Catholic vs. Atheist - 2018-12-19 - Graham Oppy

Author Recorded Wednesday December 19th, 2018

There are 47 episodes in the Versus:Atheist series.

Recorded February 9th, 2019

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2019-02-09 - Greg

Recorded September 11th, 2016

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2016-09-11 - Renaud

A recent guest, 'Philo Theism', recommended that I interview Graham Oppy, so I reached out by email. I was delighted that he was willing to be my guest. We discussed his worldview and locked horns over the issue of free-will. It was a fun chat.


Catholic vs. Atheist - 2018-12-19 - Graham Oppy

Author Recorded July 30th, 2016

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hi my name is Graham Opie and you're listening to Catholic versus atheist tell the listeners if you would a little bit about yourself who you are what you believe and how you came to believe it okay so I'm a professor of philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne Australia I guess my worldview I would describe as naturalist so I think that in the causal domain there are none but natural entities with Nunda causal properties my naturalism leaves that open what to say about all of the non-causal stuff I'm inclined to think that there aren't any abstract objects so I'm inclined to a kind of nominalism but when it comes to questions about values so moral values aesthetic values and so on I'm inclined to a kind of realism the way that I think about naturalism entails atheism I think of God and gods as supernatural causal agents or non natural causal agents might be a bad way of saying it if there's none but natural causal agents then there aren't any gods and there's no God so I'm an atheist I've been an atheist since my early teenage years probably the formulation of naturalism that I adhere to came a lot later I was born into somewhat religious family so my parents and my wider extended family were Methodists Australian Methodists and initially at least my parents were quite religious so I went to Sunday school as a child and to church in their later years the paths of my parents diverged a bit my mother remained religious right up until she died whereas my father I think experienced some sort of kind of decrease in his faith and started to have doubts in the last decade or so of his life after my mother died obviously all of that comes along after I'd become atheist so I was I became an atheist in the early 70s my mother died in about 1990 and my father at the end of the 90s so whether my atheism had any effect on my father is doubtful I think though he knew perfectly well we had lots of discussions so he knew what I believed do you remember sort of becoming self-aware and then encountering this notion of religion or of God do you remember this first sort of encounter with faith religion was part of my background right so we said grace before meals we said prayers in the evening that goes back as far as I can remember I have trouble placing this and I should ask my brother so my brother and I shared a bedroom and I don't know he must have been about seven and he set out one night in bed and started crying and I asked him what he was crying about and he was crying because he had realized that he was going to die one day and I in response to that at the time I just said the kind of conventional religious thing well actually you'll go to heaven in your word forever so that's a kind of early memory of mine that connects to religion do you remember the context of your conversion I should just tell you I remember the exact moment where I lost my faith I was raised nominally Protestant and I lost my faith in a heartbeat it was actually due to a very mystical sort of dream experience I had where I dreamed about Jesus he was very pleasant and nice and waved to me from a desert island one of those cartoon desert islands with just one palm tree on it it was a very pleasant dream and I woke up and I said I've lost my faith and I knew at that tender age of 14 that it was counterintuitive for me to have a pleasant religious dream and then lose my faith but that's the moment I remember the exact moment I lost my faith and then at the age of 39 I remember the exact moment where I regained my faith in God do you remember the exact moment or if not do you remember the sort of the context of having lost your faith well I mean now I can't remember clearly enough so but I don't think that there was a moment when I said to myself up until that moment I believed and then I didn't rather what happened was when I was about 12 I started thinking of our religion and religious beliefs and over a period was quite short maybe 46 weeks I moved to a position where I was a firmly convinced non-believer right say there's nothing that I can point to nothing I had read nothing that anybody said to me as far as I know it was just a kind of process of philosophical reflection that's how I would describe it now or you might describe it more as internal reflection after all I wasn't much of a philosopher when I was 12 but there's no conversion experience or anything like that okay so there was no sense of loss or regret or sadness no not at all okay other than that one moment where you consoled your brother with the thought of the afterlife was there a peak experience that you had like a high point in your so-called religious life as a prepubescent no it was just part of the background and I'd never thought about it right so I just accepted the stories that I've been told and when I rejected those beliefs I didn't know anyone else who rejected them at that time but pretty soon I got to like having discussions on this topic with other people people who were believers is it fair to say that you are very interested in the philosophy and religion that's been my life on my professional life so I teach several units in philosophy of religion at Monash and since the early nineties most of my publications including a pretty large number of books have been in philosophy of religion and so what is it that you like about the philosophy of religion philosophy of religions an interesting area for a philosopher to be in because questions from all the other parts of philosophy can be brought to bear on questions in philosophy of religions so questions about logic questions about inquiry questions about histology questions about metaphysics questions about ethics questions about politics can all be brought to bear on questions in philosophy of religion so I like the fact that it gives you licensed to range fairly broadly these days specialization is a problem in every academic discipline and it's easy to become very narrowly focused in a particular area and kind of by the things that you've done you kind of get boxed in to doing certain kinds of things I've had a lot of freedom to think about all kinds of things in philosophy of religion and just very briefly what level of education do you have and what sort of theses did you pursue if you did masters and PhD and all that sort of thing and can you talk a little bit about specialization in your education okay so after I left school I went to Melbourne University and I enrolled in medicine and I did one year of