bookmark_borderWhy be Skeptical? Reason #1

In a previous post I put forward seven reasons why we should be skeptical (Reason For Skepticism #7 is in the comments section).  In this post I’m going to provide some facts and data in support of Reason For Skepticism #1:
(RFS1) People are often dishonest, deceptive, or have been deceived by others.
Here is a nice summary statement about psychological research on this topic:
Overall, the experimental evidence shows that when placed in the right (or wrong) situation, people are prone to lying, a behavior that starts at an early age, and people are very good at it.
http://www.truthaboutdeception.com/lying-and-deception/how-often-lovers-lie/experiments.html
viewed 10-30-14
Dishonesty and deception begin at an early age for human beings.
===================================

Babies not as innocent as they pretend

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent     12:01AM BST      01 Jul 2007     [excerpt, emphasis added]
Following studies of more than 50 children and interviews with parents,
Dr Vasudevi Reddy, of the University of Portsmouth’s psychology department, says she has identified seven categories of deception used between six months and three-years-old.
 Infants quickly learnt that using tactics such as fake crying and pretend laughing could win them attention. By eight months, more difficult deceptions became apparent, such as concealing forbidden activities or trying to distract parents’ attention.
By the age of two, toddlers could use far more devious techniques, such as bluffing when threatened with a punishment.
www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3298979/Babies-not-as-innocent-as-they-pretend.html
viewed 10-30-14
====================================
Given this early practice of deception, it should be no surprise that young children often engage in lying.
====================================

Experiments Show How Readily Adults and Children Will Lie When Given the Chance To Do So

[excerpt, emphasis added]

When placed in a situation where lying is in a child’s self-interest (to avoid punishment), children as young as age two-and-a-half will lie to get out of trouble (see, Lewis).

It is interesting to note that by the time children get to be five years old – they are much more likely to lie.  Every five-year-old in these studies lied when getting caught doing something wrong.

And although it will be covered in greater detail in another section of this website, this research also reveals that it is impossible for observers (including the children’s parents) to tell whether these 3- to 5-year-olds are lying (see, lying comes easy).

ruthaboutdeception.com/lying-and-deception/how-often-lovers-lie/experiments.html

viewed 10-30-14
=================================
But young children have vivid imaginations,  and they don’t have a well-developed sense of right and wrong, so deception and lying are just ‘childish’ behaviors that usually decrease and fade away as people grow up and mature, right?   Sorry, but the facts don’t support such wishful thinking.
=================================

Experiments Show How Readily Adults and Children Will Lie When Given the Chance To Do So

Experimental research – secretly putting people in a controlled setting – also show how readily people will lie.
For example, during a bogus experiment on ESP (a mind-reading task), people are presented with an opportunity to cheat in order to win a $50 prize.  When people are placed in such a situation, almost everyone cheats (90%) and then when confronted about their behavior, few tell the truth; only 9 to 20% of the individuals in these studies confess when questioned (see, Miller and Stiff, DeTurck and Miller).
What is really interesting about these findings is that the same results are obtained by different researchers working in different parts of the country.
[excerpt, emphasis added]
ruthaboutdeception.com/lying-and-deception/how-often-lovers-lie/experiments.html
viewed 10-30-14
================================
Another indication that deception starts early and increases as children grow up and become teenagers can be seen in data on academic cheating, a common form of deception and dishonesty.
================================

Academic Cheating Background

[excerpt, emphasis added]
Pre-School:
Although little research exists about cheating among pre-school and elementary school students, the following information has been presented by Janis Jacobs, a specialist in social development and associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.
At the Pre-School level children understand that cheating is morally wrong, as opposed to a social transgression (i.e. eating with their fingers). Because moral development consists of their own needs vs. punishment, they are prone to cheat in order to win.
At 5-6 years of age many children cheat if the opportunity arises. In one study of this age group, 84% knew that cheating was not allowed. However, 56% cheated. This is primarily true because they have an inability to inhibit their actions at this age.
[excerpt, emphasis added]
…The results of the 29th Who’s Who Among American High School Students Poll (of 3,123 high-achieving 16- to 18-year olds – that is, students with A or B averages who plan to attend college after graduation) were released in November, 1998. Among the findings:

  • 80% of the country’s best students cheated to get to the top of their class.
  • More than half the students surveyed said that they don’t think cheating is a big deal.
  • 95% of cheaters say they were not caught.
  • 40% cheated on a quiz or a test
  • 67% copied someone else’s homework

According to the results of a 1998 survey of 20,829 middle and high school students nationwide conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 70% of high school students and 54% of middle school students said they had cheated on an exam in the last 12 months. …
[excerpt, emphasis added]
Middle School:
Most research shows that cheating begins to set in during the middle school years (ages 11 – 13). According to The Josephson Institute of Ethics, “The evidence is fairly clear that cheating begins in the middle school fairly seriously and escalates in the higher grades, 10th, 11th and 12th grades, because that’s when the stakes are highest. It doesn’t seem as if it’s necessarily a dispositional thing, like they’ve never thought of cheating before. It’s that there isn’t much reason to cheat in the elementary school.”
According to Jacobs, research at this age shows that middle schoolers are motivated to cheat because of the emphasis placed on grades. In one study, 2/3 of middle school students report cheating on exams; 90% copy homework. Furthermore, even those who say that cheating is wrong, will cheat. The bottom line: If a child’s goal is to get a good grade, he is more likely to cheat.
High School:
Research has shown that the incidence of academic cheating among high school students has risen to all-time highs. The studies conducted by Who’s Who Among American High School Students, as well as those conducted by The Josephson Institute, are just a few of the many that demonstrate the problem. In addition, a 1997 Connecticut Department of Public Health survey of 12,000 students showed that 63% of 11th graders and 62% of ninth graders reported cheating on an exam in the previous 12 months.
[…]
According to Stephen Davis, a psychology professor at Emporia State University in Kansas: “about 20% of college students from across the nation admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940’s. That percentage has since soared, with no fewer than 75% and as many as 98% of 8,000 college students surveyed each year now reporting cheating in high school – and the majority admitting doing it on several occasions.
http://www.glass-castle.com/clients/www-nocheating-org/adcouncil/research/cheatingbackgrounder.html
viewed 10-28-14

=========================

To be continued…

bookmark_borderMassimo Pigliucci on Metaethics, Part 1

William Lane Craig and Massimo Pigliucci debated the existence of God in 1998. (Click here to read the transcript.) In his opening statement, Craig presented his standard moral argument for God’s existence.

(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Objective values do exist.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

In his opening statement, Pigliucci denied (2).

