bookmark_borderA Problem for the Problem of Evil?

whack-a-mole
William Lane Craig once gave a talk entitled, “Top 10 Worst Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Along the same lines, maybe someday I should a talk entitled, “Top 10 Worst Objections to the Argument from Evil.” But, for now, I want to focus on just one of the top ten objections, the idea that the argument from evil (for atheism) can be flipped on its head into an argument from evil (for theism).
I’ve refuted this objection over and over again, which might lead some regular readers of this blog to complain that I am beating a dead horse. But, since this is a meme which won’t die, I think a better analogy than dead horses is the game of “whack-a-mole.” Continue reading “A Problem for the Problem of Evil?”

bookmark_borderDoes anything really matter?

Does anything really matter?
Some people say no. Such people are proponents of nihilism, the view according to which nothing matters. According to nihilists, there is no reason to care about anything whatsoever. Nihilists do not deny that people care about things, they claim only that there is no reason to care about anything.
Other people say yes. Among the people who say yes, some claim that the only things that matter are the things that we care about and, by caring about them, we make them matter. These people are subjectivists. On the subjectivist view, something’s mattering is always a matter of it mattering to some person or other, or to some group of people or other. Something might matter to me (or to my group), but if you don’t care about it, then it doesn’t matter to you. Something can matter to me or to you (or to us or to them), but it doesn’t make sense to say that something can just matter, full stop.
Such a view is not a view according to which anything matters. Those who say that nothing can matter unless we care about it would express their view more clearly if they said that nothing really matters.
Other people who say yes reject this kind of subjectivism. Of these opponents to subjectivism, there are some who say that things matter only because God exists. If there was no God, these people insist, then nothing would matter. Such people hold,

(G) God’s existence guarantees that things matter. If God did not exist, then nothing would matter.

What would make (G) true? (G) might be true because something only matters because God cares about it. If so, then those who accept (G), despite their opposition to subjectivism, actually accept a version of it. According to subjectivists, something matters only when it matters to someone (or group) or other. Those who accept (G) think that something matters only when it matters to God. Their view is a version of what we might call individual subjectivism. On such a view something matters only when it matters to a particular individual. Those who hold (G) think that the only individual who can make things matter is God.
In order to find out whether such people are right, we should think about some of the things that matter and ask whether God has anything to do with their mattering.
Consider, for example, the agony of a small child who is suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Such agony matters. And it matters whether there are people who try to alleviate this suffering. And it matters whether they are successful.
Suppose now that God does not exist. Would this child’s agony matter any less? Suppose caring individuals successfully treat this child’s malnutrition and nurse her back to health. Would the fact that God does not exist make this successful intervention fail to matter? It is difficult to see how.
Theists who defend the view according to which nothing matters if God does not exist would express their view more clearly if they claimed that nothing really matters. If things matter only because God exists, then nothing really matters.
Let’s return to the more general subjectivist claim that something’s mattering is always a matter of it mattering to some person(s) or other. On this general subjectivist view, things matter to me only if I care about them.
This view is implausible. To see why, consider that I can ask, “Why does what I care about matter? Why should I care about that stuff? I know that I do care about it, the question is why I should.”
A subjectivist would say that the person who asks such questions has misunderstood what it means for things to matter. On this kind of subjectivism, something matters to a person precisely when that person cares about it. But suppose that someone now asks, “But do the things that I care about actually matter?” How should a subjectivist respond?
He could say, “Well, they matter to you” and hope that this ends the conversation. But this will not satisfy, as is revealed by the following reasonable reply: “Yes, I understand that they matter to me, but I want to know if they should matter to me? Telling me that they do matter to me does not answer my question.”
‘Should the things that matter to me actually matter to me?’ Might seem like a strange or even nonsensical question, but it is neither. The person who asks it is saying this: 
Yes, I understand that these things matter to me. But maybe I am wrong about them, maybe they don’t really matter and I should not care about them. I want to know if they really matter.
When we say such things and ask such questions, we are asking for reasons to care about the things we care about. We want to know whether the things we care about are worth caring about. To say that something matters is to say that there are features of the thing that give us reasons to care about it. So, to say that suffering matters is to say that suffering has features in virtue of which we ought to care about whether it occurs. What the person who asks the question above wants to know is whether there is anything that gives him reasons to care about it.
I think that the answer to this question is yes. For example, we ought to care about whether and how much suffering occurs; indeed, we ought to want that as little suffering occurs as is possible. The nature of suffering gives us reasons to want it to not occur and to do what we can to avoid it, to the extent that this is possible.
When the subjectivist says that only the things that we care about matter and that, by caring about them, we make them matter, he is saying that nothing has any intrinsic features in virtue of which we ought to care about it. It follows that agony has no intrinsic features in virtue of which we ought to care whether it occurs. It follows from this that there is nothing about the fact that if a nuclear weapon were exploded over Seoul, millions of people would experience severe agony that gives us a reason to care whether this event occurs. This is why I said that subjectivists would express their view better if they claimed that nothing really matters.
When a theist claims that if God does not exist, then nothing matters, she is saying that nothing has any intrinsic features in virtue of which we ought to care about it. It follows that agony has no intrinsic features in virtue of which we ought to care whether it occurs. It follows from this that there is nothing about the fact that if a famine struck a large swath of Africa, hundreds of thousands of people would suffer and die from malnutrition that gives a reason to care about whether such an event occurs. This is why I said that such theists would express their view better if they claimed that nothing really matters.

