bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 2

Richard Swinburne’s argument from religious experience (AFR) as given in The Existence of God (2nd ed.- hereafter: EOG) is based on three key epistemological  principles:

EXPERIENCE

…(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)

MEMORY

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)

TESTIMONY

…(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them. (EOG, p.322) 


There are some interesting issues and complexities involving probability calculations that I have run into recently in thinking about this argument.  Let’s start simple, and then work towards more complicated and realistic scenarios. The simple scenario  I have in mind is this:

Just one person has just one religious experience of a generic theistic sort (i.e. this person has an experience which seems (epistemicallly) to him or her to be an experience of the presence of God).  
What is the evidential force of this experience for that person who has the experience, given Swinburne’s principles?
If the person in question is having this religious exprience right now, then he or she does not need to make any assumptions about the reliability of his or her memory, nor is there a need to make use of testimony about the religious experiences of others, since we are assuming that there is just one religious experience on just this one occasion.  The reasoning of this person would go like this, based on Swinburne’s principle concerning experiences:
1. I am now having an experience in which it seems (epistemically) to me that God is present here and now.
2. There are no special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this experience.
3. In the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this experience, if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic).
Therefore:
4. It is probably the case that God is present here and now.
One obvious “special consideration” against the veridicality of this religious experience is evidence against the existence of God.  Swinburne recognizes that this is relevant, and he has saved the argument from religious experience for the end of his case for God.  So, he thinks that he has already dealt with various reasons and arguments against the existence of God, including the problem of evil, and thinks he has shown that there is at least a significant probability that God exists, even taking negative evidence into account.   I interpret him to claim that the probability for the existence of God is between about .4 and .5 prior to consideration of AFR.
But Swinburne thinks that he only needs to show that the probability of God’s existence is something greater than “very low” prior to consideration of religious experience.  I interpret that to mean that he only needs to show that there is a probability of at least .2 (two chances in ten) that God exists, prior to consideration of AFR.
I’m not going to directly challenge the above reasoning that is based on a single instance of a theistic religious experience.  I’m more interested in looking at the issues that arise in more complicated scenarios.
One obvious complication is that religious experiences usually only last for a few seconds or a few minutes.  This means that the above reasoning will only be of temporary relevance to the person who had the religious experience.  Once the experience is gone, the person who had the experience must rely on a MEMORY of the experience to justify his or her current belief in God:
5. It seems (epistemically) to me that last Friday night, I had an experience which (at that time) seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.
 6. There are no special considerations that cast doubt on the  veridicality or reliability of my apparent memory of having had this experience last Friday night.
7. If it seems (epistemically) to a subject that he or she had a certain experience at a particular time in the past, then (in the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of that apparent memory) he or she probably did have that experience at that particular time in the past.
Therefore:
8.  It is probably the case that last Friday night I had an experience which (at that time) seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.
The apparent memory does NOT absolutely guarantee that the experience really happened as one thinks it happened.  An apparent memory can only make it very probable that the experience happened and was of a certain character.  Furthermore, even at the very moment that the religious experience was occurring, the experience did not absolutely guarantee that God was in fact present; it only made the presence of God probable.  In remembering a religious experience, one makes two probable inferences.  The first probable inference is from the apparent memory to the occurrence of the religious experience, and the second probable inference is from the occurrence of the religious experience to the existence of God.  Each probable inference in a chain of inferences lowers the probability of the conclusion.
At the time I was having the religious experience, I could be very confident that I was having an experience which seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.  So, at that time we could say that I was justifiably certain that I was having such an experience.  The probability that I was having such an experience could be said to be 1.0 for me at that time.  But that time has come and gone, and I can no longer be certain that I had that religious experience and that it was of the described character.
Suppose that given the apparent memory of having had a religious experience (of the sort described above), and given the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the reliability of the apparent memory, the probable inference to the conclusion that the religious experience really occurred gives that conclusion a probability of .8.   That I am right now having an apparent memory of this event is something I can know with a very high degree of certainty, so let’s just say that the occurrence of the apparent memory is certain, that it has a probability of 1.0.  In this case, the conclusion that I had the religious experience (as described) last Friday night would be .8, based on the apparent memory of having had that experience.
If it were certain that I had an experience that seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God, this would NOT make it certain that God exists, but if there are no special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of that expereince, then, according to Swinburne, I can justifiably infer that it is probable that the experience was veridical and thus that God probably exists.  Let’s suppose that given that it was certain that I had a religious experience of the sort described, this would make the probability of the  existence of God .8.  It is tempting at this point to reason along the lines of a hypothetical syllogism:
9. If someone has an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on the memory), then that person probably did have a religious experience of the presence of God.
10.  If someone had a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on that experience), then that person  probably was in fact in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
Therefore:
11.  If someone has an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on that memory, and there are no special considerations casting doubt on the experience), then that person probably was in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
From (11) we can form an argument for the probability that God exists, by adding a few premises:
12.  I have an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God.
13.  There are no special considerations casting doubt on that apparent memory.
14. There are no special considerations casting doubt on that religious experience.
Therefore:
15.  I probably was in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
 
