This is just a very quick post to remind readers that when I post links, my doing so does not necessarily mean I endorse the link unless I explicitly say that I do. I would have thought this was obvious but apparently I’m going to need to state this on every post going forward in which I post a link.
I’m going to resist the temptation to tag this post with the label “Village Theist,” however, as I consider that both childish and rude.
It does not look like I can retire this year, maybe next year (it could happen!). But I think I will start my ten-year plan to develop a multi-volume critique of Christianity in January, even if I’m still working my 9 to 5 job.
Part of evaluating Christianity is evaluating the fundamental metaphysical claim that ‘God exists’. If there is no God, then, obviously, there is no Son of God or God Incarnate, so the truth of most of the other basic Christian beliefs depends on the truth of theism. Similarly, if the existence of God is improbable, then the existence of the Son of God or God Incarnate is also improbable, at best. So, if it cannot be proven that there is no God, it would still be significant to determine an estimated probability for the existence of God.
There are many questions that need to be investigated and answered to have a fully-developed view of theism. Here are some of the questions that I would like to have my own views on:
1. Does God exist?
2. Is the sentence ‘God exists’ a meaningful sentence?
3. Does the sentence ‘God exists’ make a statement?
4. What is the meaning of the sentence ‘God exists’ ?
5. Assuming that ‘God exists’ makes a statement, does it make a coherent statement?
6. Is the word ‘God’ a proper noun?
7. Assuming the word ‘God’ is a proper noun, should we analyze ‘God’ in terms of various divine attributes?
8. Assuming the word ‘God’ should be analyzed in terms of various divine attributes, which divine attributes are part of the meaning of the word ‘God’?
9. Assuming the word ‘God’ should be analyzed in terms of various divine attributes, how are we to determine which attributes are part of the meaning of the word ‘God’?
10. Assuming the word ‘God’ should be analyzed in terms of various divine attributes, should those divine attributes be considered criteria or necessary conditions?
11. What are the meanings of the various divine attributes that are part of the meaning of the word ‘God’?
12. Is each one of the divine attributes that is part of the meaning of the word ‘God’ coherent?
13. Is the combination of all divine attributes that are part of the meaning of the word ‘God’ coherent (when attributed simultaneously to one person)?
14. Assuming that the sentence ‘God exists’ makes a coherent statement, is this statement a necessary truth or a contingent claim?
15. Assuming the sentence ‘God exists’ makes a contingent claim, is it an empirical claim or an a priori claim (i.e. synthetic a priori)?
16. Assuming the sentence ‘God exists’ makes an empirical claim, is this claim true or probably true?
17. Assuming the sentence ‘God exists’ makes an empirical claim, how can we determine the truth or probability of this claim?
18. Are there any valid deductive arguments for God that use only premises that are known to be true?
19. Are there any valid deductive arguments against God that use only premises that are known to be true?
20. Are there any valid deductive arguments for God that use only premises that are either known to be true or that are probably true?
21. Are there any valid deductive arguments against God that use only premises that are either known to be true or that are probably true?
22. Are there any non-deductive arguments for God that make the existence of God probable, other things being equal?
23. Are there any non-deductive arguments against God that make the existence of God improbable, other things being equal?
24. Are there any valid deductive arguments for the rationality of belief in God which use only premises that are known to be true?
25. Are there any valid deductive arguments against the rationality of belief in God which use only premises that are known to be true?
26. Are there any valid deductive arguments for the rationality of belief in God that use only premises that are either known to be true or that are probably true?
27. Are there any valid deductive arguments against the rationality of belief in God that use only premises that are either known to be true or that are probably true?
28. Are there any non-deductive arguments for the rationality of belief in God that make it probable that it is rational to believe in God, other things being equal?
29. Are there any non-deductive arguments against the rationality of belief in God that make it improbable that it is rational to believe in God, other things being equal?
There, that should keep me busy for awhile.
In The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG) , Richard Swinburne presents a careful and systematic case for the existence of God. Eight of the arguments (that he considers to be significant) are presented as bits of empirical data each of which increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists a bit (with the exception of the Problem of Evil, which he believes decreases the probability a bit).
