bookmark_borderArgument Against the Resurrection of Jesus – Part 4

If you want something done right, then (sometimes) you have to do it yourself.

I now know what my next project will be. Since, to the best of my knowledge, no Christian philosopher or apologist has made a good case for the resurrection of Jesus, I am going to build the first good case for the resurrection.

First, I need to finish the article on Swinburne’s case for God. That article was supposed to be finished a year ago, and I still have several months more to go before it will be completed. But, when I’m done with Swinburne, I’m going to start building the best-possible case for the resurrection of Jesus.

Jeff – If I build this case, and then have a heart attack or get hit by a bus, will you dedicate some time to refuting my case? Promise? I would hate to unintentionally give a big boost to Christian belief among intellectuals.

Each of the leading defenders of the resurrection has at least one strong point and at least one serious weakness. I would take the strong points of each of them, and try to avoid their weaknesses and faults. Such a synthesis of the various cases for the resurrection by the leading defenders would, I believe, be the best possible case.

1. Richard Swinburne

Swinburne is the Aquinas of our age. Anyone who tries to build a case for the resurrection without consulting Swinburne is a fool.

His strengths are: apologetic strategy and logical apparatus. I would use Swinburne’s apologetic strategy and the logical apparatus of conditional probability statements and calculations. Swinburne is weak on two points: he fails to recognize the need and importance of proving that Jesus died on the cross, and he does not do an adequate job with historical data and arguments.

Swinburne’s apologetic strategy is NOT to prove that God exists, and then argue for the resurrection, but rather to try to prove a weaker claim, namely that there is a 50/50 chance that God exists, and then use that probability as the basis for a case for the probability of the resurrection. This is the best apologetic strategy, and has the best chance of being successful.

2. William Craig

Craig’s strength is his attempt to use criteria for the evaluation of historical hypotheses in a systematic way. I would use the criteria Craig lays out, or something similar to those criteria.

Craig, like Swinburne, fails to take seriously the burden of proof to show that Jesus really died on the cross. Craig only writes about one paragraph on this key point, and so his case for the resurrection, while intellectually sophisticated, fails completely.

3. Norman Geisler

One of Geisler’s strengths is his simple and clear logical analysis of the question at issue, breaking the historical question into two pieces: (1) Did Jesus die on the cross? (2) Was Jesus alive and walking around on Easter Sunday following the crucifixion? Another strength is that he, unlike Swinburne and Craig, recognizes the need to prove that Jesus in fact died on the cross.

Geisler’s weaknesses are that he attempts to defend the resurrection in just a few pages, which is absolutely ridiculous, and his naive uncritical use of Gospel accounts, and his apologetic strategy (deductive proof of God’s existence followed by argument for the resurrection).

I would break the historical issues into two pieces, following Geisler, but would use something like Craig’s criteria to evaluate the two historical hypotheses, and I would avoid a naive and uncritical use of Gospel accounts.

4. Gary Habermas

Habermas makes the best case for the resurrection, in my view. His strengths are that he recognizes the need to prove that Jesus died on the cross, and he also puts together a good deal of historical and medical data and arguments to support this claim. Habermas is more careful than Geisler with his use of the Gospel accounts, and Habermas recognizes that a good case for the resurrection cannot be made in just a few pages; a good-sized book is required, at a minimum.

Habermas has a weaker apologetic strategy than Swinburne, and is not as systematic in his historical analysis as Craig. So, his approach could be improved upon by importation of Swinburne’s strategy, the use of conditional probability, and by use of general criteria for the evaluation of historical hypotheses.

Take the strongest points of these four Christian philosophers, and avoid their weaknesses, and you would have the best possible case for the resurrection of Jesus.

bookmark_borderFun with Poetic Atheism

Dear Bleaders,
I’m getting the sense that atheism in these parts (’round this url) is not as, shall we say “taken for granted” as it is in my usual conversations. A good number of my usual conversations take place in my head, the ones that involve other people are still usually in New York City, and failing that, often in universities, and in any number of reform religious temples and churches that invite me to speak, i.e. I go from one den of atheism to another.  I’m surrounded by secularism and never find myself in a conversation about what I would think if I met up with someone on Sunday who I had buried on Friday. My answer to that is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. We are animals on a ball of dirt and if you look at us and all the other animals with a little perspective, what seems self-evident seems true.

