The Knower and the Known- Interview with Stephen E. Parrish– Stephen Parrish is a Christian philosopher who has written a wonderful tome on philosophy of mind. Here’s an interview with Parrish about the central themes of the book. See also my review of the book. I’ve read it a few times now, and it is phenomenal.
Ben Hur: An Epic Movie of Christian Forgiveness in an Empire of Hate– A great look at the Christian themes that can be found in the latest iteration of the classic story of “Ben Hur.” Also check out my own reflections on the film.
Obama’s Pardons– Whatever one’s political affiliation, I believe this post from Thinking Christian will be a thought-provoking read. It is by someone who was incarcerated, and speaks to the real injustice in some portions of the United States’ criminal justice system.
Science and the Optimistic Naturalist– Is it truly rational to punt to possible future scientific understanding to answer what are currently understood as metaphysical questions?
Aborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett explores some of the metaphysical background needed to discuss the morality of abortion. It is a brief book best seen as a primer on issues related to abortion in philosophy.
The book proceeds in a logical fashion from showing that inconsistency doesn’t undermine the good things that people like Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson said, then arguing that metaphysics is necessary, and moving on through examination of some of the primary grounds for believing abortion is permissible: uncertainty and materialism. Then, arguments are put forward showing that natural law can be a basis for rule of law, that distinctions related to substance are important to the debate, that all humans are persons, and that we are persons not based on what we do but rather on who we are. The book ends wit ha chapter showing some ares of agreement or disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.
Weighing in at 120 pages, the book is quite brief on these various topics. Again, it functions as a primer, not an exhaustive overview of any of these issues. That limits its usefulness in some ways, as there are other books which provide groundwork on philosophy before diving into the abortion debate with greater depth. Where Sterrett’s work excels is in its focus on the concept of “substance” and its importance for understanding personhood. He demonstrates that much of the debate boils down to one’s philosophical background, and advocates one which sees humans as substances.
Aborting Aristotle is a great read for someone looking to ground themselves in the abortion debate. It is the kind of book that one should read before delving into some of the meatier works on ethics and bioethics related to abortion.
+Provides much-needed background knowledge of the abortion debate
+Builds a framework for discussing various arguments about abortion
-Relies a bit too much on quotes
I’ll say it: I’m very pleased by this lineup of posts. Here, we have posts addressing metaphysics and cosmology, the Bible and poverty, Muslim Apologetics, Creationism, and Aquinas. How’s that for a diverse lineup? Let me know what you thought of the posts in the comments here.
Cosmology and Causation- Why Metaphysics Matters by Edward Feser– Edward Feser is one of the most brilliant philosophical minds I have encountered. He’s a Thomistic philosopher and whether or not I agree with what he writes, he always challenges me to think on the points he raises. Here, he writes on the importance of metaphysics in the realms of cosmology and causation. Check this out!
Wayne Grudem Debates Richard Glover on the Bible, Poverty, and Foreign Aid– What might the Bible say about foreign aid and poverty? Here, Wintery Knight offers an analysis of a recent debate between Christians on the topic. I have reviewed Wayne Grudem’s book “The Poverty of Nations” which will provide some background to the issues discussed here.
Creationist Influence on Biblical Study Tools– Always be aware that when we’re using any sort of study tool for reading the Bible, there will be interpretation happening. Here, one of my favorite sites takes a look at some ways young earth creationism has influenced some biblical study tools.
The Gospel of Barnabas– Unfortunately, the alleged Gospel of Barnabas is often trotted out in Muslim Apologetics as proof that various aspects of Christianity are false while Islam has them correct. Here’s a great analysis of the dating of this book and whether it should impact us at all in our interfaith discussions.
Did Thomas Aquinas Believe that Sin Affected the Intellect?– Yep. Okay, there is more to it! Check out this post on the topic of Aquinas and the noetic effects of sin.
I will be watching the “Cosmos” TV series and providing recaps and responses as we go. I’ll evaluate the ideas presented for accuracy and give critical responses where I see necessary. Future “Recaps” will likely be shorter, with more length dedicated to the response.*
Episode I: Recap
The episode started off with the above quote from Sagan. Then, we took a trip in a spaceship with the “imagination” to see what the Earth looked like millions of years ago, followed by a picture of what it might look like in the future (apparently like the Borg invasion in “Star Trek: First Contact,” so watch out!).