Finally, the problem of morality, which I’m sure we’ll have more to say about–oh yeah, I agree with Dr. Craig when he cited Dr. Ruse, a philosopher of science. There is no such a thing as objective morality. We got that straightened out.

Although this was much too quick to constitute anything much like an effective debate rebuttal, this quotation is useful for another reason. It reveals that Pigliucci agrees with Michael Ruse’s argument against (2). Regular readers of this blog will remember that Ruse’s argument for error theory has been the subject of much criticism by philosophers (see here and the references provided; cf. the links here), but Pigliucci says nothing in the debate which would answer or pre-empt those objections. In fairness to Pigliucci, some or all of those criticisms were published after the debate. The point here is not that Pigliucci should be faulted for failing to refute objections before they are published. Rather, the point is that he (apparently) relied upon a fallacious argument to justify his denial of (2).
He continues:

Morality in human cultures has evolved and is still evolving, and what is moral for you might not be moral for the guy next door and certainly is not moral for the guy across the ocean, the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, and so on. And what makes you think that your personal morality is the one and everybody else is wrong? Now a better way of putting this is that it is not the same as to say that anything goes; it is not at all the same. What goes is anything that works; there are things that work. Morality has to work. For example, one of the very good reasons we don’t go around killing each other is because otherwise the entire society as we know it would collapse and we’d become a bunch of simple isolated animals. There are animals like those.

I, for one, find that statement to be so  vague as to be of little philosophical value. What, precisely, does Pigliucci mean when he says, “Morality in human cultures has evolved?” And what does that have to do with the branch of metaethics known as moral ontology, the actual focus of Craig’s moral argument? One possible answer is that Pigliucci is simply making the point that human beliefs–about moral goodness and badness; moral obligation, permittedness, and prohibition; and the like–have changed over time. If that is what Pigliucci meant, then perhaps his point was that changes in human moral beliefs over time is further evidence against (2).
But if that is the sort of argument Pigliucci had in mind, it’s hard to see how it could be successful. Consider the following argument.
(4) Human beliefs about the laws of physics have changed over time.
(5) The best explanation for these changes in human beliefs is that there are no objective truths about the laws of physics.
(6) Therefore, there are no objective truths about the laws of physics.
I think probably everyone would agree that this argument fails because (5) is false. Now consider the parallel argument from changes in moral beliefs over time.
(7) Human beliefs about morality have changed over time.
(8) The best explanation for these changes in human beliefs is that there are no objective truths about morality.
(9) Therefore, there are no objective truths about morality.
It’s far from obvious why the moral beliefs argument is any better than the physics belief argument.
In Pigliucci’s First Rebuttal, he said this:

Let’s go back to this thing of objective morality. I think that there’s a little bit of twisting and turning around here with terms. Again, it’s not a matter of “Is there out there an objective morality?” We know that there isn’t. There are some components of your own morality that are not shared by other human beings. So either you are pretentious enough to think that your morality for whatever reason is the only correct one, or everybody else in the world is wrong.
I think that that is pretentious. ….
 

In this passage, Pigliucci seems to be stating a version of the argument from moral disagreement. But, as it stands, this argument is multiply flawed. First, Pigliucci conflates “the existence of ontologically objective moral values” with “my [the speaker’s] moral beliefs are the only correct moral beliefs.” The former neither entails nor makes probable the latter; this argument is a non sequitur. Second, Pigliucci fails to consider rival explanations to error theory, such as “the fact that much moral disagreement is due to disagreement about non-ethical facts” and “moral disagreement is much more surprising on the conjunction of theism and moral objectivism than on moral objectivism and metaphysical naturalism.”
Moving on, Pigliucci next makes a comparison between the behavior of human beings and other animals.

Of course there are some universals that all human beings share. Just today, for example, I told my students in a biology class that there are some things that human beings and society would never approve because of the way human societies are built. One, of course, is homicide; another one, of course, is rape. However, what we call homicide or rape or, in fact, even infanticide is very, very common among different types of animals. Lions, for example, commit infanticide on a regular basis because they want to make sure that the little offspring that is being raised by the lioness is their own and not someone else’s. Now, are these kinds of acts to be condoned? I don’t even know what that means because the lion doesn’t understand what morality is, that’s for sure.

It’s not entirely clear to me what point Pigliucci is trying to make in this passage. Perhaps his idea is that human “universals,” such as the beliefs that homicide and rape are morally wrong, aren’t evidence for an “objective morality” because those same behaviors are common in other animals. Again, it’s far from clear how such an argument would work. Here are two objections. First, humans are moral agents whereas lions are not. (Note: the previous sentence should not be interpreted as implying that humans possess libertarian free will.) Second, even if there were such a thing as ‘lion morality,’ it’s far from obvious why facts about ‘lion morality’ have any relevance to or bearing upon human morality. If Pigliucci has an argument, he hasn’t yet told us what it is.

Morality is an invention of human beings. It’s a very good invention. I’m not suggesting we should abandon morality. I’m not suggesting, more to the point, that we should abandon ethics. Ethics is a perfectly valid way of thinking about things. We can all agree as a society that there are things that are wrong and things that are good. We can act on them, and we can enforce those things, but there is no higher power or no higher reason to tell us that this is right or this is wrong. Unfortunately, we are on our own; that’s my humble opinion. I would really like for somebody to come down from the sky and tell me what is right and what is wrong. My life would be much, much easier. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

The key claim in this paragraph is its first sentence: “Morality is an invention of human beings.” There’s no argument presented for that claim, however.
Finally, it’s worth noticing the reasons Pigliucci gives to deny the existence of objective moral values and obligations. He doesn’t claim, “Objective moral values and duties can exist only if God exists, but God doesn’t exist; therefore, objective moral values and duties don’t exist.” Rather, Pigliucci gives independent reasons for rejecting moral objectivism, i.e., reasons that are independent of his atheism. The upshot is this: although Pigliucci denies the existence of objective moral values and obligations, atheism does not entail the non-existence of objective moral values and obligations.

bookmark_borderWilliam Provine on Evolutionary Naturalism and Morality

Cornell University biologist William Provine debated UC Berkeley law professor in 1998. (Click here for a link to the transcript.) In his opening statement, Provine made the following provocative assertion.

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

I don’t know if Darwin would agree with Provine’s list of consequences or not, but I want to comment on the alleged ethical consequences of evolutionary naturalism.
Many apologists (see, e.g., here) have made an argument from authority, using Provine’s statement, to support the claim that atheism entails nihilism. While some arguments from authority can be logically correct, this one is not. Let P be the statement “If naturalistic evolution is true, then there is no ultimate foundation for ethics,” and let S be metaethics. Using Wesley Salmon’s schema for inductive arguments from authority,[1] we can then formulate the argument from authority as follows.

