Contemporary Christian Philosophy: A Primer

My two posts arguing that Christian belief is reasonable brought out precisely the sorts of incredulity I expected. In return, I thought I’d introduce you to some of the work in contemporary Christian philosophy that I have found convincing. I’m inviting you to reconsider the rational status of Christian belief. So let this post be a primer in contemporary Christian philosophy: an open door to start conversations about the possibility of rational Christian belief and religious belief generally. I worked hard compiling and linking to resources because I’m trying to honor your requests for more information and to respect your intelligence as rational individuals.

Over the last forty years, the field of Christian philosophy has exploded in richness and depth. Much of the work began following the founding of The Society of Christian Philosophers, in 1978. Today the SCP is the largest subgroup in the American Philosophical Association, with over 1100 members of Christians from a vast range of denominations and degrees of theological conservatism and liberalism. (I’m a member!)

These philosophers have produced hundreds of books working out answers to various questions raised by the Christian religion.

As I could tell from my last post, many of you feel that thoughtful arguments for Christian claims do not exist. I once felt similarly, and in this post I thought I’d explain why I changed my mind.

I divide my categorization of books into a wide range of categories on questions that directly or indirectly bear on the truths of the Christian religion.

I. Indirect Arguments for Core Christian Beliefs

I will begin with questions that bear indirectly, specifically books that convinced me to abandon the Christian worldview’s main intellectual competitor: naturalism. For me, these came in three categories, regarding the failure of naturalistic accounts of (i) mind (especially consciousness and intentionality), (ii) choice and free will and (iii) the nature of morality. Naturalism, which I understand as the view that all that exists is describable by science (empirical facts) or that are required to form scientific models (mathematics).

Ia. Mind

I don’t think that naturalism can account for or explain the nature of consciousness, specifically the phenomenon of qualia, or the unique features of conscious experience. I was most convinced by David Chalmers’ famous book, The Conscious Mind. John Searle’s works, especially The Rediscovery of the Mind, convinced me that we cannot give a naturalistic account of intentionality, the fact that mental states have propositional content (they’re about things). He also convinced me that the mind is not a computer, even if it has computational mechanisms.

But Chalmers convinced me Searle’s attempt to avoid dualism is a failure and Searle convinced me that Chalmers’ (then) epiphenomenalism was implausible. This led me to property dualism about mental properties, but I agreed with Searle that property dualism is unstable and collapses into substance dualism. And Richard Swinburne’s book, The Evolution of the Soul, and John Foster’s book, The Immaterial Self, convinced me that substance dualism was a perfectly respectable philosophical position. So I think there are souls, and I think I have darn good philosophical reason to think so.

Ib. Free Will

For years, I didn’t take issues of free will seriously, but Peter Van Inwagen’s famous book, An Essay on Free Will, convinced me that free will and moral responsibility were inextricably tied, and since I was unable to give up moral responsibility, I became a libertarian about free will. Namely, I occasionally have the power to do otherwise than I did. The initial conditions of the universe and the laws of nature do not preclude me from doing otherwise. I did other reading in the literature, but it was Van Inwagen that anchored me. I now take compatibilist challenges pretty seriously, especially those advanced by Michael McKenna, but I still think libertarians have the upper hand.

Ic. Morality

Many naturalists reject moral claims altogether. I always found that position not merely wrong but repulsive. There are things that are wrong to do and any worldview that cannot explain that some things are genuinely wrong is a bad worldview. Any conscientious person is sufficiently committed to condemning things like the Holocaust to abandon naturalism if she became convinced that naturalism could not explain the fact that the Holocaust was a terrible moral crime. And I came to believe that facts about goodness could not be grounded in desire or preference. Mark Murphy’s book, Natural Law and Practical Rationality, played a role here, but so did Nozick’s experience machine case in Anarchy, State and Utopia. There is an objective account of human interests and the human good that cannot be reduced to any natural facts. That is, there are normative facts, facts about what is good for us and what we should seek, that cannot be explained by scientific inquiry and that do not supervene on natural facts. Aristotle and Aquinas’s accounts of human nature and substantial forms helped me to explain why some things are good and bad for humans, and Aristotelian-Thomism is a serious, rich competitor to contemporary naturalisms. I also think Divine Command Theory has been rehabilitated as a serious moral theory by Robert Adams in Finite and Infinite Goods.

I became similarly convinced about the idea of right because, while I am a deontologist, I think that rightness is understood partly as a set of moral requirements to advance the good, and if the good cannot be naturalized, then I think it follows the right cannot be either. However, I am considerably more sympathetic to naturalistic accounts of rightness than goodness.

Id. What of Christianity?

Now, if you become a libertarian about free will, a substance dualist about mind and an objectivist about the human good, you most certainly do not have to be a Christian. But Christianity is committed to these views (in my opinion). And by showing that those commitments are correct, some of the biggest objections have been cleared away.

II. Direct Arguments for Core Christian Beliefs

Now I shall review works on the core Christian claims, specifically (a) arguments for God’s existence, (b) further arguments for the divine attributes, (c) arguments for rational belief in miracles, (d) arguments for rational belief in religious experience, (e) arguments for the reliability of religious texts like the Bible (not their infallibility), (f) arguments making sense of the doctrine of the atonement, (g) arguments that revealed doctrines like the Trinity, while sometimes mysterious, remain undefeated and (h) arguments that if theism is true, Jesus probably rose from the dead. There’s a lot more to say, but this, if I do say so myself, is a great start.

Note that there are Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries with bibliographies on most of these topics. You can also review another list of arguments here.

IIa. Arguments for God’s Existence

A great introduction is Richard Swinburne’s The Existence of God.

(i) Cosmological Arguments

Cosmological arguments attempt to demonstrate that God is the creator of the contingently existing cosmos. “Prime Mover” arguments are versions of cosmological arguments, but they’re not the best. The best cosmological arguments, in my mind, are arguments from the mere fact of contingent facts. If you adopt even a modest version of the principle of sufficient reason, the existence of a necessary being, or at least onenecessary concreta, basically follows as a matter of modal logic. Just check out the simple version in the SEP entry to evaluate this claim for yourself. The cosmological argument is plainly logically valid, and its core substantive premises are plausible and attractive in many ways. That’s as much from a philosophical argument as you might ask. I have a couple of favorite discussions of cosmological arguments. I think Ed Feser’s discussion of Aquinas’s five ways in his Aquinas is especially accessible, though I quite like the considerably harder analysis of Aquinas’s arguments in Norman Kretzman’s commentary on Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles in The Metaphysics of Theism: Aquinas’s Natural Theology in Summa Contra Gentiles I. I think Leibniz’s argument is still pretty damn good, but I like the two recent, anthologized versions advanced by Richard Taylor here. I quite like (though haven’t finished) Alex Pruss’s book on the principle of sufficient reason, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment and my friend Josh Rasmussen’s cutting edge work in the area. Here’s his piece, “From States of Affairs to a Necessary Being” in Phil Studies and his piece, “A New Argument for a Necessary Being” in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

You can check out Alex Pruss’s page on cosmological and ontological arguments here.

Here’s a short paper of Pruss’s defending his very restricted version of the PSR.

Oh, and if you’re interested, Josh has set up a neat page trying to test intuitions to see if they entail the existence of a necessary being here:

Here’s the SEP entry on cosmological arguments.

Also see Doherty’s awesome bibliography here.

(ii) Ontological Arguments

Cosmological arguments, at least in their first stage, only get you at least one necessary being. I think it will follow on analysis of the very idea of a necessary being that certain divine attributes follow. However, that takes more work. The promise of ontological arguments is to get you to something very much like God pretty darn quickly. The problem with ontological arguments is that they initially seem to reek of bullshit. The awesome thing about ontological arguments is that it’s actually really hard to explain what is wrong with them. You might consider reviewing David Lewis’s amazing attempt to identify the real problem here in Chapter 2, “Anselm and Actuality” in the first volume of his Philosophical Papers. I think Anselm’s argument works iff you accept his neo-Platonic metaphysics, which I think is weird but not insane. There’s a much more worked out version in his Monologion, which predates the much more famous Proslogion. I think the SEP entry shows why Kant didn’t definitively refute ontological arguments, as I think most philosophers personally believe. The fact is plenty of ontological arguments just don’t depend on treating existence as a predicate. I think Plantinga develops a pretty novel modal version of the argument in Chapter 10 his wonderful book, The Nature of Necessity. The problem with the modal ontological argument is that while it follows as a matter of (somewhat contentious) modal logic that if God is metaphysically possible, then He necessarily exists, it also follows that if God is metaphysically possibly-not, then He is impossible. But if you can be rationally justified in believing that there exists at least one possible world in which a Maximally Great being exists, then simple modal axioms entail that God exists in this possible world, the actual world. And Plantinga says in his famous article that he’s merely trying to show that there is an ontological argument that can justify theistic belief.

Pruss, I’m told, is all really good on ontological arguments. Go here and here for his defense of Gödel’s version.

(For libertarians: Pruss is awesome. He’s like a Catholic Robin Hanson: inventive mind, ridiculous math and formal chops, willing to consider completely bizarre and fun scenarios as a guide to truth. And he blogs.)

Here’s the SEP entry on ontological arguments.

Also see Doherty’s awesome bibliography here.

(iii) Teleological Arguments

Teleological arguments generally try to establish that God exists based on the presence of intelligently designed features of the universe. You are probably most familiar with the biological versions of the argument most famously advanced by William Paley. Paley was actually really freaking smart and I encourage you to read his famous book, Natural Theology. He anticipates a Darwin-like challenge that design could arise as a series of very minor alterations, but argues that the design inference is nonetheless valid. I think design inferences are licensed so long as the presence of order in the world is more probable on the conjunction of theism and evolution than on the conjunction of atheism and evolution. And I think it’s perfectly plausible to think as much.

But the better teleological arguments in my mind are the cosmological fine-tuning arguments, especially the cool one advanced by Rob Collins, which you can find here. Here also has a great website on the fine-tuning argument here. Collins has advanced the view that on the assumption that the cosmological constants of physics could have had different values, a quite strong case for the existence of a powerful, good, intelligent being can be made. I agree with him.

Here’s the SEP on teleological arguments.

Also see Doherty’s awesome bibliography here.

(iv) Properly Basic Belief

Now, I don’t think you actually need any of the classical theistic arguments to demonstrate that theism can be epistemically justified. Reformed epistemologists have been arguing as much for decades. The idea, roughly, is that belief in God can be properly basic, or held without any justifying reasons at all. Now, Reformed epistemologists take on a kind of theistic reliabilism about whether one is entitled to or warranted in believing a great many things. This means that so long as one’s cognitive faculties reliably track the truth, rational belief does not require any internal psychological access to one’s justifiers for one’s beliefs. I don’t find reliabilism all that plausible outside of perceptual beliefs, but I think it’s a perfectly respectable way to go. I think what Plantinga showed in his wonderful God and Other Minds is something simpler, namely that belief in God has the same epistemic status as belief in other minds. There’s no way to prove to all rational persons that God exists, nor is it possible to prove that other minds exist. For all I know, you’re a bunch of zombie meat husks with no consciousness. But my belief is nonetheless justified. Of course, Plantinga has the great, magesterial work on the matter, Warranted Christian Belief, where he works out his most detailed statement of Reformed epistemic approaches to Christian belief, but there are perfectly respectable internalist ways to go as well.

The general point here is that I think atheists implicitly hold the rationality of theistic belief to absurdly high standards, far beyond the rationality of belief in all sorts of weird views. I don’t think that asymmetric treatment can be justified, not even a bit.

