bookmark_borderCan humans create meaning? Can God?

Sean Carroll is an excellent scientist and philosopher. One of his greatest virtues is that he understands both the important role that philosophy must play in the scientific enterprise and that there are some questions that science is not situated to answer and that are the province of philosophy. It is always worthwhile to listen to him discuss scientific and philosophical issues. In the following clip, he talks with Robert Lawrence Kuhn about whether there can be meaning and purpose in a godless universe.

Some of the things that Carroll says in this video are very insightful. For example, he says that it is wrong to think of meaning as a separate kind of thing that must be added to the universe. However, I think that his larger point about meaning and purpose is, at best, ambiguous and, on the most natural interpretation, completely wrong.
In the video (at the 5:17 mark) Carroll says,

“Any person who has wants or desires brings meaning into existence.”

and

“The question, ‘Is there meaning in the world?’ is just the question, ‘Are there human beings who care about things?’ and the answer is obviously yes.”

These statements are ambiguous. There are two things that Carroll might be indicating. First, he might be saying that persons are themselves valuable and that, because of this, the existence of persons makes the world meaningful. Second, he might be claiming that persons create value in virtue of wanting and desiring things. While there is this ambiguity, I think it much more likely that Carroll means to indicate the second rather than the first.
If I am right, then Sean Carroll is here offering a subjectivist account of meaning. He is claiming that there is meaning so long as there are humans who care about things and that this is because, by caring about things, humans make them meaningful. A subjectivist view of meaning claims that meaning is dependent on the goals, interests, desires, reactions, or attitudes of subjects. On such a view, it would be correct to say that human subjects create meaning by making things meaningful. We make things meaningful, on Carroll’s view, by caring about them. Thus, their being meaningful depends on our attitudes. Is Carroll right about this?
Consider,

Emptiness: Leela has lately been preoccupied with the thought that life is probably not worth living. Her friends Philip and Amy are trying to help her through this existential crisis. Leela says that she suspects that life is ultimately empty of all significance, merely an unfortunate and meaningless accident. Philip and Amy remind Leela that there are many things that she cares about: her friends, her career, her charity work helping orphans. Leela says that it is true that she has cared about those things, but now she wonders whether she should concern herself with them at all. “All of these people and all of these things,” Leela says, “are just tiny, insignificant specks in the unfathomable and infinite depths of the indifferent universe. And, like Roy Batty, I am acutely aware that all of them will be lost in time like tears in rain. In such a world, in which a human life is but an infinitesimal fleeting instant compared to the vastness of time and space, can anything really matter?”

When Leela wonders whether she should care about what she used to care about, she is not wondering whether, in fact, she still cares about these things; she is wondering whether there are reasons for her to care about these things. It would be no help to her and no answer to her question to insist that she does care about them. She suspects that life is meaningless not because she doesn’t care about anything (and certainly not because there are no humans who care about things; she knows that there are plenty of people who care about things). She is worried that life is meaningless because, she suspects, there are no reasons to care about anything.
Consider now the statement,

(M) There are things that matter to Leela.

This statement is ambiguous. (M) might mean

(N) There are things that Leela cares about.

Or,

(O) There are reasons for Leela to care about some things and Leela recognizes those  reasons and responds to them by caring about these things.

(N) is a psychological claim about Leela. It says that Leela has concern for certain things. But (N) does not tell us whether there are reasons for Leela to have such concern. And Leela’s worry is that there might not be such reasons. According to Carroll, Leela can make her life meaningful just by caring about things. But telling Leela that there are things that she cares about (or at least that she has cared about) will not help her; this will not enable her to see that life is meaningful. This is because the problem facing Leela, the problem of whether her life is meaningful, is precisely the problem of whether she has reasons to care about anything.
We cannot create value, significance, or meaning because we cannot make it the case that there are reason to care about things. We can make things that are worth caring about, but we cannot make it the case that they are worth caring about. As Derek Parfit says,

We cannot, however, make things good by commanding or willing that they be good. Though we can sometimes change people’s evaluative beliefs, that is not a way of creating new values. Nor can we make anything matter. When something matters to us, in the sense that we care about this thing, that is merely a psychological fact. Something matters only when, and in the sense that, we have object-given reasons to care about this thing. (Parfit Vol.2, 601)

Carroll is wrong about meaning. Though we can make our lives meaningful in the sense that we can choose to bring things into our lives that matter, we cannot make things valuable, we cannot make things matter, and we cannot make things meaningful. This is not because we lack the power to do so. It is not because humans are small and weak; even God cannot make things matter. God can make things that matter (but so can humans) but God cannot make the things that he makes matter. In the same way, humans can produce some of the things that matter in life (though not all of them and maybe not even the most important of them), but we cannot make these things matter. Whether the things we make matter, whether anything matters, is something over which we have no control. Humans cannot make things matter because it is impossible to make things matter.
In what sense can God create meaning?
Near the beginning of the clip (roughly the 1:43 mark) Carroll says that our conception of meaning changes when we leave theism behind since we are not given instructions from God and that “it is, at the very least, up to us to create these things.” This is a significant error. The conception of meaning is not altered by whether God, or any other supernatural entity, exists. Whether life is meaningful depends on whether there are, in our lives, things that matter. And whether there are things that matter is a matter of whether there are things that are worth caring about. The question of whether life has meaning is not the question of whether anyone cares about things but whether there are things such that there are reasons to care about them.
The claim that God makes life meaningful is ambiguous. There are two different things that it might mean:

(A) God creates the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile (and that, in virtue of being valuable and worthwhile, give our lives meaning).

(B) God makes it the case that the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile are valuable and worthwhile. Thus, by making these things valuable and worthwhile, God makes it the case that our lives are meaningful.

