bookmark_borderAdamson’s Cru[de] Arguments for God – Part 1

I was bored one night a few weeks ago and did a Google search on “Does God exist”. One of the top hits that came back was for this webpage:
http://www.everystudent.com/features/isthere.html
This webpage contains an article written by Marilyn Adamson, called “Is There a God?”, which according to the sub-title presents “six straightforward reasons to believe that God is really there.”  
According to the “About” page the EveryStudent.com website is sponsored by “an interdenominational Christian organization: Cru.”.  I did not recognize the name “Cru”, so I poked around a bit, and clicked on a link to a sister website called StartingwithGod.com, which is also sponsored by “Cru”.  The “About” page for this sister site has a link to a statement of faith for “Cru” and that link took me to a website for “Cru”.  The “About” page for the “Cru” website unlocked the mystery of the name of the sponsoring organization:
Cru is the name of Campus Crusade for Christ International in the U.S.
Marilyn Adamson is the director for the EveryStudent.com website, and that website was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ International.
So, the webpage where Adamson presenst six reasons for the existence of God is not just a personal webpage where Adamson is expressing and justifying her faith, it is a publication sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ.  So, the crudeness and ignorance of Adamson’s arguments are not simply due to the ignorance and foibles of Adamson; they represent the ignorance and foibles of an International Christian organization, an organization that targets it’s messages to college students:
If you are uncertain about your relationship with God, or would like to pursue spiritual questions, we recommend visiting EveryStudent.com. The site helps explain who God is and what it might be like to know God. The site was built for college students (hence the name EveryStudent), but many adults have found it to be extremely helpful. (from the “About” page for StartingwithGod.com, emphasis added)
Since “Cru” wants to communicate with and persuade college students to become Christian believers, or to remain Christian believers, one would expect that a website sponsored by “Cru” and called EveryStudent.com and specifically targeted to college students would use the best available arguments for the existence of God, and would avoid the use of arguments for God that are clearly and obviously illogical or defective, especially if those illogical and defective arguments are generally recognized to be illogical or defective by philosophers of religion.
To use obviously illogical or defective arguments for God that are generally recognized to be illogical or defective by philosophers of religion is bad form no matter who the intended audience might be, but it is especially shameful to use such arguments when your target audience is college students, students who should be encouraged to study philosophy, to think carefully and logically about philosophical issues, and to learn about philosophy from experts in that field.
Some of the arguments presented by Adamson are worthy of consideration (e.g.  the First Cause argument is a classic argument and is still defended by some philosophers, and the Fine Tuning argument is a modern argument that has been widely discussed by philosophers in recent decades), but others are obviously illogical or defective and generally recognized to be so, particularly the first set of arguments presented in Adamson’s article.
Furthermore, the arguments that are worthy of consideration are presented poorly, and in a way that encourages illogical thinking, thinking that philosophers of religion would generally recognize as being illogical.  So, Cru provides college students crappy arguments that are unworthy of serious consideration (other than to show them to be illogical or defective) plus Cru also provides college students with a couple of arguments that are worthy of consideration but that are presented in a crappy way that encourages illogical thinking about the existence of God.
The EveryStudent.com website is promoted as “A Safe Place to Explore Questions About Life and God” but this website is NOT “A Safe Place” in terms of intellectual integrity and the central educational goal of promoting critical thinking.  This website promotes, at least in the key web article written by Adamson, illogical and uncritical thinking as well as ignorance concerning the philosophy of religion.  This website might be “A Safe Place” if someone is fearful of logical and critical thinking, and is afraid that knowledge and scholarship might challenge their Christian beliefs,  but it is NOT “A Safe Place” for college students who want to become educated, well-informed, critical thinkers.
Since Cru, through the prominent publication of the article “Is There a God?” by Marilyn Adamson, has failed to model critical thinking and thinking about God that is well-informed by knowledge and understanding of philosophy (especially philosophy of religion), and thus provided an UNSAFE website for students who desire to become educated, well-informed critical thinkers, I plan to point out the various failings of Adamson’s article in detail in future posts.

bookmark_borderHostility of the Universe to Life: Understated Evidence about Cosmic Fine-Tuning?

(Redated post originally dated 22 January 2013)
I’ve blogged before about the fallacy of understated evidence. Here I want to explore further how it applies to fine-tuning arguments.
Let us define the “general fact of cosmic ‘fine-tuning'” as follows.

FT: some universe or other has the initial conditions, laws, and constants which make the existence of complex intelligent life of some sort possible.