You’ll want to see Platinga and Wolterstorff’s book on Faith and Rationality.

Here’s a brief SEP entry on Reformed Epistemology.

IIb. Arguments for the Divine Attributes

Now many of you are no doubt thinking that even if the theistic arguments are sufficient to justify belief, they don’t prove that the God of Christianity exists. This is true, though the ontological argument comes rather close, though admittedly it is the most dicey. However, combinations of these arguments can get us quite a bit. For instance, a cosmological argument can give us omnipotence (since God ultimately explains all contingent facts) and that God is personal (since a necessary being cannot be material, since matter can cease to exist). Further, since God knows how to create the universe, he must know quite a bit. The teleological argument can strengthen our convictions in God’s power and intelligence. We can also see God’s benevolence in creation in various ways, though obviously the problem of evil is a very powerful challenge here.  However, there are lots of arguments that follow the establishment of the more modest premises in the traditional theistic arguments, what we often call “stage 2” of theistic arguments. There are so many divine attributes, so I can’t say too much here that’s at all definitive. But I will point you to the discussion in Kretzmann (here and here) and Stump (here, especially Part I), which are the ones I’ve paid most attention to besides reading Aquinas himself.

If you’re interested, here are some other recommendations. Check out my friend Josh Rasmussen’s piece, “From a Necessary Being to God,” here (ungated).

Also see Doherty’s awesome bibliography on the divine attributes here.

(i) Divine Eternality, Simplicity

But let me sketch some of the arguments in their generic form. If there exists a necessary being, it obviously exists at all points in time, so the being is eternal. And arguably a necessary being cannot have parts, since if it had parts, those parts could conceivably come apart. If so, then God must be perfectly simple.

(ii) Divine Omnipotence and Intelligence

If God is the source of all contingency, then it seems He can do a great many metaphysically possible things, which doesn’t show perfect omnipotence, but is pretty damn close. And of course omnipotence does not involve doing the logically impossible, since there’s nothing that there is to be logically impossible.

What’s more, God is an intelligence because he is a causally endowed immaterial being. A necessary being cannot be a material being because matter can cease to exist. And if he isn’t matter, he must be either mental or abstracta. And since abstracta lack efficient causal power, he must be mental. So God is an intelligence, a pure spirit.

And since God is a causally endowed intelligence, then all his causal power is based on his reasoning and will. If so, it’s hard to see how God couldn’t be spectacularly intelligent. If that doesn’t do it for you, then source the cosmological fine-tuning argument, which shows that God’s handiwork is pretty darn spectacular. He must be pretty smart.

(iii) Divine Goodness

A necessary being must be a good being, on Aquinas’s view, because a being that is the source of all contingency must possess all the “perfections,” which is a kind of Platonic argument I don’t entirely understand. My reason for thinking that God is all good is that a simple being cannot possibly be evil because evil requires a rational misapprehension of the good and at least some degree of self-deception. A simple mind has no parts to it, and so cannot hide anything form itself. It is incapable of the cognitively necessary conditions for doing evil. So that’s why God is good. He’s good for other reasons, but there’s one I find interesting.

The divine attributes are relatively unexplored territory in contemporary Christian philosophy. People work on it, but I think there are a lot of cool questions that haven’t been given as adequate a treatment. But in all likelihood, my turn to moral and political philosophy, along with political economy, has led me to overlook a lot of good literature. So here are some recommendations:

(a) Omnipotence: Flint, T., and A. Freddoso. “Maximal Power.” In The Existence and Nature of God.

(b) Omniscience: Kvanvig, Jonathan. The Possibility of an All-Knowing God.

(c) Eternity: Helm, Paul. Eternal God.

(d) Simplicity: Brower, Jeffrey. “Making Sense of Divine Simplicity.”

 IIc. On Miracles

A lot of people think that Hume’s criticism of belief in miracles is decisive. I don’t. There is a lot of writing on this, but I like C.S. Lewis’s brief discussion in his book Miracles and Swinburne’s discussions in various books, all the way from his short work, The Concept of a Miracle in 1970 to his discussion in The Resurrection of God Incarnate. The basic idea of Lewis’s critique and a number of others is that the probability of miracles is heavily dependent on the probability of theism, so the probability of miracles is relative (surprise) to your background beliefs. It’s rather hard, accordingly, to show that belief in miracles (like the resurrection of Jesus Christ) is irrational in general.

See this piece: McGrew, Timothy & Lydia, 2009, “The Argument from Miracles,” in William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Also see this recent (ungated) piece on the argument from miracles by Daniel Bonevac and this by John Depoe attempts to give a Bayesian approach to confirming miracles.

Here’s the SEP on miracles.  It’s written by Tim McGrew, who I’m told is excellent on the topic, but I haven’t read him.

IId. On Religious Experience

The classic work on the veracity of religious experience is William Alston’s Perceiving God, which had a major impact on me. Alston thinks that if God exists, we can be warranted in believing we have experienced Him when He contacts us. The work is based on a form of Reformed epistemology, but I think its arguments can be broadened beyond that perhaps more controversial basis. Alston has an interesting argument that we aren’t capable of validating experiential practices outside of the practice itself for just about any sensory practice, so the same might be true for our faculty for perceiving God.

See the SEP on religious experience.

IIe. On Religious Texts

Two great books arguing in favor of the rationality of belief in divine revelation, say through religious texts are Swinburne’s classic Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy and Sam Fleischacker’s recent book, Divine Teaching and the Way of the World: A Defense of Revealed Religion, which I just reviewed for Mind.

IIf. On the Atonement

Again I love Swinburne here. I like his Responsibility and Atonement, but I also like Eleanore Stump’s discussion of atonement in her book, Aquinas in Chapter 15. And, well, I like Anselm! See Cur Deus Homo, which outlines the substituionary view. It includes some wild assumptions that aren’t necessary to the defense, however, as Swinburne and Stump show, I think.

SEP entry is here.

IIg. On the Trinity

The Trinity is the doctrine I’ve read about least. I think the idea is mysterious, but I know enough people who read and write about it that I think I have good reason to think I can avoid proposed defeaters for my views. A lot of you think, “Well, it’s dumb because three can’t be one. QED.” But obviously the doctrine is the God is three in one sense and one in another. So unless you know those distinct senses, I’m not sure you have a defeater in hand. You can find recent literature below (like Swinburne’s non-orthodox view), but I still think Augustine’s On the Trinity is pretty good, as it Aquinas’s discussion in the Summa (discussed here). The real question here is (a) whether the doctrine is coherent and (b) whether it is Scripturally grounded. I have only read about (a). My ground for (b) is my belief that God established a Church to think through these issues, so I rely on the ecumenical councils for my information. I consider them experts and can defend that view if you like.

SEP entry here. (Yes, they even have an entry on The Trinity; the SEP is awesome).

IIh. On the Resurrection

This one is pretty critical because it’s one of the core claims that many contemporary Christian philosophers used to draw people into the faith. I still love Swinburne’s The Resurrection of God Incarnate and find Lewis’s discussion in Mere Christianity a good introduction, though not a good place to end one’s inquiry. But there are so many books on the matter, ranging from The Case for Christ all the way up the ladder of philosophical sophistication to Swinburne, with everything in between. And of course you cannot discuss this topic without referring to all of William Lane Craig’s books on the subject. There are several debate books, but one stand alone is The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Please note that these aren’t proofs that atheists should believe that Jesus rose. Instead, I think they’re sufficient to justify theists in believing that Jesus rose from the dead.

III. Replies to Core Objections to Christian Beliefs

The books cited have already answered many objections to Christianity, such as that God does not exist, that the Gospels are unreliable, that the atonement and the Trinity make no sense. But three big problems remain (in increasing order of importance: (a) the problem of hell, (b) the conflict between science and religion, (c) the problem of divine wickedness and (d) the problem of evil. I won’t cover the problems of divine hiddenness and petitionary prayer.

IIIa. The Problem of Hell

Lots of Christian philosophers are universalists these days. Maybe most are, so there’s no problem of hell because everyone gets out eventually. For a core Christian challenge to the doctrine of hell, see Marilyn McCord Adams’s article, “The problem of hell: a problem of evil for Christians” in Reasoned Faith: Essays in Philosophical Theology in Honor of Norman Kretzmann (. Follow the citation path from there. I think the doctrine makes sense so long as everyone there prefers God’s absence to God’s presence, such that Lewis was right in saying the gates of hell are locked from the inside. I quite like his discussion in The Great Divorce.

Also see Jon Kvanvig’s book (which I’m told is great): The Problem of Hell.

There’s even an SEP entry on heaven and hell!

IIIb. Science and Religion

There is so much on the science-religion conflict I can’t begin to review it adequately. You can read Alvin Plantinga’s SEP entry on the matter. I love, love, love his new book on the matter, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism, which just came out. I think Plantinga decisively shows that there is no conflict between physics and evolutionary biology on the one hand and the core Christian creeds on the other. Basically, on theism, science describes the regularities that obtain when God does not engage in special action, but God can engage in special action from time to time, rarely, so as not to render scientific claims anything but extremely probable. But God doesn’t need to upset the order of nature very much for core Christian claims to be true. What’s more, naturalism and evolution are in tension with one another.

Again, here’s the SEP entry.

IIIc. Divine Wickedness

Again, there’s a lot here, but for a series of struggles to make sense of divine action in the Old Testament see this reader: Divine Evil: The Moral Character of the God of Abraham for some defenses and attacks drawn from a recent conference on the matter. I’m a Stump guy myself, but Wolterstorff and Swinburne’s contributions are interesting, alone with Mark Murphy’s. You can check out an NDPR review here.

IIId. The Problem of Evil

Finallywe reach the granddaddy of all problems for Christianity and theistic belief general, the problem of evil. Importantly, the problem of evil literature has exploded since Mackie’s challenge in The Miracle of Theism. Plantinga is widely believed to have refuted Mackie’s version of the problem, which purports to show that there is no possible world in which God and evil coexist. Plantinga shows that there is at least one possible world in which humans have libertarian freedom and God cannot actualize the world without permitting them to commit evil due to the fact that some of these people possess transworld depravity. He argues as much in The Nature of Necessity, but the solution is famous enough in the field to have a Wikipedia entry. Since then people have focused on analyzing the evidential problem of evil, which holds that evil is counterevidence to God’s existence. For anthologies of problems and solutions for both the logical and evidential problems see The Problem of Evil (Oxford Readings in Philosophy), edited by Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams. Also see Daniel Howard-Snyder’s reader, The Evidential Argument from Evil, which has Stephen Wykstra’s famous skeptical reply. These days skeptical theism is a big philosophical project, with Michael Rea having over a million dollars to study the view. I buy into a strong form of skeptical theism where I believe I am justified in (a) affirming theism, (b) affirming that God has morally sufficient reason to permit evil and (c) affirming that neither I nor any other human is in an epistemic position to know what those particular reasons are.

I like Van Inwagen’s discussion in his recent book, The Problem of Evil.

I’m told (but haven’t confirmed) that William Hasker’s book on evil is excellent. See his book, The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering.

But let me say this:

Few books in philosophy have changed my life. But reading early versions of Eleanore Stump’s book Wandering in Darkness made the philosophical and personal questions I had about evil concrete in a powerful way that continues to move me. The book is nothing short of extraordinary, a true tour-de-force. It is beautiful.

For a brief overview of recent work in the area, see Trent Dougherty’s piece in Analysis.

