bookmark_borderAnother Presuppositionalist Fails

The following appeared in my Twitter feed:

I decided to follow the link to see if anything has changed since the last time I read a presuppositionalist apologist.

Atheists get very angry at God and His followers but they have no proof

I am an atheist. I am not angry at God or any other non-existent being. So much for that universal generalization. Next:

If there were no God there would be no atheists (G. K. Chesterton).

Chesterton presents a non sequitur. If there is no God, it doesn’t follow that there is or would be no atheists. Next:

The Confused Worldview of Atheism

Some questions for atheists:
Is the atheist worldview as aimless, confused, ad hoc, and faux-intellectual as it appears?

This question commits a fallacy of interrogation, namely, the fallacy of the loaded question. The presuppositionalist is asking a question whose answer would require accepting a presupposition (“the atheist worldview appears aimless, confused, ad hoc, and faux-intellectual”), one which atheists deny.

Are the New Atheist leaders beginning to fear, in their minds and hearts, that maybe there is a hell?

This question doesn’t expose the allegedly ‘confused worldview of atheism.’ It exposes the confusion of this particular presuppositionalist. News flash: atheists don’t believe there is a hell.

The problem is not just that atheists do not have a coherent worldview.

Notice what he is saying. He’s not just saying that atheism is false because God exists. He’s saying that atheism is incoherent. The author gives no reason to believe that an atheist worldview is incoherent, however.

It is that they deny God, not deep down, because they know He exists.

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Sort of like how Christian presuppositionalists ‘deny Islam, not deep down, because they know that Islam, not Christianity, is the true Abrahamic religion.” Or not. Two can play this game. Or we could stop pretending to read other people’s minds.

The anti-religious rants of atheistic leaders tend to be pretty emotional. Worldview reflection is not a practice regularly employed by the superstars of New Atheism, who might be terrified of looking exposed and defenseless. And to be sure, if someone has spent a career telling tall-tales, who can be surprised if unscrupulous words flow from their nefarious hearts. …

Even if these statements about the “Four Horsemen” of the ‘New Atheists” were true, it doesn’t follow that other atheists also offer emotional, anti-religious rants instead of sober “worldview reflection.”
Let’s skip down just a bit to where the author finally gets around to offering a presuppositional apologetic.

When one attempts to construct a worldview based on anything but the true God, one will find, under rational scrutiny, he cannot justify or account for anything in the cosmos. The person who denies the existence of God uses the laws of reason (A = A; A~~A) to articulate his disbelief. Yet he cannot justify the use of the necessary, immaterial, and universal laws of logic. The laws of logic must be used in the knowledge quest inasmuch as they are transcendent, universal, unchanging, and immaterial. Only a being that is also transcendent, universal, unchanging, and immaterial has the required ontic stature to account for the laws of logic. Van Til informs us, “The law of contradiction [a law of logic also known as the law of non-contradiction], to operate at all, must have its foundation in God.”1

1. In this paragraph, the author commits another logical fallacy typical of presuppositional apologists: falsely equating atheism with materialism. I am an atheist. I am not a materialist. The existence of impersonal, immaterial entities–such as abstract objects or the laws of logic–fit just fine in my worldview.
2. A much more interesting question is whether the laws of logic need a foundation. In theological terms, why can’t the laws of logic exist a se? The assertion  that the laws of logic require an ontological foundation is just that: an assertion. I do not find an argument for that assertion in the apologist’s article.

One may try to flee from the true and living God, but everyone who attempts to avoid the truth that God exists, falls into a trap he cannot escape. This is true because he must use the laws of logic. This point is well made in Van Til’s illustration of a man made of water, who is trying to climb out of the ocean by means of a ladder that is made of water. He cannot get out of the water for he has nothing to stand on. And without God, one cannot make sense of anything. The non-Christian has nothing to stand upon, and nothing to grip or climb. God is necessary, unavoidable, and certain because He provides the pre-essentials for the laws of reason that must be used in understanding and in knowledge attainment.

In my experience, this paragraph is very typical of presuppositional apologists, who excel at offering various analogies to paint a picture of what incoherence looks like. They do not excel, however, at offering arguments to support their claim that the the laws of logic require an ontological foundation, much less that they presuppose Christian theism. (Why not Jewish theism? Islamic theism? Or just ‘mere’ theism, aka “the god of the philosophers”?)

The necessary truths of logic … are representations of the way God’s mind essentially thinks. Theologically, such a doctrine ties in beautifully with the prologue to John’s Gospel on Christ’s being the Logos of God (William Lane Craig).

As a side note, it’s interesting to note that William Lane Craig rejects presuppositionalism.

The ultimate norms for human knowledge are found not in any human mind or minds, or anywhere else in creation, but in the mind of God (James Anderson).
The laws of reason are transcendent and universal. Only a foundation that is transcendent and has universal reach can provide the necessary rational pre-environment to account for fixed logical-norms since they are transcendent, fixed, and immaterial. When anyone attempts to escape the truth that God is alive, he’s trapped in a divine snare because he must utilize the laws of logic. Atheistic philosophies fail to justify continuously enduring logical-norms and can only be asserted at the pain of contradiction. Van Til went on to summarize that “unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else.” This is undeniably correct because Christianity is “shown to be the position which alone does not annihilate intelligent human experience.”2

If atheism is self-contradictory, then presuppositionalists should be able to start with the definition of atheism, substitute synonyms for synonyms, and derive a statement which contradicts itself. No one has ever been able to do that because it doesn’t do that. Atheism is coherent.

Sin is a plague, yea, the greatest and most infectious plague in the world; and yet, ah! How few are there that tremble at it, that keep it at a distance! (Thomas Brooks).
To make sense out of our world an atheist, implicitly, presupposes Christian theism. This is spot-on because Christianity supplies the required pre-essentials for the laws of thought. These laws are necessary for communication and for the intelligibility of human experience. The confrontational New Atheist has a hollow philosophy that works on the assumption that sweeping assertions made with nasty, vicious, and bitter force are settled facts—this is so because they are made with doctrinaire stridency. Insults and unsighted conviction, flowing from a sinful heart, do not just make for bad arguments; they are shameful and embarrassing. Only Christian theism alone can supply the pre-essentials needed for debate, evidence, and knowledge.

The problem with this argument is not just that it assumes, without justification, that the laws of logic need an ontological foundation. The argument has another, deeper problem: the gratuitous assumption that Christianity “supplies the required pre-essentials for the laws of thought.” The many denominations of Christianity do not all agree with the theology which underlies presuppositional apologetics; it takes hubris for the presuppositionalist to arrogantly assume that Christian theism is identical with his version of Christianity. To cite just one example, Richard Swinburne, arguably the leading Christian philosopher of religion in the world and (I think) a Greek Orthodox Christian, would reject the presuppositionalists’ claim that the laws of logic presuppose theism.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 5

