Saturday, July 08, 2006


My two co-horts have responded to John Loftus' latest post pontificating about God having a body (yes, I said pontificating rather than arguing). For a more intellectual response to Loftus I refer you to Jason's and Steve's responses.

Basically, Loftus' ammo for this argument is to treat anthropomorphic passages as literal. Furthermore, he psychologizes the Christian when he gives the reasons why we would not interpret certain passages literally. He writes,

"Modern Christians try to avoid the conclusions of the literal Biblical statements because they read the Bible after the rise of science."

Unfortunately for Loftus, the reason why we believe God does not have literal physical hands and feet is *not* because anything modern science tells us! Since when has modern science determines that gods must not be physical?

Loftus explains,

"The so-called Bible believing Christians have argued that this is merely the language of appearances, that is, it’s merely figurative language, just like heaven is described as a city in Revelation 21-22, but neither of which are to be taken literally by educated Christians today."

Anyway, let's apply Loftus' technique to himself:

"With what we read in the Bible, the burden of proof is squarely on them."

The burden of proof is abstract and not square in nature, furthermore it isn't "on" anyone. Unlike bird droppings, burdens of proof cannot be on John's shoulder.

"We must step back in time before the rise of modern astronomy to see the universe as they did."

Time is not something that can be "stepped" into, contrary to Loftus’ imagination, time is not like poop. Furthermore, modern astronomy, like the sun, does not "rise."

"About this listen to the Anchor Bible Dictionary (“Image of God’) which tells us:"

Sorry, the dictionary does not have a voice mechanism and so does not "tell" us anything.

"Mormons today take these statements literally"

Statements are immaterial and, therefore, no one can "take" them, maybe their instantiation in a physical sentence, but not the statement qua statement.

"so if modern people like Mormons think this way, then it’s even more likely that ancient Hebrews did."

LOL, that's a fallacious inference, but I thank John for doing it to himself again. Check it out: "If modern people like John can use language in a non-literal, poetic, metaphorical, allegorical, way then it's even more likely that ancient Hebrews did." He gave us the entire debate with this one! QED.

Questions for consideration:

1) In 4 thousand years when our more civilized great-great... grandchildren read Loftus will they think that we thought "burdens of proof" were "square" and could be "on" people?

2) When someone tells them that they're not translating it properly will our future Loftuses tell them that they refuse to read it how ignorant past Loftuses meant it?

3) Can refuting atheists get any easier?

The Exegetical Carelessness Of John Loftus

John Loftus has written an article arguing that the ancient Jews believed that God had a body. He suggests that Christians should hold the same belief. Steve Hays has already written a response, which I saw just as I was finishing my response. I'll add the following to Steve's comments.

John Loftus writes:

"The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics. There is no reason to suppose the Hebrews thought differently about their God from what we read in the OT....The burden of proof is upon the Christian to show why they don’t think of God in a human form. Mormons today take these statements literally and believe God has the shape of a human being, so if modern people like Mormons think this way, then it’s even more likely that ancient Hebrews did."

Commenting on 2 Samuel 22, Loftus writes:

"Can you picture this? Sounds like Zeus to me, and he was envisioned in a physical body."

As I explained to Loftus in a recent thread here, 2 Samuel 22 is a passage about past events in David's life. It's a passage that uses highly poetic language, and nothing like Loftus' literal interpretation of the passage is mentioned in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and other portions of the Bible that give us accounts of David's life. In other words, 2 Samuel 22 is evidence against Loftus' line of reasoning, not evidence for it.

Loftus is also ignoring other information he's been given. As we've explained to him in previous threads, another way we can demonstrate the non-literal nature of the passages he's citing is by comparing passages that describe the same object, yet use differing images. For example, one passage in Job will refer to the earth having pillars, and another will refer to the earth hanging on nothing. The Biblical authors will sometimes refer to God being in a particular place, yet the ancient Jews knew that even the entire universe couldn't contain God (1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2:6, Isaiah 66:1). Isaiah 66:1 refers to the earth as God's footstool. If He had physical feet large enough to need a footstool of that size, then how can He be referred to as walking in one location on earth in other passages? How could God appear to Moses or anybody else without everybody on earth seeing Him, if He was as large as a John Loftus reading of Isaiah 66 would suggest? How was such a large physical body ever able to get inside a tent, temple, and other such objects?

We've also explained to Loftus that some of the views he's ascribing to the Biblical authors would have easily been falsified. It's unlikely that the Biblical authors held such views. For example, passages like Exodus 15:6 refer to God saving people or doing other things with His arm. Yet, like 2 Samuel 22, these passages are referring to historical events. The people who were there would have known that there wasn't any physical arm that came down from the heavens, and the accounts of these events in other passages don't mention any physical arm.

Loftus is misleadingly selective in the passages he cites. He cites passages about hands, eyes, etc., but what about other passages that use non-human imagery? 2 Samuel 22, a passage Loftus keeps citing, begins with references to God as a rock (2 Samuel 22:2-3). The passage goes on to refer to God with human imagery, but why does Loftus ignore the rock references while mentioning the human references? Apparently, when Loftus reads 2 Samuel 22:29 he thinks that the ancient Jews must have viewed God as a lighting device. We can only imagine what "by my God I can leap over a wall" (2 Samuel 22:30) means in John Loftus' mind. What about the wings of God mentioned in Psalm 17:8, 36:7, etc.? Since passages like the ones in these Psalms refer to people resting under God's wings, should we conclude that the authors thought that they had literally rested under physical wings on a physical body of God? Does Isaiah 40:31 prove that the author thought that people who trust in God will grow physical wings?

Loftus tells us that the ancient Jews might have held beliefs like those of the Mormons, but even the Mormons don't interpret scripture as literally as John Loftus suggests we should. On the issue of whether God has a physical body, where Mormonism has supported Loftus' argument to some extent, why should we think that the Mormons are a reflection of what the ancient Jews probably believed? If the large majority of interpreters of scripture have disagreed with the Mormon view, including interpreters who lived much closer to Biblical times, why should we look to the Mormons while rejecting the conclusions of a much larger and earlier group of people?

In a previous thread, I cited Athenagoras and Theophilus of Antioch as examples of people who lived close to Biblical times, yet didn't interpret the Bible as John Loftus suggests we should. Why does he ignore such sources while repeatedly mentioning the Mormons, a nineteenth century group? On this issue of whether God had a body, we have many sources who predate the Mormons and who contradict the Mormon claim: Aristides (Apology, 1), Tatian (Address To The Greeks, 4), Athenagoras (A Plea For The Christians, 10), etc. And though Loftus often tells us that the ancient Jews must have held beliefs similar to those of other cultures, we know that the ancient Jews were different in some ways, and they wanted to be different. Besides, "Many Gentiles also recognized that the supreme god was a spirit" (Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], p. 618).

If Loftus wants to argue that only Jews of the Old Testament era thought God the Father had a body, but that Jews of the New Testament era held a different view, then why does the New Testament continue to use the sort of language that Loftus cites from the Old Testament? Peter refers to Jesus being at God's right hand (Acts 2:33), John refers to the Father sitting on a throne (Revelation 5:13), etc. We know that the early Christians didn't think that the Father had a body, yet we also know that they refer to the Father with the sort of language John Loftus is citing.

God is a spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit doesn't have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). God is invisible (Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17). As John tells us in the opening of his gospel, the Word became flesh. Philippians 2 describes the taking on of human form as something that distinguishes God the Son from God the Father. God could take on a human body or be associated with physical objects in some way, but nothing in scripture (Old Testament or New Testament) suggests that God was limited to a body or always had a body. If Loftus wants to argue that scripture refers to God sometimes having a physical body, such as in the incarnation, or sometimes being associated with a physical object, then he would be making an observation that nobody disputes. But why would he present such an undisputed observation as an argument against what Christians believe? He's obviously arguing for more than that, but citing poetic passages like 2 Samuel 22 won't get him there.

What's a law of nature?

Daniel Morgan continues to invoke the laws of nature. As I pointed out to him in the past, the definition or even the existence of natural laws is a highly controverted issue in the philosophy of science. Yet he continues his appeal—none the wiser.

Figurative or phenomenal?

“In an earlier post I described the Hebrew Universe. The so-called Bible believing Christians have argued that this is merely the language of appearances, that is, it’s merely figurative language, just like heaven is described as a city in Revelation 21-22, but neither of which are to be taken literally by educated Christians today. [Although, many Christians still believe heaven is exactly as described in Revelation, as is hell.] Are they correct?”