Here’s the SEP on the problem of evil.

Also see Doherty’s awesome bibliography on the problem of evil here.

IV. Conclusion

So I’ve given you a brief overview of recent philosophical work I have found extremely useful in (a) rebutting Christianity’s main philosophical competitor, naturalism, (b) establishing epistemic justification for core Christian claims and (c) successfully rebutting powerful objections.

Now, suppose someone like me reads many of these books and decides that Christianity is true. Is she stupid or ill-informed? Did she fail to discharge her epistemic duties? Is she simply guilty of motivated cognition and wish fulfillment? Or has she acquitted herself with a highly respectable degree of reasoning?

I understand that many of you want to resist what I’m saying. But given this background, are you still as sure as you were that a rational person under modern conditions can’t be a Christian? All I’m asking is for you to entertain the idea that rational Christian belief is possible.

  • M Lister

    I won’t say that Searle’s work shouldn’t have convinced you of what it did, but it would be a bit ironic if it did, as Searle himself is a naturalist and holds out hope for a naturalistic account of intentionality. He has no truck with or time for dualism at all, and thinks that consciousness and intentionality are perfectly natural properties- he just doesn’t think we understand them well now, and thinks that the computational model doesn’t work. But he certainly doesn’t think his view is anti-naturalist or supports dualism. Whether he’s right about that might be a different matter, but that’s his own view. (It is also worth noting that Searle’s view is a real minority one in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Very few people think it’s right. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, of course [I have some sympathy for some parts of it myself] but I do think it’s worth noting that it’s a real minority view.)

    • Kevin Vallier

      That’s why it was in tandem with Chalmers. Both convinced me materialism is false. Searle convinced me epiphenomenalism was false, Chalmers convinced me that Searle’s non-reductive physicalism is false. All that was left was causally efficacious property dualism, which I think plausibly collapses into substance dualism.

      • eccentric-opinion

        Reductive physicalism also remains.

        • Karmakaiser


  • For me, this post could have used a more explicit description of how any of this is supposed to be important to libertarianism in general or “bleeding heart libertarianism” specifically.

    • Sean II

      Obviously I’m on the hunt for any chance to say something conciliatory after my many confrontational remarks, but may I suggest four possible sources of relevance:

      1) Many libertarians are militant atheists who consider belief in god to be something other than an innocent mistake.

      2) Many libertarians are militant atheists who consider belief in god to be inconsistent with a thick conception of human freedom.

      3) Many libertarians are skeptical about arguments from reasonable pluralism, of which this makes a very attention-getting example.

      4) In so far as Bleeding Heart Libertarians is about free markets and social justice, there are many interesting things that might be said about the strong overlap between Christianity and market societies in history, and jumping off from there, about the tension (and possible harmony) between markets and Christian social teaching.

      • dfjdejulio

        I am curious: are you equating “unreasonable” and “something other than an innocent mistake”?

        (If so, I may not be clear on how you’re using the word “innocent”. Do you consider it to be morally necessary to only hold “reasonable” beliefs, for example?)

        I think some belief in god is simple error due to environment and nature. (There’s plenty of evidence that people are not wired to be extremely rational.) I think some belief in god is the result of deliberate, malicious fraud on the part of someone other than the believer (sometimes someone very far removed from the believer). I think some belief in god is the result of *flaws*, but not necessarily *guilt*, in the part of the believer. I’d be tempted to call *each* of those “an innocent mistake”.

        • Sean II

          Here’s how you get to “other than an innocent mistake”:

          Let’s say you grow up in a Christian house in a Christian town. Almost every person you meet for your first 18 years is a Christian, or close enough, a Jew. But nobody you meet is an avowed non-believer, and so any doubts you have tend to be quickly suppressed. So far so good, in terms of innocence. This situation is not your fault.

          But let’s say despite this, you grow up to develop very significant doubts. In fact, you are sure that much of what you were taught through religion is definitely false and (both historically and presently) quite harmful, but you still wonder now and again if maybe, somehow, they got the big thing – minimal theism – right. You don’t spend too much time wondering, though, for the question just seems strangely unimportant as you go on living what is most likely the only life you’ll ever get.

          Now let’s further say you mostly keep these thoughts to yourself. You continue going to church, professing belief, etc. When other people express doubt, you pretend not to now what they are talking about, and not to share their feelings. Let’s even say (for this is not uncommon) that you raise your own children in faith,as though you had no doubts at all.

          Ah, but now you’re anything but innocent. You’re a contemptible phony and a hypocrite, lying to his friends, his family, and his kids.

          I put it to you that this describes a lot of people you might see driving around overdressed on Saturday or Sunday morning. I put it to you that religion in Western nations today depends heavily on this method of hypocritical transmission: parents who don’t much believe, and certainly don’t follow the rules, faking it because they don’t know how to explain doubt to their children, or just don’t have the balls to tell granny that Michael Jr. will not be going through confirmation.

          • Greg

            Perhaps it is quite difficult for “cultural believers”–that is to say, those brought up in a particular culture with a particular religious basis–to deal with such issues. Emotions become involved. I personally arrived at a Christian perspective perhaps in spite of my family upbringing.

            One’s natural response–once one begins the healthy process of examining one’s beliefs and the basis behind such–is to conclude that because one’s upbringing may have misrerpresented certain theological matters that one is led to the other extreme in rejecting all regarding such.

            All I see here is a reasoned response to deal with this issue. I don’t believe it is “perfect” but it does bring up valid points and I’m not sure I could do any better. On the other hand I appeal to consideration of this presentation on its objective merits to hopefully provide a lively discussion to the benefit of all of our perspectives.

    • Kevin Vallier

      I thought I explained in the last post: a foundational assumption on my work in religion and *politics* is the thoroughly Rawlsian assumption that religious belief can be reasonably affirmed.

      • It could be that I am thick, or it could be that the point was too subtle, but I’m still missing the important link.

        If you were arguing that some libertarians should become more tolerant of objectionable beliefs so long as they meet certain criteria for “reasonableness,” then I think you’re clouding your point by making epistemic justifications for Christianity specifically.

        I guess I am not sure why you have chosen to make such a lengthy justification for Christian beliefs. To me, at least, it comes across as religious advocacy. If that wasn’t your intention, then I have either completely missed the point or I can’t see where it was explicitly made.

        JMHO. The ensuing discussions I’ve had with Jameson Graber have been enlightening for me, but I’m still scratching my head over why it should be important to me that Christians find their own beliefs epistemically “reasonable.”

      • dmaddock1

        Forgive me if I missed this among the several posts, but I’d like to hear more about how representative you think your views are of the Christian tradition and of religious belief in general. It’s one thing to claim “my specific religious belief is reasonable” and another to say “therefore, religious belief in general is reasonable.” Your posts appear to me to be aiming for the latter, no? I think you’ve done a decent job with the former, but what components of the argument do you think apply to the latter and why?

  • dmaddock1

    In my experience, the percentage of Christians whose philosophical beliefs are based on what you explicated above are exceedingly small. So while I have no trouble granting that a certain form of Christian belief can be functionally rational, this says basically nothing about Christianity in the general and historical cases, which in my opinion is and has been rampantly irrational.

    The existence of a minority opinion, post-hoc reasoned Christianity does not convince me to accept the Christian tradition as compellingly rational phenomenon.

    • Rob Gressis

      But don’t you think that the vast majority of people’s beliefs about … well, just about everything is irrational? This doesn’t discredit libertarianism, moral realism, free will, evolutionary theory, mathematics, etc., though.

      • dmaddock1

        I agree with you in principle, a general ignorance doesn’t discredit it if the endeavor is at heart a rational one that is being widely misunderstood. As I see it though, Christianity as an historical phenomenon and philosophy is predicated on irrational premises; it is not, at heart, a rational endeavor. The rational form explicated above is a post-hoc justification for irrational premises. Other religious traditions that don’t rely on accepting so many supernatural claims as fundamental dogmas have a better claim to rationality than Christianity does.

        • Rob Gressis

          dmaddock1, Christianity is surely in part a historical phenomenon, but isn’t everything? I don’t see what’s supposed to follow from this. Is it that Christianity is wedded to some beliefs because of historical contingency rather than reason? Maybe that’s true, but you’d have to look at the record.

          As for the stuff above all being post-hoc justification for irrational premises, I strongly disagree. And I’m moved to ask (and I know this comes off as a personal attack, but I don’t want it to), how much of this stuff have you actually read and grappled with? How many Christian philosophers have you spoken to? I think it’s considerably harder to dismiss it all as post-hoc rationalization, but maybe that’s just me.

          • dmaddock1

            “Is it that Christianity is wedded to some beliefs because of historical contingency rather than reason?” — That’s my claim, yes.

            “how much of this stuff have you actually read and grappled with?” — My parents are ministers and so I of course grew up with all that entails. I attended a Christian college. I married a youth pastor and worked for 5 years for a very large church (managerial side). I can read Greek. Though no longer a believing Christian, I am still very interested in early Christian studies. I’ve had both formal and informal training over the course of my entire life on such things from both religious and secular perspectives and I think I can say I’ve read and grappled with this stuff more than most. I assure you it was not so easy to dismiss, but that’s my honest assessment.

      • Sean II

        I must agree with you in part. It is clear enough that Kevin bears no resemblance to the average Christer on the street, quacking thoughtlessly about the Word, the Light, and the threat of Eternal Damnation.

        No doubt he is horrified by such people, in the same way that we are horrified by those conservatarians who think FEMA is building concentration camps to house the refuseniks of Obamacare.

        If we have the right to disavow Alex Jones, Kevin must have the right to disavow Pat Robertson.

        It is worth noting, however, that Christians have an unusual amount of disavowing to do before they can get down to business. Most of the people who believe or who ever believed in Christ did so with either a) no reason, or b) really bad reasons.

        • Rob Gressis

          Sean II, I’m not sure whether the amount of irrational Christians is really so unusual. I suspect that the number of people who believed in democracy or communism for bad reasons is probably pretty massive as well. What these views have in common is that there is a lot about them that people would like to be true.

          For instance, I’m a practicing Catholic, and I fully admit that there is much about it that I want to be true. (There’s also stuff about it that I don’t want to be true, like some of its sexual morality.)

          • Sean II

            “There’s also stuff about it that I don’t want to be true, like some of its sexual morality.”

            Although…I wonder if they weren’t unto something with that.

            When I was 15, I dated a devout Catholic girl who sincerely believed that she was facing a choice between obeying the master of the universe, or having sex with me. I can hardly overstate the thrill of knowing that’s how she understood her choice, when she chose the latter.

            I’m not suggesting Catholicism is inherently kinky, but I do say it creates an environment in which kink can thrive.

          • j r

            I’m not suggesting Catholicism is inherently kinky, but I do say it creates an environment in which kink can thrive.

            My exact feelings upon reading this:

          • Sean II

            Wow, that’s some crazy ass @#$!.

            Another thing that comes to mind in this connection is the lurid sexual culture that often develops in Christian cults and communes. Sometimes this seems easy to explain as the insatiable perversity of the leader – i.e., Warren Jeffs, David Koresh, Jim Jones.

            But that doesn’t cover the spectrum, because you have things like the Oneida compound, with widespread sexual communism, “male continence” (i.e., deliberate blue-balling expressed as part fetish, part method of birth control), etc.

            Perhaps the simplest way to say it is this: as long as religion tries to control sex, it is doomed to fail in interesting ways, and to succeed in weird ones.

