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Some Christians claim to oppose homosexuality by saying, "hate the sin, not the sinner." Is this a meaningful distinction? Is it a cogent defense against accusations of homophobia?

Yes and No. (I'm a philosopher. What did you expect?) Yes, it's a perfectly reasonable distinction. Suppose your sibling or parent or child (as makes the most sense to you) were to murder someone. I hope that you would find what they had done to be horrible and worthy of moral condemnation. But that doesn't mean that you have to think they are horrible. It doesn't mean that you should stop loving them, or stop supporting them. In fact, I myself think that it would be horrible and worthy of moral condemnation if you did stop loving them, or stop supporting them. So, when (right-wing) Christians say things like, "Hate the sin, love the sinner", that's what the sort of thing they mean: You can love this person , even if you think that they are doing bad things. We should all agree with that. But no, it's not, by itself , a cogent defense against accusations of homophobia. The reason it seems like this might be a 'defense' is that the (right-wing) Christians say that they don't condemn people ...

I was reading a text claiming that people who believe that God is contingent may be uncomfortable with the implications of contingency. The author cited the Barcan formula. Could you please explain what this formula means and why it's controversial? I'm not great at logic. Thanks!

Wikipedia has a decent entry on the Barcan formula. It is generally held to imply that nothing exists contingently, and that in turn is generally thought insane. I would seem to be a good example of something that exists only contingently. But there are some people who think the Barcan formula can be defended, and it would be nice if it could because it makes certain aspects of modal logic much easier than they otherwise are. That said, I am finding it hard to imagine why the Barcan formula and its consequences would be relevant here. If you believe that God exists contingently, then you think the Barcan formula is false. Since not many people accept it, that isn't much of a loss.

Hello, what do you think about this idea? Suppose there is no God / designer and life is just a bizarre event that has happened to have occurred following the big bang. It seems that whatever form of life happened to have occurred following this big bang could possibly have reproduced in a vast number of different ways (eg by pressing a button under a big toe, or perhaps we turned out to be weird alien trapezoid creatures who reproduced by a jolt of electricity etc). In fact, however, humans reproduce in a way which (commonly) involves a profound and beautiful relationship between two people. Given the vast number of ways in which reproduction could have occurred, and given the especially beautiful way in which it actually has happened to have occurred, doesn’t this indicate that there is a designer present rather than blind chance being the cause? Personally I find this quite convincing. If blind chance is the cause then to me it seems extremely unlikely that we would happen to reproduce in...

There are two sorts of issues here. Suppose that it is, in fact, extremely unlikely that reproduction should occur as it does. The universe is a vast place. For all we know, it occurs in billions of other ways in billions of other galaxies. Even on our own planet, of course, reproduction occurs in a dizzying variety of ways. That it happens to occur as it does among us might just mean we are the lucky ones. This is just a way of saying that astonishingly unlikely things do happen. The odds against someone being dealt, in a game of bridge, a hand consisting of 13 cards all of one suit are 158,753,389,899 to 1. But it does happen from time to time. And the universe has been around for a lot longer than we have been playing bridge. Probabilities like the one just mentioned concern the probability that an event should occur on a single occasion . Every time a bridge hand is dealt, it is incredibly improbable that it will...

When proponents of Intelligent Design insist that it is inconceivable for a particular biological structure to have simply evolved, their opponents sometimes respond "evolution is cleverer than you are." This is a pithy response, and no doubt there is truth to it; but can the ID-proponent really be reasonably expected to accept this?

Whether ID proponents would accept the counter is not necessarily the best question. I would suggest we ask whether they should accept it, or what force it has. My own sense is that the charge that it is "inconceivable" how, say, the eye evolved is really quite lame. Suppose it true that it is utterly beyond the imagination of human beings how the eye might have evolved. So what? Surely there are plenty of things that are utterly beyond our imagining. That we can't figure it out in any detail, or even begin to do so, just doesn't show anything. One might ask why we should believe that the eye evolved, then. The answer, presumably, is that we have good evidence for evolution in general, that we can actually see it in action in simpler cases, and that one can tell some rough story about why and how primitive light-detection might have evolved, and even see a range of such sensory organs in actual organisms. Having any reasonable sense of how the eye, as it is, evolved over the eons isn't really...