Even if we assume that so-called cosmic “fine-tuning” is evidence favoring theism over naturalism, that argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. In other words, even if the general fact of fine-tuning is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that naturalism is true, it ignores other, more specific facts about fine-tuning, facts that, given fine-tuning, are more likely on naturalism than on theism.
Continue reading “Hostility of the Universe to Life: Understated Evidence about Cosmic Fine-Tuning?”

bookmark_borderI Don’t Care

Thomas Aquinas pulled a classic BAIT-AND-SWITCH move in Summa Theologica:
 “Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.”
“Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.” 
“Therefore we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.” 
“Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every perfection; and this we call God.” 
“Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.” 
(Summa Theologica, Third Article: Whether God Exists?, emphasis added by me)
My first response to Aquinas’ Five Ways is: I DON’T CARE:

  • I don’t care whether there is a first unmoved mover.
  • I don’t care whether there is a first efficient cause.
  • I don’t care whether there is something that has of itself its own necessity.
  • I don’t care whether there is something that is the cause of the existence or the goodness of all beings.
  • I don’t care whether there is an intelligent being by whom all natural things are directed to their end.

What I care about is whether GOD exists or not.  Aquinas spells out his “Five Ways” in a section titled:
Whether God Exists?
This title leads one to believe that Aquinas will address the issue of whether GOD exists, not whether there is a first unmoved mover, not whether there is a first efficient cause, etc.  So, this is a classic bait-and-switch deception by Aquinas.  Aquinas does NOT address the question at issue.  At any rate, he FAILS to answer the question at issue.
Of course, one can REPAIR the defective arguments presented by Aquinas by simply tacking on a conditional premise at the end:
1.  IF there is a first unmoved mover, THEN God exists.
2. IF there is a first efficient cause, THEN God exists.
3. IF there is something that has of itself its own necessity, THEN God exists.
4. IF there is something that is the cause of the existence or the goodness of all beings, THEN God exists.
5. IF there is an intelligent being by whom all natural things are directed to their end, THEN God exists.
Tacking these additional premises onto the end of Aquinas’ Five Ways makes the arguments relevant to the question at issue, but that hardly gets us to any sort of conclusion on the issue.  NONE of these premises is self-evident, and as far as I can tell, NONE of these premises is true.
I understand that some people believe these premises, and some people argue for some of these premises.  But, I don’t think there is a single premise in this group that is easy to prove to be true or easy to show to be highly probable.  In any case, Aquinas makes no effort, in this passage at least, to provide any reasons or arguments in support of any of these DUBIOUS ASSUMPTIONS.
Aquinas is not alone among great philosophers who lay out obviously CRAPPY arguments.  Most, if not all, of the great historical philosophers that I have read have their bad days and their obviously bad arguments.  Nevertheless, you would think that this embarassing example of obviously CRAPPY arguments for the existence of God would have served as a warning to all future philosophers of religion and Christian apologists to avoid simply asserting such DUBIOUS ASSUMPTIONS without providing some well-thought-out reasons and arguments to support them.
But when I read presentations of the cosmological argument by William Craig and by J.P. Moreland, for example, they tend to provide only the skimpiest of arguments to support this kind of KEY PREMISE in their arguments for God.  Although they do give some sort of reasons, the reasons are often stated in just one, or maybe two sentences, and then they move quickly on to some other subject.
So, here we are 740 or so years after the publication of Summa Theologica, and Christian philosophers are still pulling the same BAIT-AND-SWITCH move:  pretending to present an argument for the existence of GOD, while actually presenting an argument for something else (e.g. the cause of the beginning of the universe).

bookmark_borderWeighing Theistic Evidence Against Naturalistic Evidence

In the next-to-last paragraph of his book, C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, Victor Reppert makes a very interesting statement:

However, I contend that the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The “problem of reason” is a huge problem for reason, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. (emphasis mine)

