bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 4: More Effort Required

“Communication is Hard”
My wife is a very intelligent woman.  I enjoy discussing religion, politics, and philosophy with her.  When I lay out an argument, either for my own viewpoint or (as the devil’s advocate) for some alternative viewpoint, she almost always raises one or two sharp objections to the argument.  She is also a person of good common sense and practical wisdom.   One of her bits of wisdom that comes up often is this:
“Communication is hard.” 
This little mantra has a couple of important implications.  First, even between people who know each other very well, miscommunications and misunderstandings are to be expected from time to time; they are inevitable.  Second, good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
So, when she is talking to me in the morning, in order to have a better chance of good communication,  I need to set the newspaper down for a moment, look her in the eyes, and actually focus my attention on the words coming out of her mouth.  Like most people, I’m not so good at multi-tasking.  Looking her in the eyes gives her some assurance that I’m listening, and setting the paper down helps me to focus my mind on what she is saying.  Good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate”
In Part 3 of this series, I harshly criticized Mr. Loftus for problems of UNCLARITY in his presentation of what I take to be the central argument of his book Unapologetic, namely Reason #9 in Chapter 5, an argument for the conclusion “Philosophy of religion must end.”  I stand by this criticism, at least the basic idea that Mr. Loftus’ presentation of this argument is seriously flawed because it is UNCLEAR.
However, in his responses to my criticisms,  Loftus has raised a point that stings a bit; he raises an objection to my critique which has some merit.  Although I don’t think he realized this, one of his comments basically turned my own critique around, and pointed it in my direction, with some justice:
“As to some working definitions of these words goes, with a little research you could find what I say of them.”
Mr. Loftus wants a big “mea culpa” apology from me, and he is not going to get that. However, I will admit to a degree of inaccuracy and unfairness in my criticism of Unapologetic in Part 3 of this series, and I will also admit to a bit of hypocrisy, but I will attempt to do better in this post.
In short, there is a failure of communication between Loftus and me concerning Reason #9 in support of his view that “Philosophy of Religion must end.”  That failure of communication is partly because Loftus FAILED to properly clarify the meanings of some key words and phrases in this central argument of his book.  However, the failure of communication is also partly because I FAILED to put in sufficient work, effort, attention, and care as a reader and interpreter of Unapologetic.
Work, Effort, Attention, Care, and Hypocrisy
Good communication requires work, effort, atention, and care.  Because Reason #9 consists of an argument involving the words “faith” and “reason” and “philosophy” and “religion”, as well as the phrases “philosophy of religion” and “faith in X”, and because these words and phrases are vague, ambiguous, and unclear,  Loftus ought to provide in this book: (a) clear definitions of each of these unclear words, and (b) some reasons and evidence in support of the proposed defintions.
Ideally, he ought to provide an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “faith” and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “religion”, and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of religion”.  He did not do this.
A less than ideal, but perhaps adequate, approach would be to provide one chapter clarifying all three of these terms, writing a subsection of about ten pages defining and clarifying each term.   Loftus did not do this.  So,  Loftus FAILED to provide adequate clarification of the key terms of his central argument,  terms that are OBVIOUSLY and NOTORIOUSLY unclear.   I justifiably pointed out in Part 3 of this series that there was a serious problem of UNCLARITY in Loftus’ presentation of Reason #9.
However,  my irritation with Loftus, as with Norman Geisler, and as with William Craig, is based on an expectation of a certain level of “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of a philosopher or intellectual in presenting an argument or a case for a point of view.  I tend to use words like “lazy” and “sloppy” and “careless” and “not a serious effort”.  Clearly, I don’t like intellectual sloth in philosophers and intellectuals.
But in that case,  I need to apply this same value and standard to my own thinking and writing, and I’m afraid that my critique of Loftus in Part 3 falls a bit short on this important standard.   Good communication also requires “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of readers and interpreters, not just on authors and writers, and I fell short on this requirement.  I threw in the towel too quickly, and I did not work hard enough to find clues that would clarify what Loftus was trying to say.
To be a good example of the intellectual values and standards that I use to criticize other thinkers, I need to make a greater effort to understand what Loftus is saying in Reason #9.   Loftus had a responsiblity to be provide more clarification of the key words and phrases in his central argument, but I also have a responsibility to make a greater effort to figure out what he means, especially to understand Reason #9, the key argument found on page 135 of Unapologetic.   I intend to get back into the ring, and make a more serious effort to arrive at a clear understanding of this argument.
Reason #9 is an interesting and significant argument about an important question.  So,  I should be willing to put in a significant degree of work, effort, attention, and care to try to understand that argument.
One critical comment that I made in Part 3 , I now regret:
His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
This criticism is not accurate and is unfair to Loftus.   I had no intention of deceiving anyone, or of making a false statement about Unapologetic, but this criticism is exaggerated and inaccurate, and I would not have made this criticism if I had made a greater effort to figure out what Loftus’ means, and to find clues in Unapologetic that would help to clarify Reason #9.
Although I am clearly unhappy with the amount and degree of clarification that Loftus provides about the key terms in his central argument,  he does provide some statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of “faith” and he does provide at least one statement that appears to be a defintion of “philosophy of religion”, and there are other clues in the book that should be considered in trying to understand what Loftus means when he talks about “faith” and “religion” and “philosophy of religion”.  I will now pay more attention to those statements and clues, to try to figure out the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.
“Philosophy of Religion” means…?
There is a discussion of “philosophy of religion” on page 114 of Unapologetic that sheds some light on what Loftus means by this phrase.  Here are are a couple of key statements from that discussion:
PoR is a discipline that has traditionally concerned itself with the claims and arguments of religion. 
…PoR seeks to understand the claims of religion (if possible) and examine the arguments put forth both pro and con by the canons of reason and evidence.  This is how PoR has historically been understood among Western philosophers.
I don’t think this is a great definition, nor do I think this is an appropriate level of clarification for the most important concept in the whole book, but it is something, and it might be enough to help me to figure out and understand Reason #9.
Loftus contrasts this understanding of “philosophy of religion” with how the discipline is actually carried out:
In practice, however, this is not the case.  Philosophers of religion are dealing with religion in religious, creedal, and confessional ways.  (Unapologetic, p.114)
This contrast between the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” and how the discipline is actually carried out in practice makes a legitimate point of criticism about the discipline.  It also introduces ambiguity into the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of relgion”.
However, it seems fairly clear to me that in Reason #9, Loftus makes use of the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”, at least in the premises of the argument:
2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end. 
This explicit premise suggests another unstated premise:
A. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
This is close to the statement about the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”.  So, I think we can expand and clarify this unstated premise by substituting the apparent defintion of “philosophy of religion” from page 114 in place of this unstated premise.  Loftus appears to be invoking the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” in Reason #9.
“Faith” means…?
Although I’m not happy with the degree of effort by Loftus to clarify the meaning of the word “faith”,  a more careful reading of Unapolgetic reveals some statements that appear to be brief definitions of this word, as well as a couple of other passages which shed some light on what Loftus means when he uses this word:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (p. 55)
…faith is always about that which lacks sufficient evidence or even no evidence at all.  I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all… (p. 92)
Just consider what’s wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses….  Faith.  The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.  If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities by proportioning their belief to the evidence (per David Hume), they would not believe at all.  (p.125)
Faith should one day be labeled a cognitive bias.  It keeps one’s cognitive faculties from functioning properly.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (p.152)
In addition to these brief definition-like statements about the meaning of “faith” Loftus has a couple of other passages that shed some light on how he understands this idea (on pages 57 and 160).
Although these definitions seem inadequate and problematic to me, they do provide some good clues as to what Loftus means by the word “faith”, and with a bit of effort on my part, this might well be enough information for me to figure out and understand the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.  So, I’m going to go back to work on that task, and when I have a clearer understanding and interpretation of Reason #9,  I will share that here in Part 5 of this series of posts.
 

