Let’s be honest, we’ve all expressed opinions about difficult hot-button issues without always thinking them through. With so much media spin, political polarization, and mistrust of institutions, it’s hard to know how to think about these tough challenges, much less whatto do about them. One Nation Undecided takes on some of today’s thorniest issues and walks you through each one step-by-step, explaining what makes it so difficult to grapple with and enabling you to think smartly about it. ~ Publisher’s Description
Many commend the teaching of great or core texts to provide something more than the exercise of “critical thinking,” a goal onto which academics have latched (after the ferocious curriculum battles of the 1980s and 1990s) with an almost audible sigh of relief. Debates about substance were put to rest as agreement was reached on the contentless goal of critical thinking, which allowed academics to lay down their arms and embrace the common project of cultivating a thinking style . Indeed, it has reached a pass in which the only idea impervious to critical thinking is the shared goal of critical thinking: No one quite knows what it is, but we can all agree that we want our students to be able to do it. Push-pins is equal to Homer, and Homer equal to push-pins, since both can be claimed to foster critical thinking.
There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.
Probability theory promises to deliver an exact and unified foundation for inquiry in epistemology and philosophy of science. But philosophy of religion is also fertile ground for the application of probabilistic thinking. This volume presents original contributions from twelve contemporary researchers, both established and emerging, to offer a representative sample of the work currently being carried out in this potentially rich field of inquiry. Grouped into five parts, the chapters span a broad range of traditional issues in religious epistemology. The first three parts discuss the evidential impact of various considerations that have been brought to bear on the question of the existence of God. These include witness reports of the occurrence of miraculous events, the existence of complex biological adaptations, the apparent ‘fine-tuning’ for life of various physical constants and the existence of seemingly unnecessary evil. The fourth part addresses a number of issues raised by Pascal’s famous pragmatic argument for theistic belief. A final part offers probabilistic perspectives on the rationality of faith and the epistemic significance of religious disagreement.
It is not enough that one mental event cause another mental event in virtue of its propositional content. Someone who engages in rational inference must recognize the correctness of the principle of sound reasoning, which one applies to one’s inference. Modus Ponens works, affirming the consequent does not. Our inferences are supposed to be governed by the rules of reasoning we recognize to be correct. However, can these rules of inference ever really govern our reasoning process? According to physicalism, all of our reasoning processes are the inevitable result of a physical substrate that is not governed by reasons. ¶ So we might ask this question: “Which laws govern the activity we call rational inference?” We might stipulate, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea that laws of physics are accounts of the powers and liabilities of the objects in question. If the materialist claims that laws other than the laws of physics apply to the assemblage of particles we call human beings, then those particles are not what (mechanistic) physics says they are, and we have admitted a fundamental explanatory dualism. If however, the laws are the laws of physics, then there are no powers and liabilities that cannot be predicted from the physical level. If this is so there can be a sort of emergence, in that the basic laws governing a sleeping pill will not mention that the pills tend to put you to sleep. Nevertheless, the pill’s soporific effectiveness can be fully and completely analyzed in terms of its physical powers and liability. If this is so, then we will be rational if and only if the physical configurations of matter guarantee that we are physical, and in the last analysis, the laws of logic do not govern our intellectual conduct.
Imagine an author who sets out to prove that music glorifies violence but who spends most of the book fixated on gangsta rap and then attributes the vices of the latter to music in general. As already noted, this kind of mistake is called equivocation. Dawkins’ rhetorical excesses and inattention to nuanced differences do not just make him susceptible to this fallacy. When he tries to make the case that religion is pernicious, Dawkins moves willy-nilly from an attack on particular religious doctrines and communities to conclusions about religion and belief in God generally. And this, of course, is entirely typical of religion’s cultured despisers.
The fact is, we use the term “religion” in a variety of ways. And this fact makes it difficult to talk precisely about religion, let alone attack it with valid objections. Whenever usage is so varied, there is a real danger that one will fall prey to what philosophers call equivocation — that is, the fallacy of using the same term in different senses in the course of a single argument or discussion, without noticing the shift. … Is religion a comprehensive and unsurpassable account of everything that matters to a person? If so, the naturalism secular humanists would qualify as their religion. Or is religion a private matter of how the individual relates subjectively to what is taken to be the fundamental reality? If so, the physicist’s awe and wonder at the vast beauty of the cosmos would be a religion. Or is religion a social construct, its metaphysical pronouncements (if any) an incidental by-product of its goal of creating loyalty, obedience, and cohesion among society’s members? If so, Marxist ideology would have been the religion of the former Soviet Union. Or is religion an attempt, through metaphors and ritual practices, to bring our lives into alignment with an inexpressible transcendent reality? If so, then most world religions would paradoxically be true religions even as they reject the accuracy of Hick’s account (since thy don’t typically take themselves to be engaged in merely metaphorical discourse). The point, of course, is that “religion” is used in all these ways and more.
