Friday, November 29, 2013

God As Infinite

From guest blogger, Alexander.

While we haven't recently discussed God's properties in class, this post is related to a claim that has always puzzled me and will also probably be featured in my R&R paper. I have never understood how God can be infinite in existence and yet the world and everything else can also exist. These two ideas seem inconsistent to me, and yet I think infinite existence is supported in Judeo-Christian religious tradition. 

If something is infinite in its own kind, then it must include all things of its type. If something of its type were to exist independent of the set contained in infinite, then this would limit infinity and instead make it finite. Therefore, any other thing existing outside the infinite existence of God would seem to limit God's infinite existence. The world and its inhabitants are clearly imperfect and don't have many of the same qualities as God, so they must be different from God. But if the world exists and is independent of God, then it limits God's infinite existence.

Does anybody know if there is any justification for the religious claim? Am I misinterpreting infinity or the way religion considers existence? Are there two types of existence being referred to, and does this get religion out of the contradiction?

Clifford and the Morality of Certain Beliefs

From guest blogger, Aviva

I’d like to elaborate my position on a discussion we had in class. Many of us had very visceral objections to Clifford’s argument that it is immoral to hold beliefs without sufficient evidence. When we began discussing his stance in the lens of skepticism, people became more sure of their distaste for his position. Someone asked how it is possible to function within skepticism in the actual world. The answer to this seems obvious to me; to reference the example we used in class, I do not need to be 100% beyond a shadow of a doubt sure that my water bottle is next to me in order to satisfy my thirst with it. In this superficial circumstance, it seems silly not to allow skepticism as a valid worldview. However, the gravity of this idea greatens when considered in the realm of religion.

It is well acknowledged that religion, though basically intended to be (or appears to have been intended to be) a morally sound belief set, is quickly abused and harmful when enacted too literally/fundamentally. Though one could easily argue that it is silly to be entirely sure that one’s water bottle exist, that person is much harder pressed to compellingly argue that one ought to be entirely sure one’s religion is correct or the truest.

With this understanding, it seems entirely rational to me that if the harm caused by an extreme is great enough, than the rule ought to be applied even to lesser outcomes. I.e., the harms caused by believing my water bottle is absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt real vs. the harms caused by not being entirely sure my water bottle is real is insignificant. However, when viewed on the other end of the significance spectrum, skepticism holds much greater value. For me to be absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt sure that my religion is “correct” however, holds far more dangers (hatred, violence, marginalization, etc.) than to be unsure.

Taken in this simple understanding, I wonder how the opposition argues my opinion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Can God be Just?

From guest blogger, Annalee.

I am revising and resubmitting my first paper where I asserted that there does not exist a compelling mechanism for God’s justice whereby God can be construed as just. Given the argument that will proceed my question to you, the bloggers, is:

(1) What criteria do you think would be required in order to define a mechanism for God’s justice as compelling?

(2) What examples might exist of a compelling mechanism of God’s justice?

The quality of justice within God is crucial to clarify the incompatibility of his omnibenevolent and omnipotent nature. An instance where God has wronged humans, God has the ability to make the wrong right. However, given the possible mechanisms whereby God can make wrongs right, there does not appear to be a compelling mechanism whereby he can make wrongs right, and so God is not just. In making this argument I have been working off of three primary assumptions:

(1)    When referring to a wrongdoing, this does not necessarily refer to an action that is evil or bad. Any action by God that cannot be construed as good would be sufficient to defy God’s omnibenevolent. Therefore, a wrongdoing, for the sake of this argument, is a not good action. It will also be assumed that humans have the ability to distinguish good from not good and their interpretation of good and not good in regards to God’s actions is not subjective.
(2)   If God is necessarily omnibenevolent, then his actions towards all humans must necessarily be good or just for all individual humans.
(3)    When referring to a compelling mechanism (I am still working on this part), any knowledge or interpretation required for a human to perceive an action as good as opposed to not good must necessarily be possessed or accessible to the human affected by said action

In determining whether there does exist a compelling mechanism for God’s justice, I have considered 1) Intervening miracles, 2) Divine Gratitude, 3) Afterlife and rejected these three mechanisms for the following reasons:
Based on assumptions 1, 2 and 3, intervening miracles could not be a compelling mechanism for God’s justice because they are rare by definition. In being rare, they, in a statistical sense, do not have the ability to justify the amount of not good actions in this world. Additionally, as they are rare an individual would lack the ability to distinguish them from other natural phenomenon and would not be able to acquire the knowledge or interpretation required to recognize a wrong being made right by God and perceiving the previously not good action as currently good. As wrongdoing still exist and past wrongdoings have still been not made right, this mechanism does not appear to be effective.

Based on assumptions 1, 2, and 3, Divine Gratitude relies on an individual’s ability to recognize Jesus’ burning on the cross as a sacrifice for the individual’s sins in order to feel joy from God’s love. As this mechanism, by definition, requires that an individual have access to a certain perception and interpretation of experience, this becomes problematic. Many individuals are not religious, do not believe in God, and do not have access to this kind of knowledge and interpretation. As wrongdoing still exist and past wrongdoings have still been not made right, this mechanism does not appear to be effective.