The kind of atheism conversations I am going around starting are about how we feel about all of this. As I suggested in my first post, I do not believe individuals have to create meaning for themselves. I think saying people do have to do this is a bit of a wrong turn. I ask you to grant that nature is extraordinary and that so is culture; and meaning is embedded in the community, in our natural and cultural togetherness.
As I also mentioned in my first post, my particular form of radicalism, if you will, is called Poetic Atheism. I am not in the least against science, indeed, one aspect of Poetic Atheism is to pay attention to the celebrations of science that have been made by artists and writers who really knew how to stoke up some awe or translate a moment of natural transcendence into something articulable and even more fully memorable. But Poetic Atheism does poke a little fun at science. My PhD is in the history of science (Columbia, 1995) and if the philosophy of science is about how science works, it is not untrue to say that the history of science is about how science doesn’t work, or rather how it is a cultural production and, like all cultural productions, a lot of it changes over time in waves of fashion. The hard sciences are obviously more durable, but even medicine, which features a great deal of experiment and measurement, changes its mind about everything every few decades and it is all a lot more kaleidoscopic than linear progress. There’s just no good reason to set science up, all by itself, against religion. You want your friend’s cancer treatment to be up to date, up to the minute, but you read Sappho at your wedding – art can be thousands of years old and still stir a community and move people to tears. You may love the Renaissance but you don’t want to use their toilet paper or take their doctors’ advice. The art still does work, though, strong as the day it was made.
Much of what religion used to do for people, after all, has also gone on in the humanities, without God, all throughout history. Almost all the best poets wrote without recourse to the supernatural – that is why they were poets, they were knocking their heads against the questions of meaning and life and death given the world as it evidently presents itself to us, (as even the Bible tells us): “Dust to dust” and “All is vanity.”
When someone prays in Shakespeare’s plays something bad follows quickly after. The Bard solves nothing with Jesus. He says we are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little lives are rounded with a sleep. That is not Christian theology, it is secular philosophy, poetic philosophy. John Keats does not, upon seeing the first specks of blood in his coughing handkerchief, begin writing Odes to Mother Mary. He says instead “When I have fears that I may cease to be…” when he is tortured by the thought of missing life as a celebrated poet, and missing love and family, he doesn’t throw himself before an altar, but rather goes down to the beach to stare at the ocean and think “til love and fame to nothingness do sink.” Natural beauty (and science beauty and its attendant oddly-unifying cosmic awe), and art, the very art of the poem, are historically sufficient to float the human heart across the sea of life’s troubles. Of course, it only works if you are aware of it. That’s where Poetic Atheism comes in, as my proselytizing is really just a vehicle for the delights of secular culture.
I shall soon return with another classic poem dear to the atheist’s heart – something perhaps about the delightful permanence of impermanence (I’m thinking Shelley but also have a think on how long those Gettysburgian lines about being forgotten have gotten remembered, I envision a posthumous wink from Lincoln just thinking about it)? Or should it be some solace for the grief?
Catcha on the flip  

bookmark_borderAtheistic Teleological Arguments, Part 2: Salmon’s Argument(s) Formulated

As I read him, Salmon presents multiple arguments against the design hypothesis. Let us consider the logical form of each argument in turn. Note that all of the argument labels are mine; Salmon does not label any of his arguments in his essay.
A. The Argument Against an Unspecified Intelligent Designer
This is the argument Salmon sketches in section 3 of his essay. Let A be any instance of coming-into-being; B be any instance of the operation of intelligence; and C be any instance that exhibits order or design. Finally, let Pr-F represent a probability value, as interpreted by the frequency theory.
(1) For the class of entities which come into being, non-intelligent causation is at least as plausible as intelligent design, i.e., Pr-F(~B | A) >= Pr-F(B | A).
(2) The antecedent probability that an unspecified entity exhibits order, conditional upon intelligent design, is high, i.e., Pr-F(C | A & B) > 0.5.
(3) The antecedent probability that an unspecified entity exhibits order, conditional upon the lack of intelligent design, is low, i.e., Pr-F(C | A & ~B) < 0.5.
(4) Therefore, an unspecified entity, which came into being and exhibited order, has a low posterior probability of being “produced by intelligent design,” i.e., Pr-F(B | A & C) < 0.5. [From (1), (2), and (3) by Bayes’s Theorem]
B. The Argument Against a Disembodied Designer
I am not sure whether Salmon intended for this to be treated as an independent argument or not; I have chosen to err on the side of “completeness” by treating this as an independent argument. It may be more accurate to say that Salmon merely provided an argument fragment, since his comments in section 4 seem to provide some but not all of the premises needed for a Bayesian argument against a disembodied designer. In fact, this seems to me to be the most charitable interpretation. Since Salmon does not rely upon these premises in his other arguments (see below), this interpretation is the only way I am able to see how his explicitly stated premises could be relevant to anything.
Let D be the hypothesis that the hypothesized intelligent designer is a disembodied mind; and let U be the event of the creation of the universe. Note that D entails B; hence, Pr(D) <= Pr(B).
(1) For the single case of the creation of the universe, the limit of the relative frequency of artifacts produced by a disembodied intelligence is zero, i.e., Pr-F(B & D | A) = 0.
(2) Pr-F(C | A & B & D & U) is undefined.
(3) ????
C. Argument for Explanatory Parity of Mechanical Causation and Intelligent Design
This argument is found in section 4 of Salmon’s essay. The focus of this argument is the hypothesis of intelligent design sans moral attributes.
Let M be any instance of coming-into-being as a result of mechanical causation.
(1) Mechanical causation is at least as plausible as intelligent design, i.e., Pr-F(M | A & U) >= Pr-F(B | A & U).
(2) The event of the creation of the universe is antecedently just as probable on the assumption that it is the result of mechanical causation as it is on the assumption that it is the result of intelligent design, i.e., Pr-F(U | A & M) = Pr-F(U | |A & B)
(3) Therefore, the posterior probability of the creation of the universe by mechanical causation is at least great as the posterior probability on the design hypothesis, i.e., Pr-F(U | A & M) >= Pr-F(U | A & B). [From (1) & (2) by Bayes’s Theorem]
D. Argument Against Theistic Intelligent Design
Also found in Section 4 of Salmon’s essay, the focus of this argument is an omnibenevolent intelligent designer. Since the context is the single case of the creation of the universe, I interpret such a designer to be identical to God.
Let O represent the hypothesis that the intelligent designer is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly benevolent; and let E represent known facts about apparently gratuitous evil.
(1) For the single case of the creation of the universe, mechanical causation is at least as plausible as intelligent design, i.e., Pr-F(M | A & U) >= Pr-F(B & O | A & U).
(2) The event of the creation of the universe conjoined with known facts about apparently gratuitous evil are more probable on the assumption that the mechanical hypothesis is true than on the assumption the theistic intelligent design hypothesis is true, i.e., Pr(U & E | A & M) > Pr(U & E | A & B & O).
(3) Therefore, the creation of the universe has a higher posterior probability of being the result of mechanical causation than the result of theistic intelligent design, i.e., Pr(M | A & E & U) > Pr(B & O | A & E & U).
E. Argument Against Theism
In section 8, Salmon describes two hypothetical epistemic situations. For each situation, he provides the premises for a Bayesian argument. These two examples suggest the following argument form.
(1) The hypothesis of theistic intelligent design is antecedently implausible because it is in direct conflict with a large body of well-established theory.
(2) The theistic intelligent design hypothesis makes the occurrence of the facts to be explained quite improbable if it is true.
(3) There is a plausible alternative hypothesis (i.e., the mechanical hypothesis) which makes the facts to be explained highly probable.
(4) Therefore, the theistic intelligent design hypothesis is very improbable.

