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Some biblical scholars claim that events recorded in the bible justify them to believe that a miracle like the resurrection most likely happened. What's puzzling to me about their claim is that it seems to me the job of historians in general is to determine whether a particular event most likely happened given historical documents they have. However, even if we grant that the resurrection is possible, isn't it also true that it is an extremely unlikely event to begin with? Are these biblical scholars consistent in holding that the resurrection (a highly unlikely event) happened when the methods they employ can only be used to determine whether a particular event most likely happened?

If I have it right, your issue is with Biblical scholars who think what's recorded in the Bible justifies believing that the Resurrection (for example) " most likely happened ." But your last sentence asks whether these scholars are being consistent if they say that the resurrection happened when their methods can only establish whether an event most likely happened . So I'm a bit confused. But before we proceed, another point. You use the terms "Biblical scholar" and "historian" interchangeably. However, not all Biblical scholarship is historical scholarship, and some Biblical scholarship is unashamedly sectarian. A Biblical scholar who argues for the Resurrection (we'll stick with that case) on purely Biblical grounds would happily concede that s/he isn't offering a purely historical argument. Whether the argument is adequate or merely question-begging is a rabbit-hole we won't go down. Returning to your post, it sounds as though you're saying in your last sentence that the scholars you have...

The Constitution may prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, but should common sense? After all, to give extreme examples, religions have advocated such things as cannibalism and human sacrifice. What stops people concealing any sort of immorality or false beliefs under the label of religion?

First a point about "discrimination." The Constitution prohibits government discrimination against religion, but it doesn't, for example, prohibit me from refusing to associate with known worshipers of the Great Spaghetti Monster. So we'll take it as read that government discrimination is what's at issue. With that in mind... Cannibalism is illegal whether or not it's done under the banner of religion. So is human sacrifice. More generally: various kinds of conduct are either illegal or could be made illegal if that seemed to be the right thing to do. That means it's not clear what's gained by outlawing religions that supposedly advocate such things. Maybe someone could say that advocating bad things should also be illegal, whether done in the name of religion or not. And depending on what we mean by "advocate," that's already true in some extreme cases. Conspiring to commit a crime is illegal. Inciting a riot is illegal. But the Constitution and American political mores give people very wide...

In the movie Patton, an aide consoles the general upon learning that Rommel was not present in North Africa for the tank battle. "If you defeated Rommel's plan, then you defeated Rommel." If evolution defeats God's plan known as intelligent design can we apply the same logic to conclude that for evangelical believers at least their God is "defeated". Can we use the triumph of evolution as evidence that God does not exist since intelligent design is presented as His work?

Defeating Rommel's plan amounted to defeating Rommel because there was something Rommel was trying to accomplish and defeating his plan kept him from doing that. Stopping someone from carrying out their plans is a straightforward case of defeating someone. But evolution isn't something that stops God from doing what he was trying to do and so it doesn't "defeat" God. If we can show that evolution is true, we've defeated a view about God, but God isn't a view. In fact, however, I think your question really is the one in your last sentence: does showing that evolution is true show that there's no God? The answer is somewhat controversial, but I'd say no. It shows that a particular view of God is not true, but it doesn't show that there's no God. There are plenty of believers who think that evolution is true and that nonetheless, there's a God. Maybe no reasonable notion of God can be consistent with evolution, but this isn't nearly as obvious as it's sometimes assumed to be.* ---------------------...