Then, we got a pretty sweet CG-heavy tour of the solar system via fake spaceship that looks like Eve from Wall-E. I mean it, it was awesome! I was reminded of the majesty of a Ben Bova novel (if you haven’t read him, I would recommend it, but be aware of some rather simplistic discussion of religion). Finally, we zoomed in on Voyager I which had sound travelling from it in vacuum. I’m pretty sure that can’t happen, but I could easily be mistaken about that, so I’d be happy to be corrected.
An unimanginably awesome picture of the Milky Way through infrared really put us in perspective: there are seemingly infinite stars to be seen merely in our galaxy, which is one of an untold panoply of galaxies. As we zoomed out through the gigantic extremes of the universe (the Supercluster), we find that that supercluster is but one among untold billions of galaxies and the observable universe.
But what is meant by “observable universe”? The universe is actually so huge that we can’t actually observe the entire thing because there is more beyond what we can see. But “many… suspect” that our universe is but one in an extremely huge number of actual individual universes (here shown as little bubbles spreading out continually over the screen).
Let’s also not forget the church is a big destroyer and persecutor of science. Galileo proves that science and religion are forever enemies, right? Galileo’s story is preceded by Giordano Bruno, who is portrayed as a kind of anime graphic novel hero maverick because he went along with Copernicus. I’ll just narrate along. He “dared to read the books banned by the church… and that was his undoing.” No really, that’s what they said about him. Interestingly, they also say that Bruno reasoned that because God was infinite, creation couldn’t be anything less. But the evil church threw him out into the cold and he had to sleep on the ground and freeze at night! Then, he had a vision of science dreamland wherein he broke the universe with his finger and lifted the veil of knowledge that the idiots surrounding him had put in place. He floated around the universe and was the first person to figure out that there was vacuum and also the first person to fly in space and land on the moon and sun. (Again, I’m not making this up: this is what he does in the animated sequence in the dream.)
If Bruno was right, according to “Cosmos,” then not only is church authority overthrown, but the Bible can be brought into question *cue religious people gasping in shock.* Bruno was condemned by the church and burned at the stake but magically had powers to float throughout the universe so that’s pretty cool: throw off the chains of church oppression and what you’ll get is genius and the ability to fly in space.
The episode then walked through the history of the universe by paralleling a single year. The Big Bang: we are all made of “star stuff” which was produced through various processes during and after the Big Bang. Earth formed through a number of collisions with various asteroids and the like. The origin of life “evolved” through biochemical evolution. These “pioneering microbes” invented sex, so that’s pretty cool. December 30th (in the cosmic year) brought about the desolation of the dinosaurs with an asteroid. Humans only evolved “the last hour of the last day of the cosmic year.”
I love space. I love astronomy–my wife can attest to this as I randomly bought an astronomy textbook to read when I was in college. Yeah… I’m a nerd. I don’t claim to have science training or be a scientist, but there is something I can spot: unfounded metaphysical statements. That’s something I honestly expect to see quite a bit of when it comes to this TV series. It actually began with one from Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” Is that a scientific fact about the cosmos? Could you demonstrate that one for me? No. In short, the show begins with an ungrounded metaphysical statement.
Another issue I have is the personification and reification of science. “Science” does x; “Science” gives us y. I’m not at all convinced that “science” is a clearly dilineated entity such that we may speak of it as though it were a reified, ontologically extant entity. What does it mean to say that “science” does something? Don’t we mean that scientists are really the ones who do this? And are not scientists just as much people as anyone else?
The episode’s portrayal of history was very unbalanced. They depicted Giordano Bruno as a kind of hero against the church full of blundering idiots. When he was finally excommunicated, the quotes they put into the church’s mouth were interesting because they portrayed some of the actual issues happening, such as a strict adherence to Aristotelian science. At the time academia really was fully behind Aristotle, and it helped that the church had bought into his cosmology as well. However, for every minimal effort they made at showing some of the historical background, there was some significant effort made to show that the stupid church and its evil Inquisition had a “sole purpose to… torment anyone” who disagreed with the views of the Church. Bruno thought God was infinite so the universe could be infinite as well. Interesting thoughts, but these are juxtaposed against a depiction of everyone else as a bunch of religious idiots who couldn’t transcend space like Bruno could.