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 2: The Heart of the Book

A couple of the comments on my previous post (see Unapologetic Review – Part 1) were critical about my provision of details about the general physical characteristics of John Loftus’ new book Unapologetic.  The commenters did not explain WHY this was objectionable, but I suspect it is a matter of childish impatience on the part of the commenters.  I think if they had been more honest and straightforward their objections would have gone something like this:
 What about the key ideas and the main arguments? Hurry up and get to the good stuff!  Don’t waste time on trivial and insignificant details about the layout of the book.
I don’t accept this objection to Part 1 of my review, but I understand the sentiment.  For others who also feel a bit impatient about getting to the good stuff, I promise that in this post I will not only get to some of the good stuff, but will quickly go from zero-to-sixty, and I will, in just a moment, go right to the heart of the matter.
First, I have just a little bit more to say about the layout of the book.  I previously stated that each of the nine chapters was preceeded by a blank page.  That is not accurate.  Chapters 4 and 6 are preceeded by pages with end notes from the previous chapter, and there is a bit of end notes from the previous chapter just prior to Chapters 2 and 8.  So, instead of nine blank pages, there are actually 6.5 blank pages in the main body of the text.
Here are the titles of the chapters in Unapologetic:

  1. My Intellectual Journey
  2. Anselm and Philosophy of Religion
  3. Case Studies in Theistic Philosophy of Religion
  4. Case Studies in Atheistic Philosophy of Religion
  5. Why Philosophy of Religion Must End
  6. How to Effectively Deal with Faith-Based Claims
  7. Answering Objections and Other Practical Concerns
  8. It’s Enough to Be Right!
  9. On Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire

Note the title of Chapter 5: “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”.  This Chapter title is the same as the subtitle of the book:  Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End.   So, it is reasonable to infer that Chapter 5 is the heart of this book.
Furthermore, in flipping through Chapter 5, I see that Loftus has titled a sub-section of this chapter as “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”, and in that sub-section of Chapter 5, he has provided a summary of his reasons for believing that philosophy of religion must end (on pages 131-135).   So, those five pages appear to be the heart of Chapter 5.
I plan to start my critique of the case presented by Loftus by analyzing and evaluating the reasons that Loftus presents in those five pages.  My evaluation will, of course, be somewhat tentative, because to be fair to Loftus I need to read the rest of Chapter 5, as well as the other eight Chapters of the book, before I can be confident that my initial responses and criticisms to the reasons given in those five pages are fair, and to be confident that Loftus has not anticipated some or all of my initial criticisms and objections, in other chapters of the book.
In the five pages where Loftus summarizes his reasons for believing that philosophy of religion must end, he numbers sub-sections 1 through 10, so he apparently has ten different reasons to give in support of his main conclusion.  In reading through these ten points, I see that there is a degree of redundance and overlap between the points.  There are clearly some themes here that come up repeatedly.
The two main themes are: (a) his opposition to “faith-based claims” and (b) his opposition to a “parochial” approach to religion.  I have some sympathy to both of these ideas or themes, but I am not convinced that any of the points relating to those two themes provides an adequate justification for the conclusion that philosophy of religion must come to an end.
I agree, to some extent, that philosophy of religion is often taught in a parochial manner and that this is a legitimate criticsm of how philosophy of religion is generally taught.  However, putting an end to philosophy of religion as a discipline amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  An obviously better approach would be to work at reforming philosophy of religion so that it was generally taught in a non-parochial (or less parochial) manner.  So, the “parochial” objections are based on fact and reality, and represent legitimate criticism of the field of philosophy of religion, but the prescription of ending the discipline is not adequately justified by those reasons.
The other main theme in Loftus’ list of reasons is his opposition to “faith-based claims”.  This theme appears in Reasons #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #9, and #10.  So, if there is a problem with one of these objections that is based on opposition to “faith-based claims”, then that problem might well infect his whole case and undermine most of his 10 Reasons for ending philosophy of religion.
It appears to me that just as Chapter 5 is the heart of the book, and that the 10 Reasons are the heart of Chapter 5, so also I believe that Reason #9 (which concerns opposition to “faith-based claims”) for ending philosophy of religion is at the heart of the 10 Reasons.
If I can shove a sharp dagger into Reason #9, then I believe that will kill the beast, and stop the beating of the heart of Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion.
Here is a diagram illustrating my high-level view of Unapologetic:
Unapologetic - Venn Diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Conversely, if I cannot manage to demolish or seriously damage Reason #9, then that will be a good indication that Loftus has made a strong case for his conclusion, even if some of the other points (e.g. the theme about PoR being “parochial” in nature) are weak and inadequate reasons.
Christian apologists are fond of saying that “Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus”, and I think a similar kind of point applies here:
Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion stands or falls with Reason #9.
Thus, a very good place to start an evaluation of this book, is on page 135, where Loftus spells out Reason #9.
I have a suspiscion that every one of the ten points in the list of reasons for ending PoR involves DOING philosophy of religion.  If so, then it seems to me that the whole case is SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING.  But, I do not plan to try to show that all ten points involve Loftus in DOING philosophy of religion.
However, there are three points in the list where it seems fairly obvious that Loftus is DOING philosophy of religion: Reason #1, Reason #8, and Reason #9.  Because Reason #9 appears to be the central and most important of the ten reasons, I will focus in on that reason first, objecting that it is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING reason.  Later, I will raise this sort of objection against Reason #1 and Reason #8.
It seems, at the very least, HYPOCRITICAL to DO philosophy of religion in order to argue for ending philosophy of religion.  But the problem might be more serious than that.  If DOING philosophy of religion is necessary to make the case against philosophy of religion, then the very act of building a case AGAINST the philosophy of religion demonstrates the VALUE of philosophy of religion.
The question of whether the philosophy of religion ought to be continued as a discipline or taught in courses at secular colleges and universities is clearly an important question, so if the philosophy of religion is needed to answer this question, then it follows that the philosophy of religion is needed in order to answer at least ONE important question.   This casts doubt on the conclusion that we ought to end the discipline of philosophy of religion.  Furthermore, if DOING the philosophy of religion is required in order to answer ONE important question, then how can we be sure it is not useful to answer OTHER important questions?
OK.  So, one potential problem with Reason #9, is that it is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING objection to the philosophy of religion.  Let’s take a closer look at Reason #9, to see if it does indeed involve Loftus in DOING philosophy of religion:
9. Because faith-based reasoning must end.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.  For faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.  A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended. … (Unapologetic, p.135)
There are only two paragraphs in Reason #9.  The above quote represents about 2/3 of the first paragraph.  Loftus makes several assertions in the above passage, but the main premise appears to be the very first statement, so in it’s simplest form, his argument is this:
1.Faith-based reasoning must end.
THEREFORE:
2. Philosophy of religion must end.
But to understand Loftus’ reasoning we need to figure out how the other assertions are being used to support premise (1) or to form a logical connection between premise (1) and the conclusion (2).
It is not clear how to reconstruct the logic of this argument.  Here are the other key premises:
3. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
4. Religion is based on faith.
5. Faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.
6. Faith cannot be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
7. A reasonable faith does not exist.
8. The claims of religious faith cannot be reasonably defended.
Premise (5) appears to be the most basic reason for Loftus’ opposition to “faith-based claims”.  Premise (6) is also a reason for opposing “faith-based claims”, but seems less basic than (5), so I take premise (5) to be a reason supporting premise (6), and (6) appears to be a reason supporting premise (1) which is a prescriptive assertion that is based on a negative evaluation of faith.
(5)–>(6)–>(1)
Premise (4) asserts a logical or conceptual connection between “religion” and “faith”; this means that the negative evaluation of faith is transferred to religion, or at least this appears to be how Loftus justifies a negative evaluation of religion.  Premises (7) and (8) appear to be negative conclusions about religion that are based on a combination of (4) and (6),  based on both the connection between religion and faith in premise (4), and the negative evaluation of faith in premise (6).  Premises (7) and (8) are closely related in meaning, but (8) seems a bit clearer, so I think we can drop (7) and just use premise (8) in the analysis of Loftus’ argument:
(4) + (6)–>(8)
Given the above analysis, we can do an initial reconstruction the logic of this argument constituting Reason #9 (click on image below for a clearer view of the diagram):
Reason #9 - Initial Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Consider some of the basic premises of this argument:
4. Religion is based on faith.
5. Faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.
6. Faith cannot be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
In order to know that premise (4) is true, one must first know what “religion” means, and what “faith” means.
Loftus could simply stipulate definitions of these words, but then the question arises:  Are Loftus’ definitions unclear or idiosyncratic or do they reflect the ordinary meanings of these words?  If his definitions are unclear or idiosyncratic, then this argument might well be irrelevant to the real world, irrelevant to “religion” and “faith” as these words are understood by educated speakers of the English language.
The word “religion” is a problematic and unclear, but very important, word.  Trying to get clear about the meaning of the word “religion” is a basic task of the philosophy of religion, so in order for Loftus to properly justify premise (4), he must provide a clear and well-supported analysis of the word “religion”, and that means that he must DO philosophy of religion in order to rationally justify premise (4).
The same is true of the word “faith”.  The word “faith” is a problematic and unclear, but very important, word. Trying to get clear about the meaning of the word “faith” is a basic task of the philosophy of religion, so in order for Loftus to properly justify premise (4), premise (5), and premise (6), he must provide a clear and well-supported analysis of the meaning of the word “faith”, and that means that he must DO philosophy of religion in order to rationally justify premises (4), (5), and (6).
Premise (6) is a normative epistemological claim involving the concept of “faith”.  So, arguments for and against (6) fall within the scope of the philosophy of religion.  To provide a rational justification for (6), one must analyze and evaluate various philosophical arguments for and against (6),  so one must DO some philosophy of religion, namely epistemology of religious belief, in order to rationally justify or rationally evaluate claim (6).
The sub-argument that Loftus provides in support of premise (8) is clearly an argument in the philosophy of religion.  In order to rationally justify premise (8), Loftus provides us with a philosophical argument, an argument that falls in the scope of philosophy of religion.  Once again, Reason #9 requires that Loftus DO some philosophy of religion, and rational evaluation of Reason #9 requires that we DO some philosophy of religion.
If  this sub-argument by Loftus is successful, then that means that Loftus has established a very important philosophical claim by DOING some philosophy of religion.  But if he can establish ONE important philosophical claim by DOING philosophy of religion, then why should we believe that philosophy of religion has no chance of revealing OTHER important philosophical truths?
It seems clear to me that in order to rationally justify Reason #9, Loftus MUST DO some philosophy of religion.  He must provide clear and well-supported analyses of the meanings of the words “religion” and “faith” and of the phrase “philosophy of religion”.  He must also provide solid philosophical arguments that fall within the scope of philosophy of religion.
Furthermore, those of us who wish to rationally evaluate the analyses and arguments presented by Loftus in supporting Reason #9 MUST DO some philosophy of religion ourselves.  So, in presenting his case against philosophy of religion Loftus assumes the value of philosophy of religion, and in rationally evaluating his case, we must also assume the value of philosophy of religion.  
There is no purely scientific or mathematical way to defend these claims and arguments, nor to test and evaluate these claims and arguments.  This is philosophy, and rational justification of these philosophical claims and arguments about “faith” and “religion” constitutes a paradigm case of DOING philosophy of religion.  Thus, Reason #9 is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING argument.
The next thing that occurs to me in reading this paragraph, is that Loftus fails to recognize the distinction between the logic of discovery and the logic of proof.  The short version of this distinction is that there is no such thing as “the logic of discovery”, because how ideas and theories arise or originate is largely irrelevant to the testing and evaluation of ideas and theories.  Good ideas can come from “bad” or irrational  or unreliable sources.
That is a bit of an overstatement, because we do need to have some ways to filter out bad or stupid ideas prior to investing time and energy in testing and evaluating ideas and theories.  But there can be levels and degrees here.  We have some quick-and-dirty high-level ways to filter out obviously bad ideas, but those filters allow a lot of crap through,  so there are some quick and simple tests and evaluations that we can use on the crap that gets through the intial intellectual filters, in order to quickly assess the potential truth or falsehood of the flood of ideas and theories that make it through the initial filtering, and then, perhaps, we have narrowed the candidates down enough to make it reasonable to invest more time and energy on testing and evaluation of the ideas and theories that made it past the initial filters and the initial testing.
It does not matter how the ideas of “God” or “eternal life” or “the soul” or “divine judgment” or “faith” arose or originated.  What matters is how these ideas and theories do when we critically and objectively assess and evaluate them.  If all of the key ideas and theories produced by the religions of the world turn out to be FALSE or UNREASONABLE, then we will have good reason to doubt future ideas and theories that come from religions.  But surely Loftus would not make the extreme claim that ALL of the key ideas and theories produced by the religions of the world are FALSE or UNREASONBLE.  I doubt that Loftus has written about ALL of the key ideas and theories of Christianity, let alone of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, and Confucianism.
If a religion can produce SOME ideas or theories that are TRUE or REASONABLE, then it makes sense to attempt to make an effort to objectively and critically evaluate key ideas and theories that originate from the religions of the world.
As an atheist and a skeptic I would be inclined to agree that MOST of the key ideas and theories of Christianity are FALSE or UNREASONABLE, so perhaps I would agree that the Christian religion is an unreliable source of ideas and theories.  But this conclusion is based, in large part, on my thinking in the area of philosophy of religion.  I have attempted to critically and objectively evaluate various ideas and theories that come from the Christian religion, and as a result of the time and energy that I put into such testing and evaluation, I have a rational basis for drawing the conclusion that much of Christianity is BS.
I suppose that if I were to teach a course in Philosophy of Religion, I could start the course with the following bit of skeptical advice:
I have spent several years attempting to objectively and critically evaluate the key ideas and theories of the Christian religion, and I have concluded that MOST of these ideas and theories are bullshit.  So, if you are looking for truth, then my advice would be to ignore the Christian religion and look elsewhere, because the Christian religion is an UNRELIABLE source of ideas and theories.
But, it seems to me, if I were to give such advice to college students, this advice would be BASED ON work I had done in the philosophy of religion, so I think it would be both hypocritical and illogical to go on to advise these students to drop the course on philosophy of religion, and to never take a course on philosophy or religion, and to never read a book on philosophy of religion.  That would be undermining the very basis for my negative assessment of the reliability of the Christian religion.
It is important to avoid FALSE beliefs, but as William James pointed out, it is also important to obtain TRUE beliefs.  The absence of false beliefs is not sufficient to lead a good life.  We also need to have some TRUE beliefs, or at least some well-founded, rationally-justified beliefs.  So, even if MOST of the ideas and theories of religions were false or unreasonable, it might still be worth looking for some of the TRUE or REASONABLE beliefs put forward by religions, the good ideas that are scattered among the bad ones.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that EVERY key idea and theory of EVERY religion is either FALSE or UNREASONABLE.  If that was so, wouldn’t that be an important generalization for people to learn about?  If all religions were large piles of false and unreasonable beliefs, then getting most people to recognize this important aspect of reality could be a great benefit for the human species.  But how could we bring about this awareness?  We could simply indoctrinate all students into the belief that religions were just large piles of false and unreasonable beliefs, but then brainwashing students into some atheistic or secular ideology seems just as irrational and opposed to critical thinking as indoctrinating students into some particular religion or religious ideology.
If it were the case that EVERY key idea and theory of EVERY religion was either FALSE or UNREASONABLE, then that would be an excellent reason for promoting the philosophy of religion, because that would, it seems to me, be the best way to help lots of people to begin to objectively and critically evaluate the key ideas and theories of various religions.  Then they could learn for themselves that religions were a highly unreliable source of ideas and theories.
This discussion of whether ALL or MOST religious beliefs are false or unreasonable reminds me that unclear quantification is a common problem with arguments in the philosophy of religion, and it seems to me that the argument presented in Reason #9 suffers from this problem, so in the next post of this series I will take a closer look at the argument constituting Reason #9, and I will pay close attention to any unclarity in it concerning quantification.
 