Here is a brief plot summary of the movie Harvey:
Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six-foot rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane – but he may be wiser than anyone knows.
James Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd, the “whimsical middle-aged man” who could apparently see and converse with Harvey, a six-foot rabbit who was invisible to others.  The obvious conclusion is that Elwood is mentally ill and that his experiences of the six-foot rabbit are hallucinations.  But the movie casts doubt on this obvious conclusion, suggesting that we consider questions like these:
Q1. Does Elwood actually perceive a six-foot tall talking rabbit (a “Pooka” – a mischievous spirit who takes the form of an animal and who can appear selectively to  certain people)?
Q2. Does Elwood have veridical Pooka experiences of the presence of Harvey?
Q3. Does Elwood know that Harvey is present?
These questions have an obvious similarity to the questions that we are thinking about concerning the presence of God, alleged experiences of the presence of God, the veridicality of TREs, and Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience (AFR).
Our next order of business is to look more closely at the key term “veridical” , especially in the phrases “veridical theistic religious experience” and “veridical generic theistic religious experience”.   Swinburne argues that there is a very strong relationship between the veridicality of one generic TRE and the veridicality of other generic TREs.  The correctness or incorrectness of his reasoning on this issue depend crucially, it seems to me, on what the term “veridicality” means.
It  stikes me that (Q3) might well shed significant light on (Q2), and also on our question about the meaning of the key term “veridical”. I believe that the concept of veridicality is similar to, and closely related to, the concept of knowledge.
The first thing that occurs to most people is the question of TRUTH.  Is it TRUE that Harvey is present when Elwood is having his Pooka experiences?  Elwood BELIEVES that Harvey is present, but we have doubts about this belief and are inclined to think Elwood is mistaken, and that there is no six-foot tall rabbit in the room, nor that there is a mischievous spirit who is taking the form of a six-foot tall rabbit.
We are strongly inclined to think Elwood’s BELIEF that Harvey is present is a FALSE belief.  Elwood, we might say, does NOT know that Harvey is present because although Elwood BELIEVES that Harvey is present, he is mistaken, and this is a FALSE belief. Not just any belief counts as knowledge; the belief in question must be TRUE to count as knowledge.  Elwood’s belief about Harvey being present is FALSE, so this belief does not count as knowledge.  We might further conclude that Elwood is having non-veridical Pooka experiences, because there is in fact no six-foot tall rabbit and no mischievous spirit present in the room  with Elwood.
Definition 1 of ‘knows that x is present’:
Person P knows that x is present IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes x is present,  and
(b) it is true that x is present.
Definition 1 of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’:
Person P has a veridical experience of the presence of x IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P has an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present, and
(b) it is true that x is present.
If you have any background in epistemology or some familiarity with Socrates, you know that the idea that knowledge amounts to “true belief” is an overly simple analysis of the concept of knowledge, and that this analysis is mistaken.  There is at least the need for one more necessary condition: justification.  One can have a true belief by accident or chance or dumb luck.  But if I have a belief that is true by accident or chance or dumb luck, such a belief, though true, does not constitute knowledge.
John says: “I am thinking of a number between one and ten; guess the number.”
I respond: “You are thinking of the number seven.”
John replies: “Yes, that was the number.  Wow, good guess!”
I say: “I knew that you were thinking of the number seven.”
John says, “No you didn’t.  You just made a lucky guess.”
If I continue to claim to have KNOWN the number that John was thinking of, then John will challenge me to explain HOW I could have known the number, and if I claim to be able to read his mind, John will probably demand further proof of this amazing ability, perhaps by thinking of a number between one and a thousand, and seeing if I can still correctly identify that number.  This disagreement about whether I KNOW the numbers that John is thinking about is predicated on the distinction between a “lucky guess” and knowledge.  For a belief to be knowledge it must have something more going for it than simply being true.  Traditionally, going back to Socrates, knowledge was understood to be Justified True Belief, a subset of true beliefs:
Definition 2 of ‘knows that x is present’:
Person P knows that x is present IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes x is present,  and
(b) it is true that x is present, and
(c) P’s belief that x is present is rationally justified.
Definition 2 of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’:
Person P has a veridical experience of the presence of x IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P has an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present, and
(b) it is true that x is present, and
(c) P’s experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present was caused by x’s being present.
Note how this second definition of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ is parallel to the second definition of ‘knows that x is present’.
Note also that this analysis of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ corresponds to Swinburne’s view of perception:
It seems to me, for reasons that others have given at length, that the causal theory of perception is correct–that S perceives x (believing that he is so doing) if and only if an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to S that x is present is caused by x‘s being present.  So S has an experience of God if and only if its seeming to him that God is present is in fact caused by God being present. (EOG, p.296)
I take it that Swinburne understands the phrase ‘S perceives x’ to be equivalent to the phrase ‘S has a veridical experience of x’ as contrasted with non-veridical experiences such as hallucinations.
If a ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ has the above three necessary conditions that when combined form a sufficient condition, then one would think that the logic of veridicality would NOT be symetrical with the logic of non-veridicality.  An experience can be veridical only by satisfying all three necessary conditions above.  But an experience could be non-veridical in a variety of ways: by failing to satisfy the conditions (a) and (c), or by failing to satisfy conditions (b) and (c), or by failing to satisfy (c), or by failing to satisfy all three conditions.  There are many different ways for an experience to be non-veridical, but only one way for an experience to be veridical.
In the case of an ordinary physical object, it could be that the object is in fact present, but that the object is NOT the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to the subject that the object is present.  For example, there might in fact be a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me, but my experience of it seeming (epistemically) to me that there is a cat sitting on the couch across the room is CAUSED BY a hypnotist planting a suggestion in my mind about a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me.  The cause of my experience is the hypnotist and the suggestion made by the hypnotist that I “see” a cat sitting on the couch.  The actual presence of the cat on the couch is NOT the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to me that there is a cat on the couch.  In this case, my experience is non-veridical, and yet there really is a cat sitting on the couch across the room from me.  Why couldn’t there be non-veridical generic TREs even if God was actually present in the room with the subject?
According to Swinburne, IF God exists, then ALL generic TREs are veridical:
And so, if there is a God, any experience which seems to be of God [of the presence of God] will be genuine…”                  (EOG, p.320).  
Swinburne apparently did not notice the skeptical implication of this conclusion, namely that IF there is just one non-veridical generic TRE, then God does NOT exist!  This means that an atheist or a skeptic need only show that there is one single instance of a generic TRE that is non-veridical and the existence of God would thus be disproved.  But this seems contrary to common sense.  With ordinary objects there are various different ways that an experience can fail to be veridical, and in some of those ways it can still be the case that the object that seemed (epistemically) to the subject to be present was in fact present, as in the above example of the cat being present in the room but it’s presence NOT being the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to the subject that a cat was present in the room.
God is different than a cat, according to Swinburne, because God, if God exists, is involved in every causal event that occurs in any time and any place (because God, by definition, is omnipotent and omniscient and eternal).  Thus, God is involved in the cause of every experience that ever occurs:
But, if there is a God, he is omnipresent and all causal processes operate only because he sustains them.  Hence any causal processes at all that bring about my experience will have God among their causes… (EOG, p.320)
But Swinburne, it seems to me, has made a hasty conclusion here, which may not hold up under closer examination.   From this premise…
(GAC) God is among the causes that bring about the experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that God is present.
Swinburne has drawn the following inference, related to one necessary condition of having a veridical experience:
(GPC) God’s being present with P is the cause of its seeming (epistemically) to P that God is present.
There are many different ways in which one person might cause another person to have a particular experience.  Being present in the same place and at the same time with the other person is just ONE of MANY different ways that one person could cause another person to have an experience.  For example, the hypnotist that causes it to seem (epistemically) to me that there is a cat present in the room with me could do this over the phone, and thus not be present with me.  Furthermore, even if the hypnotist were present, it is not the presence of the hypnotist that causes my non-veridical experience of the cat; rather, it is the action of hypnotizing and of saying certain things to me that causes my  non-veridical experience of the cat.
Since there are many different ways that one person can cause another person to have a particular experience, and since being present with the other person is just one such way, it seems to me that we cannot logically infer (GPC) from (GAC).  The claim made in (GAC) is too general and vague to logically imply the more specific claim made by (GPC).
Since God is always present to everyone, if God exists, there must be some additional factor that determines whether a particular person will experience the presence of God at a particular time and a particular place.  If generic TREs are sometimes caused by God, this presumably requires that God choose or will this experience to occur to that particular person at that time and that place.  But if this is so, then it is NOT the case that it is merely God’s presence that caused the generic TRE to occur, anymore than it is the hypnotist’s presence that caused me to have a non-veridical experience of the cat.

bookmark_borderThinking bout Jesus

(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Alyssa, who you can find on Twitter at @pooroldkilgore.)
I am very conflicted when it comes to my thoughts on Jesus. There was a point in my life where I did think he was a great man who spread a message of peace and love, that was thanks to his portrayal in popular media and being brought up in a Lutheran church. I wanted to believe he was the son of God because people around me believed that, and I think at some points I did believe it. The image of the fair skinned blue eyed Jesus has been burned into my brain since staring at my grandparents’ house and other Midwestern houses when I was a kid. Of course as I got older I realized how silly that image was. There aren’t any first hand accounts of what Jesus said, so how would people have any idea of what he looked like? And the bible doesn’t give a physical description. It should also go without saying but I feel like I have to say it to many Christians, based on the region he was supposed to have been from he sure as hell would have not been of the Aryan race.
Christians of various sects give me different non-answers when the question of what Jesus exactly was comes up. It generally seems to go back and fourth when referring to him as God or as separate from God. I never understand how many Christians who say Jesus is God can also gush about how loving and kind he is. If he was literally the God we know from the Old Testament, then pretty sure that would make him a genocidal war-god. Christians that are on the fence or embarrassed to admit they believe in something as silly as the virgin birth tend to say they at least really like many of the messages he was spreading. But how do we know that what he bible says he said is accurate at all? If you haven’t seen it, I highly suggest watching Life of Brian and you’ll understand what I mean. The movie also illustrates that there were many street preachers/miracle workers at the time. Based on that I think it’s very plausible that the Jesus we know today could have been based on multiple men. There are varying theories about Jesus because the only sources we have are what early followers said about Jesus, no records from the time of his supposed life. There was also the concept of a Christ or messiah in many pagan cults before Christianity arose, so the concept was not unique like many Christians today like to believe.
One of the best ways to describe the way I see Jesus is he’s pretty much like Batman or Sherlock Holmes. There have been different variations of them and many people conjure different images when those names are brought up. There are some repeating central themes throughout the iterations but there’s not exactly a clear answer of who they are. Some versions of Jesus are very admirable, but I think if people like the positive fluffy aspects of Jesus, they can also find those characteristics in many real life people today, contemporary historical figures, and many fantastic fictional characters. Rejecting Jesus as a god or the son of god or even as a historical person doesn’t mean you have to reject the positive peaceful messages associated with Jesus. I don’t literally believe in Batman but what he stands for has been a source of inspiration for me.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 4: Chapter 5

Chapter 5. The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?

In this chapter, G&T defend a design argument focused on the first life. They also present a variety of objections to scientism and materialism.
I will provide a very brief summary of their points, before providing my critique.
(i) Argument to Design of the First Life: G&T argue that the origin of the first life is evidence favoring theism over naturalism. They emphasize the following points:  (1) all life, including the first life, contains specified complexity; (2) only an intelligent cause could generate the specified complexity required for the first life; (3) objections to naturalistic explanations for the origin of life; and (4) the impossibility of life arising from nonlife by chance alone.
(ii) Some Critical Comments:
(a) Straw Men: This chapter is an instance of a familiar feature of anti-atheism apologetics: caricaturing the actual beliefs and arguments of atheists to make them look as stupid as possible.Consider, for example, G&T’s portrayal of evolution: “This, of course, is the theory of macroevolution: from the infantile, to the reptile, to the Gentile; or from the goo to you via the zoo” (###). This strategy is pretty much beneath contempt.
(b) Naturalistic Explanations of the Origin of Life: Another problem with this chapter is the extremely biased presentation of alternative theories. G&T consider two naturalistic explanations: spontaneous generation and panspermia. But G&T provide no reason to believe that these two explanations are representative of naturalistic explanations in general. Furthermore, one of these explanations, spontaneous generation, is probably rejected by every scientist working on the origin of life.[1]
(c) The Origin of Life and the “Naturalistic Fallacy” Fallacy: Why would anyone believe that the origin of life has a naturalistic explanation? According to G&T, there is only one reason: such a person must rule out even the possibility of an intelligent cause. This is why they make statements like: “their preconceived ideology–naturalism–prevents them from even considering an intelligent cause” (119).
While such statements are red meat for G&T’s partisans in the intelligent design community, G&T commit what philosophers Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti have dubbed the “Naturalistic Fallacy” Fallacy: the fallacy of dismissing objections to theistic arguments on the basis of the myth that these objections presuppose a naturalistic ideology, viz., the supernatural does not exist.[2] G&T falsely assume that only naturalists believe that life has a natural origin because G&T rule out even the possibility of an empirical case for a natural origin, a case which might impress both naturalists and theists.  This case is based largely on the fact that naturalistic explanations have a much better track record than supernatural ones. Prior to scientific investigation of the origin of life, this fact makes it very likely that the cause of life is natural, not supernatural.  Furthermore, this is true even on the assumption that God exists. So naturalists are not the only ones who are justified in predicting that the origin of life is natural, not supernatural. Supernaturalists, including theists, are also justified in making this prediction.
Indeed, as Paul Draper explains, theists presumed

… that natural events have natural causes existed long before the rise of modern science. Indeed, even in the Bible, explanations appealing to God, even if they are not the last resort, are often not the first (e.g., 1 Samuel 3).
Because it is unlikely that the authors of the Bible are guilty of some anti-religious metaphysical bias or that they believe that a faithful or generous God would never act directly in the world, what is the source of this pre-scientific presumption in favor of naturalistic explanations? No doubt it is a simple induction from past experiences. In very many cases, a little investigation reveals natural causes for natural events, even unusual ones. Thus, it follows inductively that, prior to investigation, the probability that the immediate cause of any given natural event is itself natural is high. We did not need science to teach us this.[3]

Furthermore, as Draper points out, science has greatly strengthened this presumption of naturalism.