However, there are a couple of problems with the logic of the argument for (11).  First of all, the following is NOT a valid deductive argument:
16. If P, then probably Q.
17. If Q, then probably R.
Therefore:
18. If P, then probably R.
The concusion does not follow logically, because in a chain of probable inferences, the probability is reduced at each step.  Suppose that the truth of P made the probability of Q  equal to .6.  In that case, premise (16) would be true (if we interpret “probably” to mean having a probability greater than .5).  Suppose that the truth of Q makes the probability of R equal to .6.  In that case, premise (17) would be true. The truth of P would thus only make Q somewhat probable (.6), so we would not be certain that Q was true, and thus we would not be certain that premise (17) applies. There is only a probability of .6 that Q is the case, so only a probability of .6 that premise (17) applies.  Only if Q turns out to be true will the logic of premise (17) be activated.  Thus, we must multiply the probabilities of the two probable inferences:  .6  x .6 =  .36.    So, if P is the case, then this argument only supports the conclusion that the probability of R would be .36 , or rounding to one digit: .4.  But a probability of .4 is too low to justify the conclusion that R is “probably” true.  In order to conclude that R is “probably” true, one would need to show that the probability of R was greater than .5 (at the least).
Another way to put this point, is to note that this relationship (If X, then probably Y) is NOT transitive, as opposed to the similar sounding relationship If X, then Y, which is transitive.  In a chain of many implications or entailments, the strength of the logical connection does not weaken:
19. If P, then Q.
20. If Q, then R.
21. If R, then S.
22. If S, then T.
Therefore:
23. If P, then T.
The above reasoning is deductively valid.  The logical connection between P and T in the conclusion is just as strong as the logical connection between P and Q in premise (19).   Swinburne is very much aware of this basic logical point that distinguishes probable inferences from implications or entailments.
There is another problem or complexity involved in this argument form:
16. If P, then probably Q.
17. If Q, then probably R.
Therefore:
18. If P, then probably R.
With inductive reasoning, the probability of a claim or belief can change with new or additional evidence.  Thus, although P might well make Q probale in most circumstances, there are possible circumstances in which although P is the case, Q would definitely be false.  For example, suppose that you see that I frequently drive a late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan.  You might reasonably infer that I am probably NOT poor. But if you learn that I have a part-time job as a driver for a wealthy business man, then your previous inference is cast into doubt.  I might well be poor, even though I frequently drive a late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan.  That is how inductive reasoning works.  New information can alter the probability of a claim or belief.
This means that in order for premises like (16) or (17) to be true, we must understand them to involve an unstated qualification: other things being equal.
16a. If P, then probably Q (other things being equal).
17a. If Q,then probably R (other things being equal).
Therefore:
18a. If P, then probably R (other things being equal).
In other words, probable inferences and inductive reasoning are always to be thought of as contextual, as referring to a certain collection of information or assumptions, and so there is always the possibility that new or additional information could alter the probabilities.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderCritical Thinking is Bigotry

Check Out the American Family Association’s (AFA) online “Anti-Christian Bigotry” map. (Sorry, I can’t provide the link) It has a map of North America listing atheist, humanist, GLBT, and “anti-Christian” (e.g. FFRF) groups. All of these groups are engaged in anti-Christian bigotry according to the AFA. For instance, they say of humanists groups: “Believes critical thinking and physical evidence are the sole basis for beliefs. Humanists believe science triumphs [sic] faith in issues of morality and decision-making.” Do you believe that science “triumphs” faith? Bigot! Do you employ critical thinking and physical evidence to ground your beliefs? Christophobe! Is you one of them preverts promotin’ th’ home-o-sexual agenda? You is goin’ to HAY-ULL!!!
The Tupelo, Mississippi-based AFA was in the news lately, BTW. They issued a condemnation of Fifty Shades of Gray, and called upon all Good Christians to boycott the movie. Well. Guess which state had the most advanced ticket sales for FSoG? That’s right, The Magnolia State. And guess which city in that state had the most advanced ticket sales. Uh huh, fair Tupelo. Say….do you think that the AFA bought up all those tickets to try to keep people from seeing the movie?!? I wonder if they would pay me the ticket price if I wrote and promised not to see it. (Psst. Just between you and me, I promise not to see it anyway)