        • If you accept that Xian beliefs can be rational, then you have to accept that “most people are led to their belief in God through divine intervention, either in how he shaped our minds or more directly” is a rational proposition. If so, there is a rational reason to think most Christians hold their faith for a *good* reason, even if it isn’t a *rational* reason. “God wills it” is a great reason to do or believe something.

  • daniilgorbatenko

    Thanks for this very helpful overview. I’d like to address only one point you make specifically because it the most important from the perspective of Aristotelian realism that I adhere to.

    =There’s no way to prove to all rational persons that God exists, nor is it possible to prove that other minds exist. For all I know, you’re a bunch of zombie meat husks with no consciousness. But my belief is nonetheless justified.=

    It is well known that human children are born without any concepts, including the concept of personhood. And yet children later get it. How? Obviously from the people the children interact with, most probably, parents. In other words, there must be something in the external features of human beings (a criterion in the language of Wittgenstein) that allows children to acquire the concept of personhood from observing other persons, although we can’t say what exactly this criterion is. This is IMO sufficient to rebut your central point of support for the belief in God as properly basic, because there is of course no way to explain what the criterion of God’s personhood may be. A disembodied mind is thus just a poetic metaphor that many entertain and some people accept because we do not feel our thoughts as physical.

    • M Lister

      It is well known that human children are born without any concepts,

      Jerry Fodor would like to have a word with you.

      (I don’t actually think Fodor’s extreme version of nativism is at all plausible, but some versions, including some very strong versions of concept nativism, are pretty common in cog sci, common enough that I think it’s at least debatable that it’s “well known that human children are born without any concepts”. That might be true, but it is at least a highly debated position.)

      • daniilgorbatenko

        What would you say about the fact that there are human beings that haven’t acquired language in their childhood and thus don’t have any concepts? This is just one example of such stories

        The story shows that before the guy who is the subject of the story was taught the sign language he had just copied things other people did without ever understanding anything he had been doing.

        • M Lister

          I don’t support nativism in any very strong form. But, these cases are known to people who do, and they think they can deal with them. I’m not an expert and don’t even try to keep up with the most recent debates anymore (as I once did, when I worked on philosophy of mind) but I do know that there is a large and active research program that thinks that a significant portion of concepts are, in some important sense, present at birth. This is an important enough group of people that it seems wrong to me to say that it’s “well know” that children are born w/o concepts, even if that, in fact, is right.

          • daniilgorbatenko

            I did some googling on Fodor and feral/wild children and found nothing so far. Maybe you can advise some serious other philosophers of mind/language who addressed this issue?

          • TomD

            “there are human beings that haven’t acquired language in their childhood and thus don’t have any concepts”

            Fodor would reject this inference. On his view, it’s quite possible to have (e.g.) the concept DOG even if you have no corresponding word. Indeed, he thinks that dogs have concepts, even though they have no language. Similarly for language-less people.

            Fodor’s version of nativism is extreme, of course, but there are plenty of cognitive scientists around who think that many concepts are innate.

          • daniilgorbatenko

            I really recommend you to read the interview of the woman who taught sign language to a languageless man that I linked to two comments above. It is clear from what she is telling that the guy hadn’t had any concepts before she taught the language to him.

            On other things I’ll try to answer after I read something by Pinker or Fodor.

          • M Lister

            You can look at the discussion in Pinker’s _The Language Instinct_ for a useful start. There are lots of differences between Fodor and Pinker, but the similarities here capture what is at least a very significant position in cognitive science, perhaps the dominant one.

          • daniilgorbatenko

            I’ve read a review of Pinker and can’t understand how the logical leap is made from the supposed existence of an innate grammar to the innate existence of concepts.

  • Sean II

    My first thought on reading this:

    “Oh, so it was Professor Vallier, in the Library, with the Opposite of Parsimony Fashioned into a Club.”

  • “All I’m asking is for you to entertain the idea that rational Christian belief is possible.”

    Mission accomplished.

    • Sean II

      I can only sign onto a much weaker version: I accept that rational Christian believers are possible.

      • eccentric-opinion

        I accept that *mostly* rational Christian believers are possible.

        • Sean II

          Yes, I later realized I should have said “otherwise rational”.

    • Engaging Atheist

      All I’m asking is for you to entertain the idea that *rationalizing* Christian belief is possible.

      With that caveat, Mission accomplished.

  • Ask a silly question…

    “Now, suppose someone like me reads many of these books and decides that Christianity is true. Is she stupid or ill-informed?”


    • dfjdejulio

      If you are neither going to be open to even herculean efforts of persuasion, nor attempt to be persuasive, nor even attempt to explain why those things are the case, you are wasting everyone’s time.

      For the moment, I conclude that either you’re as much of an idiot as you seem, or you’re attempting to simply poison the discussion. Even though on the surface our positions might appear to be in agreement, you’ve earned my contempt in a way that the OP has not.


  • dfjdejulio

    At a quick glance: your three basic starting points (Ia, Ib, Ic), I cannot bring myself to consider “reasonable”.

    I’ve been reading arguments on both sides regarding whether naturalism can (as opposed to “does”) explain consciousness for over thirty years. I don’t find any of the arguments that it cannot to be reasonable — I find them all to assume things that it’s not reasonable to assume.

    On free will, that’s absolutely flawed reasoning there. At its root, it seems to be “If we don’t have A, I can’t figure out how to get B. I’m not willing to give up B, therefore I’m going to take A for granted.”. If that’s different from “I’d be sad if Zeus weren’t real, and I don’t want to be sad, therefore Zeus is real” in a truly significant way, I fail to see how.

    And likewise, on Ic, you’re using a non-rational starting point that you merely assert and do not really attempt to justify… “I can’t figure out how to get this conclusion with naturalism, and I’m not willing to do without this conclusion, therefore, naturalism can’t be right”. If the argument is in essence different from that, I cannot see how, and I cannot call that reasonable. Bringing “repulsive” into it… you’re very close to an ad hominem attack there.

    You *seem* to be expressing a bunch of your own preferences and preconceptions and insisting that we all accept them. I cannot see a reasonable basis for doing so myself.

    Perhaps you take for granted that your words will resonate on some emotional level with others, and logical rigor is not needed? That’s not safe to take for granted. On the one hand, not everyone is willing to call beliefs arrived at that way “reasonable”, and on the other hand, even for those who do, those beliefs are basically an accident of your upbringing and environment, so you’ll end up with disagreement. (Why Christianity instead of Zoroastrianism?)

    At this point I do not believe you have arguments at your disposal that will be persuasive to people who are not already predisposed to agree with you.

    Again: it might help if I were more sure where you were ultimately going with this. Given a more narrow context, one can sometimes set aside some objections.

    • dfjdejulio

      (If all you want is for us to grant “most Christians are at least no *less* reasonable than most Muslims, Jews, or Zoroastrians for example”, speaking for myself, I’ll grant that and then wonder what the point of doing so could possibly be.)

    • Kevin Vallier

      Not even Chalmers is reasonable in his field of expertise? He might be the smartest philosopher alive! Here’s the most sophisticated method I’m aware of to date to defended the method by which the qualia intuitions are vindicated. I can’t see how they can’t be reasonable.

      • dfjdejulio

        I’m scanning that, but quickly: do you recognize that you’re requiring skeptics to make an unreasonable effort here, at least according to how I understood you to be using the term “reasonable”?

        Do you continue to reject the notion that “the conviction that Christian beliefs cannot be reasonable can itself be a reasonable belief”?

        If you’re going to reject that and your rejection is going to be based on “but that’s not reasonable because you haven’t studied Chalmers”, then it would be necessary to also conclude that Christian belief cannot be reasonable unless similarly sophisticated arguments on the other side were also studied by everyone involved. (Which I do not *think* you believe, which would make the argument come across as smelling somewhat of solipsism and hypocrisy to me.)

        • Kevin Vallier

          But you explicitly placed yourself in an extremely advanced and sophisticated epistemic community when you said “I’ve been reading arguments on both sides regarding whether naturalism can (as opposed to “does”) explain consciousness for over thirty years.” So I’m entitled to hold you to a far higher standard than others. If you’re an expert in phil cosnciousness, then, yes, denying that Chalmers is reasonable indicates bias or miscomprehension on your part, and so unreasonableness. If you *weren’t* part of that community, I would have a very different view.

          • dfjdejulio

            I think you may be answering a different question than I’ve been asking.

            I asked: do you continue to reject the notion that “the conviction that Christian beliefs cannot be reasonable can itself be a reasonable belief”?

            I suspect you’ve tried to answer: do you continue to reject the notion that “*MY* conviction that Christian beliefs cannot be reasonable can itself be a reasonable belief”?

            I’m *far* more interested in the former than the latter. I’m in fact trying to use the answer to refine the definition of “reasonable” under discussion. I hesitate to get too rigorous before we get past that. It means the difference between “I disagree” and “I agree, but I can’t see any practical consequences, so why are we talking?”.

            (Also: “denying that Chalmers is reasonable indicates bias or miscomprehension on your part, and so unreasonableness”? There is no room for simple fundamental *disagreement*?)

          • Kevin Vallier

            There is huge room for disagreement. My thinking is just that as your level of sophistication and knowledge of a field goes up, so too the requirement to count as a reasonable, honest member of that epistemic community. No one reason Chalmers work carefully, I think, can come away and think he’s simply irrational or unreasonable. But many can come away thinking he is wrong.

          • dfjdejulio

            I’m simply not in agreement with you about Chalmers.

            I understand him to be asserting “I can imagine this thing”, and I think even at that step it’s unreasonable — he’s *not* imagining a thing, he’s imagining a description of that thing. (And so, he has not ruled out the possibility that the thing being imagined is as internally contradictory as “a true falsehood”.)

            The step from that to “therefore the fully elaborated thing, rather than just the simplified description, is necessarily metaphysically not impossible”… no. Not reasonable. (I frankly have trouble seeing how anyone can think it is, for more than a little while. Maybe for a bit when first exposed to it, but I just don’t see how it can stand much scrutiny.)

            (I won’t even assert “justified true belief” that his *conclusion* is absolutely incorrect. I happen to see not much reason to think it is, but that’s not the same thing. I will assert that the path he takes to get there is not a reasonable one. I am pretty sure Dennett, for example, would agree.)

      • dfjdejulio

        I read a bit more on Chalmers, and some things clicked: I now recall “he’s one of the p-zombie guys”.

        I personally find his (and most) discussion of “philosophical zombies” to be *deeply* flawed. The writeups on that topic that I’ve seen have seemed to me to lack sufficient justification for their conclusions.

        (For starters, I’m not sure the assertion that a p-zombie can be imagined, in a sense useful for further discussion, is justified. If you’re just arranging meaningless words and symbols, sure. But if you actually define everything with rigor and detail… show me one person actually *fully* imagining it. Once you’ve got all the systems in place to give all the observable behaviors, and you’ve got an *incredibly* complex system, how can you justify ruling out the *possibility* of qualia necessarily being present as an emergent property? We do not yet understand enough about cognition to do that.)

    • Hume22

      “You *seem* to be expressing a bunch of your own preferences and preconceptions and insisting that we all accept them.”

      In what sense is Kevin “insisting that we all accept them”? It seems to me there is a difference between saying “this is what I believe, stop disparaging my worldview” and “this is what I believe, and you must too on pain of irrationality.” I disagree with almost all of Kevin’s beliefs, but I can nevertheless recognize that smart and reasonable people have beliefs that are not crazy to hold. Perhaps this is a symptom of my time spent doing value theory, and epistemologists and metaphysicians are confident enough to severely limit the possible space of reasonable belief. If so, so much the worse for academic epistemologists/metaphysicians.

