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Does the principle of increased entropy support or challenge the Cosmological

Does the principle of increased entropy support or challenge the Cosmological argument? I am getting mixed messages and am unsure which if any are valid.

Good question, and undoubtedly others are better equipped to give better or deeper answers. But I'll take a quick stab. First, there are at least several different categories of Cosmological Arguments, but I'm guessing you have in mind those involving design of some sort -- increasing entropy seems to suggest the cosmos tends toward disorder, which seems to undermine the notion that there is any sort of (intrinsic) or ultimate ordering. But now, with respect to design, what's to refute the idea that the increasing disorder is PART of the design, part of its aim? (the general problem with design arguments is that no one is ever very clear on just what the purported point of God creating the universe is .... But presumably introducing human beings to contemplate the universe (and God) is part of it, and why couldn't a cosmos with increasing entropy be something good for human beings to contemplate?) ... As far as other forms of Cosmological Args go, by my understanding they tend to involve intelligibility concerns: we couldn't make sense of motion, or of causation, or of the existence of the cosmos at all, unless there were a First Mover, Cause, or Necessarily Existent Creator. As far as I can see those forms of argument are neutral on the existence of entropy. So, in short, I can see where your intuition comes in -- but seems to me a lot more work has to be done before the fact of entropy would really raise a challenge for Cosmological Arguments.

hope that's a useful start!


I notice that many of the people asking questions on your site are atheists. I

I notice that many of the people asking questions on your site are atheists. I am an agnostic; however, I can understand that many people see their religion as a guideline for moral/ethical behavior. Can we be ethical/moral without religion? If a person does not see that an ethical life leads to "heaven," what is his/her rationale for goodness?

You've asked a version of the very old philosophical question "Why be moral?" You may find something relevant to that question in the SEP entry linked here.

I'd like to point out an assumption underlying your question. You seem to assume that someone has a rationale for acting morally only if acting morally serves his/her prudential self-interest (otherwise I can't see why you'd suggest that heaven is relevant to leading an ethical life). But why should we accept that assumption? Why must the answer to "Why be moral?" invoke something that's (arguably) nonmoral such as prudence? Why think that the ultimate or overriding rationale for doing something must be one's self-interest?

In essence your question seems to be "Why does my doing the morally right thing always serve my long-term self-interest?" The answer, I'd say, is that there's no guarantee that it does. It might profit you in the long run to rob an innocent stranger if you'll never get caught; nevertheless, you morally ought not do it. Morality and prudence needn't always go together. Indeed, I think there'd be nothing to morality if morality and prudence couldn't come apart.

You describe yourself as an agnostic, and you ask, "Can we be ethical/moral without religion?" I'd be willing to bet, then, that your own case is evidence for the answer "Yes, while allowing for the moral imperfections that characterize people in general."

Why are personal religious beliefs more respected and legally protected than

Why are personal religious beliefs more respected and legally protected than personal philosophical beliefs? Could this be because religious metaphysics are more irrefutable than secular metaphysics?

I'm guessing that by "personal philosophical beliefs" you mean not just philosophical beliefs that someone might happen to hold (such as the belief that numbers exist as Platonic objects, for example) but beliefs and commitments about matters that someone takes to be of great personal significance—the kinds of things one might build one's life around. To clarify: I might think that numbers really exist as abstract objects, but if I were talked out of that belief, not much about how I live my life would change. For many religious people, on the other hand, religious beliefs are part of their core. A committed Christian, for example, might well think that if she lost her Christianity, there's an important sense in which she wouldn't be the same person. However, as you apparently recognize, religious beliefs aren't the only ones in that category. Ethical commitments are a good example. Many people with deep ethical commitments are not religious, and yet those commitments are every bt as important to those people as the explicitly religious beliefs of committed believers.

I agree with Prof. Maitzen that if we want to know how it cam about and why it persists that religious beliefs get more social deference than other kinds of deep commitments, philosophers as such have nothing special to say. But there's a nearby question that may be part of what you have in mind: is there any good reason for giving special treatment to religious as opposed to secular commitments?

