The Missing Links – Dec. 26, 2010

C. S. Lewis

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  • Victor Reppert shares some good insights on faith and evidence, in response to John Loftus.

 

 

 

  • C. S. Lewis “once described the giving of praise and thanks as ‘inner health made audible.’ He felt that it was the most ‘balanced and capacious minds’ who found it easiest to praise others, while it was misfits and malcontents who found it hardest to offer praise and thanks–to others or to God (Reflections on the Psalms, 94-95).” An interesting look at Lewis’s numerous thank-you notes to fans and readers at the C. S. Lewis blog.
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Philosophy Word of the Day – First Philosophy

René Descartes (1596-1650)

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“In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the study of being qua [as] being, including the study of theology (as understood by him), since the divine is being par excellence. Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy was concerned chiefly with the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the nature of matter and of the mind.”

— Panayot Butchvarov in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 311.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Skeptical Theism

Skeptical theism is the view that God exists but that we should be skeptical of our ability to discern God’s reasons for acting or refraining from acting in any particular instance.  In particular, says the skeptical theist, we should not grant that our inability to think of a good reason for doing or allowing something is indicative of whether or not God might have a good reason for doing or allowing something.  If there is a God, he knows much more than we do about the relevant facts, and thus it would not be surprising at all if he has reasons for doing or allowing something that we cannot fathom.

If skeptical theism is true, it appears to undercut the primary argument for atheism, namely the argument from evil.  This is because skeptical theism provides a reason to be skeptical of a crucial premise in the argument from evil, namely the premise that asserts that at least some of the evils in our world are gratuitous.  If we are not in a position to tell whether God has a reason for allowing any particular instance of evil, then we are not in a position to judge whether any of the evils in our world are gratuitous.  And if we cannot tell whether any of the evils in our world are gratuitous, then we cannot appeal to the existence of gratuitous evil to conclude that God does not exist.  The remainder of this article explains skeptical theism more fully, applies it to the argument from evil, and surveys the reasons for and against being a skeptical theist. (continue article)

— Justin P. McBrayer at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Philosophy Word of the Day — Aquinas’ Philosophical Theology

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...

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“In addition to his moral philosophy, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is well-known for his theological writings.   He is arguably the most eminent philosophical theologian ever to have lived.  To this day, it is difficult to find someone whose work rivals Aquinas’ in breadth and influence.  Although his work is not limited to illuminating Christian doctrine, virtually all of what he wrote is shaped by his theology.  Therefore it seems appropriate to consider some of the theological themes and ideas that figure prominently in his thought.

“The volume and depth of Aquinas’ work resists easy synopsis.  Nevertheless, an abridged description of his work may help us appreciate his  philosophical skill in exploring God’s nature and defending Christian teaching.  Although Aquinas does not think that philosophical reasoning can provide an exhaustive account of the divine nature, it is (he insists) both a source of divine truth and an aid in exonerating the intellectual credibility of those doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith.  From this perspective, philosophical reasoning can be (to use a common phrase) a tool in the service of theology.

“An adequate understanding of Aquinas’ philosophical theology requires that we first consider the twofold manner whereby we come to know God:  reason and sacred teaching.  Our discussion of what reason reveals about God will naturally include an account of philosophy’s putative success in demonstrating both God’s existence and certain facts about God’s nature.  Yet because Aquinas also thinks that sacred teaching contains the most comprehensive account of God’s nature, we must also consider his account of faith—the virtue whereby we believe well with respect to what sacred teaching reveals about God.  Finally, we will consider how Aquinas employs philosophical reasoning when explaining and defending two central Christian doctrines:  the Incarnation and the Trinity.” (continue article)

— Shawn Floyd at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Omnipotence

“Omnipotence is maximal power.  Some philosophers, notably Descartes, have thought that omnipotence requires the ability to do absolutely anything, including the logically impossible.  Most classical theists, however, understood omnipotence as involving vast powers, while nevertheless being subject to a range of limitations of ability, including the inability to do what is logically impossible, the inability to change the past or to do things incompatible with what has happened, and the inability to do things that cannot be done by a being who has other divine attributes, e.g., to sin or to lie.”

— Edward R. Wierenga, “Divine Attributes,” The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 240.

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Jim Spiegel Answers Your Questions

The following are four questions posed by readers to Jim Spiegel in response to his interview here this week.  Jim kindly agreed to answer these follow-up questions, and his comments are below.

Thanks again for your thoughtful questions and opinions, both pro and con.