bookmark_borderCan Brains Think?

Victor Reppert and I have been arguing for forty years. Our first debates took place when we were both students at Candler School of Theology, Emory University way back in the seventies. For a while, we even lived down the hall from each other in the same house. (Among other things, I learned that you do not play chess with Victor unless you do not mind losing.) Our exchanges have continued in public and in private ever since. While I have learned a lot, I remain frustrated. There are some basic points about which we not only still disagree, which is to be expected, but where the basis of our disagreement is not really clear—not to me at least. Perhaps one or both of us is invincibly ignorant on some points, but I hope not, and on the basis of that hope I will try to get the bottom of one point.
One point of intractable disagreement concerns the mental and the physical. I maintain that some physical acts are mental acts. That is, I hold that human mental acts are fully realized in the physical functioning of the human brain. As I see it, “mental” and “physical” are not names of disparate ontological categories but are related as performance to performer. An analogy would be the relation of a song to a singer. A song is not a physical thing, but an abstract pattern of sounds and words that can be physically realized in the performance of a singer. When Renée Fleming sings an aria, no one questions that the performance is a purely physical one, accomplished by her lungs, diaphragm, larynx, and other parts of her vocal anatomy. Yet the performance is a physical realization of something not physical. Again, the aria itself, as an intellectual creation of a composer and a librettist, is not a physical thing but a pattern capable of indefinitely many distinct representations and realizations.
I suggest that, similarly, the best way to understand something like Einstein thinking “E = mc2” is that in thinking that thought Einstein was executing a performance, analogous to singing an aria, in which the comprehension of an abstract conceptual content (a mental act) was something he did with his brain. In general, the “mental” is something the physical does, and so a “mind” should be understood functionally as anything that performs mental acts. By the way, though I think that “mind” should be defined functionally, I am not a “functionalist.” Functionalism defines mental states in relational terms, but I see this as fundamentally wrong. It seems to me that many mental states must be defined in intrinsically and irreducibly qualitative and non-relational terms. Therefore, as I see it, qualitative mental states, such as a perception of redness, are creations of the brain, and qualitative terms like “red” or “sweet” are properly understood, not in relational terms, but as adverbial modifications of the nature of our conscious experience. It is more accurate to say that we see “redly” rather than that we “see red,” which misleadingly implies that a qualitative modification of an experiential process is an object or thing.
Victor finds such suggestions incoherent, but I have not yet succeeded in finding out exactly why. Often our discussion comes down to whether a brain can understand logic. Note that the question is not whether a physical system can do logic. Obviously, you can easily program the syntactic rules of, say, propositional logic into a computer. Likewise, the standard functionalist types of explanation could surely account for the fact that brains can do logic problems and proofs. However, Victor would maintain that not only can we do logic, but we can understand what we are doing. We have knowledge of semantics as well as syntax. Maybe then, for the sake of argument, we should concede the point of arguments like Searle’s Chinese Room that machines might simulate human understanding but cannot duplicate it. Victor holds that neither computers, brains, or any other physical system can genuinely understand. Let me see if I can capture his reasons why.
Victor often notes that a brain, as a physical system, operates in accordance with the laws of physics. Presumably, nothing miraculous occurs in the operation of the brain. Like any other complex physical system, a rainforest perhaps, nothing occurs at any level that is not, at rock bottom, a causal consequence of the operation of microphysical entities, behaving in accordance with their nature, that is, in accordance with the laws of physics. The laws of logic, on the other hand, are expressions of abstract relations between ideational contents. Such laws are of a fundamentally different sort from the laws of physics in that they entail nothing about the behavior or physical bodies. True, we sometimes think logically (far too often not), but even when we do we do not have to.
By contrast, if we can exclude quantum effects, a brain is supposedly a deterministic system with its total state in a given moment being determined by its total prior state plus any external causal input delivered by the senses. In other words, what makes the brain do what it does comes down to physical causality and if, as naturalists hold, the laws of logic, qua nonphysical, have no causal efficacy, then they cannot determine and brain processes. If, as naturalists hold, brain process determines mental process, then the laws of logic can have no efficacy in determining our mental acts. For instance, when we reach a conclusion, we cannot explain that we reached the conclusion logically, or due to the laws of logic. On the contrary, impersonal, non-rational, and non-normative physical processes determined that outcome. Logic had nothing to do with it.
I hope that the above paragraph accurately captures Victor’s reasoning. Again, my reply would be that, indeed, the “laws of logic” are abstract conceptual or propositional contents and relations, and per se have no causal efficacy. However, I maintain that the act of grasping or comprehending those abstract contents and relations is a physical act, a performance of the brain, and that act, qua physical most definitely does enter into the nexus of physical causation. In that sense reasons are causes. It is not the abstract propositional content of, say, the statement of modus tollens that constrains or compels me to reason in accordance with that rule, but rather my physical act of recognition that modus tollens is a valid argument form that, in complex combination with other causal factors and conditions, determines my conclusion in accordance with that rule.
So, if Victor, or anyone, can tell me—clearly and cogently—why understanding logic or anything else is something that brains cannot do, I would be most appreciative.

