Conservatism in philosophy

Here’s a quotation from a piece by Gary Gutting, a philosopher of religion, as a prelude to a defense of faith:

. . . when philosophers disagree it is only about specific aspects of the most subtle and sophisticated versions of arguments for and against God’s existence (for example, my colleague Alvin Plantinga’s modal-logic formulation of St. Anselm’s ontological argument or William Rowe’s complex version of a probabilistic argument from evil). There is no disagreement among philosophers about the more popular arguments to which theists and atheists typically appeal: as formulated, they do not prove (that is, logically derive from uncontroversial premises) what they claim to prove. They are clearly inadequate in the judgment of qualified professionals. Further, there are no more sophisticated formulations that theists or atheists can accept — the way we do scientific claims — on the authority of expert consensus.

In these popular debates about God’s existence, the winners are neither theists nor atheists, but agnostics — the neglected step-children of religious controversy, who rightly point out that neither side in the debate has made its case. This is the position supported by the consensus of expert philosophical opinion.

All this is perfectly correct, even uncontroversial, in a certain narrow sense. That is, if you think that philosophy of religion as traditionally practiced is the appropriate discipline to consult on questions concerning the reality of supernatural agents, you will find the situation is exactly as Gutting describes it. Philosophy of religion has lots of interesting critical debate, but it does not have substantial results. All arguments in the philosophy of religion are, at some level, plausibility arguments. They are always full of assumptions open to dispute, or outright loopholes that look respectable or not depending on prior positions on the claims under discussion. Is it plausible that all natural evil is due to Satan and his minions? It depends on whether you already believe in that sort of religion or not.

So, given that there are no proofs one way or the other that “logically derive from uncontroversial premises,” does this mean that the neglected middle, agnosticism, is the best option? Or, do we follow Gutting’s (and kindred philosophers’) theistic instincts, and uphold religious faith as a kind of commonsense belief that needs no defense?

No. There is more than one “middle” option Gutting is overlooking, by behaving in the conservative fashion typical of many philosophers of religion. One possibility—one that I favor—is that traditional philosophy of religion is not the right approach.

Indeed, the traditional philosophy of religion is structured in just such a way as to lead to the impasse Gutting describes. It is a heir to a rationalistic tradition that, going back to the Greeks, seeks certainty in demonstrations based on indubitable premises that are self-evident or somehow deliverances of pure reason themselves.

But there are no such things. When the mystical-rationalistic intellectual tradition supported things such as metaphysical necessities, and the religious doctrine in the background made the deliverances of philosophical theology seem correct, philosophers could hope for consensus on the basics while wrangling about details. Today, the critical aspects of the philosophical enterprise have the upper hand. If philosophers of religion remain conservative and keep working within their rationalistic tradition, many will continue to come up with variations on ***ological arguments for theism or an argument from evil for atheism. Today’s neoscholasticism, the analytic philosophy of religion, is perfectly suited to such obscurantism by means of clarification. But all of this will only be an invitation for the critics to start looking for loopholes. With enough ingenuity and resources, they will find them. The whole enterprise almost inevitably leads to stalemate.

Note that introducing inductive arguments about the gods does not change this picture. That is because the inductive arguments philosophers of religion typically use are, in fact, deductive arguments. The appeal to evidence comes in by installing some very broad “facts” in the premises, and then we get to crank through some deductive apparatus that produces an inductive result. The fashion of using Bayesian inference illustrates this nicely. This is a loophole generator par exellence, because bare Bayesian probabilistic reasoning can give you almost anything you want, by playing with the statistical model or the prior probabilities. In such a Bayesian approach, evidence is only eliminative, where what is needed is a way to use evidence as representative. Bayesian reasoning is not a cure for rationalist habits, it’s a variant form of the disease.

Are there ways out of the stalemate? Yes, but the conservatism that assumes that questions about the gods are the exclusive property of philosophy blocks such paths. Consider appeals to everyday experience or common sense, such as Gutting describes them:

. . . they have shown that everyday life is based on “basic” beliefs for which we have no good arguments. There are, for example, no more basic truths from which we can prove that the past is often a good guide to the future, that our memories are reliable, or that other people have a conscious inner life. Such beliefs simply — and quite properly — arise from our experience in the world. Plantinga in particular has argued that core religious beliefs can have a status similar to these basic but unproven beliefs. His argument has clear plausibility for some sorts of religious beliefs. Through experiences of, for example, natural beauty, moral obligation, or loving and being loved, we may develop an abiding sense of the reality of an extraordinarily good and powerful being who cares about us.

This may sound plausible within the conservative, insular intellectual environment of the traditional philosophy of religion. But experience with the psychology and biology relevant to everyday beliefs, not to mention those sciences like physics that come to treat everyday beliefs about the world as obstacles to overcome, should make such appeals considerably less attractive. Beliefs are not ethereal objects that wait in reserve to be plugged in rationalistic speculation; we know something about them.

There are good reasons to think it very implausible that supernatural agents of any kind exist, including the theistic God. The traditional philosophy of religion, though, is not where you can find them. The service philosophers of religion can perform for the overall argument is a critical one: by exposing loopholes, they can help against the temptation to settle the issue by means of rationalistic enterprises from the armchair. This is nontrivial, useful work. But the critical aspect of philosophy should not be an exercise that confirms the popular superstition that traditional philosophy of religion is the proper approach to discussions about the gods. In this context, the work of the philosopher is akin to that of the police. If those who act to prevent and deter crime achieved their aims perfectly, they would no longer be immediately necessary. The useful aspect of the philosophy of religion also tends to put itself out of business.

Religion has an enduring cultural significance. Human brains are almost inescapably drawn to interpreting the world in terms of the acts of supernatural agents. The rationalistic tradition in philosophy is itself ingrained. So armchair arguments concerning the gods are here to stay. This also means that we will need philosophers of religion indefinitely—as a defense against the philosophy of religion. We need the critical side of philosophy to help create space where philosophers and scientists outside the rationalistic tradition can hope for some more constructive accomplishments.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    The problem is, as anyone who has read your books realizes, you don't offer any of these "good" reasons for disbelieving in the theistic God. If you do, I'd like to hear what they are. You don't really specialize in philosophy of religion so I'm not sure you are even in a position to critique it. Have you even studied logic beyond the introductory level? What books have you read on Bayesian reasoning?

    All this vague nonsense about "loopholes" betrays no obvious understanding of the deeper issues here. Posts like this remind me of Dawkins' critiques outside his field. Much pontificating, very little substance or argument. Let's see you present some evidence against classical theism or any variety of theism, without resorting to the kind of philosophy you deride.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    That's an awful lot of sneering from someone curiously reluctant to point to their own CV as evidence of better standing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Taner Edis said…

    There are good reasons to think it very implausible that supernatural agents of any kind exist, including the theistic God. The traditional philosophy of religion, though, is not where you can find them.
    =======

    If you can clearly spell out one or two such reasons, please do so.

    If you do clearly spell out one or two such reasons, won't you be making an argument or case for atheism or against theism? If so, why wouldn't that argument be considered an argument in the area of philosophy of religion? Wouldn't it be a philosophical argument? Why not?

    Dawkins thinks he gave a scientific argument/proof for the non-existence of God, but he was just putting forward another philosophical argument, in the confused and unclear way that many undergraduates try to put forward philosophical arguments in introductory philosophy classes.

    I hope you have something in mind other than a half-ass Dawkins "scientific" argument.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Taner – I don't mean to sneer. I guess most of your post(s) put me into that mode. You are usually just sneering at some theistic this or that. Your habit seems to be to take an unconventional route, maybe concede a point or two to the theist or question a traditional skeptical line, in what seems like a transparent attempt to appear unbiased, all before letting your sneers rip. Truthfully, I really don't care about your credentials. It is the argument that matters to me. I don't even have a CV. I'm just a kid who sits in a cubicle all day, staring at a computer, wasting my life working for "the man". I do have this thing called a library card though, and I like to read. It costs alot less than an advanced degree (even in the UK), and reading is surprisingly sufficient to inform an individual on most matters. I actually would just really like to argue with you. It makes life a little more exciting. I get the sense that you're afraid to put it on the line though (maybe a drawback to carrying all those academic credentials?). Don't be. I'm sure you're a very reasonable guy. Just take the plunge.

    You say you know where to find the good arguments against the existence of God, and it is not in the traditional philosophy of religion. Where can these arguments be found then? Certainly, I have seen nothing in books on psychology, biology, or physics that make it "very implausible" that "supernatural agents of any kind" exist. When scientists take on arguments against the existence of God, I usually just see a whole lot of question-begging.

    I am actually interested in the truth of this matter. Help me to understand where you're coming from.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    Bradley wrote:
    "If you do clearly spell out one or two such reasons, won't you be making an argument or case for atheism or against theism? If so, why wouldn't that argument be considered an argument in the area of philosophy of religion? Wouldn't it be a philosophical argument? Why not?"

    Taner's point was about philosophy of religion "as traditionally practiced". He was not denying that arguments about God can legitimately be labelled "philosophical".

    "Dawkins thinks he gave a scientific argument/proof for the non-existence of God, but he was just putting forward another philosophical argument…"

    Only in the sense that such arguments fall more naturally into the province of philosophers than of scientists. I would deny that science and philosophy are distinct modes of reasoning. So I don't think there is any epistemological value in questioning whether such arguments should be labelled "scientific" or "philosophical". This question receives so much attention only because of the more favourable connotations of the word "scientific". Science has a better reputation than philosophy as a source of reliable knowledge. "Scientific" is also a success word: to say that a conclusion is scientific is to imply not only that the subject matter lies within the province of science, but also that it is well-supported by evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    Alex, I hope Taner will respond for himself. But in the meantime I'll give you my own brief answer. The good reason to disbelieve in God is that God is an ad hoc and unparsimonious explanation for our observations. Most of the phenomena that are typically attributed to God can be better explained naturally. And invoking supernatural entities to explain phenomena that are currently unexplained doesn't have a good track record. Supernatural claims are extraordinary, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Most people would probably accept this sort of reasoning with regard to entities they don't believe in, such as the Tooth Fairy. Though the specifics are different, the same sort of reasoning applies to God too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    P.S. Bradley, after re-reading Taner's piece, I suspect he might not agree with my earlier response to you. I wrote that arguments about the existence of God fall more naturally into the province of philosophers than of scientists. Taner seems to think otherwise, at least with regard to philosophers of religion. But I was thinking of philsophers generally.

