June 23, 2014
November 4, 2013
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I’ve heard science types like Lawrence Krauss claim that science has shown us over and over again that we can’t trust our common sense, and by extension, philosophical reasoning. One of the go-to illustrations is our solar system. It’s said that common sense tells us the sun revolves around the Earth, and yet Copernicus, through science, showed common sense was unreliable as a guide to truth. Only science can tell us what is true.
I think this is a misconstrual of the issue. Daniel N. Robinson said it best: “What Copernicus said was not hostile to common sense but was inconsistent with common experience.” Indeed. While science has discovered physical phenomenon which is weird, to say the least, it does not defy common sense, but our common experience. Rationality is not at odds with science, and cannot be disproven by science. Indeed, the task of science presupposes rationality from start to finish.
Daniel N. Robinson, “Neuroscience and the Soul,” Philosophia Christi, Vol. 15, Number 1, 2013, 17.
June 13, 2013
Some Christians think that if we appeal to reason and evidences to demonstrate that the Bible is truly God’s Word, then we are elevating reason and evidence to a place of authority over God’s Word. I think this conclusion is misguided for several reasons. First, I don’t think it is legitimate to consider reason an “authority.” Reason is merely a tool for assessing reality. It is basic to all human thought. Indeed, one cannot even understand God’s revelation apart from reasoning. It would be a mistake, then, to pit reason against revelation as if they are two competing authorities. As Greg Koukl has argued, using reason to assess whether or not the Bible is God’s revelation to man no more puts reason above the Bible than using grammar to understand God’s revelation puts grammar above the Bible.
Secondly, this confuses the order of being (ontology) with the order of knowing (epistemology). While the Bible is first in terms of authority, it is not first in terms of the order of knowing. Knowledge of the divine origin and revelatory status of the Bible is not innate. We must acquire this knowledge. Knowledge of a proposition requires three elements: (1) belief that the proposition is true; (2) justification for the belief that the proposition is true; (3) the proposition must actually be true. Put another way, knowledge is justified true belief. Given the fact that knowledge requires justification, it cannot be wrong to require justification for believing the Bible is God’s Word. We could not know the Bible is God’s Word apart from such justification. As Kelly Clark has pointed out, reason is not autonomous as the standard of truth, but it is the best tool for discovering the truth.
A proper use of reason is not an exercise of subjecting God’s Word to a higher authority, but an examination of the Bible to determine if it is truly what it claims to be. We use our God-given reason to discover the truth that the Bible is a product of divine revelation.
June 6, 2013
When talking about subjective and objective truths, I’ve heard it claimed that every truth claim is “subjective” since humans are subjects. On this view, there can be no such thing as objective truth since all truth claims are made by subjects.
This is often applied in the context of the moral argument. Theists argue that morality is objective, and finds its ontological grounding in the character of God. In response, some will argue that since God is a subject, His moral commands are subjective, and hence even theistic ethics cannot provide an objective basis for morality.
This is a gross misunderstanding of the terms. Subjective and objective tell you what a statement is about – not where it comes from. To say a truth is “subjective” is to say it is about the subject himself; to say a truth is “objective” is to say it is about a mind-independent object in the world.
February 26, 2013
In philosophy, a burden of proof refers to one’s epistemic duty to provide reasons in support his assertion/claim/position. While listening to a debate recently, I noticed that one of the participants spoke of a “burden of justification” rather than “burden of proof.” I thought this terminological shift was helpful since when most people hear the word “proof” they think “certainty.” Clearly, no one has the burden to demonstrate their position with apodictic certainty. “Justification,” on the other hand, makes it clear that one only has a burden to back up their claims with good reasons. I am going to be intentional about adopting this terminology in the future.
December 28, 2012
Retired particle physicist and outspoken atheist Victor Stenger developed a rhetorically powerful aphorism against religion: “Science flies men to the moon, religion flies men into buildings.”
I think Stenger is being a bit too selective in what he chooses to highlight about science and religion, though. Science has also been responsible for great moral atrocities, and religion has also been responsible for great moral goods. To demonstrate how worthless this rhetoric is, I could just as easily develop an aphorism modeled on Stenger’s to make the opposite point: “Science builds atomic bombs to kill millions of people, religion builds hospitals to save billions of people.”
October 19, 2012
New Scientist has a short video discussing the proper understanding of reality. It’s a 2:30 philosophical mess! It’s almost as bad as their video on how the universe came from nothing, but I won’t go there.
They present two definitions of reality. Their first definition is that “reality is everything that would still be here if there was no one around to experience it.” But they find this view problematic because “as far as we know, we humans actually do exist, and a lot of the things that we can all agree are real, like language, or war, or consciousness, wouldn’t exist without us.” What?
This objection is irrelevant. Yes, humans exist, but how does that count against this definition of reality? The definition doesn’t assume or require that people do not exist. It merely holds that some X is real if and only if X would still obtain in the absence of a mind to think about it. While it goes without saying that those things germane to humans would not exist if humans did not exist, what does that have to do with everything else non-human? The question is whether anything else would exist if we didn’t exist, not whether things unique to humans would exist if humans did not exist.