Based on assumptions 1, 2, and 3, afterlife relies on an individuals’ ability to have access to knowledge about heaven. As many individuals are not religious, will not be admitted to heaven as stated by theological texts, and heaven is unlocated, all individuals to do not have access to this knowledge.
So, to reiterate to you, bloggers:

(1)    What criteria do you think would be required in order to define a mechanism for God’s justice as compelling?
(2)    What examples might exist of a compelling mechanism of God’s justice?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Notre Dame Phil Religion Fellowship 2014-15

The Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame announces up to five residential fellowships for the 2014 – 2015 academic year: the Alvin Plantinga Fellowship ($60,000), awarded to a distinguished senior scholar; up to two Research Fellowships ($40,000 - $50,000, depending on rank and circumstances); the Frederick J. Crosson Fellowship ($45,000) reserved for foreign scholars and those outside the field of philosophy; and one Visiting Graduate Fellowship ($20,000) awarded to a graduate student in philosophy with research interests in the philosophy of religion and who would profit from spending a year at the Center. For the Visiting Graduate Fellowship, we give preference to students who are at the dissertation writing stage. The committee looks for applicants working on philosophy of religion either in or in addition to the applicant’s dissertation. NOTE: you may apply for more than one fellowship for which you are eligible.

All application materials must be submitted via AcademicJobsOnline. To apply, please visit the following link:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Involuntary Belief Doesn't Absolve Others of Responsibility

From guest blogger, Joshua.

In Pojman’s paper, Faith, Hope, and Doubt, he claims that belief is involuntary. From his paper Pojman draws “ If ought implies can, and we cannot acquire beliefs by choosing them then we cannot be judged according to our beliefs”. He says that since belief is involuntary clearly they can't be held responsible for their actions; this is something I will try to refute through examples.

For belief to be involuntary its’ components would also need to be involuntary. In this paper the components of belief are the values people place on certain things. For example there is a person walking down the road on the way to work, when they see someone who drops a ton of bags. This person might be compelled to go and help another because they have a belief that helping others is the right thing to do. When looked at closer it is clear that they value helping others. More so it also shows they value helping others more than they value getting to work when they otherwise would have. It is also just as easy to see that while someone is helping another person pick things up they realize what time it is and need to get to work, so they rush off without really helping the person. Here they now have valued getting to work more than helping people. Their belief has now changed; from it is the right thing to help people to helping people when you have time. It seems that values are able to change on a whim when you think about it. In another example say you are going out to dinner and look at the menu. You place value in eating healthy organic food and as a result you have a belief that fried chicken is bad for you. Now it can be thought one time when you go out you are looking at the menu and see the fried chicken. You decide to order it and have it because you know the chicken is delicious. You have now placed more value in the taste of your food than the healthiness. This causes your belief to change that fried chicken is actually good. Beliefs in these instances are still involuntary; they are just drawn from your values and the world around you. However, the values people place on things is voluntary, as they can change it at will, and this makes people responsible for their beliefs, since they do have the power to influence them. Let me know what you all think and anyways I could possibly help to strengthen this argument.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

James's "The Will to Believe"

We're discussing William James's famous lecture "The Will to Believe" in class today.  There's a nice summary of his arguments available on youtube.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NOMA: The Ultimate Retreat of Religion

From guest blogger, Billy.  

Historically, scientist have suffered persecution at the hands of religion and throughout the Middle Ages progress in the sciences was thwarted by religious beliefs.  Even today, Christian fundamentalist fight against the teaching of basic scientific facts in schools while in some Muslim countries people are threatened for having such beliefs.  Taking the larger picture however, it is clear that rationality is triumphing and the Catholic doctrine of NOMA is a perfect example of this.  Whereas in the middle ages, the Catholics tortured and imprisoned scientist (and many others) for having contrary views, they have now retreated far, far away into safe obscurity.  With NOMA, they have formally relinquished all rights to disagree with science, thus ceding much of the intellectual territory for which they viciously fought for centuries.  The only question is, ‘Have Catholics been utterly defeated, or have the merely retreated?’.

At first, the acceptance of something like NOMA would seem to be a fatal blow to any religion.  Once you’ve accepted that science is correct, what is their left for religion to do?  The purview of science is, by definition, all observable phenomenon.  If science has the final word on all observable phenomenon, then what is the proper magisteria of religion?  Clearly, it must be unobservable phenomenon.  Even if we accept this as a proper magisteria then there is still a problem.  Religious leaders need a way of defining and communicating what it is that they are talking about.  This necessarily involves reference to external, objective, observable phenomenon.  Thus, there seems to be no way for religion to avoid defining their concepts in terms of scientific concepts.  In this case, all religious claims should revert back to scientific claims, over which science has ultimate authority.  Thus, it appears that their retreat has not led them to safe ground, it has merely bought them breathing room and temporarily sated some religious skeptics.