In many cases in which no naturalistic explanation seemed particularly promising, sufficient effort in searching for one turned out to bear fruit. This is presumably why even William Dembski (1994, 132), a leading critic of methodological naturalism, claims that one should appeal to the supernatural only when one has good reason to believe that what he calls one’s “empirical resources” are exhausted. Thus, although Dembski attacks the view that naturalistic explanations are better than non-naturalistic ones, he does not deny that, prior to investigation or even after considerable investigation, they remain more likely to be true. On this point almost everyone will agree. For example, what philosopher or scientist, no matter how deeply religious, believed or even took seriously the sincere claim of some members of the Cuban community in Miami that God miraculously prevented Elian Gonzalez from getting a sunburn while at sea (rather than that his fellow survivors lied when they claimed he had been in the water for three days after his boat sank)? It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, almost all natural events have other natural events as their immediate causes.[4]

This strong presumption of naturalism does not, however, justify an absolute exclusion of supernatural causes from scientific explanations. As Draper explains, it justifies a modest methodological naturalism.

A strong presumption of naturalism based on everyday experience and the success of naturalistic science justifies a modest methodological naturalism: the reason scientists should not look for supernatural causes is that natural causes are much more likely to be found. A methodological naturalism justified in this way is “modest” because it implies that scientists should look first for naturalistic explanations, and (depending on how strong the presumption of naturalism is) maybe second, third, and fourth, too, but it does not absolutely rule out appeals to the supernatural. … We can state this more modest methodological naturalism as follows: scientific explanations may appeal to the supernatural only as a last resort. Both Meyer (1994, 97) and Dembski (1994, 132), two leading opponents of methodological naturalism understood as an absolute prohibition, seem to agree with this principle, which does not depend on any metaphysical or anti-religious bias.
It should be emphasized, however, that even this modest form of methodological naturalism does not sanction god-of-the-gaps theology. It does not imply that an appeal to the supernatural is justified simply because scientists fail after much effort to find a naturalistic explanation for some phenomena. Very strong reasons to believe there is no hidden naturalistic explanation would be required as well. In other words, the search for natural causes should continue until the best explanation of the failure to find one is that there is none.[5]

The upshot is that the past success of naturalistic explanations justifies the prediction, made by both theists and naturalists alike, that the origin of life has a natural cause.
(d) The Origin of Life and the Poverty of Theistic Explanation: G&T’s entire chapter presupposes that intelligent design (ID) is not just an explanation for the origin of life, but the best explanation. But ID cannot be the best explanation if it is not even an explanation. So why should anyone think that intelligent design explains the origin of life?
Contrary to what some atheists have argued, the problem is not that it is impossible for theism to be an explanation of anything; I believe it is possible for a theistic explanation to be a scientific explanation. (In other words, I’m not offering an “in principle” objection to theistic explanation.) Rather, the problem is that ‘the’ theistic ‘explanation’ for the origin of life isn’t well defined.  I have read a decent amount of the latest ID literature, including Stephen Meyer’s book-length treatment of the origin of life (see here and here),[6] and I still haven’t found a well-defined statement of the (theistic) ID explanation.  Allow me to explain.
A personal explanation explains one or more observations by positing a person with certain goals who uses a mechanism to achieve those goals; a theistic explanation just is a personal explanation where the person is God.[7] In order to have a theistic explanation for the origin of life, it follows that we need to know (1) why God designed life (“God’s goals”); and (2) how He did it (“God’s mechanisms”). If we don’t have both of those things, then we don’t have a theistic explanation.
So what, then, is the theistic explanation offered by G&T for the origin of life? All they provide are vague references to an “intelligent cause.” But in order to explain the origin of life, it’s not enough to posit the existence of an intelligent designer (God).  G&T must also describe God’s goals and mechanisms. Here their argument absolutely breaks down because they say nothing about God’s goals or mechanisms for designing the first life.
It gets worse. The problem is not just that their “explanation”—if we can even call it that—is poorly defined or incomplete. The implied mechanism is mysterious. To paraphrase Gregory Dawes,

A theistic [intelligent design] explanation, in order to be an explanation, presupposes a mechanism—the action of a spiritual being within the material world—that is entirely unlike any other mechanism with which we are familiar. Not only does this mechanism lack analogy; it is also wholly mysterious.[8]

Mystification is the opposite of explanation.
But if G&T’s intelligent design “explanation” is incomplete in this way, it is not (yet) an explanation. And therefore it cannot—yet—be be the best explanation. Indeed, to simplify matters, suppose we were offered only the following two choices:

(1) Biological information in the first life is the result of an unknown, naturalistic (undirected) mechanism.

(2) Biological information in the first life is the result of an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism used for an unknown purpose.

It’s far from obvious that (2) is a better explanation than (1). Perhaps G&T might reply that (2) is a better explanation of (1) in light of our background knowledge that the creation of messages (i.e., ‘complex specified information’) requires an intelligent being. But that reply understates the evidence, viz., the relevant background knowledge. All non-question-begging examples of conscious activity are dependent upon a physical brain, which is itself dependent upon matter. So a better description of the relevant background knowledge seems to be, “the creation of messages (i.e., ‘complex specified information’) requires matter.” This shows that once the background knowledge about the creation of new information is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that it favors a theistic explanation over a naturalistic explanation.
Furthermore, G&T, like other ID theorists, neglect the track record of theistic explanations. But we need to compare the track record of supernatural explanations to that of purely naturalistic explanations. Here is Dawes:

Not only are they in competition, but a comparison of their track records will count against theism. For the naturalistic research programme of the modern sciences has been stunningly successful since its inception in the seventeenth century. Again and again, it has shown that postulating the existence of a deity is not required in order to explain the phenomena. Sir Isaac Newton (1642—1727) still required God to fine-tune the mechanics of his solar system, but by the time of Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749—1827), the astronomer notoriously had no need of that hypothesis. Until 1859, it seemed that the diversity of living organisms could not be accounted for without reference to God, but Charles Darwin offered us a more successful, natural alternative. … From a Bayesian point of view, you might argue that the past failure of the tradition of theistic explanation lowers the prior probability of any proposed theistic hypothesis.[9]

So, again, even if we grant Meyer the crucial premise that “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity,” it’s not clear that that fact offsets the other facts, listed above, which count against conscious activity as the cause of biological information.
(iii) Objections to Scientism: In a debate with William Lane Craig, Peter Atkins claimed that “science can account for everything.” G&T summarize Craig’s response to Atkins, which is that science cannot prove the following five rational beliefs: (a) mathematics and logic; (b) metaphysical truths; (c) ethical judgments; (d) aesthetic judgments; and (e) science itself. G&T then add, “Atkins’s claim that science can account for everything is not false only because of the five counterexamples Craig noted; it is also false because it is self-defeating” (##). Craig, Geisler, and Turek are correct. Atkins’s scientism is not only false, but also self-defeating.
(iv) Arguments against Materialism: They emphasize the following objections to materialism:  (a) it’s unable to explain specified complexity in life; (b) human thoughts are not comprised only of materials; (c) scientists are unable to create life using all the materials of life; (d) spiritual experiences; and (e) arguments from reason.
Regarding (a) (specified complexity), we’ve already addressed that.
Regarding (b) (human thought), this argument–assertion might be a better word, since it is not much of an argument as it stands–simply begs the question against the materialist.  The refutation of this argument is similar to one of the earlier refutations of their design argument. G&T can conclude that human thought is not comprised only of materials only by assuming that materialism is false. But G&T also claim that the fact that human thoughts are not completely materially based is supposed to lead to the conclusion that materialism is false. So the presupposition that materialism is false is both an assumption and a conclusion of this argument.
Regarding (c) (creation of life in a lab), G&T argue that our inability to create life is evidence against theism. This argument does nothing to refute the previous objections of this chapter. Again, the past success of naturalistic explanations justifies the prediction that the origin of life has a natural cause, consisting solely of pre-existing material ingredients.
Regarding (d) (spiritual experiences), there is a difference between “spiritual experiences” of something and “theistic experiences” (of God). Philosopher Paul Draper has identified four factors which affect how much direct evidence is provided by experiences, and applied these factors to theistic experiences.[10] These factors and their applicability to theistic experiences are summarized in the table below.

Factor Applicability to Theistic Experiences
Specificity Basic claims about theistic experiences are highly specific.
Significance Basic claims about theistic experiences are highly significant.
Nature of (Allegedly) Experienced Object God is an extraordinary object.
Mode of Perception Theistic experiences are nonsensory. Basic claims about theistic experiences are “claims to perceive something by means of an extraordinary mode of perception.”[11]

Table 1

Taken together, these four factors show that, accordingly, claims about theistic experiences “should be treated with initial skepticism rather than initial credulity” or trust.[12] To be more precise, Draper concludes that while theistic experiences “confer some prima facie probability on” claims about such experiences, they are not “strong direct evidence for such claims – that they make such claims prima facie more probable than not.”[13]
While spiritual experiences are some evidence for theism, G&T once again understate the evidence. The fact that people throughout history have had such experiences hardly exhausts what we know about such experiences, however. Draper identifies three additional facts about the distribution of religious experience.
First, we also know that many people never have religious experiences and those who do almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion. To paraphrase Draper, “it seems rather one-sided to argue that spiritual experiences are evidence for theism and not consider whether the fact that many people never have a theistic experience is evidence against theism.”[14]
Second, we also know that the subjects of spiritual experiences pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others.  As Draper notes, this is “much more likely if these experiences are all delusory than if some or all are veridical and so is much more likely on naturalism than on theism.“[15]
Third, we also know that many victims of tragedy do not seem to be comforted by spiritual experiences.[16] Again, paraphrasing Draper, “While this fact is compatible with theism—it’s logically possible that God exists and has some unknown reason for allowing us to suffer alone—it is still much more probable on naturalism than on theism.“[17]
Once the evidence about spiritual experiences is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that it favors theism over materialism.
Regarding (e) (arguments from reason), G&T actually present three related but separate arguments. The first is a version of the so-called “argument from reason.” The second is an argument that reason cannot be justified if materialism is true. The third is an argument against the evolution of consciousness.
Regarding the first argument, I think G&T are being incredibly uncharitable to materialists. Let me quote their argument in its entirety.