Series on Atheistic Teleological Arguments

bookmark_borderTed Drange on the Logical Coherence of Atheism

Theodore M. Drange
Theodore M. Drange

Ted Drange just me the following response to Vasko Kohlmayer’s column, “Atheism: Why It is Logically Incoherent.”

Toward the end of his essay, the author writes:

But even as the atheist tries to make his point, he unwittingly falls into a trap: If his worldview were true, then the principle of non-contradiction – or any other rule of logic – would be void of meaning.

Why? Because within atheism reality is ultimately composed of only matter and motion. If atheism is true, then everything in the universe must be explainable in terms of these two.

Rules of logic, however, possess properties that cannot be explained in terms of matter and motion. After all, rules of logic are immaterial, abstract, universal and unchanging.

None of these qualities can be explained by what the atheist claims constitutes reality. Such properties simply do not fit into a materialistic picture of the universe.

On atheism, rules of logic should not even exist. But they do exist. Atheists themselves testify to this fact every time they make a logical argument to “prove” their point.

To put it another way, they presuppose that which their outlook implicitly denies.

It is crucial that we grasp this point: Atheists claim that everything is ultimately matter and motion, and yet in their reasoning they resort to categories which cannot be accounted for by matter and motion. This constitutes a contradiction at the very heart of atheistic thought.

If atheism were true, then human reasoning – which is based on rules of logic – would be a futile exercise.

Thus every time an atheist puts forth a logical argument in support of his position, he refutes that which he seeks to defend.

Atheism is not a logically coherent position, because it cannot account for the very tools which its adherents use to justify their beliefs.

If they really wanted to be consistent, proponents of atheism would have to relinquish their worldview.

I gather from that the following:

1. He is not defending theism against my atheistic argument, but rather, putting forward a general attack on atheism (one that is nothing new).

2. His argument could be summarized as follows:

(a) Atheism implies materialism.
(b) Atheism also presupposes that logical laws exist.
(c) Materialism can’t adequately explain the existence of logical laws.
(d) Therefore, it is impossible for materialism, and hence atheism, to be true.

3. There are some deep philosophical issues involved in that piece of reasoning. One of them is that of what it might mean to speak of logical laws as “existing.” And another is that of what it might mean to speak of “explaining the existence of logical laws.” One who delves into those issues might be able to come up with good objections to premise (b) and/or premise (c) of the argument. (I am not inclined to attempt such philosophizing at the present time.)

4. Premise (a) of the argument is clearly false. Atheism merely claims that God does not exist. It has nothing to say about non-material things in general. Some atheists are materialists, denying that there are any non-material things, but there is no need for an atheist to go that route. Atheists could quite consistently accept the existence of some non-material things (numbers, propositions, etc.) and yet deny that God exists. That in itself refutes the argument.

5. I would also argue that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Even if there were something that materialism could not adequately explain, it would not follow that materialism would need to be false. The thing that materialism could not explain might be something that it is absolutely impossible to explain.

6. The author hints that theism could adequately explain the existence of logical laws, but that is something I would strongly deny.

Related Posts:

God and ‘The Laws of Logic’” by Keith Parsons

bookmark_borderWar on Thanksgiving?

