Philosophy


How should we define “reality”?  We can’t say “reality is what exists” because that is tautologous.  To say something exists is just to say that it is real.  

Neither can we define reality as “any X that has the property of being rather than non-being”?  “Being,” like “exists,” is just another way of referring to what is real, and thus this too is tautologous.  

Neither can we say that “reality is that which is mind-independent” because this definition excludes the mind from the realm of reality.  Surely the mind is real.  If it weren’t, it couldn’t be contemplating the proper definition of reality! 

How do we define reality in a way that avoids tautologies or excludes certain things we know to be real?  

And is there a difference between the definition of reality (kind-defining) and the way we determine what is real?  For example, I think William Lane Craig defines existence as any X that exemplifies at least one property.  That is definitely a good test for determining if some X is real, but does that really tell me what it means to say some X is real?

Some people want to reject the testimony of the NT evangelists on the basis that they are biased.  I have written on the problems of this claim before, but here is a brief summary of my argument (with some added insight offered by Greg Koukl in his September 10, 2012 podcast):

  • This is an example of the genetic fallacy – dismissing one’s arguments because of its origin, rather than addressing it on its own merits.
  • Having a bias is irrelevant to the legitimacy of one’s testimony and/or arguments.  One must grapple with the evidence rather than dismiss it because it comes from a biased source.
  • Everyone has a bias, including those who reject Jesus.  The only people without a bias are those who are ignorant of the matter.
  • (more…)

Theists often use the basic metaphysical principle that something only comes from something as evidence for God’s existence.  We reason that if the universe (something) came into being, then it must have been caused to come into being by something else – it could not have simply materialized out of nothing without a cause because out of nothing, nothing comes.  The something that brought the universe into being must itself be immaterial, spaceless, and eternal, which are some of the basic properties of a theistic being. 

I have heard a few atheists object to this argument by questioning the veracity of the basic metaphysical principle that something can only come from something on the grounds that we have never experienced nothing to know whether or not it is possible for something to come from nothing, and thus we cannot know that it’s impossible for something to come from nothing.  While we may not have any direct experience of something that comes into being from nothing, it does not mean it’s not possible.  Indeed, in the case of the universe it was not only possible, but it actually happened.

(more…)

There’s a difference between how we know something to be true (epistemology), and what makes that something true (ontology).  Keeping this distinction in mind would illuminate many debates.  For example, atheists often claim that one doesn’t need God to know morality and act morally.  That’s true, but it misses the point.  Just because one can know moral truths and behave morally without believing in God does not mean God is not necessary to explain morality.  As Greg Koukl likes to say, that’s like saying because one is able to read books without believing in authors, authors are not necessary to explain the origin of books (author-of-the-gaps).  In the same way books need authors, moral laws need a moral-law giver.

(more…)

I have a question for my non-theist readers: Why is it that I can chop up a tomato and eat it, but I cannot do the same to a human being?

During his recent dialogue with Archbishop Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins invoked the anthropic principle to say that even if the origin of life is improbable, it “had to” happen at least once on this planet since we are here.[1]  At that point the moderator, Anthony Kenny, an agnostic philosopher, asked Dawkins what kind of necessity he had in mind when he said life “had to” originate here.  Kenny noted that there are two kinds of necessity: metaphysical necessity and epistemic necessity.  Metaphysical necessity means it is impossible that some X not exist, whereas epistemic necessity means it is impossible not to know that some X is true.  He went on to explain that epistemic necessity does not entail metaphysical necessity, so while it may be epistemically necessary that we exist (we cannot not know that we exist), it does not mean we had to exist.  Our existence may be contingent, even if knowledge of our existence is not.  As expected, Dawkins clarified that he was not saying our existence was necessary, but only that it there can be no doubt that life did arise at least on this planet since we are alive.  