Finally, if materialism is true, then reason itself is impossible. If mental processes are nothing but chemical reactions in the brain, then there is no reason to believe that anything is true (including the theory of materialism). Chemicals can’t evaluate whether or not a theory is true. Chemicals don’t reason, they react. (129)

The word “chemicals” conjures up the image of a scientist wearing a white lab coat pouring liquids from one beaker to another. No one, not even eliminative materialists, believes that such simple, inorganic chemicals have the ability to reason. G&T are either attacking a straw man of their own creation (by equating materialism with the belief that minds are nothing but simple, inorganic chemicals) or committing the logical fallacy of composition (by assuming that what is true of the individual chemical elements of the brain must also be true of the brain as a whole). Materialists do not believe that “mindless matter” has the ability to reason; rather, materialists believe that we might call “mindful matter”—i.e., minds that are nothing but matter configured into physical brains—has the ability to reason. Simple slogans about “chemical reactions” do nothing to refute that. They especially don’t establish the ‘impossibility’ of “reason itself.”
The second argument, which I take to be very similar to the transcendental argument for God’s existence, is equally fallacious. They write:

As J. Budziszwewski [sic] points out, “The motto ‘Reason Alone!’ is nonsense anyway. Reason itself presupposes faith. Why? Because a defense of reason by reason is circular, therefore worthless. Our only guarantee that human reason works is God who made it.” (130)

Budziszewski is correct that “a defense of reason by reason is circular,” but it hardly follows from that fact that “our only guarantee that human reason works is God who made it.” If we’re allowed to start outside of what can be justified by reason alone (and instead go with presuppositions), then it’s far from obvious why the belief, “reason is justified,” is any less worthy of being presupposed than, say, the belief “God exists.”[18]
In their explanation of Budziszewski’s argument, G&T present what I interpret as a third, unrelated argument. According to this argument, the fact that we are intelligent is much more probable on theism (and our intelligence arose from preexisting intelligence) than on naturalism (and our intelligence arose arose from mindless matter). They support this claim with two supporting arguments. According to the first supporting argument, the emergence of intelligence is surprising on naturalism because

… it contradicts all scientific observation, which demonstrates that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. You can’t give what you haven’t got, yet materialists believe that dead, unintelligent matter has produced intelligent life. This is like believing that the Library of Congress resulted from an explosion in a printing shop! (130)

It is, of course, beyond reasonable doubt that the Library of Congress cannot result from an explosion in a printing shop. But this example is not of obvious relevance to materialism, which gives us no reason to expect that intelligent life has such a sudden, abrupt origin. In fact, a moment’s reflection reveals that this sort of explosive start for intelligent life is virtually impossible if materialism is true. Given that intelligent life exists, the gradual emergence of intelligent life is antecedently likely on materialism, for two reasons. First, there are no plausible materialist alternatives to evolution, which entails that complex living things are the gradually modified descendants of less complex living things. Second, materialism gives us strong antecedent reason to believe that intelligence plays the same sort of biological role as other organic systems and so has the same evolutionary origin as these other systems, an origin which rules out the abrupt appearance of intelligence.
Another worry I have about this argument is that it cuts both ways. If “you can’t give what you haven’t got,” then that means also means that God cannot give what He hasn’t got, namely, physical matter. God is, by definition, an immaterial being. Theism asks us to believe that an immaterial being can somehow interact with matter to make it intelligent. It’s far from obvious that “the immaterial can interact with the material” is any more plausible than “intelligence can come from nonintelligence.”
According to the second supporting argument, the emergence of intelligence is probable on theism because our minds are “made in the image of the Great Mind—God” (130). But this argument is multiply flawed. First, appealing to the doctrine that humans are made in the image of God is ad hoc. At this point in the book, G&T are arguing for what we might call ‘mere’ theism, not Christian theism. It’s far from obvious that the content of ‘mere’ theism would lead one to expect that God would create human minds in His image. At the very least, this much is clear: G&T give us no reason to think that it does.
Second, this argument also understates the evidence. Let’s assume that the existence of intelligent beings (qua conscious beings) is evidence favoring theism over naturalism. The fact that such intelligent beings exist hardly exhausts everything we know about conscious beings. Given that there are intelligent beings, the fact that there are no known (physical) creatures much more intelligent than humans favors naturalism over theism. Paul Draper explains.

… I am not denying that human beings are impressive in many ways. But examined from the perspective of what is possible for an omnipotent being, we are, in terms of intelligence, a hair’s breadth away from monkeys. Again, one would expect this on … [materialism] because the more intelligent the life, the less likely it is that naturalistic processes would produce it. Of course, if one believes in God and, looking around, finds nothing more impressive than human beings, one will be forced to conclude that God wanted to make beings with very limited intelligence. But surely one would not have predicted this beforehand. There are indefinitely many different kinds of creatures that an omnipotent being would have the power to create and that, other things being equal, would be more valuable to create than humans. Antecedently, a God would be more likely to create these more impressive creatures than to create us.[19]

Moreover, we also know that conscious states are highly dependent upon a (physical) brain. While this fact is logically compatible with the existence of an immaterial “soul,” given that intelligent creatures exist, this fact is more probable on naturalism than on theism. [20] So, again, once the evidence is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that it favors theism over naturalism.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] “Spontaneous generation” is the hypothesis that at least some organisms (such as fleas or maggots) originated suddenly and directly from inanimate matter (such as dust). Spontaneous generation was experimentally discredited long ago; I am not aware of any scientist specializing in origin of life studies who is a proponent of spontaneous generation. In contrast, “chemical evolution” is the hypothesis that the first self-replicating genetic molecules originated by a series of chemical processes involving organic compounds.
[2] Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti 2013, 15.
[3] Paul Draper, “God, Science, and Naturalism” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (ed. William J. Wainwright, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 296.
[4] Draper 2005, 296.
[5] Draper 2005, 297. I have added the italics to the last sentence.
[6] Stephen L. Meyer, The Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York: HarperOne, 2009).
[7] Gregory Dawes, Theism and Explanation (New York: Routledge, 2009), 9, 108.
[8] Dawes 2009, 128.
[9] Dawes 2009, 130-32. Italics are mine.
[10] Paul Draper, “God and Perceptual Evidence,” Philosophy of Religion 32 (1992): 149-65.
[11] Draper 1992, 159.
[12] Draper 1992, 159.
[13] Draper 1992, 160.
[14] Draper 1992, 161.
[15] Draper 2002, 204-205.
[16] Paul Draper, “Cumulative Cases,” in Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, Philip L. Quinn, Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Religion (John Wiley and Sons: 2010), 414-24 at 421; Paul Draper, “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic,” in Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (ed. Daniel Howard Snyder and Paul K. Moser, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 204-205.
[17] Draper 2002, 204-205.
[18] D. Gene Witmer, “Atheism, Reason, and Morality: Responding to Some Popular Christian Apologetics,” talk given to the Atheist, Agnostic, and Freethinker Student Association, University of Florida, September 26, 2006.
[19] Paul Draper, “Collins’ Case for Cosmic Design” in God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence, The Secular Web (2008),
[20] Paul Draper, “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions Of a Practicing Agnostic,” Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 197-214 at 202-203.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 4

