Sunday, May 29, 2022

Why I find the moral argument so convincing

I just watched this clip from the Unbelievable podcast with Justin Brierly where Richard Dawkins said he finds the moral argument utterly unconvincing, but he thinks the fine-tuning argument is the best argument for God and that if there were any argument that might convince him to be a deist, that would be it.

I found that interesting because for the longest time, fine-tuning arguments (and teleological arguments in general) have struck me as being the least persuasive arguments, and the moral argument has struck me as being the most convincing. The Kalam was a close second for a while there, but that has slipped a little. I've recently started to come around on the fine-tuning argument, but the moral argument remains the most convincing argument to me.

I should say, though, that in my own thinking, I don't take the various arguments for God as stand-alone arguments. I take them more as premises in a whole case for God, which I explained in another post.

But lemme explain why I find the moral argument to be so persuasive. This isn't meant to be a full blown defense of the moral argument, just a bit of autobiography really.

There are essentially two premises in the moral argument. One is that there couldn't be a real moral law unless there were a God. The second is that there is a real moral law. If those two premises are true, then it's inescapable that there's a God. The existence of God would follow necessarily from those two premises.

In spite of everything I've heard to the contrary, the first premise seems almost logically certain. What I mean by a real moral law are prescriptive obligations that transcend societies and cultures. They are objective in the sense that they don't exist merely because we feel a certain way, or becasue we value certain things, or that we've made a pact among ourselves, or even because we've passed certain laws. While they impose themselves on us, they are not a product of us.

I don't see how there could possibly be a particular way that people were obligated to live unless there were somebody who imposed that obligation on them. There can't be a way we're supposed to behave is nobody supposes us to behave that way. There can't be a way we are meant to be if nobody means for us to be that way. I mean there couldn't be traffic laws if there weren't a governing authority, right? You need some kind of an authority behind any prescriptive rule of behavior.

But at the same time, I don't see how any creature could fulfill that role for morality. We have all kinds of authority structures in our world that create rules--governments, parents, bosses, military commanders, etc. But none of these authorities are sufficient to explain morality. If these moral laws exist, then they transcend all human institutions. The government can't make something right or wrong by making it legal or illegal. The moral law is above the civil law. It's what we use to judge whether a civil law is a good law or not. In fact, the validity of all human rules and laws are judged by their agreement with some moral standard.

Since no conceivable creature that originated and evolved somewhere in the universe like we did could possibly have the kind of authority required to impose transcendent moral obligations on people, then the source of the moral law must reside in some kind of autonomous supernatural being, which would be a God.

To me, the fact that you can't have objective moral principles without a God is just as obvious as the fact that you can't have a thought without somebody who is thinking it. That first premise in the moral argument has the same intuitive appeal to me as Descartes cogito which is almost logically certain. Maybe it is logically certain.

So it just comes down to that second premise. Now, I fully admit that I can't prove that second premise. And that second premise is not as obvious to me as the first premise. For me, the first premise comes very close to a logical certainty, but the second premise comes nowhere near a logical certainty. If it's not a logical certainty, but it also can't be proved, then why do I believe it?

I've written a lot on my blog about that (here for example), but basically it just comes down to being perfectly honest with myself. No matter what possibilities a person may raise about the meaninglessness of everything, if I'm perfectly honest with myself, I cannot bring myself to seriously doubt that there are real moral obligations or that what we do does ultimately matter in the big scheme of things.

I have no problem sitting around with a bunch of people speculating about the possibility of there being no real right and wrong save the ones we've made up or evolved to believe. But to me that's no different than when you're a teenager or a young adult sitting around smoking a doobie with your friends and talking about how you might all be parasites in a giant goat's stomach, or characters in somebody's computer game, or maybe even just dreaming the whole thing. When I was a kid, I used to toy around with solipsism all the time, and I even believed I took it seriously. But I didn't, and some time in my mid 20's or so when I decided to start taking philosophy seriously and start being honest with myself, I gave up all that nonsense as just childish playing at philosophy. There's no real reason to doubt the external world, and there's no real reason to doubt morality. And if I'm perfeclty honest with myself, I'm just as convinced of one as I am the other. I don't need it to be proved. In fact, it can't be proved. But I think it more than reasonable to believe and downright nutty to deny it.