bookmark_borderInterview with Prof. Axgrind

I am presenting to the readers of Secular Outpost my exclusive interview with Professor Hugo Axgrind, Professor of Revisionist History and Head of The Center for Medieval Exoneration at the University of St. Torquemada. I am interviewing Prof. Axgrind about his new book A New Edition of the Spanish Inquisition.
Parsons: Professor Axgrind, I understand that your stated purpose in writing your book was “To correct the accumulated calumnies directed against the Spanish Inquisition and the men who conducted it.” Am I correct in saying that your aim is nothing less than to change our entire image of the Holy Inquisition and, in particular, its notorious practice in Spain?
Axgrind: Yes, indeed. For centuries the assumption has been that the Spanish Inquisition was a brutal attempt to impose doctrinal conformity and submission to Catholic authority by ferreting out heresy using such means as the humiliation and imprisonment of accused heretics and coercion of confession by torture.
Parsons: So, torture was not used by the inquisitors to extract confessions?
Axgrind: Well, it depends on what you mean by “torture.” Some of my students seem to regard sitting through an hour-long class to be torture, heh, heh.
Parsons: But, really, weren’t the strappado and the rack more excruciating than being bored in class? Could not the inquisitors hold you indefinitely and torture you repeatedly?
Axgrind: My research indicates that descriptions of the strappado and the rack are figures of speech, hyperbolic language meant to intimidate but never actually used. In fact, the accused heretic was brought to Inquisition Headquarters, placed on a hard stool, and given a stern talking-to. He then was sent to “time out” which means he had to sit still in a comfortable chair until dinner time with only a cup of coffee to drink. He was then sent home with a note to his mother.
Parsons: Seriously?!? Where did all these stories about brutal torture come from?
Axgrind: Oh, you know how people exaggerate, especially when it involves anything medieval or Catholic.
Parsons: Excuse me, but there are transcripts, recorded by the inquisitors themselves, of victims of torture screaming and begging for mercy. How do you account for those?
Axgrind: Oh, those “transcripts” were pieces of creative fiction written by the inquisitors to pass the time. Actually, investigating heresy was really boring work, and the inquisitors were intelligent and educated people who resented being assigned to such tedious duty. Most of the people they interrogated had such a vague idea of the content of Catholic doctrine that they could not have been heretics had they tried. Can you imagine having to ask José the barber what he thought of the filioque clause of the creed? You got hours and hours of meaningless babble. Yawn. They wrote those “transcripts” for their own entertainment.
Parsons: So, the inquisitors were not cruel men at all?
Axgrind: Some were cruel. Cruel but fair. Actually, you have to remember that the Inquisition was really instituted to prevent the abuses of the secular authorities.
Parsons: How do you mean?
Axgrind: Well, in those days the secular authorities would grab you and nail your head to the floor for no reason at all. They found out that they could make big bucks by accusing people of heresy, forcing confessions by torture, and confiscating all their property. The Church nobly stepped in to curtail these abuses with a regular, orderly, and rule-bound procedure for investigating heresy.
Parsons: But did not the Inquisition hand over recalcitrant “heretics” to the secular authorities to be burned at the stake?
Axgrind: Well, yes, of course that did happen, but as Prof. Pferdscheiss shows in his masterful study, only a few thousand people were actually burned after passing through the hands of the Inquisition. Just a drop in the bucket, really.
Parsons: So, actually the Inquisition was not a brutally oppressive agency attempting to impose Orwellian thought control, but a liberal institution that served humane purposes and respected the rights of the accused?
Axgrind: Exactly! Really, the Founding Fathers of this country looked back to their predecessors of the Holy Inquisition for inspiration in drawing up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Parsons: So, Prof. Axgrind, do you have any plans for future research that will change other facile assumptions?
Axgrind: Yes indeed!  My next book will argue that the Crusades were a defensive war. Richard “The Lionheart” fought in the Third Crusade because Saladin was poised on the French shore with a merciless army of jihadists, just waiting to invade England. Richard had no choice but to act. Also, I am planning a future work that will show that the scientific revolution actually started at the Monastery of Cluny in the Tenth Century. Also, I am planning a book to be titled The Misunderstood Renaissance Popes.
Parsons: I would like to thank you Prof. Axgrind for allowing me to interview you and for your diligent work in correcting our misconceptions!

bookmark_borderEvolution vs. The Argument from Providence

In the Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG) Richard Swinburne lays out a carefully constructed, systematically presented case for the the claim that it is more likely than not that God exists.  I have previously argued that there is a big problem with this case that arises with the third argument.  In order to know that the premise of the third argument is true, one must know a lot of information about science and about the evolution of life and the evolution of human beings.
Here is the premise of TASO (Teleological Argument from Spatial Order), the third argument in Swinburne’s case for God:
 (e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws, and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.
One would need to have some knowledge of chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, and biology in order to know that (e3) was true.  With all this knowledge one would inevitably have some knowledge concerning the problem of evil, and thus Swinburne must deal with the problem of evil at this point in order to show his third argument to be a correct inductive argument, because whatever positive weight (e3) has in support of the existence of God might well be overwhelmed by the negative weight of the problem of evil that is contained in the information required to know that (e3) is true.  However, Swinburne does not deal with the problem of evil until much later, so he has failed to establish that TASO has a correct inductive inference. [NOTE: I’m not convinced that (e3) is in fact true, but that is a different line of objection to this third argument.]
As Swinburne presents his case, he is attempting to add facts one at a time, to slowly build up an inductive case for God.  With inductive reasoning using Bayes’ theorem, it is essential to understand what information or assumptions are contained in the background evidence as well as what information or assumptions are presented as the primary evidence (i.e. the premise of the argument). The premise of the first argument becomes part of the background evidence for the second argument, and the premises of the first two arguments become the background evidence for the third argument, and so on.
Here is the order of the first six arguments in Swinburne’s case:

  1. TCA – The Cosmological Argument (EOG, p.133-152)
  2. TATO – Teleological Argument from Temporal Order (EOG, p.153-166)
  3. TASO – Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (EOG, p.167-190)
  4. AFC – Argument from Consciousness (EOG, p.192-212)
  5. AMA – Argument from Moral Awareness (EOG, p.215-218)
  6. AFP – Argument from Providence (EOG, p.219-235)