These eight inductive arguments are supposed to make the hypothesis of the existence of God roughly a 50/50 proposition:
…it is something like as probable as not that theism is true, on the evidence so far considered. However, so far in this chapter, I have ignored one crucial piece of evidence, the evidence from religious experience. (EOG, p.341)
The argument from religious experience (hereafter: AFR) is supposed to put the hypothesis of theism over the top, making the hypothesis probable, i.e. more probable than not:
…unless the probability of theism on other evidence is very low, the testimony of many witnesses to experiences apparently of God suffices to make many of those experiences probably veridical. That is, the evidence of religious experience is in that case sufficient to make theism overall probable. (EOG, p.341)
So long as the evidence from the nature of the universe and from the nature of human life (other than religious experiences of humans) is sufficient to make the probability of theism greater than ‘very low’ that is enough to get AFR off the ground and boost theism to being more probable than not, according to Swinburne.
AFR is based on three principles that are concerned with experience, memory, and testimony:
…(in the absence of special considerations), if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic)… (EOG, p. 303)
If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. (EOG, p.303)
…(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them. (EOG, p.322)
Many people have on many occasions throughout human history have reported having had a religious experience in which it seemed (epistemically) to them that God was present. Based on Swinburne’s principle concerning testimony, it is probable in each case (where there was an absence of special considerations concerning testimony) that the reported experience did occur, and that in each of those cases the experience which seemed (epistemically) to to the subject that God was present (where there was an absence of special considerations) God was probably present.
In the Chapter in which Swinburne presents AFR, various possible special considerations are reviewed and Swinburne argues that they do not work in general against religious experiences that seem to be of the presence of God. The main question, from Swinburne’s point of view, is what the degree of probability the existence of God has based on other relevant evidence besides religious experiences. If this probability is greater than ‘very low’, if the probability of the existence of God is, for example, low but not very low, then the evidence against the existence of God is insufficient to outweigh the force of religious experience. Swinburne believes that the evidence for and against God, setting aside religious experiences, makes the existence of God about as probable as not.
Here is how I would put these claims in terms of numbers:
x has a very low probability means P(x) is greater than 0 AND P(x) is less than .2
x has a low (but not very low) probability means P(x) is greater than or equal to .2 AND P(x) is less than .4
x is about as probable as not means P(x) is greater than or equal to .4 AND P(x) is less than .6
x is more probable than not means P(x) is greater than or equal to .6
Let u be the evidence in the premises of the arguments from the nature of the universe.
Let h be the evidence in the premises of the arguments from the nature of human life (except for religious experiences).
Let r be the evidence of religious experiences (including testimony of alleged experiences that seemed to be of the presence of God).
Let g be the hypothesis that God exists.
Swinburne’s argument in EOG can be summarized this way:
1. P(g|u & h) ≥ .4 AND P(g|u & h) < .6
2. IF P(g|u & h) ≥ .2 THEN P(g|u & h & r) ≥ .6
3. P(g|u & h & r) ≥ .6
Premise (1) entails that P(g|u & h) is greater than .2 and thus that P(g|u & h) is greater than or equal to .2, which is the antecedent of the conditional claim in premise (2), so the conclusion is thus entailed by modus ponens.
Draper’s chapter was published in Yujin Nagasawa (ed.), Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion. Palgrave Macmillan. 49 (2012). It’s available online for free courtesy of Google Books.
I am quoting the abstract of Trisel’s paper here, without comment pro or con, for interested readers who may wish to read the paper for themselves. Feel free to debate in the combox.
Abstract. Some people feel threatened by the thought that life might have arisen by chance. What is it about “chance” that some people find so threatening? If life originated by chance, this suggests that life was unintended and that it was not inevitable. It is ironic that people care about whether life in general was intended, but may not have ever wondered whether their own existence was intended by their parents. If it does not matter to us whether one’s own existence was intended, as will be hypothesized, then why should it matter whether there was some remote intent behind the creation of the first unicellular organism(s) billions of years ago? I will discuss three possible scenarios by which life might have originated. I will then argue that, in regard to whether one’s individual life can be meaningful, it does not matter whether life was intended or arose by chance. If complex life was unintended and is rare in this universe, this is not a reason to disparage life, but a reason to appreciate and value our existence.
I am quoting the abstract of this paper here, without comment pro or con, for interested readers who may wish to read the paper for themselves. Feel free to debate in the combox.
Abstract. Some argue for materialism claiming that a physical event cannot have a non-physical cause, or by claiming the ‘Principle of Causal Closure’ to be true. This I call a ‘Sweeping Naturalistic Argument’. This article argues against this. It describes what it would be for a material event to have an immaterial cause.
I want to a link to another terrific blog post by philosopher Larry Arnhart.