The winner of the free copy of The Making of an Atheist is J. W. Wartick!

* * * *

Ranger:

Jim,
It seems to me that in various beliefs, both simple and major, that often the head follows the heart.  Augustine, Edwards and various other Christian theologians have emphasized the role of desire in leading someone to hold certain beliefs.  I’ve wondered if this might be what Luther had in mind with his statements such as “reason is the devil’s whore.”  Would you mind discussing the role of desire in the life of the mind?  Thanks.

In my book I discuss this very issue, noting that, as William James once noted, a person’s will often prompts one to believe certain things, particularly where reason cannot decide an issue one way or another.  However, I would go a step further than James and note that a preference for a particular position or worldview may tempt a person to believe something against the evidence.  This is “motivated irrationality,” as some scholars have phrased it, and it constitutes a form of self-deception.  I think this is just the sort of thing that Luther had in mind with that phrase about reason being the “devil’s whore”—reason can be co-opted to serve just about any desire or predilection.  This is why it is so important that the Christian scholar actively submit her/his intellect to God and the authority of Scripture.

Rob:

(1) Why should an atheist accept your account when it presupposes the truth of precisely what the atheist denies the existence and authority of?

I grant that my specific account of atheism presupposes the truth and authority of Scripture, but my intent in the book is not to persuade the atheist of the truth of my account based just on premises that s/he presently accepts.  That would necessitate my first demonstrating the existence of God, and that’s not the purpose of my book.

Having said that, as I show in my book, there are many insights from diverse academic fields (e.g., history, psychology, and philosophy) that confirm the reality of many of the causal dynamics to which I appeal in my explanatory account of atheism.  So I do think that my account would still enjoy a certain amount of evidential warrant even when considered in isolation from the Scriptural considerations that inspired it.

(2) Your claim that cognition-distorting sinful behaviors and wickedness underline atheism is an empirical one for which, as far as I can tell, there is little evidence.  Presumably, more secular or irreligious communities and nations should have higher rates of wickedness and immorality.  What evidence are you relying on?

The evidence for my view is both empirical and non-empirical (philosophical and theological).  Specifically, the case for my thesis can be made by appealing to:

· Theology:  passages such as Romans 1:18-20, Eph. 4:17-19,  John 3:19-21, and  John 7:17, which confirm that beliefs are impacted by behavior, whether moral or immoral.

· Psychology:  specifically, “motivated bias” models of self-deception (such as those defended by James Peterman and Alfred Mele) and the “cognitive redefinition” belief-change theory of Edgar Schein.  Such models are built upon, and aim to explain, behavioral data from empirical studies.

· History:  studies of atheist scholars which reveal significant non-rational factors connected with the paradigms one chooses, including atheism (Paul Vitz’s Faith of the Fatherless, Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, and E. Michael Jones’s Degenerate Moderns)

· Insights from philosophy and history of science:

o Thomas Kuhn—paradigms are typically selected because of non-rational factors

o Michael Polanyi—all theorizing, even in science, is ultimately personal, dependent on desires

This is just a sampling…

As for your claim that my thesis implies that unbelieving peoples should have higher immorality rates, I suppose that might be true.  But this would be hard thing to assess, since not all immorality is publicly observable, because various forms of conceit, hatred, hubris, lust, etc. would (on a Christian view of ethics) be immoral but not necessarily behaviorally evident, much less ascertainable via a formal study.

J. W. Wartick:

You suggest in the interview that you think current apologetics is lacking in ethical and psychological insights. How do you think we can go about filling in this hole within Christian apologetics? What role can sin play as a concept within philosophy of religion in explaining the desire to rebel against the moral concepts inherent in God?

In writing my book I have addressed his lacuna, at least vis-à-vis the phenomenon of atheism.  I tried to do something similar with my first book, which was on the subject of hypocrisy.  I think it’s just a matter of apologists being more willing to bring moral and psychological insights to bear on their defense of the faith and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Christian ethicists and psychologists speaking to apologetic issues.

As for your second question, that’s essentially the question that drove me to write The Making of an Atheist.  Obviously, my discussion pertains to the rebellion against God generally (in the form of disbelief), rather than merely rejecting God’s moral nature.  But it would be interesting to see whether, and to what degree, deists and heterodox theists might opt for their view—when it involves subtraction of the notion of divine moral perfection and moral demands on humans—precisely because of a distaste for all that entails (e.g., moral judgment, requirements for self-control, etc.).

* * * *

Jim’s blog tour continues for the next several weeks.  You can find the complete schedule here.

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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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