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 1

John Loftus’ new book has just been released:
Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End
(Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2016)
My copy arrived from Amazon by UPS yesterday.
The text starts on page 7 (the Forward); the introduction starts on page 11, and the main body of the text ends on page 235.  There is a blank page just before the start of each chapter, and there are nine chapters, so there are 9 blank pages in the main body of the text. So, the main body of text runs about 216 pages (235 – 10 pages prior to main body = 225 pages in main body – 9 blank pages  = 216 pages) .  There are end notes at the end of each chapter.
There is also an Appendix A (“My Interview with Keith Parsons”) on page 237, Appendix B (“Robert Price’s Rebuttal to William Lane Craig”) on page 250, and Appendix C (“The Demon, Matrix, Material World, and Dream Possibilities”) on page 257.  Appendix C ends on page 271, and there is one page “About the Author” at the very end of the book, on page 272.
I have not started to read the book yet.   However, I do have some key questions that I will be attempting to answer as I read, analyze, and evaluate this book:
GENERAL CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

GCQ1. Does Loftus provide clear and significant evaluative conclusions about the philosophy of religion?

GCQ2. Does Loftus provide clear and significant prescriptive conclusions concerning how things ought  to change if we accept his evaluation of the philosophy of religion?

GCQ3. Does Loftus present a clear and solid argument (or arguments) for his evaluative conclusions about the philosophy of religion?

GCQ4. Does Loftus present a clear and solid argument (or arguments) for his prescriptive conclusions about the philosophy of religion (based on his evaluative conclusions)?

SPECIFIC CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

SCQ1. Does Loftus provide a clear analysis of these concepts: philosophy, religion, and the philosophy of religion?

SCQ2. Does Loftus provide a well-supported analysis of the concept of philosophy and the concept of religion?

SCQ3. Is the analysis that Loftus provides of the concept of the philosophy of religion a fair and well-supported analysis, or is it a Straw Man characterization that makes it too easy to criticize, condemn, and reject the philosophy of religion?

SCQ4. Does the argument that Loftus makes against the philosophy of religion apply to philosophy in general? or to other respected sub-disciplines of philosophy? or to other clearly legitimate disciplines (science, psychology, sociology, history)?  Does his argument prove too much?

SCQ5. Does the argument that Loftus provides for either his evaluative conclusions or for his prescriptive conclusions depend on a dubious or unclear or ambiguous concept of faith?

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 12

Sire’s First Two Objections
Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist James Sire revised his understanding of the concept of a “worldview” and wrote a book advocating this revised understanding: Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE).  Some of the the key changes that Sire makes to his conception of a “worldview” are defended in Chapter 5 of NTE.  In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE:
Is a worldview primarily an intellectual system, a way of life, or a story? (NTE, p.22)
One of his key conclusions from Chapter 5 is clearly stated in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions or a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
In a previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The second objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview (covered in the previous post), is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE:
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Based on the comparisons Sire makes between his seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, this objection can be re-stated in terms of practical concerns:
Sire’s seven worldview questions lack a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
If this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.  Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so:
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  Here is my suggested alternative:
(6A)  How should I live my life?  (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?)
If we revise his question (6) to (6A), and if we understand that there are ethical aspects to questions (3) and (7), then Sire’s set of worldview questions would provide a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.  Thus, the second objection represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.
Worldview as a Way of Life?
The third objection that Sire raises against his older conception of worldviews, is that it makes more sense to understand a worldview as being “a way of life” (NTE, p.97) rather than to understand a worldview as being “a system of thought” (NTE, p.98) because of “the practical, lived reality of worldviews…” (NTE, p.100).
The sub-section of Chapter 5 where Sire presents this third objection is called “Worldview as a Way of Life” (NTE, p.98-100).  The first sentence in this sub-section is worth careful examination:
While worldviews have been overwhelmingly detected and expounded using intellectual categories, from the first there has been a recognition that they are inextricably tied to lived experience and behavior.   (NTE, p.98, emphasis added)
Recall a key conclusion of Chapter 5, which Sire states in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions of a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
So, clearly Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions”.  This is a mistake, according to Sire, because worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”
Sire appears to believe that there is a conflict between understanding worldviews in terms of “intellectual categories” and recognizing that worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”  Let’s consider a strong version of this view, namely the view that these are mutually exclusive claims:
(MEC) If X is best understood in terms of “intellectual categories” (such as “beliefs” or “propositions”), then X cannot be tied to lived experience and behavior.
It seems fairly obvious that (MEC) is false.  Consider the following belief:
(AIM)  Having an abortion is an instance of murdering an innocent child.
Some people hold this belief.  If someone holds this belief, they are likely to be reluctant to have an abortion, and are unlikely to encourage someone else to have an abortion, and will be reluctant to vote for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice.
If someone frequently has abortions (and has no regrets about having them) or frequently encourages others to have abortions (and has no regrets about doing this) and has no reluctance about voting for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice, then we would rightly doubt the claim that this person believed (AIM) to be true.  That is because beliefs have implications for choices and actions, and beliefs have an influence on a person’s choices and actions.
This is especially the case with ethical beliefs, and it is clearly the case with beliefs that people have concerning the most basic questions of ethics:
(6A)  How should I live my life?  (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?)
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a sane adult person to have no beliefs about these questions. If a person has some beliefs about these basic questions of ethics, then those beliefs will influence the choices that person makes and the behavior of that person.
In Sire’s older book The Universe Next Door, he describes the view of morality that is part of the worldview of Christian Theism:
7. Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good (holy and loving).
This proposition has already been considered as an implication of proposition 1 [i.e. 1. God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.] .  God is the source of the moral world as well as the physical world.  God is the good and expresses this in the laws and moral principles he has revealed in Scripture.  (TUND, p.35)
Theism…teaches that not only is there a moral universe, but there is an absolute standard by which all moral judgments are measured.  God himself–his character of goodness (holiness and love)–is the standard.  Furthermore, Christians and Jews hold that God has revealed his standard in the various laws and principles expressed in the Bible.  The Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the apostle Paul’s ethical teaching–in these and many other ways God has expressed his character to us.  There is thus a standard of right and wrong, and people who want to know it can know it.  (TUND, p. 36)
If someone holds these various beliefs about right and wrong, then such a person is likely to consult the Bible when they are struggling with a moral issue or question, and such a person is likely to take seriously arguments based on the Bible concerning that and other moral issues.  If some person has no interest or concern about what the Bible teaches about various moral issues, and if that person never takes seriously any arguments about moral issues that are based on the Bible, then it would be perfectly reasonable to doubt the claim that this person holds the above beliefs about right and wrong.
Furthermore, if a person is firmly convinced that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X, and if that person holds the above BELIEFS about right and wrong, then we would expect that person to be reluctant to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing X), and we would expect that person to be reluctant to encourage others to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing so).
If some person has no reluctance about doing X and never appears to feel bad about doing X, and if that person often encourages others to do X and never appears to feel bad about encouraging others to do X, then it is quite reasonable to doubt the claim that this person firmly BELIEVES that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X and that this person holds the worldview-related BELIEFS about right and wrong found in Sire’s description of Christian theism.
Beliefs have implications, and a person’s beliefs influence how that person thinks and how that person feels, and how that person acts.  That is why worldview-related beliefs are important and significant, because they influence our thinking, our feelings, the choices we make, and the actions we take.
Richard Swinburne, one of the world’s leading defenders of the Christian faith, argues that there is a logical or conceptual tie between beliefs and actions:
Belief has consequences for action, for it is in part a matter of the way in which one seeks to achieve one’s purposes, the goals or ends one seeks to achieve.
Suppose that I seek to get to London, and I come to a junction in the road.  Then clearly if I believe that it is more probable that the road on my right leads to London than that the road on the left does, I shall take the road on the right.  (Faith and Reason, 2nd edition, p.9)
Clearly, the choices and actions that a person makes or takes are indications of the beliefs held by that person, and Sire appears to acknowledge this point:
…we can assess whether we ourselves (or anyone else) hold a particular worldview by observing how we or others act.  (NTE, p.98)
How we view life affects the life we live; it governs both the unconscious actions we engage in and the actions we ponder before acting.  (NTE, p.99)
In Chapter 6 of NTE, Sire explicitly ties worldview-related assumptions to actions and behavior:
Everyone has a worldview.  Whether we know it or not, we all operate from a set of assumptions about the world that remain to a large measure hidden in the unconscious recesses of our mind. …
I wake up in the morning, not asking myself who I am or where I am.  I am immediately aware of a whole host of perceptions that my mind orders into the recognition that it’s morning:  I’m home, I’m crawling out of bed.  In this immediate awareness I do not consciously ask or answer, What is the really real?  How do I know I am home?  or, How can I tell the difference between right and wrong?  Rather, my unconscious mind is using a network of presumptions about how to interpret for the conscious mind what is going on.  In some way all of the basic worldview questions are being answered by the way I am acting and behaving.  (NTE, p.107-108)
The “assumptions about the world”  and the “network of presumptions” that Sire speaks of here are BELIEFS held by the person in question.  So, in this passage Sire clearly implies that a person’s worldview-related BELIEFS guide their choices and actions.  Therefore, Sire agrees with Swinburne’s view that our beliefs are closely connected to, and influence, our choices and actions.
Therefore, since beliefs are an “intellectual category” and since our beliefs–especially our worldview-related beliefs–clearly impact and influence our choices and actions, it is clear that (MEC) is false.  Worldviews can be understood in terms of “intellectual categories” such as “beliefs” and “assumptions” and “propositions” and “presuppositions”, and this does NOT imply that worldviews are disconnected from “lived experience and behavior”.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 11

Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist James Sire revised his understanding of the concept of a “worldview” and wrote a book advocating this revised understanding: Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE).  Some of the the key changes that Sire makes to his conception of a “worldview” are defended in Chapter 5 of NTE:
…the discussion so far has proceeded as if a worldview were a set of propositions or beliefs that serve as answers to a systematic set of [basic philosophical] questions.  This certainly is how I understood the notion of worldview as I wrote The Universe Next Door.  I still believe that this is a useful way to define the concept, but I have become aware that it both overemphasizes the systematic nature of worldviews and misses some other important aspects.  So what is inadequate?  And what is missing?  Those are the subjects of this chapter [i.e. Chapter 5].   (NTE, p.91)
In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE this way:
Is a worldview primarily an intellectual system, a way of life, or a story? (NTE, p.22)
One of his key conclusions from Chapter 5 is clearly stated in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions or a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
If Sire is correct, then my cognitivist view of religion is wrong, and if my cognitivist view of religion is correct, then Sire’s revised understaning of the nature of worldviews is wrong.   So, I am attempting to defend Sire’s earlier conception of worldviews against his own objections, the objections that led him to revise his understanding and definition of the word “worldview”.
In the previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The next objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview, is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE.  Sire compares his seven basic questions (see the previous post for his list of questions) to questions proposed by others (mostly Christian theologians) who have attempted to analyze worldviews by means of a small set of such questions.  After briefly comparing his questions with the questions proposed by a few other key thinkers, Sire draws this conlcusion:
It appears, therefore, that my seven questions are in fact fairly comprehensive.  They include in some way the essence of all the questions others have formulated.  This should not be surprising, since the questions address ontology, epistemology, and ethics.  What else besides aesthetics is left?  
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  True, the fourth question (“What happens to persons at death?”) is existential, but the others are not. …  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Is there a problem with a lack of “existential relevance” in Sire’s previous account of worldviews?  Before we can answer this question, we first need to understand what “existential relevance” means.  The meaning of this phrase is best understood in terms of this specific context, namely in relationship to the contrast that Sire makes between his conception of “worldview” and that of others in this particular subsection of Chapter 5.
In the subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” Sire begins by comparing his questions with a similar series of questions in a quote from Wilhelm Dilthey (emphasis added by me):
The riddle of existence . . . is always bound up organically with that of the world itself and with the question of what I am supposed to do in this world, why I am in it, and how my life in it will end.  Where did I come from?  Why do I exist?  What will become of me?  This is the most general question of all questions and the one that most concerns me. (NTE, p.95; quoted by David Naugle in Worldview: The History of a Concept, p.83)
I take it that the question “Why do I exist?” is NOT a scientific question.  This question would not be answered by explaining the biology of sexual reproduction and the historical circumstances that led to one’s parents having sexual intercourse, which then resulted in one’s conception and birth.  Such a scientific or causal explanation is not what is desired here.
Rather, this question is about the purpose or meaning of one’s life.  A clearer expression of the intended question would be “Why should I continue to exist, as opposed to killing myself?”  That is a question with “existential relevance”.  I have also emphasized the phrase  “the question of what I am supposed to do in this world” because, as we shall soon see, this is at least an important part of what Sire means by “existential relevance”, namely relevance to practical decisions concerning what actions one should take or what choices one should make.
Sire also considers another list of questions that James Orr asks in relation to the analysis of a worldview, and Sire makes a general comment about those questions:
James Orr notes that two types of causes–speculative and practical–are involved in the formation of worldviews.  Both “lie deep in the constitution of human nature.”  On the one hand, we want a comprehensive theoretical understanding of the “origin, purpose, and destiny” of the universe and our lives.  But we also want a practical understanding of these issues so that we can properly order our lives. …  (NTE, p.95, emphasis added by me)
Sire notes that Orr views the basic questions that define a worldview as encompassing both theoretical and practical issues.  This is another indication that “existential relevance” is closely related to practical issues and concerns.  (The first indication was the phrase quoted from Dilthey “…the question of what I am supposed to do in this world…”).  Also, among the list of questions from Orr quoted by Sire is this one: “By what ultimate principles ought man to be guided in the framing and ordering of his life?”  (NTE, p. 96)
I find the worldview questions that Sire quotes from the theologians Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton very appealing.  Walsh and Middleton ask only four basic questions, and two of them are, in my view, of particular importance:
(3) What’s wrong?  Or, what is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from fulfillment? …
(4) What is the remedy?  Or, how is it possible to overcome this hindrance to my fulfillment? …  (NTE, p.96)
Like me, Walsh and Middleton conceive of worldviews in terms of problem-solving.  The basic problems being practical in nature: How should I live my life?  What do I need to do to live a good life or to live my life well?  These are basic questions in the sub-discipline of philosophy called ethics.
When Sire sums up the comparisons of his seven questions with the questions put forward by Dilthey, Orr, and Walsh & Middleton, he closely associates “existential concerns” with questions that have a “practical” focus:
With Dilthey, Orr, and to some extent, Walsh and Middleton, the questions focus on existential concerns.  They are all about us.  While the answers will involve God and nature, the emphasis is practical.  What are the implications for us as human beings looking for a satisfying life?  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added by me)
Based on the particular context of the comparisons made between Sire’s seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, we can clarify this objection to Sire’s seven worldview questions:
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  (NTE, p.97)
This objection can be re-stated in terms of practical concerns:
Sire’s seven worldview questions lack a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
If this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.
Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  To the extent that Sire succeeded in this intention, his seven questions would include one or more basic questions of ethics, and in doing so he would have provided a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.  I believe that some minor changes to Sire’s seven worldview questions would be sufficient to resolve this issue.
Three of Sire’s seven questions appear to be related to ethics (from NTE, p.94):
3. What is a human being?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
Question (3) relates to metaphysics (e.g. Do human beings have souls or spirits?  What is the relationship between a human mind and a human brain?).  But question (3) is also related to ethics: Do human beings have free will?  Are human beings moral agents who can be worthy of moral praise or moral blame?  Do human beings have a right to life?  Is the life of a human being of more value than the life of a non-human animal, like a dog or a deer?
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so.  This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  The basic question of ethics is “How should I live my life?”.
One partial response to this question could be “You should live your life in a way that is morally good and morally responsible.”  But morality, even if it is an important aim for life, is not the ONLY thing that can make a life a good life or a bad one.  What about pleasure and creativity and obtaining knowledge?  In addition to being a fair person, and being a considerate person, and being an honest person, isn’t it also good to enjoy life? to make use of one’s imagination and creative abilities?  to learn about history and science and art?  Perhaps being morally good is more important than enjoying life or being creative or learning new things, but to live a life that is focused exclusively on morality seems like it would make a person rather narrow and uptight and unhappy and difficult to live around.  In any case, it begs important questions to simply assume that the only goal that one ought to aim at in life is to be a morally good person.
Question (6) is Sire’s attempt to get at the heart of ethics, and his intention was a good and proper one, but question (6) does not fully capture the heart of ethics because it is a bit too narrow.  If we broaden (6) just a bit, then that would help Sire’s seven questions to have a proper emphasis on practical or ethical concerns.  Here is my suggested alternative:
(6A)  How should I live my life?  (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?)
Questions of morality and right vs. wrong actions are obviously relevant to this general question, but so are other important values and considerations, such as pleasure, creativity, and knowledge.
Question (7) asks about the “meaning” of human history.  This question relates to ethics in that the goodness of a person’s life can be judged, in part, in relation to their contributions or impacts on human progress or on the acheivement of valueable goals that occur after the death of the person in question.
A military officer’s actions in a battle might help his country to win a war, but the winning of the war might happen years after that officer’s death.  The discoveries of a scientist might help other scientists to find a cure for cancer, but the cure might not be found until decades after the death of that scientist.  In such cases, we often think that there was some good or value in that person’s life because of the positive impact their actions had on the lives of others long after that person had died.
We want our lives to be meaningful and significant, and part of that desire involves a desire to have a significant impact on people and events beyond the limited scope of the people we meet and the events we experience in the limited time that we are alive.  These sorts of concerns and desires are all relevant to the basic question of ethics that I spelled out in question (6A).
Although Sire’s seven questions might not have done a great job in capturing the heart of ethics, I think if we revise his question (6) to (6A), and if we understand that there are ethical aspects to questions (3) and (7), then Sire’s set of worldview questions would provide a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.  Thus, the objection that we were considering, represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.  There is no need for a major revision to Sire’s seven questions.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 7

