bookmark_borderEmpty Defense of an Empty Tomb: A Reply to Anne A. Kim’s Misunderstandings

I finished this essay many years ago, but due to my hiatus never got around to publishing it until now. It will be announced on the Secular Web’s What’s New?” page very soon. It can be accessed immediately by using the link below, however.
Abstract: William Lane Craig has argued for the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb on the basis of ten lines of evidence. In response, Jeffery Jay Lowder argued that Craig had not yet shown that any of his ten items of evidence make the empty tomb more probable than not. Anne A. Kim has attempted to defend some of Craig’s arguments against Lowder’s objections, but as Lowder shows in this response to Kim, Kim has repeatedly misunderstood his points and attacked caricatures of his arguments rather than his actual arguments.
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bookmark_borderThe Loftus-Torley Exchange

It seems to me that Torley clearly has the upper hand in this exchange so far. As a debate judge, I would “flow” the entire “debate” to Torley up to this point. But that doesn’t mean game over for Loftus, however. In each case, I think Loftus has strong replies available.

Here are my brief comments on Torley’s points.

Mistake #1. Loftus’ failure to take account of prior probabilities

As a Bayesian, I agree that taking account of prior probabilities is essential. Of course, I also think metaphysical naturalism, which entails atheism, has a higher prior probability than theism. And there is no good reason to think that theism has a significantly higher prior probability than naturalism. So this “mistake” should be easy enough for Loftus to overcome.

Mistake #2. Loftus’ illegitimate narrowing of the evidence set

Again, I agree that, if one is to going to conclude that a hypothesis (such as theism) is probably false, one must consider the total relevant evidence. And, again, I think this mistake should be easy enough to correct by demonstrating how typical theistic arguments commit the fallacy of understated evidence. Once one considers the total evidence, it’s far from obvious that God exists.

Mistake #3. Loftus overlooks the fact that his “no-God” hypothesis explains senseless tragedies, only if physicalism is true

At the outset, I’d like to compliment Torley for this creative objection, which I hadn’t run across before. In essence, it asks us to treat physicalism as an auxiliary hypothesis and to consider the evidential implications if physicalism is true and if it is false.

Let’s distinguish between two different ways in which any hypothesis may “explain” the data. One way a hypothesis can explain the data is to make the data more probable than not. Arguments which attempt to show this are called “P-inductive” arguments.

The other way, however, does not require that the hypothesis makes the data more probable than not. Instead, the idea is to show that the data increases the probability of a hypothesis. These arguments are called “C-inductive” arguments. One way to defend a C-inductive argument is to show that the data is more probable on one hypothesis than it is on another, rival hypothesis (i.e., a second hypothesis which is logically incompatible with the first).

Torley may well be correct that, on the assumption that physicalism is false, there is no good P-inductive argument for atheism. But he overlooks the possibility that a strong, C-inductive argument for atheism remains: it may be the case that (and I think is the case) that tragedies like the Sandy Hook massacre are much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.

Furthermore, Loftus could point out three additional facts which would strengthen his argument. (All three of these facts are pretty much plagiarized from Paul Draper’s writings.) First, not only does the world contain much horrific suffering, but it contains relatively little glorious pleasure. Second, horrific suffering often destroys a person, at least psychologically, and prevents them from growing morally, spiritually, and intellectually. Third, God is silent in the face of tragedies like Sandy Hook, in the sense that victims of tragedies rarely report feeling God’s comforting presence. All three of these facts are more probable on the assumption that Loftus’s “no-God” hypothesis is true than on the assumption that God exists.

Mistake #4. Loftus’ “no-God” hypothesis fails to explain the universe in the first place

Loftus has two replies available which, I think, render this objection moot. First, Loftus could point out that Torley has committed the fallacy of understated evidence. Let’s assume that the “no-God” hypothesis indeed fails to explain the universe in the first place. But the fact that the universe exists hardly exhausts the available cosmological evidence. Given that the universe exists, the fact that it began to exist with time, rather than in time, is evidence favoring naturalism over theism. Or again, given that the universe exists, the fact it does not exist on a human scale is evidence which weakly favors naturalism over theism. So it’s far from obvious that the available cosmological evidence, once fully stated, favors theism over naturalism.

Second, Loftus could point out that the evidence from tragedies is prima facie evidence, i.e., that all other evidence held equal, tragedies such as Sandy Hook make the “no-god” hypothesis more probable than the god hypothesis. If other evidence favors God’s existence, then so be it. But that other evidence, if it exists, doesn’t deny the fact that tragedies are more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.

