kind of commitment.  Are there other types of commitments that can be true (or false)?
What about a parent’s commitment to love, raise, and care for, a child?  No doubt it is a good thing for a parent to love, raise, and care for his or her children.  Sometimes it can be difficult and challenging to love, raise, and care for a child, especially if the child becomes sick or disabled or has emotional problems.  Commitment to loving, raising, and caring for a child is needed to ensure that these activities are persisted in for the long haul and even when this becomes difficult and challenging.
Can such a commitment be true (or false)?  I suppose that a person might pretend to have such a commitment towards a child, while secretly looking for an opportunity to escape from the situation and to abandon the child.  That would be a fake or insincere commitment.  But we don’t talk about a parent’s commitment to a child being true (or false).  We could say that a parent was “truly committed” to loving, raising, and caring for his/her child.  But that just implies that the commitment is sincere and strong.  If a parent publically declares “I am committed to loving, raising, and caring for my child.” that might be either like making a promise (to love, raise, and care for the child) or it might be an assertion which describes his/her attitude, an assertion that could be true (or false).  But what is true (or false) in this case is NOT the commitment, but the STATEMENT about the existence of that commitment or attitude.  Statements or assertions can be true (or false), but commitments and attitudes cannot be true (or false).
In the earlier book The Universe Next Door, Sire clearly believes that the Christian worldview is true, and his defintiion of “a worldview” in that book supports this idea, because it makes sense to talk about “a set of presuppositions” being true (or false).  But it seems that in his more recent book Naming the Elephant, Sire still wants to talk about worldviews as being true (or false) even though his new definition seems to rule this out.  In the opening paragraph of the Preface, Sire speaks about worldviews in terms of truth:
For almost fifty years I have been trying to think in worldview terms.  It was worldview analysis that made the literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance come alive for me in graduate school at the University of Missouri.  It was the history of worldviews that formed the skeleton on which as a teacher I hung the flesh of English literature.  Moreover, developing a congnizance of my own worldview has provided a way of orienting not just my own thoughts but my whole take on life itself.  I have, in short, long been interested in detecting the basic intellectual commitments we make as human beings, reveling in their variety, delighting in the depth of their insight when they have grasped the truth and despairing over their disastrous consequences when they have proven false. (NTE, p.11, emphasis added)
To what does the prounoun “they” refer in the last sentence of this paragraph?  Since the opening sentence, the second sentence, the third sentence, and the fourth sentence are all about worldviews, it seems reasonable to take the pronoun “they” as referring to “worldviews”.  In that case Sire assumes that at least one worldview has “grasped the truth” and that at least one worldview has “proven false”.  So, Sire appears to still want to say that a worldview can be true (or false).  But given his new definition of “a worldview” it seems to me that it no longer makes any sense to talk about a worldview being true (or false).
In the opening paragraph of the Preface to Naming the Elephant, Sire appears to assume that a person’s worldview consists of “the basic intellectual commitments” that a person makes.  What is an intellectual commitment?  Can an intellectual commitment be true?  By modifying the term ” commitment” with the adjective “intellectual” it seems to me that Sire is trying to build the idea of a belief or proposition back into the sort of thing that a worldview is.  An “intellectual commitment” is something much like a FIRM BELIEF, or better: FIRM ASSENT.  But assent is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false), in my view.
Think about the traditional Justified-True-Belief analysis of KNOWLDEGE:
Someone S knows that proposition P is the case IF AND ONLY IF:
1. S has sufficient justification for believing that proposition P is true, 
2.  Proposition P is true, 
3.  S believes that P is true.
The belief condition (3) can be satisfied even if the truth condition  (2) is not.  In other words, we can believe a FALSE proposition.  It doesn’t matter how FIRMLY S believes P, even if S feels completely certain that P is true, S might be mistaken, and P might be false, in spite of how strongly S believes that P is true.  It is not the believing or the ASSENT that is true (or false); it is the proposition, the object of the believing or assenting, that is true or false.
