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dangerous idea

This is a blog to discuss philosophy, chess, politics, C. S. Lewis, or whatever it is that I'm in the mood to discuss.

Updated: 2018-01-20T05:51:55.666-07:00


Belief, unbelief, and the establishment clause


It would be very odd if our government were to make it legal to practice any religion  you wanted to, so long as  you practiced one, but prohibited you from lacking any religion at all. So, freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. But does freedom from religion involve more that this? If so, what? 
Suppose a religious professor at a state college were to make it his goal to get as many students to believe  his religion as possible. There seem to be at least some things he could do (for example, making it clear that anyone who wrote a paper in opposition to his religious beliefs would almost certainly get a failing grade), that would give the student grounds for suing based on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. 
Now, suppose an atheist professor were to make it his stated goal to get as many students to become atheists as possible.  Are there things he could do that would give a religious student grounds for suing based on the Establishment Clause? Or, since it's nonbelief instead of belief, that's different? 

Hamilton and the Electoral College: Independent Electors, or an Alternative Counting System?


It is quite true that, from the point of view of the Constitution which determines how these things go, Trump is legitimately President despite getting less popular votes than Hillary. But if you buy the argument that we are a Republic and not a Democracy, and that is why we have the Electoral College, then you would have to accept Hamilton's justification for the EC, which is that people can't really be expected to vote directly for the President, (since they may be unfamiliar with the candidates, which was often the case in the early days before communication improved), but should instead trust the decision of the President to electors more familiar to them than the candidates whose judgment they could trust. Hamilton described electors in this way: 
" most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice." 
But nowadays, we know all about the candidates and nothing about the electors, and the allegiances of the electors is guaranteed by the political parties to which they are affiliated. Although electors occasionally "go rogue," their votes are signed, sealed and delivered to the candidate whose party selected them.  The idea of Republic v. Democracy is that we select representatives to vote for President who have an independent voice. But they don't. They are the hacks of political parties. 
What the electoral college creates is an alternative counting system which favors citizens of smaller states over citizens of larger states. But that is not the original concept of the Electoral College. Hamilton would not recognize his creation if were to come back today. 
Is there any good reason to have an alternative counting system? I have my doubts. 

Cultural Relativism and that Illinois frat house


I was told when I was a grad student at the University of Illinois that there was a fraternity on campus that considered a girl's being on the second floor of the frat house with an alcoholic beverage to constitute consent. Isn't the frat house a culture? And if cultural relativism is true, then wouldn't that make raping a girl who came to the second floor with a drink in her hand morally acceptable? 

Will an ethics class help you be ethical?


A lot of our moral decisions occur when we know what the right thing to do is, and we are trying to find the guts to do it. In this type of situation, an ethics class won't help you. In fact, it might do  harm, because it might give you an excuse to come up with rationalized reasons not to do what you know is right. (What if, what if, what if.......) 
On the other hand, other issues are hard to decide from a moral point of view. If that is the issue, that is, an issue where moral reasoning is needed, then this course can be helpful. But no class is going to give you moral fortitude. 

Abortion and the right of privacy


The fetus has human DNA and the potential to develop into something with all the characteristic of human personhood. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, it lacks certain of the occurrent mental states that humans have. It is a borderline case. On my view it is of considerable value whether we think of it as fully a person or not fully a person. Our cats are not people, but I will get very very angry if you kill one of them. The Supreme Court decided that a woman had a knowable right to privacy with respect to her own reproductive medical decisions, and the fetus's right to life, as best they were able to ascertain, was not knowable. So, for legal purposes, the woman's right to privacy has to take precedence over the fetus's right to life, since we can be sure of the former but not the latter. Even the dissent in Roe, and the subsequent arguments of anti-Roe justices like Scalia, have not attempted to argue that the right of the fetus to life is knowable. Instead, they have tried to argue, and on my view not very plausibly, that the woman's right to privacy isn't really established, but is a product of judicial activism. People who vote Republican (and even vote for a Republican Presidential candidate whose pro-life convictions are highly suspect) in order to get Roe overturned are hoping for justices who will undercut the status of the right of privacy. But I think it's not judicial activism, I think there is a legitimate right of privacy. 

Catholic politicians such as Joe Biden believe that, as a matter of revealed truth, we can know that fetuses are persons. However, he agrees with the Supreme Court that the personhood of the fetus isn't knowable by all citizens, and he agrees with the Supreme Court that a woman's right to privacy implies a right to an abortion unless a countervailing right of the fetus to life can be established as knowable by all citizens. Therefore he believes that the current status of the law is correct with respect to abortion even though he also believes, as a Catholic, that fetuses are persons.

