bookmark_borderSean Carroll’s 11 Lines of Evidence for Naturalism over Theism

This is my attempt to summarize the slides from Sean Carroll’s recent debate with WLC where he very quickly skimmed through eleven (11) lines of evidence which favor naturalism over theism. I don’t claim this is perfectly accurate; any corrections would be welcome and, in fact, appreciated!

Facet Theism (Theistic Prediction) Naturalism (Naturalistic Prediction) Lowder’s Comments
Amount of Tuning Just Enough Sometimes too much (e.g., entropy). A natural mechanism could incredibly over-tune in a way that has nothing to do with the existence of life. The entropy of the early universe is much, much, much, much lower than it needs to be to allow for life. New Argument
Parameters of Particle Physics Enough to allow life to exist and have some structure that was designed for some reason Random and a mess Not sure what this was about — I had a hard time transcribing this one
Role of Life Life to play a special role in the universe Life is very insignificant in the universe. Photo from Hubble Space Telescope of hundreds of galaxies.The theistic explanation for cosmological fine-tuning asks you to look at this picture and say, “I know why it’s like that. It’s because I was going to be here. Or we were going to be here.” But there is nothing in the universe that justifies the sort of flattering story we like to tell about ourselves. Very similar to arguments from scale.
Evidence God should be obvious. God hides from us. Nonculpable Nonbelief (aka Divine Hiddenness)
World Religions Religious beliefs universal Multiple competing religions Religious Confusion
Doctrinal stability Eternal, unchanging Affected by social progress New Argument (This is arguably a more specific fact about religious confusion.)
Moral teachings Transcendent, progressive Inconsistent, tribal Ethical Confusion
Sacred Texts Valuable information Mishmash of really good parts, boring parts, really bad parts New Argument (not sure I transcribed this accurately)
Design Biological forms designed Biological forms result from twists and turns of evolutionary history Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution
Minds Minds should be independent of bodies Personality should change if you’re injured, tired, or you haven’t had your cup of coffee yet Evidential Argument from Physical Minds
Problem of Evil No random suffering; life should be essentially just The universe is not just/perfect; it should be kind of a mess. Evidential Argument from Evil

bookmark_borderPlantinga on the Alleged “Irrationality” of Atheism

Alvin Plantinga
I want to comment on Gary Gutting’s recent interview of Alvin Plantinga in the New York Times. Unless otherwise indicated, the quotations are quotations of Plantinga.

Still, that’s not nearly sufficient for atheism. In the British newspaper The Independent, the scientist Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?” His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.
In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.

1. Unlike some people who identify as atheists, I’m fine with joining Plantinga in defining atheism as the belief that there is no God. Notice, however, that there is an equivocation or, at least, a sort of ‘translation error’ here on Plantinga’s part. What Plantinga seems to forget is that many of the people who identify as atheists don’t use the definition of atheism Plantinga (and I) do; they define atheism as merely the lack of belief that God exists. As such, they are precisely what Plantinga would call an agnostic. So when those people say “the lack of evidence for theism is justification for atheism,” they are NOT saying “the lack of evidence for God’s existence is evidence against God’s existence.” Rather, they are are saying, “the lack of evidence for God’s existence is justification for lacking the belief that God exists.”
2. On the other hand, there are some atheists who indeed do argue that the lack of evidence for God’s existence is evidence against God’s existence. Atheist philosopher Theodore Drange calls that argument the “lack of evidence argument” (LEA). Drange has refuted that argument; I join both Plantinga and Drange in rejecting it.
3. While I agree that atheism (the belief that God does not exist version) does have a burden of proof, atheism doesn’t have nearly the same burden of proof as theism. Why? Because theism has a lower prior probability than naturalism and naturalism entails atheism. This contradicts Plantinga’s claim, “Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence” (my italics).

The so-called “problem of evil” would presumably be the strongest (and maybe the only) evidence against theism. It does indeed have some strength; it makes sense to think that the probability of theism, given the existence of all the suffering and evil our world contains, is fairly low. But of course there are also arguments for theism. Indeed, there are at least a couple of dozen good theistic arguments. So the atheist would have to try to synthesize and balance the probabilities. This isn’t at all easy to do, but it’s pretty obvious that the result wouldn’t anywhere nearly support straight-out atheism as opposed to agnosticism. (emphasis mine)

1. The text I have italicized and boldfaced is ridiculous. His “two dozen or so” theistic arguments, philosophically speaking, consist of practically everything but the kitchen sink as evidence for theism. When it comes to arguments for atheism, however, he writes as if the argument from evil is the only argument for atheism (or, at least, the only argument for atheism that provides evidence against theism.) This reeks of a double standard. Plantinga knows very well that atheists have offered serious arguments for naturalism (which entails atheism), including the argument from nonculpable nonbelief (aka “divine hiddenness”), the evidential argument from biological evolution, and the evidential argument from mind-brain dependence. Once we consider the total evidence, it’s far from obvious that it ‘nearly supports straight-out theism as opposed to agnosticism.’
2. Indeed, this paragraph is notable for the fact that it refers to one or more arguments which commit the fallacy of understated evidence. By way of review: in the context of arguments for theism and against naturalism, proponents of a theistic argument are guilty of this fallacy if they “successfully identify some general fact F about a topic X that is antecedently more likely on theism than on naturalism, but ignore other more specific facts about X, facts that, given F, are more likely on naturalism than on theism.” (More on that in a moment.)