So, by the time he gets to the Argument from Providence (AFP), the background evidence for this argument includes the premises of the previous five arguments (plus whatever other information was required in order to know the truth of those premises).  This means that (e3) and all of the information required to know the truth of (e3) is part of the background evidence of AFP.
An important part of Swinburne’s defense of AFP is his argument for the idea that birth and death are a good thing.  More specifically, he is arguing that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God would be likely to not only bring about the existence of humanly free agents (creatures with the human characteristics required to make moral choices to help or harm themselves, others, other creatures, and the physical world), but humanly free agents (HFAs) who have the power to bring other HFAs into existence (e.g. by birth), and to end the existence of other HFAs (e.g. by killing them), and also that HFAs would, after a period of time, naturally die, if they were not killed by predators or by another HFA.
Swinburne in effect argues that the fact of human birth and human death is evidence that God exists, because if God exists, we would expect (it would be probable) for God to bring about HFAs that gave birth and died and who were able to kill each other.  There is more to AFP than just the fact of human birth and human death, but these are clearly key elements of this argument.  The problem is that back in TASO, Swinburne’s third argument, we accept the theory of evolution.  The theory of evolution requires that we believe that animals biologically reproduce, and that animals are involved in a struggle for survival.
In other words, natural selection requires reproduction and death.  We accept the claim that the laws and initial conditions of this universe made the evolution of human bodies probable in large part because we believe that human bodies are in fact the product of the natural process of evolution, which means human bodies are the product of more than a billion years of cycles of reproduction and death lasting between a few hours and few decades for each cycle.  Thus, in accepting the theory of evolution back in the third argument, we have previously accepted birth and death as a basic and constant aspect of animal life.
Because the premise of TASO becomes part of the background evidence for AFP, the theory of evolution and the information required to know that this theory is true are included in the background evidence for AFP.  That means that the logical possibility of humans being immortal or being creatures that do not reproduce or give birth has already been ruled out.
Now,  the possibility of human immortality and non-reproduction has not been absolutely and completely ruled out.  It is possible that a wizard or a fairy could sprinkle magical dust onto food crops and humans could be transformed into immortal and non-reproductive creatures.  But in terms of evidence and probability, the fact that reproduction and death has been a universal feature of animal life for a billion years is pretty strong evidence for the view that human beings (with bodies that are the product of this animal evolution) would also be creatures that reproduce and die.
Given that the premise of TASO is part of the background evidence for AFP, then even if there were no God, we would still expect birth and death to be a part of human nature and experience based simply on our knowledge of the theory of evolution, and of the evolution of human bodies.  Thus, even if Swinburne is correct that the existence of God makes it probable that humans would give birth and die, AFP fails, because the background evidence of this argument already makes these aspects of human life probable.  In fact, the background evidence of AFP makes it a practical certainty that human beings would give birth and die natural deaths and be subject to being killed.
Part of Swinburne’s defense of AFP is to describe some different possible worlds.  He first describes World-I, then World-II, then World-III, then he describes a possible world that matches general features of the actual world, World-IV:
…agents are born and die and during their life give birth to other agents. …there is endless scope for improvement… …each generation can only forward or retard its well-being a little. (EOG, p.230).
This World-IV differs from the previous three worlds primarily in that it contains mortal people, while the other three worlds are populated with immortal people.  Clearly, Swinburne places a great deal of emphasis here on the fact of human death and human birth, and this is reflected in the conclusion he draws about the various possible worlds:
…it is moderately probable that God will make a World-IV, including natural death for all and free agents having the power to cause death. (EOG, p.231)
However, since we have previously accepted the theory of evolution as the true explanation of the origin of human bodies, way back in the third argument (TASO) presented in Swinburne’s case,  World-I, World-II, and World-III have already been eliminated from consideration.  The only sorts of worlds that have any significant chance of being the actual world are worlds in which humans are subject to both birth and death.
Furthermore, there are other aspects of the argument from Providence which are also undermined by the previous acceptance of the theory of evolution, back with the third argument (TASO).  For example, Swinburne mentions the variety of choices that humans have because they have bodies:
Merely to have a body…involves having a machine room for the maintenance of which we are responsible.  We have the choice of continuing to exist (by giving ourselves food and drink), giving ourselves pleasures and pains by what we do with our bodies,  damaging or increasing our bodily powers (by rest, exercise, and sleep).(EOG, p.220)