medicine and I spent almost all the time reading philosophy books so I kind of realized that I wasn't in the right part of the university I then enrolled you know double degree a joint degree in arts and science I majored in mathematics with a minor in physics and I majored in philosophy with a minor in history and philosophy of science after I finished those degrees and I'd done the on his year in philosophy which is a bit like a senior year I guess I enrolled in a master's at Melbourne and did that for about 18 months and then transferred to Princeton or I did PhD in philosophy my dissertation was on semantics for propositional attitude description so it was a thesis in philosophy of language and when I wrote it I had no idea what my future career was going to end up looking like in all the time to that point that I've been doing philosophy so right through to when I submitted the PhD I did one unit in philosophy of religion it was a second-year unit at Melbourne University taught by Bruce langtry and we looked at Swinburne's book the existence of God with a focus on miracles and fine-tuning that was it that was my background in philosophy of religion when I emerged from my PhD can you just sort of talk about the hierarchy of the sciences math and music and the hard sciences and philosophy and theology how do these how do you see that hierarchy okay so there's a little bit of a hierarchy but I think that it's a lot flatter than most people suppose and I think that the place of philosophy in all of this is rather different from what most people suppose so I think of all of the specialized domains as having a kind of central core which is so we could be talking about physics a that will do there's a kind of core of stuff that all of the experts all of the physics experts agree upon they agree upon what the answers to certain questions are and they agree about what the methods are that you use to establish those truths and then around the central core there's a penumbra where the experts the current experts disagree they mostly agree about what the methods are but they disagree about what the answers are so that's the kind of domain of current theorizing and then as you move out to the outer edge of that penumbra you get to the questions where nobody knows what the answers are people aren't even sure what method should be used to approach these questions and they're not sure really whether these questions belong to the domain in question or not that's where philosophy sets so I think for every discipline there's this kind of penumbra region where it's trades into philosophy and there are some areas where there's just no expert agreement on anything and that will give you the kind of areas that we think of as being at this state of purely philosophical metaphysics epistemology ethics and so on so for us if he doesn't sit above or below it's partly located on the edge of every other discipline and then there are some bits where we've made so little progress that it just kind of sits there on its own now you asked about the hierarchy in the sciences so maths has a slightly different position from some of the other sciences because maths provides tools to physics chemistry biology the social sciences if you think about statistics it kind of provides tools everywhere else so there's a sense in which maybe it's it's I'm depending how you want to think of the direction here it's it's a bit below because it provides support to their other sciences and domains for inquiry there's another kind of hierarchy which has to do with fundamentality so as between physics and chemistry there's a sense in which chemistry sets below physics because some of the things in chemistry are explained by things in physics but not the other way around so for example the construction of the periodic table of elements is explained by quantum mechanics alright so the kind of electron shell Theory explains exactly why the periodic table of elements has the structure that it does so there are also these kinds of connections between different disciplines where you get explanations in one discipline from another one but not vice versa it doesn't fly both ways so that also gives you a little bit of hierarchy as well who are some of your heroes in terms of the overall outline of the history of Western philosophy I think I mentioned to some of mine - you like Socrates Plato Saint Agustin st. Anselm Rene Descartes and so on and so forth do you have favourites in the history of the Western philosophy I don't really have much by way of favorite philosophers there are some works that I quite like so Humes dialogues concerning natural religion and his little essay on the natural history of religion saying to me to be very important for philosophy of religion so I guess if I have to nominate someone I'll nominate Hume on the basis of those works when I was younger I read a lot of Russel though I have in a later life written things quite critical of Russel so he has a well-known essay called why I'm not a Christian I wrote an essay years ago called why I'm not a Christian in which I sort of criticized the things that Russell had said explain why I didn't agree with lots of things that he said in that essay but he would be another one of my it's not heroes maybe not quite the right word but somebody that was influential as there are philosophers that I've tried to read major works of and I just can't find any level of engagement it's probably better that I don't know names but this is but this is true right across the whole history right so there's lots of stuff that I just find it hard to see what's in their lives should be of interest to me that that's not to say that I don't have an interest in historical questions in philosophy at all one of the things that I've been thinking about quite a lot recently and that I'd like to do some work on is about the eventual emergence of atheism how it became possible for there to be people who publicly affirmed atheism where without fear of being terminated immediately so there's a very long period where the historical record doesn't provide any examples of people publicly declaring that they're atheist signing their name to tracks like why I'm an atheist you can't find anything like that in the period between about the 4th century and the 17th century and then by the end of the 18th century things have changed and so there's a kind of interesting question about ok how did we get to there what was what was the broad the very long term historical story that explains how we got to that point in the 18th century from where we were in the 3rd century 4th century who are your inspirations your heroes in terms of the work that you're doing now the work you're interested in people that inspire your work or are a part of your milieu academically certainly one person that was quite important to me was David Lewis who you may or may not have heard of an American philosopher at Princeton who was very influential in the 70s 80s and 90s he died in the early 2000s he's a regular visitor to Australia he came to Melbourne when I was doing my Master's there and I did a Wednesday night seminar presentation that he turned up to and I went to Princeton because of him so he