I think this is a very interesting statement for two reasons. First, Reppert acknowledges that the so-called “problem of evil” — which is probably misnamed (see here) — is an evidential problem for theism. All by itself, that is a significant concession that is all too rare among theistic philosophers. But second (and more important), Reppert claims that naturalism’s ‘problem of reason’ is as big of a problem, if not a bigger problem, for naturalism as the ‘problem of evil’ is for theism. I want to focus on this second feature of interest about Reppert’s statement.
I recently asked, “Why Do So Many People Have a “Winner Takes All” Approach to Evidence about Gods?” Suppose you agree with my conclusion that there can be evidence for false propositions, so there can be evidence for atheism if God exists, and so there can be evidence for theism if God does not exist.
As soon as you admit that possibility, you have to be prepared to confront another possibility. How do you weigh competing items of evidence, especially when we don’t have numerical probability values (or likelihoods or Bayes’ factors) to work with? Here are two versions of this problem.
(1) Weighing Two Individual Items of Evidence
Suppose you have two items of evidence, E1 and E2, and two rival hypotheses, H1 and H2. E1 is evidence favoring H1 over H2, i.e., Pr(E1 | H1)  > Pr(E1 | H2). Let B1 the “Bayes’ factor” for E1 , i.e., the ratio of Pr(E1 | H1)  to Pr(E1 | H2). E2 is evidence favoring H2 over H1, i.e. Pr(E2 | H2) > Pr(E2 | H1). Let B2 be the Bayes’ factor for E2, i.e., the ratio of Pr(E2 | H1) to Pr(E2 | H2). If E1 is stronger evidence for H1 than E2 is evidence for H2, then B1 > 1/B2. Likewise, if E2 is stronger evidence for H2 than E1 is evidence for H1, then 1/B2 > B1. But how do you show that?
In some cases, it may be possible to show this is true by definition. For example, in my F-inductive argument from consciousness, I argue that Pr(consciousness | theism) =1 because theism entails the existence of consciousness. Now compare that result to a very weak argument against theism, the argument from scale. I have argued before that, as an argument against mere theism, the evidence of scale provides very weak evidence favoring naturalism over theism. So it seems obvious that if Pr(consciousness | theism) = 1, then consciousness is much stronger evidence for theism than scale is against it.
Or consider Paul Draper’s evidential argument from biological evolution. The key insight to understanding that argument is this. It is really an argument against special creationism, combined with a rigorous argument that special creationism is a viable auxiliary hypothesis to theism. In other words, theism provides a significant antecedent reason to expect that special creationism is true conditional upon the assumption that theism is true, where “antecedent” emphasizes the idea that we are abstracting away all of our evidence from biology. Draper’s evidential argument from biological evolution argues that Pr(special creationism | naturalism) = 0, whereas Pr(special creationism | theism) >= 1/2. Now suppose you have some extremely weak argument for theism, such as the argument from beauty. I don’t think beauty provides any evidence for theism, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend that it does. In that case, it would be obvious that the falsity of creationism is much stronger evidence against theism than beauty is evidence for it.
Not all comparisons of evidence will involve cases where at least one hypothesis entails neither the evidence to be explained nor the denial of the evidence to be explained. In those cases, it seems to me it will be more difficult, possibly impossible, to justify an objective comparison of evidential strength. (Whether it is impossible or merely difficult will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.)
(2) Weighing Cumulative Cases Against One Another
Suppose now you have two “real” cumulative cases done the right way. In favor of H1, you have items of evidence E1 through E5. In favor of H2, you have items of evidence E6-E10. For example, let H1 be theism and H2 be naturalism. Then let our items of evidence be:
E1: the contingency of the universe
E2: the beginning of the universe
E3: the life-permitting conditions of the universe
E4: consciousness
E5: intentionality
E6: the hostility of the universe to life
E7: biological role of pain and pleasure
E8: falsity of special creationism
E9: mind-brain dependence
E10: psychopathy
You believe that E1-E5 are individually and collectively evidence favoring theism over naturalism. Likewise, you believe that E6-E10 are individually and collectively evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
As before, we’ll use “B” to represent the Bayes’ factor. Let B1-5 represent the ratio of Pr(E1 & E2 & E3 & E4 & E5 |T) to Pr(E1 & E2 & E3 & E4 & E5 |N). Let B6-10 represent the ratio of Pr(E6 & E7 & E8 & E9 & E10 | T) to Pr(E6 & E7 & E8 & E9 & E10 | N).
How in the world are you supposed to show that B1-5 > 1/B6-10?
(3) Is Naturalism’s ‘Problem of Reason’ as Big or Bigger than Theism’s ‘Problem of Evil’?
Let us now return to Reppert’s statement I quoted at the beginning of this post:

However, I contend that the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The “problem of reason” is a huge problem for reason, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. (emphasis mine)

Reppert does not attempt to defend this claim in his book, but in fairness we should note the argument from reason is a neglected topic in the philosophy of religion. It seems reasonable to devote an entire book just to (re-?)introducing the argument and defending it. But it would be a major accomplishment in the philosophy of religion, I think, if Reppert were able to successfully defend this claim. Perhaps he can devote his considerable philosophical talents to this task in a future book.

bookmark_borderWilliam Lane Craig on the Prior Probability of Theism and the Fine-Tuning Argument

One objection to fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence goes like this: simply showing that so-called ‘fine-tuning’ is more probable on theism than on atheism isn’t enough to show that God exists. One must also take into account the prior probability of theism.
William Lane Craig responds to this objection in a recent Q&A on his website. He begins:

Your professor’s objection will be more comprehensible if we put it into the context of the probability calculus. Let’s compare the probability of theism vs. atheism relative to the fine-tuning of the universe. Let G stand for the hypothesis that God exists and ¬G for the hypothesis that God does not exist. Let FT stand for the fine-tuning of the universe. The comparative probabilities will be computed as follows:
q397_web

Now what you argued in your paper was that the third ratio favored theism. The fine-tuning of the universe is considerably more probable given God’s existence than given God’s non-existence. The evidence is therefore strongly confirmatory of theism. So far so good!
What your professor wants to say is that your argument still does not prove that God’s existence is more probable than His non-existence relative to the fine-tuning of the universe. That is the first ratio on the left-hand side of the equation. In order to show that this ratio favors theism, you also need to show that the prior probability of God’s existence is not greatly lower than the prior probability of God’s non-existence. That’s the middle ratio above. The idea here is that the greater explanatory power of a hypothesis can be offset by the enormous improbability of the hypothesis itself.