One possible response is that the purview of religion is simply ethics; i.e., religion can answer ethical questions and such questions cannot be properly addressed within science.  In fact, it appears that the modern watered-down form of American religion is heading in this direction (with the exception of some very vocal fundamentalist).  However, I would argue that it is misleading to continue to view this as the same ‘religion’ with which one started; it is merely a form of ethical philosophy that evolved from religion.  Moreover, I would strongly dispute the claim that science has nothing to say about ethics.  This should properly be thought of as a subfield of sociology, which may be made as precise and scientific as one may wish.  Thus, rather than NOMA, we would have a form of religion which is just a subset of science.

Personal Identity and Surviving One's Death

From guest blogger, Rashad.  

I am looking to write my paper on personal identity and how it relates to the soul. Using Christianity and the karmic religions, mainly Hinduism, I look to take a combination of the psyche-soul philosophy. In this sense, the body does not matter in defining the self. In defining the self, I look to attempt to explicitly define the soul as its meaning and concept is similarly in share din both religions. When thinking about person-/self-hood, I would argue that the mind is dependent of the soul, yet, the soul is independent of the mind. For instance, with the Bucky-Everglades case, all they did was just switch bodies. How they realized something was wrong was through the conscience; the mind. The mind travels, and so does the soul, because without the soul, the mind can not function. Does anyone have any advice or opinions to counter or support my claims that will help strengthen my paper?

Monday, November 11, 2013


From guest blogger, Enrique.

So we’ve covered a lot concerning various attributes the Judeo-Christian God would have but less so about practices/beliefs that occur. It seems to me that nearly every (I don’t know every one) religion incorporates the act of prayer, or supplication, to one’s deity. My question is this, even if we were to accept the big three-omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence-is prayer consistent with this conceptualization of God? My initial feeling is that if God is in fact omniscient than any and all prayers would be utterly redundant. If prayers are a supplication to God, than whatever desire the prayer might express would already be known by God. These prayers are offered to God with the hope that he’ll act in some fashion on them. His omnipotence would be able to address any and all problems. Whether or not he actively addresses these prayers, as a noncorporeal entity acting on the corporeal (?), we can presume his omnibenevolence would be a factor in his actions. Furthermore, if he is in fact an omniscient AND omnibenevolent deity then his actions have already and will continue to be what is “best”.  Why should prayer be incorporated into a Judeo-Christian religion when it seems that these same religions’ beliefs of God reduce any prayer into a self-supplication not one relevant or prudent to God. 

Is Atheism a Religion?

From guest blogger, Caitlin.

Dawkin’s paper got me thinking about when people tell me that Atheism is basically a religion. Ever since I have identified as an Atheist I’ve been going back and forth about whether I think of it as religion-like or not. There’s obviously no deity involved or services I attend weekly, there’s no specific book I turn to when I have a problem I need to solve. But I do think I live my life according to my beliefs. I know that this is the only life I have so I better live it well. I want to leave the world a better place than when I entered it. However, I’m not sure if living life in compliance to one’s beliefs is adequate criteria to define a belief as a religion. I could see someone taking this idea as everyone with a shared belief is a part of the same religion, which is completely untrue, and that’s where I’m stuck.

As of right now I’m leaning towards Atheism not being like a religion in part because of Dawkin’s paper. I agree that we use science to explain similar things, like when the world began and how. And a lot of religion is explaining how the world was created. But just because a lot of religions have stories explaining the beginning of the world doesn’t mean that every religion needs to have an explanation, or that everything that explains creation is a religion. But you don’t even have to agree with evolution or science to be an Atheist so you can’t really claim that Atheism has an explanation for the beginning of the world.

I also think that a large part of religion is the emotional factor of it. Dawkins briefly talks about how religion consoles people and gives them hope. Atheism doesn’t do anything remotely like this. It kind of does the exact opposite; when you die you go in the ground or burn to ashes, that’s not very comforting. Religions tend to make you less scared of death or a little less sad about a loved one passing knowing that they are in a better place. But maybe there are exceptions to every rule, and that every religion doesn’t have to be comforting in which case Atheism could fall in that category. Or maybe Atheism is actually comforting if you look into it more. I find knowing that my beliefs are based on fact and logic is comforting. There’s not much that can disappoint me, I won’t be expecting big pearly white gates and all my deceased loved ones waiting for me when I die, so if that doesn’t happen I won’t be disappointed when I die and I really do just go in the ground (but then again I’ll be dead so I won’t be feeling anything).

In general I’ve come to the conclusion that religion is something so personal and at times so unexplainable that I think defining it doesn’t really matter. If you think what you believe is a religion then it is one, my opinion of whether your beliefs are valid doesn’t matter. Religion is what you want it to be.

Reincarnation and Personhood

From guest blogger, Chase. 

This blog post is concerning an aspect of reincarnation that we discussed recently in class that is relevant to an understanding of the continuation of personhood from one life to the next. If we are to make sense of reincarnation there must be some criteria for being able to link one soul to multiple person’s, otherwise it seems that a soul cannot really be a part of a person in any relevant sense.

