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I was reading a text claiming that people who believe that God is contingent may

I was reading a text claiming that people who believe that God is contingent may be uncomfortable with the implications of contingency. The author cited the Barcan formula. Could you please explain what this formula means and why it's controversial? I'm not great at logic. Thanks!

Wikipedia has a decent entry on the Barcan formula. It is generally held to imply that nothing exists contingently, and that in turn is generally thought insane. I would seem to be a good example of something that exists only contingently. But there are some people who think the Barcan formula can be defended, and it would be nice if it could because it makes certain aspects of modal logic much easier than they otherwise are.

That said, I am finding it hard to imagine why the Barcan formula and its consequences would be relevant here. If you believe that God exists contingently, then you think the Barcan formula is false. Since not many people accept it, that isn't much of a loss.

Wikipedia has a decent entry on the Barcan formula. It is generally held to imply that nothing exists contingently, and that in turn is generally thought insane. I would seem to be a good example of something that exists only contingently. But there are some people who think the Barcan formula can be defended, and it would be nice if it could because it makes certain aspects of modal logic much easier than they otherwise are. That said, I am finding it hard to imagine why the Barcan formula and its consequences would be relevant here. If you believe that God exists contingently, then you think the Barcan formula is false. Since not many people accept it, that isn't much of a loss.

Hello, what do you think about this idea?

Hello, what do you think about this idea? Suppose there is no God / designer and life is just a bizarre event that has happened to have occurred following the big bang. It seems that whatever form of life happened to have occurred following this big bang could possibly have reproduced in a vast number of different ways (eg by pressing a button under a big toe, or perhaps we turned out to be weird alien trapezoid creatures who reproduced by a jolt of electricity etc). In fact, however, humans reproduce in a way which (commonly) involves a profound and beautiful relationship between two people. Given the vast number of ways in which reproduction could have occurred, and given the especially beautiful way in which it actually has happened to have occurred, doesn’t this indicate that there is a designer present rather than blind chance being the cause? Personally I find this quite convincing. If blind chance is the cause then to me it seems extremely unlikely that we would happen to reproduce in...

There are two sorts of issues here.

Suppose that it is, in fact, extremely unlikely that reproduction should occur as it does. The universe is a vast place. For all we know, it occurs in billions of other ways in billions of other galaxies. Even on our own planet, of course, reproduction occurs in a dizzying variety of ways. That it happens to occur as it does among us might just mean we are the lucky ones. This is just a way of saying that astonishingly unlikely things do happen. The odds against someone being dealt, in a game of bridge, a hand consisting of 13 cards all of one suit are 158,753,389,899 to 1. But it does happen from time to time. And the universe has been around for a lot longer than we have been playing bridge.

Probabilities like the one just mentioned concern the probability that an event should occur on a single occasion. Every time a bridge hand is dealt, it is incredibly improbable that it will be a perfect hand. But the probability that such a hand should ever have been dealt is actually quite good, because so many hands have been dealt. So again: The universe is a vast place, and it is very old, and we have pretty good reason nowadays to suspect that life is quite common. So it just isn't clear whether it is unlikely that reproduction should at some time and in some place have evolved as we have it, even if we grant that it is very unlikely, case by case, and even if it is therefore unlikely that it should have evolved that way among us.

One might also question whether reproduction really does generally involve a beautiful relationship between two people. There are many societies in which such relationships between men and women are quite uncommon. Marriage in such societies is considered a largely economic and social transaction between families, one that has very little to do with the people involved, let alone with whether they love one another. That was so even in our own society until not very long ago. The ideal of romantic love, and especially the idea that marriage should involve romantic love, look to be very human creations that are not, in fact, very old, evolutionarily speaking.