So far, so good. Craig now turns to his responses.

There are two responses you might make to this objection. First, you might deny that you were trying to prove that the first ratio favors theism. You might simply rest content with showing that the evidence we have is hugely confirmatory of theism.

Yes, a proponent of a ‘fine-tuning’ argument for God’s existence could respond that way. But then they would just be admitting that the objection is correct. That’s about as ineffective a response as possible.

Collins, for example, points out that in science we often do not have any way of estimating the prior probability of a hypothesis, and so we simply rest with arguments showing a hypothesis’ greater explanatory power. It may be that the prior probability of the hypothesis is just inscrutable.

While that may be true of some unspecified, generic hypothesis, this isn’t true of theism, atheism, or naturalism. Craig evinces no awareness of Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper’s work on intrinsic probability, which functions as a kind of prior probability and is particularly useful for ‘ultimate’ metaphysical hypotheses like theism and naturalism.

You might even point out that in order to resist your confirmatory argument on behalf of theism, it’s the atheist who has the burden of proof of showing that theism is considerably more improbable than atheism.

Again, Craig’s unawareness of Draper’s work on intrinsic probability comes back to haunt him. This challenge can be easily met. Craig needs to interact with Draper’s argument that metaphysical naturalism, which entails atheism, has an objective intrinsic probability which is greater than that of theism.

Second, you could argue that theism is not intrinsically much more improbable than atheism. For the prior probabilities Pr (G) and Pr (¬G) are not, despite appearances, computed in a vacuum. Rather these probabilities are computed relative to our background information about the world. You subtract the information about the fine-tuning of the universe from what we know about the world, and whatever is left is our background information. That information will include the evidence featured in all the other theistic arguments, such as the contingency of the universe, the beginning of the universe, the objectivity of moral values and duties, the applicability of mathematics to the physical universe, intentionality, the facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and so forth. I think that we should be prepared to argue that the prior probability of theism is much greater than that of atheism relative to our background information. In that way we successfully argue that theism is much more probable than atheism given the fine-tuning of the universe.

First, this reply just pushes the problem back a step. I fully support the idea of cumulative cases, but what Craig seems to forget is that all cumulative cases have to start somewhere. Whatever he wants to use as his first piece of evidence must confront the fact that theism has a lower intrinsic probability than naturalism. For example, if he wants to make the contingency of the universe his first argument, he has to confront it there.

Second, many of Craig’s arguments, including his fine-tuning argument, are textbook examples of arguments which commit the fallacy of understated evidence.

Third, Craig also ignores the fact that there are other lines of evidence, independent of those related to his understated evidence, which favor naturalism over theism.

bookmark_borderDr. Richard Carrier’s Rebuttal to My Commentary on His Exchange with Dr. Luke Barnes about the Fine-Tuning Argument

This is one of those debates where you really have to get into the details just to arrive at an informed position. I’ve read his rebuttal, but so much time has passed that I will need to re-read his book chapter (yes, I did read it), Barnes’ posts, and my commentary before I can even decide what to make of his rebuttal. Because of other commitments, it’s doubtful that I will be able to do that anytime soon. But that’s no reason not to check out his rebuttal for yourself, if you’re interested in the fine-tuning argument.
LINK
Update 17-Jan-16: Fixed the link.

bookmark_borderWLC Denies That Anyone Has Ever Died a Sincere Seeker Without Finding God