I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God. In this regard belief in God is like belief in other minds, or belief in the past. Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin’s term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God in a wide variety of circumstances.

1. As Paul Draper has argued, “if theism does make it likely that some human beings have a properly functioning sensus divinitatis, then it makes it likely that everyone has one or at least that everyone who is not resistant to belief in God has one, which, pace John Calvin, is not what we observe.”
2. Furthermore, as Draper goes on to point out,

… the cognitive science of religion is not wholly supportive of Plantinga’s position. Human beings instinctively believe in all sorts of invisible agents, not just in gods and certainly not just in a single creator-God let alone the specific creator-God of metaphysical theism. So we seem to have a broad sensus actoris instead of a narrow sensus divinitatis. (Cognitive scientists sometimes use the term “hyperactive agency detector,” which sounds so much less impressive than a “sensus divinitatis.”) …

3. As Keith Parsons has argued, the non-existence of the sensus divinitatis is evidence for the non-existence of God.

My argument is simple. I think that Alvin Plantinga is right. If God exists, humans will very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a God-detecting faculty, which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, will present us with warrant-basic (both warranted and epistemologically basic) awareness of his existence. If this is so, and if God does exist, then humans, provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus, will have a warrant-basic awareness of God’s existence. On the other hand, if there is no God, it is extremely unlikely that humans would possess a cognitive faculty that would produce the warranted (but false) belief that God exists. In this case, evidence that belief in God is not caused by a warrant-conferring cognitive faculty, but rather is generated by a noncognitive process that does not confer warrant on that belief, will, ipso facto, constitute evidence against the existence of God. An atheological argument can therefore be set out semi-formally like this:
1) If God exists, then humans very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a cognitive faculty which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, produces the warrant-basic belief that God exists.
2) If there is no sensus divinitatis, then God probably does not exist, unless the background probability of his existence is very high.
3) It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high.
4) There is no sensus divinitatis.
5) Therefore, God probably does not exist.

Let’s move on and return to quoting Plantinga.

One presently rather popular argument: fine-tuning. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life. For example, if the force of the Big Bang had been different by one part in 10 to the 60th, life of our sort would not have been possible. The same goes for the ratio of the gravitational force to the force driving the expansion of the universe: If it had been even slightly different, our kind of life would not have been possible. In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life. This fine-tuning is vastly more likely given theism than given atheism.

This would be exhibit A of the fallacy of understated evidence in Plantinga’s interview. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that cosmological fine-tuning is evidence for theism over naturalism (and hence atheism). Given that the universe is fine-tuned, however, there are three more specific facts which favor naturalism over theism. First, the only intelligent life we know of is human and it exists in this universe. As Paul Draper explains:

“while it may be true that on single-universe naturalism the existence of anything as impressive as human beings is very unlikely, it is also true that on theism the existence of intelligent beings as unimpressive and flawed as humans is very unlikely. Further, given that human beings do exist, it is certain on single-universe naturalism, but not on theism, that they exist in this universe (i.e., in the one universe that we know to exist).”

Second, intelligent life is the result of evolutionGiven that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that it developed as a result of biological evolution is more probable on naturalism than on it is on theism.
Third, so much of the universe is hostile to lifeGiven that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that so much of our universe is highly hostile to life–such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth–is more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.
The upshot is this. Even if the general fact of cosmic “fine-tuning” is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that naturalism is true, 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, it’s far from obvious that facts about cosmic “fine-tuning” favor theism over naturalism.

Some atheists seem to think that a sufficient reason for atheism is the fact (as they say) that we no longer need God to explain natural phenomena — lightning and thunder for example. We now have science.
As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified. A-moonism on this ground would be sensible only if the sole ground for belief in the existence of the moon was its explanatory power with respect to lunacy. (And even so, the justified attitude would be agnosticism with respect to the moon, not a-moonism.) The same thing goes with belief in God: Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God. And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.

What is lame is Plantinga’s rather uncharitable representation of the evidential argument from the history of science. The explanatory success of non-lunar explanations for lunacy is not greater (or, at least, not significantly greater) on the assumption that a-moonism is true than on the assumption that moonism true. In contrast, the explanatory success of naturalistic explanations is antecedently more likely on naturalism than on theism.