Mistake #5. The physicalistic version of Loftus’ “no-God” hypothesis fails to explain the emergence of life

I think Loftus can use the same two replies to mistake #4 here. In addition, Loftus has a third reply available: cosmological fine-tuning arguments and biological design arguments are at odds with one another.

Mistake #6. Predation is not senseless, but a necessary fact of life

Again, I think Loftus has two replies available. First, predation is a necessary fact of life only because of the laws of nature. If theism is true, however, God could have designed the laws of nature differently so that predation of sentient animals is unnecessary. Second, facts about the biological role of pain and pleasure and the flourishing and languishing of sentient beings are antecedently very much more probable on naturalism than on theism. And note these facts are logically independent of Loftus’s appeal to facts about tragedies, like Sandy Hook.

Mistake #7. Loftus fails to account for the marvel of the human brain

Again, Loftus can point out that, at best, Torley is committing the fallacy of understated evidence. Assume that the complexity of the human brain requires a designer and so is evidence favoring theism over naturalism. Given that a human brain exists, however, the fact the mind depends upon the physical brain is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

bookmark_borderPlantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism refuted

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Here’s my central criticism of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It’s novel and was published in Analysis last year.
Here’s the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true – that’s to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. But this argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it’s actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns out that if such conceptual links exist, then (rather surprisingly!) natural selection will favour true belief even if belief content is epiphenomenal. So, contrary to Plantinga, even if belief content has no causal impact on behaviour, natural selection can still select for true belief. The EAAN is therefore refuted. To resurrect the EAAN, Plantinga would need to show that there no conceptual links of the sort I envisage between content and behaviour, links of a sort that, as I say, do seem to exist.
NATURALISM, EVOLUTION AND TRUE BELIEF
Stephen Law
Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) is currently one of the most widely discussed arguments targeting philosophical naturalism (see, for example, Beilby 2002).  Plantinga aims to show that naturalism, in combination with evolutionary theory, is, as he puts it, ‘incoherent or self-defeating’. His argument turns crucially on the claim that, in the absence of any God-like being to guide the process, natural selection is unlikely to favour true belief. This, Plantinga supposes, is because natural selection selects only for adaptive behaviour. It is irrelevant, from the point of view of unguided evolution, whether the beliefs that happen to cause that adaptive behaviour are true.