(1) The vast majority of statements made by William Provine concerning subject S are true.
(2) P is a statement made by William Provine concerning subject S.
(3) Therefore, P is true.

This argument does not satisfy Salmon’s conditions for an inductively correct argument from authority, in two ways. First, even if we treat Provine as an expert on metaethics, the argument would still be evidentially worthless. As Salmon observed, an appeal to one group of authorities has no evidential value when another group of authorities who are equally competent disagree.[2] And there are many qualified experts on metaethics who believe P is false.[3] Second, with all due respect to Provine, he is not a reliable authority on subject S. He is an evolutionary biologist with a Ph.D. in the history of science, not a philosopher who specializes in metaethics. Therefore, premise (1) is dubious. The upshot is that this argument from authority provides literally zero evidence for statement p.
Even if we cannot accept P on the basis of Provine’s authority, however, it is still possible that Provine has a good argument for believing it. If he does, however, it’s not exactly clear how the argument is supposed to work. The only relevant statement I could find in the debate transcript is the quotation I provided at the beginning of this post. Here it is again.

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

It’s far from obvious why Provine thinks that “modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear” that “There is no ultimate foundation for ethics.” At first glance, this seems very implausible because P lies within the domain of philosophy, not biology. One can’t help but wonder if Provine presupposes scientism and that his statement about the purported conclusions of “modern evolutionary biology” are really just a statement about the implications of scientism. That really doesn’t matter one way or the other, however. All that matters is whether Provine has given a good reason to think that evolutionary naturalism leads to nihilism, which he hasn’t. Provine has provided nothing more than a mere assertion of bias for moral nihilism.
The upshot is that Provine’s statements in his 1998 debate with Johnson provide no support whatsoever for the claim that atheism entails or implies moral nihilism.
Notes
[1] Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 100.
[2] Ibid.
[3] E.g., Adams; Hick; Moore; Morriston; Nielsen; Pojman; Post; Rottschaefer; Sagi and Statman; Shafer-Landau; Q. Smith; Swinburne; and Wielenberg.

bookmark_borderWhy Be Skeptical?

According to my old American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College edition, 1982), a “skeptic” is a person “who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.”  This seems to come close to what I have in mind when I support the view that students should be taught to be skeptical as a part of teaching students to become critical thinkers.
However, this definition is a bit too weak.  Someone who only questioned “assertions” or “conclusions” would be a half-assed quasi-skeptic, at best.
A basic aspect of critical thinking is learning to analyze thinking into its components.  There are at least eight different components of thinking (See The Analysis & Assessment of Thinking http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/the-analysis-amp-assessment-of-thinking/497 ):

  1. Purpose of the thinking.
  2. Questions we are trying to answer
  3. Information we need to answer the question.
  4. Interpretation and Inference or conclusions we are coming to.
  5. Concepts or key ideas we are using in our thinking.
  6. Assumptions or ideas we are taking for granted.
  7. Implications and Consequences of our thinking.
  8. Point of View we need to consider.

A critical thinker not only habitually doubts and questions conclusions (element number 4 above) but also habitually doubts and questions the purpose behind a bit of thinking, the question(s) driving a bit of thinking, the information used in a bit of thinking, the concepts used in a bit of thinking, the assumptions in a bit of thinking, the implications of a bit of thinking, and the point of view taken in a bit of thinking.
 Why be skeptical?
Nobody should be skeptical just because they are told by me or by a teacher or by a parent that they should be skeptical.   I believe there are good reasons why people should be skeptical, especially if they are interested in knowing and believing what is true and what is reasonable to believe:

  1. People are often dishonest, deceptive, or have been deceived by others.
  2. People are often irrational or motivationally biased in their thinking (e.g. egocentrism, sociocentrism, wishful thinking, superstition, and sexism).
  3. People have natural tendencies to think illogically, even when they manage to avoid being irrational or motivationally biased in their thinking (e.g. hasty generalization, post hoc fallacy, confirmation bias, false dilemma, errors based on the ‘representativeness heuristic’, belief bias (“When one’s evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by their belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion.” See article on Cognitive Bias: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias )
  4. Most of what people believe, they “learned” from others (parents, teachers, pastors, friends, books, magazines, television, movies, newspapers, blogs) who are usually not experts in, and not well-informed about, the topics that they were talking about. Misinformation is a widespread cultural phenomenon.
  5. The truth or the best solution to a problem is often difficult to figure out, even when everyone involved is thinking logically, rationally, and being honest (which is almost never the case).
  6. Skepticism works, especially in relation to trying to understand nature and how natural processes work.  Science works by challenging claims, assumptions, and theories, and by demanding carefully gathered facts and data to support claims, assumptions, hypotheses and theories, and by subjecting scientific arguments, hypotheses, experiments, and theories to skeptical peer review.

Do you agree that these are good reasons to be skeptical?
Please feel free to suggest  some other good reasons to add to my list (or to challenge one or more of these reasons).
=========================
“It is now some years since I detected how many were the false beliefs that I had from my earliest youth admitted as true, and how doubtful was everything I had since constructed on this basis…” 
Rene Descartes,  Meditations on First Philosophy,  Meditation I.

bookmark_borderAnother Failed Defense of “The Inevitable Consequences of an Atheist Worldview”

Steve Hays has commented on my previous post, “Fact Checking the Inevitable Consequences of an Atheist Worldview.” That post was a detailed summary and refutation of eight specific claims. Hays does not interact with any of the specific claims. Rather, he makes general points about my post as a whole. Here is Hays:

Over at the Secular outpost, Jeff Lowder took issue with what an ostensible atheist said about “The Inevitable Consequences of an Atheist Worldview”. Jeff’s attempted rebuttal is muddleheaded. He fails to distinguish between the logical implications of atheism and what individual atheists happen to believe.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Ironically, it is J. Warner Wallace and his apparent defender, Steve Hays, who fail “to distinguish between the logical implications of atheism and what individual atheists happen to believe,” in this case, what “John” happens to believe. Wallace imagines that by citing an atheist (“John”), who happens to support a popular Christian apologetics meme about atheism and nihilism, that somehow supports the meme itself. But that is false. Indeed, even William Lane Craig commented on how “John’s” piece was long on assertions but short on arguments to support them. In his words, “notice there really wasn’t much argument in this blog. It was mainly assertion.” What Craig failed to mentioned, however, is that John fails to support his assertions even if we assume that naturalism is true and even if know with certainty that naturalism is true.

