Philosophy Word of the Day — Modus Ponens/Modus Tollens

Modus Ponens: (Latin for: mood that affirms.)  In its basic form, an argument that runs ‘If p, then q. p.  Therefore q.’

For example,

If today is Tuesday, then I will go to work.

Today is Tuesday.

Therefore, I will go to work.

Modus Tollens: (Latin for: mood that denies.)  In its basic form, an argument that runs ‘If p, then q.  But not-q.  Therefore not-p.’

For example,

If I miss the train, I take a taxi.

I didn’t take a taxi.

Therefore, I didn’t miss the train.

Definitions, but not examples, taken from Antony Flew, ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy, rev. 2nd ed., 236.

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Interview with Jim Spiegel – Part Two

Today we continue with the second half of our interview with Jim Spiegel on his new book, The Making of an Atheist.  We’re continuing to collect questions for a follow-up Q&A post, and everyone who submits a question is entered into the drawing for a free copy of the book.

* * * *

Chris Reese: Your approach to apologetics in the book seems to have a lot in common with a presuppositional stance. Do you find much that you agree with in that method of apologetics?

Jim Spiegel: I’m not a presuppositionalist, but I do appreciate the insight of this approach that sin has a warping effect on the mind, that there are, as Alvin Plantinga puts it, cognitive consequences of sin. And it is just this dynamic that I think explains both a person’s descent into atheism and the ongoing obstinacy of atheists when faced with clear pointers to God. Having said that, I believe the study of the evidences for the faith is profitable in many ways, as it can quell believers’ doubts and clear away obstacles to belief for those who are sincerely investigating the Christian faith.

CR: Mainstream apologetics has tended to pass over issues of psychology and morality in relation to belief in God or Christianity. Why do you think that’s been the case?

JS: There are probably several reasons for this. For one thing, it might seem like a distraction to explore the psychological determinants of false beliefs about God when there are so many positive evidences to discuss, not to mention skeptical objections to refute. Also, it might appear to be an ad hominem fallacy to theorize about the moral-psychological roots of disbelief. But, to be clear, my thesis commits no such blunder, because an explanatory account of atheism, such as I give in my book, is different than an argument against atheism. My book does not aim to prove theism or disprove atheism (though I do mention many noteworthy evidences along the way). Instead, I aim to explain how atheistic belief arises.

CR: What do you see that’s promising as well as lacking in apologetics or Christian philosophy of religion today?

JS: It’s hard not to get excited about all that is happening in the area of intelligent design, both at the cosmic and organismic levels. The data regarding the fine-tuning of the universe is becoming more astounding every day, as is the evidence for design in cellular biology. (That such data prompted the theistic conversion of Antony Flew should make even the most hardened atheist think twice.) As for what is lacking, we badly need to see more work connecting ethical and psychological insights (e.g., about self-deception, moral weakness, the role of the emotions in belief-formation, etc.) to skeptical attitudes toward God and religion. And I would like to see work connecting aesthetics to philosophy of religion (e.g., developing arguments for God and/or against naturalism based on the reality of beauty in the world).

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Book Review – The Making of an Atheist

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  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers (February 1, 2010)
  • Official Website (Introduction in PDF)
  • Amazon
  • Christian Book Distributors
  • First, I should disclose that I agree with Spiegel’s thesis that “atheism is caused by a complex of moral-psychological factors, not a perceived lack of evidence for God’s existence. The atheist willfully rejects God, though this is precipitated by immoral indulgences and typically a broken relationship with his or her father. Thus, the choice of the atheist paradigm is motivated by non-rational factors” (113-114). I noticed the patterns first in the lives of Nietzsche (whom Spiegel mentions) and Foucault (whom he does not) prior to this reading.

    Spiegel expects that the idea will encounter resistance (and it probably will). He compiles previously released information and packages it for popular consumption, drawing significantly from Alvin Plantinga, Antony Flew’s “conversion,” and Paul C. Vitz. In fact, Spiegel does Plantinga the honor of dedicating the book to him as “a gigantic intellect with a humble heart.” Moreover, Spiegel maintains a humble tone throughout which honors Plantinga and is often lacking in apologetics.

    Spiegel’s goal is unique. He is not making a case for theism or defending it against the attacks of atheists. His argument is a flanking attack that responds to the “New Atheists” by calling into question the source of their unbelief.  Even though they claim their unbelief is rooted in reason, Spiegel sees the rational component of their unbelief secondary to their immorality or broken paternal relationships.

    He blends biblical ideas (Romans 1, Ephesians 4, etc.) and virtue epistemological concepts to produce an account of how behaving badly and thinking badly decay into a downward spiral of moral and intellectual blindness (particularly in the areas of ethics, theology, and human nature).

    For the link between atheism and broken paternal relationships, Spiegel draws heavily on  Paul C. Vitz’s Faith of the Fatherless. “The lack of a good father is a handicap when it comes to faith (70),” but not an insurmountable barrier. While this link will likely be unpopular or attacked as irrelevant on ad hominem grounds, let’s not forget that non-theists have already applied similar psychoanalytical criticisms against theists. Furthermore, enough examples are given to give us pause to reconsider the role of a paternal relationship in shaping our perceptions of God.

    I think the value of this book is really threefold. First, it helps encourage believers that matters of belief and unbelief are not purely a matter of the intellect, but are issues of the heart and will. Secondly, it should remind believers to be sensitive to the things which may be going on in the hearts of the unbelievers they want to reach with the gospel. Thirdly, it is a call to unbelievers to consider non-rational factors that may be barriers to their belief in God.