Someone might firmly believe that proposition P is true, but have no good reason for believing this.  Such belief might be irrational or unreasonable belief, belief which is lacking in rational justification.  Such believing is generally bad or undesirable, but we don’t say that foolish or irrational believing is true (or false).  It is the OBJECT of belief or assent that can be true (or false), not the believing or assenting.
If “intellectual commitment” means something like “firm belief” or “firm assent”, then this attitude is NOT something that can be true (or false). Therefore, if “intellectual commitment” means something like “firm assent”, then, based on Sire’s new definition, a worldview is NOT something that can be true (or false), and thus the Christian worldview is NOT true (or false).  But Sire does not appear to realize that his definition of “a worldview” turns Christianity into something that CANNOT be true (or false).

bookmark_borderWhat Could God do about Evil?

My post “Evil: Still no Good Answers” has provoked a lively discussion with over 200 comments. Theistic commentators naturally want to argue that there are indeed plausible reasons for God to permit evil, even evils of the magnitude, extent, and variety that we find in the actual world. A common theme of these replies is to demand that those who pose atheological arguments from evil must state realistic alternatives. How, specifically, might God have eliminated or alleviated the moral or natural evil of the world? It is easy enough, they imply, to bemoan the world’s evils, but if this complaint is to have substance, if it is to be more than a cri de coeur, then there has to be some plausible account of just how the world could have had less evil without also eliminating the greatest goods.
It is the case that evils and goods are connected in intricate ways so that some goods, indeed, some of the most important ones can only arise in the face of evils, and eliminating those evils would also cost us the related goods. For instance, it is easy to imagine a universe that would be a hedonistic paradise with no travail, hardship, or challenge and with well-fed, healthy creatures living lives of ease and never having a pain or enduring a want that is not instantly gratified. But such a life would only be a sort of Brave New World of self-indulgence and selfishness populated by lazy sybarites who dream nothing, achieve nothing, have no deep thoughts or feelings, and experience no great triumphs. A world with no pains, frustrations, or heartbreak, where a comfortable life requires no effort and nothing bad ever happens to anyone would also be a world in which nothing would matter, there would be no greatness or nobility, and everyone would be an over privileged, spoiled, useless nonentity (think the “affluenza” teen).
But the Problem of Evil (PoE) is not a complaint that life is not a fool’s paradise of meaningless indulgence. It is a false dilemma to pose the only choices as between a world of hedonistic indulgence and the vale of tears we currently inhabit. That life can be made better without depriving it of meaning is, in fact, apparent from human history. Compare, for instance, the lives of people currently living in Scandinavia with the lives of their ancestors 1200 years ago. Compared to today’s residents of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, the lives of their Viking ancestors were poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Science, medicine, technology, an advanced economy, and the development of more humane cultural ideals, such as social equality, have made lives much better. Further, it is a good bet that Scandinavians now are, on the whole, more considerate, compassionate, and kinder than they were 1200 years ago. It is an obvious fact that lives of violence and hardship tend to make people worse, and that, by contrast, a modicum of material comfort and personal security frees people from the need to focus narrowly on their own survival.
So, the point that we are making in raising the PoE is not that we crave a hedonistic pseudo-paradise, but that many of the evils in life appear wholly pointless and that the world would be better off without them. With the worst evils, we cannot even imagine what would, in principle, redeem them. In The Brothers Karamazov, the question is posed whether we would agree to a universe of universal happiness if the price were that one small, innocent creature would be tortured to death. That question should give you pause. Yet in our world many thousands of small innocent creatures are tortured to death every day. Some die slow, painful deaths due to disease or malnutrition. Others are torn by bombs or bullets or crushed as their homes collapse in earthquakes or tornadoes. Others are burned in house fires or mangled in automobile accidents. The toll is truly staggering. The skeptic has to ask why not one of these could have been spared. If, in fact, such carnage—not even sparing one—serves some vast eternal plan, that plan would seem wholly unimaginable, not only beyond our comprehension, but beyond our wildest fancy. Not only can we not see how such evils will be redeemed, we cannot even imagine how they could be redeemed.