Many religious believers and atheists alike express regret at the crass materialism shown this time of year, when Thanksgiving now represents the prelude to a shopping spree for Christmas presents on “Black Friday.” I gained an appalling insight watching television on the Saturday after “Black Friday.” First I saw frenzied crowds of Egyptian protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, risking their lives to demand freedom. Then I saw frenzied crowds of American shoppers, trying to push others aside to save a few dollars on sale merchandise. Though their causes were significantly different, the crowds looked the same. This is not a form of American “exceptionalism” to be proud of.
In recent years we were subjected to a media-manufactured “War on Christmas,” when pundits decry those who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” This year breaks new ground, because we just had a manufactured “War on Thanksgiving,” allegedly started by our commander-in-chief. President Obama gave a three-minute Thanksgiving Day speech without the word “God” in it. Here is a portion of what he said:
“We’re especially grateful for the men and women who defend our country overseas. To all the service members eating Thanksgiving dinner far from your families: the American people are thinking of you today. And when you come home, we intend to make sure that we serve you as well as you’re serving America. We’re also grateful for the Americans who are taking time out of their holiday to serve in soup kitchens and shelters, making sure their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. This sense of mutual responsibility – the idea that I am my brother’s keeper; that I am my sister’s keeper – has always been a part of what makes our country special. And it’s one of the reasons the Thanksgiving tradition has endured.”
Imagine that. President Obama gave an inclusive speech showing support for the men and women who serve overseas, and also praised those who help the less fortunate at this time of year. He even provided a biblical reference that this atheist likes, the one about being our brother’s keeper (and the updated sister’s keeper). However, many Christians would have preferred he thank an imagined God rather than the real people he did thank.
They probably would have been upset, too, had Obama read from the U.S. Constitution, a document with no mention of a god. We’re a country of both believers and non-believers, so Obama shouldn’t have to say anything about God, one way or another. Atheists and theists can agree on the value of setting aside at least one day per year to give thanks, though we may disagree over “to whom” and “for what.” This should properly be left to individuals. On Thursday, I thanked my friends who prepared a wonderful Thanksgiving meal and provided us with the opportunity to share each other’s company.
I expect the manufactured war on Christmas will soon begin. Despite our secular Constitution, some continue to call this a Christian country, but others now refer to it as a Judeo-Christian country. So “Happy Holidays” is no more a war on Christmas than it is a war on Hanukkah.
There are lots of reasons for the season, some good and some bad. Here’s my best reason for all seasons, for both theists and atheists: A reminder that the best wish of all is “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women.”

bookmark_borderAtheistic Teleological Arguments, Part 1

Wesley Salmon

Since Michael Martin begins his chapter on atheistic teleological arguments (ATAs) with a discussion of Wesley Salmon’s 1978 article, “Religion and Science: A New Look at Hume’s Dialogues,” let us review Salmon’s argument.[1] My goal now is simply to figure out what Salmon’s argument is; I will defer an assessment of Salmon’s argument until later. Some readers, especially those who are not philosophers or who are not familiar with the different interpretations of probability–may just want to skip this summary and jump straight to the later post in this series which gives the logical form of Salmon’s argument.

It is unfortunate (and inconvenient) that Salmon never explicitly stated the logical form of his argument in his 1978 article.[2] For that reason, then, I’ll attempt to provide a summary of his article, without commentary, before offering what I consider to be the logical form of Salmon’s argument.
Salmon’s article divides into ten sections:
1. The Design Argument
2. Causal Hypotheses and Bayes’s Theorem
3. Philo’s Estimates
4. The Uniqueness of the Universe
5. Order and Purpose
6. The Concept of Order
7. Modern Cosmology
8. Assessment of the Hypothesis
9. The Relevance of the Scientific Evidence
10. Postscript: Hume’s Intentions
Here is a brief summary of each section.
(1) The Design Argument: Salmon sets the stage for his argument by reviewing Hume’s discussion of the design argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Philo, presumably speaking for Hume, focuses on “experimental theism,” viz., “the thesis that the existence of God can be approached as a scientific hypothesis, and that His existence can be established with a high degree of confirmation by observational evidence.” According to Salmon, Hume recognized that design arguments must be evaluated the same way we evaluate “causal hypotheses in science” (170).
(2) Causal Hypotheses and Bayes’s Theorem: Salmon’s stated preference for analyzing causal hypotheses is to use Bayes’s theorem. Let A be any instance of coming-into-being; B be any instance of the operation of intelligence; and C be any instance that exhibits order or design.[3] Finally, let Pr-F represent a probability value, as interpreted by the frequency interpretation of probability, viz., the limit of the relative frequency. We can then use Bayes’s theorem to analyze the proportion of entities in B which occur in the total sample space, which is defined by A & C:

The value on the left-hand side of Bayes’s Theorem, Pr-F(B | A & C), is the final or posterior probability. Salmon identifies the three values that must be known in order to determine this value:
(a) Prior probability of B: In symbols, this is Pr-F(B | A); in English, this is the probability that an instance is the operation of intelligence, conditional upon that instance being an entity which comes into being. As Salmon correctly points out, if we know this value then we can easily calculate the other prior probability: Pr-F(~B | A) = 1 – Pr-F(B | A).
(b) Likelihood of C: In symbols, this is Pr-F(C | A & B); in English, this is the probability that an entity exhibits order, conditional upon that entity being a result of intelligence, i.e., intelligent design.
(c) Likelihood of ~C: In symbols, this is Pr-F(C | A & ~B); in English, this is the probability than an entity exhibits order, conditional upon that entity not being the result of intelligent design.
While major figures in inductive logic disagree about the best way to interpret these probability values (e.g., classical, frequency, epistemic, etc.), according to Salmon many such figures have accepted the use of Bayes’s theorem to assess scientific hypotheses.
(3) Philo’s Estimates: Salmon’s belief is that Hume addressed the three types of probability values just listed in order to assess theism using Bayes’s theorem, despite Hume’s apparent ignorance of it. Salmon then proceeds to summarize how Philo assessed the requisite values to apply Bayes’s Theorem to the hypothesis of intelligent design.
(a) Prior probability of B. Salmon explained that Philo identified four types of causation:
(i) order resulting from reproductive biological causation (hereafter, “biological generation”);
(ii) order resulting from non-reproductive biological causation, e.g., bees making honeycombs, spiders making spider webs, etc. (hereafter, “instinct”);
(iii) mechanical causation, e.g., formation of snowflakes, galaxies, etc. (hereafter, “mechanical order”); and
(iv) intelligent design.
Given the sheer quantity of known entities which fall into types (i), (ii), and (iii), Philo argued, the prior probability–i.e., the limit of the relative frequency–of something coming into being as the result of intelligence is “incredibly small” while the prior probability of its denial is high (174). As Salmon points out, the quantity of entities of type (iii), includes the number of galaxies (10 billion), stars (10-100 billion per galaxy), and atoms (1050 atoms in our sun alone), is now known to be much greater than what Hume supposed.
(b) Likelihood of C. Salmon, like Hume, acknowledges this value may be “quite high,” but points out the posterior probability of B “may still be quite low” if Pr-F(~B | A) and Pr-F(C | A & ~B) are large enough (175). According to Salmon, “Philo brings out these considerations quite explicitly” (175).
(c) Likelihood of ~C. As Salmon correctly points out, Philo provided evidence that this value is not negligible, given his examples of reproductive biological, non-reproductive biological, and mechanical causation.
Salmon concludes that Hume provided arguments to justify all of the values “which appear on the right-hand side of Bayes’s theorem” (175). Accordingly, if we apply Bayes’s theorem to “an unspecified entity, which came into being and exhibited order,” the (frequency) probability that it “was produced by intelligent design is rather low” (175).
(4) The Uniqueness of the Universe: Based on the results of the previous section, one might be tempted to construct a Bayesian argument against theism, based upon the evidence that the universe is an object exhibiting order. Salmon correctly points out, however, the matter “cannot be settled that easily” (176): the event of the creation of the universe is a single case. Salmon is well aware that single case probabilities are notoriously problematic in probability theory,[4] especially for the frequency interpretation of probability, which is Salmon’s interpretation.[5] The general rule for dealing with single case probabilities, as he puts it, “is to refer to the individual case to the broadest homogeneous class available–i.e., to the broadest class that cannot be relevantly subdivided” (176).[6]
In order to select the broadest homogeneous reference class for the creation of the universe, Salmon says, we must carefully consider both (i) “the type of order the universe exhibits;” and (ii) “the nature of the intelligent creator hypothesized by the proponent of natural theology,” viz., the divine attributes according to classical theism (176). Regarding (i), Salmon interprets Hume as arguing that the type of order exhibited by the universe more closely resembles mechanical order than biological reproductive order (177). As for (ii), Salmon identifies the traditional set of divine attributes: a disembodied mind who created the universe and is intelligent, powerful, and benevolent (178).
Let’s suppose that Salmon is right about (i) and (ii). What, then, is the “broadest homogeneous reference class” for the event of the creation of the universe, according to Salmon? He doesn’t say explicitly. As I read him, he seems to consider three possible answers. Let us consider each in turn.
(a) The Disembodied Designer Option. Traditional theism defines God as, among other things, a disembodied mind. So this option identifies the broadest homogeneous reference class to be artifacts produced by a disembodied intelligence. Using that reference class, Salmon argues that “since disembodied intelligence has never operated in any fashion,” the relative frequency of artifacts resulting from disembodied intelligence is zero. Hence, Pr-F(B | A) = 0. Pr-F(C | B & A) is undefined.
(b) The Mechanical Order and Design Hypothesis without Moral Attributes Option: Let M represent mechanical order. Since M entails ~B, M is logically equivalent to M & ~B. According to Salmon, that the prior probability of mechanical order is equal to or greater than the prior probability of intelligent design sans moral attributes, i.e., Pr-F(M | A) >= Pr-F(B | A). Furthermore, the likelihood of the order exhibited by the universe is equal on both the mechanical hypothesis and the design hypothesis (sans moral attributes), i.e., Pr-F(C | M & A) = Pr-F(C | A).
(c) The Mechanical Order and Design Hypothesis with Moral Attributes Option: Let O represent the hypothesis that the intelligent designer is omnibenevolent. If we include moral attributes in the definition of the intelligent designer, Salmon argues, then the intelligent design hypothesis has a lower likelihood than the mechanical hypothesis, i.e., Pr-F(C | M & A) > Pr-F(C | O & B & A).
How does Salmon support that judgment of likelihood values? By employing a probabilistic argument about apparently gratuitous evil.[7] Salmon points out that Philo, in the eleventh dialogue, asks if empirical facts about the world are what we would antecedently expect on theism. Philo then lists four ways in which an all-powerful creator could have reduced the amount of evil in the world if He had wanted to: (i) pain need not be inflicted upon man; (ii) God need not have governed the world by inviolable general laws; (iii) God could have endowed human beings and other species with additional abilities to make their existence less hazardous; and (iv) God could have better designed the universe so that the “springs and principles” of nature do not run into one of the 2 extremes of “feast or famine.” Salmon concludes that Pr(B & O | A & C) is very low.[8]
If the prior probability of M and B & O are equal but M has a higher likelihood, then it follows that the mechanical hypothesis has a higher posterior probability than the moral designer hypothesis (i.e., theism), i.e., Pr-F(M | A & C) > Pr(B & O | A & C).
(5) Order and Purpose: In Hume’s Dialogues, Cleanthes’ most careful statement of the design argument “describes the universe as a ‘great machine,’ composed of a prolific array of ‘lesser machines,’ all of which are characterized by ‘the curious adapting of means to ends'” (182). In other words, Cleanthes “appeals to a teleological conception of order” in his defense of the design argument (182). Philo, however, responded to Cleanthes by pointing out that equating order and design “flagrantly begs the question” (183). Salmon contends that the theist who proclaims that the order exhibited by the universe is evidence of intelligent design must make an “a priori announcement,” an “anthropomorphic concept” which the proponent of “experimental theism” eschews (183).
According to Salmon, Hume’s eighth dialogue contains “a rather clear anticipation of a non-teleological theory of biological evolution” (183). Just as Galileo and Newton removed Aristotelian teleological conceptions from physics,[8] Salmon argues, Darwin “rid the biological sciences of their teleological elements.” Salmon concludes, “Order in the physical world, and in its biological realms, was shown to be independent of intelligent design” (183).
(6) The Concept of Order: In this section, Salmon delivers the clarified concept of order he promised earlier in section 3. According to Salmon, the universe exhibits two kinds of order: (i) physical objects obey physical laws; and (ii) the universe “exhibits an orderly configuration” (184).
Furthermore, Salmon writes, scientists have developed the concept of entropy, which turns out to be useful for clarifying the kind of order we find in the world. Entropy, he says, is “a measure of the unavailability of energy to do mechanical work” (185). Thus, to say that the entropy of the universe is low “is tantamount to saying that the universe contains large stores of available energy” (185). Using statistical interpretations of thermodynamics and entropy, scientists discovered that low entropy is associated with non-random, highly ordered arrangements, which are relatively improbable, while high entropy is associated with random, unordered arrangements which are relatively probable.
If we apply the concept of entropy to the role “order” plays in the design argument, Salmon says, we can determine the percentage of physical systems which “come into being in low entropy states” and which “are created with conscious design” (186). What is that percentage? According to Salmon, “An exceedingly small proportion of low entropy systems–i.e., systems which are highly organized and orderly–result from an interaction with the environment which involves any conscious purpose or design.”
(7) Modern Cosmology: Relying upon physicist Steven Weinberg, Salmon rehearses the state of modern cosmology in 1978, which includes scientific evidence (a) for Big Bang cosmology; and (b) regarding the number of galaxies (10B), stars per galaxy (10B), and atoms per star (1050). Salmon takes this to be unparalleled in human history. He asks, “Where in the annals of human history can we find like numbers of systems created in low entropy states by conscious human intervention?” (187).
(8) Assessment of the Hypothesis: Salmon summarizes his assessment of the scientific evidence; he concludes that modern scientific evidence pushes “the posterior probability of intelligent design even closer to zero” (188).
(9) The Relevance of the Scientific Evidence: Salmon concludes that his analysis of the scientific evidence “tend[s] to show that there is no intelligent creator [of the universe] (although it is admittedly irrelevant to other theological hypotheses)” (189).
(10) Postscript: Hume’s Intentions: Salmon attempts to defend his interpretation of Hume. Since I am uninterested in that topic, I will not summarize this section.