Morality and the causal structure of the world


 Morality needs to connect with the causal structure of the world. If morality means anything at all, it has to be a reason why we do some of the things we do. "I decided I couldn't cheat on my taxes. It would be wrong." "She was so beautiful, and so seductive, but I remembered my marriage and realized it would be wrong to sleep with her." "I can't keep working at this car dealership. I have to keep lying to customers, and it's just wrong." This is one problem I have with Wielenberg's Robust Ethics, morality is causally inert for him. But it can't be. Yet, at least naturalistic atheism believes in a causally closed world of physical and only physical causes. Morality, even if it exists, doesn't do anything. If you believe in automonous ethics, we need an account of how that realm can have something to do with the actual occurrence of moral conduct. Christian theism has a way of doing that. Naturalism does not.

Are the Ethics of Belief Objective?


 If all versions of robust ethics without God a la Wielenberg fail, and atheism leads to moral subjectivism, then we could say that if there is no God everything is permitted. That includes racism, sexism, homophobia, and believing in God without a shred of evidence.

There is no Plan B


If you think Christianity is about your physical wellbeing here. If you think Christianity is about your living the American Dream. If you think Christianity is about your having an improved lifestyle here, then you are going to question the truth of Christianity when hardship comes because the Lord doesn’t promise you those things.
Therefore, it is paramount that we have a correct understanding of what Jesus promised and didn’t promise if we are to have confidence in what Jesus is doing to and through us on planet Earth. Jesus promised to be with you through suffering; He didn’t promise that you would avoid it. I tell my classes, “God’s Plan A for your life is to take you through regular periods of suffering and there is no Plan B.” Suffering purifies us and, if we bear it while continuing to honor God, it proves to humans and angels that we really are His disciples— Clay Jones (from, The Major Reason Christians Doubt)

Donald Trump and the baker


President Donald Trump divorces Melania, and becomes engaged to the beautiful Svetlana Putina, the 27-year-old daughter of Vladimir Putin. He contacts Fabulous Cakes and Designs, owned by evangelical Christian baker Jack Graham, who is asked to bake a YUGE cake for a wedding at Trump Tower. Graham refuses, on the grounds citing Matthew 9:19. 

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

Besides, the President is a known serial adulterer and p**** grabber, whose disrespect for the institution of marriage is well-known. 

The infuriated President files a suit with the Civil Rights Commission, claiming discrimination on the basis of marital status. 

Reductio? No, the defender of religious freedom can just support the baker, not Trump. 

Andrea vs. Hillary on Female Genital Mutilation: Who is right?


How can I argue against a culture I haven't tried to understand? Is it relevant that I, an outsider, may find [clitorectomies] cruel? As hard as it is for me to admit, the answer is no. To treat the issue as a matter of feminist outrage would be to assume that one society, namely mine, has a privileged position from which to judge the practices of another.—Andrea Park-1992.

"We cannot excuse this as a cultural tradition. There are many cultural traditions that used to exist in many parts of the world that are no longer acceptable. We cannot excuse it as a private matter because it has very broad public implications. It has no medical benefits. It is, plain and simply, a human rights violation,”-Hillary Clinton, 2012.

A case from Francis Beckwith on refusing service


Suppose a local congregation of Jews for Jesus plans to conduct several adult baptisms at a nearby river and wants to celebrate the event with a catered post-baptismal reception held at the church. They approach restaurant owner, Mr. Saul, an observant Orthodox Jew, and request an estimate for his services. (Mr. Saul’s business is family owned and run; his employees are all close relatives, all of whom are observant Orthodox Jews like Mr. Saul). After he provides the estimate, the congregation’s pastor, Mr. Paul, tells Mr. Saul that the name of his congregation is “Jews for Jesus Community Church” and that the five people to be baptized were raised in Jewish homes and had converted to Evangelical Christianity just two weeks ago. At that point, Mr. Saul says that he cannot cater the event, since he cannot cooperate with a celebration of apostasy from Judaism. Mr. Paul leaves not only disappointed, but feels discriminated against. After all, he reasons, Mr. Saul is an observant Jew and thus denies the religious efficacy of baptism and would likely have no problem catering post-baptismal celebrations held in Christian churches whose primary mission is not to target Jews for evangelization. So, Mr. Paul concludes that Mr. Saul harbors animus against his particular church and that his refusal to provide services to the church violates a local ordinance that forbids discrimination based on religion in public accommodations. Mr. Paul subsequently files a complaint with the local Human Rights Commission. In his reply to the complaint, Mr. Saul argues that he is in fact not discriminating against the congregation based on religion, but rather, he is basing his denial of service on the nature and context of the liturgical event with which he was asked to cooperate and what his own tradition tells him is an act of public apostasy from the Jewish faith. He also argues that he would be more than happy to provide catering to any member of the congregation as long as the service does not involve him with cooperating with apostasy. The Human Rights Commission does not buy it. They rule: “In conclusion, the forum holds that when a law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, that law similarly protects conduct that is inextricably tied to religion. Applied to this case, the forum finds that Respondents' refusal to provide catering for a baptismal celebration for Complainants because it was for their Jews for Jesus baptism was synonymous with refusing to provide catering because of Complainants' religion.”

