Category Archives: New Inklings

The Hobbit is a Biblically Inspired Story

[Guest post by Julian Crawford, Leader of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.]


It is well known that J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Christian, who attended church daily and was responsible for bringing fellow author C.S. Lewis to faith.

What is less well known are the vast parallels between The Hobbit and The Bible, particularly the Old Testament.

While the Hobbits were based on English people and Elves speak a Celtic language, the Dwarves resemble the Jewish people. “The Dwarves… wouldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic, obviously, constructed to be Semitic,” Tolkien said in a 1971 interview.

In The Hobbit the company of Thorin Oakenshield travel to the Lonely Mountain of Erebor to reclaim their homeland and its vast gold reserves from the dragon Smaug. The Lonely Mountain shares many similarities to Mt Zion in Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Temple Mount.

The Dwarves had been driven out of their homeland and forced to “wander the wilderness” following Smaug’s capture of the mountain. The Jewish people were also forced into exile from their holy land.

The Dwarves lived in a grand cavern where their king’s throne was located while Mt Zion became the site of King David’s palace. His son Solomon build the temple there, which was the throne room of God.

Erebor is full of vast treasures particularly massive amounts of gold, just as the Jewish temple was full of gold ornaments.

The most precious treasure of the Dwarves was the Arkenstone, known as the King’s Jewel which was kept above the throne. The holy of holies in the Jewish temple was the site of the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark were two sapphire stone tablets with the ten commandments written on them.

“He prepared the inner sanctuary within the temple to set the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord there.” – 1 Kings 6:19.

“Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold. So he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.” – 1 Kings 6:21-22.

The Lonely Mountain and other dwarf kingdoms feature huge mines where the precious stones and metals were mined, while King Solomon also commissioned massive mines, known as King Solomon’s mines.

The vast wealth of the mountain corrupted the Dwarvish kings just as Jewish kings also became corrupted following the establishment of monarchy.

Five armies surround Erebor just as armies have often surrounded Jerusalem to try and capture the Temple Mount.

When the dragon drove the Dwarves out he become king under the mountain. In The Bible Satan is described as a dragon. Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Islamic empires have all conquered Jerusalem and are represented in the bible as beasts.

Babylon captured vast amounts of the gold in the Jewish temple and took it for itself until it was returned by the King of Persia, who allowed the destroyed temple to be rebuilt.

The Hobbit is an epic battle between the forces of good and evil involving many armies. It is apparent that an epic battle has also been raging for millennia to control Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. That battle continues right up until the present day, with Islamic groups such as ISIL and Hamas determined to make it the capital of their Islamic Caliphate. While Zionists are equally determined to rebuild Solomon’s Temple on the same site and solidify Jewish control of the Old City.

What is rationality? (Part 1)


It’s been a while, but tomorrow night The New Inklings meet again! The time is 7 pm. The place is the Downtown House Bar and Cafe at the Downtown Backpackers, corner of Bunny Street and Waterloo Quay, Wellington.

We discuss philosophy (mainly) and theology. You’re welcome to join us, provided that you are (1) irenic, and (2) rational. If you don’t know what it means to be irenic, Google is your friend. If you don’t know what it means to be rational, well … tomorrow night’s discussion topic is for you!

the nature of rationality and what a commitment to Reason entails

So I thought I’d jot down a few recent thoughts … and start a series of posts … on this fundamentally important to everything topic.

Here’s my all-time favourite Ayn Rand quote.

To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality.

I used to love to brandish this one at Ayn Rand’s hypocritical followers. I say ‘used to’ because it’s just dawned on me that Rand got it completely wrong! (Yet again! Wotta surprise!)

To arrive at a contradiction is NOT to confess an error in one’s thinking. To arrive at a contradiction is the strongest confirmation possible that there is NO error in one’s thinking!

And to maintain a contradiction is NOT to abdicate one’s mind nor to evict oneself from the realm of reality. At least, not in the short-term, probably not in the medium-term and possibly not even in the long-term! NOT to maintain a contradiction, in the short-term at least, would be irrational in the utmost extreme!