made a big difference to me professionally he also wrote some things in philosophy of religion it wasn't his main area but he wrote a very interesting and I think really good paper on Anselm's Pross loggy on to argument and he also wrote a really interesting paper on questions about evil a people called evil for freedom sake and both of those papers I think are really good I think it's a shame he didn't do more philosophy of religion but anyway there's one person who had a very big influence on me even though there's lots of his metaphysics that I don't accept but that's a whole different story what do you think of the so-called four horsemen Hitchens and all those guys the new atheists are an interesting Bunch but they're not philosophers if you expect them to be doing philosophy you're gonna be disappointed at the level that they write at what I think's most important about the four horsemen is not their atheism but their opposition to religion if you compare them with earlier figures going right back to say Tom Paine for example there's not that much difference between what they do sure Paine was a deist right but what he has to say against religion is very similar to what Hitchens Dawkins Dennett and Harris have to say against religion although there are some I think interesting differences between the four horsemen and much earlier free thought in that there's certain respects in which them rather politically conservative whereas the free thinkers of late eighteenth or nineteenth century mostly were pretty radical politically and socially so I I see them as falling into an age that's been occupied for a long time rather than there's representing something that's really really new the guest that I recently interviewed who us by the name of Philo theism he's a young theist but he's not oh he doesn't want to be called a monotheists ort of agnostic about God and the soul but he's leaning towards classical theism and he likes Philo of Alexandria he recommended I reach out to you and he all recommended that I read JH Sobel have you heard of him and what do you think of them so Belle's book logic and theism is in my opinion the best work that analyzes a large range of arguments for and against the existence of God it's a very technical work it's a work that's written for philosophers it's not a book that was written for a broad audience it was a book that was specifically directed at other philosophers who've got a really good grasp of logic hmm was that influential in your work it appeared in 2004 and I wrote a critical review of it in the journal Philo a journalist sadly doesn't exist anymore and I certainly didn't agree with everything that he said but there's a lot of agreement between things aces and things that I say things that I would say and a better book though still one that was written primarily for philosophers is John Mackey's the miracle of theism which many people think of as kind of the gold standard atheist criticism of arguments for the existence of God you know you've probably heard of logical positivism a jair and all that yeah in a lot of overviews of Western philosophy they talk about it as being sort of the one philosophy that proved itself wrong do you agree with that and are there other philosophies that are completely 100% consensus in the community that they are obsolete most philosophical movements will get some things wrong and some things right and so philosophers won't write off everything that the positivists said so these days there's quite a lot of interest for example in Canucks work both the Alf Bauer and his later work and those were important works for the positivists what's been written off and pro I think and what's what seems to be wrong is the kind of principle of verification that air defended in his little book logic truth language and that he tried to refine later it looks as though that principal can't be made to work I mean lots of people have tried to patch it in the subsequent years and it just doesn't seem to be patchable but writing that off doesn't mean that there's nothing of value elsewhere in the work that the positivist did and the same is going to be true for other traditions so amongst contemporary no so let me wind the clock back a little bit if you went back say twenty or thirty years and most analytic philosophers you would have found nothing but contempt for the British idealist philosophers of the second half of the nineteenth century and into the 20th century whereas more recently people have found good things in their work that to discuss and so while you know in the 70s you would have been able to find plenty of people who were just as contemptuous about the British idealist as some people now are about the positivists a reassessment of both will I think show if you're prepared to kind of work at it that you can find things worth examining in both of those traditions and the same may be true for earlier traditions I mean we talked before about things that I read that I just couldn't engage with when I look at the neoplatonist I find it very hard to find much in there that excites me but I know people whose life is devoted to translating Proclus work and they find it really interesting and exciting whereas it doesn't do anything for me I just was recently listening to a lecture by Professor Philip Carey who's an angle can I believe he's very enthusiastic about Luther he actually made me warm up to Luther a bit that's that's how good this professor is because I actually warmed up to his he's a lot of Luther's ideas but he mentioned that post-modernism was basically saying look modernism is hypocritical because modernism says that you can't have tradition but modernism is tradition it's a new tradition but it's a tradition what do you think of that what do you think of post-modernism generally and what do you think of the role of language in today's philosophy contemporary philosophy do you feel like you are postmodern do you feel like we're in postmodern times or is that just a stupid label that people throw around or is it meaningful well even the labels like modernity and enlightenment have questionable usefulness I mean if you think about history if you ask a question like so when did the dark ages begin and when did they end historians are going to just look blankly at you because the labels are just so imprecise and whether in fact we should think of this time as a dark age is really very unclear and there are similar problems I think with labels like modernity and if that's problematic then post modernity is going to be problematic as a consequence is your passion with your work to promote your own worldview or your own naturalism or is it to seek the truth or what what it what motivates your work I guess if you ask philosophers the answer to that question it partly it's going to be seeking to promote the truth as I say it so that the answer will be yes and yes but I'm actually interested in arguing about details so so lots of my work is picking on particular details wherever they are and just arguing about them so that brings me to the meat and potatoes of our discussion I think that if there is no supernatural then there's no love there's no freedom there's no responsibility