      • dfjdejulio

        I’m hearing “I believe these things, and everyone must agree that the line of thought is reasonable” — because there hasn’t been agreement that “the belief that Christian beliefs are not reasonable can itself be held by reasonable people”.

        If someone believes something simply because they *want* to believe something *else* and can’t see a way to believe the latter without believing the former… I simply do not see how a smart and reasonable person could continue to hold that belief without being crazy.

        Maybe I’m just not smart enough to see it (in which case I’d assert that it’s not *reasonable*, in the weak sense I’ve been understanding to be in use here, to require accepting that conclusion).

        I’m also wondering why you included “If so, so much the worse for academic epistemologists/metaphysicians”. That comes across to me as something like ad hominem. It may have been emotionally satisfying to write, but I’m not sure how it’s supposed to carry persuasive power for those who don’t already agree with you.

        • Hume22

          “I’m not sure how it’s supposed to carry persuasive power for those who don’t already agree with you.”

          It’s not meant to persuade. My approach to philosophy is first and foremost first-personal. I do not care as much about persuading others, only myself. Persuasion is secondary (although required from a career perspective). As I see it, if these individuals have this narrow outlook on what sorts of propositions are worthy of serious thought, that is a problem for them, even if they dont/never will see it as a problem. And my experience with M/E is somewhat disheartening in this regard (particularly when discussing moral/social/political issues, very dogmatic, very convinced (extremely high credences, if you will), intolerant, despite complete lack of expertise/familiarity with differing worldviews/theories).

          • dfjdejulio

            If it’s the case that it’s not meant to persuade, then I can understand why you *thought* it, but may I ask why you *wrote* it?

            (I’ll also note that I’m not sure I consider the jump from “a narrow outlook regarding what is ‘reasonable'” to “a narrow outlook on what’s ‘worthy of serious thought'” to be completely justified. I do think part of our problem here is, at least for me, we’re working with a slippery definition of “reasonable” that hasn’t been nailed down in a consistent manner. I’ve been trying to combine what I perceive as a bunch of implicitly contradictory meanings here. It *seems* to me that we’re flowing back and forth between “reasonable” requiring more and less rigor, without justification that’s clear to me. I’m using the term in ways that I hope will *either* expose to me what the justifications are, which will let me clarify my words and move forward, *or* expose to me that there aren’t any, which will let me dismiss the discussion and have lunch.)

          • Hume22

            Why did I write it? “It’s something I say to all my prey… Just like the sound of it.” Just kidding. It’s probably just me projecting inner frustrations related to on-going (and enjoyable) discussions with colleagues. Not very important, not meant to be personal. If you are a metaphysician/epistemologist, I had no idea of this and complete coincidence.

          • dfjdejulio

            I don’t call myself a metaphysician/epistemologist, but I do consider epistemology very important, and I do consider rational thinking very rare, so I took the basic gist of what you were saying as intended to be applicable to folk who think the way I do.

            So I was trying to get at the “much the worse” bit to see if there was something you felt those like me are usually missing that I might benefit from gaining. (That is to say: my motive for asking was a very selfish one.)

    • Hume22

      “those beliefs are basically an accident of your upbringing and environment”

      I hold a pretty standard naturalistic worldview, atheist/agnostic, etc. I was raised in a household without religion and educated in public school. My worldview is just as much an accident of upbringing and environment as is the worldview of religious folk. To me, I just cant accept that there is a single god who care about me, etc. It’s just something that is at odds with my entire conception of *Everything* that I dont think any argument could convince me otherwise. Thankfully I am self-aware of this. Epistemic humility is a virtue, to me anyway.

    • Hurlbut

      Here’s one reason to think that naturalism will never be able to explain consciousness even in principle: matter is devoid of qualitative properties (per naturalism), ever since the mechanistic revolution of Descartes. Any properties that were not describable in terms of math were put on the “mind” side of the ledger. His dualism was methodological.

      But if matter is devoid of qualitative properties, and consciousness consists of qualitative properties, then there cannot be, even in principle, an explanation of consciousness in material terms.

      • dfjdejulio

        (An extremely and obviously flawed argument, IMHO; flowing back and forth between the objective world and our subjective worlds, not using well-defined terms, and ignoring emergent phenomena.)

        • Hurlbut

          “Emergence” is property-dualism, so not only would this argument not ignore emergence, it could in fact be seen as an argument FOR emergence.

          • dfjdejulio

            The assertion “there cannot be, even in principle, an explanation of consciousness in material terms” ignores emergent phenomena.

          • Hurlbut

            “Emergence” is property-dualism, so not only would this argument not ignore emergence, it could in fact be seen as an argument FOR emergence.

  • Hume22

    You do realize that you have likely caused Brian Leiter to go all Yosemite Sam in reaction to this…

  • Motivated Cognition

    Yes, it’s motivated cognition. People are really, really good at that. It’s what we evolved intelligence for. Kevin, you’re clearly very smart and well-read. All the literature you have cited is evidence of that. But that doesn’t make you rational.

    For those who find arguments like the ones referenced in the original post persuasive, I strongly recommend going through the following sequence of blog posts:

    As for libertarianism and pluralism, obviously libertarians should tolerate coexisting with various religious groups. That has nothing to do with how reasonable the religion is. Libertarians should also tolerate those who prefer sweetened pickles to sour pickles, no matter how irrational the former is. Beliefs don’t have to be reasonable for libertarians to tolerate them.

    For those who find zombies persuasive:

    On a more general note, for anyone who considers themselves intelligence and well-read and wants to make the most of those qualities, I strongly recommend the sequences on LessWrong. What I’ve linked to should give you a taste of the type of instruction you’ll get nowhere else.

    • Kevin Vallier

      (a) You’re making being rational next to impossible, or so it seems to me. That’s a cost to a theory of rationality. (b) The “less wrong” community, as I understand it, is rooted in a commitment to Bayesian epistemology, no?

      • Motivated Cognition

        Yes, being rational is difficult, and yes, it makes it more difficult to convince others of your rationality. However, that is the way the cookie crumbles. You adequately demonstrated to me that you are well-read and intelligent. This is not the same thing as demonstrating that you are free of motivated cognition. Or shall I reference the many, many well-read and intelligent people who believed in very stupid and evil things for sophisticated but ultimately irrational reasons throughout history including and up to today? Have you heard of the Flat Earth Society? They know more about the arguments for and against the Round Earth Hypothesis than you or I do, and they have decided in their intelligence and education that the earth is flat. Are they rational?

        Yes, Bayes Law is popular on LessWrong. It’s popular many places, of course, because it’s dead useful. I’m not sure what constitutes “Bayesian epistemology,” exactly, but the sequence I linked to shouldn’t even require knowledge of Bayes Law, let alone a commitment to “Bayesian epistemology” to get a great deal of value out of it, including the realization that God does not exist, if one does not already know this.

        • Hume22

          My cultural background is such that I am likely to accept evidence of motivated reasoning, despite a complete lack of expertise or technical training. I assume that you are motivationally biased in such a way that you will reject anything that does not conform to your pre-rational worldview. As are we all. I tend not think god exists, but I do not pretend this to be a rational view of mine. Agnosticism seems the warranted stance.

        • Kevin Vallier

          I have two thoughts: (i) on my epistemic view, motivation cognition is only problematic insofar as it leads you to unjustified beliefs or (ii) leads you to *sustain* your beliefs on a poor basis where no alternative justification exists. So suppose I came to believe in some mathematical theorem for bad reasons but now I believe it for good reasons, and so motivated cognition was involved. That doesn’t matter, because my *sustaining* reasons are good.

          Further, I think Bayesian epistemic practices are *very* hard to operationalize, especially for philosophical beliefs. However am I to use Bayesianism to decide, for instance, whether other minds exist? Or whether there is an external world? Or whether the world is constituted by matter or ideas? Or what universals exist?

          • Motivated Cognition

            True enough. But the point of the original post was to demonstrate that a Christian can acquit themselves “with a highly respectable degree of reasoning,” that rational people can be Christians, and the original post does not accomplish this task. Do you agree?

            Not through the rigorous use of Bayes Law, in practice. LessWrong users should probably come up with a better way of describing themselves. But essentially, the LessWrong method as I would describe it is to adopt the most successful priors and update based on additional evidence in a pragmatic approximation of Bayes Law, based on the principle that beliefs should “pay rent.” But as you’ll see in the linked sequence of posts, you don’t have to buy much into that stuff to grasp the lack of religious belief that rationality demands in our universe where the evidence does not support the existence of a god.

          • Kevin Vallier

            No, because I don’t understand your argument that a Christian *cannot* acquit herself with a high degree of reasoning, as we don’t have the relevant metrics on your own account to show that she hasn’t. Intuitively, it seems to me she’s done all she needs to do.

          • Motivated Cognition

            Did I say “cannot?” Of course you can in principle, although in this universe you will not be able to because God does not exist.

            I merely argued that you did not prove this. It is you who set out to prove your rationality by referencing a great deal of literature. It is you who would need to demonstrate that you succeeded in your task. If you cannot, then so be it. It is not proof that you are irrational either.

            Furthermore, in a world that contains a Flat Earth Society, alluding to your wealth of knowledge of the subject in question is not proof that you are rational even in a looser sense of the word.

          • Nevin

            Motivated Cognition: Several of the Christian philosophers Kevin mentioned, including Swinburne, the McGrews, Dougherty, and I think Pruss are committed Bayesians. Many other Christian philosophers, while not completely signing on to the Bayesian project, explicitly use Bayesian reasoning in their published theistic arguments (e.g., Plantinga and Wykstra). The thesis that Christian belief can be rational is not predicated on a rejection of Bayesianism.

          • Kevin Vallier

            That’s a great point. Swinburne is so Bayesian it’s staggering. Using Bayes’s theorem, in The Resurrection of God Incarnate, he concludes that the probability Jesus rose from the dead is 97%!

          • Can a probability other than 0 or 1 even be assigned to a historical event?

          • Damien S.

            Not to the Platonic event itself, but we don’t know what those are. The probability is assigned to the statements about historical events, and applies to whether the statements are true.

            Of course, even if one gives such a high probability to Jesus rising from the dead, what is then the probability of his being the Son of God?

    • This is fantastic! Thanks for the links!

      • Motivated Cognition

        Glad you enjoy. The LessWrong sequences are a treasure trove and I like to spread them where I can.

  • Sergio Méndez

    Yeah, I was into analytical anglo saxon christian philosophy since many years ago, and that is why I thought that christianity can be held as a reasonable belief (yet most probably false). The only thing that still I find absurd is that there exist any posible reasonable defense of the divine command theory. From what I see, Socrates killed it 2500 years ago in the Eutrypho, and all attempts to rehabilitate it are condemed to the most absolute failre (not to mention the divine command theory usually leads to morally repulsive conclusions, like Abraham being willing to murder his own son just because God commanded it),

    • Kevin Vallier

      Adams in Finite and Infinite Goods is pretty good, but yea, I’m not DCT guy.

      • Rob Gressis

        Richard Boyd seems to have a lot of respect for Adams’s DCT, and that alone is a good reason for thinking that Socrates didn’t kill it. Moreover, what Adams does in Finite and Infinite Goods is no different from what any metaethical naturalist does: find the non-normative state of affairs that is the best fit for our judgments of moral obligatoriness, and conclude that that non-normative state of affairs is identical to something’s being morally obligatory. I think that Socrates kills DCT only if he killed ethical naturalism as well.