Is this a decent argument (i.e. logical, sound)? If God exists, God is an omniscient, omnipotent, wholly good being If God is wholly good, God would want humans to posess free will If God is wholly good, God could endow humans with free will But, if any being is omniscient or all knowing, such a being would know human choices and actions before they are chosen Under such conditions, free will would only exist as an illusion or in the mind as the human perception of having free will; true free will would not exist because God or some other power has predecided all human choices Therefore, God, if God exists, cannot be both wholly good and omniscient Therefore, God does not exist

When we look at arguments, we have two broad questions in mind. One is whether the conclusion follows from the premises, whether or not the premises are true. The other is whether the premises are actually true. So with that in mind, let's turn to the argument. It's often possible by restating premises and adding other premises that are assumed but not stated to make an argument valid even if it's not valid as stated. Your argument is more or less this, I think If God exists, then necessarily God is perfectly good, knows all, and is all-powerful, Suppose God exists. Since God is all-powerful, God can give us free will. Since God is perfectly good, God wants us to have free will. God does anything God wants to do. Therefore, we have free will. Since God knows all, God knows what we are going to do before we do it. If God knows what we're going to do before we do it, then we don't have free will. Therefore, we don't have free will. CONTRADICTION. Therefore, God doesn't exist. We could clean things...

It sounds to me like the arguments about the existence of God are displaced from what the essence of the argument is "really" about. It seems pretty clear from the equations of quantum mechanics that there is a Deity. However, whether She takes any interest in human beings, let alone the quotidian details of our everyday lives, is another matter. That is where the argument "really" seems to be: if we posit that there is a Deity, what reasons do we have to believe that She cares about our everyday lives or intercedes in response to a prayer? It may well be that She is like a parent with grown children: "I took care of you and raised you to adulthood and gave you all the skills and abilities you need to take care of yourself on your own. Good luck!" Isn't that the basis of the argument in favor of free will? If we do have free will, then why would God respond to our prayers?

I'd add: foundations of quantum mechanics is my field. I have at least a nodding acquaintance with many of the physicists and philosophers who work in this area. I don't know a single one of them who thinks that the equations of quantum mechanics provide evidence for the existence of any sort of a Deity. And I'd have to add that this seems right to me. Quantum mechanics may provide interesting concepts and analogies for theological thinking (physicist/priest John Polkinghorne thinks so, for instance.) But that's far short of providing arguments for the existence of a god.

Is not the very concept of religion toxic to humanity? Never before has any species encountered a larger source of hate, bigotry and ultimate and utter lack of ethical direction. Surely such notions of fairies in the clouds ought not be taken seriously in a current day society, especially when such deluded notions can be used to promote acts such as crusades, act against contraception and promote the sexual abuse of children.

I have a feeling you aren't asking if the concept of religion is toxic; you're asking if religion is toxic. But I was a bit puzzled by this: "Never before has any species encountered a larger source of hate, bigotry and ultimate and utter lack of ethical direction." After all, bigotry and ethical direction or the lack thereof don't apply to any non-human species that I know of. But let that pass. I gather you're not a fan of religion. The issue, however, seems to be whether religion is worse than, say, nationalism, tribalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, warped ideology, and general human bloody-mindedness. I suppose that's an empirical question, and God knows that there's a lot of evil that's been done in the name of all these things. But it's at least a somewhat mixed bag, isn't it? For it's a matter of plain fact, that very good things have been done in the name of religion, along with the very bad, and some of the noblest ideals I can think of have deep religious roots. (Buddhist notions...

I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon and was a Christian until I was 32 growing up in a southern Baptist family. While discussing today's world and politics with my family and friends, when I don't have an answer that satisfies them they usually change topics by calling me a "liberal" as if it is some sort of hurtful slur. I don't understand this b/c I actually know the definition and their is nothing hurtful about it. My biggest problem with them using this label is that, the one man they taught me to worship for most of my life preached feeding the poor (food stamps), healing the sick (socialized meds), and overly emphasized passivism (turning the other cheek/avoiding conflict), three very liberal ideas that seem to me common logical sense, yet they oppose those people that receive these services that they don't think deserve them. Am I missing something or should I be offended by being called this? The rhetoric I hear from Christians these days about...