Thomas Nagel, a terrific philosopher and an unusually perceptive atheist, says he simply doesn’t want there to be any such person as God. And it isn’t hard to see why. For one thing, there would be what some would think was an intolerable invasion of privacy: God would know my every thought long before I thought it. For another, my actions and even my thoughts would be a constant subject of judgment and evaluation.

1. This ignores the evidence from the testimony of other atheists, including myself, who say that they wish that theism were true.
2. Even with Nagel, his hope that atheism is true doesn’t entail or make probable that his reasons for atheism are wrong. Consider an analogy. A Holocaust survivor hopes that what the Nazis did was morally wrong, but no one would argue that the Holocaust survivor is incorrect simply because they hoped that the Nazis were morally wrong.
3. It gets worse. To see why, let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose you are arrested, put on trial, convicted for a crime you did commit, and are sentenced to prison. You probably wouldn’t say to yourself, “Well, I don’t want to live as if I am going to prison, so I’m going to invent a bunch of arguments in order to justify the belief that I am not going to prison.” While it’s possible that someone might do that, probably virtually everyone would accept the reality that they are going to prison. To be sure, they might complain about things (such as the fairness of the law, the judge, or the sentence), but they wouldn’t deny the reality that they were going to prison.
4. Besides, Plantinga’s dismissive attitude towards the reasons why atheists are atheists just assumes that all atheists want to “live as if God does not exist” and that desire outweighs any other desires atheists might have. So far as I can tell, that assumption is false. First, though I don’t have the data to back this up, I suspect that even most atheists wish that some sort of life after death is true. (They may not want to live forever and they may want a different kind of afterlife than the one offered by Christianity, but that’s beside the point.) And any sane, rational person desires to avoid torture, especially eternal torture in Hell. It’s not obvious why anyone should think that those desires would always be outweighed by the desire to “live as if God does not exist.”

Evolution will have resulted in our having beliefs that are adaptive; that is, beliefs that cause adaptive actions. But as we’ve seen, if materialism is true, the belief does not cause the adaptive action by way of its content: It causes that action by way of its neurophysiological properties. Hence it doesn’t matter what the content of the belief is, and it doesn’t matter whether that content is true or false. All that’s required is that the belief have the right neurophysiologicalproperties. If it’s also true, that’s fine; but if false, that’s equally fine.
Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.

This is Plantinga’s well-known “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (EAAN).
1. The basic problem with the argument is that it’s false that “Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.” Rather, as Draper pointed out in his debate with Plantinga, “More generally, the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable, and that entails that the long term survival of our species is strong evidence for R.”
2. Furthermore, “In addition, it is very unlikely that belief-producing mechanisms that do not track the truth would systematically promote survival in a very diverse and often rapidly changing environment.”

bookmark_borderMore on Bad Reasons to Reject the Christian Faith

John Loftus has written a reply to my last post. As we’ve seen recently, John seems determined to make a genuine philosophical disagreement into some sort of personal attack, which, of course, it isn’t.

In spite of himself, he actually comes close to getting my motivation right. Because John is a prominent critic of Christianity, if I see him using an argument I think is weak, I think it’s valuable to point that out, for two reasons. First, it will help other critics of Christianity avoid embarrassing themselves by using weak arguments. Second, it will prevent Christian apologists from appealing to an argument from silence: “Well, John Loftus used argument X; his fellow atheists don’t seem to object; argument X is awful; therefore, look how silly you have to be to reject Christianity!”

With that clarified, let’s turn to John’s argument. John feels I was uncharitable in my interpretation of his argument. While my intent was (and always is) to be charitable, I can see in retrospect why John would feel that I was uncharitable. It’s now clear to me I misunderstood his argument. So please bear with me as I try to charitably discuss John’s argument again.

Again, here is the doctrinal statement (DS) which is the target of John’s argument:

There is an omniscient, omnibenelovent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him. This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost (See 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

Although the title of John’s post suggests an objection against Christianity per se, DS clarifies that John’s intent is to argue against just that subset of Christianity which affirms DS (hereafter, “Christianity-DS”). As John explicitly states, he is not attempting to provide an argument against other sects of Christianity, such as Calvinism. (With that clarification in mind, I do have one nitpick: I think the title of John’s original post was and is misleading. But let’s move on.)

John is concerned with “whether private, subjective, ignorant, irrational, rebellious and self-deceptive reasons to reject Christianity are good ones given DS above.” Note: my green cheese moon example was irrelevant to such private reasons; I was wrong to use that example and John is correct to point that out.