    I do think that scientists are perfectly capable of making good judgements about the existence of God, and there's a reason for this to be so: scientists are experienced at drawing rational inferences about the world. Moreover, if a larger proportion of philosophers of religion believe in God than the proportion of scientists who do so, I would say that shows scientists to be the better at making judgements about God's existence, since more of them have got the answer right (in my view). On the other hand, scientists may not be as good as philosophers generally at articulating the reasons for their judgement. Scientists are better at science but not so good at philosophy of science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    I also have some deep reservations about the way philosophy of religion is done, but I do not think that these problems are irremediable, as Taner seems to hold. The basic problem is that nontheists are all too often willing to play on the theist's home field and by their rules.

    As a case in point, consider Alvin Plantinga's famous treatment of the problem of evil. Plantinga frankly admits that he does not know why God permits evil. His attitude towards even the most promising theodicies, like Hick's "soul-making" theodicy, is lukewarm at best. He offers a "defense," not a theodicy. That is, he puts the entire burden of proof on the atheologian and simply defies the critic to show that God's existence is either impossible or improbable given the facts of evil.

    In a nutshell, he rebuts the logical problem of evil by trying to prove that "God exists" and "evil exists" are compossible. His effort depends upon the "counterfactuals of freedom" (I can hear your teeth grinding all the way over here, Taner), that is what a free creature would do if a given possible world were actualized. We cannot know what these counterfactuals are, so we cannot know whether any possible world God could have created will be one with moral good but no moral evil. He deals with probabilistic versions of the problem of evil by reviewing, with considerable technical expertise, all of the proffered interpretations of probability (frequentist, personalist, etc.) and concludes that none of them will do the atheologian's job.

    Plantinga's assumption throughout is that the theist's only burden vis-a-vis evil is to rebut the arguments of pesky atheologians. Nontheist critics of Plantinga have generally played along. However, the assumption is clearly wrong. Evil creates an internal problem for theism whether or not pestiferous atheologians offer arguments. Consider the famous trilemma:

    1) God is all-powerful.
    2) God is perfectly good.
    3) Evil exists.

    As atheologians since Epicurus have observed, it looks like one of these three has to go. Yet, as Nelson Pike pointed out long ago, the trilemma assumes that another proposition is false:

    4) God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting all of the evil that occurs.

    Theists, of course, maintain that 4 is true, and, indeed, they must. On what grounds? Plantinga's arguments may make it hard for the atheologian to show that 4 is false, but they do nothing to help the theist show that it is true. Atheologians should therefore reject Plantinga's assumption that the burden of proof is entirely on them, and insist that theists give positive reasons for thinking 4 is true. This takes us back to theodicy, and this is a game nontheists can quite willingly play.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    I also have some deep reservations about the way philosophy of religion is done, but I do not think that these problems are irremediable, as Taner seems to hold. The basic problem is that nontheists are all too often willing to play on the theist's home field and by their rules.

    As a case in point, consider Alvin Plantinga's famous treatment of the problem of evil. Plantinga frankly admits that he does not know why God permits evil. His attitude towards even the most promising theodicies, like Hick's "soul-making" theodicy, is lukewarm at best. He offers a "defense," not a theodicy. That is, he puts the entire burden of proof on the atheologian and simply defies the critic to show that God's existence is either impossible or improbable given the facts of evil.

    In a nutshell, he rebuts the logical problem of evil by trying to prove that "God exists" and "evil exists" are compossible. His effort depends upon the "counterfactuals of freedom" (I can hear your teeth grinding all the way over here, Taner), that is what a free creature would do if a given possible world were actualized. We cannot know what these counterfactuals are, so we cannot know whether any possible world God could have created will be one with moral good but no moral evil.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Continued: He deals with probabilistic versions of the problem of evil by reviewing, with considerable technical expertise, all of the proffered interpretations of probability (frequentist, personalist, etc.) and concludes that none of them will do the atheologian's job.

    Plantinga's assumption throughout is that the theist's only burden vis-a-vis evil is to rebut the arguments of pesky atheologians. Nontheist critics of Plantinga have generally played along. However, the assumption is clearly wrong. Evil creates an internal problem for theism whether or not pestiferous atheologians offer arguments. Consider the famous trilemma:

    1) God is all-powerful.
    2) God is perfectly good.
    3) Evil exists.

    As atheologians since Epicurus have observed, it looks like one of these three has to go. Yet, as Nelson Pike pointed out long ago, the trilemma assumes that another proposition is false:

    4) God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting all of the evil that occurs.

    Theists, of course, maintain that 4 is true, and, indeed, they must. On what grounds? Plantinga's arguments may make it hard for the atheologian to show that 4 is false, but they do nothing to help the theist show that it is true. Atheologians should therefore reject Plantinga's assumption that the burden of proof is entirely on them, and insist that theists give positive reasons for thinking 4 is true. This takes us back to theodicy, and this is a game nontheists can quite willingly play.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Whatever reasons Taner has in mind, they are going to boil down to something like the following argument:

    1. Naturalism is true.
    2. If Naturalism is true, then Theism is false.
    Therefore,
    3. Theism is false.

    This is a deductive argument form (modus ponens), a standard form of reasoning used in philosophical arguments, and the key concepts are standard positions in metaphysics, which is a standard field in philosophy.

    To make this argument work, you have to, at the very least, explain what you mean by "Naturalism", what you mean by "Theism", and explain why these two metaphysical positions are logically incompatible. All of this is a standard part of philosophical reasoning.

    What might be unique, to some degree, is how one supports or defends premise (1), but I don't see how one can do so without presenting a philosophical argument.

    Perhaps one can present a "non-traditional" argument for (1), but I'm not at all clear on what would count as a "traditional kind of argument in philosophy of religion" and what would not count as such an argument, and there is a long (2,500 years) history of philosophy of religion that encompasses a wide diversity of arguments and types of argument, so it seems unlikely that Taner is going to come up with something that is truly new and unique.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Richard W said…

    The good reason to disbelieve in God is that God is an ad hoc and unparsimonious explanation for our observations. Most of the phenomena that are typically attributed to God can be better explained naturally. And invoking supernatural entities to explain phenomena that are currently unexplained doesn't have a good track record. Supernatural claims are extraordinary, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    ===========

    This is not a new or unique argument for atheism. Are you (or Taner) saying that this argument falls outside of the field of philosophy of religion? or that it is a type of argument that has not been used or considered by practitioners of "traditional" philsophy of religion (whatever that means)?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Alex Dalton: "I don't even have a CV. I'm just a kid who sits in a cubicle all day, staring at a computer, wasting my life working for 'the man'."

    What a surprise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Keith Parsons: "I also have some deep reservations about the way philosophy of religion is done, but I do not think that these problems are irremediable, as Taner seems to hold. The basic problem is that nontheists are all too often willing to play on the theist's home field and by their rules."

    I don't know if they're irremediable. But especially given the conservatism of the field, I'm not holding my breath for much change.

    What are the incentives for philosophy of religion to change?

    "Atheologians should therefore reject Plantinga's assumption that the burden of proof is entirely on them . . ."

    Maybe. But then again, arguments about the burden of proof have a way of becoming another route to the comfortable old stalemate. Do we want, for example, to resurrect Antony Flew's old notion of a default presumption of atheism? Is that really workable? It just seems too easy to deny a burden of proof, especially if you're playing defense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Taner claims or assumes that traditional philosophy of religion has not produced any good evidential arguments for atheism, but that is SHOWN TO BE FALSE by my own book NONBELIEF & EVIL: TWO ARGUMENTS FOR THE NONEXISTENCE OF GOD (Prometheus, 1998). It presents and defends two excellent evidential arguments for atheism, and, although Prometheus is not an academic press, the book is very clearly in the realm of traditional philosophy of religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Bradley Bowen,

    I may have said this before, but it bears repeating.

    The construction of arguments, definition of terms, and conceptual analysis, is done all across the academy. It's not the exclusive property of philosophy, and anyone who engages in argument and analysis is not thereby "doing philosophy."

    Similarly, a boatload of disciplines gather and analyze data. They are not, just by engaging with data, "doing natural science." Physicists don't get to tell urban planners how to do their job.

    And if you seriously think that current arguments relevant to supernatural agency that are informed by up-to-date science are nothing new, you're not paying attention. Hit the library; there is a sizable literature out there. Two-and-half millennia of navel gazing, it turns out, exhibits plenty of lack of imagination.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Ted Drange: "Taner claims or assumes that traditional philosophy of religion has not produced any good evidential arguments for atheism, but that is SHOWN TO BE FALSE by my own book NONBELIEF & EVIL: TWO ARGUMENTS FOR THE NONEXISTENCE OF GOD (Prometheus, 1998)."

    And a good book it is. (I enjoyed it, anyway.)

    But let's look at the way the philosophy of religion as a scholarly community has responded to the argument from nonbelief. I think I am safe in guessing that Gary Guttings' judgment that the consensus position is that there are no proofs that "logically derive from uncontroversial premises," still stands.

    In other words, even if you and I were to agree that the argument from nonbelief is airtight, the community it is addressed to is behaving remarkably conservatively.

    I would also guess that a common response you encounter is that the particular God you're trying to disprove is rather narrowly conceived. It might be a God at home in some conservative Christian theologies, but surely that does not exhaust the possibilities. A theistic philosopher, even if she hails from such a tradition and agrees that the argument from nonbelief has some force, could very well take this as an invitation to do some theological tinkering, not to cast serious doubt on God per se.

    As far as I can make it (and naturally you know far more about its reception that I do) the argument from nonbelief succeeds as a way of pointing out an interesting difficulty with some conceptions of God. But it's not something that significantly changes the overall landscape of debate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    The argument mentioned by Richard is nearly 2,500 years old. That is about as "traditional" as arguments can get in the philosophy of religion!

    Anaxagoras (Greek: Ἀναξαγόρας, Anaxagoras, "lord of the assembly"; c. 500 BC – 428 BC) was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than the Peloponnese. He was accused of contravening the established religion and was forced to flee to Lampsacus.