Can anyone sincerely lack belief in God? And even if they can, can anyone sincerely lack belief in God for the rest of their lives? Many people, including nontheists but not just nontheists, think the answer to both questions is plainly “yes.” But some (many?) theists, no doubt motivated by beliefs such as divine goodness, Biblical inerrancy, and Christian particularism, deny this for the second question and possibly the first.  We’ll call people who deny a “yes” answer to the second question “sincere lifelong nontheist deniers” or “sincerity deniers” for short.
To many nontheists this denial is not only false, but offensive, for it can come across as a not-so-veiled accusation that nontheists are lying when they claim they lack belief in God or that God’s existence isn’t obvious to them. In fairness to sincerity deniers, however, we should keep in mind that ‘sincerity denial’ doesn’t have to amount to a conscious denial of a belief in God. Instead, a sincerity denier may hold that a nontheist’s nonbelief is the result of self-deception. (This was, for example, the position of the notorious Christian presuppositionalist Greg Bahnsen, among others.) A sincerity denier may also hold that, at a given time, a nontheist’s nonbelief is genuine, not the result of self-deception, but temporary. This option may be less offensive since it doesn’t require that all nontheists are resistant to theism for the entire time they are a nontheist. The idea seems to be that if a nontheist is nonresistant to belief in God, then said nontheist will eventually come to believe in God before they die.
In any case, what’s important to notice is that, regardless of the flavor of sincerity denial, the one thing all sincerity deniers seem to have in common is this. No one dies a sincere, nonresistant nonbeliever. 
Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig is a well-known defender of Christian particularism, so it comes as no surprise that he is a sincerity denier. He reaffirmed his position in a recent answer to a question on the Q&A section of his website.  Craig not only denies that there could be a sincere, lifelong nontheist, but he also denies that there could be a sincere, lifelong theistic non-Christian (e.g., Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so forth). He writes:

Therefore, if a person ultimately fails to come to faith in Christ, it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties with the faith. At root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit on his heart. Now this convicting power and drawing of the Holy Spirit may take time. It may take years in order for the unbeliever to finally come to Christ. Nevertheless, no one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments or evidence; he fails to become a Christian because he rejects God. But anyone who does respond to the drawing of God’s Spirit with an open mind and an open heart can know with assurance that Christianity is true, because God’s Spirit will convict him that it is true.

Furthermore, he offers the following reasons for doubting the lifelong sincerity of non-Christians.

Now I don’t think we’re in a good position to say with any confidence that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable unbelief, Muhammad. First, as I say, God’s drawing of a person may take time, years even, so that we can’t say of someone who is moving away from God that that’s where he’ll end up. (Read the many testimonials we receive from ex-unbelievers who for many years were moving away from God.) It is particularly the case that many Muslims go through a phase of atheism after shedding Islam before they come to Christ.
Moreover, we’re not really in a position to read a person’s heart or deepest motivations. Sin is incredibly deceitful, and we have an amazing ability to rationalize things so as to justify our behavior. Read C. S. Lewis’ provocative The Great Divorce about the self-justifying rationalizations of people in hell. If we can convince ourselves that our obstacles to faith are intellectual rather than moral or emotional that makes our unbelief respectable in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. How do you know what lies in the heart of a person who resists the drawing and conviction of the Holy Spirit until the end of his life?
Furthermore, I do think that we have good reasons for supposing that Christianity is true. First, there is the witness of the Holy Spirit. It can be an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters brought against it. Second, there are good evidences for the truth of Christianity, particularly for the historicity of the radical personal claims and resurrection of Jesus, whereby God vindicated those claims.

There are many things which could be (and have been) said in response to this sort of position. Here I’ll summarize what I think are the three most important points.
First, notice that sincerity deniers are committed to a universal generalization: there has never been (and never will be) a single sincere, lifelong nontheist. If even just one sincere, lifelong nontheist existed, exists, or will exist, then this universal generalization is false. Thus, it does Craig little good to refer to former atheists who claim that they engaged in all sorts of insincere rationalizations when they claimed to be atheists. Even if that is an accurate description for those former atheists, it doesn’t follow that it applies to all atheists or, more broadly, all nontheists.
Second, we have strong inductive evidence that this generalization is false. There are several lines of evidence which combine to create a powerful cumulative case for the existence of sincere, lifelong nontheists. Following the outstanding work of the Canadian philosopher John Schellenberg (in his recent book The Wisdom to Doubt), we may summarize this evidence as follows.
(a) The prima facie evidence of nonresistant nonbelief. In Schellenberg’s words, “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.”
(b) The prima facie evidence of former believers. To paraphrase Schellenberg, such individuals, from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief in God. In other words, if theism is true, then such individuals already were in relationship with God and the loss of belief has terminated that.
(c) The prima facie evidence of lifelong seekers. Schellenberg describeres these individuals as people “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)
(d) The prima facie evidence of converts to nontheistic religions. Paraphrasing Schellenberg, these are 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)
(e) The prima facie evidence of isolated nontheists. Schellenberg defines these individuals as “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).
Third, the fact that human beings have an “amazing ability to rationalize things” is a double-edged sword. Those of us who reject sincerity denialism — “sincerity denial” deniers? — could just as easily argue that sincerity denial itself is an example of the amazing ability to rationalize things, such as how to reconcile the existence of nontheists–not to mention the existence of theistic non-Christians–with the doctrines of God’s moral goodness and the exclusivity of salvation through Christ.
Craig concludes his answer with the website equivalent of an altar call, imploring his questioner to “Look at the work of Christian philosophers and biblical scholars, such as you will find at this [Craig’s] website.” This suggestion is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. If a seeker wants to determine the truth of Christianity, Islam, or anything else, then they need to do more than just read the writings which defend those beliefs. They also need to study the work of the best critics of those beliefs.
This is simple inductive logic. If you’re going to attempt make an uncertain inference from evidence, the premises of an inductively correct argument need to embody all of the available, relevant evidence. For example, suppose you read Craig’s website and decide that God is the best explanation for both the origin of the universe and cosmic fine-tuning. Does it follow that God probably exists? No!
First, as I’ve explained in detail before, many deductive theistic arguments mask uncertainty. Consider William Lane Craig’s version of the so-called ‘fine-tuning’ argument. As I’ve argued before, even the name ‘fine-tuning argument’ is prejudicial against atheism, since the expression ‘fine-tuning’ naturally suggests a ‘fine-tuner’ ( = designer). So instead I’ll refer to this argument as the ‘life-permitting’ argument and I’ll refer to the alleged ‘fine-tuning of the universe’s initial conditions” as “the life-permitting nature of the universe’s initial conditions.” With those clarifications out of the way, then, we get the following formulation of the life-permitting argument.