Those who, like Carroll, think that our conception of meaning and purpose must change when we abandon theism are assuming (B). Any atheist who thinks either that humans can create their own meaning even in the absence of God or that, in the absence of God, life is objectively empty of meaning, are implicitly assuming (B) as well. And I think that many theists also believe that (B) is the case.
If you believe that God is the creator of Heaven and Earth, then you believe that (A) is true. In creating things like human beings, and the planets and stars, and natural landscapes, and plants and animals, and happiness and love, God creates things that have value. God, if he exists, creates the things that are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation; and, in doing so, he makes it possible for human lives to be meaningful. If God exists, then, because of God and his activity, there exists things such that we have object-given reasons to care about them. However, if (A) is true, God does not make any of these things valuable; he does not make it the case that these things are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation.
If life is meaningful, if there are object-given reasons to care about things, then, even on theism, the things that are valuable and worthwhile (the things that make life meaningful and worth living) must be valuable and worthwhile even if God does not exist. Now, it is always open for a theist to claim that, on her worldview, nothing can exist in the absence of God. Well, in that case, if God did not exist, life would not be meaningful but for the trivial reason that life would not be. I am not here trying to rule out or defeat the claim that all concrete things (including the things, like people, and nature, and happiness, and joy, that make life meaningful) depend for their existence on God. What I am trying to rule out is the claim that the value of these things depends on God.
(B) is false. And everyone, theist and atheist alike, should be able to agree that it is false. We know that God cannot create value and meaning because we know that there are some things that God cannot make valuable, worthwhile, or meaningful. And if there are some things such that God cannot make them valuable (etc.), then this implies that God does not have the power to bring value into existence where it does not exist. In other words, God cannot take something that, in the absence of God and his activity, would be worthless and make it worthwhile. Let’s expand this argument.
We know that there are things that God cannot make good or worthwhile. God cannot make suffering good. He cannot make wanton murder worthwhile. Each of these cases involves something that is intrinsically bad and so the thought that God could make these things good involves the thought that God could take something that is intrinsically bad and make it good. This thought is absurd. The nature of suffering gives us reasons to avoid it and God cannot change that. If the nature of suffering were different, such that we no longer had reasons to avoid it, then it would no longer be suffering (and thus talk of the nature of suffering being other than that of providing us with reasons to avoid it is absurd). Wanton murder results in significant suffering and involves the cutting short of a worthwhile life. God cannot make such activity good.
Now, since there are some things (e.g., suffering and murder) that God cannot make good and worthwhile, it follows that God lacks the capacity to make bad things good. This shows that God’s power is limited in this domain, that is, the domain of value, significance, and meaning. If we agree that God cannot make awful things good, then why would we think that he can make anything good?
This same reasoning implies that there are things that God can’t make bad. Consider happiness. The nature of happiness gives us reasons to pursue it, promote it, and appreciate it. God cannot change that. What could God do to make happiness be something that we have no reason to pursue? The question answers itself.
The recognition that it is the nature of suffering that gives us reasons to avoid it and it is the nature of happiness that gives us reason to pursue it yields the following generality: It is the nature of things that provide us with reasons to desire, pursue, preserve, appreciate, care about them. (This is what Parfit means to indicate when he speaks of object-given reasons.) God can create things with a nature, but it is in virtue of that nature (rather than the fact that it is created by God) that these things are significant, insignificant, worthwhile, worthless, etc. God cannot take something whose nature gives us reasons to avoid it and make it something that is worthwhile to pursue. Similarly, God cannot take something, like a piece of refuse, whose nature gives us no reason to pursue, preserve, appreciate, or care about it, and make it the case that this piece of refuse, with this nature, is worthy of pursuit, is desirable, (etc.). And God cannot take something, like happiness, whose nature gives us reason to pursue it, and make it the case that this thing (something, e.g., with the nature of happiness) is something that we have no reason to pursue, preserve, appreciate, or care about.
God can make things that are valuable, but he cannot make it the case that they are valuable. So, let’s compare two universes. The first, which we’ll call G-universe, is one in which God exists and in which life is meaning and there are things that matter. The other universe, NG-universe, is one that is just like G-universe but in which there is no God. Since the things in G-universe, such as planets, stars, human beings, animals, etc. would exist in NG-universe and would have their same nature and properties, there would still be things that matter in NG-universe. For example, there are human beings in NG-universe and human beings have the same nature and properties in NG-universe as they have in G-universe. Since it is the nature of things that provide us with reasons to pursue, preserve, appreciate, or care about them, if humans matter in G-universe, they matter in NG-universe. Suffering and the relieving of suffering exist in NG-universe. So, if suffering has negative value in G-universe, it has negative value in NG-universe. If the relieving of suffering is worthwhile in G-universe, then it is worthwhile in NG-universe.
Since God has the unlimited capacity to create concrete objects, if he exists, he can create things that are valuable. He can also provide states of affairs and experience that are of significant value and such that, in the absence of God, would not be possible. For example, God can provide humans with the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with a perfect being. If God does not exist, then such a relationship may not be possible. So, God can add meaning to our lives by creating or making possible things that matter a great deal, but God cannot create meaning.
In the same way and for the same reasons, we humans cannot create meaning. We can pursue meaningful things, activities, etc., and by pursuing and achieving good and worthwhile things, we can bring meaning into our lives. But we cannot make a thing or activity be meaningful. If something is meaningful, then there are object-given reasons to care about it. We cannot and God cannot make it the case that there are object-given reasons to care about anything.
 
**Note: In this essay, I have used some concepts and claims (especially about reasons) that require more development and defense than I have been able to provide here. In a follow-up essay, I will endeavor to provide these.
 