    Anaxagoras brought philosophy and the spirit of scientific inquiry from Ionia to Athens. His observations of the celestial bodies and the fall of meteorites led him to form new theories of the universal order. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a mass of blazing metal, larger than the Peloponnese. He was the first to explain that the moon shines due to reflected light from the sun. He also said that the moon had mountains and he believed that it was inhabited. The heavenly bodies, he asserted, were masses of stone torn from the earth and ignited by rapid rotation. He explained that though both sun and the stars were fiery stones, we do not feel the heat of the stars because of their enormous distance from earth. He thought that the earth is flat and floats supported by 'strong' air under it and disturbances in this air sometimes causes earthquakes. [2] However, these theories brought him into collision with the popular faith; Anaxagoras' views on such things as heavenly bodies were considered "dangerous."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaxagoras

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    In answer to Taner's question: No I would not advocate Flew's idea of atheism as the default position. My objection is that Plantinga seems to be trying to do the opposite–theists have no burden of proof, except to rebut the cavils of us atheists. No, the Book of Job has it right. Evil is a problem for theism and will not go away just because you stymie the atheologians.

    Another instance of playing by theists' rules is with respect to their defense of Cartesian dualism. Most of the effort goes into showing that dualism is compatible with physics. Well, so what? With no limit on the invocation of ad hoc devices I could make poltergeists and demon possession compatible with physics. Big deal. That doesn't give us the least reason to think that such things are true or even remotely plausible. If humans are indeed ghosts in machines, we need evidence of the ghost, not an appeal to ignorance that defies us to prove that there is no ghost.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Keith Parsons:"Plantinga seems to be trying to do the opposite–theists have no burden of proof, except to rebut the cavils of us atheists."

    Hmm. I'm going off on a tangent here, but my understanding of Plantinga-style arguments are that they are explicitly defensive moves. That is, they're about showing that theism is not flat out self-contradictory or anything. They are not intended to make a positive case for theism.

    In that case, I guess they might not have a burden of proof. The positive case can come from elsewhere. Or, more likely, an appeal to a "basic belief" or something, which also undercuts the necessity of a burden of proof.

    "Most of the effort goes into showing that dualism is compatible with physics."

    Well, if you interpret "physics" and "compatibility" very loosely… But that's another tangent.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Actually, Anaxagoras was influenced by the Milesian philosophers who preceded him…

    2. Metaphysical Principles
    Anaxagoras was influenced by two strains in early Greek thought. First, there is the tradition of inquiry into nature founded by the Milesians, and carried on by Xenophanes and by Heraclitus (recent discussion in Graham 2006, White forthcoming). The early Milesian scientist-philosophers (Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes) sought to explain the cosmos and all its phenomena, by appealing to regularities within the cosmic system itself, without reference to extra-natural causes or the personified gods associated with aspects of nature by traditional Greek religion. They based their explanations on the observed regular behavior of the materials that make up the cosmos.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anaxagoras/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Taner said…
    And if you seriously think that current arguments relevant to supernatural agency that are informed by up-to-date science are nothing new, you're not paying attention. Hit the library; there is a sizable literature out there.
    ====
    How about providing a couple of book titles and/or articles to get me started?

    I cannot evaluate your claim without looking at specific examples of arguments for naturalism that are allegedly non-philosophical or new and unique relative to "traditional" philosophy of religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Bradley Bowen: "How about providing a couple of book titles and/or articles to get me started?"

    You're joking, right? Start with my Science and Nonbelief, particularly the annotated bibiography.

    Mind you, given your tendency to consider any argument "philosophy," I'm sure what you find will confirm your prejudices.

    This all reminds me of the creationist habit of calling evolution nothing new, because some Greek philosophers (Anaximander and Empedocles in particular) speculated about natural means of development. To hell with that. Darwinian evolution is a new idea under the sun.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Richard W's argument for atheism has roots that go back to the beginning of philosophy:

    Thales of Miletus (pronounced /ˈθeɪliːz/; Greek: Θαλῆς, Thalēs; c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Miletus in Asia Minor, and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Many, most notably Aristotle, regard him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition.[1] According to Bertrand Russell, "Western philosophy begins with Thales."[2] Thales attempted to explain natural phenomena without reference to mythology and was tremendously influential in this respect. Almost all of the other pre-Socratic philosophers follow him in attempting to provide an explanation of ultimate substance, change, and the existence of the world — without reference to mythology. Those philosophers were also influential, and eventually Thales' rejection of mythological explanations became an essential idea for the scientific revolution. He was also the first to define general principles and set forth hypotheses, and as a result has been dubbed the "Father of Science".[3][4]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thales

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “Theists, of course, maintain that 4 is true, and, indeed, they must. On what grounds?

    Just a moment. If you suggest an argument, and I ask for the justification of a premise of it, and you’re unable to offer that justification, then I have shown that your argument is weak, haven’t I? I mean it’s not that in order to show that your argument is weak I must actually show that some of its premises is false. If “burden of proof” means anything it means that the one who suggests an argument carries the burden to justify its premises.

    Another instance of playing by theists' rules is with respect to their defense of Cartesian dualism. Most of the effort goes into showing that dualism is compatible with physics. Well, so what?

    Here’s what: If Cartesian dualism is compatible with physics, then the arguments against Cartesian dualism must not use premises taken from science, nor, on pain of begging the question, naturalistic premises. Do you know of any such argument against Cartesian dualism?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Taner said…

    Start with my Science and Nonbelief, particularly the annotated bibiography.
    ========

    Hmmmmm…I see what you're doing. Even if I win this argument, you get me to buy your book and read it too. Very clever!

    OK. If your book is not available for Kindle, it may take me a while to get back to you on this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    RichardW repeats all of the typical skeptical mantras. Let's have a look: "The good reason to disbelieve in God is that God is an ad hoc and unparsimonious explanation for our observations."

    There are a multitude of problems with this.

    -Generally, invoking criteria for theory adjudication just deepens the issue. Different theories about the nature of reality or worldviews will have various advantages/disadvantages with regard to the host of criteria. One theory may have better explanatory scope and coherence with accepted knowledge, another might make more predictions and be more elegant. Whether or not we favor some certain set of criteria over another usually boils down to subjective value-judgements and opens up the "loopholes" that Taner fears.

    -The notion of parsimony/simplicity itself is vague, and proponents of opposing worldviews will actually disagree about which is the simplest. We can have quantitative simplicities (e.g., Dawkins' nature alone vs. nature + God), we can have qualitative simplicities (e.g. Swinburne's notion of divine simplicity).

    -Throughout the history of science there have been a multitude of theories that we now consider to be correct, that were resisted on the grounds of the simplicity of the older paradigm. In these instances parsimony was a hindrance.

    -Lastly, there simply is no guarantee that the universe will conform to the demands of such a criterion.

    If only things were so simple(!) and we could invoke simplicity! Unfortunately, such criteria just get us mired in the analytic philosophy we despise if we invoke them in such a simple Dawkinsesque fashion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    RichardW: Most of the phenomena that are typically attributed to God can be better explained naturally.

    Alex: Of course, this is just an assertion and the theist will simply assert the opposite. This *is* the very issue at hand.

    RichardW: And invoking supernatural entities to explain phenomena that are currently unexplained doesn't have a good track record.

    Alex: This one simply needs to go. The fact that a broad category of hypothesis has been allegedly disconfirmed in the past (usually asserted by the same skeptic alleging that theism is inferior due to the fact that it is not falsifiable), has no bearing on whether or not it will bear fruit or be confirmed in the future when applied to the nature of existence as a whole, or any particular aspect of existence. Certainly there are more failed "naturalistic" hypotheses within the history of science than there are failed "supernatural" hypotheses. Indeed, that is the very point of the process and we have only arrived at the current state of knowledge along a trail of discarded/disconfirmed naturalistic hypotheses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    RichardW: Supernatural claims are extraordinary, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Alex: More silliness from Sagan. Thankfully there is nothing within science itself that mandates this. For example, the belief in an infinitely exhaustive multiverse with varying laws of physics is extraordinary. There is very little, if any, evidence for such a things existence. But just based on explanatory scope with regards to the values of physical constants, this hypothesis is entertained very seriously w/in the scientific community. I should add that this is done in quite Bayesian fashion even though the scientists doing so would probably not know how to codify it as such. What it comes down to is that any evidence at all of anything is just that – evidence. If we have any amount of evidence for the extraordinary, then this is extraordinary evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    RichardW: Most people would probably accept this sort of reasoning with regard to entities they don't believe in, such as the Tooth Fairy. Though the specifics are different, the same sort of reasoning applies to God too.

    Alex: This is simply a very tired piece of rhetoric and really a non-sequitur. People don't accept any particular "line of reasoning" about the Tooth Fairy. She is accepted as a fictional personage categorically. We don't see anyone invoking the Tooth Fairy as an explanation for the origin of existence, the arrangement of various aspects existence, the origin of life, human consciousness, moral values, religious experience, or any of the other aspects of existence theists "invoke" God to explain. There simply is no parallel whatsoever in "lines of reasoning" here to be seen.

    If you're a handsome guy with a British accent, and you carry the authority of "Science!" around with you everywhere you go, you can probably make a psychological impact on alot of people with lines like this. Unfortunately, when an analytic philosopher reviews your book, you're probably going to get a good spanking and develop a real dislike for "the way philosophy is done nowadays".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Taner writes: "In other words, even if you and I were to agree that the argument from nonbelief is airtight, the community it is addressed to is behaving remarkably conservatively."

    Alex: Well, that's the thing, Taner. You actually have to really *have* an airtight argument and w/in philosophy you've got some of the most brilliant minds picking it apart, and the subject matter happens to be the very deepest questions in existence. We are not arguing over things that can be tested or repeated in the laboratory at will. It is just a very different subject matter. Physics is getting closer to philosophy in this regard though with all of the speculation about String Theory (how many different models are there now? Are we into the 100's yet?), the 100's of different models for the origin of the universe, some even reverting back to steady state models, against the consensus (is it oscillating, infinitely inflating bubble universes, the no-boundary proposal with imaginary time, branes smashing together in a mathematical mish-mash, quantum tunneling from absolute nothingness, or "we just don't know"?). Once any discipline approaches the really Big Questions, esp. of origins, we see alot of disagreement. That does not mean we simply stop reasoning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Taner writes: You're joking, right? Start with my Science and Nonbelief, particularly the annotated bibiography.