I'm inclined to say that for the most part, there isn't. Some people think that without belief in a supernatural being, one can't have truly deep commitments. They may think, in particular, that without belief in God, one can have no basis for distinguishing right from wrong. I think (I suspect most of my co-panelists agree) that that's a serious confusion. However, I can think of one possible reason that might carry some weight. Being a member of a religious group sometimes makes people targets of hatred and abuse. Religious hate crimes are real and serious. They may have occasional parallels based merely on people's secular commitments or associations, but there's a marked difference in scale. And so one possible reason for being especially careful to give special protection to religious beliefs is that as a matter of historical fact, religious beliefs are especially likely to make someone a target of abuse. The point, in other words, is not that there's anything intrinsically special about religious commitments as opposed to secular commitments. It's that there's a practical reason having to do with the actual kinds of bad behavior that people all to often engage in.

Although societal pressures do play a role, does atheism manifest itself mostly

Although societal pressures do play a role, does atheism manifest itself mostly due to an inborn lack of religious "sense" rather than hearing the logical arguments against God or a life force? Research has shown that autistic people are very unlikely to be religious. I don't know what phrase philosophers of mind use to describe this, but when we talk about people with a strong sense of humor, people with a weak sense of humor, or people with no sense of humor at all, are we talking about a non-physical and antimaterialist noumenon that can be enhanced with training?

I'll chime in just to say that the first question you asked is an empirical question and therefore not the kind of question that philosophers as such are any better-equipped than non-philosophers to answer. I'd be interested in seeing the empirical data myself. I would say, however, that your first question leaves out a possibility that strikes me as more plausible than the two you mention: as they grow and develop, children tend to imitate their parents and other authority figures, including in their attitudes toward religious matters.

If I'm an atheist, does it make sense to criticize the Catholic church for

If I'm an atheist, does it make sense to criticize the Catholic church for practices such as the exclusion of female priests? Suppose that a Catholic authority replies to such criticism by saying that there is strong Biblical evidence to show that priests must be male. Since I am an atheist, I may be unpersuaded by this argument, and still insist that the church would be more just if it gave women equal status with men. But then, if I reject this Biblical argument it seems that I may as well reject Catholicism itself. In other words, I think there is something strange in the suggestion that Catholics should improve their religious practice by incorporating certain progressive reforms. The justification of these reforms often seems arise of a view that would invalidate, not just the allegedly objectionable practices at issue, but religion altogether. Practices such as the exclusion of female priests may strike me as irrational, but then why should I care if I think that Catholicism quite generally is...

One needn't accept Catholicism in order to argue, legitimately, that the reasons given for a specific Catholic practice, such as the male-only priesthood, aren't persuasive even granting the rest of Catholic theology. For example, if Catholic theology gives a biblical justification for the male-only priesthood, it's open to Catholics and non-Catholics alike to examine the justification to see how cogent it really is: even granting the truth of the Bible passages being used to justify the exclusion of women priests, do those passages really justify the exclusion, or have they been interpreted in a tortured or tendentious way? Is there another interpretation of the passages, an interpretation just as good as the traditional one, that doesn't justify the exclusion? I think anyone, Catholic or not, can legitimately ask those questions.

Is pragmatic truth inherently less valid than other forms of truth? If a Hindu

Is pragmatic truth inherently less valid than other forms of truth? If a Hindu believes in the truth that Vishnu exists and a Muslim does not, how could they both be right? I don't know how to word this, but are the correspondence and epistemic theories of truth the most "true?"

This is a complicated matter. Realist views of truth, including versions of the correspondence theory, hold that reality cannot or should not be split into different venues in which, say, Vishnu exists and is divine for one person, but not for another. Realists, then, hold that if Allah exists, then it is false to claim that Allah does not exist. The term "pragmatic truth" is a little puzzling to me, but perhaps what you are getting at is the idea that matters of what we call "truth" may be treated in terms of justification. So, for Saladon to claim that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, is to claim that he is justified in making such a claim. I suggest, though, that such justification or epistemic theories of truth are themselves pretty hard to justify (and, hence, on its own assumptions, a justification theory of truth might not be true because it is not justified).

There may be one other angle to consider. Some apparent disagreements may not be radical. Consider a dispute in which one person claims that The Morning Star exists, but not The Evening Star. And her friend believes the opposite. Fortunately, they may both not be too far apart, because it turns out that what "The Morning Star" picks out or refers to is the same thing that is picked out or referred to by "The Evening Star": the planet Venus. So, to go back to your example, there might be room to debate whether what the Hindu believes is "Vishnu" might be the same reality that the Muslim believes is Allah. For a philosopher who explored and defended this position, see the work of John Hick.