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris raises equivocation on the meaning of "religion" to a high art, wraps the ambiguity in mellifluous prose, plays up our fear of religious extremists, launches stinging attacks on Christian fundamentalism, and then lets the force of rhetoric do the work of implicating all religion in the impending demise of human civilization. His message is simple: humanity is headed towards Armageddon, and the blame lies as much with your Aunt Ruth, who faithfully drives to her United Methodist Church every Sunday to sing hymns and pray and listen raptly to Pastor Jim, as it does with Al Qaeda fanatics.
Christopher Hitchens is recognized by just about everyone as a master rhetorician. His wit and command of the English language are things to behold. The American Heritage Dictionary offers a number of definitions of the term rhetoric, including: 1) The art or study of using language effectively and persuasively, 2) Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous. No doubt Hitchens’ rhetoric has been persuasive in many quarters, but the more I read, the more clear it becomes that the second definition is also apt, that what we have here is as much style as substance. At Afterall.net we host The Illogic Primer, a catalog of common logical fallacies and rhetorical chicanery. We can all be forgiven a slip or two into illogic, but Hitchens’ god is not Great is an unending cascade of this kind of rhetorical mischief. Is it merely empty rhetoric, or is there reason beyond the rhetoric? I’ll leave that judgment till I turn the last page. In the meantime, allow me to enumerate some concerns about Hitchens’ style of argumentation and why I think it impedes getting to the truth of the matter.
If we have two valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a disjunctive argument that also entails the same conclusion. More generally, if we have a large collection of valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a multiply disjunctive argument that also entails that same conclusion. However, it should not be supposed that a ‘cumulative’ argument that is formed in this way is guaranteed to be a better argument than the individual arguments with which we began (even if we are properly entitled to the claim that the arguments with which we are working are all valid). For, on the one hand, if all of the arguments are defective on grounds other than those of validity — for example, because they have false premises, or because they are question-begging — then the cumulative argument will also be defective. But, on the other hand, if even one of the arguments with which we began is not defective on any other grounds, then it is a cogent argument for its conclusion, and the cumulative argument is plainly worse (since longer and more convoluted). So, at the very least, we have good reason to be suspicious of talk about a cumulative case for the claim that a given monotheistic god does — or does not — exist that is based upon a collection of (allegedly) valid arguments for the claim that the god in question does — or does not — exist. …
For logical laws are just like physical laws, because physical laws describe the way the universe works, and logical laws describe the way reason works — or, to avoid begging the question, logical laws describe the way a truth-finding machine works, in the very same way that the laws of aerodynamics describe the way a flying-machine works, or the laws of ballistics describe the way guns shoot their targets. The only difference between logical laws and physical laws is the fact that physical laws describe physics and logical laws describe logic. But that is a difference both trivial and obvious.
What is real? What is truth? What can we know? What should we believe? What should we do and why? Is there a God? Can we know him? Do Christian doctrines make sense? Can we believe in God in the face of evil? These are fundamental questions that any thinking person wants answers to. These are questions that philosophy addresses. And the answers we give to these kinds of questions serve as the foundation stones for constructing any kind of worldview. In Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig offer a comprehensive introduction to philosophy from a Christian perspective. In their broad sweep they seek to introduce readers to the principal subdisciplines of philosophy, including epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, ethics and philosophy of religion. They do so with characteristic clarity and incisiveness. Arguments are clearly presented, and rival theories are presented with fairness and accuracy. Philosophy, they contend, aids Christians in the tasks of apologetics, polemics and systematic theology. It reflects our having been made in the image of God, helps us to extend biblical teaching into areas not expressly addressed in Scripture, facilitates the spiritual discipline of study, enhances the boldness and self-image of the Christian community, and is requisite to the essential task of integrating faith and learning. Here is a lively and thorough introduction to philosophy for all who want to know reality. ~ Synopsis
Jeffrey Jay Lowder, founder of the Internet Infidels, offers a welcome clarification of the term ‘feethinker,’ in his article, “Is ‘Freethinker’ Synonymous with ‘Nontheist?‘” He ultimately agrees with Bertrand Russell that what defines a freethinker is not the content of his beliefs, but because “after careful thought, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor.” In principle, then, Lowder concedes that a theist could be a freethinker. His unremarkable conclusion is noteworthy because it demurs from the pervasive opinion of many skeptics that the defining characteristic of religious people is their unthinking credulity. Consider, by way of contrast, the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s ‘nontract’ (sic), “What Is A Freethinker?” Still, Lowder rejects the possibility that an Evangelical Christian could be a freethinker. Considering Lowder’s familiarity with the recent flowering of excellent Christian scholarship, especially in philosophy, his denial of Christian “free thinking” is, in the end, a bit puzzling.
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.
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.
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.
When the idol of mathematics fell, it brought down with it confidence in any universal truth. The sharp ring of truth that characterized mathematics had inspired hope that truth could be found by similar methods in other fields of scholarship. Now that hope died… Filtered to the rest of the academic world, the crisis in mathematics was symbolized by the emergence of non-Euclidean geometries. Euclid’s axioms had stood the test of time for some two thousand years. That physical space is Euclidean seemed part of common sense. But now Euclidean geometry had been relegated to one of many possible geometries. Far from being a universal truth, Euclidean geometry was a merely human invention that might apply in some contexts but not in others. The crisis in geometry became a metaphor for the shattering of established verities, the inadequacy of deductive systems, the loss of a single, unified body of truth.