bookmark_borderConfederates in the Closet

Note: This is off topic, but because of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia and elsewhere I thought it might be of interest.
I was born in Macon, Georgia in 1952, the fourth generation of the Parsons family to be born in Georgia.  My great-great grandfather Parsons was born in London, England, and in 1844 he settled in Georgia on land only recently stolen from the Creek Indians.  On the other side of the family, my roots in Georgia go back at least five generations.  Several of my ancestors owned slaves.  Several fought in the Civil War; no need to guess which side.  Am I sorry that my ancestors owned human beings? Yes, of course I am. Am I ashamed that my ancestors fought for the Confederacy? Not really. I wish that they had not fought for a cause that is so odious to me, but I do not feel shame over it. But, surely, slavery, and the genocide of Native Americans, are the two greatest obscenities ever perpetrated in the western hemisphere. So how can I be unashamed of my ancestors who fought for a cause that upheld slavery?
Let’s consider just one of my ancestors, the Rev. Enoch Hooten. The smashing Confederate victory at Fredericksburg was good news for the South, but a bad day for my great-great grandfather. Seriously wounded, he was evacuated to a hospital well behind the lines.  To pass the time during the long tedium of recovery, some of the convalescents engaged in lively theological debates. An articulate, well-educated, and deeply religious man, Rev. Hooten joined these debates with great enthusiasm. He became convinced that the doctrine of total-immersion baptism was true, and so converted to the Baptist faith. They took their theology seriously in those days. What about slavery? How seriously did my progenitor take that? Was he fighting for slavery?
I don’t think so. Now, I’m sure he was no abolitionist, and if asked he would have endorsed slavery. But was he motivated to fight by a pro-slavery mania? Was it a die-hard commitment to the “peculiar institution” that inspired him to face shot and shell? I don’t think so. Consider a parallel case: Did the average Russian of the Great Patriotic War fight for Stalin?  Did he fight for Communism and for the ultimate victory of Marxism/Leninism? No, he fought because the Germans had invaded his country. He fought because he hated the invading enemy, whatever he thought of Marxist theory, if he thought about it at all. Likewise, when the Rebel prisoner was interrogated by his Union captor, he was asked why he was fighting. His reply: “Because y’all are down heah.”  Except for Gettysburg, practically all of the major Civil War battles were fought in the southern or border states.  For the southern soldier, it truly was The War of Yankee Aggression.
So, my bet is that my ancestors fought because they felt a threat to their homeland.  It is hard for us today to imagine the intensity of the Southerner’s love for home, a mystical connection to soil and hearth much like the Russian peasant’s devotion to Mother Russia.  The despised Yankees had marched onto sacred southern soil and had to be sent home yelping with their tails between their legs. To be blunt, I think most southerners hated Yankees a lot more than they loved slavery.  Southerners perceived the North as another country, and northerners as a foreign people who had no right to rule them.* That is what “States Rights” boiled down to:  “No damn Yankee can tell us what to do!”  At an even deeper level, southerners thought they were fighting for Christian values over the godless, soulless mercantilism of the north. They sang, “Down with the eagle and up with the cross!”
