Consider all. Test All. Hold on to the good.

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Epistemology

Faith of the Fatherless

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Starting with Freud’s “projection theory” of religion-that belief in God is merely a product of man’s desire for security. Vitz argues that psychoanalysis actually provides a more satisfying explanation for atheism. Disappointment in one’s earthly father, whether through death, absence, or mistreatment, frequently leads to a rejection of God. A biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries shows that this “defective father hypothesis” provides a consistent explanation of the “intense atheism” of these thinkers. A survey of the leading intellectual defenders of Christianity over the same period confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers. Professor Vitz concludes with an intriguing comparison of male and female atheists and a consideration of other psychological factors that can contribute to atheism. Professor Vitz does not argue that atheism is psychologically determined. Each man, whatever his experiences, ultimately chooses to accept God or reject him. Yet the cavalier attribution of religious faith to irrational, psychological needs is so prevalent that an exposition of the psychological factors predisposing one to atheism is necessary. ~ Book Description

Philip Yancey on Being Mostly Ignorant about Hell

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Still, I must insist that the most important question about heaven and hell — who goes where, whether there are second chances, what form the judgments and rewards take, intermediate states after death — are opaque at best. Increasingly, I am grateful for that ignorance and grateful that the God who revealed himself in Jesus is the one who knows the answers.

David Bagget on Ethical Dilemmas and Intuitions

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Sartre employs … examples like a young soldier deciding whether to go to war or to stay home and be his mother’s consolation … to show the difficulty of making certain ethical determinations, and writing like this in conjunction with the widespread use of what Christian Hoff-Sommers has called “dilemma ethics” — moral dialogue focused on trying to decide the “hard cases” — have contributed to the notion that the whole field of ethics is colored grey. The old certainties are gone; ambiguity wins the day. Everything is up for grabs when it comes to questions of morality. ¶ Despite the common nature of such views, most decisions in ethics are not fraught with ambiguity and tensions between commensurate competing commitments. As is obvious from clear examples of moral behavior, the vast majority of people’s moral intuitions remain intact and quite strong. Perhaps ethics are too often thought about in terms of the peripheral dilemmas and occasional ambiguities, overlooking and thereby skewing our perception of the vast intuitive area of agreement that actually obtains both across diverse cultures and throughout the centuries of human history. Perhaps morality has to be seen at its best, or at its worst, for it is then our intuitions are felt the strongest and distinctive features of moral facts most clearly apprehended, with no ambiguities or heart-wrenching dilemmas to cloud our vision. Eventually those dilemmas have to be accounted for as well, but the suggestion here is that they are not the proper place to begin.

Consilience

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The biologist Edward O. Wilson is a rare scientist: having over a long career made signal contributions to population genetics, evolutionary biology, entomology, and ethology, he has also steeped himself in philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences. The result of his lifelong, wide-ranging investigations is Consilience (the word means “a jumping together,” in this case of the many branches of human knowledge), a wonderfully broad study that encourages scholars to bridge the many gaps that yawn between and within the cultures of science and the arts. No such gaps should exist, Wilson maintains, for the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give understanding a purpose, to lend to us all “a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws.” In making his synthetic argument, Wilson examines the ways (rightly and wrongly) in which science is done, puzzles over the postmodernist debates now sweeping academia, and proposes thought-provoking ideas about religion and human nature. He turns to the great evolutionary biologists and the scholars of the Enlightenment for case studies of science properly conducted, considers the life cycles of ants and mountain lions, and presses, again and again, for rigor and vigor to be brought to bear on our search for meaning. The time is right, he suggests, for us to understand more fully that quest for knowledge, for “Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us…. Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.” Wilson’s wisdom, eloquently expressed in the pages of this grand and lively summing-up, will be of much help in that search. ~ Amazon.com

The Top 100 Works of Journalism

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Sometime, somewhere, some anthropologist must have explored that tribal ritual: the greatest-hits list. These lists date back at least to the seven wonders of the ancient world. They reflect the importance of some area of tribal endeavor — monumental architecture, say, or rock-and-roll. And they establish hierarchies; how better to show your pre-eminence in the pecking order than to rank everyone else? Journalists, trained to make their value judgments in neat pyramid style, most important facts first, could hardly be expected to resist the millennial listing urge. If Modern Library can cause a stir with its list of 100 best novels and the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame can take abuse for its top 500, why shouldn’t journalists share in the fun? ~ Felicity Barringer in the New York Times

Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader

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Recently, new life has been breathed into the ancient philosophical topic of skepticism. The subject of some of the best and most provocative work in contemporary philosophy, skepticism has been addressed not only by top epistemologists but also by several of the world’s finest philosophers who are most known for their work in other areas of the discipline. Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader brings together the most important recent contributions to the discussion of skepticism. Covering major approaches to the skeptical problem, it features essays by Anthony Brueckner, Keith DeRose, Fred Dretske, Graeme Forbes, Christopher Hill, David Lewis, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, Hilary Putnam, Ernest Sosa, Gail Stine, Barry Stroud, Peter Unger, and Ted Warfield. The book opens with a thorough introduction that outlines the skeptical problem, explains the dominant responses to skepticism, and discusses the strengths, weaknesses, and unresolved issues of each response, providing undergraduate students and nonphilosophers with the background and context necessary to understand the essays. Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader serves as an ideal text for courses in epistemology and skepticism and will also appeal to professional philosophers and interested general readers.

Rethinking Intuition

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Ancients and moderns alike have constructed arguments and assessed theories on the basis of common sense and intuitive judgments. Yet, despite the important role intuitions play in philosophy, there has been little reflection on fundamental questions concerning the sort of data intuitions provide, how they are supposed to lead us to the truth, and why we should treat them as important. In addition, recent psychological research seems to pose serious challenges to traditional intuition-driven philosophical inquiry. Rethinking Intuition brings together a distinguished group of philosophers and psychologists to discuss these important issues. Students and scholars in both fields will find this book to be of great value. ~ Book Description

John Paul II on Relativism and Knowledge

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This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread scepticism. Recent times have seen the rise to prominence of various doctrines which tend to devalue even the truths which had been judged certain. A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based upon the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today’s most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth. Even certain conceptions of life coming from the East betray this lack of confidence, denying truth its exclusive character and assuming that truth reveals itself equally in different doctrines, even if they contradict one another. On this understanding, everything is reduced to opinion; and there is a sense of being adrift. While, on the one hand, philosophical thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue issues — existential, hermeneutical or linguistic — which ignore the radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being and about God. Hence we see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being’s great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence. In short, the hope that philosophy might be able to provide definitive answers to these questions has dwindled.

Truth and Religious Belief

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This book contains a thorough and balanced series of dialogues introducing key topics in philosophy of religion, such as: the existence and nature of God, the problem of evil, religious pluralism, the nature of religious experience, immortality, and the meaning of life. A realistic cast of characters in a natural setting engages in a series of thought-provoking conversations; the dialogue format of these conversations captures typical student attitudes and questions concerning religious belief; allows comparison of important themes throughout the dialogues; encourages the interjection of insights, observations, questions, and objections; and introduces related points when they would naturally arise, instead of relegating them to a later chapter. As well as presenting a detailed and probing discussion, each dialogue includes a list of key terms, a set of study questions, and a bibliography – all of which make this an excellent text for courses in philosophy of religion and introductory philosophy classes. ~ Product Description

The Demon-Haunted World

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Eminent Cornell astronomer and bestselling author Sagan debunks the paranormal and the unexplained in a study that will reassure hardcore skeptics but may leave others unsatisfied. To him, purported UFO encounters and alien abductions are products of gullibility, hallucination, misidentification, hoax and therapists’ pressure; some alleged encounters, he suggests, may screen memories of sexual abuse. He labels as hoaxes the crop circles, complex pictograms that appear in southern England’s wheat and barley fields, and he dismisses as a natural formation the Sphinx-like humanoid face incised on a mesa on Mars, first photographed by a Viking orbiter spacecraft in 1976 and considered by some scientists to be the engineered artifact of an alien civilization. In a passionate plea for scientific literacy, Sagan deftly debunks the myth of Atlantis, Filipino psychic surgeons and mediums such as J.Z. Knight, who claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old entity called Ramtha. He also brands as superstition ghosts, angels, fairies, demons, astrology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and religious apparitions. ~ Publishers Weekly

J.P. Moreland on Intellectual Humility

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Humility and the associated traits of open-mindedness, self-criticality, and nondefensiveness [are] virtues relevant to the intellectual life. We must be willing to seek the truth in a spirit of humility with an admission of our own finitude; we must be willing to learn from our critics; and we need to learn to argue against our own positions in order to strengthen our understanding of them… The purpose of intellectual humility, open-mindedness , and so forth is not to create a skeptical mind that never lands on a position about anything, preferring to remain suspended in midair. Rather, the purpose is for you to do anything you can to remove your unhelpful biases and get at the truth in a reasoned way.

