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

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The Da Vinci Code: A Novel.


The most important word in this entire book is the noun in the subtitle; this is a "novel"-a work of fiction. That is important to remember, especially after the statements on page 1, which move the work slightly into the arena of historical fiction, but only slightly. It is true that there are such organizations as the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei. It is true that the author has worked hard to describe accurately the contemporary European locations, including city layouts, buildings, and artwork, in which the plot is set. The statement that "all descriptions of… documents… in this novel are accurate" is, however, highly inaccurate!

The Cosmos as a Work of Art


I will sketch an argument that if we follow St. Augustine in seeing the cosmos —i.e., the sum total of all created existence—as a work of art, then we have good reason to be sceptical of the judgment that there are gratuitous evils.  I will do so by stating several features of works of art each of which, when transferred to the case of the cosmos, makes it difficult to conclude that any evil we see is gratuitous.  However this account does not undercut the religious claims that from the goodness of things in the universe we can tell something about God’s goodness.  Paradoxically, evil does not give a strong argument against the existence of God, but good might give a strong argument in favor of it.

The Argument From Design


I understand by an argument from design one which argues from some general pattern of order in the universe or provision for the needs of conscious beings to a God responsible for these phenomena. An argument from a general pattern of order I shall call a teleological argument. In the definition of ‘teleological argument’ I emphasize the words ‘general pattern’; I shall not count an argument to the existence of God from some particular pattern of order manifested on a unique occasion as a teleological argument.

Is There an Evolutionary Foundation for Human Morality?


I am going to talk about the question of whether we can find an evolutionary basis for human morality. I am not a scientist, but a philosopher. So I am not going to try to pass judgment on the theory of evolution itself, as it applies to human beings. I do not regard philosophers as professionally competent either to pass a positive or negative judgment on the theory, except insofar as there are philosophical commitments embodied in it. However, I do regard myself as having made some progress in understanding human morality. In particular, I have been interested in and have written about the gap between the demands of morality on us and our natural capacities to meet those demands. This gap presents the problem of how we can be held accountable or responsible for a standard we are not equipped to meet either by innate capacity or natural development. So I want to ask the conditional question: if we assume that the theory of evolution as it applies to human beings is correct, does this help us answer the questions of whether we can be morally good and why we should be morally good? The first question, whether we can be morally good, is the question raised by the moral gap between the demands of morality and our natural capacities. It is only after answering this first question, “yes, we can be morally good,” that the second question arises of why we should be morally good, for we can only be held accountable or responsible for standards that we are able to reach. The burden of my presentation will be that we do not get an answer to these two questions from the theory of evolution. I am not arguing here that the theory is false, but that even if it is true, it doesn’t give us an answer. I will be looking at a number of recent attempts to provide such an answer from the theory, but I will claim that all of them fail.

Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments


I’ve been arguing that theistic belief does not (in general) need argument either for deontological justification, or for positive epistemic status, (or for Foley rationality or Alstonian justification); belief in God is properly basic. But it doesn’t follow, of course that there aren’t any good arguments. Are there some? At least a couple of dozen or so. According to Swinburne, a good argument is one that has premises that everyone knows. Maybe there aren’t any such arguments, and if there are some, maybe none of them would be good arguments for anyone. (Note again the possibility that a person might, when confronted with an argument he sees to be valid for a conclusion he deeply disbelieves from premises he knows to be true, give up (some of) those premises: in this way you can reduce someone from knowledge to ignorance by giving him an argument he sees to be valid from premises he knows to be true. These arguments are not coercive in the sense that every person is obliged to accept their premises on pain of irrationality. Maybe just that some or many sensible people do accept their premises. What are these arguments like, and what role do they play? They are probabilistic, either with respect to the premises, or with respect to the connection between the premises and conclusion, or both. They can serve to bolster and confirm (‘helps’ a la John Calvin); perhaps to convince.

Fiction as a Kind of Philosophy


In this paper, I defend the importance of narrative to moral philosophy, in particular to moral realism. Moral realism, for the purposes of this essay, is the claim that there are moral truths independent of human beliefs, attitudes, desires and feelings.i Contemporary philosophers typically focus on discursive arguments and exclude narrative. But narrative is considerably more powerful than argument in effecting belief-change. I shall argue that through such belief-change one can attain to moral truth.ii This account is opposed to that of fellow narrativalist, Richard Rorty, who denies moral realism. Since I believe the clash between realists and anti-realists resolves into a clash of intuitions, I don’t propose to offer a convincing argument in favor of moral realism. Instead, like Rorty I will draw a word-picture, which stands in stark contrast to the word-picture that he draws about stories; it is my hope that the reader will find my word-picture more compelling than Rorty’s word-picture. In the final section I will offer some considerations in favor of moral realism.

Can We Be Good With God?


Hare summarizes his talk as follows: “I have been defending a divine command theory of the right. The version I have been defending is that of Duns Scotus. In this version we distinguish between the two tables of the law, or the two great commandments Jesus gives us. The first, we say, is necessary. God has to order us towards loving God. The second is contingent, and is the route God has chosen for us to reach our final destination, which is union with God. I have then replied to two objections to this view. First, there is the objection that divine command theory makes morality arbitrary. The reply is that the route is not arbitrary because it does lead to our destination. The second objection is that divine command theory makes morality infantile. The reply is that if there is a God who knows what is good for all of creation, then it is not infantile to follow the commands of such a being, but excellent good sense.” Also see, “Can We Be Good Without God?”.

Can We Be Good Without God?


Here is the thesis of this paper. Morality as we are familiar with it in our culture originally made sense against the background of a set of beliefs and practices in traditional theism. In elite Western culture these beliefs and practices have now been widely abandoned. The result is that morality no longer makes sense within that culture the way it once did. There are two problem areas in particular that I will stress. The first is the gap between the moral demand on us and our natural capacities to meet it. This gap produces the question: Can we be morally good? The second problem area is the source of the authority of morality. This produces the question: Why should we be morally good? The traditional answer to these questions has been that God enables us to live in the way we should, and that we should live that way because God calls us to live that way. I will be looking at various kinds of incoherence that arise when these traditional answers are no longer available. [Also see, “Can We Be Good With God?”]

A Critique of Ethical Relativism


To sum up our discussion to this point, unless we have an independent moral basis for law, it is hard to see why we have any general duty to obey it; and unless we recognize the priority of a universal moral law, we have no firm basis for justifying our acts of civil disobedience against “unjust laws.” Both the validity of law and morally motivated disobedience of unjust laws are annulled in favor of a power struggle.

Dear Harper

Go I hope you'll be interested to know that I — near the start of a new millennium and at the age of 67 — am still able to believe, with no serious effort, that the entire universe was willed into being by an unsurpassed power whom most human beings call God. I believe that God remains conscious of his creation and interested in it. I believe that his interest may be described, intermittently at least, as love.