In philosophical terminology, the plethora of apparently pointless evils makes us wonder whether some might be genuinely gratuitous. A gratuitous evil is one that not even an omnipotent being could redeem. Only logical necessities could frustrate the will of an omnipotent being. If an omnipotent being wants a state of affairs to hold, that state of affairs will exist unless it is logically impossible for that state to be realized. Thus, not even an omnipotent being could create the state of affairs in which something exists that was both round and square at the same time and in the same respect. Further, a perfectly good being will only permit a preventable evil if that evil is a necessary condition for preventing an even greater evil or achieving some good great enough to redeem that permitted evil. Finally, an omniscient being will be aware of all possible goods and evils and the modal relationships between them, e.g. whether some evil might be a logically necessary condition for the realization of some good [To say that p is a logically necessary condition for q is to say that □~(~p & q)], or, equivalently, □(~p → ~q).]
Putting together the conclusions of the above paragraph, we can define the kinds of evils that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being will permit. Instead of “permit” I will use “actualize” where “actualize” encompasses both of what Alvin Plantinga calls “strong” and “weak” actualization. A being actualizes something strongly when that being directly creates it. Such a being actualizes something weakly when that being permits other beings to strongly actualize that thing. Principle P defines the necessary conditions for God to actualize an evil:
P: A perfectly good, omnipotent, and omniscient being will actualize an evil e only if (a) the actualization of e is a logically necessary condition for the prevention (the non-actualization) of an even worse evil e*; in other words, necessarily, e* is actualized if e is not. Or (b) the actualization of e is a logically necessary condition for the actualization of a redeeming good g; in other words, necessarily, if e is not actualized, then redeeming good g is not.
To see what is meant by a “redeeming good,” suppose that the actual world, Wa, contains both evil e and good g where e is a logically necessary condition for g. Now consider another world, W, that is as much like Wa as possible, except that W contains neither e nor g. The good g is a redeeming good in the actual world if the total goodness of Wa (with both e and g) is greater than the total goodness of W (with neither e nor g).
Put simply and informally, God (an 0mniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being) will permit an evil e only if in the long run (sub specie aeternitatis) the occurrence of e permits God to increase the total goodness of the world. A gratuitous evil will therefore be one that not even God can redeem. Perhaps it is an evil so bad that nothing can redeem it—not even anything achievable by an omnipotent being. Or perhaps that evil is not a necessary condition for achieving the highest goods; omnipotence can achieve such goods without permitting such evil. Expressed another way, a gratuitous evil is one that an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being cannot have a morally sufficient reason for permitting because (a) an omniscient being would know about such an evil, (b) an omnipotent being could have prevented that evil, and (c) a perfectly good being would have done so. Clearly, then, if an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists, there is necessarily no unredeemable, i.e. gratuitous evil. Hence, if any evil is in fact gratuitous, then there can be no being that is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good. In other words, if any evil is in fact gratuitous, God does not exist; indeed, God necessarily does not exist.
Are there gratuitous evils? William Rowe famously argued that the plethora of instances of suffering by innocent creatures, such as a fawn burned in a forest fire, provides reasons for thinking that one or more of such instances probably constitutes a gratuitous evil. Let’s expand on this argument a bit. Surely, a gratuitous evil would be an instance of unwanted and undeserved suffering. How many instances of unwanted and undeserved suffering have there been? The neurological complexity to experience suffering is probably quite ancient, extending far back into the Paleozoic. Let’s suppose, then, that in the Phanerozoic Eon (the last 542 million years). There have been one trillion (1012) instances of unwanted and undeserved suffering. If just one of these was gratuitous, then God does not exist. For instance, if one Diplodocus suffered needlessly in the late Jurassic, then God does not exist. We can construct a Rowe-like argument as follows:
1) If one or more of the 1012 instances of unwanted and undeserved suffering was gratuitous, then God does not exist.
