"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The wonders of irrationality

A few days back The Tin Drummer approached me do engage in a little guest blogging action. He was hoping I'd do a write up on the topic of belief. I'm still working on that, but as I've been thinking on that topic I ran across this piece by Bill Vallicella. He just so happens to set the stage quite nicely for what I'm working on at the moment. Vallicella starts by laying out some objections to Christianity and talks about how Theists typically don't give up their faith in light of these problems. Then he then turns his gaze towards the naturalists:

Let’s start with what philosophers call the phenomenon of intentionality, the peculiar directedness to an object that characterizes (some) mental states. It is very difficult to understand how a purely physical state, a state of the brain for example, could be of, or about, something distinct from it, something that need not exist to be the object of the state in question. How could a physical state have semantic properties, or be true or false? How could a piece of meat be in states that MEAN anything? How do you get meaning out of meat? By squeezing hard? By injecting it with steroids? Does a sufficiently complex hunk of meat suddenly become a semantic engine? How could a brain state, for example, be either true or false? This suggests an argument:

Every belief is either true or false
No brain state is either true or false
So, No belief is a brain state.

Now ask yourself: would any self-respecting naturalist throw up his hands and concede defeat when presented with such an argument? Of course not. He will do exactly the same thing the theist does. Holding fast to his conviction, the naturalist will seek to defuse the anti-naturalist argument. He will deny the minor premise of the above syllogism and try to show how some physical states could be true/false.

Vallicella Goes on to say:

So what is the difference between the theist and the naturalist? In both cases we find a deep and abiding conviction that seeks to transform itself into clear and broad understanding armed at every point against every possible objection. Just like the theist, the naturalist, operating under the aegis of his overarching conviction, never gives up. No matter how often you slap down his theory of intentionality, say, he goes back to the drawing board. Naturalism, he feels, just MUST be true, and the arguments against it just MUST be unsound.

So the question I will leave hanging is this: If by looking at the same information intelligent people cannot agree on these topics, then on what grounds do we form our beliefs? Furthermore, does it even matter?

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Drawn away by the sun

My apologies for being slow to comment and quick to let conversations drop lately. Fact of the matter is, it's just to incredibly nice out to stay inside ruminating on complicated philosophical/metaphysical/theological conundrums.

Then yesterday the massacre in Virginia hit and I'm finding it hard to sit down and think on these issues that can often seem far removed from real life. Especially when you look at how my debate with Stephen is going.

I know the thought precedes the action. Because of that I know these conversations we have here have the possibility to shape reality. Perhaps only in a small way, but who knows. Even so, as the weather turns warm I want to make sure I'm spending all the time I can with my wife and little boy. Over lunch I'll probably want to go for a walk with Brad rather than stare at a computer screen.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there will probably be a slow down over the temperate spring and summer months. I'll still be around commenting when I can, but the level of intensity will probably be lessened. Don't be put out if I don't get around to responding to a comment. You are still helping shape my mind with each contribution you make.

Having said that, I think it's about time for a song. All together now! ...

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

What is evil?

The previous post pointing towards a little side debate I have going with Stephen Law turned into a really interesting discussion about the existence and source of evil. From the atheist bench the argument goes something like this:

If God is the source of all things and we know evil exists, then God must be responsible for the existence of evil.

The theists then respond:
No no. God did not create evil. He created free will, thus we all have the possibility to disobey God and choose evil. Satan was the first to make this choice.

The atheist then retort:
But why? Why would an all loving God create us with an inherent possibility to choose that which is evil? If Satan is the source of evil, then God created him with the capacity to become such; therefore, God must still be the source of evil.

There are some good points raised here, but I think there is a flaw in the starting points. Let me attempt to offer a few points that may help bring a bit of clarity to this idea of evil.

First of all I'm hearing the work 'evil' often used as if it is a separate ethic; independent of what we call good. Perhaps some think this is the case then make the right conclusion form the wrong assumption: If evil exists it must have a source. The leap is then made to "the devil".

This is not an uncommon belief, but I think it is flawed from the very start. Evil is not a separate ethic. Evil is the denial, perversion, twisting or otherwise manipulation of an already extant good. Now according to Christianity this "extant good" is God. If anything in this existence is to be ultimatly good, it can only be so by being in conformity with the character of God. There are many things that we call "good", but I would say that the use of the word "good" in an ultimate sense, does not apply here. We would be better to say: "I find this to be agreeable to me", or "This give me pleasure". In each of these cases we can then put a moral spin on the word "good" and ask: "I hear what you are saying, but is it "good" for you to feel these things?" Only if there is God does such a question have any meaning.

The question is then raised:
Why would God create us with the inherent ability to act against His will?

