bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 9: Analysis of Reason #9

A KEY PASSAGE FROM PART 2 OF THIS SERIES:
It appears to me that just as Chapter 5 is the heart of the book, and that the 10 Reasons are the heart of Chapter 5, so also I believe that Reason #9 (which concerns opposition to “faith-based claims”) for ending philosophy of religion is at the heart of the 10 Reasons.
If I can shove a sharp dagger into Reason #9, then I believe that will kill the beast, and stop the beating of the heart of Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion.
Here is a diagram illustrating my high-level view of Unapologetic  (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Unapologetic - Venn Diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Conversely, if I cannot manage to demolish or seriously damage Reason #9, then that will be a good indication that Loftus has made a strong case for his conclusion, even if some of the other points (e.g. the theme about PoR being “parochial” in nature) are weak and inadequate reasons.
Christian apologists are fond of saying that “Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus”, and I think a similar kind of point applies here:
Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion stands or falls with Reason #9.
Thus, a very good place to start an evaluation of this book, is on page 135, where Loftus spells out Reason #9.
 
ANALYSIS OF THE ARGUMENT GIVEN AS REASON #9
The core argument at the heart of the book Unapologetic can be reconstructed from a single sentence:
If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.  (Unapologetic, p.135)
The basic logical structure of this argument is a modus ponens:

IF P, THEN Q.

P

THEREFORE 

Q

Main Argument – Initial version:

IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith.

THEREFORE 

Philosophy of religion must end.

For clarity of analysis, let’s separate the conjunction in the second premise into two separate claims.
Main Argument – Revision 1:

1..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

3. Religion is based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

The subject of premise (3) is a bit vague, but based on the content of premise (2) as well as other statements Loftus makes in presenting this argument, it is clear that it is “the claims of religion” that Loftus believes are “based on faith”:
Main Argument – Revision 2:

1a..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and the claims of religion are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

3a. The claims of religion are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

Premise (3a) is an improvement over the initial premise (3), but it still has a problem of unclarity, specifically in terms of QUANTIFICATION.  I am going to interpret (3a) as asserting a universal generalization to ensure that the logic of this argument is deductively valid.  If the universal generalization turns out to be false, then (at that point) we can consider weaker versions of this generalization.
Main Argument – Revision 3:

1b..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

A key point in Loftus’ reasoning is the idea that ALL of the claims examined in the philosophy of religion are based on faith.  If this universal generalization is false, then that would open the door to separating the non-faith-based issues in philosophy of religion from the faith-based issues, and thus potentially leave philosophy of religion standing, just with a smaller scope of relevant issues.  In order to ensure the universal generalization that ALL of the claims examined in the philosophy of religion are based on faith, the scope of philosophy of religion must be restricted to examination of ONLY “the claims of religion”.
Main Argument – Revision 4:

1c..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

Some key bits of reasoning given in support of premise (1c) are these:
A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended. (Unapologetic, p.135)
There are some things philosophers should not take seriously to remain as serious intellectuals.  A faith-based claim is one of them. (Unapologetic, p.135)
From these comments by Loftus, I infer that one of his assumptions is this:
5. ANY claim that is based on faith cannot be reasonably defended.
I also infer that one of his conclusions that is based on (5) is this:
6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.
If I am correct about (5) and (6) being important assumptions in Loftus’ reasoning here, then this indicates a way to further clarify premise (1c) as well as the conclusion of the argument.
Main Argument – Revision 5:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4a. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

Premise (5) is a reason in support of premise (6), and premise (6) is a reason in support of premise (1d).  Premises (1d), (2a), and (3b) work together to form a valid deductive argument for the conclusion (4a).  Here is an argument diagram showing the logic of the main argument in Unapologetic with the conclusion of the argument at the top, and the supporting premises beneath the conclusion (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Reason #9 - Later Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the next post in this series I will evaluate this argument.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 8: Religion & Irrationality

Mr. Loftus is on a crusade against “faith”, but it is not at all clear what dragon it is that he intends to slay.
A part of his point, I believe, is to boldly assert that religion and religious belief is irrational.  I’m reluctant to disagree with this point. There is a good deal of truth to this point, and this is important truth too.
I have attempted to add some balance to this truth by pointing out that irrationality is a universal human problem that is NOT confined to religion, to religious beliefs, to religious issues, nor to religious people.  Irrationality infects and affects the thinking of non-religious people and it infects and affects our thinking about non-religious issues (political, ethical, historical, scientific, philosophical, etc.).
But let me give some credit to Loftus on this key point concerning the irrationality of religion and religious belief.  This is a real problem, and this is a serious and significant problem.  It does not, however, reduce down to the problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS. The problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS is real and significant and widespread.  CONFIRMATION BIAS infects and affects the thinking of all or nearly all human beings, including atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, communists, free-thinkers, and non-religious persons of every stripe, in addition to religious believers.
When I think about the irrationality of religion and religious belief,  CONFIRMATION BIAS is only one of many, many intellectual problems that come to mind.  Here are some others:

  • indoctrination
  • group think
  • sociocentrism
  • egocentrism
  • vested interest
  • begging the question
  • circular reasoning
  • straw man fallacy
  • testimonial evidence
  • appeal to authority
  • appeal to fear
  • appeal to popularity
  • hasty generalization
  • questionable cause
  • oversimplification
  • black-or-white thinking
  • genetic fallacy
  • ad hominem
  • poinsoning the well
  • blaming the victim
  • scapegoating
  • wishful thinking

The irrationality of religious belief comes in a wide variety of styles, types, and flavors.
Loftus often points out that a person’s religious beliefs usually correlate with where that person grew up.  The religion of one’s parents and/or community usually “determines” the religion that a person embraces.  This implies that religion is not generally a matter of individual choice.  This implies that religion is primarily a matter of indoctrination and socialization.  Loftus is correct on this very important point.
Because one’s religious point of veiw (or point of view about religion) is very strongly influenced by how one was raised and socialized, we ought to be skeptical about our own religious points of view or point of view about religion (including anti-religious points of view, such as secular humanism or naturalism).  We ought to be raised to think critically about religion, religious beliefs, and worldviews in general (including secular worldviews such as secular humanism or marxism).
So far as I know, no society has ever raised children to think critically about religion, religious beliefs, and worldviews in general, so not only are human beings naturally “irrational animals”, but human cultures tend to re-inforce our natural irrationality rather than provide children with intellectual tools, skills, and values that would help them to fight against our various strong natural tendencies to be irrational.
Although I am not willing to join a crusade against CONFIRMATION BIAS,  I would be willing to join a crusade against the natural human tendencies towards irrationality, especially to fight the dragon of socialization that re-inforces natural human irrationality concerning worldviews, and to work towards the creation of a critical society in which children are provided with intellectual tools, skills, and values that would help them to fight against our various strong natural tendencies to be irrational.

bookmark_borderA Very Unscientific Survey of Some Popular Responses to the Problem of Evil

I recently defended Paul Draper’s evidential argument from evil (specifically, facts about pain and pleasure) against William Lane Craig’s popular objections. (LINK) I decided to browse his website discussion forum devoted to the problem of evil. I was struck by some of the responses used by the people posting there (who should not be confused with Craig himself). Putting aside the posts which tear down strawman versions of the argument from evil, versions not defended by any atheist philosopher to my knowledge, here’s a sampling:

  • All arguments from evil fail because one version of the argument from evil fail.
  • Evidential arguments from evil, including (or perhaps I should say “especially”) Draper’s, are not strong because they contain a ceteris paribus clause in their conclusion. But the theist has many arguments for theism which outweigh the evidential argument from evil.
  • It’s possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing “evils” (broadly defined to including pain and suffering) to occur, even if I have no idea what those reasons are. Therefore, “evil” isn’t any evidence against God’s existence.
  • “Evil” presupposes objective morality, which in turn presupposes theism. So arguments from evil are self-defeating or self-refuting.