    It is a witty, quick read and is worth the couple of hours invested. I hope it is read by many. If you are strapped for time, but the concept interests you, please check out the author’s blog post on the topic here.

    – Reviewed by (polymath) Adam Reece

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    Book Review – Did the Resurrection Happen?

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  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (June 30, 2009)
  • InterVarsity Press (Preface and Introduction PDFs)
  • Christian Book Distributors
  • Amazon
  • “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17)

    As the apostle Paul declared without hesitation, if Christ was not raised from the dead, Christianity is a deception. If Christ was not raised, His predictions of returning to life (Mark 8:31; 9:31; Matthew 27:63; John 2:18-22) are false, the preaching of the apostles (e.g., Acts 3:11-26) is an illusion, and every Christian’s hope from the first century until today is in vain. Thus, the truth of the resurrection is indispensable to the truth of Christianity, and it is the historical status of this event that Gary Habermas and Antony Flew spar over in Did the Resurrection Happen?

    For those unfamiliar with the participants, Dr. Gary Habermas is a professor of philosophy at Liberty University and a leading expert on the resurrection, while Antony Flew was, until recently, the most renowned atheist philosopher of the twentieth century. In 2004, Flew declared that he had abandoned atheism for belief in an “Aristotelian God,” and now considers himself a deist. The present debate, however, took place one year before Flew experienced this change of mind.

    The book is divided into three parts. The first part is the transcript of what will likely be the last debate between Habermas and Flew, which took place in January 2003 at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The transcript also includes the Q&A session that followed the debate.

    Part two contains two articles that were originally published in the journal Philosophia Christi: An interview with Antony Flew conducted by Gary Habermas in 2004 that focuses on Flew’s conversion to deism, followed by Habermas’s review of Flew’s book on the same subject entitled There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

    In part three, editor David Baggett, professor of philosophy at Liberty University, assesses the discussion, responds to several skeptical challenges to the resurrection, and explains why he believes Flew should be more open to the evidence for the resurrection than he currently appears to be. He also includes an appendix explaining how Bayes’s theorem can be used to calculate one’s view of the probability that the resurrection occurred.

    As Baggett notes in the introduction, this is actually the third time that Flew and Habermas have debated the historicity of the resurrection. All three debates have been published (the first here, the second here). The subtitle describes this meeting as a “conversation” rather than a debate, and the description fits. It’s evident from their interaction that Flew and Habermas are friends (as they have been for 25 years), and it’s interesting to note the change in tone from the first debate in 1985, which was more aggressive. In this case, the discussion is civil and respectful, though both are clear about the points they disagree on.

    It’s clear from the debate that Habermas has a masterful grasp of the historical evidence for the resurrection, and Flew seems to be impressed by the cumulative case. In fact, in There is a God Flew admits that “the resurrection is more impressive than any by the religious competition” (p. 185; cited by Baggett, p. 155). Yet, he still retains a strong Humean bent, and also claims that “the occurrence of miracles cannot be known from historical evidence, and this discredits the claim that the resurrection can be known as a fact of history” (p. 186; Ibid.). While claiming that he could be persuaded, in principle, that the resurrection happened, it would take “overwhelming confirmation” since such an event “seems to me so wildly inconsistent with everything else that happens in the universe” (p. 45). At the same time, Flew is willing to concede that belief in the resurrection is rational for Christians, who already believe in a “transcendent God” (p. 51).

    In his review of the debate, Baggett makes the point that now that Flew does believe in a transcendent God, he should be much more open to the evidence of the resurrection in light of this new background information. However, in addition to his Humean concerns, Flew is also greatly troubled by the problem of evil and has considerable reservations about the doctrine of hell and human freedom in Christianity (in light of biblical texts that teach predestination) (p. 165).

    Did the Resurrection Happen will prove beneficial to anyone looking for a well-reasoned and up-to-date defense of the resurrection (covering both historical and philosophical issues) and also provides a fascinating glimpse into Antony Flew’s transformation from an incorrigible atheist to a believer in God, who still struggles with God’s intervention in the world and the doctrinal claims of Christianity.

    Many thanks to Adrianna at InterVarsity Press for this review copy.

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    Philosophy Word of the Day – Incorrigible

    Directly and conclusively verified, not subject to any further tests.  A class of so-called basic statements or propositions that are descriptive of present contents of experience (for example, “I have a headache”) are generally regarded as incorrigible in so far as they express nothing about which one could be uncertain or mistaken.

    Such statements may, however, be false, even when the claim is sincere, not because experience itself can be in any way fallible but because it might be misidentified or incorrectly formulated in words.

    (from A Dictionary of Philosophy, Rev. 2nd ed., ed. Antony Flew, 166-167)

    Another common example of an incorrigible belief is Descartes’s “cogito ergo sum”: I think, therefore I am.

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    Philosophy Word of the Day – Language Game

    Ludwig Wittgenstein
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    A key concept in the later work of [Ludwig] Wittgenstein.  According to his famous analogy between using language and playing games, we have in both various sets of rules or conventions, and these determine what moves are permissible or impermissible, successes or failures, each set of rules identifying a distinct game.

    A given move can be judged only according to the rules of the game to which it belongs.  Many time-honored philosophical problems result from judging moves in one game by the rules of another, and can be dissolved only by systematic clarification of the relevant differences; hence such clarification should be philosophy’s main concern.

    From A Dictionary of Philosophy (Rev. 2nd ed.) ed. Antony Flew (St. Martin’s, 1979), 196.

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