I'd respond to that by asking, what if what I've been saying all along is true? What if the calling on our lives is to be created out of love, by love, for love, to love and to be loved? What if this ethic of love, that most all humanity acknowledges as the greatest of virtues, really is the highest calling on our life? What if God, being the ultimate anchor of all reality, is Love?

Love must contain the option of being rejected. If the option of rejection is not present, then love is not 'true'.

The next question the atheists raise is:
If the calling on our life is love, and God is love, why would anyone reject a God like this.

I think the root of this objection is based in the idea that love is simply a warm fuzzy feeling that is always desirable. I would submit that this is not the case at all. To love God is to choose to submit to his authority. Now when you have your own program you are running this is not an easy task. In fact, I'd say it's impossible. Impossible, I say, without the same resurrection power that raised Christ from death. There is a reason Jesus says we must be 'born again'. We do not have it in us to conform ourselves to God's character. We must submit to Him and let Him change us.

So when I hear Matt say: "why should I submit to His judgment? I have my own standard. " it sends chills down my spine. He is echoing the words of the first fall in all creation and the same defiant words repeated down through history. If God is true, these are the words of death.

In the context of where Matt said these words he was responding to his conscious which tells him "suffering is bad". He went on to say: "If God decided to wipe out an entire people (as I believe he did a few times in the OT), you have no basis for saying that this action is anything other than good."

His sentiment is correct. ANY human should feel revulsion at such destruction of life. Having those words read to me as a child prompted me to tell my mom, through tear stained eyes, "STOP! don't read this to me any more!". I believe will all my being that was an appropriate emotional response to such things. I believe God feels the same way. He tells us He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. I believe Him.

I would say the sin Matt is committing is not his feeling of horror at these events, it's revealed in the statement: "I have my own standard". It's not trusting God. In short, that's the only sin there ever is. That's what evil is.

If God is true, Matt is evil...

If God is true, I am evil...

If God is true You are evil.

What could be done about this? We are all doomed to destruction.

Look to the cross. Look to Easter. Trust Him.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Against my better judgement...

I have engaged Stephen Law over at his blog. He has a delightfully entertaining thought experiment going called "The God of Eth" in which he considered the possibility of God being "all evil". He then goes on to use the same arguments the theists use to support their "good God" hypothesis to support his hypothesis. He feels the evil God concept can be equally supported using traditional arguments for an all good God, therefore if one feels an all evil God is ridiculous, then the same should be true for the idea of an all good God.

Obviously I disagree with him. You can see my initial response here and the continuation of our discourse here.

I predict I will be put to shame fairly quick as Stephen (and probably many of his visitors) is a respected philosopher in his field and I'm just some schmuck art major from Minnesota. Either way it's an interesting conversation that hopefully will progress my thoughts on this issue.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Freemania: The moral pragmatist's wager

Tom Freeman is pulling up the slack on the "deep thinking" front. He's formulated an adaptation of Pascal's Wager to the field of objective morality that is really worth a read. Make sure you have a few minutes as Tom still struggles to condense his thoughts.

Just kidding man. You know I love you! ; )

Freemania: The moral pragmatist's wager

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

True lies

If I was to tell you that everything in all creation is a fact and that in my opinion those facts represent the truth of reality, would I be telling the truth?

If I was to then tell you a blatant lie and ask you if it was true, would my lie be true?

You see, you cannot answer yes to my first question and no to the second.

If naturalism is the ultimate truth of all reality then the law of cause and effect can take us all the way back to the big bang as well as determine the future. Nothing in all of existence can act in a way that is not determined by the natural laws.

Having said that, any effect that occurs within this system is a fact. I would assert that these facts are true. I would also assert that if naturalism is truth these facts cannot be false. Ever. Nothing can react in a way that is outside of the natural laws. In other words, nothing can be false.

But then there's us. If we are purely a part of the naturalistic system, then nothing we do can be false. Our brains must be purely swirls of chemicals reacting — true as the day is long. But then there's this odd experience resulting from these reactions that we call 'us'. This experience then has the audacity to begin calling things right and wrong. We seem to be capable of making all sorts of mistakes. We set our mind to something and screw it up royally. We aim for the nail and hit our thumb. We lie to people and begin reactions in their minds that are not based on truth. We believe all religions can be true, but in fact they are not. We say "don't worry he looks like a nice puppy." and go home missing a pant leg.

How is this possible? Does matter as it "mysteriously" becomes more complex start unraveling? How does it come to create experiences that we call us – which must be true – yet we experience ourselves making "mistakes".

Talk about science fiction!

I don't care what side of the theist/atheist debate you are on. Reality is MUCH more bizarre than we give it credit for.

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