Loftus manages to pack an exceptional number of conceptual confusions into the space of a single sentence:

1.If you go back and read what we actually wrote, Jason and I did not appeal to phenomenal language when dealing with the triple-decker universe.

2.Phenomenal and figurative are not synonymous (see below).

3.What John experienced were a series of visions. By definition, visions consist of appearances.

There’s also a distinction between objective and subjective visionary appearances. Which is in view is context-dependent.

John literally had visions of heaven. Whether his visions were literally descriptive of heaven is a separate question.

“The question for me is this one: How do Christians know that the Hebrews didn’t take these verses literally? With what we read in the Bible, the burden of proof is squarely on them.”

The burden is squarely on us only if we were as muddle-headed as Loftus, which would be a difficult feat to duplicate.

“What did early Christians think about heaven (remember, Jesus supposedly bodily ascended to sit at the right hand of God on a throne and to rule in a heavenly city, with mansions [John 14:1-4])? We must step back in time before the rise of modern astronomy to see the universe as they did. That’s all. Modern Christians try to avoid the conclusions of the literal Biblical statements because they read the Bible after the rise of science. It’s that simple, and it’s bad exegesis. Jesus could only have bodily ascended into heaven if heaven is in the sky, as the ancients believed.”

Loftus continues to trade in his conceptual confusions:

1.The description of the Ascension is, indeed, phenomenal. It is both phenomenal and literal.

It’s related in observational language because it’s an eyewitness account. This is what the observer actually saw. Being a ground-based observer rather than a Martian, he took the earth as his frame of reference.

Thit’s exactly the perspective you’d expect if he were describing a real, spatiotemporal event which he had seen.

His viewpoint has nothing to do with pre-Copernican astronomy. If we were to witness the Ascension today, that’s exactly how we would see it.

This is a literal description of what the observer saw.

2.In addition, Acts 1 doesn’t say that Jesus ascended straight to heaven. Rather, it says that Jesus levitated to a certain altitude, and was then enveloped by a cloud (1:9). As commentators like Bruce and Fitzmyer point out, this likely has reference to the Shekinah.

Here the controlling paradigm isn’t ancient astronomy, but OT theophany.

“The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics. There is no reason to suppose the Hebrews thought differently about their God from what we read in the OT. The burden of proof is upon the conservative Christian to show why they don’t think of God in a human form. Mormons today take these statements literally and believe God has the shape of a human being, so if modern people like Mormons think this way, then it’s even more likely that ancient Hebrews did.”

This disregards the aniconic character of Hebrew piety, which was, in turn, predicated on the essential invisibility of God.

God could manifest himself in a theophany, but was otherwise invisible and intangible.

“What are some of the implications of these things? 1) The Bible reflects ancient views of God, the universe, and heaven/hell, which slowly evolved into the views Christians have today. 2) The Bible is misinterpreted by conservative Christians today because they do not understand the Bible as it was originally understood. 3) The Bible has nothing to say about how God created the universe (if he exists), and it makes no claim about creation that we should believe today merely because the Bible states it, since it's based upon ancient myths. 4) Christians cannot take every statement in the Bible about God, the universe, heaven/hell as the truth, if properly understood in its context, since those conceptions evolved inside the Bible itself. There are other implications.”

The only implication of Loftus’ analysis is that he doesn’t pay attention to the actual wording of Scripture or its OT allusions.



Daniel Morgan said:

Certainly, the brain and mind are one and the same in my worldview. One does not exist without the other. However, supervenience and epiphenomena and many other ideas do not make my stance necessarily reductionist (to show thought A = molecule B doing C). Think of fire for a moment. Knowing all that there is to know about hydrocarbons, and knowing all that there is to know about oxygen, we still cannot experience combustion except through the perception of fire as a visual and thermal phenomenon. Experiencing the heat on your face is quite different than calculating the energy of C=O and O-H bond formation against the energy of C-H and O=O bond formation. Being inside our own minds, we are experiencing, I am sure, nothing but biochemical interactions, not qualitatively different than combustion. However, we perceive these biochemical phenoemna first-hand, since they constitute our brains, and we're not viewing them objectively (as with fMRI or CT scans) -- we're feeling the heat and seeing the light of these phenomena.

I'm just trying to point out here that I don't necessarily disagree with the comment on watching neurons fire and correlating it to mental activity.

Doing that (observation) is like doing the calculation for the enthalpy of combustion (the heat that will be given off). The reality of fire, however, can include a completely different perception, to which you would be completely ignorant of, and without the ability to describe, unless you are close enough to the phenomenon to experience it firsthand -- heat and light.


Weasel words like supervenience and epiphenomena bake no bread.

You can say that a set of properties at a higher plane of organization are not equipollent with a set of properties at a lower level of organization. There is more to a Bach fugue than the diatonic scale.

But if you’re a physicalist, then you still have to treat thought, consciousness, qualia, and the like as something physical in itself, and not merely the byproduct of a physical process.

Thus, the effect, and not merely the underlying cause, needs to be detectable by physical means and subject to physical analysis, viz. what is the chemical position of thought?


I don't think that, because of the fundamental disconnect between experience/perception and objective observation, we can ever run wires to your brain and put up on a screen what you're seeing, or "feel what you're feeling". Possibly we never will be able to. Part of mental processes, I agree, is in the subjective experience/perception and cannot be observed. But, does this cause me to invoke some unknown, immaterial substance? Why would it?


Several problems:

i) Scientifically speaking, you don’t know what you can’t show. Even if physicalism were true, if it cannot be known to be true because it cannot be shown to be true, then it’s just an unverifiable hypothesis. The fundamental disconnect renders physicalism unprovable.

ii) The aim of science is to explain every phenomenon according to a public, third-person description.

Due to the privacy of mental events, this cannot be done—which is why some physicalists deny mental states altogether.

iii) There is also the fundamental issue of our starting-point. Mine is Cartesian, yours is not.

You operate with a presumptive materialism. I regard this as a flawed methodology.

From an epistemic standpoint, the external world is a secondary phenomenon, for we experience the external world via the mind. Therefore, the mind enjoys epistemic primacy.

We enjoy an immediate experience of our own mental states, and only a mediated experience of material states.

No physical experiment can overturn the primacy of the mind because any physical experiment will, itself, be a mediate object of knowledge, filtered through the mind.
iv) In our experience, mental properties differ from material properties. A thought of blue is not a blue thought.

Thoughts lack primary qualities, viz. size, shape, solidity.

This is a direct deliverance of consciousness. A primitive datum.

And since this is an immediate, self-presenting state, there can be no hiatus between appearance and reality. We don’t appear to feel pain. We either feel pain or we don’t.

v) Now, a physicalist will say that this subjective impression is illusory. That, in fact, this impression is explainable by a physical process.

He can say that, but he can never show that. There is no presumption in favor of physicalism. To the contrary, the presumption is always in favor of mind over matter.

And this is more than a prima facie presumption. We begin with the mind because that’s the only place we can ever begin. And the incorporeal character of the mind is given in the very act of consciousness.

vi) We are not invoking an unknown substance. To the contrary, we are invoking something we know much better than any material substance.


The ability to describe experience and perception using Na/K potentials across your neurons in terms of intensity and frequency is real. In other words, intense pain correlates to higher frequency neural processes as well as a greater concentration of ions released at synapses. I can thus "see" your pain, but seeing it and feeling it are two completely different things. I can make a graph of the flux of ions across your neurons and show the valleys and troughs correlating to your experience of pain. I cannot show your pain itself on a screen for others to view. Your pain is indeed "reducible" to Na/K potentials, but can I say that I can "describe" the experience/perception of pain unless I have felt it? No.


A dualist isn’t going to deny that pain has a physical aspect. If I stick a needle in your arm, the pain will travel to the brain via a nerve impulse.

Obviously the pain has a physical source of origin (the pin prick) and well as physical mode of transmission. So the fact that to some extent we can map that process is hardly at odds with dualism.


How can creatures who experience mental processes first hand, and are even using them in trying to observe others', ever hope to have some sort of understanding of their own experience from an objective standpoint? They can't. So?


Except that science is all about achieving an objective (public, third-person) description of reality. And a materialist will generally regard the scientific method as the royal road to knowledge. Empirical science is the source and standard of knowledge.


How is skeptically and tentatively accepting the rationality of any particular conclusion undercut by the origin of the brain? This is what we've yet to clarify. I pointed out in the beginning that I was willing to lay aside the question of soul/spirit and consider only whether or not human brains are the product of evolution (with or without divine guidance) or a special act of creation, which I dubbed "poof", but you cannot dispute the accuracy of the description. Something which doesn't exist, suddenly does = poof.