Premise: Definition of “gratuitous.”
2) The overwhelming majority of those 1012 instances of unwanted and undesired suffering are apparently gratuitous.
Premise: In the vast majority of cases of unwanted, undeserved suffering, we can see no plausible or even possible redeeming good, i.e. they appear utterly pointless to us.
3) We have no reason to think that those instances of apparently gratuitous, unwanted and undeserved suffering were, in fact, not gratuitous.
Premise: There is no a priori reason for thinking that our perceptions of apparent gratuitousness must be wrong.
4) If, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the instances of unwanted and undeserved suffering appear to be gratuitous, and if there is no reason to hold that they are in fact not gratuitous, then at least one instance of undeserved, unwanted suffering is probably gratuitous.
Premise: If very many a’s appear to be b’s, and if there is no reason to think that a’s are not b’s, then we conclude that a’s are probably b’s. A fortiori we may conclude that some instance of a probably is b.
5) Some (one or more) of the 1012 instances of unwanted, undeserved suffering was probably gratuitous.
Conclusion: From 2, 3, and 4.
6) God probably does not exist
Conclusion: From 1 and 5.
“Skeptical theists” would challenge premise 4 of the above argument. They would argue that the apparent gratuitousness of an evil is no grounds for concluding that it probably is gratuitous. They argue that atheologians rely on a “noseeum” assumption; that is, they assume that if they cannot see any way for an evil to be redeemed, then it is probably not redeemable. However, they say that God is omnipotent and has eternity to work with. Our perceptions of what is or is not redeemable within our very limited framework may not hold in God’s unlimited framework. We probably cannot even imagine the goods that God might have planned for the long run, nor can we conceive of the unfathomably complex logical connections that might exist between goods and evils. The upshot is no matter how horrendous and pointless an evil appears to us, we cannot say with any confidence that an all-powerful being cannot redeem it in the course of eternity.
Fair enough, the atheologian could reply, but such skepticism cuts both ways. Sure, it initially sounds plausible to say that God might achieve some goods so great that we cannot even imagine them. Suppose I even admit that God might have some currently unfathomable reason for permitting evil, that is, so far as I know, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that God could redeem every evil in the long run. But such a concession amounts to very little. To overcome my current, very strong, perception of the seeming gratuitousness of some evils, it is not enough to say that, so far as I know, God might redeem them; I have to have some reason to think that it is to some degree probable that each and every one of such evils is redeemable. Yet the very arguments of skeptical theism—about the limitations of our knowledge of the capacities of omnipotence and the complexity of logical relations between goods and evils—undermine the hope that we could have such reasons. The brutal murder of a child mightultimately be redeemed. Or it might not. If the arguments supporting skeptical theism are correct, then we are just not in a position to know which is the case.  If possible future goods are unimaginable, then they are unimaginable, and we cannot stake anything on their putative redeeming virtues. Put another way, without some basis for saying what goods might plausibly redeem all evils, there is no solid basis for saying that any putative goods will do so.
The upshot is that skeptical theism leaves us in the epistemological position of saying that, so far as we can know, maybe no evil is unredeemable but, equally, maybe one or more is. So, skeptical theism seems to leave us in the position that, given the facts of evil and our epistemological position, so far as we can know, God might exist or necessarily cannot. It appears, then, that skeptical theism should more honestly be called “agnosticism.”
Most of the theistic commentators on my previous post would seem to focus on premise 2 of the above Rowe-like argument. That is, they deny that most of the world’s evils even appear gratuitous because there are good reasons for thinking that they are not. On the contrary, moral evils seem to be required to permit certain great goods and natural evils are direct results of the laws of nature and could be prevented only by God’s constant ad hoc miraculous interference with the operation of those laws, which would seem to negate the whole idea of a law-governed universe. With respect to moral evils, the arguments generally take what we might call the “necessary risk” line or the “soul building” line. Let’s begin with these.