My point is a psychological one: My best guess is that my ancestors were chiefly motivated to fight by resentment of perceived northern aggression, not a fanatical commitment to slavery. Do I mean that I still see the South as fighting for a Glorious Cause?  Not at all.  I agree with the what Ulysses S. Grant said after the surrender at Appomattox. He praised southern courage and the honor of individual southerners, like Robert E. Lee, but said that no people had ever fought for a worse cause.  One can see a cause as very bad while respecting the motivations of the individuals who fought and died for it.  Just because you oppose, say, gun control, or abortion, or the death penalty, you don’t have to question the integrity of those who disagree with you on those issues.
So, I’m not ashamed of my Confederate ancestors. I think that, though grievously wrongheaded, they were doing what they thought that honor and duty required which, really, is all that we can ask of anyone.  What about the display of the Confederate battle flag?  My feeling is that if you want to display a rebel flag on your own property, you have every right to do so. I certainly would not.  The reason is that many people I care about, including African-American friends, are deeply disturbed and offended by the symbol, and I think it is completely understandable why they are.  Now, I don’t think we have a responsibility never to offend. I have had a “Darwin Fish” on my car and I don’t give a damn if religious fundamentalists were offended by it. The difference is that black people justly feel that the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of oppression, but evolutionists have never oppressed fundamentalists.
As for public property, the Confederate flag should not be flown there, nor should any statues or memorials to the Confederacy be displayed. The reason is the same as why a cross or crucifix should not be displayed on public property. Public property does not belong just to Christians, or just to descendants of the Confederacy. It belongs to all of us. Symbols that serve to alienate and divide, or to exclude members of the community should not be allowed on public property. On the other hand, I might be willing to countenance a statue of Robert E. Lee if a statue of Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman, just as big and just as prominent, were erected next to it.
The Civil War ended over 150 years ago. It is remarkable how that conflict still divides us.  Descendants of Confederates insist that their heritage be respected.  But while we honor our ancestors for many reasons we do not celebrate many of the things they did. I honor the culture, religion, and indomitable spirit of my Viking ancestors, but I do not admire their piracy, murder, and mayhem. Similarly, I am sure that my Confederate ancestors were admirable in many ways, but secession and slavery were despicable. I think that we descendants of Confederates must also respect–deeply respect–the feelings of those whose ancestors suffered so grievously under the system of slavery. In the end, the ones most deserving of honor are those who were the victims of slavery and of the hundred years of Jim Crow repression that followed slavery.
*Southerners still stereotype northerners as rude, pushy smartasses.  Of course, northerners stereotype southerners too.  When was the last time a southern white male was portrayed in the media as anything other than a bigot, a toothless hillbilly rapist, a vicious, potbellied sheriff, or, at best, a grinning, ignorant good ol’ boy who likes hot cars and hot biscuits?

bookmark_borderWhat could God’s commands do for morality?