It’s precisely the accuracy of the description that I can dispute. For one thing, it leaves the agent out of view (God). It also confuses the origin of the world (creation ex nihilo) with the origin of the soul (creationism or traducianism).

You have a bad habit of repeating the same mistakes after the error has been called to your attention. I’ve corrected you on this, but you respond like a continuous loop-tape.


What evolution depends upon is, by the naturalistic framework, the laws of physics. Even the most "chance" of processes are not what we would call "unbounded". That is, the energy distribution of a bunch of particles at a given temperature (ie with a particular average kinetic energy) can be represented with a Gaussian distribution. Why do I mention this? Well, even the most indeterminable outcomes of physical states still obey the laws of physics (in the naturalistic worldview). Therefore, when we speak of a brain being created by naturalistic processes, and humans inheriting a "monkey mind", I still have yet to see why this necessarily entails irrationality. The "monkey mind" itself must obey the laws of physics, in a naturalist's worldview, and no known natural processes can be considered completely beyond understanding or description (even if the states fall under a distribution of probabilistic outcomes, as with quantum mechanics).

The laws of physics themselves are hardly "irrational", even if indeterminable due to the number of variables involved. When considering all natural processes, chance/random or no, "any" outcome is not possible, just "many". This provides us with a sort of foundation to counter some sort of presumed connection between irrationality and natural processes.


You’re committing several category mistakes:

i) While the laws of nature are not irrational, they are irrationable. They may not be unreasonable, but they are unreasoning.

ii) There is, in addition, a big difference between the significance of natural law in a Christian worldview and a secular worldview.

In a Christian worldview, there is a mind behind the mindless laws of nature; but in a secular worldview, there is no mind behind the mindless laws of nature.

So secularism upholds the primacy of matter over mind. Matter is primary, mind is secondary.

iii) Moreover, determinism and rationality are two different things. For example, you can have a deterministic randomizing program, such as a computerized slot machine.

So even if we were to subscribe to a hidden variables version of quantum mechanics, which left the laws of nature deterministic from top to bottom, that would not underwrite the rationality of our cognitive faculties.

iv) Furthermore, natural laws are not truth-conducive. Natural laws are impersonal. They do not select for true beliefs.

Why Don't We Have Earlier References To Jesus In The Historical Record?

I recently heard Gary Habermas, in response to a question somebody asked him, comment about the contrast between online skeptics and mainstream scholarship. He commented that while the concept that Christianity was largely derived from ancient pagan mythology is commonly accepted in online skeptical circles, it's far less popular in mainstream scholarship. The same can be said of many other arguments popular among online skeptics. We're often told that Jesus probably didn't exist or that it's a major problem for Christianity that no sources refer to Jesus during His lifetime, for example. Yet, mainstream scholarship doesn't doubt Jesus' existence, and mainstream scholarship recognizes that the absence of earlier references to Jesus isn't of much significance.

Last night, Christopher Price posted an article about the common skeptical claim that the absence of earlier references to Jesus is a major problem for Christianity. I recommend reading the article. He gives many examples of other historical figures who aren't mentioned by any sources until decades after their death. Those historical figures include people who were contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles.

The evidence we have for Jesus is good. It's significantly better than what we have for many other significant figures of ancient history. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona comment:

"New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg, who served as an editor for and contributor to a large scholarly work on the Gospels, provides four reasons why more was not written on Jesus in his time: 'the humble beginnings of Christianity, the remote location of Palestine on the eastern frontiers of the Roman empire, the small percentage of the works of ancient Graeco-Roman historians which have survived, and the lack of attention paid by those which are extant to Jewish figures in general.'...What we have concerning Jesus actually is impressive....let's take a look at Julius Caesar, one of Rome's most prominent figures....Only five sources report his military conquests....If Julius Caesar really made a profound impact on Roman society, why didn't more writers of antiquity mention his great military accomplishments? No one questions whether Julius did make a tremendous impact on the Roman Empire....Tiberius Caesar was the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus' ministry and execution. Tiberius is mentioned by ten sources within 150 years of his death: Tacitus, Suetonius, Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Seneca, Valerius Maximus, Josephus, and Luke. Compare that to Jesus' forty-two total sources in the same length of time. That's more than four times the number of total sources who mention the Roman emperor during roughly the same period. If we only considered the number of secular non-Christian sources who mention Jesus and Tiberius within 150 years of their lives, we arrive at a tie of nine each." (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], pp. 127-128)

There are many possible motives for a source to not mention a particular historical figure, even if he was aware of that figure's existence and his significance. A Roman historian might have a low view of the importance of Jewish history, a contemporary of Jesus may refrain from discussing Him because he's unsure of what to make of Jesus, etc. Craig Keener writes:

"Without immediate political repercussions, it is not surprising that the earliest Jesus movement does not spring quickly into the purview of Rome’s historians; even Herod the Great finds little space in Dio Cassius (49.22.6; 54.9.3). Josephus happily compares Herodotus’s neglect of Judea (Apion 1.60-65) with his neglect of Rome (Apion 1.66)." (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 64, n. 205)

One example Christopher Price cites in his article is John the Baptist, who isn't mentioned by anybody until after his death. John the Baptist is also significant in another context that skeptics often mention. If it was as common and as easy as skeptics sometimes suggest it was for ancient people to fabricate miracle accounts for their religious leaders, then why don't we see it with John the Baptist? Ethelbert Stauffer noted:

"This evidence in the sources [for Jesus' miracles] cannot be discounted psychologically on the ground that in those days all stories of miracles were credulously accepted and uncritically spread about. For the Jews of antiquity were extremely realistic in regard to miracles, and at least the opponents of Jesus among them were highly critical. Had that not been so, the miracles of Jesus would not have been so vehemently discussed and so gravely misinterpreted. Neither can we dismiss the matter of Jesus’ miracles by contending that in those days miracles were ascribed to every prominent historical or religious personality. For that was not the case. The men of the New Testament considered John the Baptist, for example, as the greatest human being before Christ, and yet he was not regarded as a miracle-worker. Josephus, too, attributes no miracles to the Baptist. The Mandaeans hail the Baptist as a mythological savior and attack Jesus as his satanic adversary. But they, too, say a great deal about the (demon-inspired) miracles of Jesus, and not a word about any miracle wrought by John the Baptist. Islam has high regard for Jesus, still higher for Mohammed. But although many miracles are attributed to Jesus, none are ascribed to Mohammed….Jesus’ miracle-working is historically unassailable" (Jesus and His Story [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960], pp. 10-11)

Much of what skeptics claim about Jesus can be seen to be absurd if we apply the same standards to other historical figures. Part of the problem with online skeptics is that they're not only ignorant of early Christianity, but also are ignorant of ancient history and the standards of historical research in general.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Evolutionary epistemology

“And poor little Steve should note that I laid aside the question of soul/spirit (and thus whether or not God was involved) to make this simpler. The point is -- what part of "poof" is more reason-conferring than descent with modification (if telic)?”

i) Baby-talk questions (“poof”) don’t call for grown-up answers. If and when you’re prepared to pose an adult question, I’ll be happy to provide and answer.

As it stands, your question is meaningless.

ii) And your exercise in simplification leaves out the key ingredient to an answer.

“The origin of our mind is not the same thing as a philosophy of mind.”

Which misses the point. If a philosophy of mind includes a theory of origins (evolutionary epistemology), then the question is whether that theory is self-defeating.

“Fine. So now, it is time to present a ‘philosophy of mind’ which undermines rationality as an example, rather than simply leaving an open and presumed connection between evolution and some reason-nullifying philosophy of mind that necessarily follows.”

i) It isn’t essential to draw a necessary connection. A probable connection will do.

ii) Plantinga, for one, has already laid out such an argument.

iii) I also discuss the connection below.

“But if Darwin's mind, and all of ours, are rendered by their creative process irrational, then it does prove that every ‘conviction’ / theory we have developed with our minds are indeed irrational as well. No product of a completely irrational mind can be rational, can it? You seem to be looking into the barrel of the gun when you consider the converse.”

What position are you referring to—yours or mine? On my position, the human mind was designed by an intelligent Creator, while on yours it was the adventitous byproduct of a blind watchmaker.

“Is it? The trainability of dogs and other mammals is quite reliable. Their minds are the result of solely natural processes (versus a soul, or spirit, right?). If their minds perform reliably, how is that a red herring to insist that evolution need not produce unreliable minds?”

i) Once again, what position does your statement stand in contrast to? How are you defining a “solely natural process”? Are you defining that naturalistically as both a purely materialistic as well as undirected process?

