Monday, 23 May 2016

Craig on Animal Pain *Again*

Mooch and friend

I've written before on William Lane Craig's curious views on animal pain, which amount to a dismissal of it as a phenomenon we need to worry about morally. Here I discussed the views he put forward in a debate with Stephen Law, that suggested that animal pain, following work done by Michael Murray, did not exacerbate the problem of evil for theists, and here I followed up that post with a statement by one of the co-authors of a paper that Murray used to support his findings, philosopher of mind David Rosenthal, who countered Murray and Craig:
Anybody who insists that pain and its attendant effects are not very bad for the creature even when the pain is not conscious pain seems to me to be looking for an excuse not to bother with what is plainly a significant case of suffering.  There is no sound empirical reason nor any or valid theoretical reason to count pain as suffering only if the pain is conscious.  This is simply a matter of defining suffering away by stipulation.
In a new Question of the Week entitled Animal Consciousness Once More, Craig again dismisses animal pain. Joshua, having examined the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, is concerned that this puts animals on the same footing (before God) as humans:
If animals do have the same states of consciousness as we do, that animals have the same value and importance, biologically speaking, than us.
The Cambridge Declaration says, amongst other things:
...the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.
In his reply, Craig says this:
...there is no evidence that animals other than the higher primates have a consciousness of self that enables them to think I myself am in pain. That has huge implications for the problem of animal suffering and so-called natural evil. For even though animals may have an awareness of pain (are conscious), they are not aware that they themselves are in pain (are not self-conscious) and so do not suffer as we do.
He draws the distinction between awareness and self-awareness, which I think is an important distinction, but one that does not mean we can discount awareness. The curious thing about this answer is that Craig concedes that higher primates have a consciousness of self, so presumably he thinks that chimpanzees etc are moral agents, and he already has a significant problem to address.

But, in any case, his 'answer' does not cut the mustard because, as Rosenthal says above, it's the suffering that should be the concern for us as moral agents, not the sense of self. I think it's plausible that a sense of self might change the quality of pain, but it's possible that lacking a sense of self might make awareness of pain worse. For example, lacking self-consciousness one would always be living in the moment - there would be little sense of pain passing, just happening. As self-conscious beings we can often endure periods of pain and comfort ourselves with it passing, or with rewards of future pleasure.

Craig explicitly denies that suffering is morally relevant, instead suggesting that moral obligations simply arise from God's mandate:
Lacking God as a foundation for objective moral values and duties, the naturalist must find something in animals themselves to warrant their ethical treatment. That will be their awareness of pain. ... This naturalistic attempt to ground ethical treatment of animals is doomed to failure, however, since not all animals are sentient--not to speak of rainforests and oceans! A sound environmental ethic, including the ethical treatment of animals, will be grounded in the creation mandate given by God to man to steward the Earth as God’s good gift.
(Note that Craig even bizarrely suggests that rainforests and oceans don't deserve any ethical consideration under naturalism, because naturalists can only ground morality in awareness of pain. Even if they did (and other considerations can be brought in), clearly rainforests (if we're just talking about the wood) and oceans (if we're just talking about the water) wouldn't deserve any ethical consideration per se, but since they are the very environment of many forms of life that can feel pain, they obviously would deserve ethical consideration. Conversely it seems obvious that his morality, if grounded in God's mandate, is arbitrary. If God has imposed a moral duty on us to look after rainforests and oceans as we should look after humans, then will Craig save a tree before a person? Perhaps God has instructed him to protect humans before trees; but is he really committed to a morality that is simply dictated by God? Well, of course, he is!)

The questioner, while confused, is bringing up a significant problem for theists. Why are humans exceptional? Craig's answer seems to be because of self-awareness. But not self-awareness per se, I guess, but self-awareness as evidence that humans have a self or soul that is the object of moral considerations. But even if that's the case, in this quote Craig concedes the problem of animal pain, because he says 'not all animals are sentient'. No naturalist would deny that, but even Craig allows that some animals are sentient, so he has not successfully drawn a distinction between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, so the problem of animal suffering remains.

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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Philipse on Theism - Preface

In God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason, Herman Philipse examines what he considers to be the best arguments for God today.

In the preface he notes that the arguments produced in analytic philosophy of religion in the last fifty years are worthy of consideration. His reasons for addressing religion are:

  1. The world's population is growing, and the demographics are against the secularist. The non-theist minority is getting smaller and smaller, in global terms.
  2. Globalisation means that cultures are mixing more, and this brings incompatible beliefs together more. The cognitive dissonance this produces causes more religious conflicts than we have seen in the past.