Moreover, what banned books that Bruno read are they referencing? Copernicus’ works weren’t put on the list of banned books until 1616 (thanks to Tim McGrew for this information). Just for reference, Bruno died in 1600. I’m curious as to what this depiction was supposed to suggest. I think they mentioned someone else earlier but the ties to Copernicus were evident throughout this section, and given that it was really the rejection of Aristotelianism which was condemning, there was some historical accuracy to be desired here.
Tim McGrew also points out a number of other historical errors, such as the notion that Bruno was burned at the stake for his astronomical views; the notion that everyone at the time thought the Earth was the center of the universe; the notion that being the “center” of the universe meant Earth had a privileged place; and several more major difficulties. I highly recommend surveying them.
The depiction of the multiverse with little-to-no qualification was alarming, for there is much debate over whether there even is such a multiverse, and if there is, to what extent it may be called a multiverse. The portrayal within this episode was essentially a fictitious account being passed off without qualification as something a lot of people believe. The wording used was that “many… suspect” there is such a universe. Well yes, that may be true, but to what extent can we test for these other universes? What models predict them and why? I am uninterested in how many people hold to a belief; I am interested in whether that belief is true.
The survey of the history of the universe was interesting, but there were some major glosses. As an apologist, let me admit my bias here: I would have loved to see some discussion of the fine-tuning involved for life. But that aside, I have to say that the brief snippet used to explore the origin of life: “biochemical evolution” was astonishingly insufficient. I’m sure we’ll get into that in the next episode, but the origin of life is one of the great unsolved mysteries within science and to just hand wave and say “biochemical evolution” is, well, notable to say the least.
Overall, I have to say I was unimpressed by this episode. The historical difficulties were great, but the metaphysical claims throughout passed off as scientific fact were more disturbing.
Cosmos, Giordano Bruno, and Getting it Right– A brief but incisive critique of a number of major historical errors made throughout the first episode.
Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson: Same Old Product, Bright New Packaging- In this post, Casey Luskin takes on the notion that science and religion are at war alongside some other errors in the episode.
Is there any science in the new “Cosmos” series, or is it all naturalistic religion?– Wintery Knight takes on the episode for making a bunch of claims without evidence.
*I may miss an episode or two if I have to work.
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Recently, the atheist Alex Rosenberg debated the theist William Lane Craig. The meat started to happen in the rebuttals, so I will focus on those. For a full review, check out Wintery Knight’s excellent summary.
Craig’s First Rebuttal
Craig pointed out the extreme implausibility of the naturalistic worldview in contrast to theism. He outlined several ways in which naturalism fails as an explanation of reality and cited Rosenberg’s work several times throughout this discussion. He argued that mental states have an “aboutness” which naturalism cannot explain.Then, he pointed out the profound difficulty naturalism has with locating truth and meaning within the worldview. He asserted that libertarian free will and purpose are incompatible with naturalism. Finally, the concept of the “self” and the first-person awareness cannot be explained by naturalism.
Rosenberg’s First Rebuttal
Alex Rosenberg: He focused on this question quite a bit in his rebuttal: “How is it possible for one chunk of manner to be ‘about’ some other piece of matter?” Yet after saying that this, he asserted that this debate over naturalism has nothing to do with the topic of the debate: “Is Faith in God Reasonable?”
He then turned to a discussion of the problem of evil. “If God is omnibenevolent, omniscience, and omnipotent, then the suffering of animals and humans needs desperately to be explained… Nobody has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation… Dr. Craig needs to tell us how [God] had to have the holocaust!”
He also argued that different religious books are false, so there is no reason to trust the New Testament.
Rosenberg said if Craig could provide an explanation for this, then he would become a Christian.
Craig 2nd Rebuttal
Craig immediately exclaimed his excitement over Rosenberg’s possibility of becoming a Christian, arguing that the logical problem of evil, which Rosenberg seemed to be using, has been largely abandoned due to its immense problems. In order to make this argument, the atheist assumes that if God is all powerful than he can create any world he wants, but this is not necessarily true. It is logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something. The atheist would have to prove that there is a world with as much free good in this world but without as much free evil. It seems this premise is impossible to prove. Thus, the logical problem of evil has largely been dropped.
Craig pointed out the fact that Rosenberg was simply mistaken about the importance of metaphysical naturalism. If metaphysical naturalism is false, then it seems clear that theism is that much more plausible.