He imagines that by citing examples of atheists who take different positions, that somehow disproves the claim. But that, as I say, is confused.

That would be confused, which is why I didn’t (and don’t) do that! Try again.
Let’s go through each of the eight claims from the original post.
Claim: Atheism entails the belief that the universe is “uncaused.”
I agreed with this claim with a technical caveat, so this claim isn’t applicable to the point Hays want to make.
Claim: Atheism entails the belief that the universe is a “random accident.”
Hays provides no evidence that I attempted to refute this claim merely by failing to make the implication-vs.-common belief distinction. In fact, I did just the opposite. I wrote, “Even if our universe is the result of some random universe-generating process in the multiverse, it still wouldn’t follow that all of physical reality is the result of a “random” process or event.”
Claim: Atheism entails that all life in the universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself.
Again, no evidence from Hays to support his objection.
Claim: Atheism entails the view that concepts like morality, politeness, and civility do not exist.
No evidence from Hays.
Claim: Atheism entails that morality is nothing but, in the words of E.O. Wilson, “an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.”
No evidence from Hays.
Claim: Atheism entails that people have no reason to behave morally other than the fear of getting caught and punished if they behave immorally.
Hays provided no evidence in his original post. In a follow-up reply, Hays cites the following words of mine.

In fact, the author seems to beg the question against moral views, like the Aristotelian ethical naturalism defended by Larry Arnhart, which entail that human morality is rooted in objective facts about our biological nature.

Commenting on this, Hays writes:

For instance, Jeff tries to counter E. O. Wilson’s contention that morality “an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate” by citing Larry Arnhart’s Aristotelian ethical naturalism.

This expresses a half-truth. Yes, I cite Arnhart’s Aristotelian ethical naturalism. Arnhart’s view is logically compatible with atheism. The point of the citation is not “Here’s an atheist who adopts X; therefore, X is logically compatible with atheism.” Rather, the point of the citation was and is, “X is logically compatible with atheism; the author seems to beg the question against moral views like X by assuming that they are incompatible with atheism.” Hays is unable to demonstrate a contradiction between (a) “God does not exist” and (b) “Arnhart’s Aristotelian ethical naturalism is true” by substituting synonyms for synonyms in (a) and/or (b) to derive logically incompatible propositions. He cannot do this because there is no such contradiction, so his claims about the allegedly nihilistic logical implications of atheism are just that, claims.
Claim: Moral laws require a transcendent moral law giver.
No evidence from Hays.
Claim: Social or cultural evolution can’t be the foundation for morality because our selfish genes are not interested in the welfare of others when their personal survival is at stake.
No evidence from Hays.
Claim: Without a true transcendent source of purpose, there is no basis for affirming objective moral values or obligations.
No evidence from Hays.
Final score: Lowder 8, Hays 0.
Let’s move onto Hays’ post.

All that means is that some atheists are inconsistent. They balk at the radical consequences of atheism. They pull their punches.

That they are inconsistent is the very point at issue. Hays hasn’t shown that yet. Hays hasn’t yet responded to my logical critique of these claims of the “logical implications” or “radical consequences” of atheism.

Atheism is a proposition. A proposition has objective implications. It affirms something and it denies the contrary or contraries.

I agree.

The question at issue isn’t what any particular atheist believes, or how he behaves. He may retain some beliefs in spite of his atheism. He may refrain from certain behavior despite his atheism.

Again, Hays offers no defense of his claims about the “logical implications” or “radical consequences” of atheism. Instead, he just continues to beg the question by ignoring my point-by-point rebuttal to all of Wallace’s claims.

Jeff is a propagandist for atheism, so he always wants to put the best public face on atheism. That’s one reason he’s so hypersensitive to perceived slights.

Hays is right. That is why I have publicly defended two Bayesian arguments for theism, and repeatedly criticized atheists who I think have made stupid arguments. Wait. What?!?
I’m going to end this post by paraphrasing something William Lane Craig once wrote in response to one of his critics (Sean Carroll), keeping the essence of WLC’s point while applying it to Hays.

Finally, I’m disappointed that Hays cannot find it in himself to have a collegial discussion of these important questions but feels the need to resort to snide, personal attacks in his closing paragraph, as well as numerous blog posts. … His condescension is especially awkward in light of his own missteps in correctly characterizing the logical implications of atheism. Hays will pardon us, I hope, for our skepticism about his counting himself among the ranks of the open-minded.

I would add this. I used to consider Hays a friend, but I don’t find Hays’ recent behavior very Christ-like. I’ve interacted with many scholars who try (and, I think, largely succeed) in being polite when doing Christian apologetics: William Lane Craig, Michael Horner, Glenn Miller, Doug Geivett, Victor Reppert, Craig Blomberg, and Richard Swinburne, to name just a few. If you’ll pardon an atheist offering advice to apologists, I’m pretty sure the NT never says that rudeness is a necessary condition for giving a reason for the hope that lies within you. If I ever become a theist, it will be in spite of Hays’ recent behavior, not because of it.

bookmark_borderFact-Checking “The Inevitable Consequences of an Atheist Worldview”

Earlier this year, J. Warner Wallace reposted on his blog something written by an anonymous writer which describes “the inevitable consequence of an atheist worldview.” Wallace gives the writer the nickname “John.” I want to comment on “John’s” comments as well as Wallace’s commentary.
Before I address “John’s” remarks, I first need to point out a fundamental error in the title of the post. Like many theistic non-philosophers who do apologetics, Wallace misuses the expression “inevitable consequence” (emphasis mine). (These same theists often also misuse the expressions “implication” and “logical outworking” as synonymous with “inevitable consequence.”) In logic, to say, “X implies Y,” means that Y is true whenever X is true. A corollary of this point is this: if it is possible for Y to be false when X is true, then Y isn’t an ‘inevitable’ consequence of X. The central claim of “John’s” and Wallace’s post is refuted by this simple point. If atheism is true, then morality can still exist. Parental care and justice can still be morally good; the Holocaust, infanticide, the abuse of the mentally disabled, and rape can still be morally bad. Since that is even possible, it follows that the destruction of morality is not the ‘inevitable consequence’ of atheism.
Let’s turn now to “John’s” comments.

“[To] all my Atheist friends. Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice. We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe [sic] is a great uncaused, random accident.