there's no morality sounds like a pretty impoverished worldview how do you defend that well I just deny it so let's start with love because that's kind of the easiest there's clearly love between spouses love between parents and children this is just the fact about the way the world is it's completely independent of what kind of worldview it's a self-evident truth yeah right so now what you might be thinking is that there's no way that you can make a space for explaining how the love if you're a naturalist you must be a determinist you must be a determinist so that's not true a naturalist may well think and actually I think that this is by far the preferable view that in the kind of in the causal evolution of the world there's chance so it's not a matter of necessity how you get from once one global state to the next is partly a matter of chance I disagree I don't believe in chance right but the question here will be about the interpretation of quantum mechanics whether you think that there's chance so to take a concrete example you've got a particular radioactive particle and perhaps on some ways of interpreting quantum mechanics all you've got is a certain chance that it's going to decay in the next minute whether it does or not it's not determined by the prior state of the world it's just it might go one way might go the other okay so on my version of naturalism the world's chancy and so that just gets rid of determinism straightaway right now you might be a determinist about the natural world proceeding from questions about divine intervention but I'm not I'm not a determinist I'm no longer a determinist now I have freedom because I have the supernatural right but when I was a naturalist I was a hard determinist because if you want to keep science in the scientific method there's never any data in the laboratory where the scientist will say there's no sufficient reason for this effect but that's just what I'm disputing I'm saying that when it comes to quantum mechanics and certain kinds of things that happen in the micro realm which can be amplified up to the macro realm that's precisely the case for the sake of argument let's assume that you're right I don't think that you are right but let's assume that there is indeterminacy at quantum indeterminacy I don't think there is but let's assume that there is for the sake of argument so the criminal goes before the judge and the judge says well you did x y&z therefore you know you're guilty and you need to be punished and the lawyer says well no my client is a machine and machine is fed random events he didn't have a choice that he was prompted by these quantum indeterminacy is how do you answer that argument there's broadly speaking two different ways of thinking about freedom some people have what I'll call the libertarian view that in order to act freely it must be that in the circumstances in which you're acting you could have done something other than what you actually did and then there's a compatible as view which says that you act freely and so far as what you do is the product of your normally acquired beliefs desires intentions and so on in the absence of certain kinds of defeating factors so you're not mentally ill you're not walked out you're not brainwashed and so on and I accept the second account of freedom and so I have no problem saying that what the criminal did he was responsible for and he can be found guilty but where is his freedom if the scientist examines the choice the free choice that he made where will this scientist find that free choice well the scientists won't find that anywhere just as with the scientist looks inside your brain he won't find the beliefs right because beliefs neural states they're not the kinds of things that are visible to inspection by a scientist if a scientist opens up your head they'll see neurons and if they've got the right kind of measuring activity they may see activation patterns but there's no science that tells you how to read off someone's beliefs from their patterns of activation even though beliefs just are certain kinds of neural processes and states and so my answer to the question about freedom goes exactly the same way it's you're looking for the wrong kind of thing if you think that science is going to tell you whether someone acted freely or not so you're not a reductionist beliefs desires and so on just are certain neural events and processes so in that sense maybe I'm a reductionist but there's no way that that entails or that you can use it to infer what their beliefs desires and so on ah but in print well no but there's no possibility right it's not possible sorry not even in principle there was a funny episode in Star Trek the original series where dr. McCoy made some joke about 20th century medicine and I make the same joke to you I mean yeah you're you're relying on 21st century technology and saying it's impossible to know what's going on in the mind or in beliefs yes because you're relying on 21st century technology which is barbaric I'm not relying on technology though well you're hiding behind ignorance no I don't think so I think that there are perfectly good reasons for saying that in the relevant sense in principle it's impossible to make the kinds of inferences that you want to be able to make right no scientists will ever be able to do I see each state as the logical consequence of the previous state but you seem to find some sort of wiggle room so let's let's zoom in and examine the criminal shoplifter as he's stealing a diamond ring from the jeweler he wants it he has the desire and he believes that he deserves it for whatever reason okay maybe his family is at war with the family that runs a jewelry shop or whatever it might be so he has the desire he has the belief and he makes the choice because an opportunity presents itself when the attendant is in the back room he just puts the ring in his pocket and leaves so I want to examine this I want you to zoom in for me on the part of that drama which is not determined or if you're saying that everything is determined then show me where the freedom is he's just acting on his beliefs and desires in the way that we all do like I you know I'm thirsty I go to the fridge I open it up I say there's a bottle of water in there I reach out and take the water have a sip put it back in the fridge maybe that's just normal operation of the world and that's just a normal everyday mundane occurrence of a free action so you think you could have done otherwise you don't have to be able to do otherwise in order to act freely on my view okay so what people will say in response to these people who like libertarian freedom is that there's this special thing called agent causation and it can be the case that when you choose to do a even though there's nothing in the circumstances that you can appeal to to explain why you did a rather than B because you could have done otherwise in those circumstances nonetheless somehow or other you're the agent cause of a and that's a sufficient explanation of why you did a that just strikes me as kind of unacceptable account yeah there's a deep mystery and freedom which we can never comprehend but we can apprehend it that's the point it's a