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For years, scientists like Stephen Hawking have made claims, maintaining that

For years, scientists like Stephen Hawking have made claims, maintaining that the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world around us can be interpreted solely by reference to physical laws such as gravity. But could Hawking's claim is be misguided? He asks us to choose between God and the laws of physics, as if they were necessarily in mutual conflict. But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. What Hawking appears to have done is to make a category mistake and to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works, but someone had to build the thing, put in the fuel and start it up. The jet could not...

There's a lot going on in your question, and I doubt that my response will cover all of it. But I'll say, first, that it begs the question against Hawking to demand that he explain "the awesome, sophisticated creativity of the world" if by "creativity" you mean something beyond the everyday creativity acknowledged by both sides of the debate (such as the creativity of human agents). Hawking doesn't accept the assumption that (for example) the laws of physics are the result of someone's creativity.

Second, Hawking would likely question your inference from the premise "All created things, such as the jet engine, require creators" to the conclusion "The laws of physics require a creator." The premise is true, but it doesn't imply the conclusion.

Third, it's not clear from your description of Hawking's view that he alleges a conflict between theism and the laws of physics. Rather, if I understand your description, Hawking claims that theism isn't necessary to explain what we observe. Now, if Hawking adds a premise to the effect that any hypothesis is false if it isn't necessary to explain what we observe, then he can generate a conflict. But such a premise is way too strong to be plausible.

Fourth, you appeal to the "sophistication" of the laws of physics as evidence of God's genius in creating them. But physicists prefer the simpler (and in that sense less sophisticated) of two hypotheses that predict the data equally well. You might reply that it's therefore the simplicity of the laws that suggests God's creative genius, but it can't be both the simplicity of the laws and their sophistication (non-simplicity) that does.

Is there a book that looks at the Bible through the lens of philosophy? I know

Is there a book that looks at the Bible through the lens of philosophy? I know there are books like "Philosophy & Seinfeld", where a cultural artifact is subjected to philosophical analysis. Surely there must be something like that for the Bible?

The Bible has been subject to enormous philosophical attention. This is not only true for all the great medieval philosophers and the philosophers in late antiquity, but for many modern philosophers such as Pascal, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant --for Kant, the book of Job was of great significance-- Kierkegaard. Historically and today, some philosophers treat the Bible as a source for the philosophy of God or the philosophy of religion, exploring concepts such as divine revelation, the divine attributes, the relationship between God and the cosmos, and so on. The Bible has been used both for constructive philosophical work *see, for example, the collection Jesus and Philosophy edited by Paul Moser* as well as for advancing philosophical objections to theism in general or specific Biblical teachings. As a general source, check out the Routledge Companion to Theism. In the 20th century I think two of the most balanced philosophers who worked constructively on the Bible are A.E. Taylor and Austin Farrer. The elements of the Bible that are currently receiving the most amount of attention include Biblical narratives or teachings that bear on the belief in God as Triune, the incarnation, the atonement / redemption, miracles, divine revelation itself, the relationship of science and religion, and the morality of divine commands e.g. the binding of Isaac and the conquest narratives in the book of Joshua. Some philosophers interested in religious ethics will sometimes seek out Biblical teachings that bear on reproductive ethics --abortion, birth control, surrogacy-- sexual ethics, euthanasia, just war theory, the relationship of justice and mercy, capital punishment, the relationship between church and state, socialism vs. free market economy, health care, good samaritan ethics, work ethics, notions of vocation, concepts of integrity / hypocrisy, child abuse, the proper use of alcohol, and more.

Justice Scalia famously stated that crosses on graves have, well, crossed-over

Justice Scalia famously stated that crosses on graves have, well, crossed-over from an overtly religious symbol to one that may represent any dead soldier. How do philosophers treat such claims? How do we establish when religious practices, symbols, rituals, etc. have entered the secular public domain to the extent that the law can recognize them as such?

I'll have to admit that I think Justice Scalia is full of prunes on this one, as my grandmother would have said. And I think the case was decided wrongly by the Supreme Court. (Here's an account of the decision that's not just neutral, but still... http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/04/28/supreme-court-ru... )

As for your question, it has an empirical component and a conceptual one. The conceptual part calls for deciding what it would mean for a symbol not to have a religious meaning, and the empirical part would be finding out if crosses on graves now have a secular meaning.

The answer to the conceptual question might call for some bells and filigrees, but the basic idea is pretty clear: do most people, including in this case most non-Christian people, agree that a particular symbol (in this case, a cross on a grave) has no religious meaning? If the answer is yes, then Justice Scalia is right. If the answer is no, then he's wrong.