    Alex: How modest of you, Taner! Your book is the starting point! LOL. Well, I've read your bibliography. It is littered with anti-creationist critiques and books on the biological origins of morality and various attempts at evolutionary explanations of religion. If you had some philosophical training, you might see why these books do not provide the "good reasons to think it very implausible that supernatural agents of any kind exist". Indeed, in most cases, they do not even attempt to address the question.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Taner writes:
    The construction of arguments, definition of terms, and conceptual analysis, is done all across the academy. It's not the exclusive property of philosophy, and anyone who engages in argument and analysis is not thereby "doing philosophy."

    Alex: But only in philosophy is HOW to actually do these things, and do it properly, a major subject of analysis. How much does an advanced physics degree require you to study logic and reasoning itself, Taner? How about analysis of how we know anything at all? These are simply questions that are not asked or addressed in most purely scientific disciplines. And the answers are not as simple as sticking a piece of litmus paper in a test tube.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Taner – I'm getting tired and I need to get to sleep so the Tooth Fairy has time to leave a bacterial flagellum underneath my pillow. But I await your presentation of these non-traditional/non-philosophical "scientific" arguments against the existence of God. They are not to be found in your CV, your bibliography, or in any of your blog posts since you began contributing. Perhaps you will work up the courage by tomorrow. Just give us one – go ahead and blog about it. Isn't that the scientific thing to do? Present your arguments in a public forum, where they can be scrutinized? Are we searching for truth, or just peddling a reputation and selling books? Are we testing our worldview, or just protecting it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Anaxagoras was more like a deist than an atheist, because he postulated a MIND as the initiator of order in the universe. However, he did strongly favor natural explanations of phenomena over supernatural explanations:

    6. Anaxagoras' Influence
    Reportedly the first of the Presocratic philosophers to settle in Athens, Anaxagoras was a significant figure, not only for later philosophical thinkers, but also for the wider civic culture of his time. He was clearly an important influence on Pericles. Plutarch reports:

    But the one who most associated with Pericles and who most bestowed on him that dignity and wisdom more weighty than demagoguery, and on the whole raised up and exalted the worthiness of his character, was Anaxagoras of Clazomenae …These are not the only advantages that Pericles enjoyed because of his connection with Anaxagoras. It seems that Pericles rose above superstition, that attitude of astonishment about celestial occurrences which is produced in those who are ignorant about the causes of things and who are crazed by divinity and divine interventions because of their inexperience in these areas. Natural philosophy substitutes for festering superstition that unshaken piety that is attended by good hopes. (A15, A16)

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anaxagoras/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    Bradley Bowen:

    "This is not a new or unique argument for atheism. Are you (or Taner) saying that this argument falls outside of the field of philosophy of religion? or that it is a type of argument that has not been used or considered by practitioners of "traditional" philsophy of religion (whatever that means)?"

    I'm not saying any of those things. I for one am not sufficiently familiar with the work of philosophers of religion to know whether this type of argument is made by them. But Cutting seems to ignore such arguments in the passage quoted by Taner above, apparently taking deductive arguments to be the only ones of interest (though the passage is so ambiguous it's hard to know what he really means).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    Alex,

    I was only giving an outline of the type of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that there's no God. I agree that the criteria I gave (like parsimony) are not straightforward and that there's a lot more to be said about them. I don't claim that I gave a compelling argument.

    Nevertheless, I think your responses indicate a refusal to accept any reasonable standards of evidence. If you don't think that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, then on what grounds would you reject the claim that President Obama is a shapechanging alien? On what grounds do you infer the non-existence of the Tooth Fairy?

    And I certainly don't despise analytic philosophy. As far as I'm concerned analytic philosophy is just the attempt to think rationally about a certain range of subjects, and I'm all in favour of that. Unfortunately there's a lot of mistaken analytic philosophy around, because the subject matter is very difficult, and because the rational conclusions often conflict with strongly-felt intuitions. But there's plenty of good stuff out there too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    RichardW writes: “The good reason to disbelieve in God is that God is an ad hoc and unparsimonious explanation for our observations.

    So let’s see how non ad hoc and parsimonious naturalism is in explaining our observations:

    Take the lowly electron: It’s a physical primitive without any moving parts and without access to any computing machinery. How then does the electron manage to display the highly computationally complex behavior it does display? The naturalist answers something like “it just does”.

    Speaking of electrons, in the article “God and the Laws of Nature” published in the last Philo, philosopher Robin Collins mentions the issue of the remarkable cosmic coincidence that all electrons in the universe should display exactly the same behavior. The naturalist says that this is simply a brute fact of nature.

    The apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental constants. The naturalist hypothesizes that there must exist a gargantuan number of invisible parallel universes, each with some random set of constants, and we exist in one with values that make the evolution of intelligent life not improbable.

    And what about Eugene Wigner’s observation about “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences”? Here the multiverse hypothesis does not work, for there are many universes of a much less mathematical nature than ours where natural evolution is possible. Well, the mathematical nature of our universe is another brute fact of nature, the naturalist must say.

    As for our observation of quantum phenomena, perhaps the best naturalistic interpretation is that the physical universe is all the time splitting itself into a gargantuan number of almost identical copies without anybody noticing, because each one of us is being copied around too. I suppose this nonsense is a brute fact of nature too.

    What I can’t imagine is how naturalists explain observations by multiplying entities beyond imagination, while hanging on to the belief that naturalism offers a “parsimonious” explanation for our observations.

    Not to mention that life is much more than what we observe. For example we are also free persons. How does naturalism account for free will? It doesn’t, because free will does not exist. If it seems that we could have chosen differently than how we actually did, it’s only an “illusion”.

    And how about the greatest fact of all, namely that we are conscious beings? Surely consciousness can’t be an illusion for you need consciousness for illusions to exist. Well, the naturalist says, we don’t know yet how consciousness came about, but scientists are working on the problem. As for the many philosophical arguments according to which consciousness is not an object for scientific enquiry, I suppose the naturalist’s answer is “What do philosophers know?”

    And what about morality? Well the traditional (or “folk”) concept of morality is an illusion too, says the naturalist. After all it’s not like to torture a child for fun is evil *in itself*, as most people would say is obviously the case. According to science, the naturalist explains, moral propositions refer to personal opinion, or to social convention, or perhaps to the way our brains have evolved, and nothing more than that. To think otherwise is to believe in a queer reality.

    And what about beauty? To find that, say, Halle Berry is more beautiful than Winston Churchil is only an illusion of course, for it’s all in our brain, says the naturalist.

    Illusions here, illusions there, that’s what naturalism says is there. According to physicist (and New Atheist leader wannabe) Victor Stenger, time only exists in the human mind and is really a human invention; space too is a human invention; amazingly enough the laws of physics are human inventions too (see his “Quantum Gods”, pages 66, 73, and 262 respectively). And what about humanity? Humanity is “a form of frozen nothing” (page 263).

    Frankly, naturalism strikes me not so much as a non ad hoc and parsimonious explanation of observations, but as really bizarre.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    @Dianelos

    It's more parsimonious to invoke additional instances of things we already know to exist (such as the universe and illusions) than to invoke deeply mysterious new entities such as souls and gods.

    Parsimony is not about keeping numbers as low as possible, or giving explanations in as few words as possible (such as "God did it" or "it's a soul").

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Wow! The responses to this post are copious and all over the place topic-wise. I hate to add much more, so I'll keep it brief.

    Taner: Exactly. Plantinga's arguments are entirely defensive. My point is that even if these defenses are successful, and I think they are partially successful, theists are not thereby free from the problem of evil. If you believe in a God who has strongly or weakly actualized (i.e., either directly created or permitted) every actual state of affairs, then you must affirm the truth of the proposition "God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting every actual evil." On what grounds does the theist regard this proposition as certainly or at least probably true? I think if you grant Plantinga all that stuff about the counterfactuals of freedom and trans-world depravity, etc., you will have a hard time proving that God and evil are incompatible. This, however, does not establish that God and actual evil are compatible. Why think that they are?

    Dianelos: The danger that science poses to dualism is the same that it poses to theism, and every other supernatural hypothesis. It is not that science can disprove gods, souls, ghosts, etc., but that these posits become pointless, useless metaphysical danglers with no job to do and no visible means of support. You cannot empirically disprove gods, souls, ghosts, etc. because such claims, if defended cleverly enough, can be made untestable. If you permit yourself unlimited license to draw on ad hoc hypotheses, occult powers, and unverifiable processes or forces, you can damn science to prove you wrong. What you cannot do is prevent science from progressing in ways that make your hypothesis otiose. Once we had Darwin we didn't need Paley's micro-designer any more. We now have neuroscience and we don't need souls any more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Science and Nonbelief is available for Kindle, so Taner, you only got me for ten bucks.

    Now I can start looking for a non-philosophical (or non-traditional philosophy-of-religion) argument for naturalism (or against theism). Is there any particular chapter that I should focus in on?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Bradley,

    I was suggesting that you look at the bibliography. Whether you will find the book itself to be of benefit or not, I have no idea.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Keith Parsons: "if you grant Plantinga all that stuff about the counterfactuals of freedom and trans-world depravity, etc., you will have a hard time proving that God and evil are incompatible. This, however, does not establish that God and actual evil are compatible. Why think that they are?"

    I imagine that the response would be "why think that they are not?"

    The beauty of playing defense, and demanding strict deductive proofs, is that after you achieve the stalemate the argument was destined for, all the real work concerning plausibility has to be done by the background beliefs prior to the argument.

    So, they're theists. Their intutitions/basic beliefs/whisperings of the holy spirit tell them that it is plausible that somewhere in the divine mysteriousness there is a reason for evil hiding somewhere.

    You're skeptical. So your intuitions (blackened by sin as they are) say that God and evil don't look all that compatible. Shrug.

    I'm not sure that all this is an argument that is part of a process of inquiry. Instead, it looks more like gamesmanship.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09565179884099473943 The Uncredible Hallq

    I haven't read all the comments on this post (just the ones from people who's work I'm familiar with) but I think people have missed the most obvious rejoinders to Gutting.

    One "logically derived from uncontroversial premises" isn't problematic because it reflects some outdated rationalism. It's problematic because it makes the standard for a good argument relative to your community. And it makes it impossible to have a good argument for any belief that some members of your community are strongly attached to, because even if an argument's premises were once uncontroversial, they will become so as soon as people notice their implications.