The problem needs to be further illuminated as it pertains to the main ideas of reincarnation in order to show how the disembodied soul really can be an important part of a being’s personhood. When we talk of the disembodied soul transitioning from one body to the next as beings are born and die, what are we actually implying? It would seem that claims of this sort are implying that there is some “me” that is part of my existence now and is paired with my body in some fundamental way. I take it that most people who believe in reincarnation would call this “me” the soul or mind. By annotating it in this way, we are able to make sense of reincarnation claims like “in a past life I was a different person.” Without some soul to attach to the idea of “me-ness” claims of this sort are totally illogical. But what aspect of personhood is actually continuing from one body and life to the next? This is the question that brings about problem for the reincarnation believer. The soul cannot be described as the personality, for it is obvious that a person could have two distinct personalities in two different lives. Similarly it cannot be described as the memory of a being because very few people ever claim that they have memories of their past lives. (Let us set aside for now the few that do make such claims.) So if the soul is not in any way related to my memories or my personality and experiences, in what sense is it really me at all?

Jesse raised a good point when he noted that if some other person in a future life is a being from the present or shares their soul, than the person who is alive now should have some vested interest in the well-being of their soul in the future. However, intuitively, how can we care about some being that yet to be created any more than any other nonexistent being? One could claim that you should care about this being because it is you, but that statement begs the question because it provides no real reason to believe this in the first place. There must be some criteria to connect that future person’s soul to mine if we are to make sense of reincarnation. Here is my attempt at a simplified version of the objection to the account of the soul in reincarnation:
1. If reincarnation really does describe the process of life after death in our universe, then there is some soul that is connected to me in some fundamental way and this soul is me in some relevant sense.
If this soul is connected to, and is, me, then it follows that whatever other body my soul inhabits in the future also is me.
2. If other beings in the future are me, then I must be connected to them in some fundamental way and should value their well-being more than the well-being of other bodies that are not mine.
However, we have no real way of connecting my soul to any other soul or body from the past or future.
3. If my soul is not connected to those other bodies in any relevant way, then either the soul that inhabits those bodies is distinct from my own, or the soul can only be described as “life force” or something similar to it and it has no real consequence on my life now.
4. Therefore, reincarnation is either reducing the soul to some sort of meaningless term that has no real bearing on how life should be lived, or it is making incompatible claims about the nature of life after death.
With this argument in mind, the endorser of reincarnation must come up with some criteria of the soul to attach one body to another without begging the question otherwise he has provided no real reason to worry about our soul in the future. If I have no connection to my soul once my current life is over, what reason do I have for caring for and worrying about my soul more than any other soul? How are those future beings really me in any sense? I will look at possible responses to this problem in my second paper most likely.

Divine Command Theory and the Euthyphro Problem

From guest blogger, Andrea

For this next paper, I want to write about religion and ethics. One of the theories of determining right and wrong is the Divine Command Theory, which states “an action is right or wrong, good or bad if and only if God says so”. Morality is then inferred from scripture, or the word of God.

I came across some criticisms, one including the Euthyphro dilemma, which basically asks “Does God determine something, like an action, is good because it is intrinsically good, or is it good because God says so”? If its intrinsically good, then something else, determines what is good or bad and god is subject to it. But if its good because God says so, then morality is arbitrary.

One of the responses against Euthyphro is the acceptance that morality is arbitrary and God could declare something bad one day and good the next. And then the theist could go down the absolutists route and say “well its god, he can do what he wants because he’s all powerful, all knowing, etc.” I still find that response unsatisfying.

Since we’ve already exhausted the absolutist view before with how god can be all-powerful and knowing and can do everything and anything, I’m looking for other possible responses to the Euthyphro for inspiration for my paper, for or against it.

NOMA and the difference between science and religion

From guest blogger, Aviva.

I want to begin this post with the disclaimer that though my slant is more theological and less purely philosophical than many people in our class feel comfortable with, I feel that there ought to be a space for theological viewpoints in a philosophy of religion class.

Jesse asked the class who of us supported Gould’s theory of NOMA, and who of us did not. Only about a third of the class raised a hand one way or the other; the other two thirds presented no opinion. I believe the reason so few students expressed an opinion is that the relationship of religion and science is far more nuanced than NOMA satisfies, though it is an excellent foundation from which to begin investigation.

My initial response to the theory, which I shared in class, was not received well. I asked why the two cannot be distinct and yet comparable—why can’t we read scripture (which I and most theists believe to be allegory and story, rather than literal and law), and then determine how to interpret the text with the inclusion of scientific understanding?

(The most basic example of this would be to read the first chapter of Genesis and view the days of creation as thousands of years of evolution, or to read the story of Noah and the flood as an incredible natural disaster from which came new opportunity.)

In response, Jesse asked, “What question can be answered both theologically and empirically?” and I was stumped.

Though I would love to entertain a discussion of what question disproves NOMA, I have found that the answer to that question is not what I had in mind with my initial question. I ask not if the two overlap, but if they can be synthesized.

In fact, what I want to know is if the schools of science and religion can be juxtaposed without violating NOMA. I use the word “juxtapose” specifically; to juxtapose is to compare two things, which result in a different, third thing.

The primary reason to view science and religion as synthetic is based on social logic. It is unreasonable to expect an individual to choose either science or religion with which to align themselves. (At least in our society,) most people believe in some form of G-d, as well as some form of science. To demand that every individual place one domain over the other is illogical. I am aware NOMA does not demand that individuals chose which to believe, science or religion. However, it seems that NOMA place science and religion in a kind of détente that I find unnecessary and unproductive.