1. The life-permitting nature of the universe’s initial conditions is either the result of chance, necessity or design. (Premise)
2. It is not the result of chance or necessity. (Premise)
3. Therefore, it is the result of design. (From 1 and 2)

This argument is clearly valid, i.e., the conclusion follows from the premises. We want to know the probability of (3). The probability of (3) will depend upon the probability of (2). If we have a very weak degree of belief that (2) is true, say we think Pr(2)=0.25, then, by itself, this argument only warrants the belief Pr(3)=0.25. N.B. I’m not claiming that (2) has an exact numerical probability equal to 0.25; that value is simply an example to illustrate the point.
Second, such arguments fail to embody all of the relevant, available evidence. This is because their conclusions are stated without qualification. For example, suppose we decide to ‘inductify’ or ‘probabilify’ the conclusion of Craig’s fine-tuning argument, it becomes something like this:

3′. [probable] Therefore, it is the result of design.

The problem with this revised conclusion, however, is that it isn’t justified by the premises. It may well be the case that, by itself, the life-permitting nature of the universe’s initial conditions does make it more probable than not that the universe is designed. But that doesn’t entail that, all things considered, the total available, relevant evidence makes it more probable than not that the universe is designed. In order to defend that claim, you have to look at all of the evidence, including the evidence of evolution, biological role of pain and pleasure, nonresistant nonbelief, etc. And once you do that, it’s far from obvious that the total evidence favors theism, much less Christian theism.
So instead of 3′, what we need instead is something like:

3”. Other evidence held equal, it is probably the result of design.

The italicized words are key because the conclusion is no longer claims that the universe’s life-permitting conditions alone justifies the conclusion of design. Instead, it says, if we hold all other evidence equal–i.e., assume for the sake of argument that all other relevant evidence ‘cancels out’–then the life-permitting data justifies design inference.
As I say, 3” is a big improvement over 3′ and 3, but it comes at a cost. Craig now needs additional premises or arguments to show that the total evidence favors design. For example, he might argue:

4. Biological evolution is not more probable on no-design than on design; and
5. The problem of evil in general is some evidence against design,  but it is outweighed by the total evidence for no-design.
6. There is no other evidence against design.

But these kinds of premises are much more difficult to defend.
Third, as I’ve argued before, on the basis of Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper’s work, Craig’s appeal to cosmic fine-tuning is a textbook example of the fallacy of understated evidence. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the life-permitting conditions of our universe are more likely on design than on no-design. That fact–if it is a fact–hardly exhausts what we know about the habitability of our universe. We also know that so much of our universe is hostile to life due to things such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth. Given that our universe is life-permitting, the fact that so much of it is hostile to life is much more probable on no-design than on design. So once all  of the evidence about cosmic life-permitting conditions has been fully stated, however, it’s far from obvious that facts about cosmic “fine-tuning” favor design over non-design.
Contrary to Craig’s special pleading, I conclude that nontheists and theists alike are amply justified in concluding, with a high degree of confidence, that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable or nonresistant nonbelief. If that creates problems for historic Christian doctrines such as Christian particularism, then so much the worse for those doctrines.
Appendix
Whenever I blog about the cosmic life-permitting argument, I always get at least one comment suggesting that the multiverse hypothesis is a good way to defeat that argument. My replies: “Good luck with that” and “Not according to inductive logic or probability theory.” We have little or no reason on naturalism (alone) to expect multiple universes, and the ‘independent’ evidence for a multiverse is far from conclusive. See here.

bookmark_borderSpot the Fallacy #2: Fine-Tuning and the Prior Probability of Theism