    Also, the category "philosophers of religion" is self-selected for people who think there are interesting debates still going on in philosophy of religion. This means that there are sociological reasons why few "philosophers of religion" think crude forms of the problem of evil are decisive. But you can find philosophers of mind and metaphysicians who think that working at top philosophy departments in the U.S.

    I'm a graduate student at the university of Notre Dame, and coincidentally, I've just written a new essay on the problem of evil that takes a swipe at statements like Gutting's.

    On the other hand, I think Plantinga's ontological argument isn't that hard to understand, and it's an obviously terrible argument.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00203311711885538229 Daniel A. Wang

    If scientists want to dismiss the philosophy of religion, they might do well to drop their atheological arguments. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Taner: Precisely one of the reasons I criticize Plantinga's defensive style in God and the Burden of Proof is that if we play the game his way, it leads to intellectual balkanization. We each climb into our own intellectual bunkers and damn the other guy to prove us wrong. If that is the way things are done, and my criticism is that to a great extent it is, then why indeed have something called "the philosophy of religion?" However, if we do decide to have a discussion such discussion often proceeds by one side noting that there a claim of the other side that entails a dubious proposition. I note that the theistic affirmations about God's omnipotence and perfect goodness appear to entail that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting all actual evils. I then ask how the theist knows this last proposition. Of course, he can then reply with the equivalent of "I just know it. Nyah Nyah." End of discussion. Or the discussion can continue, and this will, as I said earlier, probably lead us to talk about theodicy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Hallq,

    You make good points. When I try to get your essay, however, I get a "not available" error.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Hallq wrote: Also, the category "philosophers of religion" is self-selected for people who think there are interesting debates still going on in philosophy of religion. This means that there are sociological reasons why few "philosophers of religion" think crude forms of the problem of evil are decisive. But you can find philosophers of mind and metaphysicians who think that working at top philosophy departments in the U.S.

    Alex: I'm not sure I follow you here. I'm not sure how the fact that "philosophers of religion" are people who think there are interesting debates still going on in philosophy of religion, has any bearing on whether or not any particular philosopher or group of philosophers will feel this way or that about a particular argument within the philosophy of religion (e.g. the POE), or what this has to do with sociology. Philosophers of mind and metaphysicians would most likely be less familiar with the nuances of the arguments on the matter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Richard: I was only giving an outline of the type of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that there's no God.

    Alex: Right – I didn't think otherwise, but these criteria for theory adjudication just can't be used in this way, and are not so used within science as it is practiced today. They don't amount to arguments in and of themselves or determinative differentiators betw. good and bad hypotheses. They usually boil down to a heuristic or preference, competing hypotheses lending themselves to various combinations of them and the criteria themselves being subject to much debate. Parsimony in particular is so fraught with difficulties (some of which I pointed out) that it is usually harder to justify than the hypothesis in question. For this reason, they don't aid you in arguing that theism is "very implausible". Scientists like Richard Dawkins are usually simply not aware of these debates within the philosophy of science, or even the application of such tools within the history of science, and so they make confident assertions that are on very shaky grounds.

    Richard: Nevertheless, I think your responses indicate a refusal to accept any reasonable standards of evidence. If you don't think that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, then on what grounds would you reject the claim that President Obama is a shapechanging alien? On what grounds do you infer the non-existence of the Tooth Fairy?

    Alex: As I said (and provided an example in regards to), this principle is simply not something adhered to within the practice of science. There is nothing within science which requires it. Evidence of the extraordinary would be evidence of the extraordinary, or alternately, extraordinary evidence. I actually addressed the tooth fairy issue but you did not respond. If there were any evidence at all that Obama was a shapechanging alien, there would be evidence of the extraordinary. However, there is not.

    It is actually your views on naturalism that force you into a position where you do not have a reasonable standard for evidence. For instance, if natural explanations are always to be preferred to supernatural explanations, you simply are not even open to the question of whether or not theism is true. Any amount of evidence you are presented with will meet with denial as there will always be a naturalistic explanation that you prefer. Give it a try – name a hypothetical piece of evidence that might convince you of theism, and I'll give you a naturalistic explanation that is more plausible by your own criterion.

    Richard: the rational conclusions often conflict with strongly-felt intuitions. But there's plenty of good stuff out there too.

    Alex: The same could be said of quantum mechanics. We shouldn't expect existence to be infallibly aligned with our intuitions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith Parsons wrote: It is not that science can disprove gods, souls, ghosts, etc., but that these posits become pointless, useless metaphysical danglers with no job to do and no visible means of support.

    Alex: This is not really a danger and is actually the preference of the majority of theistic scientists. Most theistic scientists understand that science is not in the business of testing theistic hypotheses (which they don't even take to be properly scientific), so they don't expect there to be some sort of utility for these within science. It is no surprise that a discipline that, for most, as a matter of methodology does not propose theistic hypotheses, has not discovered any utility in theistic hypotheses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    Alex: "Right – I didn't think otherwise, but these criteria for theory adjudication just can't be used in this way, and are not so used within science as it is practiced today."

    If you mean that scientists don't explicitly invoke such criteria, then that's probably true most of the time, though sometimes they do. But scientists do not give a complete account of their own reasons for preferring one theory to another. Much of their (or anyone's) mental processing occurs at an unarticulated level. The task of philosophers of science is to give a deeper account of scientific reasoning than scientists themselves are usually able to do. And parsimony is a principle that philosophers of science frequently infer to be playing a large part in scientific reasoning.

    Alex: "They don't amount to arguments in and of themselves or determinative differentiators betw. good and bad hypotheses. They usually boil down to a heuristic or preference, competing hypotheses lending themselves to various combinations of them and the criteria themselves being subject to much debate."

    If you mean that I haven't given an algorithm that can automatically decide whether an inference is justified, without the need for further judgement, then you're right. Such an algorithm is impossible. Empirical inferences cannot be given a complete justification.

    Alex: "Evidence of the extraordinary would be evidence of the extraordinary, or alternately, extraordinary evidence."

    No, that's a misinterpretation of the principle. Let me give you an example. Suppose my brother tells me that he had a cup of coffee this morning. That's a quite unextraordinary claim and, knowing my brother to be a generally reliable source, it would be reasonable for me to accept the claim. If, on the other hand, my brother told me that he'd taken a trip to the Moon this morning, it would be reasonable for me to reject such an extraordinary claim, although the evidence (my brother's word) was of the same sort as before. It would require much stronger evidence for me to reasonably accept the latter claim.

    Alex: "For instance, if natural explanations are always to be preferred to supernatural explanations, you simply are not even open to the question of whether or not theism is true."

    I don't think that natural explanations are always to be preferred to supernatural explanations. It depends on the evidence.

    You haven't suggested any alternative reasons that scientists might have for selecting between hypotheses. You are merely nay-saying against reasonable and widely accepted principles on the grounds that they can be difficult to apply, without offering any better alternatives. (And you haven't given any reasons for rejecting the existence of the Tooth Fairy.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Alex, you are right that there are theistic scientists that see no contradiction between their scientific work and their faith. As you say, most scientists realize that science is not in the business of testing scientific hypotheses (it could be, in principle, but that is another story).

    I was addressing philosophical dualists who are defending a causal hypothesis and a particular theory of mind. Like all causal hypotheses proffered for public acceptance, dualism needs to be supported by evidence. Much of the recent effort by dualists has been to show that their theory is consistent with physical law, the first law of thermodynamics in particular. A standard objection against dualism is that it must postulate constant violations of that law, because incorporeal souls are supposed to be constantly introducing energy into physical systems, and, according to a standard interpretation of the first law, energy cannot be created or destroyed.

    Dualists respond that such an interpretation is a metaphysical, not a scientific principle, and it begs the question against dualism. Further, they say that the first law should be taken only as entailing that the total energy in a closed system is constant, and they claim that dualism can be made consistent with that interpretation.

    My response is that, given the freedom to invoke all sorts of occult forces and unverifiable processes, dualism, or just about any kind of supernaturalism, can be made, at least apparently, consistent with physical law under some interpretation. My point is that this is necessary but far from sufficient. Many, if not most hypotheses die, not because they have been definitively refuted (hard to do), but because they are rendered useless by better theories. Such has been the fate of supernatural theories positing gods, ghosts, souls, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09565179884099473943 The Uncredible Hallq

    Taner: does this link work?

    Alex: If you think very simple versions of the problem of evil are successful, you can't become famous for your new, highly complex formulation.

    Also, I've found that plenty of non-specialists (in PoR) are perfectly well aware of of the work of Swinburne, Plantinga, etc. on the PoE. It's just that it's there considered opinion that said work is awful.

    This is something I should have pointed out in my first comment, but which do you think is a more viable idea for a journal article: "Swinburne's theodicy is extremely interesting, but careful analysis of the issue shows it doesn't work" or "Swinburne's theodicy is so bad it's borderline offensive"? I know there are professional philosophers who hold the latter view, but for obvious reasons they don't publish that view in journals.

    And don't make your rebuttal that such a view doesn't deserve to be discussed. Of course it's possible for a philosophical view to be like that. It would be nice if no such view ever came to be well-regarded, but it's easy to see that things don't necessarily work that way (because once a view has gained some traction, there are few incentives to go that far in criticizing it).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Hallq,

    The new link works.

    Interesting. It'll be interesting to see if you'll get many worthwhile responses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Bradley[said]:
    Dawkins thinks he gave a scientific argument/proof for the non-existence of God, but he was just putting forward another philosophical argument…

    RichardW[responded]:
    Only in the sense that such arguments fall more naturally into the province of philosophers than of scientists. I would deny that science and philosophy are distinct modes of reasoning. So I don't think there is any epistemological value in questioning whether such arguments should be labelled "scientific" or "philosophical".
    ============

    I'm not sure if "modes of reasoning" captures what is at issue here.

    Some questions belong to a particular discipline, and other questions do not. Some questions are interdisciplinary. Setting aside academic turf battles, I think the key concern is about methodology or "approach".

    Science, history, and philosophy all use deductive reasoning at times, and all use non-deductive reasoning at times. Philosophers do not limit themselves to a priori and necessary claims, and scientists and historians do not avoid dealing with conceptual analysis. So there is certainly a good deal of overlap in how people reason in these different fields.

    Nevertheless, it does appear that the approach taken on issues that scientists tackle is different than the approach taken by historians on issues they tackle, and from the approach taken by philosophers on issues they tackle.

