Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mere Christianity: Book I Ch. 5 We Have Cause to Be Uneasy

Mere Christianity: Book I Ch. 5 We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
I. Book I Ch.5 We Have Cause to be Uneasy
A. Is the idea of objective moral values “putting the clock back?”
1. If the clock is wrong, we ought to put the clock back
2. Implied denial of the “doctrine of intellectual progress,” or “chronological snobbery,” the idea that if a belief was popular in a previous age but is generally rejected today, this is good reason to suppose that the belief is false and that we know better now. But, Lewis (in other works) argues that this often leads to false conclusions. The world of thought is subject to fashion; ideas are the hottest thing one season and go the way of bell-bottom pants in the next season.
B. Is positing a moral law and a power behind it “religious jaw.”
1. It is what we are trying to discover on our own steam, not something from the Bible and the churches.
2. Two clues about the power behind the moral law
a. the universe-shows that the Power is an artist but does not show the Power to be a friend of man
b. the moral law within us, shows that the Power is interested in right conduct-hence it does show that God is good, but not necessarily nice. The Moral Law is hard as nails. The argument so far has not shown the Power to be a person.
C. Christianity does not make sense unless you face the facts that have been described here. It has nothing to say to people who think they have nothing to repent of.
1. Christianity is in the long run a religion of unspeakable comfort
2. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end, if you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to being with and, in the end, despair.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Book I Chapter 3-4 of Mere Christianity

Book I Chapter 3-4 of Mere Christianity
I. Book I Chapter 3- The Reality of the Law
A. The Law of Human nature is an odd sort of fact; it is not a truth about the way things are, but a truth about the way things ought to be.
1. Is this law of nature a fact about what is helpful for human beings? No, someone sitting in the seat I would like to sit in is not breaking any rules, but is inconveniencing me. Someone who tries to trip me but fails is doing something wrong, but does no harm to me.
2. Is decent behavior the behavior that pays? No, it may pay people as a whole, but does not pay people individually. It may require me to do things which are not in our own self-interest.
II. Conculsion: The Law of human nature is real, and its claims cannot be reduced to claims about what serves my interests, or what is helpful to me.
II. Book I Chapter 4-What Lies behind the law
A. Two types of world view
1. The materialist world view-everything happened by chance or fluke. This is sometimes misinterpreted; what he means is that the characteristics of the universe arose without intelligent design. The ultimate causes at work in the world possess no intelligence. This is what scientist Richard Dawkins has in mind when he talks about the Blind Watchmaker. That blind watchmaker is the evolutionary process, which has no purposes, but simulates purpose through trial and error.
2. The Religious View: the ultimate causes of the universe are "more like a mind than anything else we know. That is to say, it is conscious, it has purposes, and prefers one thing to another."
3. Science cannot decide which of these views is true. Science analyzes what is observable; whether or not there is something "beyond" or "behind" the observable world is not something that science can decide.
I (VR) think that this greatly oversimplifies the situation with respect to science. It does seem to me that scientific evidence can provide inductive support, or may inductively undermine, religious claims.
4. If God were to make himself aware of his existence, it would have to be through an inner law, not through some observable facts. We know, from the inside, that we are under a law, and that law was not created by ourselves. Looking at this moral law, we can see that it makes sense on the religious view, but does not make sense on the materialist view. Therefore we have good reason to believe that the religious view is true.

In other writings, Lewis appeals to other considerations than just a moral law to determine whether or not there is a power behind the universe; so I have some objection to this way of framing the argument.

However, perhaps we can frame the argument in terms of Bayesian confirmation. Well, I don't think I can very well go into Bayesian theory in this post. But here's the idea. Suppose you are thinking about the question of God, and you haven't thought carefully about the idea of moral phenomena as it relates to theism. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, you are a pure agnostic about God, thinking that God's existence is about as unlikely as it is likely. Suppose we now start considering Lewis's three phenomena, that virtually eveyone in actual practice presupposes that there is a moral law, that there is an underlying agreement on moral prinicple even in the face of differing normative conclusions, and that there we are inclined to think a society's moral standards can get better, or get worse.