While predictable, the one-sidedness of these approaches are notable. I’ll comment on just the first of these.
Consider the family of arguments for God’s existence known as cosmological arguments. Imagine an atheist arguing, “All cosmological arguments fail because one cosmological argument fails. The ‘logical version’ of the kalam cosmological argument, which claims that the universe’s having a beginning is logically inconsistent with atheism, fails. Therefore, for that reason, the universe’s having a beginning cannot be evidence for God’s existence. ” As soon as a theist understands why that objection to the kalam cosmological argument fails, they will understand why dismissing evidential arguments from evil in a parallel fashion also fail.
 

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 7: Two Definitions of “Faith”

The Two Main Definitions of “Faith” in Unapologetic
There are seven short statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of the word “faith”.  The definition given in Chapter 1 (p.37) is an incomplete version of the definition given in Chapter 2.  The definition given in Chapter 2 is clear and worthy of serious consideration:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (Unapologetic, Chapter 2, p. 55)
There is no definition of “faith” given in Chapter 3.  The definition in Chapter 4 is unclear because of metaphorical language (“gives believers permission to…”) and it is problematic because of a difficult-to-discern condition (“to pretend what they believe is true”).  The defintion in Chapter 5 is unclear because of use of a metaphorical expression (“an irrational leap over the probabilities”).  The definition given in Chapter 6 is clear (and it is repeated verbatum in Chapter 8, on page 194):
Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, Chapter 6, p.152)
The definition in Chapter 7 is similar to the definition in Chapter 2, but is less detailed, and the key element of this definition can be added to the definition given in Chapter 2 to enhance that definition.
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claim in question.
The two clearest definitions of “faith” given in Unapologetic are the definitions in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 6.
These two definitions can each be summed up in just two words.  The definition in Chapter 2 (and the modified version of it) are clearly definitions of CONFIRMATION BIAS.  So, the Chapter 2 definition can be summarized like this:
FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS
Three different categories of trust are referenced by the definition in Chapter 6:

  • unevidenced trust
  • misplaced trust
  • irrational trust

I have argued that “unividenced trust” is insignificant because it is rare, and I have argued that “misplaced trust” is sometimes unavoidable, because the evidence available to a specific person is sometimes misleading, and because some people are skilled at deceiving others, so that even a serious effort to trust others based on objective evaluation of evidence will sometimes fail to uncover an untrustworthy person.
What matters in terms of “misplaced trust” is when such bad trusting is the result of “irrational trust”, when one ignores or downplays significant evidence indicating that a person (or thing) is unworthy of trust.  So, in the end, the key element of the definition in Chapter 6 is just ONE of the three kinds of bad trusting:
FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST
 
At Least One of These Two Definitions is WRONG
Clearly  CONFIRMATION BIAS is something different from IRRATIONAL TRUST.  So, at least one of these two definitions of “faith” must be wrong.  CONFIRMATION BIAS is a type of cognitive bias, but IRRATIONAL TRUST is not a type of cognitive bias.  IRRATIONAL TRUST is an attitude of a person towards another person or thing, but CONFIRMATION BIAS is not an attitude of a person towards another person or thing.  Therefore CONFIRMATION BIAS is something different than IRRATIONAL TRUST.  These two definitions disagree about the genus of faith; they disagree about what kind of thing “faith” is:

  • If  FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS, then it is NOT the case that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
  • If FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST, then it is NOT the case that FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS.

Since the two clearest definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic disagree about the genus of faith, and because they equate “faith” with two differnt and distinct phenomena,  at least one of these two definitions must be wrong, mistaken, incorrect.  So, the meaning of the most important concept in Unapologetic is unclear, because the two clearest definitions of “faith” provided in Unapologetic disagree with each other.
 
Both of These Two Definitions are WRONG
 
Faith is Not CONFIRMATION BIAS
I have previously indicated two reasons why FAITH does not mean CONFIRMATION BIAS.
First, the term CONFIRMATION BIAS was invented in the second half of the 20th century, and it is a term of scientific psychology. But the word FAITH has been a part of the English language for over six centuries, so it is unlikely that the word FAITH would just happen to have the same meaning as a recently invented scientific term.
Second, the word FAITH is closely associated with religion and religious belief.  Paradigm cases of FAITH are “faith in God”, “faith in Jesus”, and “faith in the Bible”.  The scientific term CONFIRMATION BIAS has no such association with religion or religious belief. CONFIRMATION BIAS infects the thinking of humans about nearly every subject imaginable:  history, politics, ethics, biology, medicine, finances, economics, government, law, personal relationships, child rearing, problem solving, planning, policy making, elections, decision making, etc.  Furthermore, CONFIRMATION BIAS has widspread and frequent influence on the thinking of non-religious people, just as it also has widespread and frequent influence on the thinking of religious people.
Third, the word FAITH is a word in the English language, and the English language has been significantly influenced by the Christian religion, and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are a central and important aspect of the Christian religion, and Jesus uses the word “faith” (in English translations of the Gospels) in a way that does NOT correspond to the term CONFIRMATION BIAS:
Matthew 16:5-12 New Revised Standard Version
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.
6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
7 They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.”
8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread?
9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”
12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jesus is scolding his disciples for not having a proper amount of FAITH, for not trusting that God would provide them with enough food to carry out their divine mission.  Jesus points out that they have personally witnessed at least two different miracles on different occassions where God provided them and thousands of other people with plenty of food.  In other words, Jesus is saying that they ought to have greater trust in God being willing and able to provide them with food, based on the powerful evidence of directly observing at least two different miracles where God had provided food for thousands of people.
Clearly,  Jesus is NOT advocating that his disciples believe that God is willing and able to provide them with food in the face of powerful evidence against this assumption; rather Jesus is advocating that he disciples ought to have a firm belief that God is willing and able to provide them with food, given that they have personally experienced at least two miracles where God provided food for them and thousands of other people. Jesus was clearly NOT advocating CONFIRMATION BIAS to his disciples, but was, rather, advocating that they have firm belief or trust in God on the basis of strong evidence for this belief.
Of course,  I don’t believe that any such miracles of feeding actually took place, and I’m not entirely convinced that Jesus is more than just a fictional character in a mostly fictional story told by the authors of the Gospels.  However, such skeptical views about the historicity of the Gospels and about Jesus, are irrelevant to understanding the meaning of the word FAITH as it is used in this particular Gospel story.  Clearly,  the Jesus who is speaking (whether fictional or historical) believes that his disciples have witnessed at least two miracles where God provided food for thousands of people.  Clearly, this Jesus believes that this powerful empirical evidence can be the basis or ground for FAITH or firm trust in God, particularly trust that God is willing and able to provide Jesus and his disciples with enough food to eat.
When Jesus speaks of FAITH in the above passage it is clear that Jesus does NOT mean CONFIRMATION BIAS.
 