I argue that, even in its most recent incarnation, the EAAN fails. In particular, Plantinga overlooks the fact that adherents of naturalism may hold, seemingly quite plausibly, that there exist certain conceptual links between belief content and behaviour. Given conceptual links of the sort I envisage, natural selection will indeed favour true belief.
I then point out a further interesting, and perhaps somewhat surprising, consequence of the existence of such conceptual links: that even if semantic properties such as being a true belief are epiphenomenal – even if such properties have no causal impact on behaviour – unguided evolution will still favour true belief.
The EAAN
For those unfamiliar with the EAAN, here is a brief outline.[1]Let Naturalism (N) be the view that there’s no such person as God or anything at all like God, and Evolution (E) be the view that our cognitive faculties have come to be by way of the processes postulated by contemporary evolutionary theory. Then, argues Plantinga, the combination N&E; is incoherent or self-defeating. This, he maintains, is because if N&E; is true, then the probability that R – that we have reliable cognitive faculties (that is to say, faculties that produce a preponderance of true over false beliefs in nearby possible worlds) – is low. But, concludes Plantinga, anyone who sees that P(R/N&E;) is low then has an undefeatable defeater both for R and for any belief produced by their cognitive faculties, including their belief that N&E;.
But why suppose P(R/N&E;) is low? Plantinga supports this premise by means of a further argument. He begins by asserting that
materialism or physicalism is de rigeur for naturalism… A belief, presuming there are such things, will be a physical structure of some sort, presumably a neurological structure. (Forthcoming: 2)
According to a proponent of naturalism, then, this structure will have both neurophysiological (NP) properties and semantic properties. However, it is, claims Plantinga, unlikely that the semantic properties of the neurological structure will have any causal effect on behaviour:
It is easy to see how beliefs thus considered can enter the causal chain leading to behavior; current science gives us a reasonably plausible account of the process whereby volleys of impulses propagated along the efferent nerves cause muscle contraction, motor output, and thus behavior. It is exceedingly difficult to see, however, how they can enter that chain by virtue of their content. A given belief, it seems, would have had the same causal impact on behavior if it had had the same NP properties, but different content. (Forthcoming: 2-3)
Plantinga concludes that N&E; makes semantic epiphenomenalism (SE) likely. But, says Plantinga, if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Given SE, truth and falsehood will be, as Plantinga puts it, invisibleto natural selection. In which case, (on the modest assumptions that (i) 75% of beliefs produced must be true in order for a cognitive mechanism to be reliable and, (ii) that we have at least 100 such beliefs) P(R/N&E;&SE;) will be low.
So runs the EAAN. Recently, Plantinga has refined the argument by trying to tackle a certain sort of objection. The objection is that by also embracing, for example, reductive materialism (RM), adherents of naturalism may, after all, quite reasonably suppose that they have evolved reliable cognitive faculties. Why so? Well, on Plantinga’s understanding of RM, content properties just are NP properties. But then, because NP properties cause behaviour, and semantic properties just are NP properties, so semantic properties can cause behaviour. And if semantic properties can cause behaviour, then they can, after all, be selected for by unguided evolution.
Plantinga’s argument that P(R/N&E;&RM;) is low
In his most recent presentation of the EAAN, Plantinga attempts to deal with the above objection. He focuses his attention on one semantic property in particular – truth. Even supposing that semantic properties such as being true can causally affect behaviour, why, he asks, should we suppose, that unguided evolution favour beliefs that are true?
According to Plantinga, the combination N&E;&RM; gives us no reason to suppose that the content of belief/neural structures resulting in adaptive behaviour is likely to be true. Suppose the belief/neural structure resulting in a piece of adaptive behaviour has the content q. While the property of having q as content does now enter into the causal chain leading to that behaviour, it doesn’t matter whether q is true:
What matters is only that the NP property in question cause adaptive behaviour; whether the content it constitutes is also true is simply irrelevant. It can do its job of causing adaptive behaviour just as well if it is false as if it is true. It might be true, and it might be false; it doesn’t matter. (Forthcoming:10).
But if the NP property can do its job of causing adaptive behaviour just as well whether the content is true or false, true belief cannot be favoured by natural selection. In which case, concludes Plantinga, (PR/N&E;&RM;) remains low.
Conceptual constraints on likely semantic content
There is, it seems to me, a fatal flaw in even this latest incarnation of the EAAN.
Plantinga supposes that what unguided evolution favours, in the first instance, is adaptive behaviour. As to what causes that behaviour, evolution doesn’t care. True beliefs, false beliefs, something else – it’s all the same to evolution. It is only the result – adaptive behaviour – that is preferred.
But even if unguided evolution doesn’t care what causes adaptive behaviour, just so long as it is caused, it may not follow, given certain further facts about be
lief
that natural selection won’t also favour true belief.
Consider the suggestion that there exist certain conceptual constraints on what content a given belief can, or is likely to, have given its causal relationships to, among other things, behaviour. My claim is that, given the existence of certain conceptual constraints, unguided evolution will then tend to favour true belief.
To begin, let me sketch out a simple illustration of how such constraints might operate.  Suppose we just stipulatively introduce certain terms/concepts. Let’s say that a subject’s belief state has content MC1 iff that state has properties achieving a threshold of at least 30 points, with points allocated thus:
Property A     +20 points
Property B      +15 points.
Property C      +20 points
Property D     -12 points