Craig also once again pointed out that discrediting things like the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an does nothing to undermine the truth of the New Testament documents.
Rosenberg Final Rebuttal
Rosenberg continued to attack Craig as well as the format of the debate. He asserted that Craig was merely repeating himself. Then he commented that the format of a debate does not work to discuss questions like those at hand. One honestly is forced to wonder why Rosenberg chose to engage in the debate, if such were his opinions. Rosenberg attacked Craig’s arguments for “giving philosophy a bad name” and said he would be “embarrassed” to outline Craig’s defense of his arguments.
He did get into some actual comments on the arguments, however. He argued that some things can come into being from “nothing at all,” specifically alpha particles.
Finally, he got to the problem of evil. Here I continued to be confused over whether Rosenberg was sure which variety of the problem of evil he was presenting. He continued to utilize the evidential problem of evil as though it were the same as the logical problem of evil. He was confusing his arguments, mixing necessity with contingency. There is little to comment on here, because it was so confused.
Regarding the New Testament, Rosenberg essentially argued that we cannot know how corrupt the New Testament is.
Craig turned once more to Rosenberg’s construction of the problem of evil. He pointed out that Rosenberg was mistaken about free will as well as the nature of the God’s creation. He pointed out that the holocaust was not necessary. Instead, he noted that the onus is upon Rosenberg to show that God could have actualized a world with as much good as there is in this world while simultaneously showing there would be less evil, which is of course beyond the ken of the atheist (or the theist).
Craig pointed out that we can confirm that New Testament sources we have go back to within 5 years of the actual events. Furthermore, Rosenberg was mistaken in saying that the New Testament documents were written in Aramaic. They were written in Greek.
Rosenberg used his closing to present an “obvious” argument for atheism. He argued that science has no need of the God hypothesis and that there is no basis “to invoke God for explanatory or any other purpose” in science. Thus, science has no reason to accept the existence of God. I find it interesting that he chose to save this argument for the point when he couldn’t be rebutted on the argument. Perhaps that is due to the extreme weakness of the argument. Only be equating science with knowledge could this argument have any relevance. This is not to mention that he is mistaken on this, but to show that he is mistaken would take us too far afield. Interested readers can view the links at the end of this post.
Rosenberg closed with “advice from an atheist.” His advice was to tell theists to not demand that their faith be reasonable. He continued with a discussion saying that theists should say “I believe because it is absurd.” He essentially asserted that theists cannot be reasonable. Honestly, this was just an insult. I admit I was not surprised by this comment by the end of the debate, as Rosenberg’s general strategy had seemed to be to denigrate, rather than interact with, theism.
I was honestly stunned by Rosenberg’s assertion that substance dualism or a debate over naturalism had nothing to do with faith in God. It seems quite obvious that such things are indeed germane to the discussion. If substance dualism is true, then theism has a much better account than non-theistic worldviews. If naturalism is false, the plausibility of theism increases greatly.
In the Q+A following the debate, someone asked Rosenberg why they should believe anything he said in the debate if he himself doesn’t believe in true. Rosenberg basically answered by saying that he’s just rearranging the brain in a way to meet truth… but of course he already denied that we can know what truth is. It’s just a certain way of orienting the matter in one’s brain! Ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it is ridiculous.
Regarding the debate itself, there were a number of non-scientific ways that people voted on the results of the debate. A formal panel awarded Craig the victory 4-2. The local (Purdue) voting on the debate 303-1390 Craig won. Online vote favored Craig 734-59. In other words, Craig crushed Rosenberg. I agree wholeheartedly. Let me know your thoughts. Comment below!
One awesome line from the debate came from Craig: “The purpose of life is not happiness. The purpose of life is knowledge of God.”
An awesome tweet: “Rosenberg apparently knows not only what God could have done but what would have been best for us for all eternity.” @ThnkngChristian
Wintery Knight provided a simply fantastic summary of the debate.
Glenn Andrew Peoples has a post on quantum events in relation to the cosmological argument which is very relevant to this debate.
Shoulders of Giants?- Philosophy and Science in Context, or, “Lawrence Krauss Jumps off!”– I write on the relationship of science to philosophy as well as Christianity.
Science: “Thanks Christianity!”– Does Christianity say anything about science?