Although I have been considering the implications of the idea that the veridicality of a Theistic Religious Experience (TRE) is independent of the veridicality of other TREs, this is NOT the view of Swinburne.  In fact, Swinburne clearly holds the opposite view, the view that the veridicality of a TRE is dependent on the veridicality of other TREs.  I will get into the details of this shortly.
First, let me back up for a moment and provide a key definition.  Swinburne defines “religious experience” in Chapter 13 of The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG, where he presents his Argument from Religious Experience, hereafter: AFR):
For our present purposes it will be useful to define it [a ‘religious experience’] as an experience of God (either of his just being there, or of his saying or bringing about something) or of some other supernatural thing. (EOG, p.295) 
Note the emphasis on TREs: “an experience of God”.  Swinburne does not limit religious experiences to experiences of God, since the definition also includes experiences “of some other supernatural thing”.  However, Swinburne immediately points out that his focus is on TREs, especially on one specific kind of TRE:
For most of the discussion I shall be concerned with experiences that seem to be simply of the presence of God and not with his seeming to tell the subject something specific or to do something specific. (EOG, p.296) 
So not only is Swinburne’s argument focused on TREs, but it is focused on a specific subset of TREs, what I have referred to as “generic” TREs.
Statements of key points in his argument also focus on TREs:
…a religious experience apparently of God ought to be taken as veridical unless it can be shown on other grounds significantly more probable than not that God does not exist. (EOG, p.321)
One who has had a religious experience apparently of God has, by the Principle of Credulity, good reason for believing that there is a God… (EOG, p.325)
Swinburne’s definition of ‘religious experience’ has a flaw, if taken as it stands.  It is not clear that one can have “an experience of God” if there is no God.  Swinburne does not intend to beg the question about the existence of God, and in the context of  the opening of Chapter 13, it is fairly clear that what he had in mind is an experience in which is seems (epistemically) to the subject that God is present (or that God is communicating a message to the subject, or that God is performing some action).
Swinburne leaves open the possibiilty that it might seem (epistemically) to a person that God is present when in fact there is no God, and thus God was NOT present to that person.  In other words, one can have a TRE that is non-veridical.  Having a theistic religious experience does NOT imply or entail that God was present or that God exists.  It might be the case that all TREs are non-veridical, that all TREs are misleading experiences.  Therefore, the occurrence of TREs does not in and of itself logically imply that God exists.
Back to the issue of dependency between the veridicality of generic TREs.  One obvious point is that if just one single generic TRE is veridical, then that means that God was present at least on that particular occasion.  But since God is omniscient and omnipotent and eternal (by definition), if God was present on one occaision, then it follows logically that God is present at any and every place at any and every time.  If God exists at one moment, then God exists in all moments, for any person who exists for only a finite duration of time cannot be ‘God’.  Any person who can only influence events in one particular part of the universe cannot be ‘God’.    Any person who is only aware of events in a particular place or at a particular time cannot be ‘God’.  In short, if God was present at one moment of time in one particular location, then God exists.  If God exists, then God is present at all times and at all places.
Recall that Swinburne saves his presentation of AFR until after all other major considerations for and and against the existence of God have been covered (in his view).  He believes that other relevant evidence shows that the existence of God is somewhat probable, that theism has a probability somewhere between .4 and .5:
g: God exists
.4 < P(g) < .5 
But Swinburne is clearly talking about a conditional probability, a probability that is based on the evidence in the premises of his previous arguments for and against God.  Let’s use a letter to represent this background evidence that was considered prior to examination of AFR:
k: [the background evidence of the premises of the inductive arguments for and against God previously presented by Swinburne]
Now we can represent the probability range more accurately:
.4 < P(g|k) < .5
Swinburne believes he has a bit of wiggle room here, because all that is required for the success of AFR, in his view, is that the prior probability of the existence of God be more than just ‘very improbable’.  I would interpret that to mean the following assumption is required for the success of AFR:
P(g|k) > .2
If AFR is as good as Swinburne thinks, then the evidence in the premises of this argument should bump up the probability significantly, to make the existence of God “more probable than not”:
e: Many people have had generic TREs which are not subject to special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality of those TREs. 
P(g| e & k) > .5
If we have before us a collection of clean (i.e. no special considerations apply) generic TREs, and if we could somehow determine that one TRE in this collection was in fact veridical, that would, by itself, make it certain that God exists.  From that point forward any further instances of TREs would need to be evaluated on the basis of a NEW prior probability of the existence of God.  This new information, that at least one TRE was veridical, would shift the prior probabililty of the existence of God from somwhere between .4 and .5, all the way up to the maximum probabilty: 1.0.  In other words, as soon as one single TRE has been determined to be veridical, we have good reason to be much less skeptical about the veridicality of other TREs.
This is kind of like the idea of a miracle.  As soon as one single miracle has been determined to be valid, that establishes both the existence of God and the fact that God is, at least on some occasions, willing to intervene in nature for the sake of some human (or some animal) and to cause a violation of a law of nature.  Once one single miracle has been determined to be valid, then we would have good reason to be much less skeptical about other miracles.
A similar sort of relationship appears to hold in the case that we determine a particular TRE to be non-veridical.  If someone claims to have had an experience of the presence of God, but we determine that God was NOT present on that occasion, then we have also determined that God does NOT exist.  For if God DID exist, then God would have been present in the time and place that the person who claims to have experienced God had this experience that seemed to him/her to be an experience of the presence of God.  If God exists, then God exists at all times and at all places.
Furthermore, according to Swinburne, if God exists, then God is involved in the causation of any religious experience that seems (to the subject) to be an experience of God:
But, if there is a God, he is omnipresent and all causal processes operate only because he sustains them.  Hence any causal processes at all that bring about my experience will have God among their causes; and any experience of him will be of him as present at a place where he is.  And so, if there is a God, any experience that seems to be of God, will be genuine–will be of God. (EOG, p.320)
It appears that if there is just one single TRE that we determine was non-veridical, then we have determined that God does NOT exist, and that all other TREs are also non-veridical.  If God exists, then all TREs are veridical.  Therefore, if just one TRE is non-veridical, then God does NOT exist.
So, at least at first blush, it appears that if one single generic TRE is determined to be veridical, that shows that God exists, and that other generic TREs are also veridical, and it appears that if one single generic TRE is determined to be non-veridical, that shows God does NOT exist, and that other generic TREs must also be non-veridical.  Given these two sorts of logical dependencies, the probability tree diagram for generic TREs would look like this:
3 TREs with Dependency
As soon as the status of the first TRE is determined, so is the status for any other TREs.  If the first TRE was veridical, then God exists, and all other TREs must then also be veridical, based on Swinburne’s views about the implications of the veridicality of a TRE.  If the first TRE is non-veridical, then all other TREs must then also be non-veridical.  Assuming that the prior probability of God’s existence is .4, we must either determine that the first TRE is veridical and raise that probabilty to 1.0, or determine that the first TRE is non-veridical and lower that probability to 0.
I don’t think Swinburne was aware of this implication of his view of the implications of determining a TRE to be veridical:
There are large numbers of people both today and in the past who have had religious experiences apparently of the presence of God and that must make it significantly more probable that any one person’s experience is veridical. (EOG, p.323-324)
It seems to me that the occurrence of large numbers of “religious experiences apparently of the presence of God” does NOT help the case for God.  The probability of the veridicality  of the first TRE that we consider will depend on the prior probability of the existence of God, but once the veridicality of that TRE is determined, the question of the existence of God will be answered, and no further TREs need be considered, because the veridicality of the remaining TREs will be determined by whether the first TRE was veridical or not, given Swinburne’s assumption that IF God exists, then ALL  generic TREs must be veridical.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 3: Chapter 4

Chapter 4. Divine Design

G&T provide a brief introduction to what they call ‘the’ Teleological Argument, which they formulate as follows.
1. Every design had a designer.
2. The universe has a highly complex design.
3. Therefore, the universe had a Designer. (95)
Like the cosmological argument, this argument is deductively valid. Again, my plan is to provide a very brief summary of G&T’s defense of this argument, before providing some critical comments of my own.
(i) Evidence of Design: G&T provide a helpful metaphor with NASA’s Apollo 13 mission to introduce their readers to the basic thrust of their design argument, in which they emphasize the following “anthropic constants”: (1) oxygen level; (2) atmospheric transparency; (3) moon-earth gravitational interaction; (4) carbon dioxide level; and (5) gravity. In order for life to be possible, the value of each constant has to be within a very narrow range. They list ten additional such constants and then refer to astrophysicist Hugh Ross, who has identified a total of 122 such constants.
How does this constitute evidence of design? First, G&T argue that if any of the anthropic constants had a value outside of a very narrow range, life would have been impossible. Next, they ask us to imagine lots of different possible universes, each with different values of the anthropic constants. If we compare the number of life-permitting universes to the number of possible universes, we will find that only a small portion of the possible universes are life-permitting.  Indeed, summarizing Ross’s calculations, G&T report that the probability that all 122 of these constants would have life-permitting values for any planet in the universe by chance is 1 in 10138.
(ii) Atheistic Objections: G&T then consider atheistic responses to this argument: (1) an admission of a Designer; (2) chance (in the form of the Multiple Universe or multiverse hypothesis). After presenting a series of objections to the multiverse hypothesis, G&T triumphantly conclude that the anthropic principle shows “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the universe is designed (111). Furthermore, they claim that atheists who remain atheists in the face of this design argument are irrational and unwilling to admit there is a designer (112).
(iii) Some Critical Comments: Having now outlined the case which G&T make for divine design, I shall now make some critical comments.  As will become clear from my comments, I think that G&T only considered the weakest objections to their argument.
(a) Question-begging: First, G&T’s version of the teleological argument is a petitio principii, viz., it begs the question.[1] Why do G&T not consider the possibility that the universe’s life-permitting conditions are the result of impersonal, mechanistic causes? Because they rule out that possibility in advance. G&T can conclude “the universe has a highly complex design” only by assuming that the universe’s life-permitting conditions had a Designer. But G&T also claim that the design argument is supposed to lead to the conclusion that the universe had a Designer. The presupposition that the universe had a Designer is both an assumption and a conclusion of G&T’s design argument. This vicious circularity nullifies their argument in its present form.
In order to repair the argument, G&T would have to rely upon non-question-begging premises. For example, let’s start with the statement about the “anthropic constants.” Then the first premise of the repaired argument can be written as follows.

1’. We know that only a small portion of the range of possible values that the anthropic constants could have had would be life permitting.

Next, we need to add a statement about how theism “predicts” the cosmic design data better than atheism.

2’. The fact that the anthropic constants have life permitting values is much more probable on the assumption that God exists than on the assumption that God does not exist.

Finally, we conclude with a statement about the direction and weight of the evidence.

3’. The fact that the anthropic constants have life permitting values is strong evidence for the existence of God.