Note: This post is another post in our series of articles designed to engage non-philosophers. Despite the title, you don’t need to literally name a fallacy assuming there is one. What these posts are really designed to do is to get you to describe, in plain English, why the argument (or objection) presented isn’t successful.
Instructions:
1. Read William Lane Craig’s Q&A here.
2. If you are not a philosopher, explain in the combox why his response doesn’t work.

bookmark_borderChristian Apologist: Theists Care About Science but Naturalists Don’t

Christian apologist Wintery Knight has written an unintentionally funny post against naturalists in which he attempts to turn the tables on those who would use science to argue against religion.
Linking to an old article which explains how the planet Jupiter deflects comets and asteroids that might otherwise hit Earth, Wintery Knight argues that this shows our habitat was fine-tuned to be life-permitting. This would make sense if, say, we were talking about a junior deity (call him “Bob”) who was stuck with the laws, constants, or initial conditions of the universe–you know, the ones that on a good day make our universe look like a cosmic Hunger Games scenario–but who did have enough power to design the solar system to provide an imperfect, coarse-tuned Earth defense system (Jupiter). This does not, however, make any sense if we are talking about a “Triple O” deity (omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent) who can design the universe with any logically consistent laws, constants, and initial conditions–in other words, a universe that doesn’t need a planetary defense system because it doesn’t have random comets and asteroids tumbling through space!
But let that pass. The real howler is when he spins the significance of this evidence.

People who are not curious about science sort of take these blessings for granted and push away the God who is responsible for the clever life-permitting design of our habitat. In contrast, theists are curious and excited about what science tells us about the Creator. Theists care about science, but naturalists have to sort of keep experimental science at arm’s length – away from the presuppositions and assumptions that allow them to have autonomy to live life without respect, accountability and gratitude. Naturalists take refuge in the relief provided by speculative science and science fiction. They like to listen to their leaders speculate about speculative theories, and willingly buy up books by snarky speculators who think that nothing is really something (Krauss), or who think that the cosmic fine-tuning is not real (Stenger), or who think that silicon-based life is a viable scenario (Rosenberg), etc. But theists prefer actual science. Truth matters to us, and we willingly adjust our behavior to fit the scientific facts.

bookmark_borderLowder-Vandergriff Debate on God’s Existence Now Out!


I’m pleased to announce that my debate on God’s existence with Mr. Kevin Vandergriff is now out! Here are the options for accessing the debate.

Topic and Format
The topic and format for our debate was as follows.
Topic: Naturalism vs. Christian Theism: Where Does the Evidence Point?
Format: 
Mr. Lowder’s Opening Statement: 20 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s Opening Statement: 20 minutes
Mr. Lowder’s First Rebuttal: 15 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s First Rebuttal: 15 minutes
Mr. Lowder’s Second Rebuttal: 10 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s Second Rebuttal: 10 minutes
Mr. Lowder’s Closing Statement: 5 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s Closing Statement: 5 minutes
This debate was not a live debate but was instead recorded over a series of many weeks. Once I recorded my initial opening statement, each speech was due within a week of the previous one being available to the other debater. Once all of the speeches were complete, the crew at Reasonable Doubts merged all of the files together into a single file for the podcast. As an added bonus, both Vandergriff and I provided PowerPoint slides for each and every speech, which should make it that much easier to follow the debate.
Summary of Mr. Lowder’s Case for Naturalism:
First Contention. Naturalism is a much simpler explanation than Christian theism (where simplicity is defined in terms of modesty and coherence).
Second Contention. Naturalism is a more accurate explanation than Christian theism.
2.1. Physical Matter
2.2. Intelligibility of Universe without Appeal to Supernatural Agency
2.3. Cosmic Hostility
2.4. Biological Evolution
2.5. Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure
2.6. Flourishing and Languishing
2.7. Triumph and Tragedy
2.8. Mind-Brain Dependence
2.9. Types and Distribution of Moral Agents
2.10. Limitations on Human Freedom
2.11. Nonresistant Nonbelief
2.12. Ethical Disagreement
Note: some of these lines of evidence were not mentioned until after Mr. Lowder’s opening statement, specifically, 2.2, 2.9, 2.10, 2.12, and 2.14.
Summary of Mr. Vandergriff’s Case for Christian Theism:
First Contention: Naturalism is not significantly more simple than Christian theism.
Second Contention: Even if naturalism is significantly more simple than Christian theism, it doesn’t matter because God exists necessarily.
2.1. Origin of the Universe
2.2. Why There is Something Physical Rather than Nothing
Third Contention: Christian theism is a more accurate explanation than naturalism.
3.1. Discoverability of the Universe
3.2. Applicability of Mathematics
3.3. Evolution
3.4. Formational Economy of the Universe
3.5. Self-Aware Beings
3.6. Embodied Moral Agents plus Fine-Tuning
3.7. The Connection between Moral Beliefs and Necessary Moral Truths
3.8. The Connection between Necessary Moral Truths and Flourishing
3.9. Worthwhileness of Life
3.10. Resurrection of Jesus
Note: some of these lines of evidence were not mentioned until after Mr. Vandergriff’s opening statement, specifically, 3.3 and 3.4.
Related Topics Discussed in This Debate
1. The differences between metaphysical naturalism and the “hypothesis of indifference”
2. The Anti-Creation Ex Nihilo Argument
3. Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism, namely, Larry Arnhart’s version as defended in his book, Darwinian Natural Right
4. The Bayesian Interpretation of “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence” (ECREE) and the Bayesian Anti-Resurrection Argument
5. Physical cosmology, including the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) Theorem and quantum indeterminacy
6. God’s relationship with time
7. Animal pain
Major Selling Points and Drawbacks for this Debate
I think this debate is fairly unusual, if not unique, for theism and atheism debates for a number of reasons.
Selling Points