Genuine moral goodness seems to involve risk. To be genuinely good, a choice must be free. No one shoplifts with a cop standing right there. Our acts are good when they are not compelled or constrained by anything; rather, we do them simply because we choose to do the right thing. But the freedom to do the right thing seemingly entails the freedom to do the wrong thing. If, at the moment of making a morally significant choice—say shoplift/not shoplift—I am inhibited from making the bad one, then my choice was not free, and it lacks moral worth. God, being omniscient, knows all the “counterfactuals of freedom,” that is, he knows which choices will be made by free creatures in every possible world. Therefore, when we are about to make a bad choice, God could interfere, but if he were to interfere and prevent our bad choice, he would, ipso facto render our resulting good choice meaningless and worthless. That “choice” would be no choice, but the only thing we can do when God has prevented its alternative. My “choice” not to shoplift would have no more moral merit than hiccupping or sneezing. The upshot appears to be that even God has to run some risks. If he is to have a world with genuine moral goodness, he must not interfere with choices even when they are bad. Yet genuine moral goodness is such a great good that it is worthwhile even if, inevitably, many choices will be bad, even horrendous.
But the reasoning of the above paragraph could be redirected to an entirely different conclusion. It is true that if God prevents agent A from making a bad choice at t, and instead makes him make the right “choice,” then A’s “choice” at t has no moral value. However, zero moral value is higher than negative moral value, and a bad choice would have had disvalue, i.e. negative moral value. Seemingly, then, God could maximize moral goodness by allowing us to make our good choices freely, but interfere to prevent our bad choices. The good choices would be just as morally valuable, but the disvalue of bad choices would be replaced by the moral neutrality of a determined “choice.” Further, God could do this in a subtle way so that his interference would not be obvious. He could ensure that the phenomenal features of the determined “choices” are exactly the same as those genuinely free choices. So, if God were to interfere only with choices that would go bad, the world would have as much moral goodness resulting from good choices as it presently has but no moral evil, and so would have a much greater total amount of moral goodness. So, really, God does not need to run any risks at all. Unless bad choices themselves somehow also contribute moral goodness (And how could that be?) their elimination will increase the total moral goodness of the world.
I think the argument against the above proposal would be this: Surely we would eventually notice that, though we were often tempted to do wrong, and though it would often be in our self-interest to do so, we never actually make bad choices. Wouldn’t we begin to suspect after a while that we were being secretly manipulated, given the appearance of freedom, but really kept on a very short leash? Would we not begin to resent being God’s marionettes and start to seek ways to circumvent the controls placed on us? People deeply resent being manipulated or controlled even when it is “for their own good.” Or, perhaps, once we realize that we always choose the good, we would get lazy, not bother resisting temptation or striving to do the right thing since we know that God will not let us go wrong anyway.
The above counter-argument has some force, but is hardly conclusive. The worst evils of the world could be greatly reduced if God only stopped some of our worst choices. That is, God could permit us to choose somewhat bad things, but stop us from choosing to do the really horrendous things. Thus, we would be allowed to choose to slap someone, but not to douse them with gasoline and ignite them. We might be allowed collectively to discriminate against some group in employment or housing (bad as that would be), but not to send them to death camps. Really, the most harmful atrocities are instigated by a relatively small number of particularly bad choices by a minority of individuals. Most of us, in the vast majority of circumstances, would not even conceive of murdering or raping our neighbors. We are not even tempted to do so, even if our neighbors have loud, late parties, knee-high grass, and let their dogs and kids run wild. That is, for most of us, most of the time, it is not a matter of choosing not to do horrible things; the thought never crosses our minds, or, if it does, it is rejected in horror. God could make that the case for everyone all the time, and we would not think anything about it. I assume, dear reader, that you are a decent person and that it never even occurs to you to, e.g. blow up a crowded market full of innocent people. Indeed, you could not bring yourself to do such a thing. Does the fact that there are some moral evils you cannot even conceive of doing seem to be any onerous limitation placed upon you, a burdensome restriction of your freedom? I think not, so why doesn’t God do that for everybody?