What struck me about Dawkins’ response was not his answer to the question, but what he said immediately before his answer: “I don’t know the words ‘epistemic’ and so on, so I’m not going to use that.”  Really?  That is a term so basic to the study of philosophy that no student could pass an intro-to-philosophy course without knowing it.  It leads me to believe that Dawkins does not know the first thing about philosophy (which should not be surprising to anyone who is familiar with Dawkins’ arguments).  

(more…)

Those who reject dualism (the view that man is made up of two kinds of substances: physical and immaterial) often cite the “interaction problem” as an argument against the view.  Stated simplistically, the interaction problem is to explain how an immaterial entity such as a mind/soul could causally interact with material entities.  One envisions the Hollywood movies in which a ghost is desperately trying to pick up a beverage or kiss someone to no avail.  Try as he might, he cannot connect his immaterial self to the material world to affect it in any way (unless you are Patrick Swayze!).  Many monists think the interaction problem alone is sufficient to dismiss dualism as a possibility.

Such an approach to the question seems wrongheaded, however.  One should not look at the queerness of mind-body interaction and immediately conclude that the mind cannot exist independent of the brain.  One must first evaluate the evidence for the existence of such an entity.  If there are good, independent reasons to think the mind is not an immaterial entity—but can be reduced to the brain or arise from material processes—then the interaction problem could serve as further confirmation that there is no soul.  But if there are good reasons to think the mind is an immaterial entity separate from the brain, then the interaction problem—while difficult or even impossible to explain—is insufficient to overturn the evidence that the mind is immaterial.  While we may not know how the mind interacts with the material world, we know the two entities do exist, and do interact with each other.  One need not explain how something occurs to know that it occurs.  We may forever be ignorant of how the mind and body relate to each other, but we have direct awareness and experience of the fact that they do.

(more…)

During his dialogue-debate with Rowen Williams (the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church under the Queen of England), Richard Dawkins was asked by the moderator why, if he admits that He cannot disprove God’s existence, he doesn’t just call himself an agnostic.  Dawkins response was, “I do.”

This is interesting, particularly in light of his past identification as an atheist, as well as his remarks that on a scale of 1 to 7, with one being “I know God exists” and seven being “I know God doesn’t exist,”  he ranks himself a 6.9.  He is only 0.1 away from being absolutely certain God does not exist, and yet he thinks that is good reason to adopt the agnostic label.  I disagree.

(more…)

When dealing with an empiricist who wants evidence that God exists, and yet thinks evidence—for it to be considered evidence—must be empirical in nature, ask him the following question: “What kind of empirical evidence could possibly be given for an immaterial being such as God?”  If they say “none,” then point out that they are asking for the impossible.  What would it prove, then, if you cannot deliver?  Nothing.  It just proves that the wrong question is being asked.

Insisting on empirical evidence before one will believe in the existence of God is like insisting on chemical evidence of your wife’s love for you before you’ll believe she loves you.  One cannot supply chemical proof for love, and neither can one supply empirical proof of God’s existence, but that does not mean either is false.  The problem is not a lack of evidence for God’s existence, but an arbitrary restraint on the kind of evidence the atheist is willing to accept as evidence.  That is what needs to be challenged.  Empirical evidence is not the only kind of evidence one can appeal to in support of a claim.

(more…)

What is the difference between a skeptic and someone who questions everything?  Barnabas Piper provides a nice distinction: “There’s a fine line…between being someone who questions things and being a skeptic. In fact, many people would call someone who questions everything a skeptic.  Here’s the thing; I don’t think many skeptics actually question anything. They may phrase their challenges as questions, but their heart is set on rejection and disproving. To truly question something is to pose questions to it and about it for the sake of understanding. This may lead to disproving or rejecting, but the heart behind it is in learning.”[1]

I think we could break down the differences between a questioner and a skeptic as follows:

Questioner: Desire to learn
Skeptic: Desire to reject/disprove accepted truth claims

Questioner: Primarily interested in maximizing true beliefs
Skeptic
: Primarily interested in avoiding false beliefs

Questioner: Engage thinking
Skeptic: Avoid thinking

HT: STR


[1]Barnabas Piper, “The Unskeptical Questioner”; available from http://www.barnabaspiper.com/2011/11/unskeptical-questioner.html; Internet; accessed 10 November 2011.