So let’s turn to the argument. According to John, “all personal reasons are good ones when it comes to rejecting the particular doctrinal beliefs represented in DS.” Why? Here is his “money quote”:

If God desires Pat to be saved, and if God knows Pat will be convinced by his dream because his God-given cognitive faculties are such that he would accept its message as true, then God should not have allowed Pat to have had such a dream in the first place. Allowing a vulnerable ignorant person like Pat to have had such a dream, knowing it would lead him to reject Christianity, makes that God just as culpable as if he himself caused Pat to reject Christianity.

On the assumption that DS is true, I cannot think of a non-ad hoc reason why the God of Christianity-DS would allow Pat to reject Christianity-DS on the basis of such a dream. So far, so good.

Where I disagree with John is the idea that examples such as this somehow show that all “personal reasons are good ones when it comes to rejecting the doctrinal beliefs represented in DS.” Here I am going to quote Matt DeStefano:

"I know Christianity is true, but I reject it because I don’t want to live my life like that. I want to live selfishly, focus on the accumulation of material possessions without worrying about the implications this sort of life will have on others or on my relationship with God. Frankly, I just don’t WANT Christianity to be true, therefore I reject it."

This does seem to be a good counterexample. While DS does entail that “God desires that everyone be saved and no one be lost,” it does not entail that God has no competing desires. As John himself knows, many Christians who affirm DS also believe that God values human freedom such that God allows people to freely choose to reject Him. So, on the assumption that DS is true, it’s not obvious why the person in Matt’s example (call him “Joe”) would have a good personal reason for rejecting Christianity-DS.

We need an argument which shows that Joe’s reason for rejecting Christianity-DS is a good one; I don’t find such an argument in John’s posts. (Hopefully, I haven’t missed it!) That doesn’t mean there is no such argument, of course. In fact, John may well have an argument he considers too obvious to have stated! So, rather than risk again being accused of reading him uncharitably, I’ll turn it over to John and let him take it from here.

Appendix: A Special Version of ANB?

I don’t know if John would endorse this argument or not, but it was inspired by him. It seems to me that that there is a special version of Ted Drange’s Argument from Nonbelief (ANB) lurking here.

Set DS = the following two propositions:

  • (a) There exists an omniscient, omnibenelovent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him.
  • (b) This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost.

Situation S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans coming to believe both propositions of set DS by the time of their physical death.

(A) If the God of Christianity-DS were to exist, then he would possess all of the following four properties (among others):

(1) being able to bring about situation S, all things considered;

(2) wanting to bring about situation S, i.e., having it among his desires;

(3) not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S as strongly as it;

(4) being rational (which implies always acting in accord with his own highest purposes).

(B) If a being who has all four properties listed above were to exist, then situation S would have to obtain.

(C) But situation S does not obtain. It is not the case that all, or almost all, humans have come to believe both propositions of set DS by the time of their physical death.

(D) Therefore [from (B) & (C)], there does not exist a being who has all four properties listed in premise (A).

(E) Hence [from (A) & (D)], the God of Christianity-DS does not exist.

Two brief comments about this argument.

First, I put (A)(3) in red font to emphasize what I think is a crucial, unstated premise in John’s argument. His argument would be strengthened, I think, by putting something like that in his argument.

Second, it’s important to notice that, with this argument, what constitutes the evidence against the God of Christianity-DS is not the bad private, subjective reasons some people have for rejecting DS per se. Rather, it’s the fact of nonbelief in DS.

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from Divine Hiddenness: The General Fact and 10 More Specific Facts

The General Fact of Divine Hiddenness (aka Reasonable Nonbelief)
Informal Statement of the Argument
There are many people, including myself, who don’t believe in God but who wish that some sort of a theistic God did exist. Now the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1:19-21, implies that the existence of God is just obvious to everyone, even atheists and agnostics. But just think about that for a second. How do you prove that something is obvious to another person? Lots of nonbelievers claim that the existence of God is not obvious to them. Indeed, many nonbelievers claim that it is just obvious that it is not obvious that theism is true! Why is this evidence for atheism over theism? Because if theism is true, we would expect nonbelief in God to be unreasonable. What possible reason could God, if He existed, have for not revealing Himself? God is not shy, God is not busy, and so forth. But if atheism is true, there is no God and we would expect nonbelief to be reasonable. Therefore, reasonable nonbelief is more likely on atheism than on theism.
Formal Statement of the Argument
(1) Necessarily, if God exists, anyone who is (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God is also (iii) in a position to participate in such relationship (able to do so just by trying).
(2) Necessarily, one is at a time in a position to participate in meaningful conscious relationship with God only if at that time one believes that God exists.
(3) Necessarily, if God exists, anyone who is (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God also (iii) believes that God exists.
(4) There are (and often have been) people who are (i) not resisting God and (ii) capable of meaningful conscious relationship with God without also (iii) believing that God exists.
(5) God does not exist.
Specific Facts about Divine Hiddenness (Reasonable Nonbelief)
In addition to the general fact of reasonable nonbelief (DH), J.L. Schellenberg has shown that there are other, more specific facts about reasonable nonbelief which are evidence favoring atheism over theism. The numbering/labeling scheme is mine; page numbers are references to Schellenberg’s impressive book, The Wisdom to Doubt.