Although G&T don’t explicitly appeal to 1’-3’, I trust that even they would agree that their version of the design argument depends upon the truth of all three statements. Furthermore, unlike G&T’s version, this design argument doesn’t beg the question. Finally, this repaired argument is useful because its premises clarify some of the key disputes between proponents and critics of this type of design argument. This leads to my next point.
(b) G&T Understate the Evidence: Even if we assume that so-called cosmic “fine-tuning” is evidence favoring theism over naturalism, that argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence.[2]  In other words, even if the general fact of fine-tuning is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that naturalism is true, it ignores other, more specific facts about fine-tuning, facts that, given fine-tuning, are more likely on naturalism than on theism.
What are these other facts?
(1) So much of the universe is highly hostile to life. Most of the universe is incredibly hostile to life, such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that so much of our universe is highly hostile to life is more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.[3]
(2) Our universe is not teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that our universe is not known to have relatively more impressive life is much more probable on single-universe naturalism than it is on theism.[4]
(3) The only intelligent life we know of is human. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in the universe, the fact that the only intelligent life we know of is human is very many times more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.[5]
(4) Intelligent life is the result of evolution. G&T dispute the fact of biological evolution, so we will address their objections later.  For now we will simply note the following. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that it developed as a result of biological evolution (if it is a fact) is more probable on naturalism than on it is on theism.[6]
The upshot is this. Even if the general fact of cosmic “fine-tuning” were more probable on theism than on naturalism, there are other, more specific facts about cosmic “fine-tuning,” facts that, given cosmic “fine-tuning,” are more likely on naturalism than on theism. Once all of the evidence about cosmic “fine-tuning” has been fully stated, however, it’s far from obvious that facts about cosmic “fine-tuning” favor theism over naturalism.
(c) Completely Arbitrary Probability Estimates: Recall that G&T appeal to Ross’s probability estimates in order to show that the probability of 122 anthropic constants having life-permitting values is 1 in 10138.[7] Ross arrives at this ridiculously low number, in part, from multiplying together his estimates of the probabilities for each anthropic constant or parameter. Consider, for example, the relative abundances of different exotic mass particles. Ross estimates that the probability of that parameter having a life-permitting value is 0.1.
But there are two problems with Ross’s methodology. First, Ross doesn’t describe the range of possible values for each parameter or, more important, the subset of such values which would be life-permitting (even if we grant the bogus assumption that life as we know it is the only possible kind of life). In the absence of such a range, it’s hard to independently test his probability estimates.
Second, if these probability estimates are subjective probabilities—and that’s unclear—then Ross provides no justification for accepting them. The problem is not that they are subjective probabilities per se. The use of subjective probabilities can be justified if (a) the estimator is calibrated; and (b) there are no equally competent authorities who disagree. Rather, the problem is that Ross provides no evidence that his estimates of his own uncertainty are “calibrated,” i.e., that he consistently avoids a bias towards overconfidence or underconfidence when estimating subjective probabilities.[8] Without a reason to believe that Ross is a calibrated estimator, we have no reason to put any credence into his estimates. And it’s highly probable that Ross is not a calibrated estimator, for the simple reason that calibration training teaches subject matter experts to estimate a range of numerical values, rather than providing point estimates such as those provided by Ross.
(d) Varying the Constants but Fixing the Physics: G&T’s argument depends upon counting the number of possible universes with different values for the anthropic constants but with the same laws of physics. But why restrict the set of possible universes to only those with the same laws of physics? Why not also include possible universes with different physics? Bradley Monton makes this point extremely well; it’s worth quoting him at length.

The general point is as follows: when faced with the fine-tuning evidence, it is reasonable to not be surprised. We already knew that there are many possible universes that are not life-permitting, and yet are similar in certain ways to our actual universe. The fine-tuning argument encourages us to focus our attention on those possible universes that have the same laws of physics as ours, but different fundamental constants. But why not focus on those possible universes that have the same types of particles as ours, but different fundamental laws? Or why not focus on those possible universes that have the same density distribution as ours, but different types of particles? Before I was faced with the fine-tuning evidence, I already knew that our universe was special, in the sense that there are many possible universes similar to ours in certain ways and yet not life-permitting. I already knew that, if God existed, God would have to choose to actualize our life-permitting universe from among a sea of similar non-life-permitting universes. I already knew that, if God did not exist, there’s a sense in which we are lucky that the universe is life-permitting—there are many possible universes similar to ours which are not. The fine-tuning evidence doesn’t change any of that, and hence the fine-tuning evidence doesn’t change my probability for the existence of God.[9]

The upshot is that if our goal is to count the relative frequency of life-permitting universes among all possible universes, then we have to consider all possible universes, not just those with the same laws of physics. Since neither G&T nor Ross have done that, it follows that their defense of this crucial premise (and hence their design argument as a whole) is, at best, incomplete.
(e) The (Im)probability of Fine-Tuning on Theism: Consider an analogy. Let E be the evidence that I rolled a four when rolling a fair six-sided die; geocentrism (G) be the hypothesis that the earth is the center of the solar system; and heliocentrism (H) be the hypothesis that the sun is the center of the solar system. H gives us virtually no reason at all to expect that I would roll a four. In fact, based upon our background knowledge (B) about fair dice, we would predict that I did not roll a four. In other words, H and B combined predict not E (~E). But this would be a horrible reason for saying that E favors G & B over H & B. Why? G and B combined also predict ~E. So there’s no reason at all to think my rolling a four is more probable on G than on H. But then it follows that there’s no reason to think my rolling a four is evidence favoring G over H.
This same point applies to G&T’s design argument. In order to show that the anthropic constants (or any other potential evidence) favor theism over atheism, one has to do more than show that the data is improbable on atheism. One also has to show that (i) theism predicts the data while atheism does not; (ii) atheism predicts the non-existence of the data while theism does not; or (c) that the data is more probable on theism than on atheism.  Otherwise, by definition, there is literally no reason at all to believe that the data is evidence favoring theism over atheism. With that in mind, then, we may ask the following question. What reason do G&T offer for thinking that the anthropic constants are more probable on theism than on atheism? So far as I can tell, the answer is, “None whatsoever.”
Furthermore, it’s far from obvious that the anthropic constants are more probable on theism than on atheism. As G&T explain, theism is the belief that “a personal God who created the universe but is not part of the universe” (22). On the assumption that theism is true, it’s far from obvious that God would fine-tune a physical universe for life. In fact, this is still far from obvious even if we assume that God wants to create other minds besides his own, which is itself a debatable assumption. Even if God wants to create other minds besides his own, why should we assume that He would want to create embodied minds rather than just immaterial souls or spirits? G&T never say; in fact, G&T don’t even consider the question. This is yet another reason why G&T’s design argument is, at best, incomplete.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Edited and with Commentary by Nelson Pike (Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merill, 1970); Antony Flew, “Arguments to Design” The Secular Web (1996), I am grateful to Robert Greg Cavin for bringing Nelson Pike’s commentary to my attention.
[2] Paul Draper, “Collins’ Case for Cosmic Design” The Great Debate (2008),
[3] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “Hostility of the Universe to Life: Understated Evidence about Cosmic Fine-Tuning?” The Secular Outpost (January 22, 2013),
[4] Draper 2008.
[5] Draper 2008.
[6] Draper 2008.
[7] Incidentally, intelligent design theorist William Dembski has argued that any event with a probability less than 1 in 10150 can be expected to happen by chance alone during the lifetime of our universe. If Dembski is correct, then this point may undermine the significance of Ross’ probability estimates. But I do not wish to place any emphasis on this point since I was unable to analyze Dembski’s argument before finishing this review. Interested readers may wish to consult William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield,m 2002). Thanks to Richard Carrier for making me aware of this point.
[8] Douglas W. Hubbard, How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business (3rd ed., New York: Wiley, 2014).
[9] Bradley Monton, “God, Fine-Tuning, and the Problem of Old Evidence” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2006): 405-424 at 420-21. Italics are mine.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 2: Chapter 3

Chapter 3. In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE

G&T tell us that the “Cosmological Argument is the argument from the beginning of the universe” (74). That is sloppy; G&T have conflated the family of arguments known as ‘the’ cosmological argument with one specific version of that argument (the kalām cosmological argument). But let that pass. G&T formulate the argument as follows.
1. Everything that had a beginning has a cause.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore the universe had a cause. (75)
This argument is clearly deductively valid—i.e., its conclusion follows from its premises. If one accepts its conclusion, there are three pertinent questions to answer.
First, what bearing does the argument have on metaphysical naturalism? If sound, the argument would also refute metaphysical naturalism. (Since nothing can cause itself, the universe would require a cause outside of itself, something that is incompatible with naturalism.)[1]
Second, what sort of cause did the universe have? G&T argue that the cause of physical reality, if it exists, must be self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, very powerful, highly intelligent, and personal.
Third, what was the universe created from? There are three options.

Creation ex nihilo: physical reality was created out of nothing by the will of a timeless and immaterial person a long time ago.

Creation ex materia: creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter

Creation ex deo: creation out of the being of God.

G&T argue that the scientific evidence supports creation ex nihilo.
I shall provide a very brief summary of G&T’s support for both premises, before providing some critical comments about G&T’s assessment of atheistic and Christian interpretations of the evidence.
(i) G&T’s support for premises (1) and (2):
(a) The Law of Causality: On behalf of premise (1), which G&T call “The Law of Causality,” G&T argue that the Law of Causality is “the fundamental principle of science;” and observation shows that things don’t happen in the universe without a cause. For reasons that will soon be clear, I shall refer to the “Law of Causality” as the “Law of Causal Beginnings.”
As stated, however, premise (1) is false. The kernel of truth in (1) is what I shall call the “Law of Temporal Causal Beginnings,” namely, that everything that had a beginning in time has a cause.
This is why our observation shows that things which begin in the universe (and so in time) have a cause. Quantum mechanics events aside, I agree with G&T that it would be absurd to believe that cars, mountains, or whales could just pop into existence without a cause. But what about things that have a beginning which happens at the beginning of time itself (i.e., with time)? We know of only one such thing and that is the universe itself.  And there is good reason to doubt that time (and so the universe) have a cause. It’s logically impossible for time itself to have a cause since causes always precede their effects in time. So to say that time itself had a cause is to say, “Before time existed, something happened and then at a later time, time began to exist,” which is self-contradictory.
In order to avoid this problem, some theists have argued that God’s creation of the universe is simultaneous with its beginning. Even if simultaneous causation is possible, which is debatable, that simply solves one problem and creates a bigger one. If God’s causing the universe is simultaneous with the universe’s beginning, then it’s entirely arbitrary to pretend that God is the ‘cause’ while the universe is the ‘effect.’ If “God’s causing the universe” and “the universe’s beginning” are simultaneous, one could just as easily say, “God had a beginning,” and, “The universe caused God.” Both of those statements are incompatible with theism.
But in fact simultaneous causation seems inapplicable to God’s (alleged) causation of the universe. First, even simultaneity expresses a temporal relationship between causes and effects. It seems to be a contradiction in terms to say that the beginning of the universe is simultaneous with an atemporal (timeless) cause.[2] For that implies there was a time when there both was time and was not time, which is a self-contradictory statement. Second, simultaneous causation seems to involve “states of other things that pre-exist the effects in question.”[3] But that entails that the total cause includes something that existed prior to the partial cause which is simultaneous with its effect. In short, the concept of simultaneous causation provides no reason at all to think that premise (1) applies to things (like the universe) which begin with time.
There is an even deeper problem with G&T’s defense of premise (1), however. If we abbreviate “thing that had a beginning” as B and “had a cause” as C, then it is clear that premise (1) expresses a categorical generalization, i.e., it has the form “All Bs are Cs.” If there is even just one counter-example (i.e., at least one B is not also a C), then (1) is false. Is it?
It appears that, In support of (1), G&T appeal to observation, namely, “All observed Bs are Cs,” and infer the categorical generalization, “All Bs are Cs.” In other words, G&T seem to be implicitly relying upon an inductive argument form known as simple enumeration to a generalization. The implied argument is this.
(1) All observed things in the universe with a beginning have a cause.
(2) Therefore, all things with a beginning have a cause.
where B is called the “reference class” and C is called the “attribute class.” The problem is called the “reference class problem,” i.e., the problem of deciding which class to use when stating a generalization. In the case of our universe’s origin, it is far from clear which reference class should be used because our universe belongs to many different reference classes. Wes Morriston, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explains.