Dawkins wrote of the awe of witnessing the brain of an ant or distant galaxies, and how that awe easily surpasses the psalms’ ability to invoke wonder. I know my question is simple, but I ask, what is to be gained by putting this awe in separate spheres?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Alternative View of Souls

From guest blogger, Isaac.  

Steinberg uses the definition of disembodied mind as follows.

X is a soul = 1. X is a substance; 2.  X is unlocated; 3. X is capable of consciousness
It is also pointed out that the disembodied mind exists outside of space, since it is unlocated, while still existing in time. This means that the substance in question would still have temporal properties and would be able to be identified over time. This sense of identity is the heart and soul of the paper. You may remember that Jesse’s dad, Alan Steinberg, claimed that once you agree with this premise of identity, then they had “got you”. This is because their argument against the soul rejects first that disembodied minds can be distinguished from one another, and secondly, that a disembodied mind can even exist outside of space while still existing in time. So, if you agree to the above premises, you will inevitably run into the same contradictions or inabilities to identify the disembodied minds.

I think this line of argument confuses the notion of the soul. So, I would like to present an alternative view or even a more practical view of the soul. First I would like to address certain criteria for this view. In order for x to be a soul it must: be able to exist alone outside of the universe or as the only thing in the universe, exist eternally/timelessly, and be able to interact with beings/bodies other than itself. The last criteria is in place of consciousness or self awareness because if a soul were self aware or conscious it would be able to ask the question of "what am I" in the same way our physical bodies would act, which would not make sense for the following reasons. The soul, under this criterion, is a principle of one's being or rather the state of being from which one's body acts. This means that the soul is not conscious in the way humans are conscious. They are the principles that constitute our being. For example, the rules of a certain game could be seen as the principles or soul of a game. These rules constitute the way the players or bodies interact with each other. Another example would be the principles that a group of people live by such as a culture, nation, community, etc, would be the soul of that community. The soul or actual self, in this view, does not have the same characteristics as human bodies or minds have, even though these very characteristics result from a beings soul. In this view, all beings have souls whether they are "living" or not. For example, everything from cultures, animals, plants, even molecules have souls. So, in the same way it would be inappropriate to say the rules of a game to ask "what am I" it would be inappropriate for a soul to ask that question. I think it is also worth noting that under this view, all souls contain an indefinite amount of souls. This means that all the principles of each soul exists within the containing soul. For example, a flower's soul contains all the souls of each atom, molecule, cell, etc. that constitutes it.

There is much more to be said here but I would like to get initial feedback on what I have proposed as an alternative to the disembodied mind model. I think that this model can show that souls don't fall into the problems with existing in time and not space, and being able to differentiate between souls. I would have gone into this but If what I have proposed so far is either incoherent or filled with too many problems I don't want to waste my time getting the other arguments off the ground.

More Thoughts on Non-overlapping Magisteria

From guest blogger, Will. 

In this interview, , John Haught brings up a somewhat different interpretation of NOMA than we addressed in class, so I thought it might be useful to think about it. He says that NOMA, as described by Gould, implicitly precludes religion from making claims to truth. (He also brings up the idea that since science must make certain epistemological assumptions it exhibits some form of faith, but that’s not the main focus of this post.) It seems that Haught may slightly agree with some form of NOMA but he thinks it should extend to distinguishing the methodology and the valid ways of accessing truth that are specific to the two different magisteria, not just distinguish the subject matter or area of inquiry. He explicitly states that he doesn’t accept Gould’s separation of science and faith because the results of scientific inquiry are relevant to religious discourse. In my opinion this stance seems like it could be based on a misinterpretation of Gould, since NOMA doesn’t preclude scientific findings from being interpreted religiously - in fact it was the phenomenon of the Catholic church accepting and interpreting the theory of evolution that supposedly provided the motivation for the NOMA article in the first place. In my understanding Gould merely states that empirical questions should be answered with science and no attempts should be made to answer non-empirical questions with science. Perhaps Haught disagrees with even this formulation of NOMA, but I don’t think so, since it allows for faith to, as he says, “seek understanding” rationally since such a thing does necessarily require empirical questioning.

In any case, Haught’s conception of the relationship between science and religion establishes that the scientific method is the appropriate means for scientific inquiries and faith, which he views as being more than unjustified belief and perhaps involving rational inquiry to some extent, is the appropriate means for religious inquiries. Do you think that this epistemological distinction can be justified? In other words, do you think that it is acceptable to have different definitions of how truth is accessed (and perhaps what truth is) depending on the specific area of inquiry?

Animalism and Personal Identity

From guest blogger, Zach.

For my paper, I'd like to defend Stephan Blatti's fairly new take on animalism. 

In general, animalism is a theory of identity that asserts that we are essentially animals. In the words of Blatti:

“[Advocates of animalism] make the following straight-forward claim: we are animals.  According to the intended reading of this claim, 'are' reflects the 'is' of numerical identity (not the 'is' of non-identical constitution); the 'we' is intended to pick out you, me, others of our kind; and 'human animals' is meant to refer to biological organisms of the Homo Sapiens species” (Blatti, 685).