In the previous post in this series,  I argued that the Christian apologist James Sire makes a fundamental mistake in his book Naming the Elephant, by defining “a worldview” as being a kind of commitment.  A worldview is something that can be true (or false), but a commitment is NOT something that can be true (or false); therefore, a worldview is NOT a commitment.
One can have a strong belief or “intellectual commitment” towards a worldview, but in that case the worldview is the OBJECT of the commitment, not the commitment itself.  Although there are some other interesting points made by Sire in this book that are worth considering,  because Sire’s concept of  “a worldview” is fundamentally flawed, I’m going to set that book aside for now, and move on to consider another book by a different author who has also done much thinking about the concept of “a worldview”.
Ninian Smart is a recognized expert on religions, and in his book Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (3rd edition, 2000; hereafter: Worldviews), he advocates that the scholarly study of religion be conceived of, and engaged in, as “worldview analysis”.  An important part of “worldview analysis” is that it encompasses the examination of both traditional religions (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) and secular ideologies (Marxism, Secular Humanism, etc.).  In terms of my purposes here, concerning clarification of the concept of “a worldview”, Smart makes the interesting and plausible claim that a worldview involves six “dimensions”:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.  However, Smart’s six-dimensional approach seems quite sensible and plausible.  Of course religions and ideologies involve narratives/myths.  Of course religions and ideologies involve ethics or laws.  Of course religions and ideologies involve rituals or practices.  It seems undeniable that religions and ideologies generally manifest all six of these dimensions, and thus that beliefs and claims are only one small aspect of religions, ideologies, and worldviews.
If I am to maintain my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, then I need to explain and justify my viewpoint in relation to Smart’s interesting and plausible six-dimensional approach to religions and worldviews.  It is tempting to just say that Smart is right that religions and worldviews have these six dimensions, but that I am only interested in the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension).
The doctrines of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  The philosophical beliefs/claims of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  Since my concern is with the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of beliefs/claims that are “contained” in a religion or worldview,  I could just focus on the first dimension, and do so while acknowledging that there are other aspects of religions and worldviews that I am setting aside and ignoring.
But while this is a tempting route to take, I think it fails to recognize the central role that beliefs and claims play in religions and worldviews.  My task, then, is to try to maintain the centrality of beliefs and claims in religion and worldviews, while also recognizing that religions and worldviews generally do involve the six dimensions to which Smart draws our attention.
First, I wish to point out the apparent centrality of beliefs/claims in Smart’s discussion about the concepts of “a religion” and “a worldview”.  The very title of his book suggests the centrality of beliefs:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Note that Smart did NOT use any of the following alternative titles:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Myths
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Laws
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Rituals
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Experiences
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Emotions
 Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Organizations
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Institutions  
So, the very title of his book elevates “beliefs” above other aspects of religions and worldviews,  thus suggesting that the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension) plays a more important role than the other dimensions, perhaps a central role.
Also, in the introduction, Smart says things that also suggest the centrality of “beliefs”.  Here is a comment from the very first paragraph of the Introduction:
…at the level of everyday life, a knowledge of worldviews is increasingly significant.  First, civilizations are importantly interwoven with them.  Whether you believe them or not is beside the point.  (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Smart immediately characterizes a worldview as something that can be believed (or not believed).   Smart does not speak here of rituals, experiences, or institutions; rather, he speaks of belief, which suggests he is focused on beliefs or claims involved in a religion or worldview, and thus is focused on the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
Another comment from the very first paragraph also supports the centrality of beliefs/claims to religions and worldviews:
Second, religious values and more broadly those of worldviews are in debate among the humanities.  Anyone who reflects about human values has to take into some account the values of the religions. (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Although “religious values” could be taken to include the “ethical or legal dimension”, the word “values” encompasses more than just moral values; it encompasses any sort of norms and any sort of evaluation.  Also philosophy encompasses ethics, so the “ethical or legal dimension” clearly has significant overlap with the “doctrinal and philosophical dimension”.  (Perhaps “ethical” refers to fairly specific rules and norms of behavior while the “philosophical” dimension includes more general ideas and principles regarding morality and behavior.)
In any case, if “religious values” and “worldview values” are “in debate among the humanities”, then Smart is clearly talking about something that is intellectual or cognitive in nature.  He is presumably talking about claims or beliefs concerning how people ought to behave or what people ought to care about.  Once again, this is an indication of the importance or centrality of the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
The second paragraph of the Introduction also suggests the importance or centrality of beliefs/claims in religions and worldviews:
The modern study of worldviews…explores feelings and ideas and tries to understand what exists inside the heads of people.  What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true.  (Worldviews, p.1-2)
Here Smart mentions “feelings and ideas” in summing up what is studied when one studies a worldview.  The study of “ideas” clearly relates to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension of a worldview.  It could also relate to  the mythical and ethical dimensions, but the ethical dimension, as I have previously mentioned, can be encompassed by the philosophical dimension.
The word “feelings” points to the experiential or emotional dimension.  However, in the very next sentence, Smart talks about “What people believe” and “whether or not what they believe is true”.  This language again points towards the doctrinal or philosophical dimension.  Experiences and emotions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Rituals are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Organizations and institutions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).    While myths and stories can be thought of as being true (or false),  myths and religious stories are often believed to have significance apart from whether they are literally true (or false).
When Smart talks about “what exists inside the heads of people” this relates most directly to beliefs and feelings and experiences, but not directly to rituals, practices, organizations, or institutions.
The focus on “beliefs” continues at the end of the second paragraph:
To some extent anthropology tried to give objective accounts of foreign beliefs, but often the other cultures were treated as uncivilized or inferior.  To some extent there were attempts through comparative religion to describe foreign beliefs, and sometimes Christian missionaries managed warm accounts of other faiths.  (Worldviews, p.2)
In these sentences Smart equates other “worldviews” and “other faiths” with “foreign beliefs,”  not with “foreign rituals” , not with “foreign practices”, not with “foreign experiences”,  not with “foreign organizations”, not with “foreign institutions.”  So, at both the beginning and the end of the second paragraph of the Introduction, Smart focuses on beliefs/claims, and this suggests that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion or of a worldview is more important, more central, than the other dimensions.
In paragraph three of the Introduction, Smart discusses the importance of “epoche” or suspension of judgment when one is studying the worldview of another people or culture.  One should, Smart says, “suspend your own beliefs about the other (whether that be culture, or group, or individual)”(Worldviews, p. 2, emphasis added).  So, the modern study of religions and worlviews attempts to acheive objectivity by setting aside one’s own “point of view”.  Thus, one’s own beliefs and point of view can bias one’s understanding of other religions and other worldviews.  Presumably, this is because the beliefs one has as, say a Christian, may conflict with the beliefs held by people who have a different religion or worldview (say Islam or Buddhism or Marxism).  So, it apears that paragraph three of the Introduction also suggests that beliefs are central to religions and worldviews.
Paragraph four provides a brief characterization of “worldview analysis” and once again focuses on “beliefs”:
The study of religions and ideologies can be called “worldview analysis.”  In this we try to depict the history and nature of the symbols and beliefs that have helped form the structure of human consciousness and society.  This is the heart of the modern study of religion.  (Worldviews, p.2, emphasis added)
Note that Smart does NOT say that “worldview analysis” depicts the history and nature of “rituals” or “experiences” or “feelings” or “organizations” or “institutions”.  I will argue later that “symbols” have a very close connection with the beliefs and claims of a religion or worldview.
At the beginning of paragraph six, Smart talks about our understanding of “others’ beliefs and values”, and about exploring the “thoughts and values of others” in characterizing efforts to “explore other people’s religions”.  At the end of paragraph six, Smart talks about bias that existed in the early history of “the comparative study of religion”:
But such explorations were often somewhat supercilious in regard to alien faiths.  Westerners were often inclined to dub other beliefs as primitive.  (Worldviews, p.3, emphasis added)
He does not say that there was an inclination to dub “other experiences” as primitive, or “other rituals” as primitive, or “other institutions” as primitive.  Once again, Smart’s focus is on “beliefs”, thus suggesting that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a worldview is more important, more central than the other dimensions.
In short, in the opening paragraphs of the Introduction to Worldviews, Ninian Smart repeatedly talks about worldviews in terms of “beliefs”, “ideas”, “thoughts”, and, perhaps most importantly in terms of truth (or falsehood):
What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true (Worldviews, p.1-2)
This emphais on “beliefs” is also present in the very title of the book:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Therefore, although Smart argues that the modern study of religion should touch on at least six different dimensions, it also seems to be the case that he recognizes that “beliefs” or the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is of greater importance (or is more central) than the other dimensions or aspects of a religion or a worldview.
In the next post, I will start walking though the other five dimensions of worldviews, and examining how they relate to “beliefs” or to the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of worldviews.