Claim: Atheism entails the belief that the universe is “uncaused.”
Facts: With a technical caveat, this is correct.
My educated guess is that probably most atheists are metaphysical naturalists (in a Draperian sense which is compatible with the existence of abstract objects), but I don’t claim to have polling data to back up this claim. By definition, metaphysical naturalism entails that physical reality does not have an external cause. If our universe is the only universe, then naturalism entails our universe does not have an external cause and so is “uncaused” in that sense. If, on the other hand, our universe is part of a larger multiverse, then our universe might have been somehow “caused” by an event in the multiverse, but naturalism entails that the multiverse itself does not have an external cause. If physical reality does not have an external cause, then the only other options are that physical reality somehow caused itself to exist or it exists uncaused. But it’s hard to make sense of the idea of self-causation; it seems to be a contradiction in terms. If so, this would leave “physical reality is uncaused” as the only option for a naturalist. So we can agree with “John” that the universe (read: physical reality) is “uncaused” in this sense.
Claim: Atheism entails the belief that the universe is a “random accident.”
Facts: This misleading claim wrongly implies that atheists believe that all of physical reality is the result of a “random” event or process. The word “accident” can mean different things depending on the context. Here are two possibilities.
(1) One connotation of the word “accident” is an unfortunate event, but neither atheism nor naturalism commits one to the view that the existence of physical reality is an unfortunate event. (And, for the record, I’m not claiming that “John” had this sense in mind; I don’t know if he did.)
(2) Another interpretation of “accident” is an event that happens without a purpose. Since naturalism entails that physical reality lacks an external cause, it also entails that physical reality was not created with a purpose.
The word “accident,” however, doesn’t apply to an atheistic view of physical reality. Even if our universe is the result of some random universe-generating process in the multiverse, it still wouldn’t follow that all of physical reality is the result of a “random” process or event.

All life in the Universe [sic] past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself.

Claim: Atheism entails that all life in the universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself.
Facts: This claim is a caricature of what atheism entails. If atheist “John” believes this, he’s misunderstood both atheism and Darwinian evolution. Metaphysical naturalists, including atheists, believe that living things are the result of unguided, Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Evolution by natural selection denies that living things are the result of chance alone. As Richard Dawkins explains, “Natural selection is quintessentially non-random, yet is lamentably often miscalled random. … Chance cannot explain life. … Evolution by natural selection is the only workable theory ever proposed that is capable of explaining life, and it does so brilliantly.”

While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. 

Claim: Atheism entails the view that concepts like morality, politeness, and civility do not exist.
Facts: This claim is false, in two ways.
First, even if atheism entailed that moral nihilism or anti-realism were true, it still wouldn’t follow that the “concept” of morality did not exist. The concept of morality could still exist without being applicable, like the concepts of phlogiston and ghosts.
Second, neither atheism nor metaphysical naturalism entails that “concepts like morality, politeness, and civility do not exist.” Atheism is neither moral nor immoral; rather, it is amoral. By itself, atheism does not make it obligatory, permitted, or forbidden to do anything. It’s not an ethical theory. Nor is it a meta-ethical theory (about moral ontology): atheism says nothing about whether moral values or obligations are objective or subjective. If we knew nothing in philosophy except “God does not exist,” that would tell us that theistic theories (such as the Divine Command Theory) are false, but it would not tell us which metaethical theory is true. If atheism is true, morality could be objective, subjective, or inter-subjective. Atheism is neutral on these topics, a fact recognized by a variety of theistic and nontheistic philosophers.[1]

Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.

Claim: Atheism entails that morality is nothing but, in the words of E.O. Wilson, “an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.”[2]
Facts: While evolution may help to explain why human beings have a moral sense and believe that moral reasons are objective and overriding, that fact is not of obvious relevance to the existence of objective moral values and duties. In fact, the author seems to beg the question against moral views, like the Aristotelian ethical naturalism defended by Larry Arnhart, which entail that human morality is rooted in objective facts about our biological nature.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife. I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.”

Claim: Atheism entails that people have no reason to behave morally other than the fear of getting caught and punished if they behave immorally.
Facts:“John” again seems to beg the question against Aristotelian ethical naturalism and again I disagree. If morality is rooted in the biology of human nature, then, as Arnhart argues, satisfying natural human desires is often good for human beings.
Furthermore, anyone impressed by Pascal’s Wager should find this claim unconvincing. Suppose it were true that atheism entails that people have no reason to behave morally other than the fear of getting caught and punished if they behave immorally. Even if this were true, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that atheists have no reason to behave morally. Pascal argued that we have a strong pragmatic reason for believing in God in his famous “Wager.” What is often overlooked, however, is the fact that his wager can be modified into a pragmatic reason for behaving morally. Let’s call this modified wager “Lowder’s Lottery.” According to Lowder’s Lottery, God doesn’t care about whether you believe in Him in this life, but He will hold you accountable in the afterlife for how you behaved in this life. Thus, everyone–including supernaturalists, naturalists, and “otherists”–have a pragmatic reason to behave morally.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that the demand for a non-pragmatic justification or motivation for moral behavior applies to theism just as much as it does to atheism. Many (but not all) versions of theistic ethics reduce moral motivation to a form of prudence (“Do good in this life so you can get a reward and avoid punishment in the next life”). Shelly Kagan made this point very well in his debate with William Lane Craig.
Let’s now turn to Wallace’s commentary.

John bluntly captured the true nature of morality when it is untethered to a transcendent source. Since posting this comment, I’ve been able to peek at John’s life in a very limited way and I’ve had a brief interaction with him. He appears to be a creative, responsible, loving husband and father. In fact, his outward life looks much like the life you and I might lead as Christians. As an atheist, my moral compass was much like that of the Christians I knew. But knowing what is far different than knowing why. I embraced a particular set of moral laws even though I couldn’t account for these laws in a world without a transcendent moral law giver.

Claim: Moral laws require a transcendent moral law giver.
Facts: Moral laws do not need a “transcendent moral law giver.” Consider the following argument, which presumably underlies Wallace’s claims.

(1) If God does not exist, then there is no divine lawgiver.
(2) If there is no divine lawgiver, then there are no moral laws.
(3) If there are no moral laws, then there are no moral obligations.
(4) Therefore, if God does not exist, then there are no moral obligations.

Why should we believe (2)? It’s not hard to imagine what an argument for (2) might look like. One might argue for (2) on the basis of the following supporting argument:

(5) Laws must be made by a lawgiver.
(6) A lawgiver must be either natural or divine.
(7) Moral laws cannot have a natural lawgiver.
(2) Therefore, if there is no divine lawgiver, then there are no moral laws.