Blatti provides a modernized argument for this view with what he calls the “Animal Ancestors Argument.” In short, Blatti offers a reductio, beginning by assuming that animalism is false.  He contends that denying animalism entails denying that your parents, grandparents, and ancestors back through the ages were animals.  And this entails that, as none of your ancestors were animals, evolutionary theory is false.  Blatti concludes that rejecting evolution is “too high a price to pay,” and therefore we should reject the assumption that animalism is false. 

Blatti considers and rebuts the objection that while one might have ancestors that were animals, we've evolved to be more than animals (i.e. evolution can be compatible with the rejection of animalism); he also considers and rebuts an objection that takes issue numerical identity mentioned in the definition of animalism given above. 

The difficulty I'm having with this topic is finding objections to respond to that Blatti hasn't already considered.  His position seems pretty strong to me, but also seems sturdy, so far.  Does anyone have any thoughts?

Blatti's article, “A new argument for animalism” can be found here:

Monday, November 4, 2013

More Thoughts on Non-overlapping Magisteria

From guest blogger, William.

In this interview, , John Haught brings up a somewhat different interpretation of NOMA than we addressed in class, so I thought it might be useful to think about it. He says that NOMA, as described by Gould, implicitly precludes religion from making claims to truth. (He also brings up the idea that since science must make certain epistemological assumptions it exhibits some form of faith, but thats not the main focus of this post.) It seems that Haught may slightly agree with some form of NOMA but he thinks it should extend to distinguishing the methodology and the valid ways of accessing truth that are specific to the two different magisteria, not just distinguish the subject matter or area of inquiry. He explicitly states that he doesnt accept Goulds separation of science and faith because the results of scientific inquiry are relevant to religious discourse. In my opinion this stance seems like it could be based on a misinterpretation of Gould, since NOMA doesnt preclude scientific findings from being interpreted religiously - in fact it was the phenomenon of the Catholic church accepting and interpreting the theory of evolution that supposedly provided the motivation for the NOMA article in the first place. In my understanding Gould merely states that empirical questions should be answered with science and no attempts should be made to answer non-empirical questions with science. Perhaps Haught disagrees with even this formulation of NOMA, but I dont think so, since it allows for faith to, as he says, seek understanding rationally since such a thing does necessarily require empirical questioning.

In any case, Haughts conception of the relationship between science and religion establishes that the scientific method is the appropriate means for scientific inquiries and faith, which he views as being more than unjustified belief and perhaps involving rational inquiry to some extent, is the appropriate means for religious inquiries. Do you think that this epistemological distinction can be justified? In other words, do you think that it is acceptable to have different definitions of how truth is accessed (and perhaps what truth is) depending on the specific area of inquiry?

The Essence of God and Universality

From guest blogger, David H.

In my upcoming paper, I look to argue for the continuity of gods across various religions, and my my main point that I ultimately am looking to argue is that the concept of ‘God’ is an intuitive quality that we all share. Although the perception of a god has many different layers and interpretations with many of these ideas being molded and constructed in the society and environment we are raised in and partake in. I look to focus on finding a specific and underlying truth and intuition we all share that binds the concept of ‘God’ into a universal understanding. When someone refers to Allah or the Judeo-Christian God, they are dialectically and socially different, but not qualitatively. In my paper, I plan on outlining these distinctions, but because I have had trouble really constructing an argument, I was hoping to utilize this blog post to help brainstorm and set a foundation to my argument? The purpose of this paper is not to prove the existence of a god, or even iron out the differences in interpretation between religions. My truest intent is to lobby that when we are discussing ‘God,’ we are qualitatively talking about the same Essence, and that intuitively, this call for ‘God’ is not theological  but instead something that can be found in all humans, whether we reject it or not. This raises a concern to atheism, for it might seem that they reject this intuition  That will factor into my argument for that is the extent to which atheism will be discussed. As a disclaimer, an atheist still intuitively understands the concept of a god that I claim is one in the same as any other religion, however they reject it. Please throw any input, criticism, or suggestions on as a comment to help me further construct an argument, and to iron out the discrepancies with my thesis. Thank you!

The epistemological differences between religion and science

From guest blogger, Danny.

In Richard Dawkins’ paper, Science vs. Religion, we are offered an argument about the epistemological systems espoused by science and religion, respectively. Dawkins contends that science and religion essentially depart from common ground over their disparate methods of forming and holding beliefs. Before we focus on the respective methodologies, I think it might help clarify future discussion if we first characterize our two groups—science and religion—in more fine-grained, specific terms. Science is, perhaps, a more well-known and uniform discourse community; when discussing science we want to focus on scholarly science which adheres to the scientific method of hypothesis-testing (and rejecting) and involves a rigorous peer-review process. As for religion, there is much more diversity among the various belief-forming and “quality-control” practices. While there are large majorities of the “religious” community who hold beliefs that are rooted at least partially in religious canon, I want to distinguish between two broad classes of epistemic camps within religion: those who hold beliefs (1) solely based on faith; and, those who hold beliefs (2) based on rational arguments for religious beliefs. Although faith-based arguments for God (or various facts about or stemming from God) seem to permeate almost every argument a theist raises, it is important to understand the belief-forming methodology of the theologian, which relies on logical arguments for various beliefs that reference the existence of a divine entity. Thus, the primary aim with this post is to unpack the epistemological virtues and methods of science and religion (faith-based and reason-based methods).

