Philosophy Word of the Day – Underdetermination of Scientific Theory

At the heart of the underdetermination of scientific theory by evidence is the simple idea that the evidence available to us at a given time may be insufficient to determine what beliefs we should hold in response to it. In a textbook example, if I all I know is that you spent $10 on apples and oranges and that apples cost $1 while oranges cost $2, then I know that you did not buy six oranges, but I do not know whether you bought one orange and eight apples, two oranges and six apples, and so on.

A simple scientific example can be found in the rationale behind the sensible methodological adage that “correlation does not imply causation”. If watching lots of cartoons causes children to be more violent in their playground behavior, then we should (barring complications) expect to find a correlation between levels of cartoon viewing and violent playground behavior. But that is also what we would expect to find if children who are prone to violence tend to enjoy and seek out cartoons more than other children, or if propensities to violence and increased cartoon viewing are both caused by some third factor (like general parental neglect or excessive consumption of Twinkies).

So a high correlation between cartoon viewing and violent playground behavior is evidence that (by itself) simply underdetermines what we should believe about the causal relationship between the two. But it turns out that this simple and familiar predicament only scratches the surface of the various ways in which problems of underdetermination can arise in the course of scientific investigation. (Continue)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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The Top 15 Apologetics Books

Michael Patton shares his list at Parchment and Pen.  Here are the top five:

5. The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer’s works could all be put on this list, but this particular work is representative of a timeless defense from a timeless scholar.

4. Faith Has its Reasons, Rob Bowman and Kenneth Boa

The best book for one who’s desire it is to understand not only what apologetics is, but how it is to be done. The authors give a great overview of all the different Christian apologetic methods asking the question “How are we to defend the faith?” They then discuss and defend Presuppositionalism, Fideism, Evidentialism, and Classical approaches to the defense of the faith. For the young, aspiring apologist, this is the first book that should be read.

3. The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright

Simply put, this is the most comprehensive work on the resurrection of Christ ever produced. Whatever you think of N. T. Wright, there is no debate that this is an immensely valuable contribution to the Christian witness.

2. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Habermas and Licona

Simply a must have for everyone. The resurrection of Christ is the central issue of Christianity. If Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true; if he did not, it is false. Everyone needs to have a good defense of the resurrection and this work represents the best of the popular options. Get it!

1. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

How can I do justice to what might be the most significant and influential apologetic work in all of Christianity? All I can say is that if you have not read Mere Christianity, shame on you.

What other good apologetics and philosophy books are you guys reading these days? 

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Calvin on the Sensus Divinitatis

Speaking of Alvin Plantinga (below), this is one of the passages from John Calvin where Calvin describes the innate sense of God that all people possess – which Plantinga employs in his Aquinas/Calvin model for warranted Christian belief.

“There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy.  To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty. . . . Men of sound judgment will always be sure that a sense of divinity which can never be effaced is engraved upon men’s minds. Indeed, the perversity of the impious, who though they struggle furiously are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God, is abundant testimony that this conviction, namely, that there is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were in the very marrow.”

from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 43, 45-46.


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Alvin Plantinga and the Taj Mahal

A little philosophical humor from The Prosblogion regarding Plantinga’s frequent use of the Taj Mahal as an illustration.

Ed Wierenga and I were talking today about a certain Plantinga quote (see Ed’s review of the book _Alvin Plantinga_ on NDPR today by the way) and his frequent mention of the Taj Mahal came up.

A bit of unjustified time-wasting got me at least the following:

In God and Other Minds he uses “The Taj Mahal is greater than God” in an argument concerning the relative values of existent and non-existent beings.

Ol’ Taj shows up in NN [The Nature of Necessity] at various points of course, now being pink, now being non-green, now merely existing.

It’s an actual being in God, Freedom, and Evil. It’s distinct from some proposition R in WCB [Warranted Christian Belief]. In WPF [Warrant and Proper Function] it’s the object of a false belief that it’s in Australia.

And, just about everywhere, it’s distinct from some proposition or other.

Other’s join the fun as well. In PvI’s [Peter van Inwagen’s] “Theory of Properties” Taj is red or not round.

So if someone really didn’t know what the Taj Mahal was (and, like you, as a kid I thought it was “The Tajma Hall”), but they read a lot of great analytic philosophy, they could piece together this description of the famous object:

It is an existent non-pink, non-round or non-red, concrete object distinct from at least one proposition, and it is somewhere outside of Australia. That doesn’t narrow it down too much, but it does at least potentially rule out the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.

PS – 10^13 points for the best Photoshopped pic of Al at the Taj Mahal. Top entries will be posted on Prosblogion.


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Google to Open eBook Store

Look out Amazon: Google just announced plans to open an electronic book store. Unlike Amazon’s strategy with the Kindle dedicated eReader device, Google plans to deliver eBooks to any device with a web browser.

The service, dubbed Google Editions, is slated to launch in the first half of 2010. At launch it will feature about 500,000 eBooks from publishers Google is already working with on Google Book Search. Purchases can be made directly from Google or through partner sites like Barnes & Noble.