bookmark_borderWhat is Philosophy – Part 2

Some people (who are sadly mistaken) think that the question “What is philosophy?” can be answered simply by picking up a dictionary and reading the definition (or definitions) of the word “philosophy”.  Although it is delusional to look to a dictionary to resolve this issue, it is not a bad idea to start out this investigation by taking a look at some dictionary definitions, on the assumption that this is only a first step of an inquiry, not the last step.
Some basic clarification and disambiguation can be accomplished by dictionary definitions, and by carefully examining and critiquing dictionary definitions, one can at least come up with some hints and criteria for development of a definition or analysis that is better than available dictionary definitions.
When you work on constructing your own definition or analysis of “philosophy” you want to produce something that is AT LEAST as good as a dictionary definition, and that, hopefully, is AN IMPROVEMENT over available dictionary definitions.  One way to determine whether a proposed definition or analysis of “philosophy” is better than a dictionary definition is by first establishing some specific problems or defects contained in some dictionary definitions of “philosophy”.  If the new proposed definition avoids those specific problems or defects, then that would be evidence that the new definition is an improvement over the dictionary definitions.
Before we begin looking at dictionary definitions, there are a couple of points concerning conceptual analysis that we can borrow from modern philosophy.  First, there might be no essence of philosophy.  There might be no specific characteristic that ALL instances or examples of philosophy have in common.  There might only be a “family resemblance” among a fairly diverse range of examples of things that count as “philosophy”.
If that is so, then a necessary-and-sufficient condition definition will not fully and accurately capture the meaning of the word “philosophy”.  Instead, we might need to construct a criterial definition, which specifies various relevant criteria or characteristics that tend to make something an instance of “philosophy”, where no particular criterion must be satisfied by ALL instances of philosophy, and where the more criteria are satisfied by a particular example, the more clearly and definitely the word “philosophy” would properly apply to that example.  With criterial definitions, there can be significant ‘gray areas” and “borderline cases” where a word is somewhat applicable, and somewhat not applicable.
Closely related to “family resemblance” and criterial definitions, is the idea of a paradigm case.  If there are borderline cases of a concept, then there can also be central or paradigm cases of a concept.  So, if “philosophy” is a family resemblance concept, or if it needs to be defined in terms of a criterial definition, then we will need to think about paradigm cases and clear-cut cases, and contrast those with borderline cases, where the word “philosophy” partially fits, but also partially does not fit.
So, keeping in mind these points about conceptual analysis, lets take a look at some dictionary definitions, and note both positive features of some definitions, as well as any apparent problems or defects with those definitions.  Based on identification of both positive and negative aspects of dictionary definitions of “philosophy”, we might be able to establish some hints and/or criteria that would be useful for evaluation of any new proposed definitions of “philosophy”.
Jesus H Christ.  There are twelve different definitions of “philosophy” in The American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Edition).  
The first defintion is also divided into three different related senses of the word.  Since the three related senses in the first definition don’t look very similar to me, this dictionary in effect provides FOURTEEN different definitions for the word “philosophy”.  I will, however, stick with the numbering scheme provided by the dictionary.  Hopefully, we can eliminate several of these definitions as irrelevant to our inquiry:
1a. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
1b. The investigation of causes and laws underlying reality.
1c. A system of philosophical inquiry or demonstration.
2. Inquiry into the nature of things based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
3. The critique and analysis of fundamental beliefs as they come to be conceptualized and formulated.
4. The synthesis of all learning.
5. The investigation of natural phenomena and its systematization in theory and experiment, as in alchemy, astrology, or astronomy: hermetic philosophy, natural philosophy.
6. All learning except technical precepts and practical arts.
7. All the disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology:  Doctor of Philosophy.
8.  The science comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
9.  A system of motivating concepts or principles: the philosophy of a culture.
10. A basic theory; viewpoint: an original philosophy of advertising.
11. The system of values by which one lives: his philosophy of life.
12. The calmness, equanimity, and detachment thought to benefit a philosopher.
I put definitions 2, 3, and 8 in red font, because those three definitions seemed to be the best of the bunch. I definitiely want to take a closer look at these three definitions to see what insights they contain and what we might be able to borrow from them in constructing a new and better definition of “philosophy”.
Definitions 4, 6, and 7  are in gray font because they are obviously too broad and can be immediately set aside.  We are interested in the idea of philosophy as a particular academic discipline (or as a possible academic discipline), so uses of the word “philosophy” that encompass diverse acadmic disciplines are irrelevant to our current investigation.
Definitions 1b and 5 are in purple font because they seem to be definitions of “science” or attempts at definitions of “science”.  It might be useful to try to compare and contrast philosophy with science, and these two definitions might help one to make this comparison and contrast.
The remaining defintions in black font seem off target, but they touch on aspects of philosophy and so it would probably be useful to do some thinking about these definitions and how they relate to the idea of philosophy as an academic discipline.
We have already stumbled upon a couple of basic criteria for evaluation of a definition of “philosophy”:
C1.  The definition should be such that it excludes other established academic disciplines (e.g. history, psychology, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics).
C2. The definition should be such that it excludes scientific investigation, and sheds light on the difference between philosophy and scientific investigation.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderGary Habermas Shows Why the ‘Minimal Facts’ of Jesus’ Death Can’t Establish the Resurrection