Dawkins suggests that religion and science are diametrically opposed in the belief-building apparatuses each institution employs; he argues that science uses inductive, statistically-verifiable arguments which comment on objective data. Thus, science aims to build hypotheses (i.e., beliefs) and reject them based on statistical tests based in probability and statistically-significant differences in empirically-validated events. This type of method involves looking at normal distribution curves (or frequencies of a given event) and judging how similar or distinct given events are in relation to one another. The farther apart events are on some continuous, objective measurement, the more “different” the events are, and thus beliefs about cause and effect (or at least correlation) can be formed. In other scientific methods, Bayesian principles are used which generate the probability of some event occurring (i.e., the probability that event X is true) based on past experiences of event X. Hence, a statement such as “if PàQ” becomes “if Pàthere is a specific probability that Q is true given event probabilities”. Thus, the scientific method often cannot invoke deductive arguments, but rather hinges on inductive arguments that are deemed sound only when they meet a certain threshold of statistical validation. In summary, it seems like science relies on empiricism and inductive arguments to generate beliefs. However, it should be noted that science only contains hypotheses which have not been proven wrong with further empirical evidence—thus, science contains sets of beliefs that have varying degrees of empirical support.

On the other hand, faith is process of making a statement about a belief which does not rely on empirical proof. The lack of empirical, observational data does not seem to alter the beliefs that are held purely on faith. Some might suggest that this lack of virtue for an empirically-grounded epistemological process is wrong—insofar as human beings require some empirical understanding of an event for it to be meaningful for us. Faith seems to be grounded outside of logical inference, outside of empirical experience, and beyond statistical/probabilistic models of knowing. Faith seems to be grounded in something purported to be spiritual and cognitively registered in a priori fashion. So, can we even explain beliefs that are known only by faith? This raises questions about the functions of beliefs; do we require beliefs to be verifiable on a communal scale or is it sufficient to have individual-centered beliefs? It seems like faith-based beliefs cannot be disproven or proven by any community. Similarly, faith-beliefs exist in the mind of the individual conscious being and can only be justified in virtue of that observer having a specific cognitive experience which either does (or has the façade of) reporting on the divine. Thus, it seems like faith-based beliefs lack empirical validation, do not use any logical means of arriving at a sound conclusion, and preclude any form of public confirmation of the belief.

It seems like many beliefs in theological discourse communities are conclusions that are reached by rational processes. Many of these arguments are valid, yet rely on premises that are synthetic statements. For example, the following premise might come up in a deductive argument for God’s necessary existence: “if there are certain perfect laws in the universe, then there must have been divine influence during creation”. However, the truth of the premise cannot be verified empirically—so, how do we verify them? It seems like some arguments about different facts of our world will also have the implicit premise that “God exists”. In such arguments, it seems like faith is being invoked again. However, faith (as discussed) seems to operate beyond human logic or empiricism, so how can we assess truth value for such a premise?

So, I’ve made little progress other than confirming that science holds empirical evidence as an epistemic virtue, whereas religion holds faith to be an epistemic virtue. Does anyone thing I’m mischaracterizing either the religious or scientific spheres? If anyone can provide better interpretations of faith, that would make things a little more interesting. Specifically, it would be great to hear arguments for why faith could give us true belief about God’s existence, and provide reasons why that qualitative feeling of “faith” wouldn’t allow us to believe just about anything (including things that are empirically false). Any thoughts or comments would be great; this piece was meant to generate discussion around empirical vs. faith approaches to epistemology. 

A general thought about our property analysis of gods:

From guest blogger, Andrew. 

I have been thinking about the statuses of the objects in our analyses as adjustable variables with multiple settings.

Example:  The meaning of omniscience has multiple settings.  1.  Knowing all facts about all times.  2.  Knowing all facts about the present and past.  Free will has multiple settings.  1.  It exists.  2.  It does not exist.  God X being omniscient has multiple settings.  1.  He is.  2.  He is not.  If I take Pike’s position that it is impossible for all of the variables to have setting 1, and I do take this position, then in some cases having the settings of two of these variables allows you to find the setting of the third.  Here are three such cases.

1.  If your starting points that you assume, or that you are not willing to compromise on, are: God X is omniscient (setting 1) and Free will exists (setting 1), then you can solve for the definition of omniscience needed to make your first two assumptions true, which will have to be “knowing all facts about the present and past” (setting 2).
2.  If you start with the assumptions that God X is omniscient (setting  1) and omniscience means knowing all facts about all times (setting 1), then you can solve for the setting of free will needed to make your first two assumptions true, which will have to be “Free will does not exist” (setting 2).
3.  If you start with the assumptions that omniscience means knowing all facts about all times (setting 1) and Free will exists (setting 1), then you can solve for the setting of whether or not God X is omniscient needed to make your first two assumptions true, which will have to be “God X is not omniscient (setting 2).