Interestingly, Reuters names as a potential retailer for Google’s electronic books. Considering Amazon would surely prefer to sell its own titles for use on the Kindle, and also considering Barnes & Noble plans to launch its own eReader device as well, these 3 partners seem interesting bedfellows. (Continue)

(Via Mashable)


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Philosophy Word of the Day – Compatibilism

Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem. This philosophical problem concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed in terms of a compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism.

Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Nietzsche on Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche
Image by mansionwb via Flickr

“My demand upon the philosopher is known, that he take his stand beyond good and evil and leave the illusion of moral judgment beneath himself. This demand follows from an insight which I was the first to formulate: that there are altogether no moral facts. Moral judgments agree with religious ones in believing in realities which are no realities. Morality is merely an interpretation of certain phenomena—more precisely, a misinterpretation. Moral judgments, like religious ones, belong to the stage of ignorance at which the very concept of the real and the distinction between what is real and imaginary, are still lacking; thus “truth,” at this stage, designates all sorts of things which we today call “imaginings.” Moral judgments are therefore never to be taken literally: so understood, they always contain mere absurdity.”

The Portable Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” p. 501ff

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How Michael Behe Was Pulled from

Christianity Today gives the story behind this incident, which seems to reveal a selective intolerance toward dissenting ideas.

An online clearinghouse for intellectual debate has discovered the apparent boundary for its controversial conversations: Intelligent Design. posted a video interview between journalist John McWhorter and Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe in late August focused on the Lehigh University biochemistry professor’s 2007 book The Edge of Evolution. It was taken down the same day after the website received a barrage of online criticism for not asking tougher questions of Behe and for hosting him at all.

The explanation given for pulling the interview: “John McWhorter feels, with regret, that this interview represents neither himself, Professor Behe, nor Bloggingheads usefully, takes full responsibility for same, and has asked that it be taken down from the site. He apologizes to all who found its airing objectionable.”

Bloggingheads editor-in-chief Robert Wright reposted the interview four days later upon discovering the incident, but Behe says that action didn’t erase what happened . . . (Continue)


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Richard Dawkins Refuses to Debate Stephen Meyer

As Evolution News & Views reports:

Today on the Michael Medved show, arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins, author of The Greatest Show on Earth, was asked point-blank by Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman why he wouldn’t debate Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell. His response? Weak sauce:

I have never come across any kind of creationism, whether you call it intelligent design or not, which has a serious scientific case to put.

The objection to having debates with people like that is that it gives them a kind of respectability. If a real scientist goes onto a debating platform with a creationist, it gives them a respectability, which I do not think your people have earned.

That’s too bad, because it would be a fascinating debate.

Unfortunately, too many people confuse “creationism” with intelligent design, as Dawkins does here.  Thinking Christian sums up the issues well:

The difference between the two terms is straightforward. Creationism begins in Genesis and argues for certain conclusions based on a certain understanding of the Scriptures. It is known for its persistence in seeking scientific data that fits that interpretation of Genesis, and for finding creative but irregular interpretations to help in that search. As such it has gained an unsavory scientific reputation.

Intelligent Design has a completely different starting point in observations of nature, and in both empirical and philosophical interpretations of scientific data. It sees phenomena like the high information content in biological organisms, instances of apparent irreducible complexity, or fine-tuning of the cosmos for life, and argues that the best explanation for them is to be found in a designing intelligence.

The two overlap in rejecting any a priori insistence that nature is a closed system of physical cause and effect, acting strictly according to natural law or unguided chance. There is also an overlap among their supporters, in that virtually all creationists are theists (Christian, Jewish, or Islamic), and most (not all) ID supporters are too. Still, many creationists are uncomfortable with ID methods and conclusions, and many ID supporters similarly disagree with creationist approaches and conclusions.

In a word, the two are not the same. But opponents insist on blurring the distinction.

He’s right, I think, when he speculates that the reason for this constant misapprehension is a kind of “worldview blindness” that sees science as the sole standard of rationality, and everything else as nonsense – i.e., scientism.  But scientism isn’t the result of any experiment, but a set of philosophical presuppositions about science.  Thus, when it comes to determining what counts as “science,” or even what counts as “rational,” we’ll have to hash it out in the realm of philosophy.

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Barth’s Church Dogmatics on Google Books

Glen at the Hiddenness of Blog has gone through the trouble of locating all the portions of the Church Dogmatics that are available on Google Books.  While the entire text isn’t accessible, a great deal of it can be found there.

The Doctrine of the World of God.
Vol. I/1Vol. I/2

The Doctrine of God.
Vol. II/1Vol. II/2

The Doctrine of Creation.
Vol. III/1Vol. III/2Vol. III/3Vol. III/4

The Doctrine of Reconciliation.
Vol. IV/1Vol. IV/2Vol. IV/3.2Vol. IV/3.1Index.

(HT: Christians in Context)


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