There are two sorts of issues here. Suppose that it is, in fact, extremely unlikely that reproduction should occur as it does. The universe is a vast place. For all we know, it occurs in billions of other ways in billions of other galaxies. Even on our own planet, of course, reproduction occurs in a dizzying variety of ways. That it happens to occur as it does among us might just mean we are the lucky ones. This is just a way of saying that astonishingly unlikely things do happen. The odds against someone being dealt, in a game of bridge, a hand consisting of 13 cards all of one suit are 158,753,389,899 to 1. But it does happen from time to time. And the universe has been around for a lot longer than we have been playing bridge. Probabilities like the one just mentioned concern the probability that an event should occur on a single occasion . Every time a bridge hand is dealt, it is incredibly improbable that it will...

When proponents of Intelligent Design insist that it is inconceivable for a

When proponents of Intelligent Design insist that it is inconceivable for a particular biological structure to have simply evolved, their opponents sometimes respond "evolution is cleverer than you are." This is a pithy response, and no doubt there is truth to it; but can the ID-proponent really be reasonably expected to accept this?

Whether ID proponents would accept the counter is not necessarily the best question. I would suggest we ask whether they should accept it, or what force it has.

My own sense is that the charge that it is "inconceivable" how, say, the eye evolved is really quite lame. Suppose it true that it is utterly beyond the imagination of human beings how the eye might have evolved. So what? Surely there are plenty of things that are utterly beyond our imagining. That we can't figure it out in any detail, or even begin to do so, just doesn't show anything.

One might ask why we should believe that the eye evolved, then. The answer, presumably, is that we have good evidence for evolution in general, that we can actually see it in action in simpler cases, and that one can tell some rough story about why and how primitive light-detection might have evolved, and even see a range of such sensory organs in actual organisms. Having any reasonable sense of how the eye, as it is, evolved over the eons isn't really to be expected.

So I'd suggest that "evolution is cleverer than you are" is really just a way of dismissing the argument without trying to answer it.

Whether ID proponents would accept the counter is not necessarily the best question. I would suggest we ask whether they should accept it, or what force it has. My own sense is that the charge that it is "inconceivable" how, say, the eye evolved is really quite lame. Suppose it true that it is utterly beyond the imagination of human beings how the eye might have evolved. So what? Surely there are plenty of things that are utterly beyond our imagining. That we can't figure it out in any detail, or even begin to do so, just doesn't show anything. One might ask why we should believe that the eye evolved, then. The answer, presumably, is that we have good evidence for evolution in general, that we can actually see it in action in simpler cases, and that one can tell some rough story about why and how primitive light-detection might have evolved, and even see a range of such sensory organs in actual organisms. Having any reasonable sense of how the eye, as it is, evolved over the eons isn't really...

Theists often claim that it is impossible that the universe just randomly

Theists often claim that it is impossible that the universe just randomly "sprang into existence" out of nothing, for no reason. M-theory posits a cosmological world-view in which an infinite number of universes are continually coming into and going out of existence within the framework of an eternal multiverse. If correct, does this disprove the theist argument?

I would have thought that the obvious theistic response would be that it is the existence of the eternal multiverse that is at issue. I.e., why are there any universes rather than none? From what I've read of Hawking's response to this, it does not seem to me to be very impressive. As usual with these things, it fails to take the motivations of its opponent at all seriously.

None of that is of course to say that the theistic argument referenced is any good.

I would have thought that the obvious theistic response would be that it is the existence of the eternal multiverse that is at issue. I.e., why are there any universes rather than none? From what I've read of Hawking's response to this, it does not seem to me to be very impressive. As usual with these things, it fails to take the motivations of its opponent at all seriously. None of that is of course to say that the theistic argument referenced is any good.

I'm religious, but I'm also gay. My church teaches that homosexual relationships

I'm religious, but I'm also gay. My church teaches that homosexual relationships are immoral. They say that this is what God has told us and they back it up with scriptures and revelation from God given to my current church leaders. I have a hard time accepting that homosexuality is immoral. I don't see why people should be denied consenting, intimate, long-term relationships. So, here's the question that I need to find a solution to: Should I deny believing what I think is right to comply with what my church leaders say God thinks is moral?