Notice there’s no one property possession of which is essential if a state is to qualify as having the content MC1. Suppose we similarly stipulate that a subject’s belief state has content MC2iff that state possesses properties achieving a threshold of at least 30 points, with points allocated thus:
Property D     +20 points
Property E      +15 points
Property F      +20 points
Property A     -12 points
Note that if a subject has a belief state with properties A and B, then, ceteris paribus, that state is rather more likely to have the content MC1 than it is the content MC2 (though it might yet turn out to lack content MC1 and possess content MC2 instead if it also possesses properties D, E and F while lacking C). Now suppose that while not all these properties involve causal links to behaviour, some do, namely A, C, D and F. Property A is that of causing behaviour B1 in situation S1, C that of causing behaviour B2 in situation S2, D that of causing behaviour B3 in situation S3, and F that of causing behaviour B4 in situation S4.
Having introduced these conceptual constraints on what it is to have beliefs with the contents MC1 and MC2, we can now see how natural selection might select not only for or against certain behaviours in certain situations, but also for or against these two belief contents. Suppose that exhibiting B1 in S1 and B2 in S2 is in each case adaptive, while exhibiting B3 in S3 or B4 in S4 is maladaptive. Then, other things being equal, natural selection will tend to favour subjects holding beliefs with content BC1 over those holding beliefs with content BC2. So, given conceptual constraints on belief content of the sort outlined above, natural selection need not be blind to belief content. It will select for some contents over others, depending on the kinds of behavioural output with which they are conceptually associated.
So now suppose that constraints of this sort exist on the content of beliefs of the sort with which we are already familiar – contents such as that there is water five miles south, that Paris is the capital of France, and so on. Suppose these constraints conceptually link content with behavioural output. No doubt these constraints will be more complex than in my illustration. But, supposing they exist, with what sort of behaviour is a given content likely to be conceptually linked?
Suppose that, solely in combination with a very strong desire for water, a certain belief/neural structure typically results in a subject walking five miles to the south. Surely, if there are such conceptual links between behaviour and content, then the property of causing that behaviour in that situation will be among those properties lending, as it were, a considerable number of points towards that belief/neural structure achieving the threshold for having the content that there’s water five miles south. Other things being equal, that belief/neural structure is much more likely to have the content that there’s water five miles south than it is, say, the content that there’s isn’t water five miles south, or that there’s water five miles north, or that there’s a mountain of dung five miles south, or that Paris is the capital of Bolivia. Perhaps the belief/neural structure in question might yet turn out to have one of these other contents. We can know a priori, solely on the basis of conceptual reflection, that, ceteris paribus, the fact that a belief/neural structure causes that behaviour in that situation significantly raises the probability that it has the content there’s water five miles south. Among the various candidates for being the semantic content of the belief/neural structure in question, the content that there’s water five miles south will rank fairly high on the list.
But now notice that, given such conceptual constraints exist, unguided evolution will indeed favour true belief. Consider our thirsty human. He has a strong desire for water. He’ll survive only if he walks five miles south to where the only reachable water is located. He does so and survives. Suppose this adaptive behaviour is caused by a certain belief/neural structure. If there are conceptual constraints on belief content of the sort I envisage, and if a belief/neural structure in that situation typically causes subjects to walk five miles south, then it is quite likely to have the content that there’s water five miles south – a true belief. Were our thirsty human to head off north, on the other hand, as a result of his having a belief/neural structure that, in that situation, typically causes subjects to walk five miles north, then it’s rather more likely that the belief in question is that there’s water five miles north. That’s a false belief. Because it is false, our human will die.
So if beliefs/neural structures cause behaviour,
and if there are conceptual constraints linking content with behavioural output of the sort I am suggesting, then natural selection won’t just favour adaptive behaviour. It will also favour true belief.
True, there are other candidates for being the content of the belief that causes our human to head off in the right direction. Perhaps some are more likely candidates. Suppose our human has no conception of miles or south. Then, instead of the belief that causes his behaviour having the content that there’s water five miles south being, perhaps it has instead the content that there’s reachable water thataway. However, notice that, either way, the content of the belief in question is still true.
To sum up: what Plantinga overlooks, it seems to me, is the possibility that there exist conceptual constraints on content of the sort outlined here. The suggestion is that if beliefs are neural structures, then it is at least partly by virtue of its having certain sorts of behavioural consequence that a given neural structure will have the content it does. If such constraints exist, then one cannot, as it were, plug any old belief content into any old neural structure, irrespective of that structure’s behavioural output. We run up against certain conceptual obstacles. If such conceptual constraints exist, it appears natural selection will favour not only adaptive behaviour, but also true belief.
Neither materialism nor functionalism not presupposed
Note that to suggest that such conceptual constraints on belief content exist is not, of course, to presuppose that beliefs are neural structures or that materialism is true. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that substance dualism is true and that beliefs are not neural structures, but soul-stuff structures. Then my suggestion is that we may be able to know on the basis of a little conceptual reflection that if beliefs are soul-stuff structures, and if a given soul-stuff structure in combination with a strong desire for water typically results in subjects walking five miles south, then ceteris paribus that soul-stuff structure is quite likely to have the content that there’s water five miles south, and is rather unlikely to have the content that there’s water five miles north.