The question is, what is the solid ground?  Which two variables do you take for granted to find the right setting of the third?  Deciding which variables we are confident in a setting for, and can use to derive the setting of the other variable, is something we might use outside information for.  Many theists would say that their doctrines teach that all three variables have setting 1.  Pike’s point is that that is impossible and that these theists have to change the setting of one of the variables to be logically consistent.

Personally I feel confident in the settings for two of the variables: free will and the meaning of omniscience.  I think that free will does not exist because of physical determinism, and therefore set the free will variable to setting 2 (the “does not exist” setting.  To get a setting for the meaning of omniscience variable, we could look to a dictionary.  Finding that defines omniscient as: having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things, we might conclude that if a being is omniscient, then it does know all facts about all times, even facts about the future, with the following reasoning: If its knowledge is unlimited, then its knowledge is not limited to facts about a certain period of time.  Or from the description “perceiving all things”, we might conclude that omniscient beings perceive things in the future.  So with the dictionary as my source, I get a setting for the meaning of omniscience variable (setting 1, Knowing all facts about all times).

So I have my settings for two variables:  free will does not exist and omniscience includes the ability to know all facts about all times.  But unlike in the cases I mentioned earlier, these settings for these variables do not allow me to determine the setting for the third variable.  Some god could be omniscient and it would be compatible with the settings I have or he could not be omniscient and it would also be compatible with my settings.  So it looks like in addition to not knowing whether there are any gods, I also don’t know whether, if there are, they are omniscient.

The NOMA principle: A wretched subterfuge.

From guest blogger, Andrew. 

The NOMA principle is the principle that science and religion are nonoverlapping majesteria, that is, two separate ways of acquiring beliefs about two separate fields of knowledge.  Science tells us about empirically observable phenomena and religion tells us about the subjects of meaning in life and morality according to this principle.  This is clearly and demonstrably false.  Both science and religion cross the NOMA border in plenty of cases.

Religions make empirical claims regularly.  Religions have origin myths about how the earth was created or about what makes planets move in the night sky.  Often times religions make claims about empirical matters that directly contradict the findings of science.  The Quran says in Sura 31 verse 10 “He (Allah) set on the earth mountains standing firm lest it should shake with you”.  This would seem to mean that Allah set down mountains like you would set down a paperweight on your desk.  This contradicts what geology has to say about mountains.  Mountains do not come down out of the sky and get set on top of the earth like paperweights.  Mountains come up out of the earth either through volcanoes ejecting lava that hardens and piles up into a mountain or through collision of tectonic plates in which the plates buckle upwards.

I took this mountain example from the following video, which argues that the Quran suggests that the earth is flat, another empirical claim.

Science on the other hand, has implications for morality, the supposed domain of religion on the NOMA distinction.  Here is one example.

1.  If the laws of physics govern our bodies and brains and determine everything we do – control us completely, then we do not have free will.
2.  If we do not have free will, then we are not morally responsible. (ought implies can)
Conclusion:  If determinism is true, then we are not morally responsible.

If you think that this argument is sound, then the claims of science about whether or not determinism is true will have moral implications.

Another point to make is that the theist doesn’t seem to have any reason to accept the NOMA principle.  Why should they think that their god is limited to only giving revelations about moral matters?  Can’t he tell people about empirical matters if he wants to?

In my opinion, the NOMA principle does not describe how science and religion actually behave and further, it does not describe how they should behave or what we should be willing to take from them.

The Incompatibility of Karma and the Afterlife

From guest blogger, Josh A.

So I was trying to flesh this out in class when we talked about Das's reading, and i think I did a pretty piss poor job so I am going to try and improve on my idea.

I brought up the idea that Karma, and this sort of Ascension, Ascension meaning where you leave all your desires and beliefs behind and go to join the other souls as one thing, but still retain the personal identity of you. The incompatibility I find is when you try to reconcile the judgement of Karma with Ascension.

Karma is the belief that when you die your soul will transfer into another life. When it does your Karma, or how you acted in life, whether good or bad determines where you are in life. If you acted good, you will start out well in life, if you acted bad, you will start out worse in life. Now when your Karma gets to be good enough, you will Ascend and leave behind all your desires and such and become one with the other souls, while still retaining your personal identity. My problem here comes with how a soul can be judged for Karma, when everything it is judged on is stripped from the soul, while still retaining personal identity.

For example, take a soul that has traveled for 1000's of years and passed from body to body. Eventually it has reached Ascension and ascends. When its first body died, it was judged on the actions the person took. These actions were influenced by the persons desires and beliefs. However these desires and beliefs are not the souls, they are unique to that body, since they are not part of ones personal identity. Therefore a soul's Karma gets judged on something that isn't even a part of its personal identity. The soul becomes judged based on each individual body and what it does. My question comes then, how can Karma ever judge a soul to be good or bad, when the things it judges on has nothing to do with the soul.

A way to fix this problem is to maybe better define how a soul affects the body and how it maybe influences beliefs, thoughts, and actions.