Here are some other well-attested empirical generalizations, each of which is incompatible with that hypothesis [supernatural creation ex nihilo] about the origin of the universe.
(A)   Material things come from material things.
(B)   Nothing is ever created out of nothing.
(C)   Nothing is ever caused by anything that is not itself in time.
(D)   The mental lives of all persons have temporal duration.
(E)    All persons are embodied.[4]

Consider, for example, the generalization in Morriston’s (A), which we’ll call the “Law of Material Causality.” That generalization supports an argument I’ll call the “Anti-Creation Ex Nihilo Argument”:
1. Everything that had a beginning comes from pre-existing material.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore, the universe came from pre-existing material.
If the universe came from pre-existing material, then it follows that the universe was not created “out of nothing” (ex nihilo). Rather it was created out of pre-existing material (ex materia). But that entails that supernatural creation ex nihilo is false.
(b) The Universe’s Beginning: On behalf of premise (2), G&T offer five lines of scientific evidence, which they summarize in the mnemonic acronynm “SURGE,” which represents (a) the Second law of thermodynamics, (b) the Universe is expanding; (c) Radiation from the big bang; (d) Great galaxy seeds; and (e) Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In addition, G&T offer one a priori argument—which they mistakenly call the kalām argument—to show that the universe cannot be infinitely old. G&T conclude, accordingly, that the universe had a beginning.
I agree with G&T that it is now beyond reasonable doubt that our universe, as it is now, has existed for a finite time. Whether our universe, in any form, has existed for a finite time may be open to reasonable doubt, however. But let’s put that issue to the side and assume,  but only for the sake of argument, that G&T are correct and our universe had a beginning. As G&T admit, the evidence for Big Bang cosmology shows more than just the fact that our universe has a finite age.

In fact, chronologically, there was no “before” the Big Bang because there are no “befores” without time, and there was no time until the Big Bang. Time, space, and matter came into existence with the Big Bang. (79, italics mine)

In other words, the evidence for Big Bang cosmology also shows that time itself began with the Big Bang (i.e., our universe began with time). Here’s the problem for the proponent of the kalām argument. Although our universe is not eternal (i.e., infinitely old), it’s still the case that it has always existed (i.e., for all of time). But, for the reason just given, it follows that time itself (and hence our universe) cannot have a cause. Thus, once the evidence about our universe’s beginning is fully stated, that evidence does not support theism over naturalism.
(ii) Atheistic Interpretations of Big Bang Cosmology: This is where G&T’s partisanship really comes unleashed. As I read them, G&T discuss and reject three atheistic explanations of Big Bang cosmology:  (1) a view they call the ‘Cosmic Rebound Theory;’ (2) Stephen Hawking’s ‘Imaginary Time’ hypothesis; and (3) the hypothesis defended by chemists Peter Atkins and Isaac Asimov.
When I first read this chapter, three things stood out. First, for each of the views they discussed, G&T neither quote proponents of these views nor fairly explain their values. Regarding (1), why do defenders of the ‘Cosmic Rebound Theory’ think that view is correct? G&T never say. In fact, G&T never even name anyone who promoted such a view. Turning to (2), whereas it is called the “Hartle-Hawking model” or the “no boundary model” in the literature, G&T even rename it to the ‘Imaginary Time’ hypothesis to suit their rhetoric. Many people believe that Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest scientists, if not the greatest scientist, alive today.  But if someone knew nothing about Hawking other than what they read in G&T’s book, they’d get the mistaken impression that Hawking is a quack whose theories are not taken seriously, even by Hawking himself! As for (3), G&T don’t even bother to tell the readers what Atkins’s view is; they just proceed to quote William Lane Craig’s refutation.
Second, G&T don’t respond to the best critics of the kalām cosmological argument.[5] In fact, their book may even mislead their readers by making it appear as if only nontheists reject the argument. But that’s false. Thomas Aquinas, who has been called “more or less the official philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church and esteemed as the greatest Christian philosopher even by many Protestants,” rejected it.[6] In the present day, philosopher Wes Morriston  (quoted earlier) has written some of the best critiques of the argument, while he was still a Christian. It is unfortunate that G&T chose to ignore the critiques of both Aquinas and Morriston in their book.
Third, like many theistic apologists who use the kalām cosmological argument, G&T use the following “money quote” from nontheist philosopher Anthony Kenny.

According to the Big Bang Theory, the whole matter of the universe began to exist at a particular time in the remote past. A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing.[7]

At first glance, what Kenny describes does sound absurd. But Kenny is no dummy; philosophical charity demands that we try to understand why someone as brilliant as Kenny would write such a thing. What would it mean to believe that “the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing?”
One interpretation, which I shall call the scientific interpretation since it seems to be held primarily by scientists, treats “nothing” as if it were a something, such as a giant empty box into which the universe suddenly began.[8] The problem with this interpretation is that it reifies “nothing.” As philosopher Bede Rundle explains,

… accounts of physical reality as ‘coming out of nothing’ risk not taking ‘nothing’ seriously, perhaps replacing it by ‘nothingness’ to make, as it were, something out of nothing.[9]

But there is another option. According to this second interpretation, which I call the philosophical interpretation, there is no “giant empty box,” i.e., there is no “nothing” for the universe to “come from.” Instead, according to this interpretation, there was no time at which the universe did not exist; and there is no place the universe came from.  This is the interpretation favored by philosophically sophisticated nontheists, such as Sean Carroll, Graham Oppy, Keith Parsons, Bede Rundle, and Quentin Smith.[10]
Let us now return to the Kenny “money quote.” G&T do not distinguish these two interpretations, perhaps (?) because Kenny himself does not, so it’s unclear which interpretation Kenny favors.  On the scientific interpretation, Kenny’s statement does make the combination of atheism and Big Bang cosmology sound absurd. But, as we’ve just seen, many competent authorities disagree with that interpretation, so any appeal to Kenny as an authority is fallacious (assuming he even holds this view). On the scientific interpretation, however, the combination is not only not absurd, but plausible.
(iii) Big Bang Cosmology and the Genesis Accounts: G&T quote astronomers Robert Jastrow and Robert Wilson, who both apparently claim, without qualification, that Big Bang cosmology confirms the Genesis accounts of creation. This curious assessment, however, understates the evidence. On the one hand, Big Bang cosmology is strong evidence for one logical implication of Genesis, namely, that everything in our universe is only finitely old. But, again, that fact hardly exhausts what modern cosmology has to say about the Genesis accounts. NASA explains the first moments after the “Big Bang” as follows.

According to the theories of physics, if we were to look at the Universe one second after the Big Bang, what we would see is a 10-billion degree sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. Then, as time went on, we would see the Universe cool, the neutrons either decaying into protons and electrons or combining with protons to make deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). As it continued to cool, it would eventually reach the temperature where electrons combined with nuclei to form neutral atoms. Before this “recombination” occurred, the Universe would have been opaque because the free electrons would have caused light (photons) to scatter the way sunlight scatters from the water droplets in clouds. But when the free electrons were absorbed to form neutral atoms, the Universe suddenly became transparent. Those same photons–the afterglow of the Big Bang known as cosmic background radiation–can be observed today.[11]

Furthermore, according to modern astronomy, the entire solar system, including the earth, didn’t even form until approximately 8.7 billion years after the Big Bang.
In contrast, Genesis 1 tells a very different cosmological story. According to Genesis 1, God created the earth on the first day and the sun on the fourth. Thus, Big Bang cosmology is strong evidence against the literal chronology of Genesis accounts. But this entails that, when the available evidence from cosmology is fully stated, that evidence makes it probable that a literal interpretation of the Genesis accounts are false.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] In the interest of simplicity, I am treating the expression “the universe” as it appears in G&T’s argument as synonymous with “physical reality.”
[2] Wes Morriston, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause? A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument” Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000): 151.
[3] Wes Morriston, “Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument: Reply to CraigFaith and Philosophy 19 (2002): 233-44 at 240.
[4] Wes Morriston, “Doubts about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Debating Christian Theism (ed. Meister, Moreland, and Sweis, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 29.
[5] Paul Draper, Adolf Grünbaum, Wes Morriston, Graham Oppy, Bede Rundle, and Quentin Smith.
[6] Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), Kindle location 1538.
[7] Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God’s Existence (New York: Schocken, 1969), 66, quoted in G&T 2004, 81.
[8] See, e.g., Isaac Asimov, Beginning and End (New York: Doubleday, 1977), 148, quoted in G&T 2004, 414, n. 11; Peter Atkins, Creation Revisited: The Origin of Space, Time, and the Universe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994), 139; Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010); Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (New York: Free Press, 2012); and Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist (Buffalo: Prometheus, 2007), 115-17.
[9] Bede Rundle, Where There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 117-18.
[10] See Sean Carroll, “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005): 622-640; Graham Oppy, “Review of J.P. Moreland (ed.), The Creation Hypothesis” The Secular Web (1998),; Keith Parsons; and Rundle 2004.
[11] NASA, “The Big Bang” National Aeronautics and Space Administration (March 8, 2013),