I also think most people, whether they'll admit it or not, really would find themselves believing in both morality and the extenal world if they'd just stop playing philosophical games and be honest with themselves. The fact that moral non-realists are rarely ever consistent betrays them. Just as an idealists takes the apparent external world just as seriously as a naturalist or a dualist, so also do moral nihilists, subjectivists, and relativists behave as if morality were objective. This is evident in a number of things, not least of which is the fact that they hold other people to moral standards as if those standards actually applied to those people. I even had a moral nihilist one time tell me he thought it was ironic that a lot of moral objectivists were less moral than their moral relativist counterparts. How could one be worse than the other if there's no standard? This person lacked self-awareness, and I think most moral non-realists probably do as well. They are literally in denial.

So, I don't think it's just me who is hardwired to believe in morality in spite of the fact that it can't be proved. I think every mentally healthy person is hardwired that way. People can deny what they are hardwired to believe, but they rarely live consistently with that denial. If you're one of those people who are in denial about there being a universal objective standard of right and wrong, just stop it. Be honest with yourself. Think about that shooting in Uvalde that happened recently and ask yourself, "In the great scheme of things, can I honestly say there's nothing wrong with walking into a school and shooting a bunch of kids for no other reaon than the fact that you're frustrated with life or that you hate the world"? Be serious.

So that's it. There's a transcendent moral law that imposes itself on us but did not originate with us. There can't be such a law unless there's a God. It follows inescapably that there's a God. If you affirm both of those premises, but you deny the existence of a God, then you're being irrational. The reason I find the moral argument so convincing is because I am forced by the power of logical necessity to conclude that God exists because of premises that I cannot honestly bring myself to deny.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

What is compatibilism?

Here's another post of mine I found on reddit yesterday while I was looking for a different post. I thought this one might make a good blog post, too.

Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism are compatible. Of course compatibilists aren't saying that libertarian free will is compatibile with determinism. After all, libertarianism is indeterministic. The same act can't be both determined and not determined at the same time and in the same sense because that's a contradiction. So compatibilists define freedom differently than libertarians.

Freedom, to a compatibilist, basically amounts to the idea that your actions are determined by your own intentions, plans, motivations, desires, inclinations, biases, etc. So, in other words, the more hand your own antecedent mental states have in bringing about your actions, the more free those actions are. The less hand your own antecedent mental states have in bringing about your actions, the less free you are.

Now, you can be less free in one of two ways. One way is if your actions are causally determined by blind mechanistic causes. For example, if you were a puppet on a string, the strings would determine your movement. Your desires would have nothing to do with it. Or, if somebody a lot stronger than you grabbed your wrist, started whacking your face with your hand, and said, "Stop hitting yourself!" you would not be hitting yourself freely because your action would not be determined by your desires.

Another way is if your actions arise spontaneously apart from any antecedent conditions. You have no more control over a spontaneous event than a event that is caused by mechanistic forces.

So you can't be free if your actions are determined the way a puppet's actions are determined, and you can't be free if your actions happen spontaneously the way some say subatomic particles sometimes behave. You can only be free to the degree that you are acting on your own inclinations. That's the compatibilist view of freedom.

Compatibilism is deterministic, but there are two kinds of determinism--hard determinism and soft determinism. Both are deterministic in the sense that given a set of antecedent conditions, only one outcome is possible. The difference is in what is doing the determining.

In hard determinism, your actions are determined by the laws of nature plus the initial conditions of non-sentient particles and things. If you apply a force to a mass, you will get acceleration, so the motion of a particle is determined by the force that acts on it, but the particle doesn't choose to move. It is caused to move. The same would be true of us if we were like puppets on a string. We would see our arms and legs move, but we'd have nothing to do with it. They'd be caused to move by the strings and gravity, and we'd passively watch it happen.

Soft determinism is the view that some actions are determined by mental states, like belief, desire, willing, etc. We are not like puppets on a string because in this case, we are acting on purpose. We are active, and not merely passive. Our wills and volition are engaged in the process.

This is a morally relevant distinction because we all, even libertarians, treat these two kinds of determining factors differently. Everybody agrees that the more physically difficult it is to resist some blind mechanistic cause, the less you can be blamed for your failure to resist it. So, for example, if you can't break through the duct tape that secures you to a tree, you can't be blamed for your failure to walk away from the tree. However, if there's no duct tape, and the only thing keeping you from walking away from the tree is your desire to remain with the tree, then you can still be blamed.