If so, Christians do not regard animal behavior as the result of a solely natural process.

ii) Another problem is with your starting point. You assume that organisms are bits of organized matter, and so you further assume a reductive explanation of their behavior consistent with physicalism.

I, on the other hand, would begin with their behavior, and then leave myself ontologically open to whatever metaphysical machinery is necessary to account for their behavior.

I would not rule out animal souls or remote signaling or whatever cause is required to yield the effect.

“How can a process which solely confers selective advantage for survival be considered ‘unreliable’? The mechanism of random mutation isn't ‘reliable’ in the sense that ‘you never know what you'll get’, but natural selection certainly is -- you'll always get populations of organisms which confer survival-advantageous traits to their offspring.”

i) Reliable in what respect? Reliable as survivable or reliable as rational? These are two very different things.

ii) In addition, from a Christian standpoint an animal is adaptable because it was designed to be adaptable.

“You're taking this a bit far. The ‘convictions’ in the quote only refer to a degree of reliability in their perceptions. I admitted ‘degree’ when I said skepticism is warranted.”

Reliable perception and reliable conception are two different things. A robot may be designed with a reliable pattern-recognition program. So it has a reliable perceptual mechanism. But it doesn’t think. The issue is rationality. The ability to conceive, not to perceive. Do our human concepts correspond to reality? Bare sensation has no truth-value.

“Part of how this ties into survival is in whether or not our sense perception, and how our minds interpret our senses, function in a ‘trustworthy’ manner or not. We develop convictions from these most basic of mental functions. Survival certainly depends upon them. So it really isn't a question of whether or not we can trust our minds...but ‘how far?’"

For a monist, you are very free with the word “mind.” From your perspective, what is the mind of a cockroach? Does the “mind” of a cockroach “interpret” sensory input?

“I didn't say that survival depends on intelligence in all organisms, but certainly in those which have little or no natural defense capability, and whose offspring are extremely fragile, and who only reproduce at about 1/1000th the rate of cockroaches, must develop some offsetting survival mechanisms. Ours were tool-making and socialization, just like the other apes.”

And how did the naturally defenseless naked ape survive for hundreds of thousands of years before its brain evolved to the point where it could design weaponry?

“The rest of this is bunk. I simply meant that we know the brain, and we know that [in this universe] without a brain, there is no mind. Even you don't disagree with that as a dualist. “

Actually, I, as a Cartesian dualist would, indeed, disagree with this. The mind is not brain-dependent.

“We can point to neurons and watch them fire off and correlate that to mental activity. I'm not saying that this is ‘all there is to mind’. I made it clear that I was trying to ignore the question of the existence of the soul/spirit, and focus on the process by which mind exists -- whether by divine fiat / poof, or by evolutionary processes. You have expended a lot of energy in ignoring this.”

i) You’re trying to drive the car after removing the engine.

ii) There is no detailed correlation between the firing of neurons and mental activity. That is, at most, only a temporal correlation. It may tell you when a person is thinking, but it doesn’t tell you what he is thinking—or even how he is thinking.

You cannot reconstruct what a person is thinking from a brain scan. You can get inside his brain, but you can’t get inside his mind. You can see his brain in action, but you can’t see what he is seeing as he sees it. You can see if he is dreaming, but you can’t see the dream.

What you need, Danny, is to show—not to say, but to show—how mental properties are reducible to material properties.

You also need to capture the interiority of the experience—the conceptual or imaginative content of the mental state.

“Poor Steve. He's like a man who thinks he's lost his glasses, but has them on top of his head. It need not rule out a Creator to conclude that apes are our ancestors.”

Since neither you nor I subscribe to theistic evolution, this is a stalling tactic.

“Poor little Steve only sees things his way -- God ‘poofed’ or God is not. Minds are ‘only matter’ and evolved, or minds are ‘poofed’ and divinely created in an instant. “

Poor little Danny doesn’t know his way around traditional Christian theology.

Instantaneous primary causality has reference to creation ex nihilo. The creation of the world.

It doesn’t have reference to secondary causality, such as the propagation of the species. In that regard one can either be a creationist or a traducian. I incline to the latter.

“The creation myth may be leveled, but you must never take your eyes off of the big picture, Steve -- your God is not a creation myth...right?”

Since you’ve done nothing to level the creation “myth,” your contention is a nonstarter.

Realism & antirealism


August said:

Steve, interesting post. I am a longtime lurker, this is my first comment. Thanks for the great work you and the other T'bloggers do, this is a daily stop for me in my continuing thirst for knowledge.

It seems as if the antirealist position is somewhat influenced by Hume-like skepticism? My position more closely reflects the thoughts of Thomas Reid, who said "I resolve to take my own existence and the existence of other things upon trust". The trust Reid speaks of is not based on his own reasoning or sensory experience, but is based on his faith in God:"...that God intended that a great and necessary part of our knowledge should be derived from experience". How does that agree or disagree with the antirealist position?


Good question.

There are, as you know, a variety of realisms and their antirealist counterparts, viz. modal realism, moral realism, alethic realism, direct realism, scientific realism, &c.

A man can be a realist in one respect, but an antirealist in another.

Christianity commits a believer to certain forms of realism, viz. that God-talk has an extramental referent.

Reid represents one approach to philosophizing. What’s our starting point? Do we start with scepticism? Do we start with difficulties?

Or do we start with common sense? Do we start with what we all take for granted, and work back from there?

I agree with Reid on his prima facie confidence in perception, induction, memory, testimony, and other suchlike. I agree with where he affixes the burden of proof.

I agree with his distinction between paper doubts and palpable doubts.

Sceptical thought-experiments are useful limiting-cases on what we can prove. But they should not frame a theory of knowledge.

Rather, we should begin with successful examples of perception, induction, communication, memory, &c, and reason in reverse to the necessary and sufficient conditions which make successful examples a success rather than a failure.

But I do have a couple of caveats:

1.As you know, Reid did more than mount a default argument for common sense, in the absence of a viable alternative.

He also grounded common sense in natural theology.

The problem with evolutionary epistemology is that it withdrawals the preconditions of rationality.

At that point, common sense loses its prima facie license.

Of course, that’s not so much a problem for common sense as it is for evolutionary epistemology.

2.Having conceded that our senses are generally trustworthy sources of information, this generic concession does not, of itself, answer the specific question of what our senses are reliable for. What information can we acquire via the senses?

By way of answer:

i) Everyone excepting the naïve realist (who is more of a hypothetical construct than a real person) will admit some discrepancy between appearance and reality.

I don’t think our senses are designed to tell us what the sensible world is like. I don’t think they’re designed to tell us if grass is really green.

ii) I think our senses are designed to let us navigate a physical environment and effectively manipulate our surroundings.

That, however, doesn’t require a transparent correspondence between what we perceive and what the sensible is like.

All it requires is a correlation between the external object and our perceptual token.

For example, when I withdraw money from an ATM, I punch commands into a keyboard. I’m not in direct contact with the money. I don’t see the money. All I see is the keyboard. What makes it work is not a correspondence between what I see and what I receive, but a correlation between certain encoded commands and the greenbacks.

iii) I also think our senses (especially sight and hearing) are designed to process propositional information. Thoughts encoded in words (whether spoken or written) and pictures.

Here there is a point of correspondence, but between one thought and another thought. A mind communicates an idea to another mind via a public medium of some sort.

3.But for several reasons I regard scientific theories as useful fictions:

i) Besides the reasons I’ve already given, perception is variable. The sensible world presents a very different appearance to a bee or bat or bloodhouse or hammerhead shark than it does to a man because these creatures have a sensory acuity which is attuned to different frequencies (as it were).

Which percept is correct? Well, they all are. Nature presents more than one appearance, and your sensory apparatus will select for a particular appearance.

ii) That’s somewhat subjective or epistemic, but there’s an objective or ontological dimension to this as well.

It’s not just one’s perception of the sensible world that’s variable. The sensible world is variable.

If I were an x-ray instead of a man, the spatial configuration of my world would be completely rearranged. Different walls and doors (as it were).

A different body density selects for a different configuration of barriers and open spaces.

Which is the real world? They are all aspects of the real world. It just depends on which “channel” you’re on (as it were).

4.How does my philosophy of science affect scientific arguments for the existence of God and other suchlike? It depends.

i) Due to the veil of perception, I don’t believe that we can reconstruct the distant past and—to take one example—finger the flood mechanism.

Likewise, I also don’t believe in a cosmological argument based on the latest version of the Big Bang.

There are too many intervening layers between the percipient and the external world to cut through.

ii) On the other hand, this, if anything, enhances certain versions of the teleological argument.