Also note that to suggest that there exist conceptual constraints on content given behavioural output is not to presuppose the truth of some reductionist, materialist-friendly theory of content of the sort that Plantinga has gone on to attack[2], such as Dretskian indicator semantics or functionalism. Perhaps belief contents cannot be exhaustively characterized in terms of their causal connections to input and output, as some functionalists claim. That’s not to say that there are no conceptual constraints at all on what the content of a given belief is likely to be, given the causal links that belief has to behaviour. Perhaps there are. Consider my illustration involving contents MC1 and MC2. I stipulated that not all of the weighted properties involved causal connections with behavioural output. Properties B and E involved no such connections. Indeed, B and E might even be properties presenting an insurmountable obstacle to any attempt to characterize the content of MC1 and MC2 in wholly functionalist terms. It wouldn’t follow that there are no conceptual constraints at all on beliefs having content MC1 and MC2 given their behavioural output. Clearly there are.
So, while the combination N&E;&RM; might be self-defeating, it seems that the addition of CC – the thought that there are conceptual constraints on content of the sort I envisage – produces a combination of beliefs that is not, after all, self-defeating. It appears there are ways of embracing naturalism that sidestep Plantinga’s charge of incoherence.
How natural selection can still favour true belief even if SE is true
In fact, it turns out that in order to sidestep Plantinga’s charge of incoherence our naturalist doesn’t even have to sign up to RM. The addition of CC to R&E; aloneis sufficient to rescue naturalism from self-defeat, as I’ll now explain.
As we saw above, Plantinga’s initial worry about naturalism is that it makes semantic epiphenomenalism (SE) likely. He supposes the naturalist will hold that beliefs will be neural structures possessing both neurophysiological (NP) properties and semantic properties. However, Plantinga thinks that only the NP properties of those structures will then have any causal effect behaviour. A given belief would have the same causal impact on behaviour if it had the same NP properties but different semantic properties (or indeed no semantic properties at all).
So now let’s suppose our naturalist actually bites the bullet and accepts SE – they actually accept that the semantic properties of a given neurological structure have no causal impact on behaviour. Plantinga supposes such a naturalist is then compelled to accept that, because natural selection can only select for adaptive behaviour and the properties that cause it, so natural selection cannot select for the semantic property of being true. However, it turns out that Plantinga’s assumption that natural selection favours only adaptive behaviour and the properties that cause it is unwarranted. It turns out, somewhat surprisingly, that, given CC, natural selection will still favour true belief even if the property of being a true belief has no causal impact on behaviour.
To see why, let’s return again to our thirsty human. He has a certain belief/neural structure that, in conjunction his strong desire for water, causes him to walk five miles south. Given the kind of conceptual constraints outlined above, a belief/neural structure that causes a subject to walk five miles south given a strong desire for water will quite probably have the content there’s water five miles south. Notice it really doesn’t matter whether or not that belief/neural structure causes that behaviour by virtue of its having that semantic property. It remains the case that, if that sort of neural structure for whatever reason has that behavioural consequence, then, given CC, it quite probably has the conten
t there’s water five miles south and probably doesn’t have the conceptual content there’s water five miles north. It matters not whether SE is true: the behavioural output of a belief/neural structure still places constraints on its likely content.
But then, given such conceptual constraints, natural selection is likely to favour true belief even if SE is true. Odd though it might seem, given CC, natural selection will favour true belief even if the property of being a true belief has no causal impact on behaviour. This is a rather significant discovery, even setting aside its relevance to Plantinga’s EAAN.
Conclusion
Of course, I am merely making a suggestion. Perhaps there exist no such conceptual constraints on belief content of the sort I envisage. Still, the view that there are such constraints on content is widespread (it is by no means restricted to those wedded to some form of logical behaviourism or functionalism, for example). It seems intuitively obvious to many of us that belief content is not entirely conceptually independent of behavioural output: that one cannot plug any old belief content into any old neural structure (or soul-stuff structure, or whatever) entirely independently of its behavioural output. That intuition would appear to be, philosophically speaking, largely pre-theoretical. It cannot easily be dismissed by Plantinga as a product of some prior theoretical bias towards naturalism and/or materialism.
My central conclusion, then, is this. Plantinga has not shown that naturalism in combination with the theory of evolution is unavoidably self-defeating. It appears that an adherent of N&E; who also supposes CC is true can, after all, quite reasonably suppose they have evolved reliable cognitive faculties.
In response, Plantinga might now try to show that if naturalism is true, there are unlikely to be conceptual constraints on semantic content of the sort I describe. Perhaps he can do this. If so, then the EAAN might be resurrected. But as things stand, it is not naturalism that is defeated, but the EAAN.[3]
Heythrop College, University of London
London W8 5HN
References
Beilby, J. (ed) 2002. Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Plantinga, A. Forthcoming. Content and Natural Selection. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Currently available on-line at Plantinga’s departmental webpage: http://philosophy.nd.edu/people/all/profiles/plantinga-alvin/documents/CONTENTANDNATURALSELECTION.pdf
Page numbers refer to the on-line version.


