Episode 045: What if God Were Really Bad?

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Here it is, the last podcast episode for 2011. This time I’m looking at “the “evil god challenge” as posed by Stephen Law in a fairly recent article by that name. Isn’t the evidence for a good God really no better or worse than the evidence that an evil god? In short, no. Here I explain why I think (as I suspect many may think) that the evil god challenges has major philosophical shortcomings, in spite of being an argument worthy of our attention.

 

On the evolution of moral beliefs

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I’m a moral realist. That means that I think there really are some moral facts. It is wrong to do some things, and it is right to do some things, and this isn’t just a vent of emotion or an expression of my will, it’s really true. Stephen Law is also a moral realist, but if I’m reading him rightly in his debate with William Lane Craig on the existence of God or in his more recent discussion with me on the Unbelievable radio show where I discussed the moral argument for theism, he’d sooner give up moral realism than accept theism.

An argument I sketched in that discussion was that the best way to explain moral facts is by reference to God. Although he does currently believe in moral facts, he noted that they may not be there after all, so maybe there’s no reason to invoke God as an explanation. After all, he said, we can come up with an evolutionary explanation of why we would believe in moral facts whether they really existed or not. Law wants to be careful here. At the time I raised the concern that this may just be a case of the genetic fallacy, offering an explanation of where a belief came from as though this showed or suggested that the belief is false. But this isn’t what Law means to say, he replied. The point is not that the existence of an evolutionary account of why moral beliefs exist shows that those beliefs are false. That would indeed be the genetic fallacy at work. No, the point is that whether those beliefs are true or false, there exists the same evolutionary account for why we hold them – and that account is unaffected by their truth or falsehood. There is thus no particular reason to think that the evolutionary processes that brought them into being is likely to produce true-belief forming processes.

While this line of argument does not purport to show that the moral beliefs we hold aren’t true, it’s meant to cast doubt on the probability that the process that gave rise to these beliefs (or at least the process that gave rise to the relevant belief forming processes) is likely to result in either true beliefs or reliable belief forming faculties. It’s best to think in terms of the latter, if only because it’s downright bizarre to think that evolution forms beliefs. It plainly doesn’t, but it does form mechanisms or processes that creatures use to form beliefs.

So what should we make of this? Can we give an evolutionary account of why we would believe in moral facts, an account that is blind to the actual existence of those facts? Secondly, if we could give an account like this, would it undermine the probability that the processes that form those beliefs are reliable? I will give two answers: Yes, it is trivially true that we can give an account like this, and no, the fact that we can do so should not undermine our confidence in the belief form process that forms moral beliefs. In doing so I will be drawing on an argument by Alvin Plantinga, namely the “evolutionary argument against naturalism.” While I am inclined to think that argument is unsound, many of the insights that it draws attention to are true nonetheless. Continue reading “On the evolution of moral beliefs”

Episode 044: What is Faith?

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This episode asks the question: “What is Faith”? Is it, as some maintain, just believing things for no good reason? When Christian thinkers over the years have spoken of having faith, what have they been talking about? Listen and find out!

At the end of this episode I ask listeners if they have any suggestions for scholars that I might interview in future episodes. Be sure to speak up if you have any ideas!

 

Episode 043: In Search of the Soul Revisited – Aristotle and Aquinas

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This episode is a very late addition to the series “In Search of the Soul,” looking at the various options that exist in philosophy of mind.

In the original five part series I was very conscious of the fact that I was leaving out the view of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, and this addendum is my penance for that fact. As promised in the episode, here are just a few suggestions for further reading, from authors who defend “hylemorphic dualism.”

David Oderberg, Real Essentialism

David Oderberg, “Hylemorphic Dualism” in Ellen Paul, Fred Miller and Jeffrey Paul (eds), Personal Identity

Edward Feser, Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide

 

UPDATE: Here the whole series, now that it is complete: Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Revisited 

Episode 041: The Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Ethics

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In Episode 41, I address a common objection to divine command ethics: Does the fact that non-believers can still know moral truths and live moral lives somehow show that morality is not in any way grounded in God’s will or commands? Here I survey some crude versions of this argument and then offer some comments on a more recent presentation of the objection by Wes Morriston.