self-evident truth freedom and love and responsibility and morality are self-evident truths we apprehend them we don't comprehend them cuz they're deep mysteries and there's God's grace in my worldview that allows me to make free choices but speaking of the Catholic point of view have you are familiar with the dispute that happened over freewill between the Jesuits and the Dominicans so between the Jesuits and the Dominicans so this is a this is an intramural it's between Catholics I recommend you look into it because it was left unresolved there were different theories or different philosophies about how grace and freewill are compatible and conflicting views created some antagonism and the Pope just stepped in and said we're not going to resolve it just agree to disagree there's no dogmatic position on that let's move on right so in effect that's sort of what happens in philosophy all the time right so the dispute between compatibilist and libertarians about freedom is a kind of deadlock and while forces will keep working away at it trying to improve both of the positions trying to get to a point where we can all agree that one of them wins in practice we just know that we're gonna agree to disagree we've got no reason to think that anytime soon we're going to work out a resolution that's going to be acceptable to everyone it looks like what the future will be forever is that we're just going to agree to disagree as it seems to be on most philosophical questions all right that's what it looks like now of course you know we're very imperfectly rational it may turn out that we just around the corner is going to be a resolution to all of the philosophic disputes but I wouldn't put any money on that do you remember what Hume said about just getting on with life and going down to the pub and having a beer even though there are these unresolved thanks can Hume in his more philosophical work so this isn't true I think of the work in philosophy of religion but in his more philosophical what were like was sceptical producer arguments that look like their skepticism scepticism about induction skepticism about causation and so on but somehow other they're kind of confined to his study right once he goes out of the study and he goes down and he plays backgammon with his friends there are those sceptical doubts all disappear and that might be fine for scepticism because very hard to find people who are skeptical about the external world and other minds and things like that and unless they're unwell okay but when it comes to questions about religion and politics and things like that the disputes are real and they don't disappear just because we come out of our studies and go to the pub I want you to talk to me if you would please about Anselm's ontological argument and maybe even some of the other versions of the ontological argument just sort of give me your impression and what do you like what is it about the ontological argument for you okay so I've always been fascinated by Anselm's argument one of the things that's interesting about it is just that there there's almost nothing about the argument that there's agreement on the arguments kind of hard to get your head around that's another thing that's kind of attractive about it is very hard to give a kind of formal representation of the argument and analyze it very few people try to do that though there has been some interesting work recently done by people especially in Germany on this question the argument has seemed to most people to be suspicious right most people think it can't be that it's that easy to get out the result right but they've been smart people through the centuries who thought otherwise I mean obviously answer himself but they've been other people who've defended similar arguments since including Descartes Leibniz I guess Spinoza I guess Hegel Bertrand Russell for a time the heart John and Malcolm but our Marx contemporaries at least planting her but also Alec spruce I didn't I didn't mention girdle either maybe he didn't accept the argument but he developed an interesting argument as well there's a in the subsequent history lots of different arguments have been produced that have some connection to Han Psalms original argument many of the subsequent arguments are easier to deal with than an Psalms own argument was their argument that planting a maid very popular at the modal ontological argument there's something pretty close to consensus about that argument girdle's argument which is sort of inspired by Leibniz attempts to improve on de cartes argument there's this it's still more contentious and salves argument is completely contentious now maybe I should say something about what an Psalms argument is so the way that I'm going to do it is like this so there's a preliminary discussion which I'll pass over which is background to the first premise in the argument when the fool hears the words that than which no greater can be conceived he understands them whatever is understood exists in the understanding so that than which no greater can be conceived exists in the understanding that's kind of preliminary to the argument now we argued by reduc see I suppose that that than which no greater can be conceived exists only in the understanding then we can conceive of something greater than that than which no greater can be conceived namely something just like it but which also exists in reality but that's impossible you can't conceive of something greater than that permission that greater can be conceived so it can't be that that then which no greater can be conceived this only in the understanding so it must be that that than which no greater can be conceived exists in reality that's the argument and it has I mean it was difficult the way I said it it probably was very hard to follow but it has a kind of superficial plausibility to it but that than which no greater can be conceived has a bunch of properties it'll be omnipotent omniscient perfectly good it'll be the cause of everything that has a cause of its existence and so on in other words since Anselm we've just established that the Christian God exists when we establish that that than which no greater can be conceived exists so that's the that's the argument most people as I said when they hear this argument think there's got to be a trick in here somewhere there's got to be something wrong with this right regardless of whether you're religious or not right regardless of whether you whether you accept the conclusion or not but it's mighty hard to say what the problem is exactly it's like the mathematical proof that one equals two there's a division by zero something like that yeah so that's an analogy that some people have used Oh anything if it was something like division by zero then the argument would be long since put to bed right because someone would have said you look here you know he divides by zero and then everyone was that are of course right so yeah it's more subtle yeah there's a lot of tricky terms in the argument and there are subtly different ways of raiding the premises so to go back to something that I said before about David Lewis Lewis has a really interesting analysis of an Psalms argument that he published in about 1970 