Series on Atheistic Teleological Arguments

[1] Salmon did not label his argument an “atheistic teleological argument;” in fact, so far as I can tell, Salmon did not name his argument at all. The name was coined by Michael Martin in his Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).
[2] Wesley Salmon, “Religion and Science: A New Look at Hume’s Dialogues.” In Michael Martin and Ricci Monier, The Improbability of God (Buffalo: Prometheus, 2006), 167-93. Originally published in Philosophical Studies 33 (1978): 143-76. Further references will be provided in the body of this article.
[3] I owe this formulation of Salmon’s classes to Sally Ferguson, “Bayesianism, Analogy, and Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” Hume Studies 28:1 (April 2002): 113-130 at 119.
[4] Wesley Salmon, The Foundations of Scientific Inference (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1967), 90-93.
[5] Salmon 1967, 91-92.
[6] As Salmon notes, Carl G. Hempel argued for a similar requirement, his requirement of maximal specificity. Cf. Carl G. Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York: Free Press, 1965), 397-403, cited in Salmon 2006, 192, n. 14.
[7] Although Salmon states, “It is crucial to realize that Philo is not raising the traditional theological problem of evil” (178), I interpret this to mean that Philo is not raising the logical argument from evil.
[8] O is my invention; I have inserted O into the expression in order to make explicit the role of the designer’s moral attributes. Salmon’s article keeps that implicit and so he writes about Pr(B | A & C). Also, I am unsure which interpretation of probability Salmon had in mind when he wrote that Pr(B | A & C) is low. In the rest of the article, he employs a frequency interpretation, but his reference to “antecedently expect” followed by a listing of four reasons seems to make more sense on an epistemic interpretation than on a frequency interpretation.
[9] It might be more accurate to say that Galileo and Newton removed the need for a Platonic teleology (i.e., teleology put there by a divine intelligence), not an Aristotelian teleology.