I really don’t know why I didn’t see this sooner … perhaps you don’t see it yet, so I’ll explain.

The simplest example of a contradiction is a proposition and its negation. P and not-P. Two propositions are contradictory, or inconsistent, if they cannot both be true. Three propositions are mutually contradictory, or form an inconsistent triad, if they cannot all be true. Four propositions that cannot all be true form an inconsistent tetrad. And so on and so forth.

None but the completely insane ever believes P and not-P. But believing A, B and C, where A, B and C cannot all be true? This is a commonplace. But most people who believe A, B and C don’t notice the inconsistency. A and B don’t contradict. B and C don’t contradict. C and A don’t contradict. It’s the mutual inconsistency that gives rise to the contradiction. To arrive at the contradiction you actually have to have some logical nous. You have to be able to recognise that

(P1) A
(P2) B
Therefore, (C) not-C

is a deductively valid argument. So to arrive at a contradiction is actually to confirm that you have at least a basic grasp of logic! Which most people don’t.

So you’ve arrived at a contradiction. You believe A, B and C and you are cognizant of the contradiction. You know your beliefs can’t all be true. You know that (at least) one of them has to go. But which one? You’d better sit down and try to figure that one out. But you don’t want to reject the wrong belief. So, in the meanwhile, you’ll maintain the contradiction. Take your time. It’s the rational thing to do.

Who are you?

054 Derek Parfit

At tomorrow night’s meeting of the New Inklings, the paper for discussion is Derek Parfit’s classic Personal Identity, first published in The Philosophical Review in 1971.

Here’s a teaser from Wikipedia.

Parfit uses many examples seemingly inspired by Star Trek and other science fiction, such as the teletransporter, to explore our intuitions about our identity. He is a reductionist, believing that since there is no adequate criterion of personal identity, people do not exist apart from their components. Parfit argues that reality can be fully described impersonally; there need not be a determinate answer to the question “Will I continue to exist?” We could know all the facts about a person’s continued existence and not be able to say whether the person has survived. He concludes that we are mistaken in assuming that personal identity is what matters; what matters is rather Relation R: psychological connectedness (namely, of memory and character) and continuity (overlapping chains of strong connectedness).

On Parfit’s account, individuals are nothing more than brains and bodies, but identity cannot be reduced to either. Parfit concedes that his theories rarely conflict with rival Reductionist theories in everyday life, and that the two are only brought to blows by the introduction of extraordinary examples. However, he defends the use of such examples because they seem to arouse genuine and strong feelings in many of us. Identity is not as determinate as we often suppose it is, but instead such determinacy arises mainly from the way we talk. People exist in the same way that nations or clubs exist.

A key Parfitian question is: given the choice of surviving without psychological continuity and connectedness (Relation R) or dying but preserving R through the future existence of someone else, which would you choose?

Parfit described the loss of the conception of a separate self as liberating:

My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness… [However] When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

Needless to say, I’m with Parfit on this one. His view is both liberating and … dare I say it, Christian.
(Or, at least, conducive to a Christian way of life.) (But with some startling implications for some Christian views of salvation.)


Here’s the Parfitian question again.

Given the choice of

(1) surviving without psychological continuity and connectedness (Relation R), or
(2) dying but preserving R through the future existence of someone else,

which would you choose? (Hint: what matters is Relation R.)

Related links: What are you? | Are you lego or logos? | Swallowed up by life | God vs. AI

Concerning the notion of Liberty, and of moral Agency.


The plain and obvious meaning of the words Freedom and Liberty, in common speech, is The power, opportunity, or advantage, that any one has, to do as he pleases. Or in other words, his being free from hindrance or impediment in the way of doing, or conducting in any respect, as he wills. — And the contrary to Liberty, whatever name we call that by, is a person’s being hindered or unable to conduct as he will, or being necessitated to do otherwise.