Back to the ATM. The more oblique the relation between appearance and reality or cause and effect, the more complex the relation. You need a designer to coordinate these intricate correlations.

International Philosophy Match

(HT: Sean Choi)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Take no hostages?


That's when it hit me- Christianity is a confrontational faith/religion. If people find it offensive, that's the way it's suppose to be. This is the reason why many Christian apologists, be it Jonathan Sarfati from Answers in Genesis, James P Holding/Robert Turkel of Tekton Apologetics, Jason Engwer of "Steve'N'Pals"...erm..."Triablouge" are confrontational in their tone. To be polite, friendly, and kind to the opposition is weak and looked down on as "whimpy". This is because Christianity is offensive. It's designed to be this way. Christianity is supposed to be offensive and confrontational to the world and is supposed to offend the world and its "sin". Christian apologists like Sarfati, Holding, and Engwer are confrontational and offensive for a good reason- their faith requires them to be. They won't be nice about it. Contrarily- their approach is a in-your-face, offensive approach that demands an answer from you and condemns you when you fail to give the answer that apologists want-which is conversion. Jason doens't care if I don't like Christianity- he's only interested in seeing me convert-which I cheerfully promise him will never happen. If he doesn't like it, I am not sure of how to tell him politely that I don't give a damn and that he can go to hell for all I care.

Christianity is offensive and confrontational and its intentionally suppose to be this way. If I recall correctly, I believe that my dad once delivered a sermon which he said something to the effect of "If the gospel doesn't make you feel uncomfortable, then you don't really belong in Church". He's right! That's because the gospel is confrontational and should make people feel uncomfortable. One's "comfort zone" is born out of compromise with the world. In my dad's opinion, if you are not running into the devil, it's because you're running in the same direction as him! It's the take-no-hostages, in-your-face, confrontational style of Christians like Engwer that is truly Christian.

Coming to this realization has made me aware of some really disturbing truths. First of all, I cannot be diplomatic with Christianity. How can you be diplomatic with something that's designed to offend and confront you, and, if you allow it to, bully you into confessing it's true and converting you? I learned this the hard way. There's no diplomacy. It's destroy or be destroyed. Secondly, this realization has made me painfully aware of an inconsistency that I have been evading for some time now that I can evade no longer because I am tired of being a whimp about it. Christians live by a double-standard. Christians think it's wonderful for a Christian to convert an atheist to being a Christian but think it's horrible for an atheist to convert a Christian to being an atheist. If Christians are allowed to convert non-Christians, then shouldn't non-Christians be allowed to convert Christians?

Third, many many Christians seem to think that they can be as rude, self-righteous, as spiteful as they want to disbelievers such as atheists, yet atheists have to go out of their way to be as polite, friendly, and kind to Christians, to the point of almost tip-toeing around egg-shells or else Christians scream "Persecution!" Atheists have to be as sweet as pie to Christians but many Christians think they can treat atheists as dirt poor as they like. Fourth, many Christians have no qualms whatsoever about imposing their beliefs on others through personal evangelism, filling the airwaves and television channels with their creeds, yet seem utterly indignant when atheists might do the same. Many Christians have no care in the world that what they say may offend or insult others.


It’s often striking to observe the disconnect between how people view themselves and how they’re viewed by others.

1.I think Jason is suffering from guilt-by-association. Matthew is projecting on to Jason what he resents in me or his own dad or some other blogger.

Jason is never rude or spiteful. Jason has an irenic style. Jason never tries to bully his opponent, but to reason with his opponent. The only forcible method he ever employs is the force of reason.

2.Bloggers, being human, reflect a range of character types. There are also differences of national character.

3.Christian bloggers also vary in their theology when it comes to dealing with unbelievers.

Unbelief is culpable, but there are degrees of culpability.

When a man loses his faith, that’s a tragedy. But if a man who loses his faith endeavors to destroy the faith of others, then that invites a very different response.

4. The idea that unbelievers generally bend over backwards to be nice and polite to Christians is a claim which a few clicks of the mouse would bury under an avalanche of counter-evidence.

5.Matthew is assuming that this is all about him. But blogging is a public medium. The target audience is far larger than one’s immediate opponent.

6.Emotive talk about “imposing” our faith through personal evangelism and televangelism says less about the believer than it does about the unbeliever’s personal insecurities.

7.The charge of a double standard is incoherent: “Christians think it's wonderful for a Christian to convert an atheist to being a Christian but think it's horrible for an atheist to convert a Christian to being an atheist.”

How is that a double standard?

Is Frank Walton guilty of a double standard if he thinks it’s wonderful for a Neo-Nazi to convert to Christianity, but horrible for a Christian to convert to Neonazism?

That’s not a double standard, but a single standard. One is good, and the other is bad.

8.Are non-Christians not allowed to convert Christians?

Matthew is bent out of shape, not because he isn’t free to speak his mind, but because freedom of speech is a two-way street.

9.Matthew is acting as if we had a personal investment in Christian epologetics. “Destroy or be destroyed!” “Take no hostages!”

Speaking for myself, I don’t have anything at stake. Nothing to gain and nothing to lose. I feel like a poker player who’s gambling with someone else’s money.

I’m like a homeless drunk whom the good Lord plucked up off the pavement, dried out, dressed up in a tux, and stuck in a high stakes poker game.

Those are not my C-bills on the line. He staked me to whipsaw the opponents—because one cheater deserves another!

Update On The James Ossuary

See Christopher Price's article here.

A monkey's uncle


Ashamed of Their Ancestry

A while back, I was reading the idthefuture site, where I was referred to an article at an apologetics site on materialism. Joe Carter, in the article, "The Mystical Monkey Mind: Four Common Errors of Naturalistic Epistemology," presented a quote from Darwin which I saw pop up again the other day:
“With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has always been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

It appears, at first glance, a serious problem: if our minds are "just" monkey brains, why do we trust them? But, as is attributed to Solomon as being said, "The first to present his case seems right, until another comes along to examine him." (Prov 18:17, NIV) Let us examine the argument posed by Joe, Paul Manata, and others.

First, should Darwin's opinion on the matter, without presenting any particular argument for support, hold any weight? Not really. After all, this seems quite self-refuting -- if the man who pieced together the case that we descended from great apes then concluded our minds untrustworthy for that reason, then his "case" is obviously imperiled. In fact, we might make a simple conclusion from this statement: it is self-refuting. Just like making the statement, "I always lie," there is no way to escape the circular destruction of this logic. If your mind's convictions are not trustworthy, how do you even convince yourself of, or trust in, the validity of that conviction?


Danny doesn’t understand what a dilemma is. Darwin’s argument is self-refuting in the sense that it poses a dilemma:

We rely on our minds to construct a philosophy of mind. But what if our philosophy of mind undermines rationality?

If our minds are reliable, then a philosophy of mind that undermines rationality is a self-refuting philosophy.

So the problem would not be with my mind, but with my philosophy of mind.

If, however, you’re going to stick with a philosophy of mind that undermines rationality, then that does, indeed, pose an intractable dilemma.

The fact that you are rational doesn’t prove that your philosophy of mind is equally rational.

The fact that Darwin was rational doesn’t prove that Darwinism is rational. Evolutionary epistemology could well be self-refuting.

“Also, this argument to reject the soundness of the human mind may be a variant of the genetic fallacy -- based on a categorical rejection of an argument or idea simply based on where it originated, rather than on sound reasoning.”

The genetic fallacy is not always a fallacy. If someone is psychotic, or if someone is high on acid, then we do discount his observation about pink rats running amok in the cellar.

Conversely, there can be a valid argument from authority if the expert witness is truly an expert in his field, and is speaking within his area of expertise.

“What intrinsic feature of monkeys, (apes, actually) or any other higher mammal makes their minds innately untrustworthy? In fact, we can take this a step further, given that Darwin's conclusion about the origins of man are correct, and claim that this actually substantiates the trustworthiness of our minds!”

That’s something of a red herring. The real issue is whether an unreliable process can yield a reliable result.

If natural selection was never designed to select for rationality, then why should we assume that a brain which is the incidental byproduct of natural selection enjoy a reliable purchase on the truth?

“I would argue that there are good reasons to trust ape minds -- they have survived the perils of nature for millions of years, and along the way, learned that they could trust the natural world around them to provide constancy. Those minds that were the brightest, that developed innovative methods for catching fish or making spears, were most likely to exist in a social structure in which this knowledge could be shared and propogate throughout their progeny.”

The problem with this argument is the absence of any connection between rationality and survivability.

Coach roaches survive just fine without higher cortical functions.