    It is worth noting, however, that Dawkins, who argues that the question "Does God exist?" can be handled better by science than by philosophy, fails to provide a clear definition or explanation of what constitutes "science" and what constitutes "philosophy", making his argument defective and unpersuasive as it stands. (I have in mind the Chapter "The God Hypothesis" in The God Delusion.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18095903892283146064 RichardW

    Bradley: "It is worth noting, however, that Dawkins, who argues that the question "Does God exist?" can be handled better by science than by philosophy, fails to provide a clear definition or explanation of what constitutes "science" and what constitutes "philosophy", making his argument defective and unpersuasive as it stands."

    Sure. But a similar criticism can be made of your own claim that "he was just putting forward another philosophical argument". I'm not defending Dawkins. I'm objecting to both positions in that particular debate. Neither side is using these terms in a helpful way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Taner said:

    Indeed, the traditional philosophy of religion is structured in just such a way as to lead to the impasse Gutting describes. It is a heir to a rationalistic tradition that, going back to the Greeks, seeks certainty in demonstrations based on indubitable premises that are self-evident or somehow deliverances of pure reason themselves.
    =============
    I'm not sure if this accurately descibes philosophy of religion in general as opposed to some eras and phases of the tradition.

    In any case, there is nothing wrong with seeking certainty and premises whose truth is securely known. Such premises are useful because they eliminate the possibility of reasonable objections to the truth of the premises of an argument, and thus help to settle controversial issues.

    However, if there are no certain or indubitable premises available that are substantial enough to do the job, to get us to a clear resolution of a controversial issue, then the reasonable thing to do is to lower ones expectations a bit and seek out solid but less-than-certain premises that might do the job.

    It seems to me that many philosophers of religion are open to working with solid but less-than-certain premises in order to construct arguments about the existence and nature of God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    If "traditional philosophy of religion" implies the exclusion of any arguments about God that make use of premises that are less than certain, then I would be inclined to agree that science would be better at dealing with the question "Does God exist?" than "traditional philosophy of religion" because scientists (like historians) are willing to work with arguments that have less-than-certain premises.

    However, it is not clear to me that philosophers of religion in general are unwilling to work with arguments that have less-than-certain premises.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    In order to adequately deal with the question "Does God exist?" one must do a good job dealing with questions like the following ones:

    1. Does the claim “God exists” logically imply that “There is at least one person who is omniscient”?
    2. Does the claim “God exists” logically imply that “There is at least one person who is omnipotent”?
    3. Does the claim “God exists” logically imply that “There is at least one person who is perfectly good”?
    4. Does the claim that “There is at least one person who is omniscient” logically imply that “There is at least one person who knows whatever it is logically possible that he knows”?
    5. Does the claim “There is at least one person who is omnipotent” logically imply that “There is at least one person whois able to do whatever it is logically possible that he can do”?
    6. Does the claim “There is at least one person who is perfectly good” logically imply that “There is at least one person who always does a morally best action (when there is one), and does no morally bad action”?

    These are not scientific questions. These are philosophical questions. Therefore, in order to adequately deal with the question "Does God exist" one must do a good job dealing with philosophical questions, such as those above.

    But these are all questions of definition and conceptual analysis, and given that arguments for and against the existence of God are generally empirical in nature, conceptual analysis alone is unlikely to settle the question, unless there are solid arguments for the logical incoherence of the statement "God exists".

    An initial question that needs to be addressed is:

    7. Does the utterance of the sentence "God exists" constitute the making of a coherent statement?

    If "God exists" does not make a coherent statement, then there may be no point, or at least no necessity, in seeking empirical evidence for or against this idea.

    Question (7) is clearly not a scientific question. It is clearly a philosophical question, and in order to answer (7), one must first be able to answer questions such as (1) through (6), which are also philosophical and not scientific questions.

    However, if one manages to develop clear and well supported answers to all of the above questions, and if one were to conclude that "God exists" does make a coherent statement, then empirical evidence for and against this claim would certainly be worthy of consideration, and that would bring in the possiblity that science has something to offer in dealing with the question "Does God exist".

    So, philosophical investigation is necessary and unavoidable in properly dealing with the question "Does God exist?" and science is potentially useful in dealing with this question, depending on how one answers the above philosophical questions, esp. (7).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    In order to adequately deal with the question "Does God exist?" one must do a good job dealing with questions like the following ones:

    1. Does the claim “God exists” logically imply that “There is at least one person who is omniscient”?
    2. Does the claim “God exists” logically imply that “There is at least one person who is omnipotent”?
    3. Does the claim “God exists” logically imply that “There is at least one person who is perfectly good”?
    4. Does the claim that “There is at least one person who is omniscient” logically imply that “There is at least one person who knows whatever it is logically possible that he knows”?
    5. Does the claim “There is at least one person who is omnipotent” logically imply that “There is at least one person whois able to do whatever it is logically possible that he can do”?
    6. Does the claim “There is at least one person who is perfectly good” logically imply that “There is at least one person who always does a morally best action (when there is one), and does no morally bad action”?

    These are not scientific questions. These are philosophical questions. Therefore, in order to adequately deal with the question "Does God exist" one must do a good job dealing with philosophical questions, such as those above.

    But these are all questions of definition and conceptual analysis, and given that arguments for and against the existence of God are generally empirical in nature, conceptual analysis alone is unlikely to settle the question, unless there are solid arguments for the logical incoherence of the statement "God exists".

    An initial questions that need to be addressed are:

    7. Does the utterance of the sentence "God exists" constitute the making of a coherent statement?

    If "God exists" does not make a coherent statement, then there may be no point, or at least no necessity, in seeking empirical evidence for or against this idea.

    Question (7) is clearly not a scientific question. It is clearly a philosophical question, and in order to answer (7), one must first be able to answer questions such as (1) through (6), which are also philosophical and not scientific questions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    However, if one manages to develop clear and well supported answers to all of the above questions, and if one were to conclude that "God exists" does make a coherent statement, then empirical evidence for and against this claim would certainly be worthy of consideration, and that would bring in the possiblity that science has something to offer in dealing with the question "Does God exist".

    So, philosophical investigation is necessary and unavoidable in properly dealing with the question "Does God exist?" and science is potentially useful in dealing with this question, depending on how one answers the above philosophical questions, esp. (7).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Richard: But scientists do not give a complete account of their own reasons for preferring one theory to another. Much of their (or anyone's) mental processing occurs at an unarticulated level.

    Alex: I'm not sure this bodes well for scientific reasoning, if it is true.

    Richard: The task of philosophers of science is to give a deeper account of scientific reasoning than scientists themselves are usually able to do. And parsimony is a principle that philosophers of science frequently infer to be playing a large part in scientific reasoning.

    Alex: playing a large part in the reasoning doesn't justify its use. I've got several works of philosophy of science on my shelf right now which conclude that the principle of parsimony ultimately cannot be justified. I have seen no attempt on your part to even interact with any of the points of raised. If you base your atheism on the use of such questionable and unexamined principles, how reasonable is your atheism?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Hallq, you seem to be making sociological claims based on your own conversations with a few "high level" philosophers who don't specialize in a certain area, but nevertheless share their opinions about that area with you.

    I'm not sure why that's interesting or relevant to anything.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Richard: If you mean that I haven't given an algorithm that can automatically decide whether an inference is justified, without the need for further judgement, then you're right. Such an algorithm is impossible. Empirical inferences cannot be given a complete justification.

    Alex: Forget an algorithm. You've given no justification for the use of parsimony whatsoever, other than a vague argument that scientists have used it. I've pointed out that its been used incorrectly to argue against currently accepted theories as well, that it is very subjective and vague, etc. No responses to any of the points I've made…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Richard: No, that's a misinterpretation of the principle.

    Alex: It wouldn't surprise me if it was. You have not defined it clearly. What is an extraordinary claim? A claim like no other claim that has previously been accepted? Then what is extraordinary evidence? Probably *not* evidence like no other evidence that has been accepted, I presume. Well then, it is just evidence for an "extraordinary" claim! If it is something else (like a whole big bunch of evidence of the sort we usually accept), then you're equivocating on "extraordinary". So let's try to make this principle more than a skeptical bumper sticker and unpack it a little. At best, it is vague.

    Richard: Let me give you an example. Suppose my brother tells me that he had a cup of coffee this morning. That's a quite unextraordinary claim and, knowing my brother to be a generally reliable source, it would be reasonable for me to accept the claim. If, on the other hand, my brother told me that he'd taken a trip to the Moon this morning, it would be reasonable for me to reject such an extraordinary claim, although the evidence (my brother's word) was of the same sort as before. It would require much stronger evidence for me to reasonably accept the latter claim.

    Alex: Here I think you concede the equivocation. But regardless, I think this example fails. You don't accept the claim on his testimony bc you have alot of counter-balancing background evidence – e.g. 1) being an astronaut takes alot of training, which you have not seen/heard about your brother partaking in 2) it is a relatively public event to take a trip to the moon and you've not heard of this particularly from an individual in your family, etc. If your brother had been to astronaut training school, worked for NASA, etc., you would accept his unextraordinary evidence of testimony.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Let's examine some of the other issues with "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (hereafter ECREE).

    First, more about the problem of subjectivity and background beliefs. If you use this merely to justify a subjective belief in atheism relative to your prior naturalistic/atheists beliefs, and it is not even an attempt to come up with a metaphysically neutral criterion for deciding betw. the two, then really, I'm not sure how interesting it is, or how far we are beyond insular defensive strategies of Plantinga. "Extraordinary" for the atheist will be the existence of God. However, the extraordinary claim for the majority of human beings (i.e. theists) will be the non-existence of God – or that naturalistic explanations can account for the origin of the universe, life, consciousness, morality, their religious experience, etc. So you need a definition of "extraordinary" that is not relative to your subjective experience and beliefs.

    Further, the vagueness is enough to render ECREE useless as it stands. The theist or atheist presented with any amount of evidence for the opposing side, can always say "well, that's just not extraordinary enough!" What is the threshold here. Your own subjective pronouncement? What keeps you from raising the evidential bar?

    And finally, a challenge – you say you do not think naturalistic hypotheses are ALWAYS the better explanation, and you imply that you would accept evidence for theism of a certain sort.