A man by the name of Andre from Brazil wrote to Dr. William Lane Craig seeking help in responding to one of his college professors who denies the existence of reality.  In Andre’s words: “some days ago, a professor of mine said that there is no reality. I don’t know why, but I didn’t like this affirmative because seems to me that, if it’s true, then we can take all science and throw in the garbage, because, in the end, nothing is real. At last, there is no reality?

Dr. Craig’s full response was “Who wants to know?”  Classic!  If you didn’t bust up laughing, either you didn’t get it or you aren’t a geek.

Related: “Who’s Asking

During his recent debate with William Lane Craig on the topic “Is there Evidence for God,” physicist Lawrence Krauss claimed that only empirical data is an acceptable form of evidence.  Given our culture’s proclivity toward empiricism and naturalism, I doubt that most found Krauss’ epistemic principle controversial.  I think it is highly controversial, however.

First, to say empirical data alone counts as evidence is to relegate the entire discipline of philosophy to the ash heap of epistemic irrelevance.

Second, it seems to have escaped Krauss’ attention that his epistemic principle is itself a philosophical claim, not an empirical finding.  Indeed, what empirical evidence could he offer in its support?  None.  There is no empirical evidence to (more…)

The other day a bizarre question popped into my mind: Is zero a number?  On one level, the answer is obviously yes.  Zero is not a letter, a flower, or a molecule.  It is in the class of things we call numbers.  While zero might be considered a number for classification purposes, does it truly exist in the real world?  While I can point to three eggs and say, “Here are three eggs,” I cannot point to some X and say, “Here are zero Xs.”  Zero does not correspond to anything in reality, because zero signifies the absence of reality.  To say one has zero eggs is just a mathematical way of saying one does not have any eggs.

Of course, the same could be said of negative numbers like -1, -5, or -100.  These numbers have no correlates in the real world.  You will never find -5 apples.  Negative numbers exist only in the mind.  Of course, the same could be said of all numbers.  While I can point to three eggs, five cows, or 17 cups, in none of these cases will I have located the numbers 3, 5, or 17.  I will have only found instances in which a specific numerical value is exemplified by particular objects.

(more…)

A popular maxim advanced by naturalists and atheists is that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  This maxim is often invoked in discussions about the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus.  These are extraordinary claims, they say, and thus require extraordinary evidence.  Not surprisingly, those who advance this maxim think Christian theists have failed to provide the required evidence.

J.W. Wartick wrote a nice article questioning the truth of this maxim.  He notes that on first blush the maxim seems obviously true, but upon further reflection it can be shown to be obviously false.  Consider the claim that I am a giant pink salamander.  This is an extraordinary claim, and yet the claim could be evidenced in rather ordinary ways.  For example, one could come to my home and observe me.  If I appear to be a giant pink salamander (one who talks and types), then the extraordinary claim is justified.  If one is not convinced by their eyes, then perhaps they could take a DNA sample and compare it to other salamanders.  Such evidence is ordinary, but sufficient to verify the rather extraordinary claim that I am a pink salamander.  It is false, then, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  All that is required to justify an extraordinary claim is sufficient evidence.

(more…)

Over at Uncommon Descent a good point has been raised about materialists (such as evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne) who deny the existence of free will and yet get angry at others for believing and doing things they (the materialists) do not agree with:

Another inconsistency of atheists who share Professor Coyne’s views on freedom is that they are nearly always angry at someone – be it the Pope or former President George W. Bush or global warming deniers. I have to say that makes absolutely no sense to me…. But please, spare me your moral outrage, your sermonizing, your finger-wagging lectures and your righteous indignation. That I cannot abide. You don’t lecture the PC on your desk when it doesn’t do what you want. If I’m just a glorified version of a desktop PC, then why lecture me?