Faith is Not IRRATIONAL TRUST
First, the word FAITH is closely associated with religion and religious belief.  Paradigm cases of FAITH are “faith in God”, “faith in Jesus”, and “faith in the Bible”.  The phrase IRRATIONAL TRUST has no such association with religion or religious belief. IRRATIONAL TRUST infects the thinking of humans about people, animals, machines, foods, medicines, etc.  It is not limited to trust in God or trust in Jesus, or trust in spirits or angels.  Furthermore, IRRATIONAL TRUST has widspread and frequent influence on the thinking and behavior of non-religious people, just as it also has widespread and frequent influence on the thinking and behavior of religious people.
Second, the expression “blind faith” would be redundant, if FAITH meant IRRATIONAL TRUST.  “Blind” faith implies belief or trust that ignores relevant evidence, especially evidence that the object of trust is unworthy of trust.  So, the word “blind” implies IRRATIONAL, when it is used as a modifier of the word FAITH. Thus “blind faith” means IRRATIONAL FAITH.  So, if FAITH means IRRATIONAL TRUST, then “blind faith” means IRRATIONAL TRUST that is IRRATIONAL.  But in that case the word “blind” is completely redundant and adds nothing to what was already contained in the concept of FAITH.  This is a good reason to doubt the view that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
Third, although FAITH is closely associated with religion, we can also speak of “faith in science”, and “faith in reason”, and “faith in democracy”.   Although such FAITH could in some cases be IRRATIONAL TRUST, it is generally reasonable and rational to have “faith in science”, “faith in reason”, and “faith in democracy”,  so in these non-religious uses of the word “faith”  it is wrong to assume that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
Fourth, the word FAITH is a word in the English language, and the English language has been significantly influenced by the Christian religion, and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are a central and important aspect of the Christian religion, and Jesus uses the word “faith” (in English translations of the Gospels) in a way that does NOT correspond to the phrase  IRRATIONAL TRUST. (see the discussion of the Gospel passage above).  When Jesus speaks of FAITH in Matthew 16:5-12,  it is clear that Jesus does NOT mean IRRATIONAL TRUST.
 
Could Each of These Definitions be Partially True?
We could make use of the distinction between product and process to combine the two definitions:
FAITH =
IRRATIONAL TRUST that was produced by CONFIRMATION BIAS
Although this is an interesting concept, it is highly problematic as a definition of “faith”, because most, if not all, of the above objections to the two clear definitions of “faith” provided by Loftus apply to this definition.  Furthermore, this definition increases the problem of the significance of “faith” by reducing the scope of phenomena included under the concept of “faith”.
I agree that CONFIRMATION BIAS is a bad thing.   I agree that IRRATIONAL TRUST is a bad thing.  But in each case, it seems to me that to make a crusade that is worth joining, these targets seem a bit too small.  Why not fight against ALL forms of cognitive bias?  Why only focus on CONFIRMATION BIAS?  Why not fight against ALL forms of irrationality?  Why only focus on IRRATIONAL TRUST?  The target of Mr. Loftus’ crusade seems a bit skimpy already, but if we combine the two definitions, then the dragon to be slayed shrinks down to the size of a small dog or large rodent (perhaps a ROUS – Rodent Of Unusual Size). Not only are we to focus narrowly on IRRATIONAL TRUST, but we are to ignore all instances of IRRATIONAL TRUST that are not produced by the specific mechanisms of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
If the scope of the crusade is pared down to a fight against only a modest slice of instances of IRRATIONAL TRUST, then I’m not willing to join this crusade.  It might be realistic to tackle this fairly narrow slice of human IRRATIONALITY, but I think more than this is needed to justify a crusade.  Furthermore, the combined definition, like the two original definitions, has no close relationship to religion or religious belief.  This slice of IRRATIONAL TRUST is one that infects and impacts the thinking and actions of non-religious people and thinking about non-religious issues about as much as it infects and impacts the thinking and actions of religious people and thinking about religious issues.

bookmark_borderIn Defense of an Evidential Argument from Evil: A Reply to William Lane Craig

Abstract: In a popular article about general arguments from evil against the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God, William Lane Craig raises objections to such arguments that are consistent with those he earlier raised against Paul Draper’s evidential pain-and-pleasure argument from evil in an oral debate with Draper in 1998. In this article Jeffery Jay Lowder considers whether Craig’s points have any force in rebutting Draper’s writings on his pain-and-pleasure argument, ultimately concluding that they leave Draper’s argument unscathed.
LINK

bookmark_borderScience Matters

Will science matter in the Trump Administration? All signs are that it will not. Indeed, not only will science not matter, it will be actively opposed. The title of Lawrence Krauss’s article “Donald Trump’s War on Science,” published in the December 13 New Yorker, sounds alarmist. After all, haven’t we heard hype from the right about the “War on Christmas” and the “War on traditional values,” and so forth? Is Krauss engaging in the same sort hyperbole? Not at all. He details the “qualifications” of Trump’s cabinet nominees and shows that “war” is not too strong a characterization.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education (Education, mind you), is an active member of a fundamentalist church, The Christian Reformed Church in North America. As quoted by Krauss, that denomination requires that “all scientific theories be subject to Scripture.” Further, their official statement on science asserts: “Humanity is created in the image of God; all theorizing that minimizes this fact and all theories of evolution that deny the creative activity of God are rejected.” Her husband advocated the teaching of “intelligent design” (creationism lite) in the public schools when he ran for governor in 2006.
Scott Pruitt, Attorney General of Oklahoma, will head the EPA for Trump. Pruitt is a very vocal climate-change “skeptic” (Semantic note: “Skeptic” does not mean “one who adamantly denies in defiance of the evidence.”). The fossil-fuel industry could not ask for a more loyal lapdog than Pruitt. According to Krauss, an investigation by the New York Times showed the letters sent by Pruitt to the EPA and other agencies had been drafted by lobbyists for the energy industry. Myron Ebell is Trump’s head of the transition team at the EPA. Ebell is the leader of a group called The Cooler Heads Coalition, an anti-climate science organization.
Such criticisms as Krauss’s deeply incense conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. In his essay “Trump’s Cabinet Picks; Bonfire of the Agencies,” published in the Houston Chronicle on 12/16, he characterizes such critiques as the imposition of a religious test by liberals:
“Pruitt has been deemed unfit to serve because he fails liberalism’s modern day religious test: belief in anthropogenic climate change. They [liberals] would love to turn his confirmation hearing into a Scopes monkey trial [Sounds great to me!]…It doesn’t matter whether the man believes the moon is made of green cheese. The Challenges to EPA actions [by Pruitt and his ilk] are based not on meteorology [sic] or theology, but on the Constitution.”
Really? Seriously? So it is OK if the head of an important and government agency is a flat-earther, a young-earth creationist, a Holocaust denier, an anti-vaccine activist, a moon-cheesist, or any other kind of crackpot, just as long as he supports your ideology? He may be a total crank, but he is your crank! Wow. Now, just who is imposing a religious test? You qualify if you believe in the Constitutional Gospel of Krauthammer; otherwise, it doesn’t matter if you believe that ancient astronauts built the pyramids or that Bigfoot was sighted in Central Park.
In fact, science matters. It really does. If science does not matter, then rationality does not matter. If rationality does not matter, then truth does not matter. If truth does not matter, then…we are screwed. Nature does not give a damn about your ideology. If your agenda is not nature’s agenda, nature does not care. You are the one who will pay the terrible price, and you will—sooner or later. And it is looking like sooner all the time.