So what makes Morgan think that intelligence confers a survival advantage when so many species lack higher consciousness?

Of course, a Christian would attribute their survival to the rationality of the Creator.

“Because human beings are part of the natural universe, and are products of that universe, they will always be limited in their perspective on certain features of the universe. That warrants skepticism. It does not, however, warrant throwing out those things we have learned from nature, secrets that we have wrested away from the blind, mute, and uncaring universe.”

Danny is now begging the question by assuming that we’re rational. But is this confidence justified by his evolutionary worldview?

“Why should we abandon trust in the regularity and uniformity of nature, when it has brought us this far? Why should we relegate the method of testing and applying knowledge tentatively, until it proves itself (via the scientific method, or in pragmatic real life experience) enough for us to "trust" it, to the trash can? That method is what led to tools, and to skyscrapers. Its success is as apparent as our own existence, and with tangiable results that "trust" alone has never given us.”

All he’s done here is to assume that secularism is true.

How would a world characterized by divine creation, providence, and miraculous intervention be any less livable?

“Why trust a monkey mind? If we want to survive, we must trust our minds. If we do not want to be self-refuting, we must trust our minds.”

A man who’s high on acid has to trust his mind. It’s still the only mind he’s got, even if it’s delusional in its altered state of consciousness.

It would still be “self-refuting” for a man who’s too stoned to think straight to doubt his mental faculties.

Unfortunately, his self-refuting argument won’t cushion the fall as he leaps from a skyscraper.

“That said, need we trust its convictions as if they are representative of the permanance and inviolate laws of nature? Of course not. Don't trust it absolutely. Test its convictions against the sounding board of Nature.”

Poor little Danny never gets the point of the argument. If the rationality of an evolutionary brain is the very point at issue, then “testing its convictions against the sounding board of nature” is a futile exercise since we can only know if we pass or fail the test by assuming that our mind is reliable is a reliable instrument to tally the score. How can an incorrect mind correct a test?

A psychotic doesn’t know until he hits the pavement that he flunked the test, at which point it’s a little late in the game to cram for the next exam.

“I would flip the table on our special creationist friends and ask, if instead of the uniformity of nature, and the laws of physics, our minds were the products of some divine fiat or "poof" mechanism, why should we trust that?”

Ah, back to “poof.” Danny is Babinski’s loyal little parakeet. Babinski teaches Danny to say “poof” on cue, and so he does, time and again, as if his mastery of baby -talk were a substitute for rational discourse.

Let’s see: why would we trust a mind that’s the artifact of rational designer? Gee, I’m stumped.

“While we can know our universe to at least a limited extent, and recognize that its symmetry, its uniformity, and its material properties give rise to minds…”

Do material properties “give rise” to minds? Perhaps Danny can show us a slide set of material properties “giving rise” to mental properties.

What are we looking for? Swirls of smoke spelling the alphabet?

“We know nothing of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’. We know nothing of what those substances are, how they contribute to mind, and what properties they would confer to mind.”

Danny’s like a man who can’t find his glasses because he’s wearing them. Wherever did he put them? He’s turned his apartment upside down, but he can’t find his glasses anywhere. He must have lost them on the bus. Or was it the locker room? Maybe the café? He does everything but look in the mirror.

Danny is a self-admitted know-nothing because he only studies one side of the argument. If he did some serious reading in philosophy of mind, he’d at least be conversant with the range of positions and their respective supporting arguments.

Although Danny is training to be a scientist, he lacks intellectual curiosity. Danny won’t debate the likes of me because I don’t “play by the rules.”

And it’s true that I won’t play poker with a card sharp.

Danny has been taught the rules, and he does what he’s told. One must never question the rules. The rules are immutable and indubitable.

The game may be out of touch with reality, but what matters is to play by the rules.

A tornado may rip away the roof of the casino, but the game goes on. The walls may be gone, but the game goes on.

The city may be leveled, but you must never take your eyes off the table.

That’s because there is no reality outside the game. The rules dictate what’s real. The rules erect their own walls to shield secular prejudice from falsification.

Why debunk the debunkers?


Marianne said:

Hi Steve,

Do you really think you're going to prove anything to these apostates? They are willful self-deceivers and do not want to learn. What do you hope to gain by devoting your time to them instead of to the Lord? I will pray for you, and for the lost before it is too late for them. But by expending so much of your precious energy on infidels, you are doing exactly what they want you to do.

In Christ,
Marianne Apfelburg


Thanks Marianne.

This is my rationale:

To begin with, I don’t expect to win over a hardened apostate. That’s not my target audience. The apostate is simply my foil.

My real audience is twofold:

1.Not every Christian has a ready-made answer to attacks on his faith. Not every Christian has access to a decent library.

When objections are allowed to pile up, it can have a cumulative and corrosive effect on one’s faith.

In spiritual warfare, it isn’t necessary to kill a Christian’s faith to take him out of action. It is only necessary to cripple his faith.

He doesn’t lose his faith, but he loses his confidence.

2.In addition, not every unbeliever is a reprobate. Some are backsliders. Some just don’t know any better. Some are sitting on the fence, waiting to see who wins the argument.

The Secular Web is the world’s leading website in the cause of militant atheism.

As such, it has quite a constituency.

A while back, it started a weblog (The Secular Outpost), which is a spin-off of The Secular Web.

This was an attempt to extend its reach. Extend its sphere of influence.

I assume The Secular Outpost draws from the preexisting constituency of The Secular Web.

The Secular Outpost also has a number of links to other secular sites.

DC is one of these. I assume that it gets a lot of crossover traffic from The Secular Outpost.

Why do I pick on the DC rather than the Secular Web or the Secular Outpost or some other site?

For a few practical reasons:

1.The Secular Web has been around for years. It has bottomless archives. It presents too big a target. It’s unmanageably large and diffuse in terms of the sheer amount of material one would have to sift through.

2.Contributors to The Secular Web don’t post all that often. Moreover, guys like Edis and Lowder don’t present much of a target. They are grown-ups. They pick their battles. They are too shrewd to stick their neck out the way the Debunkers do.

3.Of the various links, DC is the only site that regularly assails the Christian faith.

4.I assume that DC attracts a certain audience because its contributors are ex-Christian and ex-ministers. They have the inside dish, right?

5.Loftus bills himself as a student of Craig. This has PR appeal.

Well, if someone who trained under a Christian apologist to be a Christian apologist defects from the faith, then what does that tell you about the Christian faith. The more you know, the less you believe, right?

6.The Debunkers have nothing original to say. It’s a garage sale, hawking kitschy criticisms of the Christian faith.

But that makes it a useful foil. At this stage of the game, all of the objections to Christianity are going to be stock objections.

So DC presents a nice, compact target.

If a militant atheist chooses to walk around with a bull’s-eye on his back, I’m happy to accommodate him.

Sure, DC may be no more distinguished than a roadside salesman peddling velvet paintings, but when you get right down to it, the case against Christianity doesn’t get much better than this.

7.Am I doing exactly what they want me to do? I seriously doubt that when Loftus inaugurated DC, he expected my colleagues and I to dog him every step of the way. To see his every grand disproof of the faith shot down a few hours (at most) after it was posted.

Saving the phenomena

I’ve been asked to explain myself on scientific antirealism.

Scientific antirealism is as old as Greek philosophy. Greek philosophy distinguished between natural science and mathematical science. Natural science supposedly uncovered the true causes of things, whereas mathematical science was merely consistent with the observable phenomena, and more than one mathematical construct might be empirically adequate or equivalent.

According to scientific realism, our theories are descriptive of reality. Here are a couple of definitions:

“Scientific realists hold that the characteristic product of successful scientific research is knowledge of largely theory-independent phenomena and that such knowledge is possible (indeed actual) even in those cases in which the relevant phenomena are not, in any non-question-begging sense, observable…Scientific realism is thus the common sense (or common science) conception that, subject to a recognition that scientific methods are fallible and that most scientific knowledge is approximate, we are justified in accepting the most secure findings of scientists ‘at face value.’"

“Scientific realism is a view in the philosophy of science about the nature of scientific success, an answer to the question "what does the success of science involve?" The debate over what the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities (objects, processes and events) apparently talked about by scientific theories. Roughly put, scientific realism is the thesis that the unobservable things talked about by science are little different from ordinary observable things (such as tables and chairs).

Scientific realism involves two basic positions. First, it is a set of claims about the features of an ideal scientific theory; an ideal theory is the sort of theory science aims to produce. Second, it is the commitment that science will eventually produce theories very much like an ideal theory and that science has done pretty well thus far in some domains. It is important to note that one might be a scientific realist regarding some sciences while not being a realist regarding others.