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 4: More Effort Required

“Communication is Hard”
My wife is a very intelligent woman.  I enjoy discussing religion, politics, and philosophy with her.  When I lay out an argument, either for my own viewpoint or (as the devil’s advocate) for some alternative viewpoint, she almost always raises one or two sharp objections to the argument.  She is also a person of good common sense and practical wisdom.   One of her bits of wisdom that comes up often is this:
“Communication is hard.” 
This little mantra has a couple of important implications.  First, even between people who know each other very well, miscommunications and misunderstandings are to be expected from time to time; they are inevitable.  Second, good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
So, when she is talking to me in the morning, in order to have a better chance of good communication,  I need to set the newspaper down for a moment, look her in the eyes, and actually focus my attention on the words coming out of her mouth.  Like most people, I’m not so good at multi-tasking.  Looking her in the eyes gives her some assurance that I’m listening, and setting the paper down helps me to focus my mind on what she is saying.  Good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate”
In Part 3 of this series, I harshly criticized Mr. Loftus for problems of UNCLARITY in his presentation of what I take to be the central argument of his book Unapologetic, namely Reason #9 in Chapter 5, an argument for the conclusion “Philosophy of religion must end.”  I stand by this criticism, at least the basic idea that Mr. Loftus’ presentation of this argument is seriously flawed because it is UNCLEAR.
However, in his responses to my criticisms,  Loftus has raised a point that stings a bit; he raises an objection to my critique which has some merit.  Although I don’t think he realized this, one of his comments basically turned my own critique around, and pointed it in my direction, with some justice:
“As to some working definitions of these words goes, with a little research you could find what I say of them.”
Mr. Loftus wants a big “mea culpa” apology from me, and he is not going to get that. However, I will admit to a degree of inaccuracy and unfairness in my criticism of Unapologetic in Part 3 of this series, and I will also admit to a bit of hypocrisy, but I will attempt to do better in this post.
In short, there is a failure of communication between Loftus and me concerning Reason #9 in support of his view that “Philosophy of Religion must end.”  That failure of communication is partly because Loftus FAILED to properly clarify the meanings of some key words and phrases in this central argument of his book.  However, the failure of communication is also partly because I FAILED to put in sufficient work, effort, attention, and care as a reader and interpreter of Unapologetic.
Work, Effort, Attention, Care, and Hypocrisy
Good communication requires work, effort, atention, and care.  Because Reason #9 consists of an argument involving the words “faith” and “reason” and “philosophy” and “religion”, as well as the phrases “philosophy of religion” and “faith in X”, and because these words and phrases are vague, ambiguous, and unclear,  Loftus ought to provide in this book: (a) clear definitions of each of these unclear words, and (b) some reasons and evidence in support of the proposed defintions.
Ideally, he ought to provide an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “faith” and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “religion”, and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of religion”.  He did not do this.
A less than ideal, but perhaps adequate, approach would be to provide one chapter clarifying all three of these terms, writing a subsection of about ten pages defining and clarifying each term.   Loftus did not do this.  So,  Loftus FAILED to provide adequate clarification of the key terms of his central argument,  terms that are OBVIOUSLY and NOTORIOUSLY unclear.   I justifiably pointed out in Part 3 of this series that there was a serious problem of UNCLARITY in Loftus’ presentation of Reason #9.
However,  my irritation with Loftus, as with Norman Geisler, and as with William Craig, is based on an expectation of a certain level of “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of a philosopher or intellectual in presenting an argument or a case for a point of view.  I tend to use words like “lazy” and “sloppy” and “careless” and “not a serious effort”.  Clearly, I don’t like intellectual sloth in philosophers and intellectuals.
But in that case,  I need to apply this same value and standard to my own thinking and writing, and I’m afraid that my critique of Loftus in Part 3 falls a bit short on this important standard.   Good communication also requires “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of readers and interpreters, not just on authors and writers, and I fell short on this requirement.  I threw in the towel too quickly, and I did not work hard enough to find clues that would clarify what Loftus was trying to say.
To be a good example of the intellectual values and standards that I use to criticize other thinkers, I need to make a greater effort to understand what Loftus is saying in Reason #9.   Loftus had a responsiblity to be provide more clarification of the key words and phrases in his central argument, but I also have a responsibility to make a greater effort to figure out what he means, especially to understand Reason #9, the key argument found on page 135 of Unapologetic.   I intend to get back into the ring, and make a more serious effort to arrive at a clear understanding of this argument.
Reason #9 is an interesting and significant argument about an important question.  So,  I should be willing to put in a significant degree of work, effort, attention, and care to try to understand that argument.
One critical comment that I made in Part 3 , I now regret:
His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
This criticism is not accurate and is unfair to Loftus.   I had no intention of deceiving anyone, or of making a false statement about Unapologetic, but this criticism is exaggerated and inaccurate, and I would not have made this criticism if I had made a greater effort to figure out what Loftus’ means, and to find clues in Unapologetic that would help to clarify Reason #9.
Although I am clearly unhappy with the amount and degree of clarification that Loftus provides about the key terms in his central argument,  he does provide some statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of “faith” and he does provide at least one statement that appears to be a defintion of “philosophy of religion”, and there are other clues in the book that should be considered in trying to understand what Loftus means when he talks about “faith” and “religion” and “philosophy of religion”.  I will now pay more attention to those statements and clues, to try to figure out the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.
“Philosophy of Religion” means…?
There is a discussion of “philosophy of religion” on page 114 of Unapologetic that sheds some light on what Loftus means by this phrase.  Here are are a couple of key statements from that discussion:
PoR is a discipline that has traditionally concerned itself with the claims and arguments of religion. 
…PoR seeks to understand the claims of religion (if possible) and examine the arguments put forth both pro and con by the canons of reason and evidence.  This is how PoR has historically been understood among Western philosophers.
I don’t think this is a great definition, nor do I think this is an appropriate level of clarification for the most important concept in the whole book, but it is something, and it might be enough to help me to figure out and understand Reason #9.
Loftus contrasts this understanding of “philosophy of religion” with how the discipline is actually carried out:
In practice, however, this is not the case.  Philosophers of religion are dealing with religion in religious, creedal, and confessional ways.  (Unapologetic, p.114)
This contrast between the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” and how the discipline is actually carried out in practice makes a legitimate point of criticism about the discipline.  It also introduces ambiguity into the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of relgion”.
However, it seems fairly clear to me that in Reason #9, Loftus makes use of the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”, at least in the premises of the argument:
2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end. 
This explicit premise suggests another unstated premise:
A. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
This is close to the statement about the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”.  So, I think we can expand and clarify this unstated premise by substituting the apparent defintion of “philosophy of religion” from page 114 in place of this unstated premise.  Loftus appears to be invoking the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” in Reason #9.
“Faith” means…?
Although I’m not happy with the degree of effort by Loftus to clarify the meaning of the word “faith”,  a more careful reading of Unapolgetic reveals some statements that appear to be brief definitions of this word, as well as a couple of other passages which shed some light on what Loftus means when he uses this word:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (p. 55)
…faith is always about that which lacks sufficient evidence or even no evidence at all.  I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all… (p. 92)
Just consider what’s wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses….  Faith.  The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.  If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities by proportioning their belief to the evidence (per David Hume), they would not believe at all.  (p.125)
Faith should one day be labeled a cognitive bias.  It keeps one’s cognitive faculties from functioning properly.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (p.152)
In addition to these brief definition-like statements about the meaning of “faith” Loftus has a couple of other passages that shed some light on how he understands this idea (on pages 57 and 160).
Although these definitions seem inadequate and problematic to me, they do provide some good clues as to what Loftus means by the word “faith”, and with a bit of effort on my part, this might well be enough information for me to figure out and understand the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.  So, I’m going to go back to work on that task, and when I have a clearer understanding and interpretation of Reason #9,  I will share that here in Part 5 of this series of posts.
 