    What evidence would you accept? Can you give an example?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Regarding the tooth fairy – please read what I wrote. I do not accept the existence of the tooth fairy for the same reason I do not accept the actual existence of Winnie the Pooh. Neither entities have been put forth as actually existing personages. They are categorically fictional tales. No one has ever presented evidence for either because it is universally understood that NO ONE is *truthfully* claiming that they actually exist.

    That skeptics continue to use bogus rhetoric like this is an embarrassment to skepticism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith Parsons: My response is that, given the freedom to invoke all sorts of occult forces and unverifiable processes, dualism, or just about any kind of supernaturalism, can be made, at least apparently, consistent with physical law under some interpretation. My point is that this is necessary but far from sufficient. Many, if not most hypotheses die, not because they have been definitively refuted (hard to do), but because they are rendered useless by better theories. Such has been the fate of supernatural theories positing gods, ghosts, souls, etc.

    Alex: Keith, I agree with you on dualism, in fact, Goetz/Taliaferro in their recent _Naturalism_ seem to spend almost the entire book arguing for dualism's compatibility with modern physics.

    I have seen a fair number of arguments advanced in favor of dualism that are not purely about scientific compatibility though. Moreland seems to have written a few books in this vein though I have not yet read them. Craig/Moreland argue this in their _Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview_.

    I'm not sure a Christian theist in particular would need to go beyond defense of compatibility if they just accept the claim on revelation. For a skeptic, this is useless, unscientific, etc. But for the Christian theist, there are a whole host of claims they accept on the basis of revelation, and its merely important to them that current knowledge does not contradict (I think this is a large part of Plantinga's strategy).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    RichardW: You haven't suggested any alternative reasons that scientists might have for selecting between hypotheses.

    Alex: Richard, I have never advanced the claim that scientists *don't* selectively use parsimony or any number of criteria to decide between theories. I've stated that they do, for any number of reasons, and questioned whether or not there is any valid justification for this, and further questioned the use of such principles in deciding betw. worldviews. You have not interacted with any of my specific criticisms. Have you thought critically and read in depth about some of the issues with appealing to parsimony? Or are we just accepting what some scientists writing outside their fields are saying?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09565179884099473943 The Uncredible Hallq

    Alex: I'm not sure how the fact that "philosophers of religion" are people who think there are interesting debates still going on in philosophy of religion, has any bearing on whether or not any particular philosopher or group of philosophers will feel this way or that about a particular argument within the philosophy of religion (e.g. the POE)

    Maybe if I explain it to you this way, it'll make sense: if you think that there's a straightforward argument that's completely decisive on an issue, and you think all the attempts to respond to it are disasters, you're not going to find the debate very interesting, are you?

    But, if the public library you go to doesn't have stacks of academic philosophy journals, I'm not 100% sure how to explain this to you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Hallq – I suspect different people will respond differently. Some people thrive on situations like this. Look at the 100s of books and articles on anti-creationism, books by biologists, philosophers, historians of science, etc. – all written from the POV that ID is a disaster, even by members of this blog. Apparently they find the topic interesting enough to read the opposition, and publish works, and collections of works, that respond. Indeed in some cases this comprises the majority of their publishing.

    Most anti-apologists or proponents of the skeptical web-variety of anti-supernaturalism/metaphysical naturalism, spend a good chunk of their time entrenched in debates where they feel as though their opponents are decisively wrong.

    So to the extent that I can even make sense of your argument here, I think you're making a very poor one. If you're just speculating, I think its poor speculation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith – further thoughts on dualism….

    Should the advance of naturalistic hypotheses regarding the mind, on the part of neuroscientists, really be seen as a danger or threat to dualists? Most of the non-dualist neuroscientists I've read just kind of take materialism as a starting point. It shouldn't surprise us that they're able to "move forward" w/o the hypothesis of dualism. They are starting the race, assuming that dualism is dead, so the only place to go is forward w/o dualism. There will still be plenty of purely physical aspects of the workings of the brain/mind to cover, naturalistic hypotheses will be as boundless as the human imagination, and we should expect to see pretty much what we see – an attempt on the part of strong physicalists to reduce all aspects of the mind to the physical, and a denial of (or claim of "illusion" with regards to) those aspects which seem to resist this kind of reduction. I think this is even one of the arguments that dualists are advancing in their favor – that as the physicalist/materialist hypotheses march on, they are denying the existence of common sense features of experience to the point of creating self-referential issues for non-dualism.

    Out of curiosity, how are dualists attempting to overcome the 1st law of thermo. issue? If I've read a good response to that issue, it has slipped my mind. That seems almost impossible to reconcile with modern physics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Alex,

    The perspective I'm taking is from the history of science. There are few genuine crucial experiments in any field. That is, it is seldom the case that the evidence completely knocks out a hypothesis. Almost always diehard proponents are left with some wiggle room, even if it means adducing some ad hoc hypotheses. Old hypotheses are like what Gen. MacArthur said about old soldiers: They seldom just die at a given point, but more often fade away. They are not so often definitively refuted as just left behind, and the proponents of those hypotheses get lonelier and lonelier until none are left.

    At the time of Descartes it was reasonable to postulate an incorporeal soul. Now, about the only Cartesian dualists left are, frankly, those who have an ideological ax to grind. If they want the rest of us to start to take dualism seriously again, as a live hypothesis, they are going to have to show that it does some work, for instance, by explaining the intractably unexplained. Now some philosophers, such as R.M. Adams have tried to argue that there are some phenomena that, in principle, no physicalist theory can explain, so we are left with some form of dualism by default. Needless to say I am extremely unimpressed by these arguments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “It is not that science can disprove gods, souls, ghosts, etc., but that these posits become pointless, useless metaphysical danglers with no job to do and no visible means of support.

    I don’t think that theism needs “visible means of support”. The question is not whether theistic beliefs are supported by the scaffolding of the rest of our background knowledge. Rather the question is whether the rest of our background knowledge fits with theism’s scaffolding. I do not mean that theism is a basic belief, the way Plantinga argues. I mean that theism, like naturalism, is a basic metaphysical hypothesis about the nature of reality. According to theism reality is personal, and, more precisely, is God-structured, being centered on a personal being who is perfect in all respects. It’s a fundamental error and grossly misleading to hold that theism is the hypothesis that apart from a naturalistic universe also some supernatural beings, “gods, souls, ghosts, etc” exist.

    You cannot empirically disprove gods, souls, ghosts, etc. because such claims, if defended cleverly enough, can be made untestable.

    It is true that theism can be made compatible with natural science, but this does not require much cleverness, because, on theism, nature is one more thing that God does.

    If you permit yourself unlimited license to draw on ad hoc hypotheses, occult powers, and unverifiable processes or forces, you can damn science to prove you wrong.

    I don’t see how natural science could possibly prove theism wrong, but this does not mean that theism is unfalsifiable, as evidenced by the fact that atheists are proposing all the time arguments which purport to falsify it. I mean you can’t have it both ways.

    Philosopher Andrew Melnyk in his recent paper “Naturalism as a Philosophical Paradigm” defines naturalism in a way I think represents well the naturalistic mindset. He says, reasonably enough, that naturalism is the thesis that everything is natural, meaning that there are in reality no instances of acting (or choosing) for a reason. Naturalism then is the hypothesis that reality is such that ultimately nothing happens for a reason. Conversely theism is the hypothesis that reality is such that ultimately everything happens for a reason, and indeed that ultimately everything happens because of the purposes of God, a personal being who is perfect in all respects. Thus theistic explanations are eminently restricted, because any theistic explanation must comport with the idea that a perfect person would have the respective purpose. In comparison naturalistic explanations are much less restricted. Indeed, on naturalism almost everything goes: You wish to suggest that reality is a multiverse within a multiverse? Why not – and do not let the lack of evidence bother you. Or that causality can work backwards in time? Sure. Or that spacetime bends over itself foam like? By all means. Or that free will does not exist, and that to torture a child for fun is not wrong in itself? Absolutely, after all it’s not like a naturalist has to be concerned about human intuitions. Clearly, if the only requirement you have is that nothing happens for a reason, then there’s not much to stop your imagination.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos:

    No, in saying that dualism, theism, and other supernatural hypotheses are not falsifiable, I am not attempting to have it "both ways" when I then offer arguments against such claims. A clever enough proponent of just about anything can surround his pet hypothesis with a guard of auxiliary hypotheses that insulate it from empirical trial by any of the standard sorts of experimental or observational tests common in science. This does not insulate the hypothesis from all rational critique, however. Pointing out the arbitrary and ad hoc nature of those protective auxiliary hypotheses, for instance, is a legitimate critique.

    Could we have a scientific test for God? In principle, yes. There could be something like the crucial experiment described in I Kings, chapter 18 where Elijah had his contest with the priests of Baal. In practice, theists assiduously avoid such testing. Too bad. I really wish they would put it on the line–put up or shut up–the way Elijah did. Yet even if there is no practical way to test the God hypothesis empirically, we can still criticize it philosophically, and this is why, unlike Taner, I am not willing just yet to give up on philosophy of religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos:

    Theists and naturalists both agree that a natural world exists. Theists think that at least one other entity besides the natural world exists, i.e., God. A traditional way of defending the claim that this additional entity exists is to regard it as a sort of hypothesis. This is, for example, certainly the way that Richard Swinburne defends it in our day. Much traditional natural theology also argued for theism as the inference to the best explanation. This is the way that William Lane Craig argues for theism now. If we succeed in arguing that, as Laplace said to Napoleon, "I have no need for that hypothesis (or explanation)," then this way of making theism credible is out.