One thing God could do without abrogating free choice is to change the psychological circumstances that often prompt people to make evil choices. God could make sure that in any choice situation, we are vividly aware of what the good is, not confused about it, as we so often are. He could limit our powers of self-deception and make us see through the flimsy excuses we give ourselves. Further, God could strengthen our ability to resist the blandishments of pleasure or negative motivations such as greed, hatred, or vindictiveness. One fairly slight change that would help prevent very many of the worst moral evils would be to touch up human psychology so that we do not so easily perceive people as “other.” I recently saw a program about the “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans in the 1990s. One victim testified that they were murdered and tortured by neighbors they had known and lived with their whole lives. The genocide in Rawanda going on at the same time was much the same; people were hunted down and massacred by neighbors. What happened in these cases was that they had been motivated by propaganda to think of their neighbors as “other” rather than as fellow humans. God could eliminate or greatly constrain this human tendency to dehumanize fellow humans and relegate them to “other” status. This change alone would have prevented many genocides, massacres, and atrocities. Further, there is no reason to think that the tendency to see people as “other” serves much of a useful purpose anymore. It is probably just an evolutionary dangler left over from our phylogenetic history, something maybe once adaptive and now horribly maladaptive.
A second sort of response to moral evil is to follow the “soul-building” theodicy developed by John Hick in his Evil and the God of Love (1966). Hick argues that a world with no evil would be a world with no opportunities to make ourselves into great-souled human beings. We make ourselves into truly worthy people by overcoming evil and hardship. But if God permits horrendous evils in order to build people’s characters, he certainly chose a grossly ineffective and wasteful way of doing so. True, hardship does sometimes motivate some people. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, long after he was comfortably mega-rich, wrote that when young he had the “blessing” of poverty. Being poor motivated him to make something of himself, and so, with brains, luck, and pluck he became one of the wealthiest men in the world. However, for very many people, poverty is simply crushing, leading to despair and the vices of hopelessness, such as alcoholism and drug abuse. Of course, someone could get on a high horse and say that those who let poverty sink them into despair simply should have chosen to deal with it as Carnegie did instead of letting it get them down. However, such sanctimonious preachment and moral dudgeon would look like a very unattractive instance of blaming the victims. The fact of the matter is that grievous suffering often makes people worse; it is all too often soul-destroying rather than soul-building.
Finally, isn’t the suffering due to natural evils ultimately due to the laws of nature? Disease and natural disasters are caused by the same underlying natural forces and entities that cause everything else. Indeed, the causes are often the same. A warm front that brings a destructive tornado to Oklahoma might bring only a balmy springtime breeze and gentle showers to Arkansas. If it is good to have a law-governed universe, and not one constantly adjusted by ad hoc miracles—and I think this case could be made—then we have to take the bad with the good that comes from the natural order, right? However, God created the laws of nature and was not required to create the ones we in fact have. Couldn’t an omnipotent being have created more benign laws that had more good effects and fewer bad ones? Theodicists often do not give God enough credit. They think of him as having far less power and intelligence than an omniscient and omnipotent being would have. Instead, they think of him as limited by the same sorts of circumstances that limit us.
Perhaps, though, it is right to fear that when we start speculating about alternate laws of nature, we are in danger of flying off into cloud-cuckoo-land. Fair enough, but there are many conceivable ways God could have limited natural evil even without massive constant interference or creating a whole different set of laws. In the 19th Century, the most prominent botanist in America was Harvard Professor Asa Gray. He was a strong supporter of Darwin, but demurred on one point. He could not believe, as Darwin did, that variation was always random. He held that God, on certain rare occasions, would cause a favorable variation to arise in a population, a variation that natural selection could then act upon. Indeed, I think that theistic evolutionists hold something like this today. If, in fact, God had done this, he could have eliminated some of the world’s nastiest things. Brain-eating amoebae, the rabies virus, Yersinia pestis, the tsetse fly, the Sydney funnel web spider, and lots of other nasties would not have existed or could have been made harmless.