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 11: The Structure of Geisler’s Case

I’m going to take a step back in this post and look at the overall structure of Geisler’s case for the existence of God, a presented in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).
PHASE 1: GEISLER’s FIVE WAYS
On pages 15 through 26, Geisler presents five arguments for five conclusions.  I call this Phase  1 of this case.  Here are the five conclusions of the five initial arguments:

  • Something other than the universe caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • Something is a first uncaused cause of the present existence of the universe.
  • There is a Great Designer of the universe.
  • There is a supreme moral Lawgiver.
  • If God exists, then God exists and God is a necessary being.

Note that the word “God” is being misused by Geisler in the statement of the fifth conclusion.  The purpose of his case is to prove that “God exists”, so a premise that begins, “If God exists, then…” is of no use in his case.
As with many of the arguments that I have examined in Geisler’s case, he is using the word “God” in an idiosyncratic sense, which he does not bother to clarify or define.  So, we have to examine the context of each such claim in his case to figure out what the hell he means each time he misuses the word “God”.  (This is part of why I say that this case is a steaming pile of dog shit; Geisler does not bother to clarify or define the meaning of the most important word in his argument.)
PHASE 2: THE CREATOR’S PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES
On pages 26 and 27,  Geisler presents Phase 2 of his case.  He argues for three claims related to personal attributes of “God”:

  • God is very powerful.
  • God is very intelligent.
  • God is [morally] good.

Once again, Geisler misuses the word “God” here.  But he gives us a good clue as to what he means by “God” in his Phase 2 arguments:
The argument from design shows us that whatever caused the universe not only had great power, but also great intelligence.  (WSA, p.26, emphasis added)
Geisler had argued in the previous paragraph that based on his two cosmological arguments “God” had great power.  Then Geisler uses his argument from design to try to show that “God” had great intelligence.  The above quoted statement implies that the word “God” is being used in the narrow sense of “whatever caused the universe”.  Roughly speaking, the conclusions that Geisler argues for in Phase 2 are more clearly stated as follows:

  • Whatever caused the universe is very powerful.
  • Whatever caused the universe is very intelligent.
  • Whatever caused the universe is [morally] good.

So, Geisler is arguing that there exists a cause of the universe, and that this cause has various personal attributes that are part of the ordinary meaning of the word “God”.
PHASE 3: THE EXISTENCE OF A NECESSARY BEING
Yet again, Geisler abuses the word “God” in Phase 3 of his case for the existence of God.  The argument in Phase 3 is on page 27.  It makes use of the conclusion from “The Argument from Being” in Phase 1 (pages 24-26). Here is how Geisler states the conclusion of this part of his case:

  • God is a necessary being.

Clearly, he is NOT using the word “God” in its ordinary sense here.  Presumably, he actually means something like this:

  • Whatever caused the universe is a necessary being.

Since I have not yet closely examined the argument in Phase 3, I’m not sure that this is the best interpretation of this key conclusion, so an important part of analyzing and evaluating the argument in Phase 3 will be to figure out what the hell Geisler means by the word “God” when he asserts that “God is a necessary being.”
PHASE 4: THE IMPLICATIONS OF “A NECESSARY BEING”
On pages 27-28, Geisler presents Phase 4 of his case.  There are two different sets of alleged implications that Geisler argues follow from the existence of a necessary being.  First there are implications related to God’s “metaphysical” attributes (as contrasted with God’s personal attributes above):

  • A necessary being is unchanging.
  • A necessary being is infinite.
  • A necessary being is eternal.
  • A necessary being is omnipresent.

Second, there are alleged conditional implications of the concept of a necessary being:

  • If a necessary being is powerful, then it is all-powerful.
  • If a necessary being is intelligent, then it is all-knowing.
  • If a necessary being is [morally] good, then it is perfectly [morally] good.

Geisler then uses the conclusions from Phase 2 and Phase 3 in order to argue for this conclusion:

  • Whatever caused the universe is an unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent necessary being, that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and pefectly morally good.

PHASE 5: ONLY ONE INFINITE BEING
In a short paragraph on page 28, Geisler argues that there cannot be multiple beings of the sort that he thinks he has shown to exist:

  • There can be only one infinite Being.

PHASE 6: GOD EXISTS
Although Geisler never provides a definition of the word “God”, it is fairly clear that he assumes a meaning of the word “God” that is something like this:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:

  • X caused the universe to begin to exist, and
  • X causes the universe to continue to exist, and
  • X is the great designer of the universe, and
  • X is the supreme moral lawgiver, and
  • X is a necessary being, and
  • X is the only unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent being, and
  • X is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good being.

So, the ultimate conclusion of Geisler’s case is this:

  • God exists.

Here, finally, the word “God” is being used in something like it’s ordinary sense.

bookmark_borderBlack Holes and the Problem of Evil

Data produced by the Hubble Space Telescope show that the brightest supernova ever recorded was actually a star being torn apart by a black hole in what is being called the ASASSN-15lh event.

This has a high “coolness factor” for astronomy enthusiasts. But I couldn’t help but wonder a little whether there were any planets in that ill-fated solar system with life on them. Suppose such a catastrophe were to befall Earth – what would be the theological implications? This would be a purely hypothetical or speculative instance of the Problem of Evil, but certainly one of massive scale. What would be the theistic response to the possibility of such an event?
Here are several possibilities:

(A) It couldn’t happen.

God loves the Earth too much. The destruction of Earth by a black hole is scientifically possible, but theologically impossible. Similarly, if God has seen fit to have intelligent life exist elsewhere in the universe, he would also prevent the total destruction of alien life just as he would prevent the total destruction of life on Earth.
Needless to say, I am unimpressed by such an a priori argument strategy. To say that we can know with confidence that the ASASSN-15lh event did not destroy any intelligent civilizations from the comfort of our Earthly armchairs seems too callously cavalier for my tastes.

