Is teaching young children religion child abuse? Should a child's mind be programmed from birth based upon a parents blind faith in something? Shouldn't a child be allowed to eventually grow into their own religion as opposed to being automatically grouped into one based on the geographical location of the hospital they were born in.

The term "child abuse" is loaded enough that I'm going to set it aside. And I'm going to restrict myself mainly to one point. You seem to assume that religion is always a matter of "blind faith" and that if parents bring their children up in a religious tradition, this is inevitably a matter of "programming." But why think that? Isn'tit possible that perhaps you've been a bit indoctrinated (not to say brainwashed) on that point yourself? Some beliefs are blind. That applies to some cases of religious belief and to a good many other kinds of belief as well. But not all beliefs about matters that go beyond the facts need be blind, and this is as true for religion as it is for anything else. The great religious traditions include traditions of argument, reflection, weighing of considerations, and discernment. Not all believers cling to their beliefs for dear life; not all believers believe that they're bound for hell if they have questions or doubts. In fact, for some serious religious people,...

Recently someone asked a question about the existence or non existence of god and miracles. Basically they were asking how, if an event occurs in space time, could we ever consider that event a miracle, since being in space time the event would have an identifiable cause and therefore could not be considered a miracle. The answer to me seems to be readily apparent, and I wanted to see what you thought. That is, a miracle by analytic reasoning seems to me to be something that does not occur in space time. So the problem is solved simply by observing that if an event occurs in space time then analytically and a priori we know it is not a miracle, just as a married man is analytically and a priori not a bachelor. Of course a better answer would simply be to point out that the use of metaphors like "miracle" may just be a quite ineffective use of words, since it tempts us to hypothesize about objects that can never be given in experience and that, I agree with Kant, is the ultimate no-no! :)

An interesting question, but I'm not quite sure I can go along with your suggestion. First, miracles. Suppose that the story of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth occurred just as described in the Gospels. (We're not inquiring here into how likely this is; just suppose for argument's sake that it happened.) By any reasonable use of the word, that would count as a miracle. (If it's not miraculous enough, add your own extra bells and whistles.) Briefly, it would be an event that wouldn't occur as the laws of nature ordinarily run, and it would have a clear religious significance. Most every user of the word "miracle" would agree that it would be a miracle, so it's hard to see how we could know otherwise analytically. Your friend's objection is that the event, being in space and time, must have an identifiable cause, and therefore can't be a miracle. But this isn't clear either. First, we could question the assumption that everything occurring in space and time must have an identifiable...

Hello Philosophers! Can anyone defend the Ontological Argument against Kant's criticism that existence is not a predicate?

Sure. Even if existence is not a predicate, it's at least arguable that necessary existence is. (As Norman Malcolm pointed out years ago, there really are two versions of the argument, and the second one deals with necessary existence.) We doubt that existence is a predicate because, roughly, saying that something exists tells us nothing about what it's like. Not so for necessary existence. Not just anything could exist necessarily. The computer I'm typing on is the wrong sort of thing to be a candidate for necessarily existing thing. Assuming that some things are of the right sort to exist necessarily, necessary existence would be a predicate. Whether this is a defense of the argument all things considered is another matter. But I think the point made here is fair as far as it goes. A being that merely happened to exist wouldn't be a being than which none greater can be conceived.

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches us that we have to think a certain way or is science since it teaches us that nobody is truly free but a product of deterministic forces?

How about neither? Let's start with religion, about which only a few words. Some forms of religion are dogmatic and deeply invested in doubtful beliefs, but it's a mistake to think all religion is like that, contrary to the persistent insistence of some apologists for atheism. And "science" writ large hasn't settled whether everything is a product of deterministic forces, let alone about what that would imply if it were true. On the first point: it's open to serious doubt whether quantum processes are deterministic. And it's simply not true that the macro-world would be sealed off from all quantum indeterminism. More important, it's simply not settled that determinism has the dire implications you suppose it has. Most philosophers, I'd guess, accept some version of compatibilism, according to which physical determinism and human freedom can coexist. A bit of searching around this website will find various discussions. Here's one that might be helpful. Of course, it might be that the...

Is it logical to infer a higher power given how extraordinary human life is?

It's a recurring question, and various versions of it make their way into arguments for God's existence. For the moment, I'll just raise one obvious worry (not original to me.) Let's agree that human life is extraordinary. If we assume that this calls for divine explanation, we run the risk of positing a being who is at least as extraordinary as we are, and therefore at least as much in need of explanation. But in that case, we seem either to be set upon an infinite regress or else it isn't clear that we had to take the first step in the first place. This hardly settle the question of whether there's a God (I'm taking that to be what you men by Higher Power.) But it does point out that some arguments for God's existence are too simple and too quick.

I have been teaching philosophy for a year now, and the Paradox of the Stone has come up again and again, boggling my student and me later on. The standard answer is that God cannot create the stone since it would imply a contradiction, and these philosophers say that even God cannot do that. But if He is God, why can He not create a contradiction? Is there something wrong with accepting the conclusion that God can make 2+ 2 = 5, given that God is all-powerful? Or put it another way, why cannot the concept of omnipotence be the ability to do everything, even if that would imply a contradiction?

