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Is belief in Jesus any better than belief in the tooth fairy?

UCLA law professor Daniel Lowenstein interviews Oxford mathematician John Lennox about the truth of Christianity and the grounds for faith.

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[Source: Veritas Forum]

A seamless garment with no holes: human persons and the failure of naturalism

Last year, the release of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology saw a lot of attention. And quite rightly. The Companion marshalled some of most cutting-edge work in the field of the philosophy of religion and showed why natural theology is fast becoming an exciting scholarly domain again. But in the shadow of the Companion‘s release, another of Moreland’s works was published: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. Although it might not have got the same amount of attention, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei also represented an important entry in the contest of ideas and a powerful defense of theism. In it, Moreland argues for the theistic position by way of a stinging attack on naturalism and its failure to answer the problem of consciousness and account for the basic facts of human experience, such as free will, rationality, and intrinsic value.

The problem of consciousness is a deep mystery for philosophers and neuroscientists. This problem is the dilemma of how conscious states (thoughts, feelings, perceptions) arise from physical brain states. Ned Block, the American philosopher at NYU, has said that “researchers are stumped” and that we have “no conception” that enables us to explain subjective experience or conscious life. Colin McGinn, a professor at the University of Miami in the philosophy of mind, says that the emergence of consciousness “strikes us as miraculous, eerie, even faintly comic”. Even if we are sure that they arise from brains, we do not know the sorts of connections that conscious states (such as “seeing a tree”) have with brain states (such as “there are neurons firing at point A in the brain”). Hard materialists like Daniel Dennett have argued that conscious states are nothing more than brain states and brain behaviour, but Moreland argues that in both science and philosophy, a strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self has been breaking down since the mid-1980s.

For Christianity, the existence of such features basic to human experience are not metaphysically strange or inexplicable. For if in the beginning existed a supremely self-aware Being, then it is not difficult to see how consciousness could emerge. And if Christianity were true, Moreland also suggests one would predict that alternative worldviews whose basic entity or entities are not spiritual would find these things we take for granted recalcitrant – that is, hard to explain or explain away. In his book, Moreland shows that this is exactly the case with philosophical naturalism. Because naturalism posits particles at the beginning, one cannot adequately account for consciousness without mounting other reductive or eliminative strategies to explain their emergence. In The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, Moreland looks at these strategies and shows why they fail. Moreland therefore concludes that consciousness, freedom, rationality, a unified/simple self, equal and intrinsic value, and moral action of a certain sort, are all rebutting defeaters for naturalism and evidence for Judeo-Christian monotheism.

Bill Vallicella has written an excellent and thorough review of Moreland’s book, giving a summary of Moreland’s discussion of naturalism and his argument from consciousness for the existence of God.

Formally set out, Moreland’s argument looks like this:

1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.

2. There is an explanation for the existence of mental states.

3. Personal explanation is different from natural scientific explanation.

4. The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a personal or natural scientific explanation.

5. The explanation is not a natural scientific one.

Therefore

6. The explanation is a personal one.

7. If the explanation is personal, then it is theistic.

Therefore

8. The explanation [for the existence of mental states] is theistic.

In his review, Vallicella examines each of the premises, cataloguing additional reasons that Moreland offers in support for them. He writes:

Moreland makes a very powerful case, to my mind a crushingly powerful case, that [mental states] do not have a natural-scientific explanation. I would go further and claim that they cannot have such an explanation. (If a naturalist pins his hopes on future science, a science that can do what contemporary science manifestly cannot do, then I say our naturalist does not know what he is talking about when he bandies about the phrase ‘future science.’ He is merely gesturing in the direction of he knows not what. He is simply asseverating that somehow science will someday have all the answers. That’s as ‘theological’ as the assurance that, though now we see through a glass darkly, later we will see face to face. What do faith and hope have to do with science? Furthermore, why should anyone hope to have it proven to him that he is nothing more than a complex physical system?)

While Vallicella acknowledges that there are possible objections to Moreland’s argument (he raises some potential ones himself), he concludes that it renders belief in the Judeo-Christian God reasonable, and when combined with the rest of Moreland’s arguments, demonstrates why theism is more reasonable than naturalism.