[1] I here follow the most recent version of the EAAN as presented in Plantinga (Forthcoming).
[2] See the latter part of Plantinga (Forthcoming).
[3] My thanks to Alvin Plantinga for his generous comments on earlier drafts.

bookmark_borderErik Wielenberg: An Inconsistency in Craig’s Defence of the Moral Argument

Abstract. I argue that William Craig’s defence of the moral argument is internally inconsistent. In the course of defending the moral argument, Craig criticizes non-theistic moral realism on the grounds that it posits the existence of certain logically necessary connections but fails to provide an adequate account of why such connections hold. Another component of Craig’s defence
of the moral argument is an endorsement of a particular version of the divine command theory (DCT). Craig’s version of DCT posits certain logically necessary connections but Craig fails to provide an adequate account of why these connections hold. Thus, Craig’s critique of non-theistic moral realism is at odds with his DCT. Since the critique and DCT are both essential elements of his defence of the moral argument, that defence is internally inconsistent.

LINK

Further Comments on http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/reply-to-professor-graham-oppys.html

I shall restrict myself to one small comment on what is a very long post that covers a great deal of ground very quickly.
In my previous post, I wrote this: “Question: Is there a first cause in causal reality? If so, then, causal reality begins with that first cause. Moreover, it might seem right to say that causal reality begins to exist with that first cause. (Of course, “begins” here is not temporal; it is simply causal.)
This elicited the following commentary: “I think Oppy’s question is pretty confused. He asks whether a first cause exists “in” the causal reality, when actually the question is whether there is a first cause OF the causal reality. Only in latter case, it follows that “If so, then, causal reality begins with that first cause“.”

I am thinking of causal reality as the collection of all causal relata. If causal relata are all events, then causal reality is the collection of all causal events (together with the causal relations that hold between them). If causal relata are all states, then causal reality is the collection of all causal states (together with the causal relations that hold between them). If causal relata are diverse — including, say, events, states, objects, agents, and so forth — then causal reality is the collection of all of these events, states, objects, agents, and so forth (together with the causal relations that hold between them).
Let us introduce the neutral term ‘ (causal) thing’ to cover all of the events, states, objects, agents, or whatever that belong to causal reality. The causal relation — the relation of cause and effect — at least partially orders these (causal) things: for any two things, either one is causally prior to the second, or casually posterior to the second, or causally unrelated to the second. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the causal relation is a total order, so that there are no two (causal) things that are causally unrelated. (Note that this is a controversial assumption. I make it here because it is irrelevant for the main point at issue, not because I think that there is no further discussion to be had about it.)
Given that causal reality is totally ordered, there are two possibilities: either there is an infinite regress under the causal relation, or there is a first cause. So there is a genuine question about whether there is a first cause (so long as there is a genuine question about whether there is an infinite regress under the causal relation.) However, IF there is a first cause, then — a fortiori — it belongs to causal reality (it belongs to the collection of causal things).
In short: there is no confusion in my question, or in the comments that come after. Causal reality is a collection of (causal) things. If there is a first cause, then it is the first element IN causal reality. You might think — as theists do — that God is the first cause IN causal reality. However you CANNOT sensibly suppose that God is the cause OF causal reality: it is obvious from the accepted definitions of terms that causal reality CANNOT have a cause.
It is worth noting that, if, for example, you think that only events can be causal relata, then the first cause will be something like God’s making natural reality. In this case, God somehow “participates” in the first cause, but is not identical to it. (God is not an event, so  — if only events can be causal relata — then God cannot be the first cause.) Of course, I have taken no stance in the above discussion on what the terms of the causal relation actually are.
I guess it goes without saying that the “charitable reinterpretation” of the rest of my remarks turns out to be nothing of the sort …

bookmark_borderDoes Belief Require Understanding?

Imagine going to the library at a university with a nuclear physics program and picking up a copy of a peer-reviewed journal in nuclear physics. I’m assuming that you, the reader, are like the 99.99999% of the population by having no ability whatsoever to understand anything in that journal. Unintimidated by the subject matter, you browse the table of contents and randomly pick an article. You try to read it, but discover that there are literally no nouns or verbs in the article you understand. Other than words like “if,” “then,” “and,” or,” and “but,” you have literally no idea what any of the other words mean. Now suppose you have it on good authority that the article does, in fact, make at least one empirical claim, albeit one that requires a Ph.D. in nuclear physics to understand. Call that claim ‘C.’