and in it he says you can read the argument in several different ways on some of its readings it's invalid the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises on other readings the conclusion does follow from the premises but at least one of the premises is obviously question being obviously unacceptable more recently some people have said that there's a third possibility as well which is that the arguments valid and the premises are true but the conclusion is a trivial truth something that's of no religious significance now you might wonder how that could but you might think that that than which no greater can be conceived is just the entirety of natural reality so what we've got is a proof of something that they even natural exploit even right yeah I think The Naturalist interpretation was overruled I think Ansel himself rebutted gone inland or how do you pronounce the monks name well it depends it in the Latin it's got an extra in on the end so I don't know that these days people calling good nil by okay but he posited this wonderful island and an Psalm said if you want to move it to the natural world all bets are off you know I think that gorneo strategy is really interesting he says to and some look if you reckon that arguments good I can run a exactly parallel argument for the existence of other things that you don't believe in like the island than which no greater island can be conceived I mean now their logics exactly the same the conclusion follows in one case if it does in the other there's got to be some difference in the premises therefore it's got to be that one of these premises is one that the fool shouldn't accept over even though he's entitled and something's required to accept the premises on the other side and I think it's very hard to show why the fool should be taken to think that there is in the understanding of being than which no greater being can be conceived and yet there isn't in the understanding and Island than which no greater Island can be conceived yeah I think one of the one of the key points to the ontological argument is that the essence of the island doesn't include existence whereas the essence of God does include existence is that part of the discussion one standard way in which people think about the essence of a thing now is the things that it has that it couldn't fail to have right so if it exists it's got these properties if you accept that account of essence then existence is part of the essence of everything so that's one thing to say the other thing to say is that there's an interesting question about whether there are non existent things so my nan thought that there were non-existent things so he thought that things properties independently of whether they exist it or not so this is kind of going back to the previous discussion so according to him Santa Claus has a white beard even though there's no Santa Claus but they're going to say that there's a class of properties now that you're not allowed to attribute in that way so you can't attribute because otherwise the view becomes absurd considered the tallest Martian right the tallest Martian is tall so there's a tallest Martian so there are Martians so now you're committed to the existence of Martian so it's terrible right my tongs theory has to be able to ward that off so properties like existence and necessary existence are not what they call characterizing properties and they have to have that as part of the view in order to ward off absurdity and all of the people who've been mine on ian's have thought about the ontological argument and said it can't work from their standpoint because of this way of distinguishing between properties okay have you encountered presupposition ilysm as an apologetic approach I've heard about it I've never bothered to read any works by presuppositionalist I mean the information I got from my informants suggests that it probably would be a waste of my time yeah but it's an interesting idea I don't know much about it but it was actually Matt Dillahunty who turned me on to the idea I listened to him debating with one of these guys and from what I've understood they just sort of assume everything so there's not really argumentation about the fundamentals they start with everything you know and if you knew that somebody was like that you wouldn't bother to talk to them right because sure you can have that view there are there are certainly atheists who think that there's a presumption in favor of atheism that's so strong that it can't be overcome right well there's not much point arguing with them either what have you learned by arguing how many years have you been arguing philosophically I don't know since I was four day and I've learned lots of stuff since I was 14 logic for what for the year I finished high school I worked my way through Queens methods of logic because I wanted to learn logic but the logic is difficult and even by the time that I finished my undergraduate degree and I'd done four or five logic subjects while I was an undergraduate I knew that I hardly knew anything about logic and in a way I still know very little and there are people who are full-time logicians who work on particular areas in logic so becoming an expert in logic is very difficult but one thing that certainly true is that I know a lot more about logical consequence now than I did when I was 14 and so my ability to look at an argument and to determine whether the conclusion follows logically from the premises and if it doesn't to be able to show that it doesn't has improved a lot right that's a kind of particular skill that you can develop and just just just to take one example yeah but this is sort of at the core of what you were talking about before with all the sciences and math and it's at the core of everything right that skill set ah or is it on the fringes that it works on the fringes with philosophy or is it applicable everywhere so mathematics is all about proof all right it's largely about proof the way that you establish a claim in mathematics is by proving it maybe you can use powerful computing techniques to make it seem quite likely that it claims true without actually proving it in some cases but certainly up until very recently mathematics was all about proof and so the logical consequence was very important because that's the kind of key notion that we're working with when we were doing a proof each steps a logical consequence of the steps that came before all right so for mathematics logical consequence is very important once you get to physics we're interested in explanatory theories and the relationships completely different you may use bits and pieces of mathematics when you're developing up your physical theories but being able to explain the results of experiments is way more important once you've moved away from mathematics and the other formal Sciences philosophy is it's interesting because there's no a great as I said I tried to crime before there's no agreement about what the proper methods of philosophy ah but these days most people think that the way that philosophy proceeds is as much by theory building and then seeing how that theory fits with data of various kinds as it is by mathematical