According to scientific realism, an ideal scientific theory has the following features:
_ The claims the theory makes about unobservables are either true or false, and they are true or false depending on whether the entities talked about by the theory exist and are correctly described by the theory. This is the semantic commitment of scientific realism.
_ The unobservables described by the scientific theory exist objectively and mind-independently. This is the metaphysical commitment of scientific realism.
_ There are reasons to believe some significant portion of what the theory says about unobservables. This is the epistemological commitment.

Combining the first and the second claim entails that an ideal scientific theory says true things about genuinely existing unobservable entities. The third claim says that we have reasons to believe that the things said about unobservable entities are true.

Scientific realism usually holds that science makes progress, i.e. that scientific theories usually get successively better. For this reason, many people, scientific realist and otherwise, hold that realism should make sense of the progress of science in terms of theories being successively more like the ideal theory that scientific realists describe.”

There are a variety of antirealist alternatives, but the basic idea of scientific antirealism is that our theories are useful fictions.

A Feynman diagram is a good example of a useful fiction. The real world doesn’t resemble a Feynman diagram, yet it’s a very helpful way of modeling quantum interactions.

The fundamental argument in favor of scientific realism is the success of scientific theorizing. Just look at the amazing technological strides that the scientific method has made over the past few centuries.

Surely the scientific method must be on to something. Our theorries must be approximately true to be so successful.

This is a very appealing argument. Ironically, though, the leading objections to scientific realism come from science!

1.There is the question of just how accessible the scientific evidence is to the scientist.

i) We tend to act as if our head was a camera taking snapshots of the world beyond the viewfinder.

On this view, the snapshot resembles the world. Photographical realism distinguishes a photograph from an abstract painting.

But according to a scientific theory of sensation, our perception of the world is far more convoluted.

The mind does not enjoy direct access to the external world. Rather, what we perceive comes to us in the form of encoded and reencoded information, viz. electromagnet information converted to electrochemical information.

If this is true, then our mental representation of the world is more like a cryptogram than a photograph.

ii) Notice, too, that a scientific theory of sensation is somewhat deceptive, if not downright illusory. It describes sensory processing as if the scientist were an independent observer, watching the stimulus impinge on the percipient.

But, of course, he’s really working in reverse. He is, himself, at the receiving end of this process. He is trying to retrace the process.

Yet he’s in no position to objectify the process, for he is unable to escape his own port of entry. Between the sensory input and the conscious readout there lies a blackbox.

How can a scientific theory be truly descriptive of the world if the world is inaccessible to the scientist?

It may seem to be accessible, but that’s the problem. All we have to go by are appearances—appearances several steps removed from the object of our theorizing.

2.Another problem is that a theory may be very successful without making any sense. Quantum mechanics is a textbook example.

The more realistically you interpret quantum mechanics, the more unreal it seems. Einstein and Bohr had a lifeline debate over this issue. Penrose and Hawking are having the very same debate.

3.But that’s not the worst of it. For false theories can be highly successful. Newtonian physics was highly successful. Ether theories were highly successful.

4. There is also the problem of empirical equivalence.

For example, you might think that geocentrism is a lost cause, but consider an exchange I once had with Dr. John Byl (PhD in astronomy from the UBC):

[Hays] As to geocentrism, I don't see that this is even a question of science proper. According to modern astronomy, both the sun and its satellites are in a state of mutual motion, so there is no fixed frame of reference.

In addition, it has always seemed to me that the theories of Mach and Einstein on equivalent forces and equivalent reference-frames would make it easier to defend geocentrism, if one wanted to.

[Byl] Yes. According to general relativity one should get the same observational results, regardless of whether the earth is considered to be at rest, with the rest of the universe revolving about it, or vice versa. (See D. Lynden-Bell et al., "Mach's Principle from the Relativistic Constraint Equations," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1995 Vol 272: 150-160).

So realism and antirealism have to answer the same question: how can a mistaken theory be successful?

My own answer is to distinguish between a correlation and a correspondence.

Take a musical CD. If you play a CD, the recording will correspond to a live performance. By that I mean, the recorded sound resembles the live performance.

Now, as we all know, what digital reproduction does is to digitize an audio signal.

So there’s no qualitative resemblance between the binary data and the sound of a live performance. Rather, the sound is encoded in the binary data.

And yet, by that very same token, there is a quantifiable correlation between the input signal and the abstract information which is stored on the disk.

And that’s why it’s possible to reconstruct the original sound from the digital process.

That, in turn, how I would account for the utility of useful fictions. While our perception of the world doesn’t correspond with the world, it does correlate with the world.

That’s how we successfully perceive the world. And that’s how our theoretical constructs, which promote our observations to a higher level of abstraction, can be successful without their being true.

For a few online resources regarding the realist/antirealist debate, cf.:

For a few hardcopy resources, cf.:

Del Ratzsch, Science & Its Limits (IVP 2000)

J. P. Moreland, Christianity & the Nature of Science (Baker 1989)

W. H. Newton-Smith, ed. A Companion to The Philosophy of Science (Blackwell 2001).

Bas Van Fraassen, The Empirical Stance (Yale 2002).

Philosophy of (The Christian) Religion

Introduction: This is comparable to a book on the Philosophy of Religion. There are a few differences between this "book" and other books. You will notice that there are no (well, just one or two) arguments against the positions I've listed. This is because this "book" is also meant to substitute as an apologetics "book" for the Christian faith, hence the offensive nature. Furthermore, this "book" is intended to present the Philosophy of Christianity from a Reformed perspective and also a presupposition approach to answering many of these questions (or, what I feel is in the same “vein” as presuppositional-esk answers). I also included some dated (or, stated in a non-analytical way) statements of Omniscience and Omnipotence, the reason for this is because I feel that if one could just state the traditional reformed understandings of these doctrines one would avoid many of the so-called problems with these doctrines. I have also included "chapters" in this "book" that are not found in other Philosophy of Religion texts (e.g., Christian Theism and Abstracta). I hope this "book" serves to increase your understanding of the Reformed Faith (or, in other words, Christian Faith) as well as enables you to better defend it.

CHAPTER 1: Arguments For God's Existence

i. If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til. - Dr. James Anderson

ii. Two Dozen (Or So) Theistic Arguments. - Dr. Alvin Plantinga

iii. The Argument From Reason. - Dr. Victor Reppert

iv. The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality
. - Dr. William Lane Craig

CHAPTER 2: The Problem of Evil

i. The Problem of Evil. - Dr. Greg Bahnsen

ii. The Bible on The Problem of Evil: Insights from Romans 3:1-8,21-26; 5:1-5; 8:28-39 -John M. Frame

iii. Evil As Evidence for God -Grek Koukl

iv. Why Calvinists Can't Solve The Problem of Evil. -Dr. Victor Reppert

v. Why Calvinists Can't Solve The Problem of Evil (A Direct Response). -Steve Hays

vi. Why Calvinists Can't Solve The Problem of Evil (An Indirect Response). - Frame, Adams, Piper, Sproul et al

vii. Euthyphro's Dilemma. -Greg Koukl

viii. Euthyphro, Hume, And The Biblical God. -John M. Frame

ix. The Problem of Evil. -Greg Welty

CHAPTER 3: Free Will and Moral Responsibility

i. Free Will And Moral Responsibility. -John M. Frame

ii. Determinism, Chance And Freedom. - John M. Frame

iii. Free Will And Moral Responsibility Are Not Inconsistent. - Dr. Loraine Boettner

iv. On Free Will. - John Calvin

v. Compatibalism, Incompatibalism, Pessimism, Moral Responsibility, Metaphysics and Moral Psychology, and Challenges to Pessimism. - Galen Stawson, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

vi. Free Will And Responsibility. - Dr. John Byl

vii. Arminianism and the Idol of Free Will. - John Owen

CHAPTER 4: The Attributes of God

[A] Time And Eternity:

i. Is 'Timeless' Divine Action Coherent. - Dr. Michael Sudduth

ii. Eternity. - Dr. Paul Helm

iii. Is It Coherent to suppose that there Exists an Omniscient Timeless Being? - Dr. Michael Sudduth

iv. God in Time. -John M. Frame

[B] Omniscience and Human Freedom:

i. Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. - John M. Frame

ii. God's Foreknowledge and Free Will. - Stephen Charnock

iii. Does Divine Timelessness Resolve the Problem of Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. - Dr. Michael Sudduth

iv. Cross Examination: Foreordination and Free Will. - Dr. Greg Bahnsen

[C] Omnipotence:

i. Omnipotence. -Dr. Joshua Hoffman and Dr. Gary Rosencrantz

ii. Omnipotence. -Dr. Edward Wierenga

iii. Omnipotence. -Geerhardus Vos

iv. The Lord of Power. -John M. Frame

v. Divine Omnipotence. -Dr. Sam Storms

CHAPTER 5: Miracles

i. The Problem of Miracles. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

ii. Miracles: A Test Case . -Dr. Vern Poythress

iii. Counterfeit Miracles. -B. B. Warfield

CHAPTER 6: Faith and Reason

i. Ready to Reason. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

ii. The Problem of Faith. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

iii. Natural Theology and the Rationality of Religious Belief. -Dr. Michael Sudduth

iv. Theism, Atheism, and Rationality. -Dr. Alvin Plantinga

v. How To Believe in God in The 2000s. -John M. Frame

vi. Faith and Reason. -Dr. Michael Polanyi

vii. Faith. -B. B. Warfield

CHAPTER 7: Religious Language

i. The Problem of Religious Language. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen


CHAPTER 8: Christian Theism and Abstracta

i. An Examination of Theistic Conceptual Realism As An Alternative To Theistic Activism. -Greg Welty

ii. Theism and Mathematical Realism. -Dr. John Byl

iii. Logic. -John M. Frame

iv. Reforming Ontology and Logic in the Light of the Trinity: An Application of Van Til's Idea of Analogy . -Dr. Vern Poythress

v. Creation and Mathematics; Or, What Does God Have To Do With Numbers. -Dr. Vern Poythress

CHAPTER 9: Christianity and Science

i. Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes of Scientific Law. -Dr. Vern Poythress

ii. Is Intelligent Design Science?. -John M. Frame

iii. Scripture and Geologists. -Dr. John Byl

iv. When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible. -Dr. Alvin Plantinga

v. An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. -Dr. Alvin Plantinga

vi. Naturalism Defeated. -Dr. Alvin Plantinga

vii. Revelation, Speculation, and Science. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

viii. Science, Subjectivity, and Scripture. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

CHAPTER 10: Christian Ethics

i. What Is Theonomy?. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

ii. The Authority of God's Law. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

iii. Cross Examination: A Biblical Standard For Civil Law. -Dr. Greg Bahnsen

iv. Penultimate Thoughts on Theonomy. -John M. Frame

v. Some Thoughts on Theonomy. -G.I. Williamson

vi.Christian Ethics: Basic Principles. -John M. Frame

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Violin music please!

John W. Loftus said:

“ Do you respect Dr. Paul Copan? He and I have had the same educational experiences. We both studied under Craig, both graduated from TEDS and both attended Marquette University. He is giving the Dr. James D. Strauss Lecturship at LCS this year, of which I was among the founding students who started those series of lectures, of whom Craig, Moreland and Jaki have been invited to speak.

I don't find you ridiculing him, and the reason is because you agreed with him, that's all. I find you're arguments weak, and your attempts to refute me as laughable. Oh, I'm sorry, that you cannot find what entry to look up in the ABD (which I have on a CD, so there are no pages, but you might try "Cosmology/Cosmogany", and if you don't know which verses of Genesis in Walton's Commentary to look up (Try Genesis 1-2) then I'm sorry for the lack of scholarship you DO NOT exhibit.

This is a sorry piece of argumentation, and I'm sorry for thinking I could have a reasoned discussion with you. I can't. And maybe you're doing this so that I won't respond and allow you to go on your merry ways, unaffected by what I might offer in rebuttal. If that's what you want then you got it.

I refuse to lower myself to your level anymore.”

Hi John.

That was very moving.

But it would be even more effective if you’d repost it with a violin accompaniment in the background. Maybe the intro to “Addio del passato” from La Traviata.

How could I ever forget that John Loftus is A VERY IMPORTANT PERSON!!!!

If you don’t believe it, just ask him!

So you think that just because you and Paul Copan attended the same school, you should be treated with the same deference?

Sorry, but the logic of this escapes me.

Both Bill Lane and Ted Kaczynski were Harvard grads. Does that mean I must be as respectful to the Unabomber as I’d be to my old college prof.?

I don’t wish to hurt your feelings, John, but I happen to think that Jesus Christ is even more important than you are.

Maybe this is why John Loftus an apostate. To be a Christian you must resign all pretensions to self-importance.

Over at the DC, you and your fellow renegades ridicule the Christian faith—not to mention the scorn you all heap on Christian commenters at your site.

Like so many unbelievers, Loftus has no capacity for self-criticism.

Am I the only one to notice that John Loftus talks like a man undergoing a midlife crisis?

He’s always pulling the faded laurels of his abortive career in Christian education out of his keepsake drawer to show everyone he can arm-twist into the attic.

What’s he going to show us next—his high school yearbook?

Who’s he trying to impress, anyway?

A non-Christian will be unimpressed with what he was (a Christian) while a Christian will be unimpressed by what he is (a non-Christian).

Observe the way he weasels out of giving the page reference for Walton. He’s the one who set himself up for this trap, not me.

As to lowering yourself to my level, you’re half-right. I’m a bottom-feeder.

But you’re a bottom-feeder too.

I’m a nobody, and you’re a nobody.

Craig is a somebody.

I’ll never be Bill Craig, and neither will you. You’re just a nobody of a somebody—the student of…

That’s a how a small-timer like Loftus tries to get a piece of the action—by introducing himself at the party as a friend of so-and-so.

Welcome to the bottom of the pond, Loftus.

Coaching the faithful

As we all know, Bible-believing Christians are Appalachian fundies who can’t think for themselves, but do whatever the preacher man a-tells them.

This stands in stark contrast to the enlightened community of Darwinians.

Or does it…

Apparently, Mary Lou Mendum believes that the Darwinian faithful need a lot of coaching on how to talk proper and respectable and project the right image in p-oh-lite society.

I especially liked #7 in her cheat sheet for the evolutionary lumpen.


National Center for Science Education

Defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools

10 Tips for Writing Letters to the Editor
by Mary Lou Mendum

7. If you have credentials, mention them. Few creationists writing letters to local newspapers have any scientific training. If you have earned a degree or done research in a relevant scientific field, you are automatically more credible than a person who has not. If you are affiliated with a university, use your departmental address. Most newspapers will print such information under your name, and that is far more impressive to readers than the usual home town.

"Shoddy science!"

According to Daniel Morgan:

“Steve Hays and others would much more readily accept the shoddy science of the ICR and AiG than that by the global community.”

I see that Danny’s ADS is acting up again. He really needs to have that professionally treated.

i) As I’ve explained to him on more than one occasion, I’m a scientific antirealist. But since Danny is illiterate concerning the realist/antirealist debate in science, this passes right over his head.

ii) However, to address him on his own turf—is everyone associated with ICR or AiG guilty of shoddy science? I believe that Kurt Wise hobnobs with AiG.

As I recall, Dr. Wise received a B.A (with Honors) in geology from the University of Chicago, followed by an MA. in geology from Harvard, followed by a Ph.D. in Invertebrate Paleontology from Harvard, under the supervision of the late Stephen Jay Gould.

How does Danny’s resume stack up when compared with Wise?

As for the science of the “global community,”

a) A great man well-credential members of the scientific community have expressed their misgivings about naturalistic evolution:

b) When, moreover, you consider the persecution directed at anyone who fails to tow the party line, one can only wonder how many anti-evolutionary scientists simply keep their mouths shut for fear of professional reprisal.

Case in point:

c) I’m also reminded of something Michael Crichton said in the course of his recent speech at Caltech:


I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.

In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of. Let's review a few cases.

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth . One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compellng evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent "skeptics" around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the "pellagra germ." The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called "Goldberger's filth parties." Nobody contracted pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor-southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result-despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental drift for fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geology-until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy…the list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.


“Interestingly, Steve told me that he doesn't think the sun was created on day 4, which is in direct contradiction to a literal reading and to every creationist”

i) Let’s see. Maybe that’s because I don’t get my exegesis from ICR or AiG after all. Ya think?

ii) Literality has never been my guiding star. I follow the grammatico-historical method.

“But, this does help Steve out in the difficulty of believing that the ancient peoples really meant that the sun was created after plants, (think, -180C, or so) and the possibility of a diurnal cycle (morning and evening).”

i) Another fit of Morgan’s ADS. As I've already explained to him, more than once, even on the traditional reading, a functional equivalent for the sun is already in place on day one.

ii) If I wanted to help myself out of difficulties, I take the path of least resistance, a la theistic evolution or some other compromise.