DH1. Nonresistant Nonbelievers: Schellenberg describes “nonresistant nonbelievers” in this way: “in the actual world persons who do not believe that there is a God, and that in at least some of these people the absence of theistic belief is not in any way the result of their own emotional or behavioral opposition towards God or relationship with God or any of the apparent implications of such a relationship.” (See here).
DH2. Former Believers: As Schellenberg points out, such individuals, “from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief. If theism is true, indeed, then these individuals already were in relationship with God and the loss of belief has terminated that relationship.(229)
DH3. Lifelong Seekers:””individuals who don’t start out in what they consider to be a relationship with God and may not even be explicitly searching for God, but who are trying to find out where they belong and, in their wanderings, are open to finding and being found by a Divine Parent–all without ever achieving their goal. These are individuals who seek but do not find.” (233)
DH4. Converts to Nontheistic Religions: individuals who investigate other serious conceptions of the Ultimate and who turn up evidence that produces religious belief in the context of nontheistic religious communities and/or on account of nontheistic religious experiences–and the truth of atheistic claims may be seen to follow by implication. (236)
DH5. Isolated Nontheists: “those who have never been in a position to resist God because they have never so much as had the idea of an all-knowing and all-powerful spiritual being who is separate from a created universe but related to it in love squarely before their minds–individuals who are entirely formed by, and unavoidably live their whole lives within, what must, if God exists, be a fundamentally misleading meaning system” (238).
In addition, Stephen Maitzen has identified other, more specific facts about divine hiddenness (the “demographics of theism”) which also favor atheism over theism.
DH6. The Geographical Distribution of Theistic Belief: The distribution of theistic belief is uneven around the world. Why does the epistemic or moral defectiveness of non-believers vary dramatically with cultural and national boundaries? For example, why is more than 95% of Saudi Arabia Muslim, while Thailand is 95% Buddhist and only 5% theist? Given the widely held assumption that, generically speaking, epistemic and moral defects are evenly distributed among the world’s peoples, it is hard to see how that question could be answered.
DH7. The Temporal Distribution of Theistic Belief. Maitzen argues that especially compared to naturalistic explanations, none of the theistic explanations of blameworthy or blameless non-belief accounts for how the global incidence of theistic belief has varied dramatically during the existence of the human species.
William Rowe has identified another, more specific fact about divine hiddenness. (Rowe used this argument in the context of his evidential argument from evil, but I think it may reasonably be categorized as yet another more specific about divine hiddenness.)
DH8. Divine Hiddenness during Tragedies. Just as loving parents would, say, comfort a child undergoing chemotherapy, we would expect a loving God to comfort human beings who suffer as the result of tragedies. If theism is true, then God loves his creatures and wants all of his creatures to love Him in return. However, many people find it hard to love God when they do not understand the reasons for their suffering and God seems so far away. In other words, even if God has a reason for allowing tragedies, He could still comfort victims of suffering so that they know He loves them. Yet there are many victims of tragedies who report not feeling God’s comforting presence. This is not at all what we would expect if theism were true. However, if atheism is true, we would expect victims of tragedies not to experience God’s comforting presence for the simple reason that there is no God. Thus, God’s silence in the face of tragedies is much more probable on atheism than on theism.
Next, Paul Draper has classified the history and success of science as an aspect of divine hiddenness.
DH9. The History and Success of Science. In Draper’s words, “The problem here is not the problem of why, if God exists, she would allow reasonable non-belief, but rather the more fundamental problem of why, if God or other supernatural beings exist, science can completely ignore them and still explain so much.” See here and here.
Finally, Brooke Alan Trisel argues that God, if He exists, has been silent about His purpose for creating humans.
DH10. God’s Silence about His Purpose(s) for Creating Humans. If humankind was created for a purpose by God and had a role to play in carrying out this purpose, then God would want us to have a possibility of achieving our role so that he would have a possibility of achieving his goal. For us to have a possibility of achieving the purpose for which we were created, we would need to understand our role in carrying out this purpose. The purpose for which humanity was created is unclear in the Bible and elsewhere. Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, God has not provided any clarification about his purpose or our role. God would not have chosen to remain silent about our role in carrying out his purpose because, following from the first premise, this would be self-defeating. Therefore, humankind was not given a role to play in carrying out a purpose of God. See here.
This may also be categorized as another, more specific fact about divine hiddenness. Why? Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, it is antecedently more probable on theism than on atheism that God not only created humans for a purpose, but that humankind would be given a role to play in carrying out that purpose. For the same reason, the lack of any role for humankind to play in carrying out a purpose of God is evidence favoring atheism over theism.