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Taylor Carr republished on The Secular Outpost with permission. The original post may be found on his blog, The Godless Skeptic.
 

Gary Habermas is a New Testament scholar and philosopher of religion at Liberty University who has devoted much of his career to defending a historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. For over 30 years now, Habermas has collected and analyzed scholarly materials published on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, distilling them down to a core set of trends. His work has been cited by numerous Christian apologists, perhaps most notably in The Case for Christ and the debates and writings of William Lane Craig.
Recently, Dr. Habermas appeared on the Unbelievable radio show and podcast in dialogue with James Crossley on whether the “minimal facts” surrounding Jesus’ death support the resurrection. Crossley is an agnostic New Testament scholar at the University of Sheffield and the author of a book called Jesus and the Chaos of History. The minimal facts are intended to be general points of agreement acceptable even to skeptics, and the two criteria Habermas gives are that they be facts with multiple lines of argument supporting them, and they share in a consensus made up of the “vast majority” of New Testament scholars.
Habermas identifies 6 minimal facts in the show, which are as follows:
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2. The disciples had experiences they believed to be of the risen Jesus.
3. Some among the disciples died for their belief.
4. James, a skeptic, was converted.
5. Paul, a skeptic and persecutor of Christians, was converted.
6. The earliness of the proclamation of the risen Jesus.
One immediately noteworthy thing missing from this list is the empty tomb. To his credit, Gary concedes that the empty tomb is not a minimal fact because of the many biblical historians who dispute it. As the host, Justin, remarks, this seems contrary to what some apologists, like William Lane Craig, have attempted to cull from Dr. Habermas’ work. In his book God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist, co-written with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor Craig writes: “There are at least four facts about the fate of the historical Jesus that are widely accepted by New Testament historians today.” (p. 22, italics mine) Dr. Craig then goes on to articulate some of the reasons that “most scholars” accept the empty tomb.
Of course, it could be contended that this is just another way of saying that the majority of scholars favor the empty tomb as a historical fact. However, 1/3 to 1/4 of experts dissenting from a given viewpoint is not a negligible difference. Things get even sketchier when you look at the methodology behind Dr. Habermas’2005 study and discover how that figure is calculated. The survey is not a comprehensive one of thousands of New Testament scholars, it’s a survey of select literature published in German, French and English since 1975. While Gary’s work offers important insights, he also has not released his data, despite requests for it, and the closest we get to an idea of how many sources he’s surveyed is “more than 1400” in that 2005 study of his. Break that down over 30 years and that’s a ballpark average of 46.7 studies examined per year. It’s hardly a robust amount of data from which to assess the opinions of New Testament scholarship on the whole.
This methodological problem has implications beyond the empty tomb, too, for all of the six minimal facts mentioned above, as well as any other facts that could be conjured up on the same basis. So whether Dr. Habermas wants to single out 4 facts, 6 facts, 12 facts, or his exceedingly generous 21 facts, the fatal flaw remains present in all cases. Statistical analysis is only as good as your data and the method you use to analyze that data, and a study like the one published by Dr. Habermas in a religious studies journal would not pass in an introductory level Stats class (I say this from experience). Granted, it was probably not Gary’s intent to do a rigorous statistical analysis, but the limitations of this research need to be noted when attempts are made at extrapolating certain trends from it. For more on this specific concern, see Richard Carrier’s article, Innumeracy: A Fault to Fix.
But what real use is a list of even roughly calculated minimal facts when it requires another list of supplementary philosophical assumptions in order to support the resurrection? Near the end of the discussion on the podcast, Habermas explains that the way he sees of moving from the death of Jesus and the reports of his postmortem appearances to the involvement of the supernatural is by bringing in “worldview aspects.” This is, in fact, something he notes early on in the show. Among these assumptions are conclusions about the character and identity of Jesus, and the continuation of life after death, though I would argue there are additional assumptions about the existence and nature of god. In a chapter from The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Robert Greg Cavin outlines still more hidden assumptions in the standard resurrection story of Jesus, which is not just revivification, but has to do with Jesus being raised as a living supernatural body sometime after his death.
At one point in the episode, Dr. Habermas refers to the resurrection allegedly supported by the minimal facts as “mundane,” saying that the gospels depict the postmortem appearances as if seeing a dead friend at the supermarket, acting as normal. Yet the point by Cavin above reveals this to be naive. A mundane resurrection in that sense would be as easily dismissed as any incident of a grieving loved one hallucinating their dearly departed. There is nothing especially impressive about it. The minimal facts are where many apologists say that the resurrection differs from other allegations of resuscitation or revivification of a corpse. If the transformation of the disciples is a stand out feature of the resurrection story, it would seem to play a part in discounting the mundane nature of events as Habermas portrays it. After all, we’re often told, people might see the dead after they’re gone, but they generally don’t go to be martyred for them. If this famous image of the disciples valiantly accepting death having seen the risen lord is as true as apologists claim it is, then the resurrection simply can’t be a mundane occurrence by their own reasoning.
Does this not also say something about the exceptional kind of assumptions that are required to make a minimal facts case for the resurrection function at all? We are not talking about spotting someone in the supermarket, alive and apparently well when they’d been dead the day before. We are talking about something much less “mundane,” and it’s the reason why the case for the resurrection has been turned into an argument for the existence of god by an apologist like William Lane Craig. There is an element of the supernatural, a “worldview aspect,” as Habermas called it. It isn’t simply that Jesus appeared again to his followers, like in a daydream, it’s that he miraculously rose from the dead, in a way that his followers took as a vindication of their ideas about his teachings and his identity. It meant, for them, that god not only existed, but that he was the god represented by Jesus, and Jesus was the sort of person god not only had the power to raise back to life, but wanted to raise, did raise, and had the power and will to raise into something more than just a reanimated earthly form.
The miracle of the resurrection is the saving grace of many Christians. To Paul it gave hope for a life beyond death and for a righting of the wrongs faced in this life. Entertaining the historicity of the resurrection without the supernatural and metaphysical assumptions behind it is practically unimaginable, not only for atheists and skeptics but for believing Christians, too. This brings us to the awkward position of either asking each other to buy into our philosophical presuppositions, or leaving things at a set of bare minimal facts that is by itself incapable of showing anything except what it already contains. The minimal facts are, one might say, minimally interesting. Even if we put aside the troubling concerns with the methodology that undergirds them, they aren’t what’s really doing the work in winning minds. Rather than minimizing background assumptions and asking us to buy into some ample facts, the apologetic case for the resurrection minimizes the facts and asks us to buy into some ample assumptions.