(B) It would be deserved

Just as God (in the story of the Noahic flood) destroyed all Earthly civilizations out of righteous wrath over their wickedness, the destruction of an alien planet by black hole would only be divinely permitted if that civilization were massively sinful. Although God promised never to destroy the Earth by flood, destruction of the Earth by black hole is still on the table as a possibility.
This second response is just as unsatisfactory as the first. Is it really plausible that we can know, from millions of light-years distance, the extent of an alien civilization’s wickedness entirely by what God allows to happen to it? When we read about disaster befalling some location on Earth, only contemptible zealous reprobates think “well, that’s what happens when you allow gays to get married.” This is not relevantly different.
The theist can always, of course, by pointing out that one imaginative hypothesis deserves another: If I am going to float the suggestion that there may have been intelligent life in that distant solar system, the theist can float the suggestion that perhaps they were cruel and aggressive with plans to dominate the rest of the universe, Earth included. God, then, permitted their destruction for the morally justifiable reason of preserving other intelligent worlds. This reminds me too much of theists who respond to the question of why God permits children to die of cancer by suggesting that maybe they were going to grow up to be as evil as Hitler (which only raises the further question of why God allowed Hitler to grow up, then).

(C) Skeptical theism

Our knowledge of good and evil is so puny in comparison with God’s that we’re in no position to say that destruction of an inhabited world by black hole would be a morally bad thing for God to permit.
I have little enough patience with skeptical theism as it is, but at this point I think the appropriate reaction is to despair of the skeptical theist being able to use the terms “good” and “bad” in a truly meaningful way. To respond to the destruction of an entire planet (whether or not it is Earth) by saying, “for all we know it’s all for the best” is to abandon meaningful ethical discourse.

(D) If

It is reputed that Philip II of Macedon sent a message to Sparta saying, “Surrender immediately, for if my armies capture your lands, they will destroy your farms, kill your people, and raze your city.” The response from Sparta was the single word, “If.” The whole scenario here is purely hypothetical. There is no reason to think either that any intelligent alien civilizations have been destroyed by a black hole or that this is to be the fate of Earth.
This response concedes that the destruction of an inhabited planet by black hole would, in fact, count as reason to think that God does not exist. The conditional, “if an inhabited planet were to be destroyed by black hole, then God probably does not exist” is true, but has an unsatisfied antecedent, on this view. This is interesting because it concedes the possibility of empirical disconfirmation of God’s existence.
There are some atheists who think we don’t need to look beyond the surface of the Earth to find abundant disconfirmation of God’s existence. For them, there is already enough “bad stuff” to be found that they think the antecedent of a conditional like “if enough bad stuff were to happen in the world, then God probably does not exist” is satisfied. There are theists, too, who think this conditional is true, but are unpersuaded that the antecedent is satisfied. But at least there is common ground here. Perhaps, then, it may turn out to be true, after all, that science is capable of addressing the question of God’s existence? Just keep studying black holes.