But the fact that humans have bodies was established back in argument three, where the premise asserts that the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe were such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies.  This premise is known to be true only if we know that human bodies are the product of the natural process of evolution.  But knowing that human bodies are the product of evolution assumes that there are human bodies, that we humans have bodies.  Thus, the background knowledge for the Argument from Providence already implies that we humans have bodies, and thus that we have the various choices that Swinburne outlines,  even if God does not exist.
Another point that Swinburne makes is undermined by the previous acceptance of the theory of evolution as the explanation for the origin of human bodies.  Swinburne talks about the dangers of geography as part of his defense of AFP:
Geography is dangerous–there are rivers and seas where we may drown, cliffs over which we may fall, forests in which we may get lost, weather in which we may freeze.  Food is limited–edible plants grow in some places and not others; edible animals need to be caught.  There are predators–the first humans had to avoid tigers and snakes.  And other humans had desires also for food,  drink, shelter,  and mates; they were in competition with each other. (EOG, p.220)
The existence of these natural threats and dangers provide lots of opportunities for humans to make choices that matter to themselves and to others. If nature was much more friendly towards humans, life would be much easier, and we would not have serious choices to make about whether to learn about nature and work at eliminating or overcoming or avoiding these threats and dangers, or to be lazy and not make such efforts, or to learn about nature in order to use these threats and dangers (or knowledge gained about nature from investigation of these threats and dangers) to harm or kill other humans. So, the threats and dangers to humans found in nature expand the scope of human choices that make a significant difference to ourselves, to each other, and to the natural world.
Swinburne imagines worlds in which things might have been very different:
But the mere operation of some laws of biochemistry that produced human bodies could have placed them in a lazier environment. Rivers might have been shallow, cliffs non-existent, food plentiful, no predators preying on humans, plenty of shelter for all humans, all of whom had relatively few children so that there was little competition for shelter and other good things. (EOG, p.220-221)
Such a “lazier environment” is obviously a logical possibility, and appears to be a physical possibility too.  But in order to know that the theory of evolution is true, and that human bodies are in fact the product of evolution, one must have a good deal of knowledge about chemistry, biology, paleontology, geology, astronomy, and the natural history of the earth and of the human species.
I don’t see how one could have enough knowledge of the sort required to know that human bodies evolved without also knowing that there are many natural dangers on this planet (rivers, oceans, cliffs, cold weather, limited food, predators, competition with other species and with other humans, etc.).  So, it seems to me that all or most of these dangerous aspects of nature are already part of the background knowledge by the time we get to Swinburne’s Argument from Providence.  Therefore, all of these wonderful choices that human beings have in virtue of the dangers found in nature, are already implied by our background evidence, and thus the existence of these dangers and of the related choices and options that they provide to humans are certain or virtually certain even if there is no God.  The hypothesis of theism is completely unnecessary to explain these aspects of human life.
Furthermore, even if we could somehow manage to come to a knowledge of the truth of the theory of evolution without knowing that the natural world was full of these various kinds of threats and dangers, the theory of evolution strongly suggests that it would be unlikely for highly intelligent creatures to evolve in a “lazier environment” of the sort Swinburne describes.  It is because of the struggle for survival and the principle of natural selection that made the evolution of human beings possible.  If it was easy for unintelligent animals to survive and to thrive, then intelligence would not give much, if any,  survival advantage.  So, even if we could somehow come to know that the theory of evolution was true without necessarily learning of the various dangers and threats that exist in nature, we could infer that such threats and dangers were probably in existence for millions of years in order to drive the evolution of intelligent animals.
The acceptance of the theory of evolution and of the claim that human bodies are the product of the natural process of evolution undermines most of Swinburne’s points in the Argument from Providence.  Evolution implies that humans are born and die and are subject to killing and being killed.  The evolution of human bodies implies that humans have bodies.  The theory of evolution and the knowledge required to know that this theory is true and that human bodies are the result of evolution, imply that there are many and various threats and dangers in nature, and the theory of evolution by itself, without specific knowledge of natural history provides good reason to believe that human beings evolved in an environment that presented various significant threats and dangers.
Therefore, I conclude that the background evidence that comes from the third argument (TASO) in Swinburne’s case for God completely undermines the sixth argument (AFP) in Swinburne’s case for God.
 