If this which I have mentioned be the meaning of the word Liberty, in the ordinary use of language; as I trust that none that has ever learned to talk, and is unprejudiced, will deny; then it will follow, that in propriety of speech, neither Liberty, nor its contrary, can properly be ascribed to any being or thing, but that which has such a faculty, power or property, as is called will. For that which is possessed of no will, cannot have any power or opportunity of doing according to its will, nor be necessitated to act contrary to its will, nor be restrained from acting agreeably to it. And therefore to talk of Liberty, or the contrary, as belonging to the very Will itself, is not to speak good sense; if we judge of sense, and nonsense, by the original and proper signification of words.— For the Will itself is not an Agent that has a will: the power of choosing, itself, has not a power of choosing. That which has the power of volition is the man, or the soul, and not the power of volition itself. And he that has the Liberty of doing according to his will, is the Agent who is possessed of the Will; and not the Will which he is possessed of. We say with propriety, that a bird let loose has power and liberty to fly; but not that the bird’s power of flying has a power and Liberty of flying. To be free is the property of an Agent, who is possessed of powers and faculties, as much as to be cunning, valiant, bountiful, or zealous. But these qualities are the properties of persons; and not the properties of properties.

There are two things contrary to what is called Liberty in common speech. One is constraint; otherwise called force, compulsion, and coaction; which is a person’s being necessitated to do a thing contrary to his will. The other is restraint; which is, his being hindered, and not having power to do according to his will. But that which has no will, cannot be the subject of these things.— I need say the less on this bead, Mr. Locke having set the same thing forth, with so great clearness, in his Essay on the Human Understanding.

But one thing more I would observe concerning what is vulgarly called Liberty; namely, that power and opportunity for one to do and conduct as he will, or according to his choice, is all that is meant by it; without taking into the meaning of the word, any thing of the cause of that choice; or at all considering how the person came to have such a volition; whether it was caused by some external motive, or internal habitual bias; whether it was determined by some internal antecedent volition, or whether it happened without a cause; whether it was necessarily connected with something foregoing, or not connected. Let the person come by his choice any how, yet, if he is able, and there is nothing in the way to hinder his pursuing and executing his will, the man is perfectly free, according to, the primary and common notion of freedom.

– Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, 1754

Are you up for A Careful And Strict Inquiry Into The Modern Prevailing Notions Of That FREEDOM OF WILL Which Is Supposed To Be Essential To Moral Agency, Virtue And Vice, Reward And Punishment, Praise And Blame? Then feel free to come join us at the next meeting of the New Inklings. (Tuesday 30 April, 5:00 pm, Trax Bar and Cafe, Platform 1, Wellington Railway Station.)

Theism, Atheism, and Rationality

This post is the third in a series of classic philosophy papers. Theism, Atheism, and Rationality is a paper by renowned Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

Uncoincidentally, this paper is the recommended reading for tomorrow’s meeting of the New Inklings. 🙂


Theism, Atheism, and Rationality

Atheological objections to the belief that there is such a person as God come in many varieties. There are, for example, the familiar objections that theism is somehow incoherent, that it is inconsistent with the existence of evil, that it is a hypothesis ill-confirmed or maybe even disconfirmed by the evidence, that modern science has somehow cast doubt upon it, and the like. Another sort of objector claims, not that theism is incoherent or false or probably false (after all, there is precious little by way of cogent argument for that conclusion) but that it is in some way unreasonable or irrational to believe in God, even if that belief should happen to be true. Here we have, as a centerpiece, the evidentialist objection to theistic belief. The claim is that none of the theistic arguments — deductive, inductive, or abductive — is successful; hence there is at best insufficient evidence for the existence of God. But then the belief that there is such a person as God is in some way intellectually improper — somehow foolish or irrational. A person who believed without evidence that there are an even number of ducks would be believing foolishly or irrationally; the same goes for the person who believes in God without evidence. On this view, one who accepts belief in God but has no evidence for that belief is not, intellectually speaking, up to snuff. Among those who have offered this objection are Antony Flew, Brand Blanshard, and Michael Scriven. Perhaps more important is the enormous oral tradition: one finds this objection to theism bruited about on nearly any major university campus in the land. The objection in question has also been endorsed by Bertrand Russell, who was once asked what he would say if, after dying, he were brought into the presence of God and asked why he had not been a believer. Russell’s reply: “I’d say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!'” I’m not sure just how that reply would be received; but my point is only that Russell, like many others, has endorsed this evidentialist objection to theistic belief.