bookmark_borderThe Empirical Confirmation of Miracle Claims

Is the empirical confirmation of miracles possible, in principle? Hume has often been interpreted as denying the possibility. However, Hume does say that it is conceivable that there could be testimony for a miraculous event that is so unlikely to be false that it would be a “greater miracle” for the testimony to be false than the occurrence of the event. Presumably, he means that, in principle, the likelihood of the provision of particular testimony T, given the non-occurrence of the Miracle M, P(T |~M & K),might be so low that it outweighs the prior improbability of the miracle, P(M | K), making the occurrence of the miracle given the particular testimony and background knowledge, P(M | T & K), greater, perhaps very slightly greater, than .5.
If we interpret Hume as making this concession, it makes understandable, what some commentators have found unfathomable, that Hume would add his Part II to his miracles essay, where Part II examined the actual historical circumstances of miracle claims. If the confirmation of miracle claims has already been shown impossible, why continue with the discussion? On the other hand, if we interpret Hume as making the “in principle” concession in Part I, then we can see why he devoted so much space to the “in practice” problems he raises in Part II. The upshot is that, though it is possible in principle for testimony to confirm a miracle, in practice, i.e. given the actual historical circumstances that have surrounded miracle claims, it is most unlikely that testimony could establish the occurrence of a historical miracle with such assurance as to, in Hume’s words, “so as to be the foundation of a system of religion.”
Hume restricted himself to the evidence for past miracles based upon human testimony, but, if our topic is the more general one of whether empirical evidence could support a miracle-claim there is no reason to accept such restrictions. We might consider a spectacular public demonstration of a miracle, one that might be witnessed by thousands in person and many millions more via electronic media. One possibly sticky point would be how “miracle” is to be defined. To avoid spending too much time on tedious matters of definition, I will stipulate that a miracle is a physically impossible event caused by a supernatural agent. By a “supernatural agent” I mean a being with nonphysical causal powers such as those supposedly wielded by God when, in the Book of Genesis, he says “Let there be,” and it comes to be. Another example would be the psychokinetic power of souls to influence physical bodies alleged by Cartesian dualists.
By “physically impossible event” I mean one that, while logically possible (i.e. the proposition asserting its occurrence does not entail a contradiction), is not realizable in the physical universe given what we know about the capacities and limitations of physical entities and forces. A physically impossible event would therefore be one like the ones featured in an old Monty Python skit. In this skit, a sleazy conman exploits a pathetic lunatic by claiming that the deranged individual can perform such feats as leaping the English Channel, devouring a cathedral, and digging to Java with a shovel. Clearly, given everything that we know about human capacities and limitations, it is physically impossible for a human being to leap across the English Channel, devour a cathedral, or tunnel to Java with a shovel. Yes, we may playfully imagine such events, but they just cannot be done.
So, I will propose a scenario for the public performance of an ostensibly physically impossible event claimed to be caused by the Christian God, and then ask how the witnesses might reasonably respond to such an event. I will argue that the conclusion that the occurrence was in fact a physically impossible event caused by the Christian God is one, but only one, of several possible conclusions that might reasonably be drawn by witnesses. However, if it is one reasonable conclusion, and perhaps even the most reasonable conclusion, that the event was a physically impossible event caused by the Christian God, then this indicates that, conceivably, there could be empirical evidence for a genuine miracle. There might even be empirical evidence for a miracle such that it would support the claim that the Christian God is the true God.
(Note: In the history of science it has, of course, occurred that an event previously thought to be physically impossible was shown to occur or possibly occur, thereby changing scientists’ views on what is physically possible. For instance, some eminent physicists asserted that it was impossible that heavy nuclei could be split in such a way as to cause a runaway chain reaction permitting a nuclear weapon. The Trinity Test of July 16, 1945 proved them wrong. What I am considering here is something different, namely, whether we can witness an event thought to be physically impossible, and still reasonably regard it as physically impossible after its occurrence.)
THE SCENARIO
Imagine a scenario like the famous Mt. Carmel “contest” between Elijah and the priests of Baal, recounted in I Kings, Chapter 18. This is about as good an instance as one can imagine of an experimentum crucis. To prove that Yahweh is the true god and not Baal, Elijah prepares two sacrifices and challenges the priests of Baal to call fire down from heaven to consume their sacrifice. The priests cry out all day to no effect. At the end of the day, exhausted and roundly mocked by a scornful Elijah, the priests collapse in defeat. Elijah, to heighten the dramatic effect, has his sacrifice thoroughly soaked with water. He then steps back to a safe distance, and calls upon The Lord, and a massive column of fire descends from the sky and utterly consumes the sacrifice. The assembled people proclaim Yahweh to be The Lord, and, led by Elijah, piously massacre the priests of Baal.
Imagine a similar event (Without the culminating massacres, one hopes.), in which a modern day prophet claims that the Christian God exists, and that he will demonstrate this God’s existence to all doubters, scoffers, and infidels by calling upon God to perform a spectacular miracle. He proposes that materials for a large bonfire be collected, and, to safeguard against trickery, the entire process is conducted by a select group of unbelievers, including a sizable contingent of skeptical stage magicians such as James Randi. Thousands gather around, and the proceedings are broadcast internationally. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, officials of the Center for Inquiry, the American Humanist Association, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and assorted atheist philosophers and scientists are all seated on the front row. The prophet, until now carefully sequestered from the scene, is brought forth and led to a microphone stand. He prays for a demonstration of God’s power in Jesus’ name, and WHOOSH! In a display worthy of Steven Spielberg, a great column of brilliant fire falls from a cloudless sky and consumes the flammable materials with such an ardent heat that the eyebrows and beards of the closest witnesses are singed.
REACTIONS
So, how does one react after witnessing such a remarkable event? What do we think we have seen? The following sorts of hypotheses seem possible:
H1: The event was a physically impossible event caused by the Christian God.
H2: The event was a physically impossible event caused by an agent other than the Christian God.
H3: The event occurred, but was not physically impossible, and has a mundane explanation. Perhaps, despite all of our extremely careful precautions against trickery, there was trickery after all, and what we saw was merely an elaborate piece of stage magic.
H4: The event occurred, but was not physically impossible, and has an extraordinary but physical cause. It turns out that our scientific beliefs about what is physically impossible are incorrect. Perhaps the event was brought about by highly advanced extraterrestrials who are millions of years ahead of us in scientific knowledge, and who therefore possess technologies that appear to us to have miraculous powers.
H5: The event did not occur. No fire fell from the sky. We were all victims of a mass hallucination or some other sensory delusion so that fire only appeared to fall from the sky.
I think 1-5 exhaust all of the possibilities, and so constitute a set of jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive hypotheses. Which, if any, is the most reasonable hypothesis? We would assess the strength of any of these five hypotheses, Hj, using the general form of Bayes’ Rule, where i takes the values of 1 through 5:
P(Hj) × P(E | Hj)
P(Hj | E) = —————————–
∑ [P(Hi) × P(E | Hi)]
So, a defender of H1, the hypothesis that the event was physically impossible and was caused by the Christian God, would seek to show that the background probability, P(Hi), for each of the other hypotheses was very low and/or that the likelihood of the evidence E—the spectacular event that we witnessed—P(E | Hi), was very low given each other hypothesis. Let’s consider how this argument would be made with respect to each of the alternate hypotheses.
Clearly, H5 is the weakest of the hypotheses. If such an event can be a hallucination, then everything is a hallucination. Further, we may suppose that the event was recorded by numerous inanimate devices, which are not subject to hallucination. Finally, we may examine the aftermath; something consumed the pile of stuff we had gathered.
H2 would seem to have a significantly higher background probability than H1. After all, there are indefinitely many other putative supernatural agents other than the Christian God that might have caused the event. Further, prima facie, there is no reason to think that the event would have been less likely given some other such agent. After all, such an agent might have as much motivation to communicate its existence to us as the Christian God.
The defender of H1 would reply by noting that the event occurred specifically upon the invocation of the Christian God, with a prayer “In Jesus’ name.” If further experiments showed that such events occurred only when the Christian God was specifically invoked, and never when any other God was called upon, then this would be strong evidence for H1 over H2.
The background probability of H3 would seem to be rather high. As the wise saying has it, “When you hear hoofbeats in the distance, think ‘horses,’ not ‘unicorns.'” That is, we should always initially expect a mundane explanation, and not turn to extraordinary explanations until we have exhausted every attempt at an ordinary one. On the other hand, the likelihood of the event given H3 might be quite low, if we have a great deal of confidence in the expertise, honesty, and thoroughness of our precautions against trickery. The reason why we required a corps of skeptical stage magicians, who presumably would make independent evaluations, is to make it as sure as possible that no trickery was involved. If we have high confidence in those precautions, we will judge P(E | H3) to be quite low.
H4 would be the option for many. After all, modern science is only 400 years old, and can we have any assurance that a scientific civilization millions of years older would not have vastly more scientific knowledge than we do? Also, as another wise saying (from Arthur C. Clarke) puts it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So, extremely advanced beings might wield technologies that would have apparently miraculous effects to us. Further, given the vastness and age of the universe, it does not seem too improbable that there might be other civilizations far more scientifically advanced than we are.
H4 seems to me to be a reasonable alternative, but the defender of H1 might still have arguments against it. He could note once again that the events only occur when the Christian God is specifically invoked. This leaves it a complete mystery why the putative aliens would only produce their spectacular effects when the Christian God was invoked. What interest could they possibly have in inculcating belief in such a deity? Why the deception? Any suggestion here would seem to be ad hoc, given that we have no independent knowledge of such aliens or their intentions.
Further, though we clearly do not know nearly everything about the nature of the universe, we do really seem to know some things. There seems to be no good reason to think that everything we think we know will turn out to be wrong. Even the most pessimistic meta-induction from the history of science would still seem to leave us with some reliable knowledge of what natural things exist and their capacities and limitations. Therefore, we do seem to have a basis for saying that some things really are just impossible, and that millions of years from now they will still be impossible. If columns of fire materializing from a clear sky are indeed conceivable given what we now know about physics, it should be possible to imagine other events that would not be. Perhaps if tonight all the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster were instantly rearranged—across millions of light years of space—to spell out “Prepare to meet thy God!” that would do it.
The upshot is that the defender of H1 would seem to have arguments, of varying degrees of cogency, against all the other hypotheses 2-5. Could he win out over the disjunction of them, which he would need to do to show that P(H1 | E) > .5? I do not know, but it seems clear that the basic point I wanted to establish has been shown, namely that there could, in principle, be empirical evidence for a miracle and even empirical evidence for the truth of Christianity from the occurrence of a seemingly physically impossible event.
SO WHAT?
To show that something is “in principle” possible is a pretty weak conclusion. It is something else entirely to show that it has really been done or even realistically could be done. My take on the confirmation of miracle claims is the same as Hume’s in my reading of him, namely, that it is possible in principle but devilishly difficult in practice. We now know far more than Hume did about how false claims can become accepted as true (The recent presidential election in the U.S. was a veritable laboratory for the study of the emergence and spread of false claims.). We know a great deal about the psychology of hallucinations (see the late, great Oliver Sacks’ book), and a great deal about how false memories are formed (e.g. the research of Elizabeth Loftus). We know that many things can produce as sense of the numinous (for me, Bruckner’s Eighth does it every time) or a sense of a divine presence. We understand the many foibles of eyewitness testimony, and how easy it is to “see” what we want to see rather than what is there. Further, studies of folklore show how easily tales can arise and spread far faster than any critical evaluation can catch up.
Personally, I would love for a Christian apologist to set up an experiment like the one I imagine in my above scenario. Don’t hold your breath. They aren’t going to do it, and you do not have to be too much of a a cynic to suspect why. I suspect that they know as well as I do that they would have the same success as the priests of Baal in I Kings. What? Am I being arrogant and presumptuous? OK. Prove me wrong. Do the experiment.
The one distinct advantage for atheist in conceding that there could, in principle, be empirical evidence for a miracle and even for one supporting Christianity, is that it gives us a reply to a standard rhetorical gambit. In debate, atheists are often asked what it would take to make them abandon their atheism. Antony Flew’s famous falsification challenge is thrown back at the atheist (William Lane Craig asked me this in our first debate.). In answer, the atheist can cite instances like the one imagined in my scenario. Do something like that, and I will be sitting on the front pew of the church of my choice next Sunday. Until then, I will continue to plan to spend my Sunday mornings in my La-Z-Boy chair, with the Sunday paper, and mugs of excellent coffee.
 