  • martinbrock

    That’s a long post, even for Kevin, so I’ll reply in parts.

    I find myself agreeing with Kevin as much as anyone else at BHL, but I’m a fairly convinced naturalist myself. I see no need for a dualistic soul, so I reject one on the grounds that I should reject anything that I’m inclined to believe only because it makes me feel better. I’m willing to believe things that make me feel better, but I’m more skeptical of these things rather than less so, because I wish to avoid confirmation bias. I can be convinced of a dualistic soul, but I can’t incorporate one into my thinking axiomatically.

    The natural sciences as I understand them do not account well for consciousness; however, this fact does not imply either that naturalism cannot account for consciousness or that any alternative to naturalism can account for consciousness. I haven’t seen a compelling account of consciousness anywhere else either. Christians talk about consciousness, but their stories are not a compelling theory of consciousness. My consciousness clearly exists. I don’t need Christianity to convince me of this fact.

    I haven’t read The Rediscovery of the Mind, but I’ve read several of Searle’s essays, and his Chinese Room is not persuasive to me at all. I accept the Systems objection to this argument. Expecting the man in the Chinese Room to comprehend Chinese, at the level of his consciousness, is nonsensical, and the absence of his comprehension demonstrates nothing. A single neuron in my head does not comprehend the words I’m writing, and if Searle somehow substitutes a man operating the controls of a Neuron Simulator for one of my neurons, this man would not comprehend the words I’m writing either.

    I’m also a libertarian on free will, but we don’t seem to understand “free will” similarly otherwise. I don’t know whether I can act other than as I do act, but I have a will distinct from yours, so I can act contrary to your will. My will can be free of your will in the sense that you impose no consequences upon me when I behave contrary to your will. Only this sense of “free will” is necessary to formulate libertarian ethics.

    “Free will” more generally raises the question “free of what?” My will is not free of laws of nature, but it’s not strictly determined by laws of nature either, because laws of nature are not strictly deterministic. The present does not determine the future in the Standard Model, even in systems far simpler than a human being interacting with other human beings, so naturalism leaves plenty of room for my will to surprise you. It even surprises me. I am a compatibilist in this sense, but a will free of deterministic laws of nature does not imply a dualistic soul.

    I don’t reject moral claims, but I associate morality with subjective preferences and find no reason to reject this association. Exercising free will is all about subjective preferences, so these preferences are critically important to a libertarian, but preferences are not universal truths handed down on stone tablets or rigorously deduced from indisputable axioms.

    Naturalism does not condemn the Holocaust as a terrible moral crime, but you and I can do so without dualistic souls or universal moral truths. Standards traditionally handed down on stone tables may inform our preferences, and I suppose they do. Naturalism need not be a complete worldview to be a correct worldview. Humanism is a worldview incorporating naturalism without necessarily incorporating a dualistic soul or moral truths meaningful outside of an organization of humanity.

    • Kevin Vallier

      I suppose in my assessment of philosophical benefits and costs, I would believe just about anything to avoid a worldview which “does not condemn the Holocaust as a terrible moral crime.” That’s a big cost. I suppose I *understand* moral skeptics, but I also understand entire philosophical lives devoted to explaining why some evil act is evil, even generating a massive system of thought to do so. That is certainly part of what drove Habermas and Rawls – to show definitely that the horrors of WWII were wrong given that best philosophical tools available and to show how societies could be stable and just without risk of falling once more into the night.

      • martinbrock

        Quantum Chromodynamics doesn’t condemn the Holocaust as a terrible moral crime, but this omission doesn’t seem a shortcoming of the theory. It has other uses.

        Acts are evil because human beings decide them evil. This view of of the evil of the Holocaust doesn’t diminish it, and a massive system of thought doesn’t seem to magnify the evil of the Holocaust either. I suppose the mass of humanity understands the evil of the Holocaust without reading a word of Rawls, and I suppose the Holocaust is evil for this reason, not because Rawls ponders it so extensively.

        Insofar as natural philosophy explains human nature and the human propensity to recoil at the Holocaust, I suppose it sheds as much light on the evil as need be shed, but imagining more light on the subject, from supernatural heights or an academic ivory tower, doesn’t offend me.

  • tracycoyle

    I’ll start with my comment, then join in the conversation:

    “The classic work on the veracity of religious experience is William Alston’s
    Perceiving God, which had a major impact on me. Alston
    thinks that if God exists, we can be warranted in believing we have experienced
    Him when He contacts us. ”

    Consider the entirety of the Universe as a structure. Certain points will be critical to the function but the entire structure can be fine but simple. “touching” one of those fine but critical points (a direct awareness of it) would be tantamount to ‘touching’ God – rather than God ‘contacting’ us. Just a thought.

    Also, the idea that God is Good denies God free will. God can choose to do/be anything, but chooses good. therefore, evil is a choice available even to God. If evil is available to God, it is a choice available to any entity with free will, including us.

  • Nevin

    For anyone interested, the McGrew’s Blackwell Companion essay on the resurrection that Kevin mentioned is available online here:

    Relatedly: while there have been excellent critiques of Hume on miracles in recent years, it’s worth noting that Hume was decisively replied to by several philosophers and theologians in his own day. Even Hume practically admitted as much: of George Campbell, author of A Dissertation on Miracles, Hume said “the Scotch theologue has beaten me.” Campbell’s essay and several other excellent works of that period (I especially recommend the Paley) are available here:

  • Flyer

    This is a pretty good source for where to go on these issues. Let me re-emphasise the recommendation for Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies. It is a very clever book, but it is also just *great fun*. Much contemporary analytic philosophy can be pretty dry, and that which is not dry, is not rigorous. But Plantinga’s book is thoroughly enjoyable. In that respect it is for me like Anarchy, State and Utopia; clearly an excellent book, but also just great fun to read.

  • jdkolassa

    Look, I’m going to distill what this latest series of posts are into their basic, concentrated form.


    That’s right. There is hardly a definition of “reasonableness” for the argument at hand available. We might as well be arguing over what an “unie” or a “zuelkampian balimpope” is. There are no arguments to be made for, there are no arguments to be made against. The majority of the comments here are either 1) snark, 2) attempts at trying to figure out what Vallier actually means, or 3) arguments that completely miss the real problem with this and go into proofs of god or whatnot.

    All because this entire discussion is based on an ephemeral, meaningless foundation.

    • Kevin Vallier

      I did a whole post on what reasonableness means! What was wrong there?

      • jdkolassa

        Perhaps I missed it, but a lot of it was just watery nothingness too. Your first post you don’t really go into reasonableness at all. You leave it to Jason who says that basically there is no standard for reasonableness, just that there are some reasonable bases for political discourse.

        In your second post you talk about epistemic justification, but only briefly. You don’t actually provide any epistemic standards. I would think the scientific method would be a good start, but there’s no mention of that. You basically say that a reasonableness belief is a belief one can hold as long as one isn’t aware that it’s unreasonable.

        Your bringing up of scientists as an example is also rather poor, as the intricacies of a scientific theory are much different than, say, the belief that an invisible sky daddy created the entire universe out of darkness, then planted humanity on Planet Earth, spanked a bunch of humans for behaving badly, then impregnated a woman and had that son killed on a cross only to rise again as a zombie later to bring some message of hope before being carried up into the sky to heaven.

        Does that sound harsh? Does that description sound “unreasonable”? Perhaps, but that’s what Christian belief is predicated upon, when you get down to it. And human resurrection, barring some transhuman technology 500 years in the future, is not physically possible. It is unreasonable to believe so. Much of Christianity is unreasonable, because it flies in the face of reason.

        Your policy papers part is a bit better, but I’m still not sure that is a meaningful definition of “reasonableness”.

        A great book to read on this is George H. Smith’s “Atheism: The Case Against God.” George goes through what reason is, tackles faith, and pretty much goes through every issue imaginable.

        Also, I would appreciate not turning BHL into a theology blog. This is about libertarianism and political philosophy, not religious philosophy and theology. If I want to wade back into theology I would go to one of those blogs. I want some talk about universal basic incomes, Hayekian justifications for left-wing causes, and ways we can incorporate progressive ideas with free market capitalism. Justifications for a two thousand year old religion based on the son of god coming back from the dead aren’t really appropriate for this forum.

  • Reason 180

    I think I don’t get, yet, the interestingness of the proposition that “Christian belief is reasonable in the sense that it is sufficiently epistemically rational to give Christians strong reasons for action consistent with Christianity, say to go to church on Sundays, to believe Biblical requirements on helping the poor, to become pastors, have their children baptize and, most importantly for my purposes, to oppose coercive actions that would restrict their ability to act on what they believe God requires of them, such as not using contraception, not participating in gay marriages, and not having abortions.” Aren’t all beliefs reasonable in this sense? Example: {I think about the idea of an omnipotent god. The thought provokes in me an emotional response of awe and gratitude. I take such emotional responses as strong evidence for the truth of the propositions that evoked the responses. I don’t know about or seek out plausible alternative explanations for such emotional reactions.} This seems to fit the “reasonableness” criterion given above. And it’s difficult for me to identify a belief, actually held by a person, that would not fit the criterion.

  • Motivated Cognition

    A problem with Kevin’s approach here, aside from the fact that the whole argument is a non-sequitur, is that more inputs does not make an output:input ratio more efficient. It makes that ratio less efficient. A rational person should be able to reach the correct answer more efficiently than someone who is less rational. The more books you need to reach the correct answer, the less efficient you are.

    This argument does not demonstrate that Christianity is false or irrational, only that Kevin’s attempt to defend his rationality by pointing to how many books he has read does is no defense at all.

    • Kevin Vallier

      What if I *have* reached the correct answer but that the answer is very hard to reach? I’ve got a good ratio then, right? My point is that I don’t see how to get the input:output ratio without already having a sense for where we want to go.

      • Motivated Cognition

        Nevertheless, if you want to defend your rationality, then you must claim that you used as few inputs as possible.

        Of course, if you want to argue not that you’re rational per se but more like “meeting typical intellectual standards in our society,” then you have succeeded, but it is a much weaker brag, obviously.

        • Kevin Vallier

          I think that’s just wrong. Why think rationality requires drawing on a smaller rather than a larger number of pieces of inference and reasoning? What if the problem is really hard?

          • Motivated Cognition

            An intelligence that can correctly reach the answer via fewer inputs than another intelligence is more rational. Not necessarily smarter, since only a smart intelligence could come up with the Flat Earth Society, but certainly more rational.

            So Kevin, what is your argument vis-a-vis your original post? If you don’t know the proper output:input ratio, then what does your original post amount to except an enumeration of your inputs? This is no proof of rationality. It is proof of being “reasonable” and intelligent in a broader sense, although again: Flat Earth Society. They are intelligent and well-read too.

          • Kevin Vallier

            I think your “input-output” distinction isn’t helpful when it comes determining what epistemic justification consists in. Most of my picture is coherentist, with some prima facie foundational beliefs. How do you run a coherence theory of epistemic justification through your system? In a sense, everything in the network is an input, but strengthening the net is an output. So what goes in also comes out. I just don’t get your frame.

          • But aren’t you saying that even false beliefs can be epistemically justified?

            I think the point is that epistemically justifying a false belief doesn’t actually tell us anything.