But why should anyone believe (5)? Laws require a lawgiver only if they are, in fact, made. Statutory (governmental) laws are the paradigm example of laws that require a lawgiver, but statutory laws were made or inventedNot all laws are made, however. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented. Not only do these examples undercut the support for premise (5), they actually provide the basis of an argument against (5), based on the following negative analogy.

(8) The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and (objective) morality were not made.
(9) The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.
(10) Therefore, the laws of (objective) morality do not have a lawgiver.

(10) entails, accordingly, that premise (5) is false.
Furthermore, Wallace’s entire discussion assumes without argument that theism, unlike atheism, offers an adequate, rationally compelling ontological foundation or basis for objective moral values and obligations. But, in fact, this is precisely one of the issues in dispute between proponents and critics of theistic metaethics. These critics–who include Christian theists–keep pointing out the problems with theistic metaethics, but many apologists, Wallace included, have yet to interact with this scholarship. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for just some of the many examples available. Again, Wallace says nothing that refutes these objections.

I typically attributed morality to some form of social or cultural evolution, but as John correctly observes, our selfish genes are not interested in the welfare of others when their personal survival is at stake.

Claim: Social or cultural evolution can’t be the foundation for morality because our selfish genes are not interested in the welfare of others when their personal survival is at stake.
Facts: I find the concepts of “social or cultural evolution” to be too poorly defined to be of much use in these kinds of discussions, but this “observation” is a non sequitur. Our selfish genes don’t influence behavior directly; they do so through a complicated network of development and interaction with the physical and social environment. But let that pass. Again, see my comments above regarding the reasons for being moral.

Without a true transcendent source for morality (and purpose), skeptics are left trying to invent their own, justifying their subjective moral rules as best they may. In the end, as John rightly observes, they end up “nurturing a new religion” and creating for themselves the very thing they detest.

Claim: Without a true transcendent source of purpose, there is no basis for affirming objective moral values or obligations.
Facts: This claim confuses the distinction between purpose and value. 
To say that something exists for a purpose means there is a reason for its existence.[3]  To say that something has value means that it has desirable characteristics.[4]  Even if something was not created for a purpose, that thing can still have value if it has desirable characteristics.  Moreover, in order for a thing to be valuable, it does not have to be valuable to the person or thing that created it.  Therefore, although the human species was not created for a purpose (and so is not valuable to the impersonal forces of evolution), the human species is still valuable because it is valuable to humans: individual humans desire the existence of the human species.
Objective moral values and obligations do not depend on a ‘cosmic telos‘ or external purpose for the universe’s existence. [5]
Notes
[1]  These philosophers, who are probably in the majority, include Adams; Anderson; Hick; Berg; Brink; Butchvarov; Byrne; Draper; Everitt; Fales; F. Howard-Snyder; Kurtz; Le Poidevin; MacLagan; Martin; Moore; Morriston; Nagel; Nielsen; Nozick; Pojman; Post; Rachels; Rottschaefer; Rowe; Sayre-McCord; Sagi; Schellenberg; Shafer-Landau; Sinnott-Armstrong; T. Smith; Statman; Sullivan, Thompson, D. Yandell, K. Yandell;  Q. Smith; Swinburne; and Wielenberg.
[2] E.O. Wilson in Ruse and Wilson 1985, 51.
[3] Mikael Stenmark, “Evolutionary Biology, Religion and the Meaning of Life.”
[4] Cf. Nicholas Rescher, Introduction to Value Theory (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1982), pp. 55-56; Louis Pojman, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong (third ed., Belmont: Wadsworth, 1999), p. 84.
[5] I am grateful to Glenn Branch and John Danaher for helpful comments on a previous version of this essay. I am responsible, of course, for any errors which remain.

bookmark_borderMatthew Flannagan on The Arbitrariness Objection to Divine Command Ethics

There is a standard objection to the divine command theory (DCT) that runs as follows:

  1. Either God’s commands are arbitrary or they are grounded in reasons.
  2. Arbitrary commands cannot ground moral obligations.
  3. If God’s commands are grounded in reasons, then it is those reasons, rather than God’s commands, that ground moral obligations.
  4. Either way, God’s commands are superfluous; they do not ground moral obligations.

I’ll call this the Arbitrariness Argument (AA).  You can find versions of this argument in Walter Sinnot-Armstrong’s book Morality Without God?  and in his article “Why Traditional Theism Cannot Provide an Adequate Foundation for Morality.” Here is a quote from the latter:

Let’s assume that God commanded us not to rape. Did God have any reason to command this? If not, his command was arbitrary, and then it can’t make anything morally wrong. On the other hand, if God did have a reason to command us not to rape, then that reason is what makes rape morally wrong. The command itself is superfluous. Either way, morality cannot depend on God’s commands. [1]

Matthew Flannagan has recently criticized this argument [2]. Flannagan is a proponent of a version of the divine command theory; on his view God’s commands constitute moral obligations. To be more specific, Flannagan, following Robert Adams, maintains that moral obligations are constituted by the commands of a perfectly loving God. This qualification (that the commands be commands of a perfectly loving deity) is necessary to deal with an objection, stemming from the Euthyphro dilemma, concerning the possibility that God might command something horrendous (such as the torture of children). The objection runs as follows: an omnipotent being can command anything whatsoever. So, DCT (at least an unqualified version) entails that, since it is possible that God commands child torture, it is possible that child torture is morally obligatory. However, Flannagan’s version of DCT does not entail this since a perfectly loving being does not command horrible actions. God would not command child torture and so Flannagan’s view does not have the unfortunate consequence that child torture might be morally obligatory.
Now, on such a view such as Flannagan’s, in the absence of divine commands, there are no moral obligations. Thus Flannagan must maintain that, contrary to the AA, God’s reasons for his commands cannot, on their own, constitute moral obligations. But this appears to be problematic because, first, it is not too difficult to imagine what might motivate a perfectly loving deity to issue commands. God commands that we not rape, presumably, because rape causes severe, undue emotional and physical harm. Second, and more to the point, if this reason is enough to motivate a loving God to command that we not rape, surely the reason by itself is sufficient to make rape wrong. It thus appears that, once we admit (a) that God must have reasons for his commands (else, morality would be arbitrary) and (b) that God is perfectly loving and hence the reasons for his commands must involve concern for human beings (or sentient creature more generally), we should conclude that the reasons would be sufficient, on their own (that is, even in the absence of God’s commands), to constitute moral obligations.
So, Flannagan needs to show that a divine command theorist can maintain that God’s commands (and not merely his reasons) constitute our moral obligations, that Gods’ commands are grounded in reasons, and that those reasons are themselves grounded in love. Though I think that his argument is insightful I don’t think that it is successful, as I will now proceed to show.
Flannagan helpfully formalizes Sinnot-Armstrong’s  argument as follows:

(1) Either: (i) there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape; or, (ii) there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape.
(2) If there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape, then God’s commands are arbitrary.
(3) If there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape then, r, is what makes rape morally wrong.
(4) If r is what makes rape morally wrong then God’s commands are superfluous. [3]

Flannagan correctly points out that this argument is problematic since ‘makes’ is ambiguous. It can refer both to constitutive explanations and to motivational explanations. The divine command theorist can easily accept that God has motivational reasons to command that we not rape. In a sense, then, this motivational reason, whatever it is, makes it the case that rape is morally wrong since it explains why it is that God commanded that we not rape. But the divine command theorist need not be forced to conclude that God’s reason constitutes the wrongness of rape. That is, it is perfectly consistent to claim that God has reasons for his commands and that these reasons motivationally explain why, e.g. rape is wrong, and to also insist that these reasons do not constitute the wrongness of rape.
To be successful, AA must acknowledge this very real and important distinction. Flannagan therefore provides two updated reconstructions of Sinnot-Armstrong’s argument in which the distinction is explicitly acknowledged. Version 1:

(1) Either: (i) there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape; or, (ii) there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape.
(2) If there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape, then God’s commands are arbitrary.
(3′) If there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape then r motivationally explains why rape is wrong.
(4′) If r motivationally explains the wrongness of rape then God’s commands are superfluous. [4]

(3′), says Flannagan, is true. God’s reasons for prohibiting rape explain why God makes rape wrong; and so, in that sense, God’s reasons explain the wrongness of rape. The problem with this version is that (4′) is false. That a reason might motivationally explain something does not entail that it constitutes that thing. (more on this below). Flannagan’s view is that God’s commands constitute moral obligations. The fact that God’s reasons motivationally explain his commands does not entail that God’s commands are superfluous if, as Flannagan maintains, those commands constitute moral obligations. This version of the argument, then, is unsuccessful. We must instead look at a different version, one that explicitly deals with constitutive explanation. Version 2:

(1) Either: (i) there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape; or, (ii) there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape.
(2) If there is no reason, r, why God prohibits rape, then God’s commands are arbitrary.
(3’’) If there is a reason, r, why God prohibits rape then r is what constitutes the wrongness of rape.
(4’’) If r is what constitutes the wrongness of rape then God’s commands are explanatorily superfluous. [5]

I think that this version accurately captures the thought behind Sinnot-Armstrong’s argument. And I am inclined to think that it is a pretty good argument. However, Flannagan says that it does not work. The problem, he says, is that “(3”) is a non- sequitur. Armstrong contends if DCT is true, and Gods prohibitions constitute moral wrongness, then any reason God has for prohibiting rape must constitute the moral wrongness of rape.”[6]. Flannagan claims that this contention is wrong since it depends upon the following principle:
PI: If A is constituted by B, and someone has reasons r for bringing about B, then A is constituted by r.
But PI is false as was shown by Stephen Sullivan [7] who provides the following counter-example:  Consider a bachelor, Giorgio, who chooses to remain unmarried because he prefers to live alone. This reason (that he prefers to live alone) provides a motivational explanation for Giorgio’s choosing to remain unmarried, but it does not constitute his bachelorhood. Giorgio has a reason for being unmarried, his being unmarried constitutes his being a bachelor, but his reason for being unmarried does not constitute his being a bachelor. Thus, PI is false and Sinnot-Armstrong’s argument, since it relies on it, is unsound.
Is Flannagan correct that the arbitrariness argument relies on PI? I don’t see that it does. PI is extremely implausible on its face and does not capture the insight involved in the argument. In any event, the argument does not need it. A defender of AA need not be committed to PI but to something much more narrow in scope. A defender of AA can accept that PI is not generally true but assert that it is true of phenomena that involve reasons in the way that moral obligations do.
Morality involves reasons in two different respects; if I am morally obligated to do something, then I have a reason (or reasons) to do it. But, more than this, if I am obligated to do something, then there are reasons that I am under that obligation. For example, a parent is morally obligated to care for her children. But there are also reasons for this obligation. A parent is so-obligated because she is partly responsible for bringing the child, who is helpless on his own, into existence. A stranger living 500 miles away from the child has no reason to provide for that child and, again, there are reasons for this lack of obligation (namely, that the stranger does not know the child (or even that the child exists) and so does not have a special connection to the child and can do very little in any event).
The preceding is merely an attempt to sketch an example which illustrates the dual way in which morality is connected to rationality. Nothing depends on whether the analysis of the parent-child moral nexus that I provided is accurate. The point is only that moral obligations are reasons and that there are reasons for the presence (or absence) of moral obligations.
Given this, it is more plausible to read the arbitrariness argument as depending on a principle that is more specific than PI, one that concerns reasons in particular:
PR: If A is constituted by B, A is grounded in reasons and is itself a reason, and someone has reasons r for bringing about B, then A is constituted by r.
PR is a much more relevant to AA since moral obligations are reasons and are grounded in reasons. Nor is PR falsified by the bachelor example. Being a bachelor is not a reason, nor is it necessarily grounded in reasons. (I mean that many bachelors just happen to be bachelors, not out of choice; not for any particular reason.) So, on the plausible assumption that obligations are both reasons and are grounded in reasons, there is no need for AA to rely on PI. Thus, in showing that PI is false, Flannagan has not defeated AA. None of this proves that PR is true and I will not attempt to do so here. Nonetheless, Flannagan’s criticism of AA does not go through since it involves criticizing a principle that a defender of AA need not be committed to.
If you are interested, you can read Flannagan’s response to Richard Carrier’s criticism of his arguments here.


 
[1] Sinnot-Armstrong, W., “Why Traditional Theism Cannot Provide an Adequate Foundation for Morality” in R. Garcia & N. Kind eds. Is Goodness Without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics (Lanham, Md.: Rowan and Littlefield, 2009), p. 108.
[2] Flannagan, “Is Ethical Naturalism more Plausible than Supernaturalism? A Reply to Walter Sinnot-Armstrong” Philo 15, no. 1 (2012): 19-37.
[3] Ibid, 20.
[4] Ibid, 21.
[5] Ibid, 21.
[6] Ibid, 22.
[7] Sullivan, “Arbitrariness, Divine Commands and Morality” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 33, no.1 (1993): 33-45.

bookmark_borderLink: Why Science Cannot Explain Why Anything At All Exists by Luke Barnes

Physicist and cosmologist Luke Barnes wrote an interesting post in his blog a while ago about why science cannot explain why anything at all exists. I’m inclined to agree with him. Here is how he summarizes his own argument in his own words.