 
 
 

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 10: The Goodness of the Creator

REVIEW OF MY EVALUATION OF GEISLER’S CASE (SO FAR)
In Phase 1 of his case for the existence of God, Norman Geisler presents five arguments for five different conclusions:

  • There is exactly one being that caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • There is exactly one being that has sustained the universe in existence until now.
  • There is exactly one being that is the designer of the universe.
  • There is exactly one being that is the supreme moral lawgiver.
  • There is exactly one being that is a necessary being.

In Phase 2 of his case for the existence of God, Geisler presents more arguments for conclusions about the attributes of “the” being that caused the universe to begin to exist.  So far, we have looked at four arguments in Phase 2 supporting three different conclusions:

  • The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is a powerful being.
  • The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is an intelligent being.
  • The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is a moral being who can tell the difference between right and wrong actions.

How many of the Phase 1 arguments were good solid arguments?  Geisler admits that Argument #5 of Phase 1 is a bad argument, and we have critically examined the other four arguments in Phase 1, and NONE of them were good solid arguments.
What about the arguments in Phase 2?  How many of the four arguments that we have examined were good solid arguments?  NONE of them were good solid arguments.
So, of the arguments that we have considered so far, ZERO out of NINE were good solid arguments.  Plus, as I pointed out in Part 5 of this series, there are invalid logical inferences between Phase 1 and Phase 2 in Geisler’s case,  so it is reasonable to conclude at this point that Geisler’s case for God is a steaming pile of dog shit.
CLARIFICATION OF ARGUMENT #5  OF  PHASE 2
But there are a few more arguments left to consider in Phase 2, and,  guess what?  Argument #5 of Phase 2 is just as crappy as all of the other arguments that we have examined.  Each premise in Argument #5 is unclear or has a meaning that is problematic, and once we clarify the argument, the premises (at least two of them) are dubious or false.  Big surprise.  You would think that after studying philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics for nearly three decades* that Geisler could produce ONE solid argument in a case for the existence of God, but it looks like this is not going to happen.
Here is the passage where Geisler lays out Argument #5 of Phase 2:
The existence of a moral law in the mind of a moral Lawgiver shows us that God is a moral being. …We know that part of what He created was people, and persons are good, in and of themselves. …But whatever creates good things must be good itself (a cause can’t give what it hasn’t got).  So, God is not only moral, He is good.  (WSA, p.27)
Argument #5 of Phase 2 (using Geisler’s wording)
41.  God created people.
42.  People are good.
43.  Whatever creates good things must be good itself.
THEREFORE:
44. God is good.
The conclusion is not stated accurately by Geisler.  He clearly links this argument to the argument that “God is a moral being.”  But the obvious objection, given that the creator is a “moral being” who “knows…the difference between right and wrong” is that the creator could still be evil or a morally bad person, because knowing the difference between right and wrong actions does NOT guarantee that a person will always choose to do what is right.
Most adult human beings know the difference between right and wrong, but adult humans frequently choose to do morally wrong actions despite this knowledge, and some adult humans are downright evil, even though they know the difference between right and wrong. Thus, it seems strongly implied by the context here that Geisler is answering this objection/concern by arguing that God is MORALLY good, not just that God is good in some other way.
Furthermore, when Geisler presents a similar line of reasoning in his book Christian Apologetics, he explicitly states that this argument is one “showing that the God proven by the cosmological argument is a morally good kind of being.”  (Christian Apologetics, p. 248, in footnote #13, emphasis added).  So, it seems that the conclusion that Geisler intends to prove here is that “God is a morally good being” :
Argument #5 of Phase 2 (Rev.1)
41.  God created people.
42.  People are good.
43.  Whatever creates good things must be good itself.
THEREFORE:
44A. God is a morally good being.
But when we revise the conclusion to state accurately what Geisler is trying to prove, then the inference in this argument becomes logically invalid.   The conclusion talks about a morally good being, but the premises of the argument only talk about good beings.  The conclusion (44A) does not follow from these premises.  (NOTE: I believe that Rev1 represents the argument that Geisler intended to give, so I believe that the argument he intended to give is logically invalid.) So, in order for this argument to have any chance of success, we must also revise the premises, so that they too speak about moral goodness:
Argument #5 of Phase 2 (Rev.2)
41.  God created people.
42A.  People are morally good.
43A.  Whatever creates morally good things must be morally good itself.
THEREFORE:
44A. God is a morally good being.
This argument, like other arguments we have examined, misuses the word “God”.  Geisler is trying to prove the existence of God, so premise (41), for example, begs the question at issue by asserting that “God” did something.  Such a premise assumes that God exists, which is precisely what Geisler is attempting to prove.
Geisler is not actually begging the question here because he is using the word “God” in an idiosyncratic sense.  What he means by “God” here is “the being that caused the universe to begin to exist”.  Geisler is trying to prove that “the being that caused the universe to begin to exist” has all of the various attributes that constitute the ordinary conception of “God”.  So, to avoid the confusion caused by Geisler’s idiosyncratic use of the word “God”, we should replace this word with what Geisler means by this word, in this context.
Argument #5 of Phase 2 (Rev.3)
41A.  The being that caused the universe to begin to exist created people.
42A.  People are morally good.
43A.  Whatever creates morally good things must be morally good itself.
THEREFORE:
44B. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is a morally good being.
Now we are getting close to a reasonably clear statement of argument #5.
EVALUATION OF ARGUMENT #5 OF PHASE 2
Is premise (41A) true?  There are two different claims involved here.  First, there is the claim or assumption that there is such a thing as “The being that caused the universe to begin to exist”.  In Phase 1, Geisler FAILED to prove that such a being exists, so there is good reason to doubt the truth of (41A).  Second, the universe is about 14 billion years old, but people (human beings on planet Earth) have been around for less than one million years.  Thus, even if there was such a thing as “The being that caused the universe to begin to exist”,  we have no good reason to believe that this being ALSO created people, and Geisler has made no attempt whatsoever to show that this being was ALSO the creator of human beings.  So, this is a second reason for doubting that (41A) is true.
But the most important reason for doubting that (41A) is true, is that scientific study of the origins of the human species have shown that human beings evolved from previously existing species of primates, and thus science has shown that the human species was NOT created by any being, but rather evolved from a previously existing species of animals.  Thus, it is highly probable that premise (41A) is FALSE.
Is premise (42A) true?  This premise is still unclear, at least in terms of quantification.  So, we need to consider the following three possible interpretations of premise (42A):