Now what, precisely, is the objector’s claim here? He holds that the theist without evidence is irrational or unreasonable; what is the property with which he is crediting such a theist when he thus describes him? What, exactly, or even approximately, does he mean when he says that the theist without evidence is irrational? Just what, as he sees it, is the problem with such a theist? The objection can be seen as taking at least two forms; and there are at least two corresponding senses or conceptions of rationality lurking in the nearby bushes. According to the first, a theist who has no evidence has violated an intellectual or cognitive duty of some sort. He has gone contrary to an obligation laid upon him — perhaps by society, or perhaps by his own nature as a creature capable of grasping propositions and holding beliefs. There is an obligation or something like an obligation to proportion one’s beliefs to the strength of the evidence. Thus according to John Locke, a mark of a rational person is “the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proof it is built upon will warrant,” and according to David Hume, “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”

In the nineteenth century we have W.K. Clifford, that “delicious enfant terrible” as William James called him, insisting that it is monstrous, immoral, and perhaps even impolite to accept a belief for which you have insufficient evidence:

Whoso would deserve well of his fellow in this matter will guard the purity of his belief with a very fanaticism of jealous care, lest at any time it should rest on an unworthy object, and catch a stain which can never be wiped away.[1]

He adds that if a

belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence, the pleasure is a stolen one. Not only does it deceive ourselves by giving us a sense of power which we do not really possess, but it is sinful, stolen in defiance of our duty to mankind. That duty is to guard ourselves from such beliefs as from a pestilence, which may shortly master our body and spread to the rest of the town. [2]

And finally:

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.[3]

(It is not hard to detect, in these quotations, the “tone of robustious pathos” with which James credits Clifford.) On this view theists without evidence — my sainted grandmother, for example — are flouting their epistemic duties and deserve our disapprobation and disapproval. Mother Teresa, for example, if she has not arguments for her belief in God, then stands revealed as a sort of intellectual libertine — someone who has gone contrary to her intellectual obligations and is deserving of reproof and perhaps even disciplinary action.

Now the idea that there are intellectual duties or obligations is difficult but not implausible, and I do not mean to question it here. It is less plausible, however, to suggest that I would or could be going contrary to my intellectual duties in believing, without evidence, that there is such a person as God. For first, my beliefs are not, for the most part, within my control. If, for example, you offer me $1,000,000 to cease believing that Mars is smaller than Venus, there is no way I can collect. But the same holds for my belief in God: even if I wanted to, I couldn’t — short of heroic measures like coma inducing drugs — just divest myself of it. (At any rate there is nothing I can do directly; perhaps there is a sort of regimen that if followed religiously would issue, in the long run, in my no longer accepting belief in God.) But secondly, there seems no reason to think that I have such an obligation. Clearly I am not under an obligation to have evidence for everything I believe; that would not be possible. But why, then, suppose that I have an obligation to accept belief in God only if I accept other propositions which serve as evidence for it? This is by no means self-evident or just obvious, and it is extremely hard to see how to find a cogent argument for it.