Theists often claim that it is impossible that the universe just randomly "sprang into existence" out of nothing, for no reason. M-theory posits a cosmological world-view in which an infinite number of universes are continually coming into and going out of existence within the framework of an eternal multiverse. If correct, does this disprove the theist argument?

I would have thought that the obvious theistic response would be that it is the existence of the eternal multiverse that is at issue. I.e., why are there any universes rather than none? From what I've read of Hawking's response to this, it does not seem to me to be very impressive. As usual with these things, it fails to take the motivations of its opponent at all seriously. None of that is of course to say that the theistic argument referenced is any good.

I'm religious, but I'm also gay. My church teaches that homosexual relationships are immoral. They say that this is what God has told us and they back it up with scriptures and revelation from God given to my current church leaders. I have a hard time accepting that homosexuality is immoral. I don't see why people should be denied consenting, intimate, long-term relationships. So, here's the question that I need to find a solution to: Should I deny believing what I think is right to comply with what my church leaders say God thinks is moral?

I don't have a lot to add to what Peter had to say, except that I'd like to emphasize that, while I don't know to what sort of Church you belong, it is absolutely central to the entire Protestant reformation that each of us is entitled, and indeed required, to come to our own decisions on these sorts of questions, in a reverential and prayerful fashion, to be sure, but to our own decisions, nonetheless. And it is an understatement indeed to say that there is "hot debate" about the significance of the Biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality. But perhaps the larger and much more important question is how we read and respond to the Bible. The obsession with sexuality in conservative churches is nearly as puzzling as their obsession with "literal" interpretations of the Bible---interpretations that are hardly literal---and with regarding those few hundred pages as representing everything God might have cared to say to us. Well, as we like to say at my church, God is still speaking, and we'd...

Is it fair to compare a belief in God(s) to a belief in fairies?

It seems to me that anyone who would wish to state that the reasons people have to believe in God are "on a par" with the reasons they have to believe in fairies owes a bit more than just an expression of opinion. I don't know of any remotely good reason to believe in fairies, nor of any books (or even articles) written on the subject by intelligent people. You may think the many reasons people have given over the centuries---folks like Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, and Leibniz, just to mention the obvious authors in the western philosophical tradition---aren't ultimately convincing. But to compare their arguments to the sort of reasons people have to believe in fairies is frankly just silly. But then, I'm probably just upset or aggravated. So let us be thoughtful for a moment. First, belief in God and belief in fairies could presumably be compared in various ways. But the intention is surely to compare the two beliefs on the basis of why people believe in God. Now, outright to compare the...

Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to perform abortions?

Just a brief comment, which is that, even if one always does have a moral right not to do things one regards as morally objectionable, it does not follow that one has a legal or political right to do so, i.e., that one cannot legitimately face legal consequences for not doing so. It is fairly easy to come up with counter-examples by thinking of people whose moral views are themselves pretty objectionable. I don't know which issue the questioner probably had in mind, but both seem worth considering. For what it is worth, I think similar such examples make Aquinas's view very doubtful. If one thinks a thing is morally abhorrent, say, when it is, in fact, morally obligatory, then it is not at all clear that one has a moral right not to do the thing. Indeed, it seems almost contradictory to say one does: One has a moral right not to do something that is morally obligatory? Presumably, the resolution of this "paradox" lies in distinguishing subjective from objective elements of this, as is now...

Is it wrong to practice a belief which one does not believe or finds to be irrational? For instance, are cultural Christians like Richard Dawkins intellectually irresponsible for adhering to practices connected with the belief which they find unconvincing? This is a very bugging question for me since I am a Christian who is becoming more and more disillusioned with my religious beliefs, so a philosophical answer would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

Another question worth considering here is whether the "practice" of Chistianity, as you understand it, is really as connected to the beliefs with which you are becoming disillusioned as you suggest. I'll speak at some length about this. What I have to say may not seem very philosophical, and in some ways it won't be. But there are profound questions here about the relationship between faith and belief, and what I will have to say is related to my own views about that relationship. It seems to be quite commonly believed that one cannot "really" be a Christian unless one accepts certain doctrines of faith, for example (and since it is Good Friday), that Jesus rose bodily from the dead on the third day after he was executed by the Romans (the doctrine of the resurrection). That, in doing so, he made himself the supreme sacrifice, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", as the Agnus Dei has it (the doctrine of sacrificial atonement). That Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). And...

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