If you have no ability whatsoever to understand anything in the article, is it possible for you to believe C?

What does this have to do with the philosophy of religion? Well, if belief requires understanding, then it seems to me that this has potentially interesting consequences. For example, consider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. On the assumption the doctrine is coherent, it seems to me that many people, including many Christian theologians and philosophers, agree that the doctrine of the Trinity is hard to understand. And that makes me wonder. Out of all the people who claim to believe the doctrine of the Trinity, how many even understand it?

I am not sure what, if anything, is the ultimate significance of this point. But I don’t think I’ve run across this point in the philosophy of religion literature. (If I’m mistaken, I’d welcome any points to writers who have discussed it.)

bookmark_borderOxford Handbook of Atheism contents

Here’s the contents list of a book coming out in about a year, with some chapters appearing online earlier. It should be interesting…

The Oxford Handbook of Atheism
[FINAL CONTENTS LIST]
Editors: Stephen Bullivant (St Mary’s University College)
and Michael Ruse (Florida State University)
Introduction: The Study of Atheism – Stephen Bullivant (St Mary’s) and Michael Ruse (Florida State)
Part 1: Definitions and Debates
                                    
1. Defining ‘Atheism’ – Stephen Bullivant (St Mary’s)
2. The Case against Atheism – T. J. Mawson (Oxford)
3. Critiques of Theistic Arguments – A. C. Grayling (Birkbeck)
4. Arguments for Atheism – Graham Oppy (Monash)
5. Problems of Evil – Michael L. Peterson (Asbury)
6. Atheism and Morality – Erik J. Wielenberg (DePauw)
7. Atheism and the Meaningfulness of Life – Kimberly A. Blessing (Buffalo State)
8. Aquinas and Atheism – Brian Davies (Fordham)
Part 2: History of (Western) Atheism
9. The Pre-Socratics to the Hellenistic Age – David Sedley (Cambridge)
10. The Roman Empire to the End of the First Millennium – Mark Edwards (Oxford)
11. The Medieval Period – Dorothea Weltecke (Konstanz)
12. Renaissance and Reformation – Denis Robichaud (Notre Dame)
13. The Age of Enlightenment – Alan C. Kors (Pennsylvania)
14. The Nineteenth Century – David Nash (Oxford Brookes)
15. The Twentieth Century – Callum Brown (Dundee)
16. New Atheism – Thomas Zenk (Berlin Free)
Part 3: Worldviews and Systems
17. Humanism – Stephen Law (Heythrop)
18. Existentialism – Alison Stone (Lancaster)
19. Marxism – Peter Thompson (Sheffield)
20. Analytic Philosophy – Charles Pigden (Otago)
21. Jewish Atheism – Jacques Berlinerblau (Georgetown)
22. Buddhism – Andrew Skilton (SOAS)
23. Jainism – Anne Vallely (Ottawa)
24. Hinduism – Jessica Frazier (Kent)
Part 4: Atheism and the Natural Sciences
25. Naturalism and the Scientific Method – Michael Ruse (Florida State)
26. Atheism and the Rise of Science – Taner Edis (Truman)
27. Atheism and Darwinism) – David P. Barash (Washington)
28. Atheism and the Physical Sciences – Victor J. Stenger (Colorado)
Part 5: Atheism and the Social Sciences
29. Atheism and the Secularization Thesis – Frank L. Pasquale and Barry A. Kosmin (ISSSC)
30. Psychology of Atheism –Miguel Farias (Oxford)
31. Atheism and Cognitive Science – Jonathan Lanman (Oxford)
32. Atheism and Societal Health – Phil Zuckerman (Pitzer)
33. Atheism, Gender, and Sexuality – Melanie A. Brewster (Columbia)
34. Atheism, Health and Well-being – Karen Hwang (Center for Atheist Research)
35. Conversion and Deconversion – Ralph W. Hood and Zhuo Chen (Tennessee)
Part 6: Global Expressions
36. A World of Atheism: Global Demographics – Ariela Keysar (Trinity) and Juhem Navarra-Rivera (Connecticut)
37. Western Europe – Lois Lee (Cambridge)
38. North America – Ryan T. Cragun (Tampa), Joseph H. Hammer (Iowa State), Jesse M. Smith (Colorado)
39. Central and Eastern Europe – Irena Borowik (Jagiellonian), Branko Ančić (Institute for Social Research), Radosław Tyrała (AGH)
40. Islamic World  – Samuli Schielke (ZMO, Berlin)
41. India – Johannes Quack (Heidelberg)
42. Japan – Sarah Whylly (Florida State)
Part 7: Atheism and the Arts
43. Literature – Bernard Schweizer (Long Island)
44.Visual Arts  – J. Sage Elwell (TCU)
45.Music  – Paul Bertagnolli (Houston)
46.Film – Nina Power (Roehampton)