If God exists, is there any proof that he involves himself in human affairs? It

If God exists, is there any proof that he involves himself in human affairs? It seems most if not all debate in contemporary philosophy centers around whether a deist God exists.

Great question, but just a short answer to start. By "involvement" you probably have in mind something like "miracles" (say, violations of the law of nature). But questions of "miraculousness" are VERY hard to prove, and so (I'm guessing) discussion of their occurrence is probably mostly limited to those who already are believers -- it's only AFTER you believe God exists that you're likely to treat some event as a miracle. (After all there is much we don't know or understand about the world, so the mere fact that something unusual or unlikely occurs is not very good evidence that a miracle has occurred, and thus itself not good evidence that God exists.) But you should also be aware that there is a long tradition of thinking of God's "involvement" in different ways. For example, it has traditionally been argued that God "continuously creates" the world -- see Descartes, Malebranche eg -- that God's activity is necessary to keep the world in existence, even while there is also good reason to believe (see the same) that God creates the world to operate via exceptionless laws of nature (i.e. no 'miracles' in the sense above). There is also a long tradition of arguing that the course of the world has a point or purpose or direction (ie 'teleological' arguments), that the world has been designed in order to operate in certain orderly ways eventually reaching certain desirable outcomes -- even if there are no 'miracles' along the way, that is a form of God's involvement. Now this latter might be all you mean by referring to "deism"; and in fact your "deism" might even be consistent with "continuous creation" -- but what I'm suggesting is that it's worth focusing more closely on why a philosopher in particular (someone interested in reason/evidence/argument) should desire any kind of divine "involvement" BEYOND those two forms ...

hope that's useful to start --


Let's say when we measure the brainwaves of someone who is actually deluded and

Let's say when we measure the brainwaves of someone who is actually deluded and the brainwaves of someone who is fervently religious, they match up to an extraordinary degree. Are we justified to say that the religious person is deluded base on this observation of matching brainwaves alone? Can we judge the propositional content of a belief as to its truth value by brain activity? Can scientific neurological experiments determine the truth and falsity of propositional content or are arguments the only way to determine the truth and falsity of propositional content? Can we appeal to brainwave activity to invalidate theism? Galen O.

Interesting question(s)! I'm afraid that it will be very difficult to replace arguments and the different "tools" philosophers use with neurological data. First, I assume that in identifying a subject as "deluded" we would have to know the falsehood of her belief and perhaps identify which fallacies she has committed. We would also need to think through ideas of mental causation and the degree to which a person's beliefs may be linked to neurological events (are we going to assume a reductive account of the mental? or are we going to allow that propositions, mental acts such as 'believing' are irreducible to the physical, in particular, brain states and processes?. We also need more than neurology to identify and define what is a 'religion.' You seem particularly interested in theism, but some important religions are non-theistic (most forms of Buddhism), and some theists are not religious (Richard Taylor may have been a good case of this).

Still, there are some common sense ways in which philosophers have regularly assumed that certain physical and mental conditions are more or less conducive to production philosophical reflection. In ancient Greece, when wine was sometimes consumed during philosophical dialogues, they were careful to mix water and wine to insure that the philosophers remained fit for disciplined inquiry. And today, most of us are aware that philosophical acuity is not enhanced by sleep deprivation, starvation, extremely high heart racing, migrain headaches,organ failure, and (among other things) brain injury. But even in the midst of all these conditions, we still have to study the arguments and reasons that are relevant. Imagine a graduate student stumbles into a seminar. He has not slept in five days, he has not eaten in three days, his heart rate is off the charts, his organs are failing, he has a splitting headache and he sustained brain injury from a car crash, and yet he manages to say: "G.E. Moore's refutation of idealism is spurious." Even though we have some reason for thinking the fellow is not fit for clear philosophical reflection, the best thing for us as philosophers would (so long as the fellow is sufficiently stable to talk) be to hear his reasons rather than to rush him out to give him an MRI.

When arguing about the existence of God, the vast majority of arguments I have

When arguing about the existence of God, the vast majority of arguments I have ever run into always go to the point of asking for evidence. With that word in use they are implying the physical manifestation of evidence to prove God true and, as a theist, that is not how God works in relation to what we are taught. Must evidence, in a physical form or with science backing its existence, be truly necessary to believe in the idea of the supernatural?