demonstration or logical demonstration yeah I mentioned in my email to you one of my emails to you that if there is no difference between the best-case scenario in the worst-case scenario for a given human being based on the choices they make then morality really is of negligible significance how do you counter that argument so I suppose that there's knowledge heaven and hell right and think about the choices that a whole lot of people made that led up to the Holocaust right it seems to me that the choices that those people made were enormous ly significant there was a huge amount of avoidable suffering that followed from the choices that those people made so it's not true that if there's no heaven in hell in choices have negligible significance often the choices we make have enormous significance for the suffering that other people or we ourselves the gonna undergo yeah but those who made bad choices and those who suffered from those bad choices have the same exact same outcome according to your naturalist worldview that's the problem that's not true if you look at the lives that people lead some of them go well some of them go much less well and it will always be true of the people who made the bad choices that they made the bad choices even after they're dead that they're dead means that they no longer have any experiences they don't remember what they did in Samba that's still true that that's what they did and that matters yeah I don't know if sociopath or psychopath would really be concerned about your point of view he would just want to maximize his pleasure during his hundred and ten years on earth my worldview gives him a stern warning your worldview just says do what you can get away with no no not at all remember I said before that I'm a moral realist I think there's a whole lot of necessarily true principles and there's no true principle that says do whatever you can so long as you can get away with it that's an actually an immoral principle and it may be true that there are some people who would like to live according to a principle like that but the rest of us are typically concerned to take measures to protect ourselves from them so when we know that someone's a psychopath we try to room fence them in one way or another I mean if once they've done terrible things we lock them up we try to reform them right so what would you say to someone that said look I figured out a way to maximize my pleasure I've got a good reputation I've got lots of money lots of women lots of drugs lots of sex lots of everything the world is my oyster and all the sadistic pleasure I get from torturing and raping and murdering people no one can catch me I've got an airtight plan you know what could you say to someone like that that's convinced that he's got it figured out and it's at the expense of everyone around him what can you really say to him I think that experience teaches us that it doesn't work like that so people who pursue wealth and power to the extent of everything else typically end up miserable this is just the fact about human beings on the other hand if you're thinking about somebody who's a psychopath it's very rare for them to go through life doing all kinds of horrible things and going to their graves happy I just look at what happened to the leaders of Germany in the Second World War look at the way that Goebbels and Himmler and Hitler died they did not die satisfied contented happy people yeah so it's a very empirical statistical it's it's it's empirical but that doesn't make it wrong right and but there's no principle but it's but it's not just empirical right this has been the opinion of philosophers of all stripes pretty much forever right and what informed their opinion is there is in part their experience of how the world goes right hmm that professor I mentioned that I'm listening to he said that even though he's Protestant he said the Protestant Reformation has brought in experience first sort of way of looking at religion and that the virtues now are downplayed and personal experience is in the forefront and he sees that as a danger if you look at the ancient classic philosophers they're all emphasizing virtue what is your perspective on that teaching that ancient teaching of virtue putting virtue first in contemporary moral philosophy there are three kinds of positions that get a lot of discussion there's consequentialist positions which say that you evaluate actions according to the consequences there's a kind of de ontological approaches which say that what comes first the rights and duties so you assess the merits of people's actions in terms of whether they're doing what they ought to do and then there are virtue theoretic approaches which tend to think more about what makes for a flourishing life and think that exercising a whole range of virtues is an important part of what makes for a flourishing life and that's how it plays a kind of central role in morality and that's the kind of approach that I adopt so for example I contributed a little piece to a handbook on spirituality in health care and in that I outlined a kind of naturalistic virtue ethics as the kind of way to think about morality right so so I'm sympathetic to that kind of view and obviously there are lots of details the ancients had a rather different list of the virtues even from Aquinas right Aquinas added faith hope and charity at least to the virtues that Aristotle saw and he probably wanted to subtract some of the things that Aristotle took to be virtues but nonetheless I think something important in the idea that our flourishing life is going to be one in which virtues are exercised in the pursuit of worthwhile goals Hume is famous for having so that you can't get an art from an ears can you just talk really briefly about what that means and what it means for you in particular so the human idea is that there's no logical connection between how things are and how they ought to be so you can't from a bunch of claims about how things are you can't make any claims about how things ought to be it's not clear that Humes right about that so there are certainly for lots of people if you describe to them a situation in which there's inequalities of certain kinds right say somebody cuts up the cake and keeps five pieces for themselves and like one piece for another half a dozen people to fight over lots of people will just respond by saying that that's not fair that's unfeeling it's wrong right and it's not clear there that they aren't making some kind of inference that goes from is to a naught but that's not how it ought to be but putting that to one side if someone rejects moral principles it's very hard to find anything that you can use to argue them into it right so if someone really insists on being a moral skeptic why should I get more it'll be very hard to argue them out of their position I think that has to do with the autonomy of the moral rather than anything else the autonomy of the moral yes so it's independent in the same way that you can't the non reducibility right you can't just as you can't in my view you can't reduce biology to physics all right you can't reduce morality to something else either right it's an independent domain of mark of necessary