Recent Discussion of My Old List, “How to be an Atheist Apologist”

I haven’t been a regular, active participant on message boards for years, but I recently decided to participate in the thread at Rational Skepticism about my 2006 post, “How to be an Atheist Apologist.” The topics we’ve discussed include:

  • Is the concept of an “atheist apologist” even coherent or is just a contradiction in terms?
  • Where was the sarcasm in my post? Was there any sarcasm in my post?
  • Introduction to basic terminology in Bayesian confirmation theory, e.g., prior probability, explanatory power, etc.
  • Whether the prior probability of theism is equal to that of pastafarianism (the Flying Spaghetti Monster), Invisible Pink Unicorns, Santa Claus, leprechauns, ghosts, etc.
  • My Bayesian fine-tuning argument for God’s existence and the multiverse objection to fine-tuning arguments (plural)
  • Historicity of Jesus
  • The definition of atheism, the anal-retentive defense of etymological purism, and linguistic relativism vs. objectivism

The discussion board thread may be found here; my comments start here.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Angra Mainyu

    Thanks; interesting discussion.

    I agree with a number of your points about atheist apologists.

    I've seen plenty, and I think they do atheism a disfavor, but not deliberately. They do not seem to understand the arguments they criticize, but they think they have good counterarguments.

    That said – and hopefully I won't sound like an apologist to you -, I'm not sure about the idea that God has an intrinsic probability, and if it does, I don't know how it would be possible to estimate it, or why it would be higher than the FSM (for instance).

    Issues of simplicity do not seem to help, given that different omnipotent beings are mutually incompatible – or different creators of all other beings – and probability is finitely additive at least.

    For instance, Swinburne's standards seem ad-hoc (e.g., regarding omniscience and simplicity), but even assuming his standards, I would argue that we can reject with good reasons Swinburne's assessment that moral perfection follows from omniscience and perfect freedom.

    But without that entailment, I'd argue that the prior probability of theism is no greater than 1/n, for any natural number n, which is really low – zero if we only accept reals; an infinitesimal if we accept hyperreals as well -, since one can set up a set of deities Deity(n) that are mutually incompatible and such that the hypothesis "Deity(n)" exists is not more complex than theism, and it does not have a greater scope, either – at least, using what appears to be Swinburne's way of assessing probabilities, leaving aside some of his metaethical claims.

    Then, using the finite additivity of disjoint hypotheses – we don't need sigma additivity -, the conclusion is that the intrinsic probability of theism no greater than 1/n, for any n.

    I'm not sure how that would be different on Draper's proposal; it seems to me that the degree of uniformity can be preserve in the alternatives as well, so the prior probability of theism is still either zero or an infinitesimal.

  • Angra Mainyu

    Regarding Draper's analysis, and leaving aside a number of other issues, I would take issue with the idea that theism only involves "rational desires".

    Theism involves moral perfection, which involves the desire to act according to a very specific and detailed set of standards – namely, morality.

    I can see no good reason why a rational being would act in accordance to moral standards, and not, say, consequentialist standards of some sort.

    That would increase significantly the scope of theism (on Draper's account), or its complexity (on Swinburne's, apparently(1))

    It's not entirely clear to me whether Draper's analysis of complexity would also allow one to derive that the prior of theism is either zero or an infinitesimal, but it looks like it at least at first glance – morality seems to be a pretty complex standard.

    (1) There seems to be a significant difference between Swinburne and Draper regarding what counts as simplicity and what counts as scope.

    For instance, Swinburne claims that what he calls "world views" have the same scope, and naturalism and theism have the same scope.

    But then, also Christianity and naturalism have the same scope, and thus so do Christianity and theism: the only difference between theism and Christianity would be in complexity, but not in scope.

    On the other hand, according to Draper's account, it seems that there is a difference between theism and Christianity in terms of scope.

  • Ryan M

    Hi Jeff,

    Just wondering, did you ever go back to school and obtain a masters of PHD in philosophy? I thought I read a long time ago that that was your plan. Also, you have made this website worthy of visits again. After Keith's retirement from the POR some people claimed the secular outpost was dead and of no use (Trent Dougherty seemed to hint at this on Prosblogion). I think any worries such as that ought now false thank to you. Great job.

  • soku

    Hi, Jeff.

    I was just wondering which source you were getting your quotes from Paul Draper on. I'd really like to read it in it's entirety.