It is worth reading his whole review (it can also be found on his own blog here). Also worth looking at is Moreland’s interview about the book on the Evangelical Philosophical Blog from last year (part 1 and 2) and Moreland’s post about the topic on his Amazon blog.

The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, can of course, be picked up on Amazon.

Notes:

“God, Naturalism and the Foundations of Morality” by Paul Copan in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, ed. Robert Stewart. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief now available online

Christian Classics Ethereal Library has made Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief available online in full. Published in 2000, Warranted Christian Belief is Plantinga’s third entry in his series on epistemology and represents an important work in the debate about the rationality of theistic belief. Plantinga suggests that the many common arguments against Christianity can be divided into two categories: the claim that Christian belief is false (de facto objections) and the claim that Christian belief is irrational or intellectually unacceptable (de jure objections). In his book, Plantinga focuses on the de jure objection and defends the view that belief in God may not only be rational, but rational without supporting beliefs or arguments.

Expect an intellectual work out – the argumentation can be complicated at times, but it is worth the investment. Plantinga is one of the great philosopher’s alive today and his writing has had a massive effect on the way scholars have approached questions in metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of religion. William Lane Craig has suggested that Plantinga’s 1967 book, God and Other Minds, was the turning point in the debate about the death of God.

Some endorsements for Warranted Christian Belief:

“Warranted Christian Belief is a tour de force … it will be a welcome summary of an important movement, and for anyone interested in debates about the rationality of religious belief, a reference book for many years to come.” – Books & Culture

“This is an impressive book … Every philosopher interested in epistemology should read it and every philosopher should be interested in epistemology.” – Australasian Journal of Philosophy

“The book is full of philosophical and theological interest and is an exciting book to read… Throughout the book the writing is clear and entertaining, parts of it written with a controlled passion and enthusiasm, and with hafts of sarcasm, self-deprecation and other assorted humour. Plantinga has command of a vast range of philosophical and theological material.” – Mind

James Anderson has written a helpful introduction and review of the book here.

(HT: Patrick Chan at Triablogue)

Dr Matthew Flannagan on Belief without Proof

What: Dr Matthew Flannagan speaking on Belief without Proof

When: Tuesday 31th March – 7:00pm

Where: Lecture Room 2, Laidlaw College, 80 Central Park Drive, Henderson, West Auckland

Format: Talk followed by questions, answers and discussion.

Cost:  Free!  (Donation appreciated)

 

Dr Flannagan will address the objection that Christianity is irrational in the absence of proof. He will unpack this claim and offer an alternative method of looking at faith and reason demonstrating that lack of evidence does not make faith in God irrational.

Dr Flannagan holds a PhD in Theology, a Masters degree in Philosophy. His area of expertise is the interface between Philosophy and Theology, Applied Ethics and Worldviews. He is an adjunct lecturer in Philosophy for Laidlaw College, writes for the MandM blog and has nearly 15 years experience engaging and challenging secular culture both in New Zealand and internationally.

He is a former student President at the University of Waikato, has formally debated the Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ’s Dr Zoe During and the NZ Association of Rationalist Humanist’s Dr Bill Cooke; he has been published in several international journals of philosophy and has a personal reference from the then President of the Evangelical Theological Society in his resume.

He is used to speaking to a wide range of audiences so you will not need a PhD to understand him.

Thinking Matters – Auckland

 

Thinking Matters is a community of professional and lay apologists dedicated to offering credible reasons to believe and rationally answering objections to the Christian faith.

 Thinking Matters Auckland hold regular Apologetics seminars, showcasing New Zealand’s best Apologetic talents and screen DVDs of the world’s top Apologists defending the Christian Faith. Opportunity for analysis, discussion and questions follow each event.

 The seminars are held in Lecture Room 2 of West Auckland’s Laidlaw College, fortnightly on Tuesdays, from 7-9pm; there is no charge although donations are welcome. The seminars are accessible to all with an interest in Apologetics, suitable for teenagers through to adults and open to anyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

 

For further information contact:

Madeleine Flannagan

09 835 1554

021 026 94751

Thinking Matters