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 1: Introduction

The book’s introduction divides into six parts: (i) the crucial role that beliefs about God play in worldviews; (ii) an overview of three major “religious” worldviews; (iii) a discussion of the role of faith and facts in religion; (iv) three categories of problems with Christianity; (v) the faith of an atheist; and (vi) a high-level summary of their 12-point case for Christianity.
(i) The Role of (A)theology in Worldviews: Geisler and Turek (G&T) state that the answers to life’s “five most consequential questions… depend on the existence of God” (20). I take this to be a typo. As I’m sure G&T agree, if God does not exist, it does not follow that those questions have no answers. In fact, G&T themselves summarize what they think the atheistic answers to those questions must be! So I assume that what G&T meant is that such answers “will be informed by one’s beliefs about the existence of God.” And I take it that this claim is clearly right.
(ii) Three Major “Religious” Worldviews: G&T assert that “Most of the world’s major religions fall into one of these three religious world-views: theism, pantheism, and atheism” (22), which they then define as follows:
Theist: someone who believes in a personal God who created the universe but is not part of the universe
Pantheist: someone who believes in an impersonal God that literally is the universe.
Atheist: someone who does not believe in any type of God.
Additionally, they define an “agnostic” as someone who is unsure about the question of God.
For the most part, I think these definitions are fine. The one concern I have is with G&T’s definition of agnosticism. Since theism, pantheism, and atheism are defined in terms of beliefs, I think it would have been better to define agnosticism as “the lack of beliefs about God’s existence.” Not only does this keep the symmetry going, but, more important, it keeps beliefs separate from a person’s degree of belief, i.e., how much certainty or uncertainty they attach to their beliefs.
(iii) Faith and Facts in Religion: G&T argue that religion is not “simply a matter of faith” because “religion is not only about faith.” Rather, religion also makes truth claims and so “facts” play  a central role as well. This invites the obvious question: what do G&T mean by “faith”? The answer is found in a later section, where they write:
We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge. (26)
Elsewhere, they claim that “every religious worldview requires faith” (25).
There are times where two people speak the same language, use the same words, and mean very different things by the same words. In conversations between Christians and atheists, “faith” is one such word. For many atheists, the word “faith” means, by default, belief without evidence or even belief against the evidence. Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell probably summed up the views of most atheists when he wrote this.

We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups, substitute different emotions.[1]

In contrast, I doubt many Christians would accept that definition. For example, Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) states, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In other words, faith is a belief that (a) is about something a person hopes is true; and (b) goes beyond the evidence.
Regarding (a), many atheists hope that God exists and that atheism is false. Indeed, for those of us who are former believers, in many cases their loss of belief in God was depressing. In the Hebrews sense of “faith,” then, such atheists do not have faith in atheism, even if they are uncertain about their atheism.
As for (b), I agree with both Christians and atheists on this point. I agree with those Christians who point out that the Biblical concept of faith doesn’t seem to support belief against the evidence. “Going beyond the evidence,” does not mean “going against the evidence.” I also think that “going beyond the evidence” doesn’t entail “there is no evidence at all.” (For example, the conclusions of logically correct inductive arguments go beyond the content of their premises, but their premises are nevertheless evidence for their conclusions.) But I also agree with Russell that, in everyday language, the word “faith” is often used just as he says it is.
In light of this difference in language, then, it’s always puzzled me why Christian apologists like G&T insist on using a word like “faith” in their exchanges with atheists and agnostics. There are other ways to make the same point; there’s no apparent “upside,” and there is a clear “downside.” Christian philosopher Victor Reppert seems to agree. He writes:

Every time you use the word “faith” in a discussion with an atheist, they are going to declare victory. They will presume that you are believing for no reason, and that you are admitting that the evidence is against you.[2]

I think Reppert is probably right. The word “faith” simply has too much baggage and is too off-putting to nontheists. The expressions “uncertain belief” or “probable belief” are two much less contentious ways to make the same point.
(iv) Three Categories of Problems with Christianity: G&T describe three types of obstacles to Christian belief: (1) intellectual (such as the argument from evil); (2) emotional (such as hypocrisy); and (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to sin).
I take it that this list of categories is clearly right, but incomplete. I would add a fourth category: (4) biological (such as mindblindness associated with severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders).[3]
Furthermore, as I’m sure G&T would agree, we can use these same four categories to describe Christian obstacles to becoming atheists. For example: (1) intellectual (such as the kalām cosmological argument); (2) emotional (such as the prospect of no afterlife); (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to fit into a religious community); and (4) biological (i.e., the natural tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents).[4]
But G&T do more than just list the different categories of obstacles to Christian belief. They also summarize their assessment of the evidence against Christianity and against God’s existence.

That is, once one looks at the evidence, we think it takes more faith to be a non-Christian than it does to be a Christian. (24)

In fact, they put the point this way.

Indeed, we think our conclusions are true beyond a reasonable doubt. (This type of certainty, say, 95-plus percent certain, is the best that fallible and finite human beings can attain for most questions, and it is more than sufficient for even the biggest decisions in life.) (25, italics mine)

This remarkable degree of probability is supposed to follow from their 12-point case for Christianity. In fact, as I will show in this review, their biased and incomplete summary of the evidence comes nowhere close to justifying a 95% or greater probability that Christianity is true.
(v) The Faith of an Atheist: Consistent with their definition of faith, G&T argue that since atheists are dealing “in the realm of probability rather than absolute certainty,” they have to “have a certain amount of faith to believe that God does not exist” (26). It seems to me that G&T are clearly right that atheists, like theists, can have beliefs about God that are, at best, highly probable, not absolutely certain.
(vi) High-Level Summary of Case for Christianity: In this section G&T offer a preview of their “twelve points that show Christianity is true.” The most important of these points may be summarized as follows.
(a) Arguments for theism: these include versions of the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments
(b) Evidence for Christianity: evidence that Jesus is God, such as his fulfillment of prophecy, miracles, and his resurrection from the dead.
Having outlined G&T’s case for Christian theism, I shall now analyze its logical structure. The good news for G&T is that I have only one comment. The bad news is that I think it is fatal to their project.  The comment is this: G&T’s evidence for Christianity, even if accurate, doesn’t make it probable that Christianity is true. Although G&T explicitly recognize that they are dealing with probabilities, the logical structure of their argument is defective because it fails to satisfy the rules of mathematical probability known as the axioms of the probability calculus.
This is best shown with a concrete example. Let’s suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that the following evidence favors theism over atheism, i.e., is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true: the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe, the design of life, and the existence of the moral law. Even so, it still doesn’t follow that, all things considered, God’s existence is more likely than not. For example, it may be the case—and I think is the case—that there is other evidence which favors atheism over theism. But, if true, that entails that G&T’s case violates the Total Evidence Requirement and so G&T’s case accordingly fails to show that Christianity is probably true.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] Bertrand Russell, Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954, New York: Routledge, 2013), 215.
[2] Victor Reppert, “Matt McCormick on the Meaning of Faith,” Dangerous Idea (July 29, 2012),
[3] Simon Baron-Cohen, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995).
[4] Justin Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2004).

bookmark_borderIndex: Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Review of Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004). 
Like all apologetics books, both Christian and non-Christian, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist book takes a partisan approach to the philosophy of religion. Of course, by itself, the fact that it is a partisan book isn’t a problem. The existence or non-existence of God is an important topic; it’s appropriate for people who’ve reached a conclusion to try to persuade others of their position.
The fundamental problem with this book is the particular way it takes a partisan approach: there are partisan books and then there are obnoxiously partisan books.  Like many (but not all) of those other books in the apologetics genre, the basic approach seems to be the following.

  1. Present and defend the author’s preferred view as favorably as possible.
  2. Represent opposing views as unfavorably as possible.
  3. Reach the remarkable conclusion that–surprise, surprise–the author’s view is true.
  4. Suggest that anyone who disagrees is ignorant, irrational, or has ulterior (non-rational) motives.

The problem with obnoxious apologetics, which seems to afflict as many atheist apologists as theist apologists, is that it’s a fatally flawed way to search for truth. If our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth–and it should be–then the above approach is what not to do. Rather, if our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth, then our basic approach should be to represent opposing views fairly, in the best possible light, and interact with the best arguments both for and against the different viewpoints.
The philosopher George H. Smith once wrote, “We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from the honest pursuit of truth.”[1] Along the same lines, obnoxious apologetics is in no one’s self-interest. First, it clearly is not in the best interest of the community who feels their position has been slandered by the straw men created (and then torn down) by apologists.
Second, it’s not in the self-interest of the obnoxious apologist, since in the long-run it can backfire.  Think of the last time you read or listened to something which you felt misrepresented one of your beliefs (or your arguments for your beliefs). Did you change your mind and drop the belief? Of course not! Did you start thinking of objections and rebuttals as you were reading or listening? Probably!  Indeed, if the misrepresentation was made by someone in the public eye, such as a well-known author, it runs the real risk of inviting corrective reviews (like this one) and damaging the author’s credibility.
Third, it’s not in the self-interest of undecided, sincere seekers who truly want to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Following the evidence wherever it leads requires that all of the available relevant evidence be presented and presented fairly. As we shall see later in this review, Geisler and Turek (hereafter, G&T) fail to do this—over and over again.
This failure not only has a practical cost, but a logical cost as well. As G&T admit, their goal is to show that Christianity is highly probable through the use of inductive arguments based upon empirical evidence. But inductive arguments succeed only when they satisfy the Total Evidence Requirement, viz., that their premises embody all of the available relevant evidence.  As I show below, however, G&T’s inductive arguments fail to do this–both individually and collectively. Accordingly, even if all of G&T’s evidence were accurate, which it isn’t, G&T’s case still wouldn’t succeed in showing that Christianity is probably true.
In order to support this verdict on the book’s approach, I’m going to provide a fairly detailed review of the book’s contents, divided into sections according to the table of contents.
Here is the table of contents for the book:
Foreword by David Limbaugh
Preface: How Much Faith Do You Need to Believe This Book?
Introduction: Finding the Box Top to the Puzzle of Life
1 Can We Handle the Truth?
2 Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?
3 In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE
4 Divine Design
5 The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?
6 New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?
7 Mother Theresa vs. Hitler
8 Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility
9 Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus? (Part 1, Part 2)
10 Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?
11 The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth
12 Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
13 Who is Jesus: God? Or Just a Great Moral Teacher?
14 What Did Jesus Teach about the Bible?
15 Conclusion: The Judge, The Servant, and the Box Top
Appendix 1: If God, Why Evil?
Appendix 2: Isn’t That Just Your Interpretation?
Appendix 3: Why the Jesus Seminar Doesn’t Speak for Jesus
[1] George H. Smith, “Atheism: The Case Against God,” speech delivered to the Society of Separationists, 1976. Transcript published as “How to Defend Atheism,” The Secular Web (1976),