But imagine if we treated desire the same way we treat the forces of nature. It would follow that the deeper your hatred for somebody, the less you could be blamed for harming them since the deeper your hatred, the harder it would be for you to resist harming them. Likewise, the deeper your love for somebody, the less you could be praised for helping them because the deeper your love, the harder it is for you to resist the urge to help them. If your desire to harm somebody was so strong that you couldn't help but give into it, then you couldn't be blamed at all since the desire determined your choice.

This is really counter-intuitive. Moral culpability actually depends on the connection between motives and desires on the one hand, and actions and behavior on the other hand. If you shove an old lady because you hate old ladies, then you are to be blamed. If you shove an old lady to save her from on-coming traffic, then you are to be praised. And we are actually praised and blamed to the degree that our actions are determined by our desires. It is better, morally speaking, to act out of good intentions rather than bad intentions.

So we actually treat desire in the opposite way than we treat the forces of nature. The more our actions are determined by blind mechanistic causes, like gravity, the less we are subject to praise or blame. But the more our actions are determined by our own plans and desires, the more subject we are to praise and blame. It follows that we are most subject to praise or blame when our actions are determined by our plans and desires, i.e. our antecedent mental states.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How rational instincts make it possible to know things

I was just looking for an old post I made on Reddit, and I stumbled on this comment and thought it would make a good blog post even though I've posted similar things a gazillion times before. Usually when I talk about this subject, I use the phrase, "rational intuitions" or just "intuitions," but so many people object to that term that I decided to use a different term: "rational instincts." I mean basically the same thing.

Okay, I just had something to say about rational instincts. What I mean by instinct is a natural inclination to affirm a proposition that exists independently of inference, evidence, argument, observation, etc.

An example of what I'm talking about is the natural inclination we all have to believe that our sensory perceptions are giving us true information about a real external world that actually exists. This natural inclination exists in all people. Nobody ever had to tell you that there was an external world. From as young as you can remember, you automatically assumed that what you were seeing and touching and hearing corresponded to something real out there in the world.

If not for trusting in the general reliability of our rational instincts, we would have no justification for believing in an external world at all. It's possible we are all plugged into the matrix or brains in vats or something along those lines. It's possible we're all dreaming or hallucinating. If you take this thought to its logical conclusion, it's possible that you are the only person who exists. There is no evidence you could point to that would prove there's anything in existence outside of your mind because any evidence you pointed to (such as your sensory perceptions) would depend on the assumption that your senses are giving you true information about the world.

You can't prove that the external world exists, but we are all rational in believing in the external world merely on the basis of our rational instincts, i.e. our natural inclination to affirm that our senses are giving us true information. This is just one example. There are several things we all naturally believe but that can't be proved. These beliefs happen automatically in people. You don't have to reason your way into them. People who deny these things had to reason their way out of them.

People aren't born with the idea that the external world is an illusion. That's only a view people adopt later on in life after engaging in philosophical gymnastics. The default belief of all people is that the external world exists. As long as we're talking about a mentally healthy person, that's the belief that automatically arises, and that the person takes for granted until philosophy comes along and talks them out of it.

As I said, there are a handful of these rational instincts we have. Some of the things we know through rational instinct are necessary truths, and some are contingent truths. There are necessary truths, like the laws of logic and the basic rules of geometry and math, that we know merely by inward reflection. There are experiments that show even dogs understand the law of excluded middle. A dog doesn't have to be taught this. The knowledge arises automatically with brain development. In the case of necessary truths, we can know these things with absolute certainty because we can grasp, by natural instinct, the necessity of them. You can tell, just by closing your eyes and thinking about it, that if two straight lines intersect, the opposite angles will be equal, and it's impossible for things to be otherwise.

Any argument you use to undermine the general reliability of rational instinct will necessarily be a self-refuting argument. The reason is because any premise you use in an argument against rational instinct will ultimately depend on the reliability of rational instinct. If you succeed in proving, with your argument, that rational instincts are unreliable, you will have undermined the premises that lead to that conclusion. Consequently, you will have refuted your own argument against rational instincts. So any argument against rational instincts is self-refuting.

Let's say, for example, that you point to the observations of science, or past experience, or any observation about the world to undermine rational instinct. You then have to justify your knowledge of the past, and you can only do that by appealing to your memory. But how do you know your memory is reliable? After all, it's possible you popped into existence five minutes ago complete with memories of a past that never actually happened. Or how do you know you made any observations at all? You can only know that by trusting in your memories and in your sensory perceptions.