 

 

Episode 040: God and the Social Nature of Morality

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We’ve reached a milestone – 40 Episodes!

Episode 40 is an explanation of Robert Adams’ argument that the social nature of moral obligation supports the claim that morality is ultimately grounded in God.

 

 

Debate Review: William Lane Craig and Sam Harris

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On the evening of the 7th of April 2011 (the 8th of April here in New Zealand), Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated Atheist author and speaker Sam Harris on the question Is Good from God? Brian Auten has made the mp3 audio of this debate available over at Apologetics 315.

What follows is my sketch of how the debate unfolded, along with my own analysis of the arguments used and how they contribute to an answer to the question in dispute. I emphasise that last aspect of my analysis, because It seemed to me that there was a tendency at points for comments and claims to be made which carried a certain degree of rhetorical flourish, but which, no matter how interesting they might be, drag the discussion off topic. This was the overriding impression that I got from much of what Dr Harris had to say in his rebuttal sections.

I won’t pretend that I don’t have a horse in this race. I have long believed that Harris is mistaken in his view that moral facts are simply scientific facts. His arguments in this debate, where they do address the subject of the debate, have been used before and carry all the same flaws that I have identified in the past. Conversely, I have long believed that William Lane Craig is largely correct in holding the position that he articulates in this debate (I say “largely” because I do have some foibles with one aspect of his position). Nonetheless, I self consciously try to advocate the positions that I do for good reasons, and I like to think that I advocate my position because of those reasons, rather than vice versa, and I have tried to evaluate the arguments used in this debate on the basis of the quality of the reasons that are given to accept them. The review is not intended to be in-depth. It is my assessment of how the debate went after listening to it twice (and replaying a few parts to make sure I understood what was being said). The review follows. Continue reading “Debate Review: William Lane Craig and Sam Harris”

Episode 039: Divine Command Ethics

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NOTE: In this episode I call it episode 40. It’s not. It’s episode 39.

The podcast is back. Actually, episode 39 was going to be on another topic, but then someone suggested this one to me, so as I already had a document called “episode 039” I called this “document 040.” And then when I started recording it I thought – “Hey, this is the 40th episode. Cool!” and I made a big deal of it in the recording. And then after I uploaded it I realised that since I skipped over the episode 39 that I’m writing, this isn’t really 40 at all, it’s episode 39! So that was an epic fail.

So no sooner do I release another podcast episode, I am making excuses for it! This episode is based on a lecture on divine command ethics that I gave a few years ago at the University of Otago. Enjoy!

 

Episode 037: Classical Liberalism and Natural Law

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This is the second time I have ever actually apologised for an episode. It’s long. It’s dry. You might fall asleep. I’m sorry. Go ahead and skip it. I would.

 

A simple explanation of the moral argument

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Recently there has been some discussion here about the moral argument for theism, with a couple of correspondents announcing with great certainty (but unfortunately little else) that the argument is just terrible. I beg to differ. Today I appeared on an episode of the Unbelievable? radio show, hosted by Justin Brierley (actually we did two shows), and the other guest was atheist Arif Ahmed.

I’ll have some more things to say about the show another time (these discussions always leave one wishing that more had been said, or “I wish I had thought of this reply at the time!”, plus there are the inevitable structures of the radio show itself). For now, however, I just want to present the version of the moral argument that I used. What follows is the “prepared” version, as though I were giving a presentation on the argument – a very simple presentation, intended for a radio audience consisting of laypeople. Of course, in a discussion style radio show it wasn’t presented as one continuous explanation like this, and plenty of parts were left out. Time is short on such occasions, so not everything gets said. But you get to read it anyway 🙂 Here it is: Continue reading “A simple explanation of the moral argument”