Following up on Heck: The church I attend (Episcopal) is quite welcoming to gays. The associate pastor (and for many years my confessor) is a Lesbian priest. There are substantial support groups for homosexual Christians in different denominations. While Richard Swinburne is a Christian philosopher who has serious reservations on the merits of homosexuality, his book Revelation provides a goof philosophical framework within which to take Dr. Heck's advice and see the meaning of the Bible / revelation as something that is on-going and progressive.

I don't have a lot to add to what Peter had to say, except that I'd like to emphasize that, while I don't know to what sort of Church you belong, it is absolutely central to the entire Protestant reformation that each of us is entitled, and indeed required, to come to our own decisions on these sorts of questions, in a reverential and prayerful fashion, to be sure, but to our own decisions, nonetheless. And it is an understatement indeed to say that there is "hot debate" about the significance of the Biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality. But perhaps the larger and much more important question is how we read and respond to the Bible. The obsession with sexuality in conservative churches is nearly as puzzling as their obsession with "literal" interpretations of the Bible---interpretations that are hardly literal---and with regarding those few hundred pages as representing everything God might have cared to say to us. Well, as we like to say at my church, God is still speaking, and we'd...

Is it fair to compare a belief in God(s) to a belief in fairies?

Is it fair to compare a belief in God(s) to a belief in fairies?

Compare the Blackwell or Routledge or Oxford or Cambridge Companions to philosohy of religion with Brewer's Dictionary of Prase and Fable entry Fairy.

It seems to me that anyone who would wish to state that the reasons people have to believe in God are "on a par" with the reasons they have to believe in fairies owes a bit more than just an expression of opinion. I don't know of any remotely good reason to believe in fairies, nor of any books (or even articles) written on the subject by intelligent people. You may think the many reasons people have given over the centuries---folks like Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, and Leibniz, just to mention the obvious authors in the western philosophical tradition---aren't ultimately convincing. But to compare their arguments to the sort of reasons people have to believe in fairies is frankly just silly. But then, I'm probably just upset or aggravated. So let us be thoughtful for a moment. First, belief in God and belief in fairies could presumably be compared in various ways. But the intention is surely to compare the two beliefs on the basis of why people believe in God. Now, outright to compare the...

Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to perform abortions?

Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to perform abortions?

Just a brief comment, which is that, even if one always does have a moral right not to do things one regards as morally objectionable, it does not follow that one has a legal or political right to do so, i.e., that one cannot legitimately face legal consequences for not doing so. It is fairly easy to come up with counter-examples by thinking of people whose moral views are themselves pretty objectionable. I don't know which issue the questioner probably had in mind, but both seem worth considering.

For what it is worth, I think similar such examples make Aquinas's view very doubtful. If one thinks a thing is morally abhorrent, say, when it is, in fact, morally obligatory, then it is not at all clear that one has a moral right not to do the thing. Indeed, it seems almost contradictory to say one does: One has a moral right not to do something that is morally obligatory? Presumably, the resolution of this "paradox" lies in distinguishing subjective from objective elements of this, as is now pretty common.

Just a brief comment, which is that, even if one always does have a moral right not to do things one regards as morally objectionable, it does not follow that one has a legal or political right to do so, i.e., that one cannot legitimately face legal consequences for not doing so. It is fairly easy to come up with counter-examples by thinking of people whose moral views are themselves pretty objectionable. I don't know which issue the questioner probably had in mind, but both seem worth considering. For what it is worth, I think similar such examples make Aquinas's view very doubtful. If one thinks a thing is morally abhorrent, say, when it is, in fact, morally obligatory, then it is not at all clear that one has a moral right not to do the thing. Indeed, it seems almost contradictory to say one does: One has a moral right not to do something that is morally obligatory? Presumably, the resolution of this "paradox" lies in distinguishing subjective from objective elements of this, as is now...

Is it possible for any legitimate science to prove, if not now at least someday,

Is it possible for any legitimate science to prove, if not now at least someday, that God indeed exists? Or is Richard Dawkins more intuitively right in saying that "someday we would have to understand the whole of the universe without anymore referring to a supernatural being"?

I can only think of one thing to say in response to Allen's remarks, and that would be "Amen!"