bookmark_borderISIS Violence IS Religious

This is from The Atlantic Monthly:
http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/
It is an excellent rebuttal to those who want to claim that there is no specifically religious violence, and that groups, such as ISIS, are violent for political or economic reasons and only use religion as a cover. A key quote from the essay notes that non-religious factors, must, of course, be acknowledged, but also notes the peculiar blindness of commentators who want to deny the influence of religious ideology:
“Without acknowledgment of these [economic and political] factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.”
This should be obvious to everyone. The only reason that it is not is due to the obfuscation promulgated by those who, due to ideological commitments or a misguided “sensitivity,” refuse to admit the role of religion in promoting violence.

bookmark_borderLessing’s Broad Ditch and Brad’s Lesser Ditch

LESSING’S BROAD DITCH
Quotations are from Lessing’s essay “On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power” from Lessing’s Theological Writings (hereafter: LTW), edited by Henry Chadwick.
Reports of Miracles are not the same as Direct Observation of Miracles
“The problem is that reports of fulfilled prophecies are not fulfilled prophecies; that reports of miracles are not miracles.” (LTW,p.52)
“What is asserted is only that the reports which we have of these prophecies and miracles are as reliable as historical truths ever can be.  And then it is added that historical truths cannot be demonstrated: nevertheless we must believe them as firmly as truths that have been demonstrated.” (LTW, p.53)
Because we cannot directly observe Jesus performing miracles now, we must rely upon historical evidence to base our beliefs about whether Jesus performed any miracles and what specific miracles he performed.  But historical evidence can only yeild probability, not certainty.
We Cannot Build a Demonstration or Proof upon Historical Premises
“If no historical truth can be demonstrated, then nothing can be demonstrated by means of historical truths.  That is, accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason.” (LTW, p.53)
If the premises of an argument are only contingent and probable, then the argument cannot show the conclusion to be necessary or certain.
Historical Beliefs are Insufficient Grounds for Risking Something of Great Worth
“We all believe that an Alexander lived who in a short lifetime conquered almost all of Asia.  But who, on the basis of this belief, would risk anything of great, permanent worth, the loss of which would be irreparable?”  (LTW, p.54)
To reasonably put something of great worth at risk, we must have great certainty in the truth of the beliefs that support this decision, but historical evidence is insufficient to provide that level of certainty.
Can Historical Beliefs provide a Proper basis for Metaphysical Beliefs? 
 “If on historical grounds I have no objection to the statement that Christ raised to life a dead man; must I therefore accept it as true that God has a Son who is of the same essence as himself?” (LTW, p.54)
“If on historical grounds I have no objection to the statement that this Christ himself rose from the dead, must I therefore accept it as true that this risen Christ was the Son of God?” (LTW, p.54)
If a claim is acceptable as an historical claim does that mean that it can provide sufficient evidence to establish a metaphysical or theological claim?
There is a Broad Ditch between Historical Beliefs and Metaphysical Beliefs
 “But to jump with that historical truth to a quite different class of truths, and to demand of me that I should form all my metaphysical and moral ideas accordingly; to expect me to alter all my fundamental ideas of the nature of the Godhead…” based on such historical beliefs is bad reasoning [according to Lessing] (LTW, p.54)
“It is said: ‘The Christ of whom on historical grounds you must allow that he raised the dead, that he himself rose from the dead, said himself that God had a Son of the same essence as himself and that he is this Son.’  This would be quite excellent!  if only it were not the case that it is not more than historically certain that Christ said this!”  (LTW, p.54-55)
“That, then, is the ugly, broad ditch which I cannot get accross, however often and however earnestly I have tried to make the leap.”  (LTW, p.55)
One cannot legitimately infer metaphysical and theological conclusions, such as that Jesus was the divine Son of God, on the basis of historical beliefs, such as that Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead, even if those historical beliefs are well-grounded in historical evidence.
PROBLEMS WITH LESSING’S DITCH
There are at least two basic problems with Lessing’s Ditch.  The Ditch can be narrowed from both sides.  On the one hand, we can lower the bar for the acceptance of metaphysical and theological claims/beliefs.  Lessing appears to be a rationalist concerning metaphysics and theology.  He expected metaphysical and theological claims to be demonstrated in a way similar to the rigorous proofs of geometry.  But now, in the age of science, we no longer demand certainty for general theories and principles.
Probability is good enough for scientific theories and principles, certainty is not required.  Richard Swinburne is a leading philosopher of religion and defender of theism, and his book making the case for theism ends with the conclusion that the hypothesis that God exists is more likely than not.  So, in this age of modern science, we might reasonably join with Swinburne in lowering the bar for the acceptance of metaphysical and theological claims to one of probability.  If it could be shown that the basic theological claims of Christianity were very probable, that might reasonably be considered to be sufficient reason to accept those claims.
The ditch could, in theory, also be narrowed from the side of historical claims.  Scholars have carefully and critically studied the historical evidence concerning the life and ministry of Jesus for over two centuries, so it is possible that a case could be made for certain claims about Jesus that would show those claims to be very probable.
If we lower the standard for acceptability of metaphysical and theological claims and if a Christian apologist (such as William Craig or Gary Habermas) can put together a solid case for some key historical claims about Jesus, and show those claims to be very probable, then it would be possible (in theory, at least) to close the gap between historical claims and the metapysical or theological conclusions that are based upon those claims.
BRAD’S LESSER DITCH
A basic principle of logic and scholarship is that a strong claim is less likely to be true than a weaker version of the claim.  Conversely, a weaker version of a claim is more likely to be true than the strong version of it.  So, I’m going to borrow from Lessing’s reasoning, but construct a somewhat weaker version of a gap between historical claims about Jesus and theological claims about Jesus (my “lesser ditch”).  This modified version of Lessing’s Ditch will, I believe, get around the above objections, at least.  So, I believe this to be an improvement on Lessing’s Ditch.
Lessing’s discussion focuses on historical claims about Jesus and theological claims about Jesus, and he appears to be contemplating an argument that goes something like this:
1. Jesus taught that God had exactly one Son of the same essence as God. (an historical claim about Jesus)
2. Jesus claimed to be that Son of God. (an historical claim about Jesus)
3. Jesus rose from the dead. (an historical claim about Jesus)
Therefore:
4. Jesus is the unique Son of God who has the same essence as God. (a theological claim about Jesus)
There are various problems with this argument, some which can be fixed or alleviated.  First, not only does this fall short of being a conclusive proof, but as it stands the conclusion simply does not follow from the premises.  We need to make one or more assumptions explicit to bridge the logical gap between the premises and the conclusion.   Another problem is that the expression “Son of God” is vague and unclear.   Another problem is that the claim “Jesus rose from the dead” is best understood as the synthesis of a few separate historical claims. (3) summarizes multiple historical claims.
I’m going to formulate a similar argument that is a bit clearer and more explicit:
5. Jesus claimed to be the one-and-only savior of humankind. 
6.  Jesus claimed to be fully human.
7.  Jesus claimed to be fully divine.
8.  Jesus died on the cross on a Friday evening.