Voluntarists say just that: God can make contradictions true. And if someone is really prepared to say that contradictions might be true, it's not exactly clear -- to me, at least -- how to answer. But I'll confess that I've never understood the pull of this solution. Here's a way of getting at what bothers me. Suppose, to see if it could make sense, that there's an omnipotent God. (Our goal is to see if the concept is coherent; not whether it fits any actual thing.) Suppose we have a computer screen with 1280 x 720 pixels. (Let them simply be on or off; ignore color.) Suppose we ask God to turn a set of pixels on so that there's a circle on the screen. (We have to allow for a certain amount of approximation, but that won't affect the real point here.) God can easily do that. (So can anyone with a good Paint program.) Now suppose we ask God instead to arrange pixels so that there's an equilateral triangle on the screen. Once again, no difficulty. But now suppose we set God a third task: turn...

I am currently reading Theaetetus, for a course at university, and I am struck by the number of times Socrates discusses "God" (for example, 176c, where Socrates says "God" is utterly and perfectly righteous). Considering the fact that these dialogs were written centuries before the birth of Jesus, and the fact that the Greeks were almost certainly not Jewish, it seems odd that the translators should use a monotheistic god when translating Socrates' words. Did the Greeks actually have a serious concept of monotheism, and is this concept what is being referred to in the English translations of Theaetetus? Or is this "God" just a way for the translator to "whitewash" the ancient Greeks so as to make it easier for Christians (be it theistic Christians or non-Christians who grew up with Christian cultural heritage) to relate to the dialog? Does such a translation do justice to the original?

I'd been hoping one of our classicists would take a stab at this, but since none has… The Jews were not the only people in the ancient world to develop monotheistic ideas, nor, for that matter, was Judaism clearly monotheistic (as opposed to henotheistic — taking Yahweh to be their god and the most powerful.) There's a strong abstract and unificatory streak in Greek thought that would make the development of monotheistic ideas unsurprising, whether most people accepted them or not. But on the matter of translation, I fid it hard to imagine any of the classicists I know hedging their translations to make them acceptabe to wider Christian culture. On the contrary, if the usual translations were suspect, I'd expect this to be an active debate in the literature, and far as I know, it's not.

I recently was in an " Ask an Atheist" panel at a predominantly Lutheran college, and after asserting that the burden of proof lies on the theist, someone claimed that a deeply spiritual person has knowledge that is only available to them. In other words, regarding what is morally correct or anything else god could want us to do, a theist is justified doing things akin to Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac because they have a certain kind of knowledge that justifies doing so despite all evidence that suggests it is wrong. Is this logically or epistemologically sensical, especially regarding morality? What about people like Hildegard of Bingen who claimed to receive visions from God and know this is the case beyond all doubt?

Burden of proof arguments can be tricky. Atheists often say that believers have the burden of proof, but at the least that depends on what's being asked. Is the claim that the believer is irrational or intellectually blameworthy if s/he doesn't meet this burden? As we'll see below, that's a lot less obvious than one might think. That said, I agree with my co-panelist that there's something off here. Saying just what may be a bit tricky, however. One view of knowledge is that it's justified true belief, where the justification is something that could be articulated. However, that view has come in for a good deal of criticism. The most relevant problem is that there seem to be cases of real knowledge where the knower couldn't articulate any justification. Animals plausibly know things. So do young children. For that matter, there seems to be a good deal of general knowledge that most of us possess, that really is knowledge, but that that most of us would be unable to justify. Reliabilists ...

What reasons do atheists have for caring about other people or for being socially responsible? Is there any difference other than semantics that differentiates those reasons from reasons derived from religious beliefs? (in other words, reasons to care about others or for being socially responsible seem only to derive from one of two sources: (a) "enlightened expanded selfishness" (if we all do it the world is a better place), or (b) because somehow it is the "right" thing to do, and the only issue in this case is the source that makes it "right"). Whenever I discuss this question with self-professed atheists, their arguments come across as sounding like "I don't like the term 'god'" or "I don't like the bad things that have been done in the name of organized religion". In other words, they also believe in something greater than the individual and are arguing over what to call it or how to describe it or where its justification comes from, yet underneath it all, they spring from a belief that...

I'd suggest that atheists have more or less the same reasons that theists caring about others, treating others well. Of course, there's a possible reply that I'd like to set aside: perhaps some theists are decent to others only because they're afraid God will punish them if they aren't. But I don't think most theists think that way. They think, for example, that cruelty is just wrong. Atheists generally think the same. Now it might seem that the theist has an advantage: the theist, it might seem can say why cruelty is wrong: it's wrong because God disapproves of it or because God commands us not to be cruel. But that by itself isn't very satisfying. Did God just arbitrarily decide that cruelty is wrong? What if he'd decided that it was right? Would that make it right? It's hard to see how. We're now in the territory of the so-called Euthyphro argument (named for a Platonic dialogue in which Socrates makes a similar point.) There's a lot of appeal to the idea that God would forbid...

Religious indoctrination involves very profound moral, emotional, and political implications which are beyond the grasp of young children. Isn't it wrong to indoctrinate a child into a religious belief before they can knowledgeably consent to the implications of that belief system?

I think you've raised a good question, but I do think the issue is a lot more general than religion. In raising children, we convey a great deal to them about our beliefs and values on many things -- including many controversial things. This includes political values, larger ethical values, what sources of information are to be trusted and a good deal more. It's hard to see how we could avoiding doing that, and hard to see why we would want not to. That said, the word "indoctrination" is perhaps the key here. We can raise our children to be more or less thoughtful, more or less open-minded, more or less willing to reason. If we tend to stress thoughtfulness, inquisitiveness, willingness to consider objections to one's own views, then the word "indoctrination" seems less appropriate. Of course, open-mindedness and cognitive flexibility are values that not everyone shares. But what distinguishes them from indoctrination is precisely that they aren't matters of accepting specific doctrines. We...

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