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 3: The Main Argument

I cannot recommend the book Unapologetic by John Loftus, because I have not carefully read the whole book yet.  But I have read Chapter 5, which I take to be the heart of the book, and I can recommend reading Chapter 5 of Unapologetic.  It is an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking chapter about the philosophy of religion.  I disagree with the main conclusion for which Loftus argues, but there are plenty of interesting ideas to ponder in Chapter 5, including the summary of ten reasons for his view that the discipline of philosophy of religion should be discontinued.
Chapter 5 is flawed and imperfect, but it is well worth reading, if one is interested in the philosophy of religion.  Loftus presents the views of various contemporary philosophers of religion about the present state of the philosophy of religion, and then Loftus comments on the points made by these philosophers.  This is a good approach to clarifying his own views, plus it provides the reader with ideas and alternative ways of looking at this subject, which is interesting and informative.
Loftus tries to cover points and ideas from too many different philosophers in just one chapter, so his comments are generally too skimpy and superficial.  He should have either written multiple chapters covering the material in Chapter 5, or else focused in on just two or three philosophers and put more effort into explaining and clarifying his own views in contrast to those two or three philosophers.
However, he does cover three philosophers in moderate depth: Graham Oppy (p.117-118), Paul Draper (p.121-125), and Kevin Schilbrak (p.126-129). There is also about a full page devoted to Timothy Knepper’s views of philosophy of religion (p.129-130). Gregory Dawes gets nearly about 2/3 of a page for a long quotation (p.120-121).   Linda Zagzebski gets about 1/2 of a page, as does Nick Trakakis (p.115-116).  There are a couple of quotations from our own Keith Parsons (p.117, 118-119), and one quote from Jeff Lowder, who is referred to as “One other Secular Outpost author”, and who gets identified by name only in the end note (quoted on p.117, end note on p.136).
[/RANT ON]  
I often criticize Christian philosophers and apologists for their UNCLARITY and lack of sufficient argumentation, which is usually due to the fact that they are too skimpy in their writing.  For example, William Craig tries to prove that Jesus really died on the cross in just three and one-half pages in The Son Rises (p.36-40).  Craig fails to offer even one bit of actual legitimate historical evidence, and so his case is complete crap.  I am currently critically examining Norman Geisler’s case for God in When Skeptics Ask.   His entire case for God is given in just 18 pages, and 2.5 pages of that are taken up with historical side notes and a diagram.  So, his actual writing is only about 15 pages.
I have covered most of the arguments in those 15 pages and concluded that they were a “hot steaming pile of dog shit.”  I’m not sure that Geisler could do any better if he used 150 pages to present his case for God, but if he presented a more lengthy case, he would certainly need to provide more details and would have more opportunity to clarify his key concepts and claims and inferences.  Geisler’s arguments are filled with vagueness and ambiguities.  He fails to define the word “God” and repeatedly misuses this word, even though the conclusion for which he is arguing is that “God exists.”
The main problem with Chapter 5 is primarily that it is UNCLEAR because it is TOO SKIMPY; it has the same problem that I see in the writing of most Christian apologists.  It is a problem that one expects in the writing of undergraduate students of philosophy, but which should not be nearly so common in the writing of philosophers and intellectuals.  It is to be expected that an undergraduate student of philosophy would try to make a case for the existence of God in a short five or ten page essay.  But no professional philosopher should be so stupid as to think that it is possible to make a clear and persuasive case for God in just five or ten pages.
Richard Swinburne’s case for God is presented in three books: (1) The Coherence of Theism (308 pages), (2) The Existence of God (342 pages), and (3) The Resurrection of God Incarnate (203 pages).  Swinburne’s case for the existence of God is thus 853 pages long.   There are lots of philosophical details and arguments in these books that are not essential to his case, so 853 pages is a bit of overkill.
But even Swinburne’s popular case for God for general audiences (Is There a God?) is 137 pages, and this does not include his capstone argument for God, which concerns the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  So, even a popular presentation of Swinburne’s case for God would run over 200 pages, if it included his argument based on the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  Geisler’s feeble attempt to make a case for God in just 15 pages is nothing more than a pathetic joke.
[/RANT OFF]
OK.  Back to Reason #9, which I take to be the central argument for the view that we ought to put an end to the discipline of philosophy of religion.  Chapter 5 opens with some clarifications of the conclusion for which Loftus is arguing, so before I get into any further analysis of his main argument, let’s review some points of clarification and qualification from the opening of Chapter 5:
…I’m not saying philosophy proper is stupid or dead or unnecessary… (p. 111)
…I’m not saying that atheist philosophers…should dismiss religions out of hand or ridicule them.  (p.111)
…I’m not even saying that atheist philosophers should cease writing books on philosophy of religion (PoR) or that they should cease all lectures or classes on such topics in secular universities.   (p.112)
He adds this point at the end of his comments about “what I’m not proposing”:
Keep in mind, however, that if they [“atheist philosophers and intellectuals”] do PoR correctly it will no longer be considered the philosophy of religion as defined today, but something else. (p.112)
In the section called “What I am Proposing” (on pages 112 through 115), Loftus provides clarification about what he IS proposing:
It [Loftus’ proposal] follows the same pattern as Hector Avalos’ call to end biblical studies as we know it… (p.112)
It’s also something Peter Boghossian proposed in his provocative book, A Manual for Creating Atheists (p.112)
[Boghossian’s advice to educators]: “…Do not take faith claims seriously.  Let the utterer know that faith is not an acceptable basis from which to draw a conclusion that can be relied upon.”  (p.112)
The fourth paragraph is probably the most important one in this section, so I will quote the entire paragraph here:
I am primarily calling for the end of PoR as a separate subdiscipline under philosophy in secular universities.  Further, whenever there is a PoR class, it should be taught correctly, if it’s to be done at all.  Like all other subjects in secular universities, PoR classes must be taught in a secular way by treating all faith-based claims equally and privileging none, if they are taught at all.  If PoR is successfully taught in this bold and honest manner, the instructors themselves will help end the PoR and religion along with it.  Philosophers of religion should go about the task of putting themselves out of a job by telling their students the truth–that faith is an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about matters of fact such as the nature of nature, its workings, and its origins.  It is also an unreliable way to decide which religion is true, if there is one. (Unapologetic, p.112-113)
Loftus provides another two pages or so of comments explaining what he is proposing, but this paragraph is sufficient clarification of his conclusion for now.
I want to return now to Reason #9, and to a careful analysis of the reasoning present in the two paragraphs in which Loftus presents Reason #9 (on page 135).  I am going to re-number the main claims made in those two paragraphs as follows:
Key Claims from 1st Paragraph
1.  …faith-based reasoning must end.
2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.
3.  …faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant. 
4.  A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
5.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended.
 
Key Claims from 2nd Paragraph
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
7. Faith is indeed an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about the world.
8. …faith-based reasoning cannot justify any claim concerning matters of fact…
9. …philosophy of religion is reasoning about that which is unreasonable.
10.  It [philosophy of religion] takes the utterly unwarranted conclusions of faith seriously.
11. …the very first principle of religion is faith.
 
The logic of the core argument is clearer than I previously thought.  Premise (2) indicates the basic logical structure of the argument:

IF X and Y, THEN Z.

X

 Y

THEREFORE:

Z

Premise (2) is the conditional statement, and premise (6) asserts one of the conjuncts in the antecedent of (2), so to complete the argument, we only need the other conjunct in the antecedent of (2), and the conclusion is the consequent of (2):
Core Argument in Reason #9

2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.

6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.

A.  PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

THEREFORE:

PoRME: Philosophy of Religion must end.

Given this basic logical structure, the other statements are presumably either support for one of the three premises, or clarification of one of the three premises, or clarification of the conclusion.
Before I make an attempt to reconstruct further details of Loftus’ argument constituting Reason #9, I must confess that I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument, or to stab a sharp dagger into the heart of the beast (i.e. Reason #9).   But my failure to “demolish” this argument is NOT because the argument is a good and solid argument.  The reason I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument is because it is very UNCLEAR, and there is little hope that Loftus will be willing and able to make it CLEAR.
Consider premise (6), for example.
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
The subject of this statement is “religion”.  This word is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “religion” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “faith” is also notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “faith” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The phrase “X is based on faith in Y” is perhaps a bit less unclear than the word “faith” considered by itself.  But this phrase does inherit some unclarity from the problematic word “faith” and it has the additional issue of the unclarity of the phrase “X is based on…”  This phrase is vague and unclear.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the phrase “X is based on faith in Y”, any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “supernatural” is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” and “philosophy” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the word “supernatural” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The key argument at the heart of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR.  This key argument makes use of words and phrases that are notoriously unclear, so this argument should be rejected by any person who is a critical thinker unless and until Loftus provides clear definitions of the key terms and phrases in this argument.
Here are some of the key words and phrases that are in need of clarification or definition:
“religion”
“faith” 
“X is based on faith”
“faith in Y”
“X is based on faith in Y”
“using reason”
“philosophy” 
“philosophy of religion”
“supernatural”
“supernatural forces and entities”
Loftus fails to define ANY of these UNCLEAR and problematic words and phrases in Chapter 5.  I have also scanned through Chapters 1 through 4 looking for clear definitions of these words and phrases and have come up empty handed.  I have no idea whether this central argument of Loftus’ book Unapologetic is a GOOD argument or a BAD argument, and I suspect that I never will know, because I don’t believe that Loftus has a clear idea of what “religion” means, nor of what “faith” means, nor of what “reason” means.  If he had a clear idea of what these words mean, then he would have no problem defining what they mean or providing significant clarification about what these words mean, but he never does this.
Loftus does make a very brief attempt at defining “faith”, but the definition is unclear, and he makes no effort to explain or defend his definition, and he never uses or refers to the definition when presenting his central arguments in Chapter 5.  The definition is found in Chapter 4:
I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all … (Unapologetic, p.92)
Because Loftus provides no additional explanation or defense of this definition, and does not refer to or make use of this definition in presenting his key arguments in Chapter 5, I am not going to waste my time analyzing and evaluating this definition.  It appears to be tossed off the top of his head with little thought behind it.
As it stands, the central argument of Unapologetic reminds me of Geisler’s arguments for God in When Skeptics Ask.  Geisler never bothers to define the key word “God”, and he clearly misuses the word “God”, and commits the fallacy of equivocation more than once because of his sloppy and ambiguous use of the word “God”.  In general, Geisler’s case for God is a steaming pile of dog shit, and it is so mainly because it is filled with UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS words and phrases that Geisler never bothers to clarify or define.  The central argument in Unapologetic is also a steaming pile of dog shit, just like Geisler’s case for God, because it uses several UNCLEAR words and phrases and because Loftus makes no serious intellectual effort to define or clarify the meanings of those words and phrases.
Because there is no serious effort to provide definitions of key words and phrases in the central argument of Unapologetic, I doubt that Loftus has a clear idea of what those key words and phrases mean.
Furthermore, there are indications in a couple of passages in the book, that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to defining key words and phrases.  In my view, that means that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to thinking critically, because the first and most fundamental principle of critical thinking is this:

  • Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.

Another very basic principle of critical thinking is this:

  • CLARITY is a gateway standard of thinking.

If a statement or argument is UNCLEAR, then we cannot rationally and objectively evaluate that statement or argument.
The first passage that indicates Loftus has a problem with definitions is in Chapter 1:
Which brings me to the value of philosophy.  Over the last decade I have found that one bastion for Christian apologists has been philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion.  The scholars have honed their definitional apologetics in such a fine-tuned manner that when engaging them in this discipline, it’s like trying to catch a greased pig.  Or, to switch metaphors, trying to chase them down the rabbit’s hole in an endless and ultimately fruitless quest for definitions.  What’s an extraordinary claim?  What constitutes evidence?  What’s the definition of supernatural?  What’s the scientific method?  What’s a miracle?  What’s a basic belief?  What’s a veridical religious experience?  What’s evil? …  (Unapologetic, p.28, emphasis added)
This strikes me as a fundamentally anti-intellectual statement by Loftus.  Definitions are an important tool of philosophy, critical thinking, of science, and of scholarship in general.  But Loftus appears to be taking an anti-definition stance here.  That, in my view, is a position against critical thinking and rationality.
But perhaps that was just a bit of overblown whining by Loftus about Christian apologists, and it does not represent a general antipathy towards definitions and conceptual analysis.  However, when we read the exchange between Peter Boghossian and Keith Parsons in Chapter 4, it becomes clear that Bogghosian, who is a leading light for Loftus’ view of religion and philosophy of religion, has a very negative view of definitions and conceptual analysis.
Parsons’ initial critique of Boghossian indicates a concern about the clarity of a key claim made by Boghossian:

  1. Evolution occurred.
  2. Faith is a malaise.

(1) is an established scientific fact.  (2) is Professor Boghossian’s  opinion.  It may be an informed opinion, but it is an opinion.  For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that (2) is true in whatever sense Prof. Boghossian intends.(Unapologetic, p.89)
Parsons’ is being a bit too subtle here, but he is hinting at the fact that the key statement (2) is UNCLEAR, and it’s meaning is in need of clarification by Boghossian.  Boghossian appears to have missed the subtle hint, because his response does not provide any clarification or definition of “faith” (at least in what Loftus quotes of his response).
In Keith Parsons’ reply to Boghossian’s response, he points out the problem of the need for clarity and definition more firmly and straightforwardly:
Of course, if one interprets “faith” to mean only “wishful thinking” then certainly it is an unreliable belief-forming process.  However, I think we need to be clear that in attacking “faith” we are attacking it only in this rather trivialized sense, and not in a more sophisticated and nuanced sense.  (Unapologetic, p.90)
The only reasonable response to this objection by Parsons would be for Boghossian to clarify and define what he means by the word “faith”.  If Boghossian has a clear understanding of the meaning of the word “faith” (or even just of his own use of the word “faith” in this context), then he ought to have no trouble providing a definition or analysis of the meaning of this word, but that is NOT what Boghossian does.  Instead, he seems to attack the idea of trying to define or clarify the meaning of this word:
Second, the histories of philosophy and theology are replete with people trying to define faith.  Anselm’s definition is floral mumbo-jumbo.
[…]
One can talk about “a more sophisticated or nuanced sense” of the word “faith”, but this does not change the fact that faith claims are knowledge claims.  It also does not change the fact that certain processes of reasoning are unreliable.  Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning. … (Unapologetic, p.91)
So, Boghossian appears to think that the efforts of philosophers and theologians to clarify the meaning of the word “faith” is a hopeless task, and he offers no definition or clarification of the word “faith” and then he just plows ahead and continues making UNCLEAR claims about faith: “Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning.”
He does this after Parsons has directly and plainly challenged him to clarify what he means by the word “faith”.  Given Boghossian’s FAILURE to provide a definition or clarification of the meaning of “faith”, and given his derogatory comments about the efforts of philosophers and theologians to CLARIFY the meaning of this word, it appears fairly certain that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to providing definitions or analyses of the meanings of key words or phrases.
Parsons makes one final effort to drive the point about CLARITY home to Boghossian:
(2) Faith is not a reliable belief-forming process.
[…]
…I would assert (2) to a class but would be very careful to say just what I meant by “faith.”  I would make it abundantly clear that what I was attacking was something like “faith” in the sense defined by Ambrose Bierce: “Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.”  “Faith” is a vague term, and to attack it without proper and careful qualification would be perceived  as an attack on religious belief per se…  (Unapologetic, p.92)
It is not clear whether Boghossian finally got the OBVIOUS point that Keith Parsons repeatedly attempted to communicate to him. Loftus does not provide us with further comments by Boghossian in response to this point by Parsons.
But I seriously doubt that Boghossian responded to Parsons with a definition or analysis of what he meant by the word “faith”.  First, there is good reason to believe that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological opposition to providing definitions of key concepts, which I take to be an intellectual or ideological opposition to some basic principles of critical thinking.  Second,  if Boghossian had provided a definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” I would expect Loftus to pass that on to readers here, because Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.  Loftus’ failure to provide us with a definition of “faith” from Boghossian in this passage is evidence that no such definition was offered by Boghossian (in this exchange between Boghossian and Parsons).
So, for three reasons I doubt that Loftus will ever provide us with a clear argument against the philosophy of religion:

  1. His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
  2. The passage on page 28 indicates that Loftus has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology).
  3. The exchange between Boghossian and Parsons (on pages 88 to 92) indicates that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology), and Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.