He also sets out his approach; he will be considering beliefs, not rituals; he doesn't want to be accused by believers of not attacking the best cases for theistic belief, so he will consider some of the arguments of D. Z. Phillips and Alvin Plantinga. He will spend most time, however, looking at the arguments for 'bare theism' by Richard Swinburne. This is because:

  1. The monotheism that Swinburne defends is common to the three great Judaeo-Christian religions.
  2. Swinburne's strategy seems the most promising to Philipse, since Swinburne pursues a natural theological approach to the question (compared with, for example, the foundationalist approach of Plantinga). As Philipse puts it, 'If he exists, that god is a divine person with many kinds of causal powers, whose existence can best be argued for on the basis of his alleged empirically detectable doings' (p.xiii).

Swinburne eschews a proof of God, but considers his existence highly probable.

Philipse notes that many religious beliefs have been refuted by modern science, such as origin of Earth stories, which means the 'intellectually responsible believer' cannot rely solely on scripture. For the believer, three interlocking dilemmas, he says, arise:

  1. Between (a) cognitive and (b) non-cognitive interpretations of religious beliefs. For example, does 'God exists' amount to a proposition that can be assessed for truth or falsity, or not? For an interesting discussion of non-cognitive approaches (often called Wittgensteinian), see this post by Stephen Law.
  2. If (a) is chosen, then between (c) evidential/rational support for beliefs, and (d) a non-evidential/rational approach. Under (d), Philipse will consider what he thinks is the most promising approach, offered by Plantinga, of a basic warrant for religious belief.
  3. If (c) is chosen, then between (e) following a method of gathering evidence and reasons that is 'quite unlike the methods used by scientists and scholars when they investigate a factual hypothesis of existence' (p.xv) and (f) following a method like the scientific methodology.
Philipse thinks that Swinburne offers the most sophisticated solution to dilemma 3 above, and, given the title of his book, this seems to be the best place to consider religious belief 'in the age of science'.

Part 1
In Chapter 1 he argues that religious faith can only be grounded by natural theology (that is, on the basis of natural facts).

In Chapter 2  he summarises the history of natural theology.

In Chapters 3 and 4 he addresses Plantinga's 'reformed objection' to natural theology.

In Chapter 5 he investigates the type of rationality in which natural theology should engage.

In Chapter 6 he considers if religious faith can be refuted, or not.

Part 2
Chapter 7 explores the problems that analogical language introduces for the religious believer.

Chapter 8 examines the properties of the putative monotheistic god.

In Chapter 9 considers the predictive power of the god hypothesis.

In Chapter 10, he sees if theism has predictive power, can it avoid being refuted?

Part 3
Chapter 11 examines the problems that face a Bayesian like Swinburne.

Chapters 12 to 14 consider the accumulative probabilistic arguments for theism.

In Chapter 15 he assesses the argument from religious experience.

The Conclusion then attempts, based on what has been discussed, to answer the question 'which view concerning religious matters has the best credentials: theism, agnosticism, some version of atheism, or perhaps a polytheistic creed?' (p.xvi).

What I think is excellent about the book is that, like a bus driver late for his dinner, Philipse relentlessly drives the reader towards a particular destination. This destination is atheistic, of course, as might be expected (he makes no bones about arguing from this viewpoint). This is probably a weakness too, since I'm sure many a theist reader will insist on stopping the bus and heading off down another road. For example, Jim Slegle in his review of the book accuses Philipse of not just adopting an atheistic approach, but a scientistic one, and of 'taking the unreflective, knee-jerk reaction to religious claims, ‘informed’ by the biases and urban myths of contemporary culture'. This seems an uncharitable interpretation to me, especially considering that Philipse is quite open about the project of assessing god based on modern science, which approach surely Swinburne and many theists would concur, to a degree?

More reasonably, Father Andrew Pinsent suggests that in discrediting the methods of theology Philipse is in danger of discrediting the sciences of more complex phenomena, such as biology and zoology, and the humanities in general. Which would include philosophy and presumably Philipse's own book too! Well, perhaps, and I know of a few atheists who would agree that philosophy should be jettisoned too, but I still think that rational analysis of concepts allied with an acknowledgement of the power of science can yield results, even if it struggles to be falsifiable (not the defining criterion of science, in my opinion). 

Pinsent concludes that Philipse attempts too much, and that may be a valid criticism. I found his reasons for the tight focus mostly convincing, so the book should still give theists pause to consider carefully the route they have followed in the past, and the one they follow in the future.

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