How likely are these moral phenomena to occur in a theistic universe? Are they what you should expect? I think so? Are they possible in a naturalistic universe? Well, maye, at least the naturalist is certainly going to bring out the tools offered by evolutionary psychology to explain all of this. But I'm still reasonably sure that the probability of our having a sense of moral law given theism is greater than the probability of having a sense of moral law on the assumption that God does not exist. So I think that Lewis's moral argument shows a way to confirm theism, even though he did not fully develop the argument himself.

For another treatment of Bayes' theorem as it applies to miracles, see this paper I did on Internet Infidels.

Notes on The First Two Chapters of Mere Christianity

I am tracking back to the original Dangerous Idea posts because there is some discussion on those posts, though I didn't want to port the discussion over here.

Book I: Right and Wrong as the Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

I. General Considerations:
A. Mere Christianity is a work in Christian apologetics. It attempts to show that a rational person can and should be a Christian believer. In response to the view that Christianity requires “blind faith” Lewis responds by saying “I am not asking anyone to believe in Christianity if his best reason tells him the weight of the evidence is against it. This is not where faith comes in.”
B. This is not a book for experts. Lewis says that he is attempting to “translate” Christian theology into the language of non-specialists. In fact he says that if you can’t explain it in terms that non-specialists can understand, you don’t really understand it yourself. This book, in fact, was a series of talks given over the radio during WWII.
C. Lewis is concerned that modern people, coming to Christianity, very often lack much of any idea of what it is they need to be saved from. He thinks Christianity does not make sense unless people have a sense of themselves as sinners.
D. Although what he presents is known as the moral argument for belief in the existence of God, its goal is also directed not so much toward atheists as common people who may have some belief in God but do not think that they need to be saved by Christ.
II. Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature
A. What is “The Law of Human Nature?” How does it differ from a) the speed limit, and b) the law of gravity?
B. Lewis says the phenomenon of quarreling implies that people implicitly believe in the Law of Human Nature, whether they think they do or not. That is, they criticize others for acting wrongly, and when they are themselves criticized for acting wrongly, they respond in ways that acknowledge the standard of right and wrong. That is, either they excuse their actions, or they say that their actions really meet the standards set by the law, etc. They do not typically refuse to acknowledge the law itself.
C. At this point Lewis poses the question of moral relativism. What Lewis is defending here is a doctrine opposed to the doctrine of moral relativism, or moral subjectivism, according to which something is right or wrong not absolutely, but only relative to a particular individual or culture’s preference. Depending on what version of relativism you are talking about, moral judgments are not simply true or false, they are true or false relative to what some individual or society prefers. The relativist position goes back to Protagoras from Ancient Greece, who said, “Man is the measure of all things." Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle opposed relativism, and said that moral judgments can be objectively true or false.
1. Is this relativist point of view something you hear a lot in today’s world? Do you have any tendency in your own mind to accept it yourself? I find that people will defend this position in the interests of tolerance. But, of course, tolerance is a true value only if there are objective moral values.
D. Do people have different moralities, which are true for them? Yes, but a study of different moral codes from different times and countries show an underlying similarity.
E. Consider, for example the abortion controversy. (The example is mine, not Lewis’s) This seems on the face of things to show how deep and irresolvable our ethical differences are, but really this is false. You never hear pro-life people saying that the quality of life is not a value, and you never hear pro-choice people saying that human life is not valuable. The combatants in this controversy agree on the basic values; what they disagree about is how they apply to the case of human fetuses, and whether quality of life considerations ever “trump” the value of life.
F. The second claim Lewis makes is that human beings do not live up to the moral standards that they themselves believe in.
III. Chapter 2: Some Objections:
A. Is the moral law just herd instinct?
1. Lewis says that the moral law is not just an instinct, it is something that adjudicates between instincts and tells us which one to obey.
B. Isn’t the Law of Human Nature just social convention?
1. The differences of morality are not all that great
2. When we think of moral differences, we think that the morality of one people is better than another.
3. Some people are “pioneers” who have a better sense of the moral law than other people
a. Examples (mine, not his) Gandhi, King, Wilberforce, etc.
b. To say that laws are most just today with regard to race than they were 50 years ago implies that there is a standard of right and wrong according to which both today’s laws and laws 50 years ago are to be judged.