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How strong of an argument for theism is the fine-tuning argument, and what is the current opinion of it?

Great question! "How strong" is a difficult question to answer precisely, and I'm sure different philosophers will have very different takes on this. The answer will probably have to be comparative (that is, compare how good this argument is to others), and philosophers disagree about how good the other arguments are. For example, some philosophers still think that the old ontological argument is great! Others think it is decisively refuted. In addition, there is disagreement about the merits of the fine tuning argument itself. So, I don't think there's consensus about either side of the comparison that determines how strong the argument is. That said, I think most of us can agree that it is among the most promising versions of an a posteriori (or empirical) argument for the existence of god, since it has some advantages over the more traditional argument from design. The argument for design appeals to the apparent complexity in nature and posits an intelligent designer on that basis. A major objection...

I believe the Sandy Hook shooting happened. I believe this because of what I regard as the weight of probabilities. A friend of mine, however, thinks the whole thing was orchestrated by Obama in order to take our guns, and he's very skeptical of the news reports and beliefs about people's motivations and so on that I've relied on to found my view. Now, both of our viewpoints fit all the facts as we see them. So, is there anything at all that makes my viewpoint more reasonable than my friend's?

Good question! Conspiracy theories are, indeed, very interesting cases for epistemologists (philosophers who think about evidence, knowledge, and beliefs). I would say that, on the face of it, and at least in this case: yes, there is something that makes your viewpoint more reasonable. Let's call your theory "A" and your friend's theory "B." What are the implications of A? Just that someone who is mentally unstable and owned a gun committed an atrocity, and the news reported it on the basis of interviews, police statements, hospital interviews, and video footage. What are the implications of B? Obama "orchestrated" the whole thing. Obama and his agents paid off (presumably) hordes of people at the schools, out on fake funerals, tricked or enlisted local police representatives to lie about being there and catching the culprit, deceived or enlisted dozens of professional reporters, and so on, all in the service of...swaying public opinion about gun ownership, even though it is to be expected that an event...

I think it's plausible that a good pianist could perform fantastic music without putting any "soul" into it. That is, the audience could have a profound, moving experience, although, for the pianist, the activity is mechanical and repetitive, or even boring, unpleasant or tedious, because they've performed the same piece many times before. What I wanted to ask is -- if the audience learned what the pianist was really doing, would they be justified in thinking that their experience wasn't profound after all, or in feeling somehow cheated? Does it really matter whether or not the performer is themselves connected to the work?

I think it must matter in *some* ways whether or not the performer is connected to the work. For example, the listener's connection with player depends, in part, on the state of mind of the player and the perception of that state by the audience. But I think that in terms of the general quality of the experience, or whether the audience is "cheated" or "profound," the state of the pianist does not settle things. I say this for two reasons. First, it seems that, general, aesthetic experience does not require this sort of emotional investment on the part of the "player," or even any intention at all. A photo accidentally taken by someone's phone, for example, could elicit a profound experience. That doesn't seem like a"cheat" to me, even once I find out it was an accident. Secondly, a musician brings to a performance much more than is consciously present and occurent at the time of the performance. A pianist has practiced for years, and much of that practice was presumably invested with deep emotional...

Our bodies consist of chemical components. Our feelings and judgments are the result of the biological activities. Moreover, our mindset and certain beliefs could be instilled by the external world. I wonder, to what extent we can control ourselves?

This is a *great* question, and a difficult one. Let me offer a thought about the question, which may suggest some directions for find answers. You've pointed out that various elements of a person--the body, feeling, judgments, mindset, beliefs--are caused or created in ways that, as we usually think of it, we don't directly control. But then you ask to what extent we can control *ourselves*. What is "ourselves," over and above those elements, and what does it mean for thing like a self to have "control" over something? If I, the self about whose control we are asking, am also the result of biological activities and the external world, then really we are asking whether one thing created by the world controls another thing created by the world. Some elements of me, for example, are desires: I want to itch my knee. The want and the thing that wants are the result of biological activities and the external world. Now suppose that my want successfully causes my arm and hand to move and scratch my knee. What...

Why might many or most people outside of academic philosophy be so disinclined to listen to, or take interest in, philosophical thinking or conversation (even when it is communicated enthusiastically or passionately)? It seems to me, from personal experience, that philosophical thinking or communication is overlooked and ignored in everyday conversations outside of academia, and more specifically, outside the philosophy departments. A recent situation I found myself in sparked this curiosity, the people I was in conversation with seemed to be making somewhat of a concerted effort to avoid philosophical thinking entirely and instead would share the specifics of personal events and intermittently provide (what was to me) banal opinions.

I am surprised! I have never had a hard time engaging with people--all people, not just academics--in philosophical discussion. Of course, sometimes what I'm interested in at the moment is off topic so people don't want to be interrupted, and of course some people (though I in my experience this is rare) have no interest in philosophical questions. But for the most part, I've found people to be willing to engage. I don't know how your conversations have gone, but starting a philosophical conversation typically starts like this, for me: a question or issue is raised, and the other person has an opinion on it. I ask why they have that opinion, and then we pick that apart, or I introduce an alternative. So the question or issue usually comes up on its own, as part of an every day conversation, and then I ask a question about it that relates it to a broader philosophical issue or argument. In this way, perhaps unwittingly, people are usually tricked into talking about philosophy with me.