It is only through rational instinct that you have any rational justification for believing much of anything. I am not saying that rational instincts are infallible. In the case of necessary truths, I do think they can be infallible, but in the case of things like the past and the external world, they are not infallible. But they are nevertheless generally reliable. The fact that we sometimes see things that aren't there or that we remember things differently than they actually happened is no reason to doubt the general reliabilty of our sensory perceptions or our memories. If we couldn't affirm the general reliability of our rational instincts, then we couldn't know anything at all about the past or the external world. It would be impossible to even have a conversation since by the time you got to the end of a sentence, you couldn't know how your sentence began or what you were even talking about because you couldn't trust your memory.

Moral instincts are just a subset of natural rational instincts. All mentally healthy people perceive a difference between right and wrong, and this perception does not go away just because people deny what their moral instincts are telling them. If we are rational in believing in the past and in the external world on the basis of rational instincts, then we're just as rational in believing in morality for the same reason.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Dana's banana nut bread recipe

I love banana nut bread. A long time ago, my ole buddy, Dana, gave me this recipe. It's so good, I thought it's just a shame to keep it to myself, so I'm sharing it with you.

Biggest bowl:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (i.e. half a stick)

Another bowl
  • 4 really ripe bananas (You can experiment with this. I've done it with three big bananas, four small bananas, or 3.5 medium sized bananas.)

A third bowl
  • 1-3/4 cups flour (I like King Arthur's all purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (Do NOT use baking powder. I did that by accident a few times, and it came out terrible. I couldn't figure out why until I noticed I had used powder instead of soda.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • however many walnuts you feel like using.

I take that stick of butter and rub all on the inside of a bread pan, then put some flour in there and move it around until the pan is coated in flour for a non-stick surface. You can also use grease instead of butter.

Put the sugar and egg in your biggest bowl and the butter in a sauce pan on low to melt it. While the butter is melting, beat the egg into the sugar with electric beaters. Once the butter is melted, pour that in there with the sugar and eggs and beat that, too.

In another bowl, mash the bananas with a potato smasher or whatever you have. I guess you could use the beaters, too. Or a fork or something.

In another bowl, put the dry ingredients--flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix that up.

Now put about half the dry ingredients and half the bananas in the bowl with the sugar/egg/butter mixture. Mix it thoroughly (I use electric beaters), then put the rest of the dry ingredients and bananas in, and mix it again.

Now put the nuts in there, and fold it in with a spatula or something.

Pour the mixture into your powdered bread pan and stick that in the oven at 350ºF for one hour. You might want to experiment with oven temperature because most people's ovens aren't all that accurate. I've found that about 350ºF or so works best for me. Dana's original recipe said 300-325ºF, but that always leaves a little raw spot on the top in the middle.

When you take it out the oven, immediately take it out of the pan and put it on a cooling rack. When you store it for the night, don't put it in plastic because that makes the surface mushy. I like to keep my surface kind of crispy if I can. I just wrap it up in paper towels. That works better than plastic.

There you have it. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Must Cameron have 100% certainty to be a Catholic?

I just listened to this "conversation" on YouTube between James White and Cameron Bertuzzi and wanted to comment on part of it. I'll spare you the whole background that led up to this conversation, but it's important to touch on some of it.

Cameron is thinking about joining the Catholic church, and lately he's taking a look at whether he should adopt the Catholic view of Papal succession and all that it entails. His approach is Bayesian, which James thinks is a mistake.

James' argument is that since the Catholic Church has defined the Pope and the Church as infallible, there can't be a Bayesian analysis of it. If you accept Papal infallibility, then this must push you to 100% certainty of everything the Catholic Church teaches dogmatically.

Cameron said he thinks that's false, and I agree with him. Unfortuantley, James wasn't interested in Cameron's reasons, so we never got to hear them. Instead, we just got to listen to James monopolize the conversation and lecture Cameron.

Let me speak in generalities here because although I don't accept the infallibility of the Teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church or the infallibility of the Pope or anything like that, I do accept the infallibility of the Bible. So let me just talk about infallible sources in general. Does it follow that if you accept that there's some infallible source of authority that you are logically obliged to have 100% certainty about everything that source says? My answer is definitely not.

Now, James is right that if some source of authority is infallible, then by the very meaning of the word, it follows that they are 100% reliable. The reason you can accept that a source is 100% reliable without having 100% certainty about evrything they say is because you yourself are not 100% reliable. Your belief that the Pope or the Bible is infalliable is not itself an infallible belief.