          • Kevin Vallier

            Beliefs tell us a lot about what practical reasons we have, even if our beliefs are false. And that is VERY important in moral and political philosophy. Aristotle had a reason to believe Aristotelian physics, even though Aristotelian physics is false. Medieval monks had reason to be celebate, even if medieval forms of Catholicism were false. And if you think respecting persons is a matter of recognizing them as a source of reasons, then respecting persons requires taking account of reasons based on false beliefs that are nonetheless justified.

          • 1 – We don’t need to know about beliefs at all if we already know about practical reasons. If we want to know about practical reasons, then we need not investigate beliefs, we need only investigate practical reasons.

            2 – Do you think Aristotle would believe in Aristotelian physics today? If not, do you think his reasons for believing in modern physics would be the same as his reasons for believing in Aristotelian physics as he did? For the record, my answers are: No and Yes, respectively. If I’m right, then his beliefs tell me far less than his reasons.

            3 – If medieval monks thought that medieval forms of Catholicism were false, would they still have a reason to be celibate?

            4 – Let us recall that by “justified,” you simply mean that the believer is able to cite authoritative testimony. (I assume you do not mean that Christians have empirical evidence for the existence of god or for the Trinity.) Your last point seems to indicate that respecting persons is a matter of their being able to cite authoritative testimony. Under your previous post, I commented that your argument was essentially an appeal-to-authority fallacy. Are you now agreeing with me on that?

          • I Am that I Am that I Am that

            You’ve won me over. I am now convinced your version of Christian belief is reasonable. But tell me something. Do you know anything about Leah Libresco? I only bring it up because she seems quite intelligent in general, but I’m having a hard time grasping the reasons behind her conversion.

            She wrote, “I guess Morality just loves me or something… I believed that the Moral Law… was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth. I asked my friend what he suggest we do now, and we prayed the night office of the Liturgy of the Hours together.”

            Maybe that’s touching to you as a Christian, but to me that sound completely bizarre coming from someone who’s clearly intelligent. I mean, you seem to base your faith on philosophical grounds, but she seems like she’s half literal and half speaking poetically, referencing Jesus being “the Way the Truth and the Light.” But what does that really mean? I mean, literally Jesus=Way=Truth=Light? Obviously not.

            You don’t think the Moral Law is a person, or that Morality love you, do you?

  • Motivated Cognition

    Here’s an interesting commentary on Christian apologists.

    Here’s a good analysis of William Lane Craig’s cosmological argument.

    Here’s how to defeat all all religious arguments in one step.

    Here’s a series of blog posts presenting a similar argument, although it’s applied to more subjects than just religion.

    • Kevin Vallier

      In response to the first link, I understand skepticism about professional apologists, which is why I only cite one book by Craig (I think), though I think he’s a great philosopher in his own areas. But I don’t think it’s plausible to construe all Christian philosophers this way.

      The second argument simply seems question-begging (the God as “poof” argument), as if appealing to personal or mental causation as a basic form of explanation were automatically out of bounds. But HUGE numbers of philosophical systems are based on the alternative, few of them Christian. Aristotle thought immaterial mental causation was a basic form of causation, as did all the idealists, British and German. So saying “divine power x” did it is an explanation relative to some philosophical systems, but not others. And I think there are very good reasons to believe in some systems. Even if I abandoned the faith, I’m fairly sure I’d still be a substance dualist, and it wouldn’t be fair to say that dualism is false because soul causation is “poof” causation, would it?

      • Motivated Cognition

        Do your beliefs pay rent? What predictions do dualism and soul causation make, and are those predictions borne out by observation?

        On “poofs,” rather than explain things myself, if you don’t mind the links, then this is a pretty good explanation of the difference between explaining something the way scientists do and “explaining” something the way that theists do.

        Here’s an explanation of the general problem with supernatural explanations:

        The reductionism sequence, which you should definitely check out:

        • Kevin Vallier

          That’s the problem with the “beliefs pay rent” view, because lots of big picture background beliefs don’t “pay rent” in that sense at all. What about my belief in universals? How does that pay rent?

          • Motivated Cognition

            Are you a Platonic Realist or something? If you give me an example of a universal you believe in maybe I can explain further.

            What is the difference between believe in these universals and not? What is the difference between a universe where your belief is true and a universe where your belief is not true?

  • Why don’t we just base libertarianism on science instead of nonsense? We have enough problems being taken seriously already.

    • ben

      What makes you think that Kevin Vallier intends to “base libertarianism” on any of this?

      • purple_platypus

        If he doesn’t intend that or something like it, then I’m not clear on why it’s on this blog, as opposed to somewhere else.

        • Kevin Vallier

          I have been clear: I’m defending foundational assumptions for my religion and politics work, one of which is that religious belief generates practical reasons in some circumstances.

          • purple_platypus

            So in other words, you *do* intend what Curt said, or at least something very close to it.

    • Jameson Graber

      Actually, I’m pretty sure excluding people with religious motivation from the conversation will not do a whole lot of good for libertarianism.

    • Doolittle bit more research

      “Why don’t we just base libertarianism on science instead of nonsense?”

      How would we base a normative position on positive facts? You think you can just base a political philosophy on economics, quantum physics, maybe a little geography, mix in some chemistry, roll it up in some child psychology, put it on a pile of general relativity, and sprinkle some animal taxonomy on top? Based on science, jerk me off, please.

      • (a) You’re making the assumption that normative position ISN”T based on positive facts already.

        (b) But It is possible that you confuse POSITIVE FACTS with EMPIRICAL AGGREGATES represented by numeric quantities, instead of tens of thousands of bits of evidence the similarities of which are taken as fact.

        (c) Science is observation such that we can determine causal relation by testing. There are additional canons to science. Such as compactness and explanatory power etc.

        (d) moral codes vary but they aren’t random. We know most of those causal relations now. And they’re tediously simple.

        Family structure vs the structure of production determines moral code content. empirical, moral, and supernatural spectrum determines its form. Everything else is just ritual.

  • Orrie Cather

    Kevin: Here are some things one ought to read in order to think more clearly and carefully about the rationality of Christian belief.

    Most comments: No. I don’t need to do that. But as a consolation, I’ll give my opinion.

    • Kurt H

      If Kevin is saying Christianity is reasonable in the sense meant within public reason liberalism, then that is trivially true for many Christians. But some versions of religion (which I will broadly label as fundamentalist) are a direct threat to the continuation of a liberal society, and their practitioners push for social mores and laws that are incompatible with a free society.

      Moreover, the awful versions of Christianity are FAR more consistent with their scriptures than the more liberal versions. In other words, Christians are reasonable (in the PR liberalism sense) to the extent that they ignore their faith’s writings and traditions, and live in harmony with their fellow moderns.

      So, that means that we can both accept most Christians as reasonable members of a functioning civil society, and also continue making the observation that *Christianity* has no solid foundation. There is nothing illiberal about such observation either. Saying that a person’s views are silly is not equivalent to censorship or oppression.

      • Orrie Cather

        “So, that means that we can both accept most Christians as reasonable
        members of a functioning civil society, and also continue making the
        observation that *Christianity* has no solid foundation. There is
        nothing illiberal about such observation either.”

        Nothing illiberal, perhaps not. But the judgment that some belief has “no solid foundation” seems to me only justified if one has done one’s homework. Frankly speaking, most of you haven’t. Hence Kevin’s post. Which is why one’s refusal to think that one needs to do homework in order to asses the epistemic status of Christian beliefs betrays one’s prejudice.

        • Orrie Cather


  • Nick Flamel

    “And I came to believe that facts about goodness could not be grounded in desire or preference.”

    What about well-being (pleasure/pain)? You’ve ruled out Preference Utilitarianism but not Hedonic Utilitarianism (Hedonism).

    I think Nozick’s experience machine objection fails to refute Hedonism:

    This is from Wikipedia:

    “Nozick provides us with four reasons not to plug into the machine.
    (1)We want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them
    “It is only because we first want to do the actions that we want the experiences of doing them.” (Nozick, 43)
    (2)We want to be a certain sort of person
    “Someone floating in a tank is an indeterminate blob.” (Nozick, 43)
    (3)Plugging into an experience machine limits us to a man-made reality (it limits us to what we can make)
    (4)”There is no actual contact with any deeper reality, though the experience of it can be simulated.” (Nozick, 43)
    “We want to make a difference in the world'” (Nozick, 43)”

    He keeps saying we have reasons not to plug in because “we want X” and “we want Y”, but it is Preference Utilitarians who ground morality on desire/want/preference satisfaction. Thus it is they who have reasons not to plug in (if their theory is correct).

    We Hedonists, on the other hand, recognize that we ought to plug ourselves in, all else being equal. The only reason for not plugging in, to us, would be if by refraining from plugging in, we have enough of a beneficial effect on others (who don’t plug in) by increasing their pleasure and decreasing their pain, such that this outweighs the loss of pleasure and gain of pain to ourselves.

    By the way, the Nozick and others engaging in this thought experiment, I imagine, were comfortable philosophers who fancied themselves in contact with a “deeper reality.” I bet if you asked the poor, ill, hungry, thirsty, miserable, tortured, enslaved, depressed, maimed, and diseased people around the world, most would be like, “uh… yeah plug me in, quick.”

  • urstoff

    You only link to books, not articles, on the reasonability of believing in the resurrection. Is there any article that’s a good summary? Because it seems to me that holding that no amount of testimony can justify a belief in a supernatural phenomenon (leaving aside what “supernatural” means, but I think a sympathetic reading can get my drift) is a reasonable standard of evidence. If it’s not reasonable, then there needs to be some argument establishing that in certain cases testimony is sufficient for a justified belief in a supernatural phenomenon, but I can’t find one of those (maybe the “explanatory argument” in the McGrew article on miracles, but then you run into the problem of religious pluralism).

    You can cosmological and ontological argue yourself until the cows come home (and from my reading in the past, at best those arguments are inconclusive or at worst are word salad or simply unknowable), but to go from “there is something that is the first cause” to full blown religious belief violates lots of standards of reasonable belief, particularly given research on the psychology of memory, perception, cognitive dissonance, etc. over the last few decades.

    • Nevin

      The McGrew’s “Argument from Miracles” article, available at, is a long but good outline of the historical case for the resurrection. It’s very long for an article, as well as mathematically technical at points. If you want something shorter or more accessible you can Google “N.T. Wright resurrection” and come up with accessible presentations of the case by Wright, a leading New Testament scholar. Tim McGrew also has a good series of lectures up on YouTube on the historical accuracy of the New Testament.

      The McGrew’s article doesn’t talk about religious pluralism per se, but it does argue against Hume’s claim that non-Christian miracles are equally well attested to.

  • Dan

    I was a little disappointed not to see a mention of annihilationism as another alternative to the traditional view of hell; I know it’s made some traction among philosophers (though Kvanvig doesn’t think it avoids the problem).

    • Kevin Vallier

      OO, yes, that’s Swinburne’s view.

  • KingOfTheRats

    “My reason for thinking that God is all good is that a simple being cannot possibly be evil because evil requires a rational misapprehension of the good and at least some degree of self-deception.”

    If God cannot be evil for that reason, why can He be good? Doesn’t goodness or virtuousness require a rational apprehension of the good and at least some degree of self-awareness?

    Is good and evil a true dichotomy? Why couldn’t God be morally neutral? That would make the most sense to me, and would best account for the partly good, partly bad nature of His creation. This would be like the God of the great theologian George Carlin:

    “I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we will ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? The Big Electron. The Big Electron…whoooa. Whoooa. Whoooa. It doesn’t punish, it doesn’t reward, it doesn’t judge at all. It just is. And so are we. For a little while.”