9. Jesus remained dead for at least 24 hours after he died on the cross.
10.  Jesus was alive and walking around on Sunday, only about two days after the Friday when he was (supposedly) crucified.
11. If (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), and (10) are true, then Jesus is the one-and-only fully human and fully divine savior of humankind.
Therefore:
12. Jesus is the one-and-only fully human and fully divine savior of humankind.
Premises (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), and (10) are all historical claims about Jesus.  Claim (11) asserts that there is a logical or epistemological relationship between those historical premises and the theological conclusion that states a basic Christian belief about Jesus’ nature and role in the cosmic scheme of things.
None of the premises in this argument is certain.  There are reasonable doubts about each and every one of the premises in this argument. Each premise has a significant chance of being false. But for the argument to be successful, each and every one of the seven premises must be true.
As Lessing pointed out, historical claims, especially historical claims about figures of ancient history, can only be probable to some degree, not certain.  In my view it is probably false that Jesus claimed to be the one-and-only savior of humankind, and it is probably false that Jesus claimed to be fully divine.  In my view it is probably false that Jesus was alive and walking around on Sunday, just a couple of days after he was crucified.  So, in my view this argument is a complete failure.
However, even if we are very generous and grant that ALL of the historical claims in this argument are very probable (with a probability of .8), and that premise (11) was also very probable, the conclusion is NOT shown to be very probable.  Suppose (for purposes of illustrating a point) that the truth of each of the premises was independent of the truth of the other premises.  In that case, the probability that ALL SEVEN premises were true would be equal to the following:
.8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8
=  .64 x .64 x .64 x .8
=  0.262144 x .8
= 0.2097152
This number is too precise, given that the input numbers are only estimated probabilities.  So, the probability that ALL SEVEN premises are true is about .2  (two chances in ten), based on the above assumptions.
Bumping the probability estimate for each of the premises up to .9 (nine chances in ten) does not greatly improve the outcome:
.9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9
= .81 x .81 x .81 x .9
=  0.531441   x .9
= 0.4782969
Again, this number is too precise.  Assuming that each of the seven premises has a probability of .9, and assuming that the truth of each premise is independent of the other premises, then the probability that ALL SEVEN premises are true is about .5 (five chances in ten).  So, even if we consider this best-case-senario for Christian apologetics, the conclusion isn’t even shown to be more probable than not!  The conclusion is clearly NOT shown to be very probable.
Assessing the probability that ALL SEVEN claims are true is not quite this simple, however.  The asessment is made more complicated by the fact that the truth of each premise is NOT independent of the truth of the other premises.    For example, if Jesus really was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday , i.e. if premise (10) was true,  then that would be a very powerful bit of evidence AGAINST the truth of premise (8), the claim that Jesus died on the cross on Friday.
Also, if Jesus claimed to be fully human, premise (6),  then this makes it less likely that he would also claim to be fully divine, premise (7), because the idea of being both fully human and fully divine appears to be illogical.  Now,  perhaps some sharp and sophisticated philosopher or theologian can present careful arguments showing that the idea of a person who is both fully human AND fully divine is a logically coherent idea.  However, what matters here is that these ideas APPEAR or SEEM to be logically incompatible.  Given that there is an appearance of a logical contradiction here, it follows that it is unlikely that someone would attribute both of these characteristics to the same being or person.  So, the truth of some of the premises constitutes evidence for the falsehood of some of the other premises.
But the opposite relationship may be the case with some of the premises as well.  If Jesus really did claim to be fully divine, premise (7), then that makes it more likely that he also claimed to be the one-and-only savior of mankind, premise (5).  And if Jesus really claimed to be the one-and-only savior of mankind, that would make it more likely that he also claimed to be fully divine.  So, premises (5) and (7) have a positive relationship towards each other.
Although in some cases the truth of one premise would make another premise less likely to be true, there are no premises that logically entail the falsehood of another premise.  Although in some cases the truth of one premise would make another premise more likely to be true, there are no premises that  logically entail the truth of another premise.  Furthermore, in most cases the degree of increase or decrease in probability is relatively small.  For example, Jesus claiming to be the one-and-only savior of humankind does NOT amount to overwhelming or even powerful evidence for the premise that Jesus claimed to be fully divine.  It is very possible that Jesus claimed the former but not the latter.
Furthermore, the one case where there does appear to be a fairly strong degree of impact of the truth of one premise on the probability of another premise, this is in favor of a skeptical conclusion.  Specifically, if we knew for certain that Jesus died on the cross on Friday evening, premise (8), then that would be very powerful evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, premise (10).    So, the truth of (8) has a very strong impact on decreasing the probability of premise (10).   Similarly, if we knew for certain that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then this would be very strong evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus died on the cross on Friday, just a couple of days previous.  So, the truth of premise (10) has a very strong impact on decreasing the probability of premise (8).
Finally, it is clear that there is a mixture of positive and negative relationships between the truth of some premises and the probability of other premises.  Given all of these qualifications about the influence and impact of the truth of each premise on the probability of other premises, it seems to me that the simple calculation, which assumes that the truth of each premise is independent of the truth of the other premises, is NOT far off the mark, and yeilds a conservative assessment, from the point of view of skepticism.  In other words, it looks to me like a more careful and sophisticated assessment of the probability that ALL SEVEN premises would be true, given the generous assumption that each premise has a probability of .9, would arrive at a probability that is lower than the probability we arrived at earlier by means of the simplifying asumption that the truth of each premise was independent of the truth of the other premises.  The probability would end up being less than .5 (less than five chances in ten).
One final point.  I have some sympathy for Lessings view that the degree of certrainty that historical claims, especially ancient historical claims about Jesus, can have is insufficient to justify a decision involving the risk of something of great worth.  Specifically, because accepting the Christian faith requires making significant commitment to a way of life and to particular moral values and to various metaphysical beliefs, I do not think it is reasonable to base such a decision upon modest probabilities, such as “it is more probable than not that God exists” or “it is more probable than not that Jesus is the one-and-only fully human and fully divine savior of humankind”.  I think that such life changing beliefs ought to be established to a high degree of probability.  Such basic theological beliefs should not be accepted unless they can be shown to be very probable, to have a probability of at least .8 or .9.  If this is a reasonable standard, then there appears to remain a gap or ditch between the best-case-scenario probability for the basic Christian theological beliefs about Jesus (in the area of .5) and the probabililty required for reasonable acceptance of this belief (in the area of .8 or .9).
 