As for how we'd sort out the empirical facts in this case, that would best be left to people who not only understand the issue, but also know how to design good tools (surveys, etc.) for probing such matters. I'm not one of those. However, I'd think some things are clear. We'd want to know, for example, whether most Jews, for example, would be comfortable with the idea of a family member (or themselves!) being buried in a grave marked by a cross. And if the answer is "no" (that would be my guess), then we'd want to know what reasons would typically given. I'd bet a large chunk of my 403B that the answer would be "because it's a Christian symbol and my loved-one isn't Christian."

Since I'm a philosopher, my union card calls for adding caveats. Of course it's not true that each and every use of a cross on a grave is intended to have a religious meaning. We can imagine someone in exigent circumstances marking a grave with a cross just because that makes it likely that people who encounter it will recognize it as a grave. But that doesn't show that crosses have become secular symbols for purposes of the law, and it's an insult to both Christians and non-Christians to pretend otherwise.

From reading your site regularly, it sounds like many people confound the

From reading your site regularly, it sounds like many people confound the question, "does God exist?" with a different question, "does a particular kind of God exist?" From what I understand of quantum physics, everything is connected to some extent. The sum total off all interconnections among all energy and matter in the universe(s) could easily be an identity for a natural and holistic "God" that not only seems to "exist," but also seems NECESSARILY to exist. Yet this "God" would be unsatisfying to many since it/she/he would have very little interest in human beings and their day-to-day lives. Many of the arguments that so-called "atheists" make seem to come across more like "I don't like your particular version of God," and not at all an argument that "no God of any kind exists." It seems to me that the latter proposition: "no God of any kind exists" is just as unprovable and just as unverifiable as the argument that "God does exist, we just don't know how or in what form."

A very insightful point of view! As a panelist who has responded to lots of "God questions" on this site and who has published a bit in philosophy of religion, my overall impression is that when most users of this site (and here please note I may be off base) have theism in mind when they ask 'Does God exist?' or raise questions about the implications of the existence (or non-existence of God). Theistic views of God (for the most part) understand God to be the all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent, essentially (that is, necessarily) good, everlasting or eternal (that is, either God is outside of time or in time and without temporal origin or end), necessarily existing (that is, God has aseity or self-existence and does not exist due to the power of another being) Creator and sustainer of the cosmos. This is (roughly) how God is conceived of in traditional Judaism, Christianity, Islam and in theistic forms of Hinduism. But there are lots of particular further beliefs about God that are not shared in these traditions (God is Triune and Incarnate in Christianity, not so in Judaism and Islam) and there are philosophical and religious concepts of God that are also divergent. It sounds as though your concept of God (or the divine) is akin to God as conceived of by Spinoza. To go right to your point: you are correct, someone might well reject a theistic concept of God or the divine but accept a different philosophy of God.

Perhaps two further points are worth considering: You refer to the (or an) atheist as claiming "I don't like your particular version of God." There is an interesting difference between atheists who do adopt that attitude. Thomas Nagel might be in that category as he has claimed that he hopes God does not exist, but there are some atheist, like Michael Tooley, who have taken the opposite position. Tooley (who has argued for atheism in many contexts) has said he wishes God did exist or (putting things slightly differently) he would prefer it if God (as conceived of theistically as an all good being, etc) exists rather than not exists.

Second, a large part of theistic tradition sees God as described earlier, but adds that God is unique or sui generus and not simply one of a kind. On this view the term "God" is not like the term for a genus or species --as in "human being." If we take that seriously (and perhaps we do not have to) we might better refer, not to different Gods or alternative concepts of God, but to different concepts of (for example) Ultimate Reality. John Schellenberg has been moving (philosophically) in this direction developing a view he sometimes calls Ultimism, according to which we might be better served investigating different concepts of what is ultimate in reality (for some of us this may mean investigating the God of theism, but in your case it may mean investigating God as conceived of by Spinoza0.

I recall reading, in the past, about a philosopher who acknowledged that the

I recall reading, in the past, about a philosopher who acknowledged that the existence of God was completely irrational and that he probably didn't exist. However, he emphasized that despite this fact, people should and need to believe in religion to feel happy, moral, and fulfilled in life, and so, belief is necessary. I can't recall who this is although I'm leaning towards Kant or Aristotle. Do you know who I can attribute this idea to or where I can read more?