Can a feeling that God exists count as a good reason for believing in God? Could it also count as good reason for public policy -- for funding churches and religious schools?

Hi, great question! I will focus on your first question, because I think your second question, about public policy, requires discussion of all sorts of things about the distribution of goods in a society, and the law (in the US, for example, we have to keep in mind that our constitution seems to forbid any such funding). Perhaps another panelist can take up those issues. I'll stick to the question whether the feelings that God exists can count as a good reason for believing in God. First I should point out that many philosophers have written on this, and have different views (shocking! I know). Some, writing in the Calvinist tradition (e.g. Alvin Palntinga and William Alston) think that some feelings that God exists are like perceptions, or sensations, of God, and they should count as evidence for God's existence just like a perception of, say, a table counts as evidence for a table. They both have arguments (different ones) to the effect that one can rationally regard one's feelings about God as...

How can understanding of issues be advanced even when definitive knowledge can’t be had?

I'm not entirely sure what you have in mind by 'definitive knowledge'. I suspect you mean a sort of certainty, so that we have definitive knowledge that p when (and only when) we know for certain that p is true. If I understand your question this way, it boils down to how we can understanding something if we don't know it for certain. Philosophers have differing views about what understanding is, and specifically in relation to knowledge. But, setting those aside, I might be able to help you with your question by noting a connection between understanding and explanation. Suppose you want to understand you caught the flu. That is, you seek to explain why you got the flu. You do some research, ask a doctor, etc., and learn that the flu is caused by the influenza virus that is spread by, let us say for the sake of the example, exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person. You may not be CERTAIN that the research you did is correct, but you could be reasonably confident that it is correct. Furthermore,...

Why do many, if not most contemporary philosophers (especially naturalist analytical ones à la Quine) believe in the existence of a set of unchanging natural laws despite the fact that this assertion has not, and probably cannot, be substantiated? By 'natural laws,' I mean laws like those associated with physics, etc. rather than laws dictating which sorts of inferential deductions are valid/invalid. Would this belief fare better when faced with a Russell's teacup-style argument than theism does?

I'm not sure what, exactly, leads philosophers to believe in "unchanging laws," and I'm also not sure in what sense such laws cannot be substantiated. I'll focus on the latter. If nothing else, can't they be confirmed to some degree? You should expect that a world without any unchanging laws would look one way (perhaps random, unpredictable, inexplicable stuff happening all the time), while a world with unchanging laws would look another way (exhibiting patterns, being susceptible to some sorts of explanations and predictions, etc.). We seem to be living in a world more like that second, and not so much like the first. So, this seems to confirm, or make more likely, the hypothesis that there is a set of fixed laws governing it all. This argument I just rehearsed is, to be sure, debatable! And one immediately recalls Hume's argument about "induction" or the uniformity of nature. And we do keep finding surprising and (momentarily) inexplicable things (though they do tend to be explained eventually, don't...

Is information same thing as knowledge?

Though I'm not sure what the context of your question is, and though that might make some difference, I can point to one major difference between information and knowledge that might be relevant in most contexts. Knowledge either is or requires a state of mind. That is, there's no knowledge without minds. Most philosophers think that one's knowing something requires that one at least believe that thing, and that belief requirement is, of course, a requirement that effectively makes knowledge depend on minds. Information, on the other hand, is usually thought of as mind-independent. There may be information contained in, or exemplified by, entirely non-mental entities. There is information even in a footprint in the sand. A footprint is not mind-dependent (perhaps a shoe was mindlessly and randomly dropped on the sand), and certainly doesn't require a belief. So, that's one major difference: information is, or can be, out there in the world, mind-independent. But knowledge is a mind-dependent phenomenon. ...

Both idealism and materialism have convincing arguments for me, yet within each argument are refutations of the other. How can I reconcile which to believe when they both seem equally as likely? I've thought that perhaps idealism explains our own subjective worlds, and materialism explains the objective external world, but can both be true when they contain refutations of the other?

I'm not sure what arguments you have in mind for these two views, but I understand, I think, the main feature that raises your question: each implies that the other is false. And yet, as you say, you find that each is equally likely. If each implies that the other is false, then they can't both be true, to answer your last question. One of them, at least, must be false. Perhaps they are both false, if they both rest on a false presupposition, for example. This seems to be the situation with the two views, (a) that the present king of France is bald and (b) that the present kind of France is not bald. They contradict each other, so one, at least, must be false. In fact, it seems they are both false, since there is no present kind of France at all--though I should note that, at one time, more philosophers thought the two views lacked a truth value at all (that is, they were neither true nor false, so on such a view we could say that the two theories you are considering might lack a truth value at all). So...

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