Thus, the central argument of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR, and I have little hope that Loftus will ever provide definitions or analyses of the meanings of the key words and phrases in that argument, so I have little hope that I will ever be able to rationally and objectively evaluate that argument.
I could, of course, provide my own definitions of the key words and phrases, but then Loftus would very likely reply to any objections that I raise to the clarified argument, that I had misunderstood or misinterpreted his meaning, and was committing a Straw Man fallacy against the argument that constitutes Reason #9, the most central and important reason that he has given in support of the conclusion that “Philosophy of religion must end.”  This is the same sort of BS that Christian apologists like to pull.  They put forward CRAPPY and UNCLEAR arguments (such as those of Norman Geisler) and then complain about being misinterpreted when skeptics attempt to clarify their argument enough to make the arguments subject to rational and objective evaluation.
In 2014, Boghossian took a swipe at philosophy of religion that impressed Loftus:
“Being published in the philosophy of religion should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.” (Unapologetic, p. 33)
Here is my own swipe back at Boghossian and Loftus:
Being published in a book or article that attacks “faith” or “religion” without providing a clear definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” or “religion” should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.
Any person who does this sort of anti-intellectual and anti-critical-thinking bullshit does NOT deserve to be treated seriously as a philosopher or intellectual.

bookmark_borderThe VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics

My latest video, “The VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics: The Things Apologists Falsely Say Depend on God, But, if God Exists, God Depends on Them,” is now available on YouTube. It is a narration of some of the many hundreds of PowerPoint slides I created in preparation for my recent debate with Frank Turek on naturalism vs. theism.

This video presentation is a (roughly) 2 hour 30 minute critique of Frank Turek’s latest book, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Turek accuses atheists of stealing from God in order to argue against God. How do atheists steal from God when arguing against God’s existence? According to Turek, this is summed up by the acrostic CRIMES (Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science). So his argument is that atheists must assume each of those things, but each of those things in turn presuppose God’s existence.
For each letter in CRIMES, atheism can steal these concepts from God if and only if: (a) atheism is logically incompatible with the concept represented by that letter; and (b) positing an all-powerful God explains that concept, not just assumes it. But as I will explain, each letter in CRIMES fails one or both conditions.
Now, since repeatedly accusing an innocent person of a crime harms the accused, I’m going to frame my response as an acrostic of my own: VICTIM (Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality). Instead of talking about crimes, what we instead need to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics. The VICTIMs of Christian apologetics are things which Christian apologists falsely claim depend on God, but the truth is that God depends on them.
Since the video is quite long and detailed, the following serves as a handy index:
Counter Apologist went through the effort to list the topics covered and give time-stamps/links for each topic which you can find below:

HT: Counter-Apologist for creating the index

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 8

In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999; hereafter: BECA), Geisler has written a fairly long and detailed article on “Faith and Reason”, and the entire article is basically an exposition of the views of Aquinas about faith and the relationship between faith and reason.
There are nine bolded subheadings in Geisler’s article on “Faith and Reason”:
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
2. Three Uses of Reason
3. Divine Authority
4. Reason in Support of Faith
5. Distinguishing Faith and Reason
6. Perfected by Love, Produced by Grace
7. The Limitations of Reason
8. Things Above Reason
9. Summary
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
In part 7 of this series, I started to examine this section of Geisler’s article.  I will now continue that effort.
Here is another interesting passage from that section:
Faith and reason are parallel.  One does not cause the other because “faith involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will” [quoted from On Truth 14.A1.6, by Aquinas]…. A person is free to dissent, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe. (BECA, p.239)
Previously, Geisler stated that “Faith is consent without inquiry in that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.” (BECA, p.239)
Geisler’s conclusion that “Faith is consent without inquiry” does NOT follow from the premise that “faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.”  Such assent is not caused by investigation because the assent of faith is supposed to be a choice someone makes freely, and faith’s assent is supposed to be made by a free choice because faith is a virtue.  If the assent to a claim was caused or compelled, then the assent would have no merit.
Free will and causation appear to be logically incompatible, at least that is how Aquinas and many Christian thinkers have viewed these two ideas.  But a free choice does NOT imply that the choice is completely uninformed by reasons and evidence.  Reasons and evidence in some cases will point clearly to one particular conclusion and away from other alternative conclusions.  In such cases, reasonable people will be strongly influenced by those reasons and that evidence.  If Aquinas wishes to deny that reason can compel belief, that is one thing, but it would be absurd to deny that reason can have significant influence over a person’s beliefs.  In some cases reason obviously has a very powerful influence over whether a person believes a particular claim or not.
Given these qualifications, the consent of faith may, in some cases be powerfully influenced by reason, even if one wishes to deny that reason can CAUSE a person to assent to a particular claim.  As Geisler says, “A person is free to dissent, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe.”  So, if Aquinas’s Five Ways to prove the existence of God amounted to “convincing reasons to believe” in God, one would still be “free to dissent” and thus if one assented to the claim “God exists” on the basis of those “convincing reasons to believe” that could still count as “faith” and be a belief that was freely chosen (i.e. not CAUSED or compelled by reason).   Therefore, Geisler’s conclusion that “Faith is consent without inquiry” appears to be a misunderstanding of Aquinas’ view of the relationship of faith and reason.
Geisler notes that reason can at least guide us to belief in the existence of God:
However, some Christian truths are attainable by human reason, for example, that God exists and is one.  “Such truths about God have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of the natural reason” [quoted from Summa Theologica 1a.3.2, by Aquinas] (BECA, p.239) 
So, in the case of the claim “God exists”, Aquinas thinks that reason can deliver the content of that theological claim as well as providing convincing reasons to assent to that claim, though Aquinas would deny that reason can compell belief in the existence of God.
If Aquinas believes that reason is incapable of compelling a person to assent to a belief, even when reason has the strong force of a demonstrative proof, then there appears to be no threat to faith from reason, at least not on this account.  The assent of faith, according to Aquinas must be a matter of free choice, so that faith can be a virtue.  OK, but if reason can never compel belief, then even when reason exerts powerful influence over a person’s choice to believe a particular claim, that belief remains a matter of free choice, and thus it remains a candidate for being the assent of faith.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 7

I’m going to take a detour and temporarily set Mr. Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith aside.  But I will continue to examine the Thomist view of faith, specifically as presented by Dr. Norman Geisler.
As Jeff Lowder has recently shown, Dr. Geisler’s case for Christianity is a failure.  IMHO Jeff won that match with a K.O. of Geisler in the very first round:
 Let’s suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that the following evidence favors theism over atheism, i.e., is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true: the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe, the design of life, and the existence of the moral law. Even so, it still doesn’t follow that, all things considered, God’s existence is more likely than not. For example, it may be the case—and I think is the case—that there is other evidence which favors atheism over theism. But, if true, that entails that G&T’s [Geisler and Turek] case violates the Total Evidence Requirement and so G&T’s case accordingly fails to show that Christianity is probably true. 
Geisler’s case for Christianity was decimated by Jeff in just one paragraph-BOOM; that is the awesome power of logic.
Although Dr. Geisler’s case for Christianity fails, I appreciate his thinking about the resurrection of Jesus, especially what I have called Geisler’s Principle:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.        
(When Skeptics Ask, by Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, p.120)
Based on this principle, one can also decimate William Craig’s case for the resurrection in just one paragraph, since Dr. Craig has never made a serious attempt to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.  So, despite the shortcomings of his Christian apologetics,  Dr. Geisler has some worthwhile things to say.   I am now going to turn to an article by Geisler on “Faith and Reason”, in order to become more familiar with the details of the Thomist view of faith.
Geisler is clearly a fan of Aquinas, even more than Swinburne is a fan.  In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999; hereafter: BECA), Geisler has written a fairly long and detailed article on “Faith and Reason”, and the entire article is basically an exposition of the views of Aquinas about faith and the relationship between faith and reason.  Here is how Geisler characterizes the place of Aquinas in the history of thinking about faith and reason:
 Augustine made the first serious attempt to relate the two [faith and reason], but the most comprehensive treatment came at the end of the medieval period when Christian intellectualism flowered in the work of Thomas Aquinas.            (BECA, p. 239)
I see no criticisms, objections, or reservations expressed by Geisler about the views of Aquinas concerning the relationship of faith and reason, and given that Geisler has devoted the entire article on “Faith and Reason” to laying out the views of Aquinas, it seems clear that Geisler agrees with the view of faith and reason put forward by Aquinas, or at least he sees the view of Aquinas as the best of available comprehensive treatments of this topic.
There are nine bolded subheadings in Geisler’s article on “Faith and Reason”:
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
2. Three Uses of Reason
3. Divine Authority
4. Reason in Support of Faith
5. Distinguishing Faith and Reason
6. Perfected by Love, Produced by Grace
7. The Limitations of Reason
8. Things Above Reason
9. Summary
I might skip over some of these sections, but several look interesting and significant.  The first section looks significant, so I’ll start there.
 