Naturalistic atheism and the value of truth


One could make this argument: 

1) People ought, in areas of religion, to form beliefs in accordance with truth only if there are objectively correct moral values. 

2) If naturalism is true, there are no objectively correct moral values. 

3) Therefore, if naturalism is true, then we have no moral obligations to form beliefs in accordance with truth. 

But this wouldn't be a response to all forms of atheism, only naturalistic ones. An atheism that allowed for the existence of the Form of the Good, or a Law of Karma, or an inherent purpose for human life, could avoid this conclusion without difficulty. But such views are dismissed as so much woo my typical atheists of the present day. 

John Lennox's Christmas for Doubters



Against Mythicism



If atheism is true, does truth matter?


Maybe not.


Can we reject Ockham's Razor?


Can you just say "to heck with Ockham's Razor? It is interesting in my area of research where atheists insist that rational and nonrational explanations don't exclude one another and both are true, yet physical explanations exclude theological explanations, because of Ockham's Razor. If the mind can be fully explained as the result of physical causes, and we apply Ockham's Razor, it becomes Ockham's Lobotomy, and we are all mindless.

Roy Moore's Defeat


Does anyone see great irony that Roy Moore lost a safe Republican Senate seat by violating one of the commandments that he so ostentatiously put on his famous courthouse monument?

How Christianity Prevailed in Ancient Rome


And what can we learn from it.


William Alston's Return to Faith


HT: Steve Hays. 

The main bar to faith was rather the Freudian idea that religious faith is a wish fulfillment–more specifically, an attempt to cling to childish modes of relating to the world, with the omnipotent daddy there presiding over everything. A powerful case can be made for the view, which is not necessarily tied to the complete Freudian package, that the most important psychological root of religious belief is the need that everyone has for such a childish relationship with a father figure. Be that as it may, I had been psyched into feeling that I was chickening out, was betraying my adult status, if I sought God in Christ, or sought to relate myself to an ultimate source and disposer of things in any way whatever. The crucial moment in my return to the faith came quite early in that year’s leave, before I had reexposed myself to the church or the Bible, or even thought seriously about the possibility of becoming a Christian. I was walking one afternoon in the country outside Oxford, wrestling with the problem, when I suddenly said to myself, "Why should I allow myself to be cribbed, cabined, and confined by these Freudian ghosts? Why should I be so afraid of not being adult? What am I trying to prove? Whom am I trying to impress?

Whose approval am I trying to secure? What is more important: to struggle to conform my life to the tenets of some highly speculative system of psychology or to recognize and come to terms with my own real needs? Why should I hold back from opening myself to a transcendent dimension of reality, if such there be, just from fear of being branded as childish in some quarters?" (Or words to that effect.) These questions answered themselves as soon as they were squarely posed. I had, by the grace of God, finally found the courage to look the specter in the face and tell him to go away. I had been given the courage to face the human situation, with its radical need for a proper relation to the source of all being. William P. Alston, "A Philosophers Way Back to the Faith." God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, ed. T.V. Morris (New York: Oxford, 1994).

A defense of Godel's Ontological Argument



Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problems for Naturalism


Russell Howell argues that it does. Here. 

Chesterton on arguments against miracles


The historic case against miracles is also rather simple. It consists of calling miracles impossible, then saying that no one but a fool believes impossibilities: then declaring that there is no wise evidence on behalf of the miraculous. The whole trick is done by means of leaning alternately on the philosophical and historical objection. If we say miracles are theoretically possible, they say, “Yes, but there is no evidence for them.” When we take all the records of the human race and say, “Here is your evidence,” they say, “But these people were superstitious, they believed in impossible things."
--G.K. Chesterton
This is essentially the same argument that C.S. Lewis later urged against Hume in MIRACLES to the effect that Hume's famous argument is circular.-Linville

And I thought there were new ways of arguing against miracles.-VR

Three quotes from Peter Geach's The Virtues


For medieval thought the gulf that could be bridged only by Divine intervention came not between life and the inanimate, nor between consciousness and lack of consciousness, but between rational and irrational creatures. I think there is no reason now to think otherwise -- only fashion.

"Life must originate, we are told, wherever the physical conditions for life are favourable: and there must be so many planets on which life has originated that on millions of them rational beings will have evolved by natural selection. But rational beings cannot so come to be: the coming to be of a rational creature is strictly miraculous -- it exceeds all the powers of sub-rational nature. 

When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?

You gotta wonder what the Mrs thought of these arguments. I understand she was rather critical when some guy in the Medieval and Renaissance Lit department tried to argue for the same conclusion.

Linville on Dennett


Another one from Mark Linville, on Dennett: 
Daniel Dennett thinks there is no such thing as "what-it-is-like" to be in pain, i.e., the "ouchiness" of pain. There are only the observable and measurable causes and effects of pain, such as the firing of c-fibers and the person's body hollering "OUCH!"
I think there is such a thing as "what-it-is-like" to be astonished at the claim that there is no such thing as "what-it-is-like" to be in pain.