bookmark_borderAtheistic Teleological Arguments: Index

I first learned about so-called “atheistic teleological arguments” (ATAs) when I read Michael Martin’s Atheism: A Philosophical Justification in 1995. When I first read Martin’s chapter on ATAs, I found them very puzzling. Since 1995 I have thought about them off and on but without investing the time to really understand them. Since I have learned much about Bayesian confirmation theory since 1995, I’ve decided to finally attempt a formal assessment of ATAs once and for all.
The purpose of this post is to provide an index for all Secular Outpost articles which discuss ATAs.
Part 1: Wesley Salmon’s Article Summarized
Part 2: Salmon’s Argument(s) Formulated
Part 3: Assessment of Salmon’s Argument
Part 4: Michael Martin’s Expanded Version
Part 5: Dawkins’s Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit
Part 6: Richard Dawkins’s Chapter Summarized

bookmark_borderAmazon Review of my Hell Essay

Someone named James D. Zimmerman has reviewed the volume The End of Christianity, edited by John Loftus (Prometheus; 2011) on Amazon. I found this paragraph especially interesting:

So, “many Christian denominations have long since dispensed with hell?” I wonder which ones these are. Catholics? The Greek Orthodox? Southern Baptists? Here is what the Greek Orthodox Catechism says awaits people following the final judgment:
The condition of each individual will no more be changed, but those, who have gone into Paradise will live in Heaven eternally happy, and those who have gone into Punishment will live in Hades eternally unhappy (page 39).
The Roman Catholic Catechism says the following:
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs (section 1035).
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the following on May 9, 1963, as part of a statement of Baptist Faith and Message:
God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will he raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.
(Each of these sources is available online.)
Have these doctrines been officially renounced? When and where? By whom? Catholics and Baptists no longer believe in an eternal punitive hell? I am afraid I will need more than Mr. Zimmerman’s assurance on that point.
Mr. Zimmerman complains that I offer accounts of hell from non-biblical sources. My critique is aimed at the traditional doctrine of hell as expressed by the most orthodox, learned, and influential philosophers, theologians, preachers, and teachers of mainstream Christian traditions, and this is why I cited the views of such persons. In short, my critique is aimed at the opinions of Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, et al. Now Mr. Zimmerman might prefer that I address only the Biblical sources on the afterlife, but, alas, my essay was not written with his preferences in mind. Mr. Zimmerman, of course, has the right to focus on whatever sources he pleases, but then I have the right to have my essay judged on its on terms.
Now what really seems to be getting to Mr. Zimmerman, the real basis of his ire, seems to be that I could not resist some snide remarks at the expense of Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin. Zimmerman huffs that “any honest Christian” is sure to be put off by such remarks. Gee, I know a number of honest Christians who dislike Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin even more than I do. I can only conclude that Mr. Zimmerman has tacitly defined “honest Christian” as those who share his political predilections. And he thinks that I am arrogant?
Maybe I am expecting too much from a review posted on Amazon, since, apparently, anybody can post pretty much anything there. Still, it would be nice to get a response that exhibited a modicum of intelligence. Or at least spelled my name right.

“The weakest links in the book are Dr. Keith Parson’s “Hell” and Dr. David Eller’s “Is Religion Compatible with Science?” (chapters 10 and 11). Since this is specifically a book focusing on Christianity, it’s unclear why Eller spends over four pages defining religion in general (258-262). And since many Christian denominations have long since dispensed with hell, Parson’s chapter will be entirely irrelevant to them. For those stalwart bible-literalists, Parson [Sic. Actually, it is “Parsons.” I
f you criticize someone you should at least get his name right.] wastes three pages offering descriptions of hell from extra-biblical sources (such as Dante, Jonathan Edward [Sic. Actually it is “Edwards.”], and James Joyce). Any honest Christian – and they are the target audience (20) – who sloughs through those pages, is sure to be put off by Parson comparing former Vice President Dick Cheney to Hitler and Stalin (238) and calling Sarah Palin a fool (246). Such mud-slinging is needless, even hypocritical; Parson’s later decries apologist Jerry Walls as “insufferably arrogant” for saying “only the irremediably wicked” reject Christ (253).”

bookmark_borderHelp Wanted: What is the Primary Source for This Quotation of Bertrand Russell?

From time to time I run across the familiar story about Bertrand Russell being asked how he would justify his nonbelief if he were suddenly in the presence of God. According to the story, Russell replied, “I’d say, ‘Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!”

The earliest source I have been able to find for this quotation is:

Wesley Salmon, “Religion and Science: A New Look at Hume’s Dialogues.” Philosophical Studies 33 (1978): 143-76 at 176, n. 20.

Does anyone know if Salmon’s article is the primary source?

bookmark_borderArgument Against the Resurrection of Jesus – Part 3

David Marshall has posted a critique of my first post in this series about the resurrection of Jesus.