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
There is just one subheading within this section: “Reason Cannot Produce Faith.”  If that is the Thomist view, then the idea of a “purely rational faith” that I described in the previous post, would seem NOT to fit with the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’.  The comments in this section make faith seem unavoidably  irrational:
Faith is consent without inquiry in that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.  Rather, it is produced by God.  Commenting on Ephesians 2:8-9, Aquinas contended that “free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above reason. …That a man should believe, therefore, cannot occur from himself unless God gives it” (Aquinas, Ephesians, 96; unless noted, all citations in this article are from works by Thomas Aquinas). Faith is a gift of God, and no one can believe without it. (BECA, p.239)
Geisler knows more about Aquinas than I do, so I’m inclined to accept his interpretation of Aquinas, at least provisionally.  However, the quote of Aquinas here does not say anything about “inquiry” or “investigation”, so Geisler is reading something between the lines here that is less than obvious, at least to me.
I’m not sure what Aquinas means by the statement that “free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above reason.”  But my guess would be that he means that we cannot simply choose to believe in the doctrines of Christianity that are beyond discovery by human reason, because such doctrines must FIRST be revealed by God to human beings (at some point in history).  If a particular true idea is undiscoverable by means of human “inquiry” or “investigation”, then that implies that human beings will never discover that true idea, at least not on their own.  The trinity is a doctrine that Aquinas believes to be true, and to be beyond the power of human beings to discover by means of reason (or Geisler would say: by means of human “inquiry” or “investigation”).
On the other hand, there is a sense in which the doctrine of the trinity IS discovered by means of human inquiry and investigation, even if Aquinas’ views about the necessity of divine revelation are correct.  If I am to believe that the doctrine of the trinity is true on the basis of the fact that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the trinity, I have to first determine whether the Bible is worthy of my trust concerning theological claims, and to determine that question, I need to determine whether there is a God and whether the Bible was inspired by God, and whether the Bible’s original contents have been preserved from corruption over the centuries.  All three of these issues require human inquiry and investigation; these issues require the use of human REASON.  Aquinas pointed to miracles as evidence that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  But if we need evidence to determine whether the Bible is inspired by God, then we need REASON to determine whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
Also, it clearly will not do to appeal to the authority of the Bible in order to determine whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  For if the Bible is NOT inspired by God, then it has no significant authority concerning theological questions (such as “Did God inspire the Bible?”).  Appealing to the divine authority of the Bible in order to support the divine authority of the Bible is reasoning in a circle, so such an appeal has no force.
If Aquinas has in mind examples like the doctrine of the trinity being beyond the power of human investigation and inquiry, then it still seems to me that ‘faith in God’ can be purely rational and that ‘faith in God’ can be produced by REASON (on Aquinas’s view).  Belief in the trinity is based on acceptance of the authority of the Bible rather than based on a philosophical argument/proof about the details of this doctrine.  But there is still reasoning required to arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is a good and trustworthy source of theological information.
We must first determine that God exists (or at least, following Swinburne, that it is probable that God exists).  Then we must determine that the Bible was inspired by God (or at least, that it is probable that the Bible was inspired by God).  Then we must determine that the text of the Bible has been well-preserved over the centuries that have passed since it was first written down (or at least, that it is probable that the text of the Bible has been well-preserved).  All of this seems in keeping with the views of Aquinas, and all of this is a matter of REASON, of human inquiry and investigation into the existence of God, and into the inspiration of the Bible.
So, even if the trinity is a true doctrine and that no human being could ever discover the truth of the doctrine of the trinity by means of REASON without the help of divine revelation, it would still be the case that one’s acceptance of divine revelation (for example accepting the doctrine of the trinity on the basis of the authority of the Bible) would be based upon REASON, a human investigation or inquiry into questions about the existence of God and the alleged inspiration of the Bible.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith – Part 6

I have noticed a problem of unclarity in my own thinking and writing about the Thomist view of faith.  Before I go further in discussing Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith, I want to briefly consider the point of unclarity or ambiguity in my previous discussion of this view of faith. I have been sliding too easily over the distinction between possibility and necessity concerning the role of reasons and arguments in the Thomist view of faith.
Aquinas believes that it is POSSIBLE to base one’s belief in the existence of God on reasons and arguments.  Aquinas believes it is POSSIBLE to know that God exists on the basis of arguments for the existence of God.  But that does NOT mean that everyone who believes in God bases this belief on reasons and arguments.  The view of Aquinas is that a few people, who are intellectually sharp and who have received a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics are able to come to know that God exists on the basis of philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  But many people who are not intellectually sharp or who have not had the benefit of a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics, believe in God and this belief is not based on philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  Thus, although it is POSSIBLE  to have knowledge of the existence of God based on REASON, belief in the existence of God is often NOT based on REASON.
Aquinas thinks that there are some beliefs about the properties and actions of God that are not knowable, even by intellectually sophisticated philosophers, on the basis of REASON, on the basis of reasons and arguments that are grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  For example, Christians believe that God is a Trinity, that God is three persons and yet one being.  Aquinas does not think that belief in the Trinitarian nature of God is something that can be based on REASON; one cannot prove the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis of reasons and arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  So, even philosophers must rely upon REVELATION from God, in order to arrive at the belief that God is a Trinity.
I have argued that when a person TRUSTS in God as a source of information and advice, that this trust is based upon beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God, and thus that this TRUST is based upon REASON.  But this inference is problematic, because in some cases beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God are NOT based upon REASON, not based upon reasons and arguments that are grounded in empircal and/or conceptual facts.   Although intellectually sophisticated philosophers can believe in God on the basis of REASON, and thus have beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God that are based on reasons and arguments grounded in emprical and/or conceptual facts, many people believe in God in a way that is NOT based on REASON, in the view of Aquinas.
Furthermore, just as it appears to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to believe in God’s existence on the basis of REASON, so it would also appear to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of REASON, given the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’. So, it seems to me that I have over-estimated the role of REASON in the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’.
On the one hand, the Thomist view does make it POSSIBLE for ‘faith in God’ to be a purely rational thing:
Purely Rational Faith:  An intellectually sophisticated philosopher can believe in the existence of God on the basis of philosophical arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts, and that belief in the existence of God can then provide a rational basis for TRUST in God as a source of information and advice, and given further rationally-based beliefs about God having communicated certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’), such a believer can have other additional rationally-justified beliefs about the properties and actions of God (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’).
However, although the Thomist view allows for such purely rational ‘faith in God’, this view also allows for other ways of having ‘faith in God’ that appear to be much less rational:
Non-Rational Faith:  An intellectually unsophisticated person can believe in the existence of God without basing that belief on reasons or arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  Such a person might also TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of this belief in the existence of God.  But since his/her belief in the existence of God is not based on REASON, neither is that person’s TRUST in God as a source of information and advice based on REASON.  Any beliefs such a person forms on the basis of beliefs about God communicating certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’) must therefore also not be based on REASON.
So, contrary to my previous post, it appears that the Thomist view of faith allows for the POSSIBILITY of purely rational faith, but it does NOT imply that ‘faith in God’ is NECESSARILY purely rational faith, but leaves open the possiblity that ‘faith in God’ is quite often NOT purely rational faith.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 5