On Kant and Aristotle: Kant did not think belief in the existence of God was completely irrational nor that God probably does not exist, but he did argue that the traditional arguments justifying belief in God (and indeed the traditional domain of metaphysics) went beyond the boundaries of reason. This meant, for him, that atheism as well as theism went beyond reason, where reason is understood to involve rational speculation and argument. But Kant went on to hold that what he referred to as practical reason offers grounds for faith that there is an all just God (also faith in an ultimately just cosmos in which there would be concord between virtue and fulfillment, something that may take a miracle or an afterlife to pull off).

On Aristotle: He advanced reasoned arguments for recognizing the reality of God and, in a sense, he suggests in the Ethics that our ultimate fulfillment in a life of philosophical contemplation is one that mirrors the divine, but Aristotle's God is not a providential creator and redeemer who seeks out the happiness of creatures and makes moral demands (calling persons to lives of justice and mercy). Thomas Aquinas in the 13 century would draw on much of Aristotle's philosophy of God, but he transformed it to bring it more in line with classical Christianity.

On your general concern: Many philosophers have considered the merits of beliefs and practices in terms that go beyond a narrow rational estimation of their being justified rationally. Plato, for example, in the Republic, allowed for there being useful falsehoods that might do great good socially and politically. Referring back to Aristotle, he may have offered an explicit reprimand to Plato when he commented that he loved truth more than his teacher (Aristotle was Plato's student for about 20 years). Henry Sidgewick is an interesting figure on this matter of whether it is better to only adopt beliefs that are rational versus adopting beliefs that are probably false but provide us with significant goods. Thus, while he was a major proponent of utilitarianism, he thought it might be good (sometimes) for persons to think that utilitarianism is false.

Of all the figures I might recommend given your interests, I think William James (1842-1910) may be the most engaging. The brother of Henry James, William has a wonderful style of writing and his works can be found on the web. I recommend The Will To Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. While it was published in 1897, I think it still reads with a fresh, contemporary tone. James is very much interested in both the rational warrant or justification of our beliefs, as well as their affective role in our lives.

I have a question about Verificationism. As I understand it Verificationists

I have a question about Verificationism. As I understand it Verificationists criticise theists whose beliefs aren't verifiable. How would they respond to the following scenarios; (1) A theist determines her belief based on a single coin toss. It came up heads this verifying her belief in God. She went into the test accepting it could come out either way and saying she would genuinely disbelieve if it came out tails and genuinely believe if it came out heads. (2) She repeats this process every morning. And thus ends up some days believing others not. Or, something different; (3) A particular believer believes Christ will return in 10, 000 years. Thus his belief is meaningful and verifiable, one needs only wait a very long time. Would they say he should remain in a suspension of belief? I have heard of the theory of eschatological verification, did verificationists disregard this too? On what grounds?

Verificationists typically say that for a claim to be meaningful it must be empirically testable. Tossing a coin might test claims about gravity, mechanics, or the symmetry of the coin, but it does not test an unrelated claim.
It is probably meaningful to believe that Christ will return in 10,000 years (so long as we're specific about what "Christ" and "return" mean) but that does not mean it is plausible.
In thinking about what is rational to believe we need to consider both meaningfulness and plausibility.

If there is no god, why do people behave in a moral and ethical manner?

If there is no god, why do people behave in a moral and ethical manner? One answer might be long-term self-interest: if you never tell a lie, for example, you will develop a favorable reputation among other people which will allow you to participate in all sorts of activities of which you would never be a part otherwise. Another answer might be "big picture" self-interest: people usually achieve more and have higher standards of living when they collaborate compared to when they compete: "competition" only works as a motivator when embedded in a broader collaborative structure first (i.e., if everyone plays by the rules, we aren't deliberately trying to injure a competitor because we don't want them trying to injure us and so we all place voluntary limits on our behaviors to promote a better outcome for all). While these answers are all well and good, there seems to be something missing: to be motivated SOLELY by self-interest, no matter how you dress it up, seems like a somewhat barren life. ...

If we are only molecules in motion and a few hundred thousand years from now, the world and history will vanish, then are our moral rules any more than the rules of a club?

With all due respect to Prof. Marino, the antecedent of that question is tendentious. According to naturalism, I and a rock both consist of molecules in motion. But naturalism doesn't imply that there are no important differences -- including objectively important differences -- between me and the rock. Even though naturalism says that I consist of molecules in motion, it doesn't say that all agglomerations of molecules in motion are objectively the same: it doesn't say that I'm only molecules in motion, in the reductive sense of "only" implied by the antecedent. As to naturalism's prediction that humanity and its traces will one day be gone: Why must humanity or its traces go on forever in order for anything to be objectively right or wrong? I've never seen a good answer to that question.

Several recent writers have responded intelligently to the question italicized above. I recommend this article and (again) this edited collection.