In short, there is a great deal that God could have done to have removed some of the worst evils from the world, without making us into lotus-eating layabouts. The world could have lacked some of its worst evils without depriving us of a significant amount of freedom or removing our chances for achievement and self-improvement. Indeed, suffering has often inhibited moral growth, and a modicum of comfort and security has often promoted it. God could have done better and he should have.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 4

I think of Christianity as being a worldview. But what is a worldview? How should we analyze and compare and evaluate worldviews?
There are different ways of understanding and analyzing worldviews, so before I defend my cognitivist view of religions, I should make an attempt to clarify the concept of “a worldview” that I plan to use in my evaluation of Christianity.
Here are some books that analyze worldviews and/or discuss the concept of a worldview:
Worldviews In Conflict by Ronald Nash
The Universe Next Door by James Sire
Naming the Elephant by James Sire
The Religions of Man by Huston Smith
Seven Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs by Ninian Smart
Leslie Stevenson and Ronald Nash both treat worldviews as philosophies or systems of beliefs, so their understanding of the concept of a worldview is closest to mine. Nash does, however, briefly mention the idea that there are “Nontheoretical foundations of theoretical thought” (Worldviews in Conflict, p.23-26).
Huston Smith analyzes Buddhism in a way that is very similar to the way that Stevenson analyzes worldviews (compare The Religions of Man, pages 102-103, with Seven Theories of Human Nature, pages 5-9).
Ninian Smart is a religious studies expert from UC Santa Barbara (he was commencement speaker at my wife’s graduation from UCSB, and my plan was to ask him to be part of the comittee for my dissertation on the resurrection of Jesus). Smart’s conception of a worldview includes philosophical beliefs or doctrines but also includes other “dimensions”:
1. Doctrinal and philosophical
2. Mythic and Narrative
3. Ethical or Legal
4. Ritual or Practical
5. Experiential or Emotional
6. Social or Institutional
(Worldviews, p.8-10)
So, Smart’s conception of a worldview represents a challenge to my congitivist view of religion, which focuses on beliefs or doctrines.
James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door treats worldviews as systems of beliefs, in keeping with my cognitivist view of religions:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the makeup of our world. (The Universe Next Door, p.16)
However, after reviewing a number of different thinkers who have discussed the concept of a worldview, Sire made some significant revisions to his conception of a world view. He develops and explains his new conception in his book Naming the Elephant:
The time for rethinking the concept of worldview has come. If the analysis that follows is correct, four important revisions to my own earlier definition of worldview are in order. First is a recognition that a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Second is an explicit insistence that at the deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of the “really real”. Third is a consideration of behavior in the determination of what one’s own or another’s worldview really is. Fourth is a broader understanding of how worldviews are grasped as story, not just as abstract propositions. (Naming the Elephant, p.13)
Near the end of the book (see Chapter 7), Sire puts forward his new definition of a worldview:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (Naming the Elephant, p.122)
This revised definition of “a worldview” by Sire appears to depart from the purely cognitivist view of religion and worldviews that he had in his earlier book The Universe Next Door. So, his more recent concept of “a worldview” represents a challenge to my cognitivist view of religions and of Christianity.

bookmark_borderDr. Richard Carrier’s Rebuttal to My Commentary on His Exchange with Dr. Luke Barnes about the Fine-Tuning Argument

This is one of those debates where you really have to get into the details just to arrive at an informed position. I’ve read his rebuttal, but so much time has passed that I will need to re-read his book chapter (yes, I did read it), Barnes’ posts, and my commentary before I can even decide what to make of his rebuttal. Because of other commitments, it’s doubtful that I will be able to do that anytime soon. But that’s no reason not to check out his rebuttal for yourself, if you’re interested in the fine-tuning argument.
Update 17-Jan-16: Fixed the link.