Thursday, March 18, 2010

ID/creation vs. evolution

Once again, I'm dipping my toe in an area I ought not due to lack of education. I just wanted to respond to an argument I've heard frequently when this subject comes up.

Critics of intelligent design or creationism will often say that IDers or creationists only offer arguments against evolution. They do not provide any positive evidence for their own point of view. The critics will then say that even if evolution were false, that would not make intelligent design or creationism true.

Whether IDers/creationists do provide positive evidence for their own point of view isn't my concern right now. I just want to respond to that last statement--that disproving evolution does not prove ID or evolution.

It seems to me that there's only two possibilities--either life was engineered somehow, or life arose through purely naturalistic means with no purpose behind it. I don't see how there could be any other possibility.

If life was engineered, then some sort of intelligent design is true.

If life came about through natural unguided processes, then it either came about gradually or all of a sudden. Now I don't think anybody is going to argue that a fully formed biological entity like a cat or a human just came together naturally all of a sudden with all of its parts in place. So if cats and humans emerged through a natural process, then it happened gradually.

Maybe it is due to lack of imagination on my part, but assuming life came about gradually through a natural process, the mechanisms of evolution (mutation and natural selection) are pretty much the only game in town. So one could make the following disjunctive syllogism:

1. Either ID/creation is true, or evolution is true.
2. Evolution is not true.
3. Therefore, ID/creation is true.

If ID/creation and evolution are the only possibilities, then any argument against one is an argument for the other. The only way to escape the argument is to come up with some third possibility. If there were a third possibility, then an argument against one view would not necessarily be an argument for another view since there would be two other possibilities.

But let's suppose there is some third possibility. As I argued above, the third possibility would have to be a natural process because either life was engineered or it wasn't. That's just the law of excluded middle. So we can form this argument:

1. Either ID, evolution, or X.
2. Not evolution.
3. Therefore, either ID or X.

So an argument against evolution wouldn't necessarily be an argument for ID since X might be true instead. But it would narrow the scope, and a person could make this argument:

1. Either ID or X
2. Not X
3. Therefore, ID.

Depending on what X is, a person could still work his way around to an argument for ID. Disproving evolution would just be the first step.

But before somebody offers an X in order to disprove the ID/creation vs. evolution disjunct, he's first got to make sure that X is a viable option. I mean if it turns out that X is less likely than ID/creation, then an argument against evolution is still going to work as an argument for ID/creation. In light of arguments against evolution, X will weaken the case for ID/creation in proportion to the probability of X. If ID is far more likely than X, then an argument against evolution makes ID far more likely. If X is just as likely as ID, then an argument against evolution makes ID and X equal alternative candidates. If X is more likely than ID, then an argument against evolution makes X more likely to be true.

You don't have to subscribe to ID, creationism, evolution, or X to make the point I'm making. I'd make this same point regardless of which I thought was true. It seems pretty obvious to me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Emotivist objection to arguments for morality

Emotivism is the view that moral statements are subjective statements about a person's own attitudes toward behaviors. "Murder is wrong," is just another way of saying, "I hate murder."

One way moral objectivists try to persuade others of their point of view is by conjuring up the most heinous scenarios they can think of in hopes that the other person's moral intuitions will rise to the surface and they will realize that they already believe in objective morality. For example, they'll say things like, "If there are no objective moral values, then there's nothing really wrong with mother stabbing and father raping. It's just a matter of personal preference or social convention." Few people are willing to bite the bullet and say there's nothing really wrong with mother stabbing and father raping, so they are expected to admit that there really are objective morals. That is a tactic Greg Koukl advocates in Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.

Some people object to this tactic on the basis that it makes a false appeal to emotions. All it does is manipulate people by stirring up their emotions. It doesn't follow that because you have very negative feelings about something that it's therefore wrong. So it's unfair to use people's emotions, bypassing their rationality, in order to convince them of objective morality. My friend, Angie, made a similar point in Conversations with Angie after reading Relativism.

When I reflect about my own moral intuitions and the emotions that are sometimes associated with them, it seems obvious to me that they are not the same thing. It could be that my emotions are causing me to think things are right or wrong, or it could be that my sense of right and wrong is causing me to be emotional about something, but my emotions and my moral intuitions seem obviously distinct.

For one thing, emotions do not have propositional content, but moral imperatives do. My sense that "People should not be mean to each other," is different than the emotion I feel when people are mean to each other. I don't just feel bad about certain actions. I think they're wrong. There's a difference.