Thank you for this inquiry! The idea that all our beliefs, religious or not, must have sufficient evidence is sometimes called "evidentialism." It is much debated today: some philosophers think there is no uncontroversial domain of what may or may not count as evidence nor, if we did agree on what counts as evidence, how much evidence one needs in order for a belief to be justified. I am inclined to think that all or most of our beliefs are in fact backed up by some evidence (reasons for thinking our beliefs are true), however modest and elusive. And I also suggest that the belief in God is rarely without some evidence, even if it only amounts to 'it appears to me that God exists.' But four things might be noted in reply to your question(s).

First, not all evidence for a belief need involve "physical manifestations," a "physical form," or the natural and social sciences. Part of the problem with these claims is that we do not have a clear, universal concept of what counts as physical.

Second, evidence may include the experiential or what seems manifested in one's experience. So, I suspect that for many theists, part of their evidence-base is some sense of the presence and reality of God. Appeals to experience in a philosophical argument is sometimes referred to as an appeal to phenomenology, an appeal to what seems evident in our experience. Appeals to phenomenology are sometimes used in ethics (e.g. claims are advanced that good and evil are evident in our experiences of health and harm), philosophy of mind (some philosophers seem to deny the reality of consciousness and awareness; other philosophers reply that such a denial flies against all our waking experience), aesthetics (e.g. appeal to our experience of what seems like beauty and ugliness). There are also a variety of arguments for theism based on religious experience. You may find references to this literature on the free, online Stanford Encyclopedia.

Third, a significan number of philosophers reject "evidentialism" whether in a religious or secular context. Some think that what makes a belief justified or warranted is the reliability of the belief being true, even if the "believer" has little idea of the evidence available. Some philosophers have argued for believing in God on non-evidential grounds, such as Pascal's wager (if you do not know whether there is a God, it is better to believe or assume that there is a God rather than not). In several dynamic, interesting books and papers, Paul Moser (of Loyola University) has argued for the primacy of a volitional account for believing in God. It is "volitional" insofar as Moser argues that to seek God one must be willingly open to recognize the reality of a perfectly good, loving God. Once this openness is in play, Moser believes that a yielding to this God of love will become both apparent and justified (the belief in God through this process is not at all in conflict with one's intellectual integrity). You can find references to his work by just doing a google search for: Paul Moser philosopher belief in God.

Fourth, I suggest that the term "supernatural" may not be the best to employ in connection with reflection on God. This is partly because the term does not have a consistent usage in English and some associate the "supernatural" with the superstitious. The term "theism" (coined in the 17th century in the first philosophy of religion texts in English) is the more consistent term for the belief that there is an all good, powerful, knowing, necessarily existing, omnipresent God who has created and conserves the cosmos in being.

It seems all philosophical arguments for the existence of God all result in

It seems all philosophical arguments for the existence of God all result in having nothing to say about the conception of God, God's attributes or religion. If someone accepts that God exists, how does that belief entail in accepting a particular religion over another, if at all? And if that entailment is accepted does that mean all of the articles of faith of that religion (i.e. ethics, rituals, afterlife) MUST be accepted given that God exists, by coherentism?

Actually, all the classical and most contemporary arguments for the existence of God are each based on (or involve) a conception of God and divine attributes. So, every version of the cosmological argument I know of as used to support theism relies on the idea that, if there is a God, God exists necessarily or is not causally dependent on other beings, God is without beginning or self-explaing, and so on. Most versions of the ontological argument begin with the idea that God is maximally excellent (or God is such that no greater reality can be conceived) and that thesis is used to argue that a maximally excellent being would be necessarily existing, essentially good, omnipotent, omniscient, and so on. For a fuller picture of how arguments rely on divine attributes see the Philosophy of Religion entry in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy or see the book published by Continuum: Philosophy of Religion; A Beginner's Guide. In terms of the philosophical concept and conviction that there is a God, it may be that the concept of God is so general that it does not favor a single religion. Though, if one has reason to believe there is some creative, good, essentially existing Creator, this will make some contribution to the reasonability of some religions. After all, classical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and theistic traditions of Hinduism believe is a creative, good, essentially existing Creator. Additional arguments, though, would then be needed as to why one might adopt Islam rather than Christianity, for example. Some philosophers, though, such as the late Richard Taylor thought that there were two good arguments for believing there is a God (you may find these in his wonderful book Metaphysics), but Taylor had a very low view of religions and, as far as I know, never practiced a religious faith.