Consider the following version of divine command metaethics (DCM):

Our moral obligations are constituted by divine commands. In particular,
F is morally obligatory = God has commanded that we F
F is morally wrong = God has commanded that we not F
F is morally permissible = God has neither commanded that we F nor commanded that we not F.

On this theory, God’s commands constitute moral obligations and thus, in the absence of divine commands, there are no moral obligations.
Suppose that God exists in the actual world and has issued many commands. Among the commands that he has issued is the following:
Thou shalt not torture innocent children.
Now consider a possible world that consists of all of the same natural facts as the actual world and in which God exists but has not given any commands. Call this the no-divine-command-world or world-NDC.
Importantly, in world-NDC God has all of the same characteristics that he does in the actual world. This implies that, in world-NDC, God approves of all of the same actions that he approves of in the actual world and that God disapproves of all of the same actions that he disapproves of in the actual world.
Now suppose that an inhabitant of world-NDC, let’s call him Bill, is trying to decide whether it would be wrong for him to torture a child. Suppose he says the following:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering and God strongly disapproves of it, but God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage in child torture.”
This piece of reasoning should strike us as very odd. In knowing that the act causes unnecessary suffering and that God disapproves of the act, doesn’t Bill know enough to conclude that it would be wrong for him to torture the child? What could the fact that God commands that we not torture add to the relevant list of facts Bill already knows? However, on the version of DCM that we are considering, Bill’s reasoning is impeccable.
But Bill’s reasoning is not impeccable. It is seriously flawed. If you are not convinced that it is flawed, consider the following bit of reasoning that Bill might produce instead:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering, God strongly disapproves of it, and if God had issued any commands, then he would have commanded that we not engage in it, but God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage in child torture.”
We might respond to Bill’s reasoning as follows:
We know that, if God had commanded anything, he would have commanded that we not torture children. And that is enough to tell us that the action is wrong. What could the fact that God has not actually issued a command to not torture have to do with whether torture is wrong? If you are worried about whether God actually issued the command, then you are focused on the wrong thing. That God has or has not issued a command about torture is not a morally relevant fact about torture because it is not even an intrinsic feature of torture. That is, it is a fact about some particular agent, not about acts of torture. In this sense, then, the fact that God commands that we not torture would be like the fact that torture is sometimes depicted in fictional narratives. That fiction writers have depicted torture is not an intrinsic fact about torture, it is a relational fact. That fiction writers sometimes depict torture tells us much more about fiction writers than about torture. Such relational facts cannot be what make an action morally wrong. In the same way, that God commands that we not torture tells us more about God than about torture. Given what we know about torture, worrying about whether God has actually commanded that we not torture is misplaced. To focus on whether God actually commands something is to focus on the wrong thing; it is to focus on something that cannot make an action morally wrong. To the extent that God matters here, what matters is what his disapproval tells us about the act of torture. A perfectly loving being strongly disapproves of torture. If this is relevant, it is relevant only because it means that the action has features that give God reasons for disapproving of it. That is enough to tell us that the act has features that give us moral reasons to not engage in it. And that implies that, even in the absence of a divine command, the action has features that make it wrong.
Now consider another possible world—a world that consists of all of the same natural facts as the actual world and in which God does not exist. Call this world the no-God-world or world-NG. [I think that world-NG is the actual world, but we are here assuming, for the sake of ease of expression, that God exists in the actual world. Nothing depends on our making this assumption.]
Now suppose that an inhabitant of world-NG, call him Paul, is trying to decide whether it is morally wrong to torture a child. Suppose he says the following:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering, but since there is no God, God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage in child torture.”
According to DCM, this reasoning is impeccable. But this is wrong. Just as with Bill’s reasoning, Paul’s reasoning is seriously flawed. Given what Paul knows about torture, namely that it causes severe needless suffering, he knows enough to know that it would be wrong to torture a child. If you are not convinced that it is flawed, consider the following bit of reasoning that Paul might produce instead:
“Well, torturing a child causes severe unnecessary suffering, and, if God existed, he would disapprove of it, and if God had issued any commands, then he would have commanded that we not engage in it, but since there is no God, God has not commanded that we not engage in the action, so it must not be wrong to engage child torture.”
We might respond to Paul as follows:
We know that, if God did exist, he would strongly disapprove of the act of torturing children and that if God had commanded anything, he would have commanded that we not torture children. And that is enough to tell us that the action is wrong. What could the fact that God has not actually issued a command have to do with whether the action is wrong? If you are worried about whether God actually issued the command or whether God actually disapproves of the act, then you are focused on the wrong thing. That God does or does not approve of and has or has not issued a command about torture are not morally relevant facts about torture because they are not even intrinsic features of torture. That is, they are facts about some particular agent, not about acts of torture. In this sense, then, the fact that God disapproves of torture or the fact that God commands that we not torture would be like the fact that torture is sometimes depicted in fictional narratives. That fiction writers have depicted torture is not an intrinsic fact about torture, it is a relational fact. That fiction writers sometimes depict torture tells us much more about fiction writers than about torture. Such relational facts cannot be what make an action morally wrong. In the same way, that God disapproves of torture and commands that we not torture tells us more about God than about torture. Given what we know about torture, worrying about whether God actually disapproves of torture or has actually commanded that we not do it is misplaced. To focus on whether God actually disapproves of something or commands something is to focus on the wrong thing; it is to focus on something that cannot make an action morally wrong. To the extent that God matters here, what matters is what his responses would reveal about the act of torture. What matters is that the object has features that would lead to God’s disapproving of the act and commanding that we not engage in the act. When we know that a perfect God would disapprove of torturing children and would command that we not torture children, we know enough to know that torture is wrong. And this is because what we know is that torture has features in virtue of which a perfect God would disapprove of it and command that we not do it. And these features are what make it wrong, not God’s commands.