bookmark_borderBrooke Alan Trisel: God’s Silence as an Epistemological Concern

No abstract of the argument is available, but I did find a summary of the main argument.
(1) If humankind was created for a purpose by God and had a role to play in carrying out this
purpose, then God would want us to have a possibility of achieving our role so that he would
have a possibility of achieving his goal.
(2) For us to have a possibility of achieving the purpose for which we were created, we would need
to understand our role in carrying out this purpose.
(3) The purpose for which humanity was created is unclear in the Bible and elsewhere.
(4) Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, God has not provided any
clarification about his purpose or our role.
(5) God would not have chosen to remain silent about our role in carrying out his purpose
because, following from the first premise, this would be self-defeating.
(6) Therefore, humankind was not given a role to play in carrying out a purpose of God.
From the article’s conclusion:
Christians believe that God created humanity as a means to fulfilling a purpose. However, as I have attempted to demonstrate, God’s continuing silence about his purpose and our role is evidence that we were not created by God to fulfill a purpose. God, if he exists, would have provided us with feedback by now if he had created humanity as a means to fulfilling an end.
Publication Version (behind a pay wall)
Trisel, B. A. (2012), God’s Silence as an Epistemological Concern. The Philosophical Forum, 43: 383–393. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9191.2012.00433.x

bookmark_borderHardening Their Hearts: Intentional Hiddenness Argument

The argument from Divine Hiddenness[1] put forth by J.L. Schellenberg argues that if a perfectly loving God exists, then all creatures (who haven’t freely shut themselves off from God) capable of having a meaningful relationship with God ought to be able to by just attempting to. In order to have a meaningful relationship with God, one must first believe in God. However, according to Schellenberg, there is “nonresistant nonbelief”, which means that there exist creatures who disbelieve God exists despite having surveyed the available evidence honestly and openly. Therefore, not all people can have a meaningful relationship with God by attempting to do so, and a perfectly loving God doesn’t exist.

A line of objection that has often been raised is similar to what we find in Michael J. Murray’s Coercion and the Hiddenness of God [2]. Murray argues that arguments from hiddenness are a species related closely to arguments from evil, and then utilizes a version of the free-will theodicy to attempt to rebut a version of Schellenberg’s argument. One of the main thrusts of his argument relies upon what he terms a “human defectiveness” approach, which argues that human beings can cause divine revelation to be less readily understood as a result of a “direct act or [as a result of] cultivating a sinful character” (Murray 16).  Further, according to Murray, this epistemic “hardening” is a punishment that results from moral misconduct.

It seems that this “punishment theodicy” actually generates another variation of the Divine Hiddenness argument.  Consider the “Intentional Hiddenness Argument”:

(1) If a perfectly loving God exists, it is in the best interest of human beings capable of freely pursuing a relationship with God to do so.
(2) Any action that impedes on the ability of a human being to pursue a relationship with God is an action against the best interest of that individual.
(3) God acts to impede the pursuit of a human being’s relationship with God by “hardening their hearts”. (Punishment Theodicy, restatement of epistemic hardening)
(4) God acts against the best interest of human beings. (From 2 and 3)
(5) If God acts against the best interest of human beings, he is not perfectly loving.
(6) It is not the case that a perfectly loving God exists. (From 4 and 5)

One possible objection a theist might raise is that failing to punish human beings for their sins would take away from God’s perfect justice. While this objection seems plausible, the punishment seems to serve as a way of continuing the undesirable behavior rather than alleviating it, hardly perfect. When parents punish their children for misbehaving, they (at least ideally) will explain to their children what they did was wrong, and encourage them to act differently in the future. God’s hardening of the heart will make the human in question more likely to sin and go away from God in the future rather than less likely. It makes them less receptive to rebuke, criticism, and reform. It hardly seems like perfect justice that a punishment would make men more inclined to commit the offense rather than less inclined. (Consider the punishment of prison for criminals, or the threat of a speeding ticket.)

bookmark_border20+ Questions for Theists

(This post was last edited on 21-Jun-12, by reorganizing the list into a more logical sequence. I apologize in advance for the inconvenience this may cause to people who have posted comments or their own articles discussing these.)

As a follow-up to my last post, I compiled a list of my own questions for theists. I’m sure readers will have many of their own to add.