  • ALL of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth) are morally good.
  • MOST of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth) are morally good.
  • SOME of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth) are morally good.

The interpretation that claims something about ALL people clearly makes (42A) false, so we can toss that interpretation aside.  The interpretation about MOST people makes (42A) questionable, so we should use that interpretation only if there is no better, more plausible, interpretation of this premise available.  The interpretation about SOME people would make premise (42A) true, so by the principle of charity, this is the best interpretation of (42A).
But once we clarify the quantification in premise (42A), we also need to clarify the quantification in premise (41A), because if the cause of the beginning of the universe only created SOME of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth) , and only SOME people (who have existed on the planet Earth) are morally good, then the cause of the beginning of the universe might NOT have created ANY people who are morally good, but might have only created some people who are evil or morally bad.  Thus, it seems that in order to ensure that the cause of the beginning of the universe created some morally good people, we need to assume that this being created ALL of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth):
Argument #5 of Phase 2 (Rev.4)
41B.  The being that caused the universe to begin to exist created ALL of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth).
42B.  SOME of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth) are morally good.
43A.  Whatever creates morally good things must be morally good itself.
THEREFORE:
44B. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist is a morally good being.
Premise (42B) does appear to be true, but now premise (41), on this interpretation, is even more certainly FALSE than it was before.
Even if we believe that there was a being that caused the universe to begin to exist and even if we believe that this same being created the first human beings (e.g. Adam and Eve), it still would NOT be the case that this being created ALL of the people (who have existed on the planet Earth), because every human being who came to exist after the initial pair(s) that were created would be produced by sexual reproduction, not by divine intervention.  Since premise (41B) is undeniably FALSE, this version of the argument is clearly UNSOUND.
What this also means is that even if we assume that there is a creator of the human species, we still cannot know whether this being created any morally good people, because we cannot know whether the original pair(s) of human beings were morally good people. So, we cannot know whether the creator of the human species (if there were such a being) created any morally good people.  This whole line of reasoning is doomed to FAIL.
Is premise (43A) true?  Geisler gives a reason in support of (43A):
…But whatever creates good things must be good itself (a cause can’t give what it hasn’t got).  (WSA, p.27)
The reason given is a bit unclear.  It seems like it might be concerned with the properties of a cause, but this is less than certain.  So, I suggest that we consider two different interpretations of the reason given in support of (43A):

  • A being B cannot cause an effect at time T that has a property P unless being B had property P at time T.
  • A being B cannot give X to another being at time T unless being B had X at time T.

Here are some examples related to the second interpretation:
I cannot give you my car keys at 9pm tonight unless I have my car keys at 9pm tonight.
I cannot give you twenty dollars at 9pm tonight unless I have twenty dollars at 9pm tonight.
Although the principle stated in the second interpretation has some plausibility, it is in fact FALSE, as the following counterexample shows:
I can give you the measles at 9pm tonight even though I do not have the measles at 9pm tonight.
I could give someone the measles by injecting them with a liquid that contained the measles virus.  Thus, I can cause someone to get or have the measles even if I myself never get or have the measles.
Similarly, sometimes people who do not have AIDS cause other people to get or have AIDS.  One can carry the virus that causes AIDS without first developing AIDS.  So, it is possible for a person P to cause someone else to get or have AIDS even if P never has AIDS.
Clearly, there are exceptions to the general principle stated in the second interpretation of the reason given in support of (43A).
What about the first interpretation of the reason given in support of (43A)?

  • A being B cannot cause an effect at time T that has a property P unless being B had property P at time T.

This principle is also FALSE.  A  150-pound mother can give birth to a 7-pound baby.  The mother does not weigh 7 pounds at the time she gives birth to her child, but the child has a different weight than its mother.  A bullet that causes a serious wound to a person, will usually cause the wounded person to bleed.  But bullets themselves do not and cannot bleed.  The property of bleeding is not a property that bullets possess.  Sodium and Chorine combine to form common table salt.  Sodium chloride is salty, but neither sodium nor chorine are salty.  Clearly, effects can have properties that differ from the properties of their causes, so the principle given in support of (43A) is FALSE on the first interpretation of the principle.
So, on both possible interpretations of the principle given in support of (43A), this principle is FALSE, and thus the argument supporting (43A) is UNSOUND and unacceptable.
Furthermore, there is no good reason to think that only a morally good person could create a morally good being.  In so far as the parents of a child “create” or cause the existence of that child, we reject the claim that a child can be morally good ONLY IF its parents were morally good.  A child can be morally good even if it was produced by parents who were NOT morally good.  Thus, premise (43A) is not only unsupported, but we have good reason to believe that it is FALSE.
As we saw above, premise (41B) is based on unproven and dubious assumptions, and even if we assume the assumptions are correct, the premise would still be FALSE, becuase it is clear that nearly all human beings were produced by sexual reproduction, not by divine intervention or divine creation.
Since two of the three premises of argument #5 are FALSE  (or at least NOT TRUE), we must reject this argument as UNSOUND.
Geisler’s case is now ZERO for TEN; he has presented ten arguments as part of his case for God (so far) and NONE of the arguments is a good solid argument, not a single one.
I will examine one or two more arguments from Phase 2, but I have no reason to expect anything other than more crappy and unclear arguments with dubious or false premises and/or invalid logic.  I strongly suspect that Geisler’s final tally will be ZERO for TWELVE.
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*Norman Geisler earned a B.A. in philosophy from Wheaton College in 1958.  He did graduate study in philosophy in the 1960s, and earned his PhD in philosophy from Loyola University in 1970. He published a book called Philosophy of Religion in 1974, and a book called Christian Apologetics in 1976.  The book When Skeptics Ask, which Geisler co-authored with Ronald Brooks was published in 1990.  So,  WSA was published two decades after he earned his PhD, and three decades after he started graduate-level study in philosophy.
Link to Geisler biographical information