I've never quite forgiven Ronald Reagan for making "liberal" into a slur, but letting that pass... I don't think there's necessarily any inconsistency here. Jesus told us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and turn the other cheek. But he didn't say that the government should be in charge of all this. In fact Jesus had more or less nothing to say about how secular government should be set up (unless you can extract a political theory from his cryptic remark about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It's consistent for someone to feel a duty to do what Jesus commanded and also to believe that the government shouldn't coercively extract money from people to carry out this mandate. As it happens, I'm a liberal and am quite happy to see government tax us to feed people, cure them, educate them, and so on. But I don't think politically conservative Christians are automatically guilty of confusion, let alone bad faith.

Justice Scalia famously stated that crosses on graves have, well, crossed-over from an overtly religious symbol to one that may represent any dead soldier. How do philosophers treat such claims? How do we establish when religious practices, symbols, rituals, etc. have entered the secular public domain to the extent that the law can recognize them as such?

I'll have to admit that I think Justice Scalia is full of prunes on this one, as my grandmother would have said. And I think the case was decided wrongly by the Supreme Court. (Here's an account of the decision that's not just neutral, but still... http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/04/28/supreme-court-rules-that-a-cross-is-not-a-symbol-of-christianity/ ) As for your question, it has an empirical component and a conceptual one. The conceptual part calls for deciding what it would mean for a symbol not to have a religious meaning, and the empirical part would be finding out if crosses on graves now have a secular meaning. The answer to the conceptual question might call for some bells and filigrees, but the basic idea is pretty clear: do most people, including in this case most non-Christian people , agree that a particular symbol (in this case, a cross on a grave) has no religious meaning? If the answer is yes, then Justice Scalia is right. If the answer is no, then he's wrong....

Is it fair to label childhood religious indoctrination as abuse ? at the moment in any given society it's seen as the norm , I often wonder will future generations look back in astonishment at this practice .

I agree with my co-panelist that it's hard to peg this as abuse. But I'd like to focus on a somewhat different issue: the word "indoctrination" is being used to mean an illegitimate way of inculcating beliefs. That's fine, and isn't my issue. But the notion of "religious indoctrination" is left unexamined. And so I want to know what counts. In particular, suppose someone brings their children up in a religious tradition: introduces them to the texts and doctrines, participates in the rituals, makes clear that s/he is an adherent, and so on. If indoctrination counts as something bad, is this automatically a case of indoctrination? Surely it depends on the details. Suppose that the religious tradition has admirable moral precepts. Suppose it encourages thoughtful reflection. Suppose it doesn't threaten non-adherents with hellfire and brimstone. There really are such traditions; I know many people who belong to them. The tradition may well include metaphysical claims that you think are just wrong. But is...

Is there a good definition of magic which does not rule out the existence of magic, but also does not imply that actually magic exists? Magic cannot be "the ability to do impossible things", since this is a contradiction. I wonder if we could define magic as "the ability to violate the laws of physics". The problem is that if we discovered, for instance, that uttering "abracadabra" was a good way to make rabbits appear inside hats, he would have found a new law of physics, wouldn't we? And is it possible to argue that there is no magic without implying that most religions are false? My feeling is that the concept of magic has a reasonable sense only if we accept some religion: magic would be something like the wrong use of entities posited by such religion.

It's an interesting question, and I think it's best considered the context of times and settings in which the idea of magic was taken seriously. I also doubt that there's a lot to be gained by looking for a full-blown definition, but we can learn something by looking at broad commonalities. First on the bit about magic words and rabbits. If it turned out that saying the right words in the right way could make rabbits appear in hats, then we would have discovered a new regularity in the world, though whether we had discovered a new law of physics is a lot more doubtful. After all, the regularities of the special sciences aren't usually classed as laws of physics, even though physics has to be consistent with them.* We might want to say that this regularity is "natural" because all the events take place in nature (saying the words, the rabbit appearing...) but it wouldn't follow that it wasn't magical. Older notions of magic explicitly included a concept of natural magic. What counted as ...

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