  1. The question “Why is there something rather than nothing” presupposes “nothing” as being  the normal state of affairs. Why believe that? Why can’t we flip the question on its head? In other words, why can’t it be the case that the normal state of affairs is for things to actually exist and nothingness itself would be weird?  (HT: Thy Kingdom Come (Undone))
  2. Given that the universe has a finite age, why did the universe begin with time rather than in time?
  3. Why is so much of our universe intelligible without any appeal to supernatural agency? Why does the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones?
  4. Why is the physical universe so unimaginably large?
  5. If you believe that visual beauty is evidence of God, why isn’t the universe saturated with auditory, tactile, or other non-visual types of sensory beauty?
  6. If you believe the universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life, why isn’t our universe teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life?
  7. Why would God use biological evolution as a method for creation? Do you have any answer that is independent of the scientific evidence for evolution?
  8. Why would God desire to create embodied moral agents, as opposed to unembodied minds (such as souls, spirits, or ghosts)? Why is the human mind dependent on the physical brain?
  9. Did Australopithecus have a soul? What about homo habilis? Homo erectus? Neanderthals? Why or why not? (HT: Keith Parsons)
  10. How do souls interact with physical matter? Do you have any answer that is not tantamount to “I don’t know?” (HT: Keith Parsons)
  11. If you believe humans have free will, why would humans have free will if God exists? Why are we able to exercise free will in some situations but not others?
  12. Why are pain and pleasure so connected to the biological goals of survival and reproduction, but morally random? Is there some greater good that logically requires (or logically requires risking) that suffering be used to motivate animals to pursue the biological goal of self-preservation? Does some moral end make it desierable for suffering to continue even when it serves no biological purpose? For example, why do sentient beings, including animals which are not moral agents, experience pain or pleasure that we do not know to be biologically useful?
  13. Why do only a fraction of living things, including the majority of sentient beings, thrive? In other words, why do very few living things have an adequate supply of food and water, are able to reproduce, avoid predators, and remain healthy? Why would God create a world in which all sentient beings savagely compete with one another for survival? Why do an even smaller fraction of organisms thrive for most of their lives? Why do almost no organisms thrive for all of their lives? 
  14. Why is there social evil, i.e., instances of pain or suffering that results from the game-theoretic interactions of many individuals? 
  15. Why does God allow horrific suffering (and relatively little glorious pleasure)?
  16. Why does horrific suffering often destroy a person, at least psychologically, and prevent them from growing morally, spiritually, and intellectually?
  17. Why is there nonculpable (reasonable) nonbelief in God? Why are there former believers, i.e., people who, from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief? Why are there so many people who gave their lives to God only to discover there is no God? Why are there lifelong seekers? Why are there converts to nontheistic religions and especially nonresistant believers who arrive as a result of honest inquiry at nontheistic experiences and beliefs? Why are there isolated nontheists, i.e., people who have never so much as had the idea of God?
  18. Why do some believers feel there is evidence for God’s existence on which they may rely, but in which God is not felt as directly present to her experience, and may indeed feel absent?
  19. Why are there such striking geographic differences in the incidence of theistic belief? Why does
    theistic belief vary dramatically with cultural and national boundaries? For example, why does a population of millions of non-theists persist in Thailand but not in Saudi Arabia? And why has the global incidence of theistic belief varied dramatically over time, i.e., during the existence of the human species?
  20. Why do only some people have religious experiences? In particular, why is it that most of the people who do have religious experiences almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion?
  21. For those people who do have religious experiences, why do they pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others?
  22. Why do so many people report not experiencing God’s comforting presence in the face of tragedies?
  23. Why does the the relatively new discipline of cognitive science of religion support the claim that we have a Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD), which causes human beings to naturally form beliefs about invisible agents? Considering HADD’s poor track record of producing true beliefs about invisible agents in general, why should we trust it when it produces a belief about one invisible agent, the God of theism?
  24. Why does God allow such confusion or disagreement among people, including theists, about what is morally good or bad and morally right or wrong?
  25. Why should we believe that, of the innumerable deities worshipped by human beings over the ages, yours is the one that really exists?  Why believe in Yahweh rather than Zeus, Odin, Marduk, Ishtar, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Madame Pele, Ahura-Mazda, etc., etc., etc.? (HT: Keith Parsons)