bookmark_borderAn Experiment in ‘Steelmanning’: Let’s Try to Formulate a Good Argument from Cosmology Against Naturalism

In the spirit of my last post, I think it would be interesting to engage in some inquiry about whether the kalam cosmological argument is onto something. Rather than try to repair the kalam cosmological argument as it stands, I think it would be interesting to channel Richard Swinburne or Paul Draper and see if there is a good F-inductive argument against naturalism based on known facts in cosmology.
Here’s a quick refresher on notation:
Pr(x): the epistemic probability of any proposition x
Pr(x | y): the epistemic probability of any proposition x conditional upon y
Pr(|x|): the intrinsic probability of any proposition x
“>!”: “is much more probable than”
“>!!”: “is much, much more probable than”
B: background information
T: theism
N: naturalism
E: The expansion of our universe had a beginning.
Here is the relevant background information:
B1. Our universe exists.
B2. Our universe is expanding.
And here is the F-inductive argument:
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. N is not intrinsically much more probable than T, i.e., Pr(|N|) is not much greater than Pr(|T|).
3. Pr(E | T & B) >! Pr(E | N & B).
4. Other evidence held equal, N is very probably false, i.e., Pr(N | B & E) !< 0.5.
Notice that this arguments includes in the background information (B1) the fact that our universe exists. By itself, B1 is evidence favoring naturalism over theism. This argument–and premise (3) in particular–says, “Given that our universe exists and is expanding, the fact that its expansion had a beginning is more favorable on theism than on naturalism.” So this argument starts with the general fact which is the topic of the argument from physicality (our universe exists), and attempts to argue that, given the general fact, a more specific fact about cosmology favors theism over naturalism.
Let’s assume that (1) and (2) are true. Can anyone come up with a good reason or reasons to believe (3)?
Please discuss in the combox.