If you think your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based upon faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting or distorting the minds of the young in what is called ‘education.’
Human beings have the unique ability to view the world in a detached way: We can think about the world in terms that transcend our own experience or interest, and consider the world from a vantage point that is, in Nagel’s words, “nowhere in particular.” At the same time, each of us is a particular person in a particular place, each with his own “personal” view of the world, a view that we can recognize as just one aspect of the whole. How do we reconcile these two standpoints — intellectually, morally, and practically? To what extent are they irreconcilable and to what extent can they be integrated? Thomas Nagel’s ambitious and lively book tackles this fundamental issue, arguing that our divided nature is the root of a whole range of philosophical problems, touching, as it does, every aspect of human life. He deals with its manifestations in such fields of philosophy as: the mind-body problem, personal identity, knowledge and skepticism, thought and reality, free will, ethics, the relation between moral and other values, the meaning of life, and death. Excessive objectification has been a malady of recent analytic philosophy, claims Nagel, it has led to implausible forms of reductionism in the philosophy of mind and elsewhere. The solution is not to inhibit the objectifying impulse, but to insist that it learn to live alongside the internal perspectives that cannot be either discarded or objectified. Reconciliation between the two standpoints, in the end, is not always possible. ~ Publisher’s Description
The possibility of being wrong is the price we pay for the possibility of being right. We are not speaking here of our degree of psychological certitude, but of the basic distinction between logical certainty and probability.
Fallacies seem to resist an illuminating and perspicuous categorization and characterization. There is a quite banal consideration that makes the search for an adequate taxonomy seem doomed to failure. While there are a few principles of correct reasoning, the number of incorrect patterns of reasoning are unlimited. In other words, there is no underestimating the ability of human beings to invent new ways of making mistakes. The seems to be the view of H.W.B Joseph, who is quoted as saying, “Truth may have its norms, but error is infinite in its aberrations and they cannot be digested in any classification”.
What were these presuppositions? The basic one was that there really are such things as absolutes. [The last generation] accepted the possibility of an absolute in the area of Being (or knowledge), and in the area of morals. Therefore, because they accepted the possibility of absolutes, though people might have disagreed as to what these were, nevertheless they could reason together on the classical basis of antithesis. They took it for granted that if anything was true, the opposite was false. In morality, if one thing was right, its opposite was wrong. This little formula, "A is A" and "if you have A, it is not non-A," is the first move in classical logic. If you understand the extent to which this no longer holds sway, you will understand our present situation.
Each science has a different subject-matter. It will, perhaps, help to emphasize the importance of this inquiry if we recall, first, that a science presupposes the existence of a special kind of material, called its subject-matter; and, second, that each science has a different subject-matter. For example, in geology we learn about the structure of the earth’s surface; in physiology, about the functions of living organisms. Physics is a study of bodies in motion; and geometry, of figures and space. In these, and in similar cases, the subject-matter of the science is the material which the scientist observes and describes… At present, we wish to call the student’s attention to the fact that the attainment of any kind of knowledge is impossible without an active exercise of the thinking processes, and to warn him that the passive flow of images and ideas through consciousness must not be mistaken for thinking. It is true that without images and ideas there can be no thought; but thinking consists in comparing objects with one another, in differentiating the like from the unlike, in combining them into more complex wholes, in relating in many and diverse ways these wholes to each other, etc. Thinking, in other words, is a specialised sort of mental activity, an activity that taxes to the utmost, and frequently brings into play, all the abilties with which the human mind is endowed. It is the supreme task to which the many have been called; but if we regard it lightly, or presume that it can be accomplished without toil, or if we erect our own incapacity or indolence into a reason for the uselessness of the endeavor, we must abandon the hope of joining the company of the few who are chosen. It is, therefore, with good reason that logic directs attention to the function of thought in human knowledge, for thinking is the one way, the only royal road, to the goal of an educated life. To think about the objects of one’s experience is, then, necessary if knowledge is to exist; but thinking, it must also be borne in mind, is “not a passive suffering of something, but a doing of something with” these objects.
We have seen that the first step in argument is the interpretation of the proposition in order to resolve it into its essential parts; and we have seen that a first step in any such interpretation must be the definition of terms. Many fallacies are due to inadequate definition of terms, for the most dangerous source of verbal confusion and consequent dispute is our failure to set forth our meaning with perfect clearness, and the more subtle the misinterpretation, the greater the danger. The study and practice of argumentation is sure to reveal innumerable chances for confusion due to the lack of satisfactory definitions. We can seldom proceed far in any argument, no matter how simple it may seem to be, without feeling the necessity for this preliminary work of exposition. Without the protection of painstaking definitions, no point in an argument is proof against the insidious fallacies of ambiguity. When the two sides in a controversy use the same terms with different meanings or different terms with the same meaning; when colleagues are not agreed and consistent in the use of terms; when any man employs a term in one sense and later shifts to another sense, the result is a confusion which may carry in its train whole troops of fallacies. Clear and convincing definitions are fundamental requisites of sound argument.