Thomas Nagel on Nonrational Rationality

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Suppose you become convinced that all your choices, decisions, and conclusions were determined by rationally arbitrary features of your psychological makeup or by external manipulation, and then tried to ask yourself what, in the light of this information, you should do or believe. There would really be no way to answer the question. Because the arbitrary causal control of which you had become convinced would apply to whatever you said or decided. You could not simultaneously believe this about yourself and try to make a free, rational choice. Not only that, but if the very belief in the causal system of control was itself a product of what you thought to be reasoning, then it too would lose its status as a belief freely arrived at, and your attitude toward it would have to change. ¶ Doubt about your own rationality is unstable; it leaves you really with nothing to think. So although the hypothesis of nonrational control seems a contingent possibility, it is no more possible to entertain it with regard to yourself than it is to consider the possibility that you are not thinking. I have never known how to respond to this conundrum.

J.P. Moreland on Strong Scientism

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Strong scientism is the view that some proposition or theory is true or rational if and only if it is a scientific proposition or theory. That is, if and only if it is a well-established scientific proposition or theory that, in turn, depends upon its having been successfully formed, tested, and used according to appropriate scientific methodology. There are no truths apart from scientific truths, and even if there were, there would be no reason whatever to believe them… [W]eak scientism allows for the existence of truth apart form science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, positive rationality status without the support of science. But, science is the most valuable, most serious, and most authoritative sector of human learning. If strong scientism is true, then theology is not a rational enterprise at all and there is no such thing as theological knowledge. If weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support. For thinking Christians, neither of these alternatives is acceptable.

Thomas Nagel on Rationalization Presupposing Reason

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The ordinary charge of “rationalization,” like the exposure of errors in reasoning, does not question the claims of reason itself but rather presupposes them. It contrasts the sources of belief in this case with an alternative type of ground that would actually justify them, or demonstrate their truth.

Thomas Nagel on Cosmic Authority

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My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enable modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and desiring as fundamental features of the world. Instead they become epiphenomena, generated incidentally by a process that can be entirely explained by the operation of the nonteleogical laws of physics on the material of which we and our environments are all composed. There might still be thought to be a religious threat in the existence of the laws of physics themselves, and indeed the existence of anything at all, but it seems to be less alarming to most atheists.

Michael Martin on God, Mystery, and Evil

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On most interpretations of the theistic God, He desires His creatures to love Him. However, the mystery of evil conflicts with this desire. It is difficult for rational humans to love God when they do not understand why there is so much evil. If the reasons for evil are beyond humans’ ken, God could at least make THIS abundantly clear. Why does He not do so? Moreover, why does not an all-powerful God have the power to raise human intelligence so humans can understand why there is so much evil? If there is reason for not doing this, then why is THIS not made clear? There is mystery on top of mystery here which seems to conflict explicitly with God’s desire to be loved.

Thomas Nagel on Truth and Relativism

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Many forms of relativism and subjectivism collapse into either self-contradiction or vacuity — self-contradiction because they end up claiming that nothing is the case, or vacuity because they boil down to the assertion that anything we say or believe is something we say or believe. I think that all general and most restricted forms of subjectivism that do not fail in either of these ways are pretty clearly false. It is usually a good strategy to ask whether a general claim about truth or meaning applies to itself. Many theories, like logical positivism, can be eliminated immediately by this test. The familiar point that relativism is self-refuting remains valid in spite of its familiarity: We cannot criticize some of our own claims of reason without employing reason at some other point to formulate and support those criticisms.

Thomas Nagel on the Fear of Religion

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In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehood. I am talking about something much deeper — namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that… My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.

Thomas Nagel on Reason as a Court of Appeal

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Reason, if there is such a thing, can serve as a court of appeal not only against the received opinions and habits of our community but also against the peculiarities of our personal perspective. It is something each individual can find with himself, but at the same time it has universal authority. Reason provides, mysteriously, a way of distancing oneself from common opinion and received practices that is not a mere elevation of individuality… not a determination to express one’s idiosyncratic self rather than go along with everyone else. Whoever appeals to reason purports to discover a source of authority within himself that is not merely personal or societal, but universal… and that should also persuade others who are willing to listen to it.