bookmark_borderGenuine Inquiry vs. Partisan Advocacy: Philosophy of Religion vs. Apologetics

Yesterday I blogged about a “recommended apologetics reading” list created by Western Michigan University philosopher Tim McGrew. After several cordial exchanges with Tim, I’ve decided that, despite my best attempts to be charitable, I failed. Contrary to what I had suggested, Tim stated, “I certainly would not recommend that anyone with a serious interest in the truth of Christianity restrict himself to reading only the works I have listed.” I take him at his word, and so I have decided to delete the entire blog post, rather than try to repair it, and replace it with this one.
I want to make a distinction between genuine inquiry, on the one hand, and partisan advocacy, on the other. Consider a central (but far from the only) topic in the philosophy of religion: the existence or nonexistence of God. Consider, for a moment, what it would mean to engage in genuine inquiry regarding God’s existence. If the word “inquiry” means anything at all, surely it means more than “read stuff which confirms the point of view you already hold.” It should include, at a minimum, reading opposing viewpoints, not with the goal of preparing pithy one-liners for debates, but with the goal of actually trying to learn something or consider new ways of looking at old topics. For professional philosophers, I would imagine that inquiry would also include trying to “steel man” your opposition, i.e., trying to strengthen the arguments for your opponent’s position. It might even include publishing arguments for a position you do not hold and even reject.
In contrast, partisan advocacy is, well, exactly what it sounds like it is. Much like an attorney hired to vigorously defend her client in court, a partisan advocate isn’t interested in genuine inquiry. To the extent a partisan advocate reads the “other side” at all, she does so in the same way presidential candidates try to find out the “truth” about their opponent under the guise of “opposition research.” So, for example, if a partisan advocate were to create a reading list about God’s existence, they would compile a list of recommended resources which either exclusively or overwhelmingly promoted a certain point of view and without even a hint that a balanced inquiry should be taken.
As suggested by the subtitle of this post, if we apply the genuine inquiry vs. partisan advocacy distinction to religion, I think we get the distinction between (an ideal) philosophy of religion vs. apologetics.
Now, this raises an interesting question.  At what point is a person, especially a professional philosopher, entitled to say this: “Genuine inquiry is nice and all, but viewpoint X is such obvious nonsense that the time for inquiry is over. After all, no geologist engages in ‘genuine inquiry’ about whether the earth is flat. So why should we treat theism (or atheism) any differently?”
I am not sure about the ‘full’ answer to that question, but I think at least part of the answer has to consider two points.
First, I think the current state of professional opinion is relevant. Surely part of the reason no one engages in genuine inquiry about the flat earth hypothesis is the fact that there are no competent geologists who endorse it. In contrast, among philosophers generally and philosophers of religion specifically, there are equally qualified authorities on both sides.
Second, I think the concept of intrinsic probabilities can play an important role here. I’m a naturalistic atheist, but I’m fully convinced by Paul Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability, which shows that naturalism and supernaturalism have equal intrinsic probabilities. While theism is a specific version of supernaturalism (and so is less intrinsically probable than naturalism), its intrinsic probability is not infinitesimal. Furthermore, not only does theism have a non-negligible intrinsic probability, there is evidence in its favor. It seems to me that if a theory (1) has a non-negligible intrinsic probability; (2) has evidence in its favor; and (3) is held by significant percentage of philosophers, not to mention the general population, then that theory is worthy of genuine inquiry. And notice that these same points apply to atheism or naturalism, which is why theists should also engage in genuine inquiry.

bookmark_borderIs Ravi Zacharias a Hypocrite Regarding Christian Sexual Morality?

Steve Baughman reports that Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who I critiqued long ago, has admitted to receiving sexually explicit photos from a married woman not his wife. If true, this would obviously not be a crime, but it would definitely be a violation of Christian sexual morality.
As a reminder, Baughman previously documented how Zacharias had exaggerated his academic credentials.