  • OcularPatDown

    Based on everything from this page, one thing is clear to me. There are plenty of arguments and philosophical views that can help Christians stay Christians. If you were raised as a Christian and are intellectually curious and honest, wanting what seems like good justification for your beliefs, there is plenty of material to supply that.

    But none of it really seems like enough to convince people who don’t already believe. I’m sure there are counter examples. I hear all the time online theists go, “I used to be an atheist.” But all of this really just seems like starting with a conclusion and finding whatever way possible back to that conclusion.

    • Kevin Vallier

      I’m OK with that for my purposes. As so many people are forgetting in these threads, I’m just trying to show that Christianity is internally coherent and rational enough to generate strong practical reasons for action. I think seeing that Christianity can exhibit this degree of epistemic virtue is a reason to be drawn to it, but that is incidental to my main aim.

      • OcularPatDown

        I do think Christianity, at least some interpretations (most likely including yours), is conceptually possible. And while there are countless and maybe infinitely many metaphysical hypotheses that are merely conceptually possible, I will admit that there is evidence, not necessarily good or good enough evidence but still evidence (mostly historical), in favor of Christianity while most of these others have nothing, like the Flying Spaghetti monster or the teapot in space.

        Evaluating the probability of conceptually possible hypotheses is far more difficult than that of physical possible events. Based on years and years of testing, we’re extremely confident that when shooting an electron through a device that measures spin in, say, the z direction, it will be in the spin Up state 50% of the time and spin Down state 50%. On the other hand, we have a sample size of only a single universe, so estimating probabilities of how the universe as a whole might have been different is difficult and involves, i imagine, quite a bit of guesswork.

        Obviously there is a debate about whether, ignoring the multiverse possibility, fine tuning was necessary or the universal constants are merely brute facts. I find the latter more plausible than the former, since I don’t think the mere existence of uncountably many irrational numbers and infinitely many rational numbers suggests the universal constants may have been any of them (with whatever units).

        But even grant that they might have been different. This paints an extremely different picture of God, and makes him far less powerful than usually supposed. It supposes that God must create within external constraints that are independent of Him, not only the logical constraints that all sophisticated theists accept, but physical constraints.

        Suppose scientists find that some constant C must be with the range of 4 to 7 units for the universe to not collapse in on itself. What fine tuning proponents are supposing is that God cannot create a universe with C = 3 units and not have it collapse. If I follow the theist’s fine tuning line of reasoning, I must conclude that there is a God’s God (let’s call him Meta-God) who created the Meta-universe, in which God exists and creates regular universes), and the Meta-God fine tuned the Meta-universe such that God’s creating constraints are such that they are (where C must be between 4 and 7 units in order for the regular universe not to collapse). After all, Meta-God COULD have created the Meta-Universe such that God’s creating constraints were such that C must be between 2 and 5 units in order for the regular universe not to collapse). Point being, God is not the end all be all as traditionally thought.

        Furthermore, there is something strange about apologists like WLC using scientific data to make hypotheses. If these hypotheses were any good or useful, why don’t the scientists themselves make them? Maybe they do, and I’m ignorant, so if so, ignore this point.

        Maybe WLC and Plantinga are good philosophers in their academic work. All I know is when they get up in front of laymen, they say really dumb things. WLC always makes between five and ten of his ridiculous two premises arguments like the following:

        (1) If atheism is true, then objective morals don’t exist.
        (2) But objective morals DO exist.
        (3) Therefore, atheism is false.

        Like, congratulations, WLC, you understand Modus Tollens. He just asserts (1), which is completely intellectually dishonest because there are countless Godless moral theories with objective morals, and he treats it like a given. To support premise (2), he just asserts it again, without even explaining ‘objective’. Besides, if his morals depend upon the mind of a particular entity, that sounds subjective to me. Another argument he made was like this:

        (1) If atheism is true, then beliefs have no content.
        (2) But beliefs DO have content.
        (3) Therefore, atheism is false.

        Again, brilliant use of Modus Tollens. But he always just asserts the truth of the (1) and (2) premise, as if all the professional philosophers who deny them are just oblivious to things that are obvious to him and his audience. Pretty much the one good thing I can say about WLC is that he knows what a valid argument is (which is more than I can say about Stefan Molyneux, but I digress).

        I don’t even remember where this rant started, but this is where it ends.

      • Jay Baldwin

        This statement strikes me (approvingly) as quite pragmatic. If you’re saying, as Peirce did, that beliefs are rules for action and, as James said, truth is whatever is good for us by way of belief, there is a good argument for accepting that Christian belief is a reasonable approach to navigating an uncertain world.

  • cgbrown

    Ah – great list, but you’ve missed Lara Buchak. She’s a philosopher at UC Berkeley writing about faith and rationality. Here’s a recent post on NPR:

  • Terry Hulsey

    Judging by the fact that you place C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity under the rubic of “Resurrection,” I don’t think you’ve read that book. Search its entire text and you will find no mention of this word. []

    In general, the idea of Christian “philosophy” is nonsensical: Does the worldview of Pius IX have anything to do with that of Jimmy Swaggart? And yet you want to pretend that both share a Christian “philosophy”?

    The self-contradictions of the entire Christian position I have exploded here:


    • Kevin Vallier

      The case for the Resurrection is rooted partly in the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument (which has problems but some recent people have tried to remedy) in MC. But yes, the full argument for the resurrection is in Miracles.

  • Kevin Klein

    “Look at all these philosophers discuss how many angels fit on the head of a pin. See how precise their measurements are? See how impeccable their logic is? Aren’t you impressed by how reasonable it is?”

    No. No, I’m not.

    All you have proven is that smart people will go to extreme lengths to justify their irrational beliefs.

    At the end of the day, Christians believe their prophet was resurrected from the dead based on nothing more than hearsay testimony written in a 2,000 year old book by unknown authors. No matter how you’re trying to justify that, I’m calling it crazy.

    A more interesting question is: why do Christians feel such a compulsion to convince themselves that their religious beliefs are rational?

  • prasad

    I have a hard time understanding what the shift from a law-obeying physicalistic universe (deterministic or otherwise) to one with an omniscient and omnipotent God is supposed to accomplish for us re free will. ISTM every incompatibilist objection to free will under physicalism is one mutatis mutandis under all-powerful God.

    The olden timey medieval guys, they weren’t exactly going around rejoicing “God therefore free!” They were pretty perplexed as to how they could be free at all, if something else knows everything and is in charge of everything. ISTM this is the same problem in older clothing.

  • RKevinHill

    Some people below question why this is relevant at all to libertarianism. I think there’s a historical connection worth noting: in Jonathan Israel’s _Radical Enlightenment_ he distinguishes broadly between Moderates and Radicals, and much of what distinguishes the two camps centers on what to do with religion. With the exception of Rand, most of the libertarian tradition traces back to sources in the Moderate Enlightenment, which would include a slew of “reasonable believers.” Again, with the exception of Rand, more extreme repudiation of religious belief tends to end up aligned with progressives. Culturally, our own politics in the US tends to think in binary terms: progressive/atheist vs. conservative/theist. The very idea of libertarianism is to reclaim the political stance of the Moderate Enlightenment; Vallier seems to be trying to reclaim the cultural-political stance as well (parallel with what, say, Deirdre McCloskey has tried to do in ethics). To the extent that we still tend to default to the binary thing, Vallier might seem to be indulging a conservative impulse, but it doesn’t strike me that way.

  • Chris H

    You’ve caught me in an area that I’m not an expert in. I only have some knowledge of philosophy and probably couldn’t hope to fairly evaluate all your arguments. But that does not mean you’ve convinced me Christianity is a reasonable belief to hold. That’s because I have a procedure for dealing with areas I’m not an expert in. Namely, if there is an expert consensus on a particular topic, I follow that and the most likely answer is that those who are experts and disagree are being irrational in some manner. This is my stance on issues like global warming and evolution. The irrationality of the minority is especially likely when it occurs over questions that have been discussed for long time periods. New questions are more likely to have institutional inertia and simple ignorance blocking a minority view from acceptance rather than that view’s irrationality. The question on the existence of god however is an old one indeed.

    So the chosen experts here are evidently philosophers. So what do philosophers say? Going by this survey ( 66.2% of surveyed philosophers accept or lean towards atheism and 18.7% accept or lean towards theism (of any variety). That’s one of the strongest consensuses in the whole survey, especially looking at the question of Christianity (which presumably the “other” category counts against support for Christianity which certainly seems like theism to me). What’s more, digging into the results more, the more educated and expert you get in philosophy the stronger the atheism lean becomes (from ~62% for undergrads to 69% for faculty/PhDs and over 72% for the targeted faculty). Philosophy clearly attracts atheists to begin with, but over the course of learning the subject atheists become more dominant implying either A) philosophers weed out theists over the course of their education (possibly true, but a poor explanation for how philosophy went from being theist dominated for centuries to atheist dominated in the modern world) or B) the more most people learn about philosophy the stronger the case for atheism becomes (which conveniently explains why beliefs would shift from the theism common in the field from Plato down to Spinoza, to increasingly atheistic as the field advanced in the modern world).

    What this means is that even if there is new information or better ways of thinking which support the theist position (and particularly the Christian one), then it should be possible to shift the discipline of philosophy in a theistic direction in the same way that it was shifted in an atheistic direction. The older the pro-Christian arguments are in this regard, the more likely that the failure to shift opinion is due to the weakness of the arguments.

    Now, you may argue “but there is a significant percentage of philosophers, even among the targeted group that does accept this and no where does it say that even 60% of philosophers view theism as unreasonable. Compare this to your previously stated example of global warming where support among experts is over 95%. ('_views_on_climate_change#John_Cook_et_al.2C_2013)”

    To which I respond, the hard sciences have much clearer and more set standards for determining the correctness of their beliefs. Scientific experimentation is used to falisfy wrong beliefs and give evidence for more justified beliefs. That doesn’t exist in philosophy. There are standards, but they are fuzzier which allows more room for cleverly disguised irrationality. But when a significant super majority even with these weak safeguards against irrationality finds a position to be wrong (especially in a field where even that level of agreement is rare) that to me is still fairly good evidence the minority is engaging in some irrationality.

    So for me, I say convince more philosophers theism is correct, or at least that atheism is unjustified, and then I’ll be more amenable to your arguments (as they’ll have already been vetted and accepted by a large portion of a group people more knowledgeable in this area than myself).

    • Anonymous

      Fewer philosophers “accept or lean toward” libertarianism than theism — 16.85. It’s right there on the PhilPapers page you link to.

      I would think that posters on a site endorsing an unpopular political philosophy would know better than to appeal to the consensus of philosophers to defend a view.

  • charlielives

    I find it a source of never-ending amusement that there are so many Christian philosophers, who profess a faith in a book that explicitly states “not philosophy but Christ.”

    I’ll stick to theology when contemplating religion, and take David Bentley Hart and John Zizoulas over this reading list.

  • Enzo Rossi

    One can produce respectable rationalisations for just about anything — think of the 19th C. literature in defence of slavery. The fact remains that the overwhelming majority of competent people (philosophers in this case) reject theism. So perhaps the very few people (like Kevin Vallier) who are philosophically trained and have read contemporary Christian philosophy are entitled to being called reasonable; but the vast majority of Christians are as irrational as the climate-change deniers who ignore scientific consensus.

  • Matt Petersen

    N. T. Wright probably deserves a mention regarding the Resurrection.

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