bookmark_borderHumanism for Children: A Reply to William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is right. There has been “a resurgence of interest in arguments for God’s existence.”  So-called “new atheists” aside, what he fails to mention is that there has also been a resurgence of interest in arguments against God’s existence by philosophers like J.L. Schellenberg, Quentin Smith, Paul Draper, Stephen Maitzen, Michael Martin, and many others.
Indeed, Craig’s biased, selective summary of recent work in philosophy of religion, like many of the arguments for God’s existence, understates the relevant evidence. As Draper has persuasively argued, these arguments, at best, successfully identify general facts which are evidence for God’s existence. They ignore other, more specific facts, which are evidence against God’s existence.
For example, assume that the beginning of the universe is evidence for God’s existence. Given that the universe began to exist, the fact that it began to exist with time, not in time, is more probable on naturalism than on theism.
Or again: assume that sentient life is evidence for God’s existence. Given that there is sentient life, the biological role of pain and pleasure is much more likely on naturalism (and nature is “blind” to the moral value of pain and pleasure) than on theism (which requires that all pain and pleasure have both biological and moral value).
Another example: assume that the existence of objective moral values is evidence for God’s existence. Given that objective moral values exist, the fact that there are reasonable moral disagreements is more likely on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the universe is morally indifferent) than that theism is true (and there is a morally perfect being who wants us to be moral).
So at best, we have evidence both for and against God’s existence. It’s far from obvious that, on balance, the theist’s general facts outweigh the naturalist’s more specific facts.
But the ambiguity of the evidence is itself evidence: evidence against God’s existence.  Surely that fact–that evidence about God’s existence is ambiguous–is much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the universe is religiously indifferent) than on the assumption that theism is true (and there is a perfectly loving God who wants a relationship with each of us). A loving father does not need “intelligent and articulate defenders” developing “creative, new arguments” to prove his existence to his children; a loving Father (capital ‘F’) even less so.
But what about the argument that naturalism cannot be rationally affirmed? Draper has shown that “the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable.” He concludes that the long term survival of our species is “strong evidence” that our cognitive faculties are reliable.
Why should naturalists be humanists? Craig is right that humanism is not the only option for naturalists. Again, however, he doesn’t tell the full story. God-based morality is not the only option for theists.  Plato believed that objective moral values exist abstractly, necessarily, and are metaphysically ultimate. That is to say, they are uncreated and impersonal.
This is important because it underlines the fact that a supernatural person (God) is not needed to ground objective moral values. Indeed, if Platonism is true, then theists like Craig have it backwards. Goodness is not grounded in God; rather, God, if He exists, is in one sense grounded in the Good. Craig may not like this option because it conflicts with his version of theism, but it is an option, for both theists and naturalists.
Moreover, from a practical perspective, humanists believe that the ability to recognize moral values and handle moral disagreements is much more important than abstract, theoretical discussions about the grounding of morality. Even people who believe, like Craig, that God somehow grounds morality still reasonably disagree with one another about moral issues ranging from war, sexuality, abortion, capital punishment, gun control, and much more. Humanists, on the other hand, offer an approach to moral questions based on facts about human flourishing. So, again, it’s far from obvious that theism has an advantage over naturalistic humanism.
Finally, as for encouraging kids “to think critically about the tough questions” concerning worldviews such as naturalism and theism, I think humanists clearly have the upper hand here. Humanists have always encouraged critical thinking through doubt and skepticism, even skepticism about skepticism! Craig, on the other hand, seems to want people to have faith in faith; he has even warned fellow believers to avoid “doubting their faith.”
Theists have often written as if evidence about God is merely “nice to have.” Indeed, Craig himself has admitted he would continue to be a Christian, even if he saw with his own eyes that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Humanists, on the other hand, have always held that evidence about God, like any other topic, is a “must have.” Humanists believe we should examine all of the evidence and follow the evidence wherever it leads.