My Guest Post on Randal Rauser’s Blog

In case you don’t already follow Randal Rauser’s blog, The Tentative Apologist, he has been posting a series of guest posts by prominent atheists on his blog about “why they don’t believe.” Rauser just posted my short essay, for which I am truly grateful.

Rauser offered a few comments on my short essay. I, in turn, would like to offer a few short comments of my own.

“He [Draper] taught me that, if I want to be a philosopher of religion and not an apologist”

However, I’m not content to allow the word “apologist” be sullied in this fashion. While the term has often been claimed by those who have failed to aspire to objectivity, it need not be so. In my own work I’ve argued that we are all apologists if we value truth and aim to persuade others of what we think to be true. And this is fully compatible with the highest epistemic virtues. Those apologists who are mere salesmen (or salespeople) for their beliefs are not worthy of the name “apologist”.

Given that I did not define my terms, this is a fair response. I agree with what he writes. What I am trying to do is to make a distinction between (1) people whose number one priority is to be an apologist; and (2) people whose number one priority is to be a philosopher of religion. So we could reword my somewhat terse statement (quoted by Rauser) as follows: “He [Draper] taught me that, if my number one priority is to be a philosopher of religion, then …”

Well I find Jeff’s naturalistic facts completely unconvincing. Indeed, I’m not even persuaded that “naturalism” is a meaningful position.

Rauser and I have exchanged posts about that before.

Jeff believes that “the fact that science can explain so much without explicitly appealing to the supernatural” supports naturalism. That leaves me mystified.

My statement was a reference to what I have elsewhere called the evidential argument from the history of science, which is an argument which Rauser and I have debated before.

 Jeff also believes that “mind-brain dependence” somehow supports naturalism. I can’t fathom why. Really. God made us a nephesh (Gen. 2:7). In what sense does this support naturalism? Indeed, as Thomas Nagel argued in Mind and Cosmos, if anything it would seem to point us in the opposite direction.

“Mind-brain dependence” is a reference to what I have called the evidential argument from physical minds.

Common descent? But Jeff already said this is fully consistent with Christianity. (Keep in mind that there are, no doubt, versions of naturalism that reject common descent.) So I am at a loss to conceive of what advantage Jeff thinks is gained here.

“Common descent” is a reference to what I have called the evidential argument from biological evolution. It’s true that common descent is logically compatible with theism, including Christian theism. What Rauser overlooks is the fact that common descent is much more probable on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, and so is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

As for “the biological role of pain and pleasure”, I’ll leave that one since I’m not sure what Jeff is referring to here.

Again, since my brief essay left a lot of things undefined, that’s a fair reply. “The biological role of pain and pleasure” is a reference to Draper’s version of the evidential argument from evil, which in my opinion is the strongest version of the argument from evil.

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Again, I truly appreciate Rauser’s open-mindedness demonstrated by his willingness to post a series of blog entries by atheists. And I love the way he closes his post:

These are big differences between Jeff and myself. However, if I only had six Innis and Gunn beers left in my fridge, I’d offer Jeff three and we’d work these things out.

If I’m ever up in his neck of the woods (or if he’s ever down in mine), that would be fun!

I encourage everyone to follow the discussion in the combox on Rauser’s site, since I’m sure his post will provoke some interesting discussions!

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.

  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

    Excellent post. I wonder if you can be convinced to expand on your claim that certain facts about morality might favor theism. What facts do you have in mind? Why do they favor theism?

    I’m sure you will see related questions on Rauser’s blog (including mine), so this comment is probably redundant. (Although who says Randal gets all the traffic?)

  • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

    I’ve been following Randal’s series, and I’m going to say that your reply was by far the best, especially when supplemented by your follow up links. Both your approach and conclusions seem very well thought out, although I am also curious about how morality in some ways favors theism.

  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Nolan and Jason — Thanks for the kind words!

    Regarding facts about morality which might support theism over naturalism. This may sound odd, but I’m not sure exactly what those facts might be. I’m still doing a lot of introspection to try to narrow down what is driving this intuition I have.

    It’s easier for me to say what kind of fact does not support theism over naturalism. For example, I don’t think objective moral values or necessary moral truths provide any evidence at all for theism.

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