We have been examining the Thomist view of faith, as characterized by Richard Swinburne in Faith and Reason (FAR).
In order to avoid the implication that one must reason in a circle in order to have ‘faith in God’, a supporter of the Thomist view of faith can draw a distinction between beliefs about God that are implied by the statement ‘God exists’ and other beliefs about God that are NOT implied by this claim.  For a Thomist, belief in the existence of God is (or can be) based on reasons or arguments, thus some beliefs about God can be based on reasons and arguments, while other beliefs about God are (for a person who has ‘faith in God’) based on divine revelation.
The use of this distinction to rescue the Thomist view of faith, required that the analysis of ‘faith in God’ be modified slightly, as follows:
Definition 3
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions that are not implied by the concept of God are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
Swinburne gives two examples of beliefs about God,  taken from the Nicene Creed, that are supposed to be based on divine revelation:
(MHE) God made Heaven and Earth.
(RTD) God will one day  raise the dead.
Both examples are, however, problematic.
Swinburne’s analysis of the claim ‘God exists’ involves the identification of a person who has several divine attributes.  One of the divine attributes used to identify a person as being ‘God’ is that of being ‘the creator of all things’ (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.7).  If one can make a case for the probable existence of God, then that means that one has shown that there probably is a person who is ‘the creator of all things.’   Such a person must obviously also be a person who ‘made Heaven and Earth’.  Therefore, if one can show that God exists on the basis of reasons and arguments, then in doing so one has also shown that (MHE) is true. There would thus be no need for divine revelation as the basis for the belief that (MHE) was true.
Now (RTD) is not so directly and obviously implied by the statement ‘God exists’, but it does have a very close connection to a rational case for the claim ‘God exists’.  Any rational case for the claim that ‘God exists’ must deal with the problem of evil to be successful.  Swinburne’s case for the claim ‘God exists’, for example, involves an extended examination of the problem of evil (see The Existence of God, Chapters 10 & 11).  One aspect of the problem of evil that is particularly challenging for belief in God, is the fact that some people appear to have lives that are very miserable, lives in which the pain, sorrow, and suffering of the person appears to outweigh any pleasure, happiness, and comfort that person has experienced.
Swinburne believes that human suffering could be allowed by a perfectly good and omniscient and omnipotent deity, but that it would be unjust for God to bring about a human life in which the pain, sorrow, and suffering of that life outweighed any good aspects of that life.  The key response to this particular aspect of the problem of evil is that God has the power to grant further life after death to such persons, so that in the long run there is more good than bad in that person’s experience (The Existence of God, p.262).
So, although resurrection of the dead might not be absolutely necessary to ensure justice to those people whose lives were filled with pain, sorrow, and suffering, some sort of afterlife appears to be required in order to make sure that every human life contains more good than bad in the long run.  The claim ‘God exists’ does not directly imply that there will be life after death, but given the sorts of evils and distribution of evils that actually exist in this world, it would be difficult if not impossible to defend the idea that God is perfectly good, omnipotent, and omniscient apart from the supposition that God will provide a life after death, at least for some people who got the short end of the stick in this life.  Thus, given that the supposition of a life after death is a necessary component of any halfway plausible case for the existence of God, rational belief in the existence of God will involve belief in life after death, and it is only a short step from that belief to (RTD).  So, in arriving at belief in the existence of God on the basis of a rational case for God, one will already have good reason to believe (RTD) or that something similar to (RTD) is the case.
I’m not saying that there are no beliefs about God besides beliefs that are implied by the claim ‘God exists’.  But the fact that both of Swinburne’s examples are problematic, provides some support for my view that the central and most important beliefs about God’s properties and actions are already contained in the concept of ‘God’ and implied by the claim that ‘God exists.’  One example of a belief that goes beyond the claim ‘God exists’ is the belief that God is a Trinity of three persons in one being.  Aquinas did not think that one could prove that God was a Trinity.  This was a belief about God that one must accept on the basis of divine revelation.  I’m inclined to agree with Aquinas that the Trinitarian nature of God cannot be established on the basis of reasons and arguments.  However, Swinburne puts forward a philosophical argument for the Trinity in his book The Christian God (see Chapter 8), so for Swinburne it is possible to base belief in the Trinity on reasons and arguments.
There probably are some beliefs about the properties and actions of God that go beyond the concept of ‘God’ and the belief that ‘God exists’, but it seems to me that most of the central and important beliefs that Christians have about God are contained in the concept of ‘God’ or implied by the claim ‘God exists’ or are implied by essential parts of a rational case for the existence of God.  If that is so, then the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’ delegates most of the central and important beliefs that Christians have about God to REASON, and leaves a secondary and rather less important role for trust in divine revelation, for TRUST in the truth and correctness of what God has (allegedly) communicated to humans.
Furthermore, the TRUST that believers who have this sort of ‘faith in God’ have in the advice and information that they think comes from God is itself based on beliefs about the properties of God, such as that God is omniscient and perfectly good.  Those beliefs about the properties of God, are (from a Thomist viewpoint) based on REASON.  So, the Thomist conception of ‘faith in God’ seems to be very heavily grounded in REASON, since even those theological beliefs that are accepted on the basis of divine revelation, are accepted on the basis of beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God, which are in turn based on reasons and arguments that are independent of divine revelation.
 

bookmark_borderA Key Difference between Science and Religion

In science, we ask, “What’s the evidence?”, before believing. Only religion* asks us to believe first and consider the evidence later, if ever.
Two clarifications:
1. I am not claiming that all religions do this. Rather, I’m claiming that if/when this happens, it only seems to happen in the context of religion. (If I’ve missed any non-religious examples of this, please let me know and I will issue a correction!)
2. Nor am I making the scientistic claim that the only way to know something is the scientific method. For the record, I think that claim is self-defeating. (If the only way to know something is the scientific method, do we know “the only way to know something is with the scientific method” through the scientific method? Of course not. The claim undermines belief in itself.)  Rather, I’m comparing scientific claims, such as:

X: Drug A works better than Drug B

to religiously significant empirical claims, such as:

Y: Jesus rose from the dead.

Nobody in the scientific community would say it’s okay to believe X before looking at the scientific evidence. In contrast, some religious philosophers do defend the idea that it’s okay to believe Y before looking at the historical evidence. In fact, William Lane Craig goes even further. He says it’s okay to believe Y without ever looking at the evidence. Furthermore, even if the historical evidence made it highly likely that Y is false, he’s gone on record saying that he would continue to believe Y anyway.