bookmark_borderFrom Keith Parsons: Response to Steve Hays

Steve Hays asks whether atheists contradict themselves, saying, first, that no evidence would convince them of a miracle, and, second, that God is to blame for doubters’ lack of belief because he could have performed spectacular public miracles that would have convinced anybody and everybody. If I declare that nothing will convince me that a miracle has occurred, then surely it is inconsistent and unfair then to chide God for failing to deliver one. So, which is it? Will atheists concede that, in principle, there can be sufficient evidence to bear the rational conviction that miracles have occurred, or will they surrender one of their ostensibly most potent arguments–the argument from nonbelief–because, absent that concession, they cannot consistently and fairly charge God with failure to perform dramatic miraculous demonstrations of his existence?
Several things may be said in reply:
First, it is always enjoyable, when confronted by an accusation, to have a tu quoque ready to hand. William Lane Craig and other apologists quite blatantly employ a “heads I win, tails you lose” strategy in arguing with atheists. Craig challenges atheists to show that the balance of evidence favors atheism, but states quite frankly that, whatever the objective evidence, the Christian’s conviction is secure since it is guaranteed by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. If it is unfair for the atheist to say to God “Show me that you exist, but(nyah! nyah!) nothing you do will convince me,” then it is equally unfair for Craig et al. to demand that atheists present evidence against theism, but then declare, in effect, “Evidence be damned; our assurance comes from on high.”
Second, the miracle that God could perform would not have to be something wildly histrionic, like flying mountains or elephants giving birth to Republican congressmen. God’s miracle could simply be to remove the delusions of unbelievers. God could say the word and the scales would fall from our eyes. We would suddenly see that our objections to theism are just empty quibbles. The theistic arguments, instead of looking like thin, watery, and nutritionless metaphysical gruel, would suddenly be seen in their true light–as solid as geometry,as irrefragable as arithmetic. The arguments of Christian apologists, instead of looking like self-serving spin, obfuscation, and special pleading would be seen as abundant common sense and sound scholarship.The problem of evil, instead of an enormous impediment to belief, would simply become transparently feeble. “Why, of course,” we would say “the death by starvation of 20,000 children in the world each day is no reason at all to doubt that we are under the tender providential care of an all-powerful and perfectly good being!” The Atheist blogs and discussion groups would be jammed with messages like “How could we have been so blind?” and “Surely, Satan must have deluded us!” No one could say that God would be acting unreasonably in performing such a miracle. On the contrary, he would be removing a major source of delusion and irrationality from the world.
Finally, speaking for myself and addressing Mr. Hays’ quote from my master’s thesis written twenty five years and three graduate degrees ago: I would still say, as I did then, that we know pretty well when some event lacks a scientific explanation, but we have no clear idea at all about what sorts of occurrences would be permanently inexplicable.The history of science is full of instances of events that, at the time, were seen as explicable only as divine punishment or providence, but which later got perfectly mundane explanations. The great mortality, the black death, of the 14th Century was seen, by educated and ignorant alike, as a manifestation of divine anger, the Scourge of God. Now, of course, we have a perfectly good scientific explanation of the plague interms of rats, fleas, and Yersinia pestis. Comets, of course, were once portents of doom, God’s fearsome messengers foretelling of war, famine, pestilence, and death. Now we know that comets are dirty snowballs. It seems, then, quite reasonable that if something were to occur today that appeared too marvelous for science to accommodate, the wise course would be to wait for science to catch up.
But I don’t take quite so hard a line as I did as a fiery young atheist convert in his twenties. If the marvelous pictures of the Eagle Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope had been underscored by light-years high luminous cursive writing in the wisps of nebulosity that read “I did this–Jehovah” –and if we could be quite sure that the scientists were not playing a gag–that would probably do it for me. Or maybe if all the galaxies in the Virgo cluster suddenly were rearranged so that, when viewed from earth, they read “Prepare to meet Thy God!”or “Turn or Burn!” that would do it. Or, maybe, if all the lurid, revolting fantasies of the “Left Behind” books started happening–a”rapture” occurred, or banks started requiring that you have “666” on your forehead to approach the teller–that would convince me.
The upshot is that I still cannot spell out any criteria for what it would take to convince me that something is scientifically inexplicable, but I do say now that certain conceivable events would be so dramatic and so contrary to my expectations and so consistent with some version of theism, that I would throw in the towel. But, of course, Christian apologists have nothing to offer even vaguely approaching such public and stupendous events. The Resurrection? That allegedly occurred 2000years ago in very obscure circumstances. The narratives reporting this event were written by persons unknown many years after the supposed fact. These narratives are not eyewitness accounts, but hand-me-down stories, elaborated and redacted propaganda, riddled within consistencies, and with no external support or corroboration. I could go on; in fact I do in Why I am not a Christian, available on the Secular Web, so I’ll just leave it there. I think the way to see Hume’s argument is that it spells out just how heavy the burden of proof is on theists who want to invoke alleged miracles for apologetic purposes, not that it provides an in-principle, once-and-for-all, knock-down way of ruling out miracles. My reading of Hume’s argument is that he says that it is, in principle, possible to confirm, on the basis of human testimony, that an event has occurred contrary to the predictions of a recognized natural law, but (a) the testimony would have to be of impeccable quality, and (b) you should be so lucky as to ever get testimony of that quality. When we consider the paltry offerings of the actual apologetic literature, we see how right Hume was.