bookmark_borderJesus on Faith – Part 6

Here is the “Doubting Thomas” story from Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John:
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
27 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
This story does NOT show that either the author of the Gospel of John or Jesus (as portrayed in this Gospel) understood “faith” to mean “belief that is based on no evidence”, nor does it show that the author of John or Jesus (as portrayed in this Gospel)  understood “faith” to mean “belief that is based on insufficient evidence”.  It does show that the author of John and Jesus (as portrayed in John) would clearly REJECT both of these definitions of “faith”.
1. Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came.” (verse 24)
Jesus had already shown himself in his resurrected body to the other disciples and had talked with them (20:19-23). If “faith” meant “believing on the basis of no evidence”, then Jesus had thereby made it IMPOSSIBLE for his other disciples to have “faith” in him. Since “faith” is a requirement for salvation, that means that Jesus had made it IMPOSSIBLE for any of the other disciples to be saved from eternal damnation. But this is absurd! Clearly, neither the author of this Gospel nor Jesus (as portrayed in this Gospel) think that “faith” means “believing on the basis of no evidence.”
Furthermore, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ inner circle of disciples had already been eyewitnesses to many amazing miracles, such as Jesus turning water into wine (2:1-11), walking on water (6:16-21), feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread (6:1-14), and raising Lazarus from the dead (11:38-48). So, in appearing to the disciples in his resurrected body, Jesus was not only presenting them with evidence of his resurrection and divinity, Jesus was providing them with OVERWHELMING evidence of his resurrection and divinity (by the combination of the previous amazing miracles plus his appearances to them in his resurrected body).
Thus, if “faith” was understdood to mean “believing on the basis of insufficient evience”, then Jesus was making it IMPOSSIBLE for his disciples to have faith in him, by presenting them with OVERWHELMING evidence of his resurrection and divinity. Since faith is a requirment for salvation, Jesus would have made it IMPOSSIBLE for his disciples to be saved from eternal damnation, if this is how Jesus understood the word “faith”. But this is absurd. Therefore, it is clearly the case that neither the author of the Gospel of John nor Jesus (as portrayed in that Gospel) took the word “faith” to mean “believing on the basis of insufficient evidence”.
2. “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nail…” (verse 25)
Thomas has previously seen Jesus perform a number of amazing miracles. Now the other disciples of Jesus tell him that they have seen and talked with the risen Jesus, yet Thomas remains unconvinced. He demands direct first-hand evidence, to see and even touch the risen Jesus for himself.
3. “Reach here your finger…” (verse 27)
When Jesus appears a second time to his gathered disciples, this time with Thomas present, he does not scold Thomas for demaning first-hand evidence; rather Jesus immediately offers the exact direct evidence that Thomas had required. So, now not only does Thomas have evidence for the resurrection and divinity of Jesus, but in view of the previous amazing miracles that Jesus performed and that Thomas witnessed, in view of the testimony of Thomas’ fellow disciples to the resurrection, and in view of the visible presence of the resurrected Jesus who is speaking directly to him, Thomas is also given OVERWHELMING evidence of the resurrection and divinity of Jesus (according to the Gospel of John).
So, if “faith” means “believing on the basis of no evidence” or “believing on the basis of insufficient evidence”, then Jesus has made it IMPOSSIBLE for Thomas to have faith in him. Since faith is a requirement for salvation, Jesus has made it IMPOSSIBLE for Thomas to be saved from eternal damnation. But this is absurd. So, clearly neither the author of the Gospel of John nor Jesus (as portrayed in that Gospel) understood “faith” to mean “believing on the basis of no evidence” or “believing on the basis of insufficient evidence”.
Jesus provides Thomas and his other disciples with OVERWHELMING evidence of his resurrection and divinity precisely in order to get them to “believe”, to have faith in him, to firmly believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God to be the savior of humankind. Jesus sees no conflict between faith and strong evidence: “…do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (verse 27)
4. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (verse 29)
It has been clearly established that Jesus does NOT understand “faith” to mean “believing on the basis of no evidence” and that Jesus does NOT understand “faith” to mean “believing on the basis of insufficient evidence”. It is clear that Jesus (as portrayed in the Gospel of John) views faith as being compatible with having OVERWHELMING evidence in support of the belief in question. But verse 29 appears to suggest that “faith” might also be compatible with belief that is based on insufficient evidence.
But having something less than OVERWHELMING evidence for a belief is not the same thing as having insufficient evidence for that belief. Obviously, Christians who have not personally witnessed miracles being performed by Jesus and who have not personally seen and talked with the risen Jesus will not have the same high level and degree of evidence for their belief in Jesus as resurrected Son of God as the original disciples of Jesus. Christians who lived in the second century and following centuries do not (at least in general) have the OVERWHELMING evidence for this belief that the original disciples had (or are reported to have had by the Gospels). But this does not mean that the evidence such Christians have is insufficient evidence.
At least, it is not obvious that OVERWHELMING evidence is the only sort of evidence that will be sufficient to justify their belief. If a skeptic wishes to argue that only OVERWHELMING evidence will be sufficient evidence in the case of the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, that is fine by me, but a clear and strong argument is required for this view, because it is not obvious or self-evident that anything less than such powerful evidence must constitute insufficient evidence.
Because it is NOT obvious or self-evident that only OVERWHELMING evidence will be sufficient evidence for the resurrection and divinity of Jesus, we cannot reasonably assume that the author of the Gospel of John believed that only such evidence would be sufficient evidence. We must allow for the very real possibility that the author of this Gospel and Jesus (as portrayed in this Gospel) thought that the faith of later generations of Christians could be based on sufficient evidence which was, however, something less than OVERWHELMING evidence.
The author of the Gospel of John may reasonably be presumed to have viewed the “testimony” presented in this Gospel to provide sufficient evidence (but not overwhelming evidence) for the resurrection and divinity of Jesus, as indicated by the verses that immediately follow the “Doubting Thomas” story:
30 Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book;
31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name.
Although the author of John and Jesus (as portrayed in that Gospel) appear to think that “faith” is compatible with both having OVERWHELMING evidence for a belief and also with having something less than OVERWHELMING evidence for the belief, it is not at all clear that “faith” is viewed as being compatible with belief on the basis of insufficient evidence.
In any case, it is clear that neither the author of John nor Jesus (as portrayed in that Gospel) undstand “faith” to mean “belief on the basis of insufficient evidence”. Therefore, the claim that sincere and devout Christian believers (who regularly read and study the Gospels) think that “faith” means “belief on the basis of insufficient evidence” is highly questionable. (Perhaps there are many Christians who are not sincere or not devout and who don’t bother to carefully read and study the Gospels, and such Christians might well have an understanding of “faith” that is different than what Jesus had or than what the author of the Gospel of John had.)

bookmark_borderJonah Goldberg Defends the Christian Record

Right-wing columnist–and now Christian apologist–Jonah Goldberg says that President Obama’s statements about the dark side of Christian history are “horse pucky”:
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/398030/horse-pucky-obama-jonah-goldberg
According to Goldberg, the Crusades were defensive wars and the Inquisition was a humanitarian intervention to stop the abuses of secular authorities. He says that the abuses of the medieval Church was due to the fact that it was “medieval” not that it was Christian. I could here insert a blistering rebuttal, but instead I would like to hear what you, dear readers, have to say. This should be good.

bookmark_borderHeaven would be Boring as Hell

Here are ten reasons why heaven would be insufferably dull:
http://www.alternet.org/10-reasons-christian-heaven-would-actually-be-hell
The upshot seems to be that heaven would be tolerable only if it were a lot more like the present life. In that case, why bother?
BTW, I notice that Prof. Jerry L. Walls, a leading evangelical writer on the afterlife, has a new book coming out on heaven, hell, and purgatory. Looking at the TOC on Amazon, several pages seem to be a rebuttal to critical remarks by yours truly. I plan to get the book and will respond. Prof. Walls is a gentleman and a scholar and my past exchanges with him have been most pleasant. Perhaps they can continue.