I can only think of one thing to say in response to Allen's remarks, and that would be "Amen!"

Is it wrong to practice a belief which one does not believe or finds to be

Is it wrong to practice a belief which one does not believe or finds to be irrational? For instance, are cultural Christians like Richard Dawkins intellectually irresponsible for adhering to practices connected with the belief which they find unconvincing? This is a very bugging question for me since I am a Christian who is becoming more and more disillusioned with my religious beliefs, so a philosophical answer would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

Another question worth considering here is whether the "practice" of Chistianity, as you understand it, is really as connected to the beliefs with which you are becoming disillusioned as you suggest. I'll speak at some length about this. What I have to say may not seem very philosophical, and in some ways it won't be. But there are profound questions here about the relationship between faith and belief, and what I will have to say is related to my own views about that relationship.

It seems to be quite commonly believed that one cannot "really" be a Christian unless one accepts certain doctrines of faith, for example (and since it is Good Friday), that Jesus rose bodily from the dead on the third day after he was executed by the Romans (the doctrine of the resurrection). That, in doing so, he made himself the supreme sacrifice, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", as the Agnus Dei has it (the doctrine of sacrificial atonement). That Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). And perhaps the most widely cited essential belief: That Jesus was divine, the "Son of God", conceived by the Virgin Mary, etc, etc.

It is not for me as a philosopher to say whether acceptance of any of those doctrines is in fact essential to Christianity. But I will point out some relevant facts.

Historically, all of these doctrines came to wide acceptance only well after the death of Jesus. (There is excellent historical work being done on these sorts of questions nowadays, by the likes of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Paula Friedriksen, Elaine Pagels, and many, many others.) To a significant extent, most of the "central Christian doctrines" appear to have been the result of a conscious attempt to merge elements of the Jewish tradition, which was of course Jesus's own, with the classical Greek tradition, an attempt that begins, to some extent, with Paul but becomes all the more important after the Roman usurpation of Christianity in the fourth century, and then again with the re-discovery of the classical tradition in the late middle ages. An excellent example is the doctrine of transubstantiation, which makes little sense outside an Aristotelian metaphysics that distinguishes between a thing's "essence" and its "accidents": It is supposed to be the essence of the bread and wine that change, becoming those of body and blood, even while their accidents remain the same. This doctrine, though central to the Roman Catholic understanding of communion, and often regarded, even by Protestants, as somehow crucial, was explicitly rejected by Martin Luther and is no part of the "official" understanding of communion in (most?) Protestant denominations.

It is worth pointing out, too, that some Protestant denominations, including those of the Pilgrim settlers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, explicitly reject the very notion of doctrine. In the Congregational tradition, membership in the church depends not upon the acceptance of certain doctrines but rather upon one's willingness to enter into "covenant" with the other members of the church. Not, of course, that the early settlers always managed to live up to that ideal, but it nonetheless was the ideal they espoused, and Congregational churches today continue to espouse it. One might say similar things about the Religious Society of Friends, i.e., the Quakers.

That should make it apparent, I hope, that there is vigorous disagreement nowadays about the extent to which there actually are any "central doctrines of Christian faith". One might even begin to wonder whether "faith" and "belief" have very much to do with one another (as foreshadowed above). And there is a long tradition of conceiving of faith not in terms of belief but in terms of what people call "spiritual practices". There is a fantastic recent book, An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor, that explores these issues from a Christian point of view. The writings of Thích Nhất Hạnh often explore similar things from a Buddhist perspective.

Another question worth considering here is whether the "practice" of Chistianity, as you understand it, is really as connected to the beliefs with which you are becoming disillusioned as you suggest. I'll speak at some length about this. What I have to say may not seem very philosophical, and in some ways it won't be. But there are profound questions here about the relationship between faith and belief, and what I will have to say is related to my own views about that relationship. It seems to be quite commonly believed that one cannot "really" be a Christian unless one accepts certain doctrines of faith, for example (and since it is Good Friday), that Jesus rose bodily from the dead on the third day after he was executed by the Romans (the doctrine of the resurrection). That, in doing so, he made himself the supreme sacrifice, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", as the Agnus Dei has it (the doctrine of sacrificial atonement). That Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). And...