A: The state of physics at any time can be (roughly) summarised by three things.
1. A statement about what the fundamental constituents of physical reality are and what their properties are.
2. A set of mathematical equations describing how these entities change, move, interact and rearrange.
3. A compilation of experimental and observational data.
In short, the stuff, the laws and the data.
B: None of these, and no combination of these, can answer the question “why does anything at all exist?”.
C: Thus physics cannot answer the question “why does anything at all exist?”.

For details, go here.

bookmark_borderCritical Thinking and Skepticism – Part 3

John Loftus did a short post on this topic back in May.   Based on that post, it is clear that we agree there is a close connection between critical thinking and skepticism.  Here are two of his statements along those lines:
…to think critically is to think skeptically, and vice versa.
…there is no distinction between critical thinking and thinking skeptically. They are one and the same. 
Although Loftus views critical thinking and skepticism as being “one and the same”  he says things about Christian scholars who engage in Christian apologetics that seem logically inconsistent, based on the equivalence of critical thinking and skepticism:
Believers can and do think critically, especially the best of the best, like Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne and William Lane Craig. [emphasis added]
But they [Christian scholars who engage in Christian apologetics] are not truly critical thinkers since they do not think skeptically. [emphasis added]
Wait a minute.  If these Christian scholars “do not think skeptically” and if  critical thinking and skepticism “are one and the same”  it follows logically that these Christian scholars do NOT think critically.  But Loftus is claiming that these Christian scholars “can and do think critically”.  There is an apparent contradiction here.
Loftus, I think, realizes this, perhaps even intends this apparent inconsistency as a sort of rhetorical device to highlight a distinction that he is trying to make.  But for the sake of clarity, we need to eliminate the apparent logical contradiction, perhaps by understanding the distinction that Loftus is attempting to make in the post.
Before we look into the distinction that Loftus might be making, there is one obvious way to resolve the apparent contradiction.  One lie does not make a person a liar.  When I was in the fifth grade, many decades ago,  my two best friends would sometimes smoke cigarettes.  Naturally, I joined in with them.  On one such occasion my mother asked if I had been smoking, I lied, and said ‘No’.  Does that mean that I am now a liar?  Obviously not.  To describe someone as a ‘liar’ is to make a claim about that person’s character or general pattern of behavior.
The same point can be made about kindness, honesty, and generosity.  One kind act does not make someone a kind person.  A mean or cruel person can do something kind once in awhile.  One truthful statement does not make someone an honest person.   Making a donation to  a charity on one particular occasion does not make someone a generous person.  We distinguish between specific actions and choices of a person, and the general character of that person.  Good people sometimes do bad things, and bad people sometimes do good things.  One can think critically on a particular occasion, and yet not deserve to be called a critical thinker.  “X was thinking critically about Y today” does NOT imply “X is a critical thinker”.  So, one distinction to keep in mind is the difference between particular actions and choices on the one hand and a person’s general character, on the other hand.
Let’s consider some of the criticisms that Loftus makes about believers and Christian apologists:
What believers do is to defend their faith rather than look critically at it, no matter what the intellectual cost.
A believer might well “look critically at” atheism and humanism, and “look critically at” objections to Christianity, but Loftus objects that “their faith” is something that they do not “look critically at”.  There is selectivity in what believers and apologists choose to subject to critical thinking (and skepticism).
If Christian apologists could think logically, without the perceived need to defend their religious sect’s faith, they would see they are not thinking consistently critically.
Christian apologist might think logically sometimes, might think critically sometimes, but according to Loftus, they do not do so consistently, plus their thinking is blinded or skewed by the “perceived need to defend” their religious beliefs.  In other words, desire and emotion concerning their religious beliefs clouds their thinking.
I say believers operate by double standards. They do not think critically, in the sense I just wrote about…
Believers use one set of standards to criticize and evaluate the beliefs and worldviews of people with whom they disagree, and they do not apply that same set of standards to their own beliefs and to their own worldview.  The standards they apply to beliefs and worldviews with which they disagree is, of course, a higher and more demanding standard than what they apply to their own beliefs and to their own worldview.  In other words, they are more skeptical of the beliefs of others than they are of their own beliefs.
Not being critical or skeptical of one’s own views, thinking critically only when that helps support one’s current beliefs or current worldview, and using high standards to critically evaluate the views with which one disagrees while using lower standards  to evaluate one’s favorite beliefs and views makes one a semi-critical thinker at best, not a full-blown critical thinker. As Loftus states, Christian apologists “are not truly critical thinkers since they do not think skeptically.”   I would amend that slightly: they do not think skeptically about their own beliefs and views, only about the beliefs and views with which they disagree.
One can frequently and almost continuously think skeptically about the beliefs and views with which one disagrees.  One can frequently and almost continuously think critically about the beliefs and views with which one disagrees.  One can thus be more than just an occasional critical thinker, more than just occasionally skeptical, and yet never or rarely ever question and seriously challenge one’s own beliefs or worldview.
Such frequent engagement in skilled thinking and analysis that is fundamentally BIASED and driven by the desire to protect and defend one’s cherished beliefs does NOT make a person deserving of the description “critical thinker”.   The whole point of critical thinking is to seek truth in an objective and rational manner.  Someone who simply uses logic and critical thinking skills to support a conclusion that was arrived at independently of critical thinking and logic, and that is maintained with disregard to logic and the standards of critical thinking is operating contrary to the very purpose of critical thinking.
A distinction that would help here was made by Dr. Richard Paul back in the 1980s.  We need to distinguish between a weak sense and a strong sense of ‘critical thinker’.  A person can be a critical thinker in the weak sense if he or she has significant mastery of the concepts and skills of critical thinking (such as logic, argument analysis, and the standards of critical thinking) but  generally applies those concepts and skills in an egocentric, sociocentric, or biased manner.   A person is a critical thinker in the strong sense if in addition to having significant mastery of the concepts and skills of critical thinking, he or she  not only makes frequent use of those concepts and skills, but includes critical and skeptical evaluation of his or her own beliefs and his or her own worldview,  and makes a serious effort to resist the temptations of egocentrism, sociocentrism, and the biased use of the skills and concepts of critical thinking.
If one makes this distinction between a weak-sense critical thinker and a strong-sense critical thinker, then one can assert both that Christian apologists “can and do think critically” and that Christian apologists are generally “are not truly critical thinkers”.   We could say, without contradiction, that such people are weak-sense critical thinkers but not stong-sense critical thinkers.