moral truth according to me there are things that just it just has to be that way it just has to be wrong but it's necessarily wrong that you could kill except in the exceptional circumstances when you're allowed to say if it turns out that there is a god who's all good and that's perfect in every way that it's better to be perfect would you necessarily love him and worship Him and strive to know his will and to do his will or not and if not why not I don't know that's a I think it's impossible that there's such a garden so there's really no way of answering that question so one of the think projects that I'm engaged in at the moment is a book so debate book there are four or five different people contributing on whether we ought to want it to be the case that there's a God and there have been some people some atheists who said that they don't want there to be a god there are lots of fears who say that they want it to be the case that there's a God and the wine that I tried to develop in the book in my contribution to this book is that because I think it's impossible that there's such a God it will be irrational for me to have any desires either way for there being such a God or for there not being such a God I think that once you find out that something's impossible any desires that you have in connection with it just naturally disappear right so I don't have any wishes one way or the other okay do you think it's possible to be morally certain that there is no God morally certain yes sure okay for you it's based on the naturalism that there's no supernatural yeah sure but of course there's a question about how certain I should be about that naturalism so I take that to be a kind of moral certainty instance clothes as you like to certainty right that's right that's how I think that's how I think you should understand moral certainty right for practical purposes I never stop and think Oh what if there's a god okay let's let's do a little thought experiment here okay let's say you're right there's only natural and that there's no supernatural there's no God okay now you and I are on a bus together for some reason and the bus crashes or goes over a cliff and we both die and then we end up in somewhere that looks remarkably like a Christian heaven and I turned to you and I say I told you so okay but we're not in heaven we're just in some fake natural thing and we just we can't explain it but that's where we are and all your relatives come up to you and so on and so forth now I'm not asking you to believe that this is heaven I'm not asking you to believe in the supernatural I'm just saying this is what happens after we die on the bus okay so now isn't that better than just being completely annihilated after we die on the bus wouldn't you rather go to that fake heaven than to a real annihilation what you're describing is impossible no it's natural it's a hundred percent natural no it's not it's not violating georgia's you it's a sureties organisms have a finite life they're born they die once they did that unexist anymore all of that's part of my worldview your story is impossible on my view no it's not because the death is reversible in your worldview because all you are as a person is a certain configuration of matter so with the right technology we can put that configuration back together you know what I mean death is not reversible I might well view its permanent end point it has to be reversible because all you are in your worldview is a certain configuration of matter and energy that's all you are that's not true suppose I've got a duplicator and I go into the duplicator and out comes duplicate Graham duplicate Graham it's not my even though he to placate Smee in every physical respect right there's more to me than the configuration of matter there's a history a history that goes back to the Big Bang that I'm part of I have particular parents grandparents right far enough back there are nonhumans that are my ancestors all of that's part of what I am having a particular material Constitution is not the whole story about me I know that but in your naturalistic worldview you've got nowhere to insert a non material human element you've only got the material matter and energy to work with that's why I reject your world here you know well well I'm a human being I have beliefs desires intentions I love some people get on less well with others all of this is there's a fact of the matter about our causal histories it doesn't have the same causal history that I do do you think you'd get along with them so they'll be there to be very difficult for him I think it's photo that like I said at the beginning and I think this is really possible for this whole I once again this whole speculation is sort of you know pair impossible yeah but you're playing along nicely here yeah but you should take it all with a very large grain of salt a lot of people are reluctant to talk about their worldview I have a hard time finding guests but whenever I reach out to a philosopher they're always willing to talk is it because they love arguing and they love ideas is it because they are not threatened by opposition what how would you characterize that a pattern that I've seen so both of those things are probably true philosophers work in an environment where everybody disagrees with them all the time so you can't be a philosopher and be threatened by disagreement it's also the case that most philosophers have space a fair bit of time thinking about their worldview I'd say they're not inarticulate when they get asked what's your worldview they can talk a lot about various bits and pieces in the way that they fit together in the way that they view the world in a way that first some other people would be quite difficult I think the third element might be a little bit less flattering my wife always says that I've just in love with myself and I'd like to hear myself talk is that a component in philosophers typically to egomania so it depends I think it's true that lots of philosophers look really like to talk but lots of them like to listen as well right what matters is that it's a two-way street not all of them do there are some philosophers who don't listen that's not I think good thank you so much so listen at the end of my interviews I always ask my guests to give a little positive message of hope from a unique perspective because we all have unique experiences and unique histories as you said so what do you think that you might be able to say just as a final note to anyone that might be out there listening now for some people life is unendurable bad for most people it isn't there's lots of good things in life I think the most important things for most people are going to be relationships with family friends so what's particularly important but another important part of life is doing worthwhile things having worthwhile projects that you're able to pursue and if you think about what a flourishing life is really going to be like it's going to involve virtuous action but it involves being in a network right it's not all about you you find happiness in what you do for other people all you gotta do is s all you got to do is is

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