Here is the first in the series of my posts on the resurrection:

Here is Marshall’s critique of that post:

There are several points of criticism raised by Marshall (about 11 that I see). I have replied to two of Marshall’s objections in the comments section of my initial post. Here I shall focus on one of the more significant objections raised by Marshall in his critique.

Marshall first quotes a passage from my initial post:


“My position on the resurrection claim is that it should be analyzed into two main claims:”

1. Jesus died on the cross on Friday of Passover week (and remained dead for at least six hours).”

2. Jesus was alive and walking around on the Sunday following Friday of Passover week (or within a few days after that Sunday).”

The exact dates do not seem of absolute importance, but let’s follow this and see where it goes.

“However, even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that (2) is true, the evidence for the resurrection still falls short of what is required, because the combination of (1) and (2) is a physical impossibility (more or less). So, in supposing (2) to be true, the requirement of evidence to establish (1) becomes rather difficult to achieve.”


Then Marshall raises an objection to this passage:


This looks like begging the question. Yes, it can be assumed that miracles don’t happen — if they don’t. But if it is even POSSIBLE that God is real, then it is not “physically impossible” that Jesus rose from the dead. …

Owen [sic] appears to be assuming, before looking at the evidence, that it is impossible that God exists. That would not seem to be the correct first step in discovering whether or not He does in fact exist. …


Does the reasoning in the passage quoted from my post on the resurrection involve the fallacy of begging the question?

I. An Objection Worthy of Serious Consideration

First of all, this is an objection that needs to be taken seriously. Begging the Question is all too common in discussions and debates about religion, so it is quite possible that I have stumbled into this fallacy that is so tempting for people when engaged in argument about religious beliefs.

Secondly, whenever a miracle claim is being discussed and debated, the problem of avoiding the fallacy of begging the question is particularly of concern, because, as I shall explain later, it is not at all obvious how atheists and theists can avoid begging the question when miracle claims are what is at issue.

So, even if Marshall fails to prove that my reasoning involves begging the question, that will not put my reasoning completely in the clear. For, we need to figure out, in general, what counts as begging the question, as well as what counts as begging the question when discussing miracle claims, whether it is even possible to avoid begging the question on such issues, and finally, how in particular atheists and theists can rationally and objectively discuss and debate such issues, without either side engaging in the fallacy of begging the question.

Once such principles and guidelines have been spelled out, then we can return to my reasoning, and evaluate it in relation to those principles and guidelines to see if it is in keeping with them or not. In short, whether or not Marshall can prove his objection to be correct, he has raised a point that is certainly worthy of further thought and discussion.

II. “Yes, it can be assumed that miracles don’t happen–if they don’t.”

Marshall clearly implies that my reasoning in the quoted passage makes the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’. However, nowhere in the passage do I assert that ‘miracles don’t happen’. In fact, the word ‘miracles’ does not occur anywhere in the passage that Marshall quoted. Nor does any synonym for ‘miracles’ occur, nor any phrase that could substitute for the word ‘miracles’. Since there is no explicit claim made about ‘miracles’ in this passage, it far from obvious that my reasoning makes the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’.

I concede the obvious point that IF my reasoning does involve the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’ then my reasoning does involve the fallacy of begging the question, and my reasoning should, in that case, be rejected. But in looking over the claims I make in the quoted passage, I don’t see any claims (or set of claims) that makes the assumption that ‘miracles don’t happen’. So, unless Marshall can clearly explain which specific claim or claims I have made involve this assumption and how it is that they involve this assumption, I do not see any good reason to accept his assertion that such an assumption is made in the passage he quoted from my post.

III. “But if it is even POSSIBLE that God is real, then it is not ‘physically impossible’ that Jesus rose from the dead. “

Oddly enough, this statement by Marshall is not only false, but it commits the very same fallacy that Marshall is attempting to show my reasoning to have committed.

Now, I don’t mean that Marshall has begged the question in favor of miracles, but rather that he has himself begged the question against miracles. This was unintentional, no doubt, but nevertheless, his statement, looked at objectively, implies that miracles never happen.

Marshall’s statement above implies the following Physical Impossibility Claim:

(PIC) If it is possible that God exists, then Jesus rising from the dead was NOT physically impossible.

This particular claim about the alleged resurrection of Jesus is presumably based upon a more general Physical Impossibility Principle:

(PIP) If it is possible that God exists, then there are no events that are physically impossible.

But if (PIP) was true, then from the assumption that it is possible that God exists, one could infer that there are no events that are physically impossible. But if no events were physically impossible, then no events would be miracles. In other words, from the possibility that God exists it would follow that ‘miracles don’t happen’. Marshall’s statement implies the very assumption that he accuses my reasoning of making.

In order for an event to be a miracle, it must satisfy at least the following two conditions:

1. The event must involve the violation of a law of nature.

2. The event must be brought about by God.

But an event is physically impossible if and only if it involves a violation of a law of nature. Therefore, if there are no physically impossible events, then there are no events involving a violation of a law of nature. And if there are no events involving a violation of a law of nature, then there are no miracles.

Since Marshall clearly believes that the existence of God is possible, his acceptance of (PIP) commits him to the logical implication that ‘miracles don’t happen’. As soon as Marshall realizes this implication of (PIP), I am confident that he will quickly reject (PIP) as being false, and then we will both agree that the assumption upon which his fallacy charge was based, was a false assumption.

To be continued…