One worry–perhaps the worry–about basing morality on the biology of human nature is that it makes morality species-specific. Darwin himself voiced this concern in The Descent of Man:
“In the same manner as various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct. If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering. Nevertheless, the bee, or any other social animal, would gain in our supposed case, as it appears to me, some feeling of right or wrong, or a conscience” (Penguin Classics, 2004, pp. 122-23).
As I have said, this argument from people like Cobbe, West, and Forde assumes a Platonic expectation of a moral cosmology–that morality is somehow woven into the fabric of the cosmos as a dictate of a cosmic God, a cosmic Reason, or a cosmic Nature.
I reject this Platonic moral cosmology, because I see no reason why morality cannot rightly be understood as grounded in our evolved human nature, so that what is moral for us would not necessarily be moral for any other species that might develop a moral sense.
Contrary to Cobbe, West, and Forde, I see nothing nihilistic in admiring the bee police for their evolved system of law enforcement, and in seeing this as showing that Friedrich Nietzsche was right to view “the entire phenomenon of morality as animal.”
Larry Arnhart always writes terrific blog posts; this one from 2013 is no exception. (If you’re a regular reader of the Secular Outpost but not of his blog, then you should start reading his blog.) In this post, he takes issue with (among others) Michael Ruse’s claim that evolutionary naturalism undermines the foundations of morality. Aside: isn’t it amazing how apologists like William Lane Craig will quote Michael Ruse to make an argument from authority to support the claim that atheism leads to nihilism, but then conveniently ignore the fact that equally well qualified authorities disagree with Ruse? In fact, many of Ruse’s colleagues have vigorously criticized his argument (see, e.g., here, here, here), but, so far as I can tell, Ruse hasn’t responded to any of those criticisms. This makes WLC’s appeal to Ruse in his debates even worse than it already was. I love this passage by Arnhart:
I think that Ruse’s point here is the same as my point in my paper for the workshop about liberal evolutionary morality being rooted in a moral anthropology but not in a moral cosmology. That is to say, human morality is rooted in human nature, human culture, and human judgment, but not in a cosmic Nature, a cosmic God, or a cosmic Reason.
But I see no warrant for describing this as a “terrifying” teaching that morality is an “illusion.” Ruse seems to assume a Platonic or Kantian view that the truth of morality would require that it be written into the eternal order of the cosmos, and so if it isn’t, then morality is an illusion. But surely the fact that we humans have evolved to be moral animals is an objective truth about us that will remain true for as long as we endure as the kind of animals that we are. (emphasis mine)
This another item I found while organizing material on my hard drive. I think I am the author, but I am not certain of that.
What is the advantage of divine nature theories over ideal observer theories? Consider, for example, a divine nature theory of moral value. On such a view, God’s nature, not God, is the source of moral value. But what is the distinction between God and His nature? Presumably, God’s nature is simply the collection of God’s properties or attributes (e.g., the property of omniscience, the property of omnipotence, etc.). But if that is the case, then why do we need God in order for moral value to supervene on one or more of such properties? Or to put the point differently, why must those properties be instantiated in the person of God in order for the supervenience relationship to hold? And if such properties do not need to be instantiated in the person of God, then what is the advantage of the divine nature theory over, say, an ideal observer theory?
I am summarizing Smith’s argument here, without comment pro or con, for interested readers. Feel free to debate in the combox.
In his history of 20th century moral philosophy, Ethical and Religious Thought, Quentin Smith draws the following distinction between first-level and second-level ethical beliefs:
A first-level ethical belief is that something is good or evil or that something is of equal or greater value than something else, for example, that philosophical understanding is at least as valuable as aesthetic enjoyment. A second-level ethic belief is about some or all first-level ethical beliefs. The belief that “the intuition the proposition that philosophical understanding is at least as valuable as aesthetic enjoyment is true does not absolutely justify belief in this proposition” is an example of a particular second-level ethical belief, and the belief that “life is meaningful but absurd” is an example of a general second-level ethical belief. (p. 18)
Smith defends the following argument for moral realism.
(1) Ordinary ethical sentences and commonsense first-level moral beliefs imply moral realism (or “Moral realism tacitly seems to be true in ordinary commonsense moral attitudes”).
(2) There are no empirical or a priori reasons to believe that first-level moral beliefs are all false.
(3) It is more reasonable to believe moral realism that not to believe this.
(4) There is no reason to believe that the conjunction of (1) and (2) is a defective reason to believe moral realism.
(5) The belief in moral realism is indefeasibly justified.