    Nor does the explanatory uselessness of theism only thwart some academic natural theologians. I recently read a history of the battle of Agincourt (1415), which had a wonderful depiction of Henry V. One thing that is obvious is that the people of the 15th Century lived and breathed Christianity in a way that hardly anyone, even the most devout, does today. God was simply much more present to people's thoughts. Why? Clearly, they saw the hand of God in everything around them. We, including the staunchest believers no longer do. For them, God did it; for us, stuff happens. When God has less and less to do, we think of him less and less. A useless God soon becomes a nonexistent one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09565179884099473943 The Uncredible Hallq

    There are plenty of popular debunkings of creationism published by scientists, but it isn't considered an issue for serious academic debate. There aren't major journals that exist solely for the purpose of debating issues like creationism; it's only occasionally that a serious scientific journal will even bother publishing a negative review of a book by someone like Behe. On the other hand, there are journals dedicated to philosophy of religion, and the PoE is regarded as a "serious" issue by many philosophers, the sort of thing where if you write about it that belongs in your tenure file. My point here is that people like David Lewis have few incentives to publish "serious" stuff on the problem of evil, not that they have few incentives to publish popular work on it. (That's also true, but for different reasons–mostly, I think, it's because few people care what philosophers have to say about anything, but also because Plantinga's work on the PoE is less well known than the claims of creationism).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09565179884099473943 The Uncredible Hallq

    P.S.–Alex, it's obvious that you don't understand the first thing about how the academic world operates. I'd recommend chilling out, sitting back, and trying to learn something from those who do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Hallq: There are plenty of popular debunkings of creationism published by scientists, but it isn't considered an issue for serious academic debate.

    Alex: Well firstly, my point was that academics who think ID is utterly vacuous are still at least willing to spend vast amount of their time and resources arguing against ID theorists. And that's all I really need as a counterexample to your unfounded psychological speculation. But secondly, there is much more than just a "popular" response to ID. There are highly "academic", technical critiques of ID published by Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University press, and journals like Nature, Science, The Mathematical Intelligencer, Biology and Philosophy, Harvard Science Review, Philosophy of Science, National Reviews Microbiology, and many more. In fact, our very own Taner Edis has at least one book adressing the subject that I doubt he would consider "popular". You seem to keep digging your hole deeper on this one…Don't be too proud to just climb on out.

    Hallq: Alex, it's obvious that you don't understand the first thing about how the academic world operates. I'd recommend chilling out, sitting back, and trying to learn something from those who do.

    Alex: LOL. Thx for the laugh before I snooze. I'm a big fan of comedy. Believe me, I am perfectly chill. I'm genuinely enjoying the interaction here. But I cannot accept your poor speculations and anecdotal pop-sociology, just because you are the author of a blog and a student. Oh…wait. Your book about UFOs, ghosts, and Jesus *was* published by Reasonable Press. Maybe I should reconsider….

    Alex

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith: There could be something like the crucial experiment described in I Kings, chapter 18 where Elijah had his contest with the priests of Baal. In practice, theists assiduously avoid such testing. Too bad. I really wish they would put it on the line–put up or shut up–the way Elijah did.

    Alex: But we're potentially dealing with a personal being with the freedom of disclosure – not a law-governed, predictable, repeatable process. God may simply not want to initially or repeatedly (which would really be required) acquiesce to the demands of a scientific experiment. God may have good reasons for not wanting there to be undeniable proof of his existence, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Alex,

    Well, sure. That is why I say that in principle, we could have overwhelming evidence of God's existence at any time. God could cause all the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster to be instantaneously rearranged so that when viewed from earth they spell out "Prepare to meet thy God!" I would definitely be in the front pew next Sunday! In practice, however, theists can always say "Thou shalt not put the Lord to the test!" OK, but you have to live with the consequence, which is that God really does look like UFO's or Bigfoot–phenomena for which we ALWAYS seem to be just on the edge, but not quite, of having enough evidence to be convincing.

    BTW, Dianelos said something the other day about atheists wanting to have it "both ways." Actually it seems to me that the shoe is on the other foot. Theists need for there to be enough evidence for God so that naturalists really should be convinced, but not too much evidence since, they say, God would not want to make his existence too undeniable. Finding the exact geometric point to balance these two conflicting needs–enough evidence but not too much–is quite a trick.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    You write: “Theists need for there to be enough evidence for God so that naturalists really should be convinced, but not too much evidence since, they say, God would not want to make his existence too undeniable.

    Clearly, if God’s existence were overwhelmingly obvious, then the moral dimension of our life would become a joke. Here’s an analogy: Suppose a poor person would meet another person who was much worse off and actually starving. Would the poor person share his meager possessions with the starving person? Perhaps he would, perhaps he wouldn’t. Now suppose the same story except the poor person is informed that he is really the lost son of a billionaire, and that the next day he’d be going back to live with his father. Would now the poor person share his meager possessions? Of course. Most probably he’d give the starving person all his possessions right away. In this latter case the meaning and the opportunity of actually doing the right thing would be lost.

    Finding the exact geometric point to balance these two conflicting needs–enough evidence but not too much–is quite a trick.

    Well, in this case I don’t think that there is any difficulty. God would create a life experience in which His/Her existence would not be obvious, but for which plenty of evidence would be available to those who search.

    At this juncture the atheist will retort that there are plenty of bright, diligent, and honest people who have looked for God without finding any evidence for His/Her existence. It’s difficult for me to know the answer to this question, for this hasn’t been my experience. What I have noticed though is that many atheists have a grossly mistaken understanding of what theism is about (just look at Richard Dawkins believing that “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis, like any other”), so it may be the case that many people are simply looking in the wrong place. In other cases people may be so disgusted or angry at the real or perceived hypocrisy and malevolence of religious institutions that they can’t look straight. Who knows.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith: Well, sure. That is why I say that in principle, we could have overwhelming evidence of God's existence at any time. God could cause all the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster to be instantaneously rearranged so that when viewed from earth they spell out "Prepare to meet thy God!" I would definitely be in the front pew next Sunday!

    Alex: That would be premature though. Why is this evidence of God? Because it is improbable? The universe is huge and improbable things happen all the time. The probability for any particular galaxy to exist in any particular configuration is amazingly low. We could actually better explain this naturalistically with an infinite/exhaustive multiverse. That is a superior hypothesis because it isn't as ad hoc (scientists already had other evidence for this – namely anthropic "fine tuning"), it is properly scientific (aka scientist's like it), it is more parsimonious than the "omni-God", and it is naturalistic (we know that supernatural hypotheses have all failed throughout history). We don't need a God of the Gaps. It is always best to withhold judgment and continue to seek naturalistic explanations. Further, we have independent arguments like the POE and the argument from Divine Hiddenness which show that the existence of God is very unlikely.

    Keith: OK, but you have to live with the consequence, which is that God really does look like UFO's or Bigfoot–phenomena for which we ALWAYS seem to be just on the edge, but not quite, of having enough evidence to be convincing.

    Alex: I'm actually pretty much ok with that and I think there are good reasons for a god to do it that way. Of course, it is not just Bigfoot and UFO's that share this problem. The existence of Bigfoot and UFO's are great analogies for the skeptic bc they seem silly. These are subjects generally mocked by the media, associated with gullibility and the anecdotes of the uneducated, and the people who study such phenomena are for the large part not members of the academic community (with some exceptions). The truth is all of the tough and genuinely interesting questions share the problem you raise – what is the origin of existence, if any?, is there an objective purpose to life?, does free will exist?, what is justice?, does consciousness exist?, what is its origin?, how did life originate?, etc. Putting the existence of God alongside these tough but interesting questions, I see no necessary shame in carefully considering the arguments and coming down on either side – no moreso than any of these others. Further, it doesn't seem to be a huge issue for a god to find the right geometric balance that you speak of – and they have possible means of communication other than publicly available external evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,

    You write: “The probability for any particular galaxy to exist in any particular configuration is amazingly low. We could actually better explain this naturalistically with an infinite/exhaustive multiverse. That is a superior hypothesis because it isn't as ad hoc (scientists already had other evidence for this – namely anthropic "fine tuning"), it is properly scientific (aka scientist's like it), it is more parsimonious than the "omni-God", and it is naturalistic (we know that supernatural hypotheses have all failed throughout history).

    Yes, and naturalists would say that it is more parsimonious because it does not call for a new *type* of thing, such as God. Still, Keith’s idea was for the galaxy to be suddenly rearranged to read a theistic message when viewed from the Earth. I do agree with Keith that one can imagine events which would convince all, except perhaps the most skeptical, atheists. On the other hand, the event Keith describes is allowed by quantum mechanics, and thus, according to the many worlds interpretation, has already happened in some universes out there. I wonder how people in those universes have reacted. An additional twist would be for the message to read “I am God and Muhammad is my prophet”, in Arabic. Should that come to pass I suppose atheists and Christian fundamentalists would join forces. Here’s a good idea for a movie.

    does consciousness exist?

    Far from being a “tough and genuinely interesting question” this is a really trivial question, given that only a conscious being can understand it.

    Putting the existence of God alongside these tough but interesting questions,[snip]

    I don’t think that the existence of God should be put alongside such questions. Theism is not the thesis that alongside many other existents God also exists. Rather, theism is a metaphysical thesis about the nature of existence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Keith wrote: A brief comment on theistic "explanations": There may indeed be circumstances where we would, as a last resort, say "God did it." It would truly be a last resort, because it would mean that whatever we want to explain we have thereby assigned to permanent inexplicability.

    Alex: There are several problems with this. Firstly, this notion that theistic explanations are a ‘last resort’, in the sense that they are only to be invoked if absolutely *needed* and all naturalistic explanations have been exhausted, is highly problematic. Laplace’s famous comment (like those of many other scientists that skeptics have hijacked and turned into bumper stickers) do not make for good demarcation criteria concerning good/bad hypotheses in this debate. Why? Well, because there will always be naturalistic explanations at hand, and really no hypothesis, theistic or otherwise, is ever a *necessity*. Hypotheses are generated and limited solely by the human imagination. I challenge any atheist on this board to put forth any potential evidence for God that I cannot explain naturalistically. This easily demonstrable fact backs the skeptic into the corner of having to admit that, by their own standards, there simply can be no evidence that would convince them of God’s existence.

    The second problem with Keith’s comment is that there simply is no such thing as (and ought not be) a “last resort” explanation for anything. There is no big danger of the dreaded “permanent inexplicability”, because any and all explanations are tentative pending further knowledge. If we have further evidence or a new hypothesis that renders any previous hypothesis (theistic or otherwise) ad hoc, relatively unparsimonious, less explanatorily efficacious, etc. – then we simply embrace the new hypothesis! No harm done; there is no science stopper. This is simply how science itself works.

    Keith: When you invoke God or souls, on the other hand, you just immediately hit a wall of impenetrable, permanent, and in principle unknowability.

    Alex: Naturalistic explanations hit this very same wall of in principle unknowability in the laws of physics. Theism just goes one step further in being able to account for the laws of physics. Most versions of naturalism must stop with the brute fact of their existence.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X