During the 2004 Presidential Debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry

During the 2004 Presidential Debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry campaign a young female college student asked John Kerry about abortion and his political position on this issue. Kerry responded first by asserting that he is a Roman Catholic and that he did not endorse or feel good about the practice; but he added that he also believed that “articles of faith”, by which I presume he meant a religious belief about the moral status of abortion, are not matters of legislation or law (a position I fundamentally agree with). Kerry’s response seems to assume that morality, or at least morality based on religion, should not be a part of law; however, it also appears to me that it is difficult to imagine where law would derive its power if not from some kind of (religious?) moral basis. I have been trying to see how Kerry’s comment is intelligible in light of the dilemma of how laws would have any kind of power, or that there would be any justification for their authority, without some kind of moral...

The question "What is the basis of morality?" is obviously an extremely difficult one, and it can sometimes seem as if there are as many answers to that question as there are philosophers who have thought about it. Or maybe more. But I take it that the questioner's central worry is whether there is any real possibility that law might not "derive its power...from some kind of (religious?) moral basis". And that is quite a different matter.

There are, I think, two important things to say about this. First, it's not at all clear that religion is capable of providing the kind of basis for morality that is sought. This is often regarded as one of the central points of Plato's great dialogue Euthyphro. There, Socrates poses the question, whether what is good is good because the Gods will it, or whether the Gods will what is good because it is good. And his point is that neither answer is very happy. If what is "good" is good only because the Gods will it, then even torturing babies for fun would be good if the Gods had happened to will it, and what they will, on this view, is not constrained by any prior moral facts. So what is good ends up being kind of arbitrary, and the view of radical Islamists, say, that blowing up the World Trade Center was good becomes perfectly comprehensible. It's just a view about what the Gods will. But if the Gods will what is good because it is good, and presumably because they recognize its goodness, then what is good is independent of what the Gods will, and religion provides no basis for morality. You might find out what is good by finding out what the Gods will, but there might just as well be other ways, too, since what is good comes first, and what the Gods will comes second.

Now, as the questioner rightly notes, it needn't really be religion that provides a basis for morality. And what is at issue here needn't even be what the basis for morality is, in some fundamental sense. The worry might be, more fundamentally, that people's moral views are thoroughly tied up with their relatively individual points of view---their religious beliefs, in some very broad sense---and it is hard to see how law can get by wholly independently of morality. This question, I take it, could also be put this way: How can questions about political justice be independent of questions about morality? And if we think the latter is tied up with religion and the like, doesn't political justice too become tied up with religion and the like? Well, I can't answer that question. What I can say is that it is, in many ways, the question that has animated "liberal" political theory since John Locke---and here "liberal" just means: fundamentally concerned with individual freedom (which is what Liberals too are fundamentally concerned with, whatever you may hear from O'Reilly and the like). It is very explicitly the central concern of John Rawls's second great book, Political Liberalism. So if you really want to come to grips with that question, you might start with Locke's Two Treatises on Civil Government and Letter on Toleration, continue with Rousseau's Social Contract, and then have a look at Rawls's Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism.

The question "What is the basis of morality?" is obviously an extremely difficult one, and it can sometimes seem as if there are as many answers to that question as there are philosophers who have thought about it. Or maybe more. But I take it that the questioner's central worry is whether there is any real possibility that law might not "derive its power...from some kind of (religious?) moral basis". And that is quite a different matter. There are, I think, two important things to say about this. First, it's not at all clear that religion is capable of providing the kind of basis for morality that is sought. This is often regarded as one of the central points of Plato's great dialogue Euthyphro . There, Socrates poses the question, whether what is good is good because the Gods will it, or whether the Gods will what is good because it is good. And his point is that neither answer is very happy. If what is "good" is good only because the Gods will it, then even torturing babies for fun would be...

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