There seems to be a popular form of virtual atheism where the person says: I don

There seems to be a popular form of virtual atheism where the person says: I don't believe in god, but I don't accept that 'everything is permitted.' And then they grin in an idiotic way. If 'everything is permitted' means exactly the same thing as there are no laws but man made laws, what can they mean? All laws are arbitrary unless they where given by some power from above, or if the very universe is 'good.' What else can they mean? If it is some kind of conditioned response or Freudian figure (which leads to the belief in goodness and guilt), that is ultimately based on meaningless phylogenetic antecedents. So if someone says that don't they just mean they don't like to admit morals are meaningless or radically arbitrary? Perhaps because they are confused.

You seem to be arguing for this claim: Atheism implies that everything is morally permissible.

In the view of many philosophers, myself included, that claim is false. These philosophers argue that objective truths about moral right and wrong not only needn't be God-made (or man-made) but couldn't be God-made (or man-made). I recommend reading Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality," and Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism".

On the issue of whether all laws require a lawgiver, please see my response to Question 5619.

Is it fair to label childhood religious indoctrination as abuse ? at the moment

Is it fair to label childhood religious indoctrination as abuse ? at the moment in any given society it's seen as the norm , I often wonder will future generations look back in astonishment at this practice .

I agree with my co-panelist that it's hard to peg this as abuse. But I'd like to focus on a somewhat different issue: the word "indoctrination" is being used to mean an illegitimate way of inculcating beliefs. That's fine, and isn't my issue. But the notion of "religious indoctrination" is left unexamined. And so I want to know what counts.

In particular, suppose someone brings their children up in a religious tradition: introduces them to the texts and doctrines, participates in the rituals, makes clear that s/he is an adherent, and so on. If indoctrination counts as something bad, is this automatically a case of indoctrination? Surely it depends on the details. Suppose that the religious tradition has admirable moral precepts. Suppose it encourages thoughtful reflection. Suppose it doesn't threaten non-adherents with hellfire and brimstone. There really are such traditions; I know many people who belong to them. The tradition may well include metaphysical claims that you think are just wrong. But is that the criterion for indoctrination? If so, it's hard for me to see how it warrants the label "child abuse."

And for that matter, why pick on religion? How about ethical views? When my children were young, I certainly hoped that they would come to share at least the more dearly-held of my ethical views. Near as I can tell, they largely did. Was that indoctrination? Was it child abuse? If it might be, where do the lines lie?

We influence our children in lots of ways. It's not unlikely that if my children had been brought up in a different sort of household, they'd think differently than I do about some things I care about. Some of these things are eminently debatable; some reasonable people would say that the views my children learned from me are wrong. But without a lot more analysis, the word "indoctrination" doesn't get us very far, and without a great deal more analysis, the accusation of "abuse" is even less helpful.

There's another problem with invoking the notion of abuse here. If we label a child-rearing practice abusive, this suggests that we ought to do something about it$mdash;perhaps that the State itself should step in. I don't know about you, but I'm not confident that the State would draw the lines wisely.

So to sum up: maybe some cases of bringing a child up in a tradition count as indoctrination, but it's not plausible that all do. And maybe some of those cases count as abuse. But we'd need to think hard about what we mean when we invoke that word. And even if we decide there's a sense in which some cases of religious upbringing count as abuse, we need to think really hard if we want to take that as a license for any sort of intervention.

I'm developing a rebuttal to Biblical literalists and I'd like to know whether

I'm developing a rebuttal to Biblical literalists and I'd like to know whether the following is a recognized/named type of syllogism or other type of argument (and if so, what it's called): Verse X prophesied that would happen happened in verse Y Therefore, the prophecy was fulfilled (If this is not a recognized/named type of syllogism or other type of argument, could it be made so by adding one or two lines?)

This is still a little confusing to me, but I take it that you may be looking for the term:

Vaticinium ex eventu

This occurs when a writer (whether Biblical or not) offers a prophecy that some event will occur when (it is assumed) that the writer already knows the event has taken place. In the context of the Bible, perhaps the most salient case that is the subject of controversy is the New Testament recording of Jesus predicting that the Temple will be destroyed, which it was some forty years after his death. It is not obvious, though, whether this is a case of writing ex eventu. It is possible that Jesus could have foreseen the destruction of the Temple, especially when you consider the evidence available during Jesus' lifetime of how Rome responds to rebellion and recent past cases of Jewish resistance to Roman imperial power.

This is more a matter of history, than philosophy per se, though philosophers have long had an interest in thinking about the miraculous and whether it can ever be reasonable to believe in miracles. See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Hume and the entry Philosophy of Religion.

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