In any event, I think the evidentialist objector can take a more promising line. He can hold, not that the theist without evidence has violated some epistemic duty — after all, perhaps he can’t help himself — but that he is somehow intellectually flawed or disfigured. Consider someone who believes that Venus is smaller than Mercury — not because he has evidence, but because he read it in a comic book and always believes whatever he reads in comic books — or consider someone who holds that belief on the basis of an outrageously bad argument. Perhaps there is no obligation he has failed to meet; nevertheless his intellectual condition is defective in some way. He displays a sort of deficiency, a flaw, an intellectual dysfunction of some sort. Perhaps he is like someone who has an astigmatism, or is unduly clumsy, or suffers from arthritis. And perhaps the evidentialist objection is to be construed, not as the claim that the theist without evidence has violated some intellectual obligations, but that he suffers from a certain sort of intellectual deficiency. The theist without evidence, we might say, is an intellectual gimp.

Alternatively but similarly, the idea might be that the theist without evidence is under a sort of illusion, a kind of pervasive illusion afflicting the great bulk of mankind over the great bulk of the time thus far allotted to it. Thus Freud saw religious belief as “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most insistent wishes of mankind.”[4 ]He sees theistic belief as a matter of wish-fulfillment. Men are paralyzed by and appalled at the spectacle of the overwhelming, impersonal forces that control our destiny, but mindlessly take no notice, no account of us and our needs and desires; they therefore invent a heavenly father of cosmic proportions, who exceeds our earthly fathers in goodness and love as much as in power. Religion, says Freud, is the “universal obsessional neurosis of humanity”, and it is destined to disappear when human beings learn to face reality as it is, resisting the tendency to edit it to suit our fancies.

A similar sentiment is offered by Karl Marx:

Religion . . . is the self-consciousness and the self-feeling of the man who has either not yet found himself, or else (having found himself) has lost himself once more. But man is not an abstract being . . . Man is the world of men, the State, society. This State, this society, produce religion, produce a perverted world consciousness, because they are a perverted world . . . Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The people cannot be really happy until it has been deprived of illusory happiness by the abolition of religion. The demand that the people should shake itself free of illusion as to its own condition is the demand that it should abandon a condition which needs illusion.[5]

Note that Marx speaks here of a perverted world consciousness produced by a perverted world. This is a perversion from a correct, or right, or natural condition, brought about somehow by an unhealthy and perverted social order. From the Marx-Freud point of view, the theist is subject to a sort of cognitive dysfunction, a certain lack of cognitive and emotional health. We could put this as follows: the theist believes as he does only because of the power of this illusion, this perverted neurotic condition. He is insane, in the etymological sense of that term; he is unhealthy. His cognitive equipment, we might say, isn’t working properly; it isn’t functioning as it ought to. If his cognitive equipment were working properly, working the way it ought to work, he wouldn’t be under the spell of this illusion. He would instead face the world and our place in it with the clear-eyed apprehension that we are alone in it, and that any comfort and help we get will have to be our own devising. There is no Father in heaven to turn to, and no prospect of anything, after death, but dissolution. (“When we die, we rot,” says Michael Scriven, in one of his more memorable lines.)

Now of course the theist is likely to display less than overwhelming enthusiasm about the idea that he is suffering from a cognitive deficiency, is under a sort of widespread illusion endemic to the human condition. It is at most a liberal theologian or two, intent on novelty and eager to concede as much as possible to contemporary secularity, who would embrace such an idea. The theist doesn’t see himself as suffering from cognitive deficiency. As a matter of fact, he may be inclined to see the shoe as on the other foot; he may be inclined to think of the atheist as the person who is suffering, in this way, from some illusion, from some noetic defect, from an unhappy, unfortunate, and unnatural condition with deplorable noetic consequences. He will see the atheist as somehow the victim of sin in the world — his own sin or the sin of others. According to the book of Romans, unbelief is a result of sin; it originates in an effort to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” According to John Calvin, God has created us with a nisus or tendency to see His hand in the world around us; a “sense of deity,” he says, “is inscribed in the hearts of all.” He goes on:

Indeed, the perversity of the impious, who though they struggle furiously are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God, is abundant testimony that his conviction, namely, that there is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were in the very marrow. . . . From this we conclude that it is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us is master from his mother’s womb and which nature itself permits no man to forget.[6]

Were it not for the existence of sin in the world, says Calvin, human beings would believe in God to the same degree and with the same natural spontaneity displayed in our belief in the existence of other persons, or an external world, or the past. This is the natural human condition; it is because of our presently unnatural sinful condition that many of us find belief in God difficult or absurd. The fact is, Calvin thinks, one who does not believe in God is in an epistemically defective position — rather like someone who does not believe that his wife exists, or thinks that she is a cleverly constructed robot that has no thoughts, feelings, or consciousness. Thus the believer reverses Freud and Marx, claiming that what they see as sickness is really health and what they see as health is really sickness.