Perhaps materialists would respond that they don’t have a choice but to get angry!  Well, perhaps we don’t have a choice but not to care that they are.

As someone who supports Intelligent Design theory, I have often been puzzled by the many Catholic thinkers who do not.  The scientific basis for ID is strong, and ID is just as friendly to their theism as it is friendly to mine, so why do so many Catholic scholars reject ID, or at least have such strong reservations against it?  A recent essay by Edward Feser in Philosophia Christi[1] has enlightened me regarding the main source of contention between Catholic theology and ID theory, and it boils down to Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and final causation.

Feser explains that Thomists (those who follow the theological system of Thomas Aquinas, who followed the philosophy of Aristotle) believe teleology inheres within all substances (final cause) and is evident to rational minds, whereas ID theorists believe teleology must be imposed on substances from an external source (no final cause), and can only be detected empirically through various probability assessments (not evident).

(more…)

In my experience, most opponents and skeptics of theism reject theistic arguments on less than epistemically justifiable grounds. For example, premise one of the kalam cosmological argument proposes that “everything which begins to exist has a cause” (and concludes that since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause). Some detractors of the argument will counter that since our only experience with cause and effect is within the spatio-temporal world, we cannot be certain that causation is possible outside the spatio-temporal world. While I think this is a fair point to consider, does it really undermine the premise, and hence the conclusion? It doesn’t seem to me that it does. While it is possible that the principle of cause and effect does not apply beyond the temporal framework of our universe, unless one can demonstrate that non-temporal causality is incoherent/impossible, the mere logically possibility that the principle of causality does not hold outside of the universe does not override the warrant we have for thinking all effects require an antecedent cause (and that contingent things require an external cause).

(more…)

On the way to work this morning I was thinking about the question, “Who made God?”  Many people wonder about this question (answer here), but it is a favorite atheist objection to the cosmological argument which posits God as the best explanation for the origin of physical reality (the universe/multiverse).  They use this objection in one of two ways.  Either they argue, “If the universe needs a cause, then so does God,” or they argue, “If God doesn’t need a cause, then neither does the universe.”  Both formulations are faulty, but my intent is not to evaluate the objection here.  I bring it up only to highlight that there is a difference between an explanation and a cause.  While everything that exists needs an explanation, not everything needs (or has) a cause.

(more…)

In the latest edition of Philosophia Christi, the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s journal, philosopher Stephen C. Dilley wrote a really nice article titled “Philosophical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism: Strange Bedfellows?” in which he argued that philosophical naturalists should dispense with the principle of methodological naturalism in science.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with these terms, philosophical naturalism (PN) is the view that only physical things exist, while methodological naturalism (MN) is the view that we must restrict our method of scientific inquiry to naturalistic processes.  MN does not require one to presuppose the truth of PN, but it does require that one investigate the natural world as if God does not exist, or if He does, as if He has no causal relationship to the natural world.  According to MN, for an explanation to be considered “scientific” it must be naturalistic; i.e. it must appeal to naturalistic entities and processes.

(more…)

Many Christians have a negative connotation of the words reason, logic, and philosophy.  Their negativity is not altogether unfounded.  After all, there’s been more than a few individuals who have rejected Christianity on the grounds that it is irrational and illogical.  And we’ve all known or heard of someone who studied philosophy only to lose their Christian faith.  The problem in all of these cases, however, is not reason, logic, or philosophy, but rather the improper use of reason, logic, and philosophy.  Indeed, all of us use reason and logic, and all of us subscribe to a particular philosophy even if we are unaware of it.  It is inescapable.  Reason and logic are God-given tools that allow us to think and obtain knowledge.  Logic and reason help us to order our thoughts, and enhance our ability to discern truth from error.  We can’t think without them, although we can misuse or abuse them in the process of thinking.  And that, I think, is where the real problem lies: the abuse of reason and logic.

(more…)

« Previous PageNext Page »