It's possible to believe the Bible or the Pope is infallible, but to believe it with less than 100% certainty. I may believe the Bible infallible but acknowledge that I could be wrong about that. Maybe I'm only 90% sure that the Bible is infallible. The mistake James made was in conflating these things. He is confusing the Pope's infallibility with Cameron's infalliblity and acting as if one entails the other. I see a lot of presuppositionalists make this kind of mistake.

So no, if Cameron uses Bayesian reasoning to conclude with 80% confidence that the Pope is the infallible head of the Catholic church, this doesn't obligate Cameron to be 100% certain about everything the Church dogmatically proclaims. At most it only obligates him to be 80% certain of everything the Catholic church dogmatically proclaims.

I don't know if that was going to be Cameron's response or not because James wouldn't let him explain himself, but that's what I would've said. Although I'm on James' side theologically, I think Cameron was right and James was wrong on this issue.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Excusing Sinners and Blaming God by Guillaume Bignon

The Kindle version of this book is on sale right now for $2.99 at Amazon. I highly recommend this book. It's the best book I've found on this subject since The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards.

Excusing Sinners and Blaming God by Guillaume Bignon.

Basically, it's a response to the claim that Calvinism (specifically devine determinism) removes all blame from humans and places it all on God. It makes God the author of evil.

He also addresses one of the strongest arguments against compatibilism--the manipulation argument.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Posts on abortion

I saw a video pop up in my feed on YouTube saying there had been a leak from the Supreme Court that they were going to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in June. I thought this would be a good time to make a post with links to every post I've made on this blog about abortion.

Pro Life Strategy - In this post, I argued that pro-lifers should focus more on the moral question of abortion than on the legal question.

RE: A pro-choice perspective - This was a response to a post made by a friend of a friend of a friend on another blog where she argued for the pro-choice perspective while also arguing that we should stop arguing about abortion. She apparently wanted to have the last word.

What limits are there on bodily autonomy? - In this post, I questioned whether the right to bodily autonomy was absolute by seeing if there were any exceptions to it.

An Abortion Debate - This is my opening statement in a debate I had on on abortion a long time ago.

Two pro-choice myths - This is a response to two pro-choice myths: (1) that laws prohibiting abortions do nothing to reduce them, and (2) that abortion only accounts for 3% of the services offered by Planned Parenthood.

A quick and dirty argument against abortion - The title is a good enough explanation of what this post is about.

Unplugging the baby - The argument in this post was inspired by Judy Jarvis-Thompson's famous violinist argument in favour of abortion rights, and it's kind of a response to it.

The morality of abortion has little to do with the suffering of the unborn - Again, the title is descriptive enough.

Another charge of pro-life inconsistency - This is a response to the claim that pro-lifers only care about people before they are born, but not after they are born.

Is it inconsistent to be pro-life and pro-death penalty? - In this post, I argued that, no, it is not inconsistent to be pro-life while supporting the death penalty.

If a fetus is a parasite. . . - In this post, I responded to somebody who thought that whether a fetus is a parasite or not depends on whether it's wanted or not, implying that abortion is justified as long as the unborn is unwanted.

What is the unborn? - This post attempts to argue that the unborn are full members of the human family, not merely "potential humans," or human in anything less than the full sense of the word

The building is burning. Do you save the baby or the embryos? - This is an attempt to respond to a reductio ad absurdum argument that is frequently used to defend the pro-choice perspective - that if the pro-lifers were right, then you should save the embryos over the baby; however, even pro-lifers would choose the baby, allegedly showing that they don't really think the embryos are fully human.

Todd Akin and why I don't like political discourse - Although this is mainly my complaint about how political discussion takes place most of the time, it also addresses abortion, so I'm including it.

Obama on stem cell research - This is sorta kinda related to abortion, so I'm including this as well.

Alabama's abortion bill - These are just some short reflections on Alabama's abortion bill.

Men have no right to speak against abortion - I argue that this oft-repeated trope is an example of the ad hominem fallacy and that it suffers from irrelevance.

And that's about all the posts I could find. When I was in college, I wrote a paper on Roe v. Wade for my government class. I've debated with myself over the years about whether to post it on this blog. It's kind of long, and I'm a little self-conscious about it. I also had a devil's advocate debate on abortion one time that I've thought about posting. I haven't because I'm not sure if it would be edifying. I don't want to convince you of the wrong thing!