Virtues of the Mind

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Almost all theories of knowledge and justified belief employ moral concepts and forms of argument borrowed from moral theories, but none of them pay attention to the current renaissance in virtue ethics. This remarkable book is the first attempt to establish a theory of knowledge based on the model of virtue theory in ethics. The book develops the concept of an intellectual virtue, and then shows how the concept can be used to give an account of the major concepts in epistemology, including the concept of knowledge. "Zagzebski’s book brims with acute observations and is written in such a way that even those not trained in analytic philosophy will find it an enjoyable read. Her focus on the virtues leads her to avoid a style of philosphy that endlessly generates counterexamples and engages in barren possible-worlds speculation. Zagzebski brings the resources of premodern philosophy to bear on contemporary issues and opens up a line of inquiry that could prove as fruitful for epistemology as it already has for ethics. Throughout the book, she notes that this is a large project and invites the assistance of others. It is an invitation Thomists would do well to accept."  ~ Thomas S. Hibbs, The Thomist

David James Duncan on Gullibility

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All Ellen G. White knew, Pete said, was how to hornswoggle religious people — who are the most hornswogglable people on earth — whereas a good bookie knows how to hornswoggle gamblers, who are nothing but a bunch of hornswogglers themselves. Find yourself a prophet with the gifts of a good bookie, Pete says, like Krishna in the Bog of Vod Geeta, and maybe you got something.

The Nature and Value of Religious Experien

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If you take a poll in a typical Christian congregation, you will discover that the majority of church members have had very deep encounters with God. Most have had at least a few occasions of dramatic answer to prayer, some have seen physical healings of various sorts, and many have had moments when God was intensely real to them. Moreover, these phenomena happen not only to individual believers, they also occur when Christians gather together in community. Speaking more generally, it is safe to say that millions upon millions of people worldwide have had some sort of religious experience at one time or another. What should we make of these facts? Do they provide evidence for the existence of God? For the truth of Christianity? How is a naturalist supposed to take these facts?

R. Douglas Geivett on the Hiddenness of God

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We cannot foreclose on the question of God’s willingness to disclose himself and his purposes in some concrete, particularized way without first looking into the evidence for the authenticity of an alleged revelation from him; even if a quest for some particular truth of the matter is scandalous by today’s ephemeral standards, It will hardly do to accuse God of hiding from us if we have not sincerely sought him in appropriate ways, or if we have insisted on prescribing for God the conditions under which we would approve a revelation of himself.

R. Douglas Geivett Channeling Relativism

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[Speaking rhetorically] The mere suggestion that Jesus might be the only way to achieve authentic religious fulfillment smacks of bigoted narrowness and rigid exclusiveness. While these are qualities that we have come to expect from obtuse religious zealots, they surely are unworthy of the general run of humanity, if not of God himself — if he should happen to exist. And the idea that humans can acquire specific religious knowledge that holds the key to the entire human condition is, well, pretentious at the least. The attitude is simply incompatible with enlightened awareness of our cognitive limitations.

Willard V. Quine on Naturalism, Science, and Testability

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In science itself I certainly want to include the farthest flights of physics and cosmology, as well as experimental psychology, history, and the social sciences. Also, mathematics, insofar at least as it is applied, for it is indispensable to natural science. What then am I excluding as “some prior philosophy,” and why? Descartes’ dualism between mind and body is called metaphysics, but it could as well be reckoned as science, however false. He even had a causal theory of the interaction of mind and body through the pineal gland. If I saw indirect explanatory benefit in positing sensibilia, possibilia, spirits, a Creator, I would joyfully accord them scientific status too, on a par with such avowedly scientific positions as quarks and black holes. What then have I banned under the name of prior philosophy? ¶ Demarcation is not my purpose. My point in the characterization of naturalism … is just that the most we can reasonably seek in support of an inventory and description of reality is testability of it observable consequences in the time-honored hypothetico-deductive way — whereof more anon. Naturalism need not cast aspersion on irresponsible metaphysics, however deserved, much less on soft sciences or on the speculative reaches of the hard ones, except insofar as a firmer basis is claimed for them than the experimental method itself.