Obviously enough, the dispute here is ultimately ontological, or theological, or metaphysical; here we see the ontological and ultimately religious roots of epistemological discussions of rationality. What you take to be rational, at least in the sense in question, depends upon your metaphysical and religious stance. It depends upon your philosophical anthropology. Your view as to what sort of creature a human being is will determine, in whole or in part, your views as to what is rational or irrational for human beings to believe; this view will determine what you take to be natural, or normal, or healthy, with respect to belief. So the dispute as to who is rational and who is irrational here can’t be settled just by attending to epistemological considerations; it is fundamentally not an epistemological dispute, but an ontological or theological dispute. How can we tell what it is healthy for human beings to believe unless we know or have some idea about what sort of creature a human being is? If you think he is created by God in the image of God, and created with a natural tendency to see God’s hand in the world about us, a natural tendency to recognize that he has been created and is beholden to his creator, owing his worship and allegiance, then of course you will not think of belief in God as a manifestation of wishful thinking or as any kind of defect at all. It is then much more like sense perception or memory, though in some ways much more important. On the other hand, if you think of a human being as the product of blind evolutionary forces, if you think there is no God and that human beings are part of a godless universe, then you will be inclined to accept a view according to which belief in God is a sort of disease or dysfunction, due perhaps, to a sort of softening of the brain.

So the dispute as to who is healthy and who diseased has ontological or theological roots, and is finally to be settled, if at all at that level. And here I would like to present a consideration that, I think tells in favor of the theistic way of looking at the matter. As I have been representing that matter, theist and atheist alike speak of a sort of dysfunction, of cognitive faculties or cognitive equipment not working properly, of their not working as they ought to. But how are we to understand that? What is it for something to work properly? Isn’t there something deeply problematic about the idea of proper functioning? What is it for my cognitive faculties to be working properly? What is it for a natural organism — a tree, for example — to be in good working order, to be functioning properly? Isn’t working properly relative to our aims and interests? A cow is functioning properly when she gives milk; a garden patch is as it ought to be when it displays a luxuriant preponderance of the sorts of vegetation we propose to promote. But then it seems patent that what constitutes proper functioning depends upon our aims and interests. So far as nature herself goes, isn’t a fish decomposing in a hill of corn functioning just as properly, just as excellently, as one happily swimming about chasing minnows? But then what could be meant by speaking of “proper functioning” with respect to our cognitive faculties? A chunk of reality — an organism, a part of an organism, an ecosystem, a garden patch — “functions properly” only with respect to a sort of grid we impose on nature — a grid that incorporates our aims and desires.

But from a theistic point of view, the idea of proper functioning, as applied to us and our cognitive equipment, is not more problematic than, say, that of a Boeing 747’s working properly. Something we have constructed — a heating system, a rope, a linear accelerator — is functioning properly when it is functioning in the way it was designed to function. My car works properly if it works the way it was designed to work. My refrigerator is working properly if it refrigerates, if it does what a refrigerator is designed to do. This, I think, is the root idea of working properly. But according to theism, human beings, like ropes and linear accelerators, have been designed; they have been created and designed by God. Thus, he has an easy answer to the relevant set of questions: What is proper functioning? What is it for my cognitive faculties to be working properly? What is cognitive dysfunction? What is it to function naturally? My cognitive faculties are functioning naturally, when they are functioning in the way God designed them to function.