It's not perfectly clear to me which is the cause and which is the effect, though. I can imagine that even if I didn't think something was wrong, I might still get emotional about it. I may think there's nothing wrong with being mean to people, but still not want people to do it just because I care about people. If so, then I'd get emotional about it even if I didn't think it was wrong. On the other hand, I may have an intellectual conviction that it's wrong for people to be mean to each other, but not really care whether they are because I don't care about people.

Greg Koukl thinks people already know certain things are wrong, but maybe they don't realize it because they haven't thought about it or been confronted with it. Getting their emotions riled up is a way of getting them to notice their moral intuitions. So in his view, your emotions don't cause you to think things are wrong. They just make you notice that you already think they are wrong.
They awaken your moral intuitions. Thinking that something wrong is what causes you to get emotional about it.

There are two more reasons I have a problem with emotivism--equating our emotions with our moral intuitions. First, if they were the same thing, then there should be a correlation between the strength of the emotion and the gravity of the sin. The stronger you felt about something, the more wrong you would think it was, and vice versa. But that is clearly not the case. You would probably feel far more anger and hurt if somebody murdered your own child than you would if you read about some child being murdered in some other country who you've never met. But you would think both murders were equally wrong.

Second, it's possible to think something is wrong and not be emotional about it. And, it's possible to be emotional about something and not think it's wrong. A person on death row may feel quite a bit of anger and sorrow about his fate, and yet not think anything wrong was being done to him. In fact, he may feel resentment and still think he is getting what he deserves. A person may think premarital sex is wrong, but feel really good about it and even be happy for people who are engaging in it. And if somebody's immoral activity benefits us in some way, we may think the other person did something wrong but still be quite thankful that they did it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's wrong with replacement theology?

I don't know if "replacement theology" is a technical term or if it's just a term of derision. I've only heard it used by people who don't approve of it. I've heard people describe replacement theology who seem to agree with it, but they don't call it "replacement theology." I don't know what they call it. I'm not very well read on covenant theology and all those different theological options.

Anywho, I tend to lean toward replacement theology as I understand it. I'm not going to explain why in this blog. I just wanted to share a thought I had the other day.

Let's suppose, hypothetically, that a whole mass of gentiles all converted to Judaism. And then all the people who were Jews before came to believe that Jesus was the messiah, in which case, they're not Jews anymore. (Just about every Jew I've talked to has told me that when a Jew believes in Jesus, they are no longer a Jew.) Now the only Jews are people who were gentiles before. Wouldn't that be a kind of replacement?

Can there really be alternate realities?

I think "alternate realities" is a contradiction in terms because if there are two different realities, and they are both real, well then there's not two realities. There's just one reality that has two parts. If there really were two different realities, then one of them is not real because if they're both real, then there's just one reality.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why we talk past each other

I've noticed a bad habit that it seems nobody is immune to, and I think it explains why we talk past each other. We all have standard ways of responding to particular arguments, and we become so used to responding in a particular way that it becomes automatic. But every now and then, somebody will make an argument that is similar to the one we've got an automatic answer to. Since we've heard the argument a million times before, we don't notice the subtle difference in what is being presented to us. We don't listen carefully. We just give our pat answer. And then the other person gets frustrated because our answer doesn't really deal with the argument they gave.

I think that is probably why atheists so often misrepresent the moral argument. That is something that has baffled me for quite some time because in a lot of debates I've seen, the Christians are always very careful to nip the common misunderstanding in the bud, but they are never successful. Their atheist opponent still misconstrues the argument when they respond to it. And even when they are corrected, they continue to misconstrue it the next time they have a debate with a Christian who brings up the same argument.

I guess there probably are a lot of Christians who have said atheists can't be moral, so whenever an atheist hears anything like the moral argument for God, their knee-jerk reaction is to respond to the accusation that atheists can't be moral. They don't notice that no such accusation is made in the moral argument because when Christians argue that there can be no objective morals if there is no god, it sounds similar enough to the accusation that atheists have heard before.

That's just one example. I see it happen all the time. I'm not just saying atheists do this, either. Like I said, this is a problem I've noticed that nobody is immune to. I've heard Christian talk show hosts do it when people call in. It makes me wonder how many times I've done it. I do generally try to listen carefully to what somebody is saying before I respond to them, but that can be tedious.

Sometimes I feel a little anxious whenever I present an argument to somebody. I feel like I've got to spell the argument out as fast as I can before I'm interrupted with a response based on a misunderstanding. That's why I prefer written dialogue to spoken dialogue. Solomon said, "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13). Let's try to avoid the folly, shall we? Maybe we can have productive conversations if we just try a little harder to make sure we understand each other before we respond. And if we're just feeling too lazy to make sure we understand, maybe we shouldn't bother to respond.