On the other hand, if the atheological evidentialist objector claims that the theist without evidence is irrational, and if he goes on to construe irrationality in terms of defect or dysfunction, then he owes us an account of this notion. Why does he take it that the theist is somehow dysfunctional, at least in this area of his life? More importantly, how does he conceive dysfunction? How does he see dysfunction and its opposite? How does he explain the idea of an organism’s working properly, or of some organic system or part of an organism’s thus working? What account does he give of it? Presumably he can’t see the proper functioning of my noetic equipment as its functioning in the way it was designed to function; so how can he put it?

Two possibilities leap to mind. First, he may be thinking of proper functioning as functioning in a way that helps us attain our ends. In this way, he may say, we think of our bodies as functioning properly, as being healthy, when they function in the way we want them to, when they function in such a way as to enable us to do the sorts of things we want to do. But of course this will not be a promising line to take in the present context; for while perhaps the atheological objector would prefer to see our cognitive faculties function in such a way as not to produce belief in God in us, the same cannot be said, naturally enough, for the theist. Taken this way the atheological evidentialist’s objection comes to little more than the suggestion that the atheologician would prefer it if people did not believe in God without evidence. That would be an autobiographical remark on his part, having the interest such remarks usually have in philosophical contexts.

A second possibility: proper functioning and allied notions are to be explained in terms of aptness for promoting survival, either at an individual or species level. There isn’t time to say much about this here; but it is at least and immediately evident that the atheological objector would then owe us an argument for the conclusion that belief in God is indeed less likely to contribute to our individual survival, or the survival of our species than is atheism or agnosticism. But how could such an argument go? Surely the prospects for a non-question begging argument of this sort are bleak indeed. For if theism — Christian theism, for example — is true, then it seems wholly implausible to think that widespread atheism, for example, would be more likely to contribute to the survival of our race than widespread theism.

By way of conclusion: a natural way to understand such notions as rationality and irrationality is in terms of the proper functioning of the relevant cognitive equipment. Seen from this perspective, the question whether it is rational to believe in God without the evidential support of other propositions is really a metaphysical or theological dispute. The theist has an easy time explaining the notion of our cognitive equipment’s functioning properly: our cognitive equipment functions properly when it functions in the way God designed it to function. The atheist evidential objector, however, owes us an account of this notion. What does he mean when he complains that the theist without evidence displays a cognitive defect of some sort? How does he understand the notion of cognitive malfunction?


[1]W.K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief,” in Lectures and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1879), p. 183.

[2]Ibid, p. 184.

[3]Ibid, p. 186.

[4]Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (New York: Norton, 1961), p. 30.

[5]K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, vol. 3: Introduction to a Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, by Karl Marx (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975).

[6]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.3 (p. 43- 44).

The New Inklings

Earlier today I spent an enjoyable couple of hours and couple of beers with Glenn Peoples (of Say Hello to my Little Friend) at the Trax Bar and Cafe discussing philosophy, theology, politics and life in general.

We agreed that it would be a good idea to make our meeting (qua philosophy and theology discussion group) a regular event. We’re the only two Christian philosophers we know in Wellington, but we expect there are others. “Thoughtful and rational churchmen and women,” “educated priests and professors of theology,” and “senior clergy” (I’m gleefully quoting Richard Dawkins out of context here) are invited. If you know what ‘qua’ means, please consider joining us for the next meeting of the New Inklings.

When: 5 pm, Wednesday 12 December, 2012

Where: Trax Bar and Cafe, Platform 1, Wellington Railway Station

Topic: Theism, Atheism, and Rationality (a paper by Alvin Plantinga)

Contact: Richard or Glenn

The Inklings were a group of English writers who gathered on Tuesday mornings at the local pub to discuss the progress of their works in progress. The group famously included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The Inklings were predominantly theists. Today being the premiere of Peter Jackson’s movie of Tolkien’s The Hobbit in Wellington, the name ‘New Inklings’ naturally suggested itself.

The New Inklings is also an existing blog (not recently updated, unfortunately, but I’ve added them to the blogroll anyway).