  • I think both debaters were pretty evenly matched in terms of speaking ability or, at the very least, the delayed audio format gives that appearance. (That is, in fact, a major point of the delayed audio format.)
  • Both debaters treated their opponents with respect. Anyone who was watched or listened to a number of these debates knows that this does not always happen, which is unfortunate.
  • Both debaters approach the question, “Does God exist?”, as an empirical question. This means that, for the most part (but not entirely), they avoided a priori, deductive arguments and instead gave evidential arguments. (Thomistic scholars like Ed Feser and other critics of “theistic personalism” won’t be happy.) Furthermore, they both adopt a Bayesian approach to evidence.
  • The naturalist debater actually attempted to present a positive case for metaphysical naturalism. Mr. Lowder provided nine (9) lines of evidence for naturalism in his opening statement, and five additional lines of (understated) evidence in later speeches.
  • As mentioned above, the theist debater actually attempted to provide theistic explanations for (alleged) naturalistic facts, rather than appeal to so-called “skeptical theism.” In other words, the theist actually attempted to defend a theodicy.
  • In fact, for the most part, I think both sides defended their position using arguments and objections which are representative of the best scholarship on both sides. I think both debaters avoided the typical blunders we see from both sides in these debates. (Mr. Lowder in particular is proud of the fact that he pretty much ignored every piece of the horrible debating advice offered by the late Victor Stenger.) For example, both debaters avoided making positive arguments which many, if not most, philosophers of religion would say have been discredited: the naturalist debater did not use the Lack of Evidence Argument (LEA) for atheism and the theist debater didn’t defend an ontological version of the moral argument (which claims that God is required as the ontological foundation for moral values and duties). Along the same lines, both debaters avoided using some more of the dubious objections to their opponent’s arguments: the naturalist debater didn’t respond to alleged cosmic ‘fine-tuning’ by appealing to the multiverse hypothesis and did not respond to the Resurrection argument using simplistic arguments for Jesus mythicism. The theist debater did not respond to the argument from biological evolution by denying the fact of common ancestry and he did not respond to various arguments from evil by appealing to so-called “skeptical theism.”[1]

Drawbacks
On the other hand, I think this debate has one, maybe two, major drawbacks.
First, Vandergriff and I discuss a large number of arguments. If you didn’t like the number of arguments in my opening statement for my debate with Phil Fernandes, then you’re probably going to be very unhappy with the number of arguments in this debate. (I think the grand total by the end of the debater was somewhere around 23-25.) I don’t think this ever would have worked in a live debate but, given the unique “audio swap” format, we mutually decided beforehand to debate more, rather than less, arguments on each side. I hope that the PowerPoint slides will make the debate comprehensible.
Second, both debaters spoke faster towards the end of the debate and our speaking rates probably pushed the limits of what is reasonable. For people who listen only to the audio (as opposed to watching the YouTube version), this will make it hard to follow.
Vandergriff Did Not Cheat
Several people on the web noticed that Vandergriff used audio editing software to artificially speed up his speaking rate and to edit out the natural pauses in at least some of his speeches, in order to cram more content into his speeches. Based on that, they have accused Vandergriff of cheating.
I can see why listeners might reach that conclusion, but Vandergriff did not cheat and I want those accusations to stop.  Not only did he not cheat, but  I fully believe that Vandergriff neither had any intention to cheat nor did he believe at any point that he was doing so. Why? The rules for the debate did not impose a limit on the words per minute (WPM) ratio for each speech. They definitely did not prohibit the use of audio editing software. I have no doubt that Vandergriff chose to speaker at a higher WPM ratio because of his collegiate debate background, where it absolutely the norm for debaters to exceed 300 WPM in their speeches. (This convention is the primary reason I decided against participating in undergraduate debate, despite my university debate team’s attempt to recruit me.)
The problem, in my opinion, is that there is a huge disconnect between the way competitive debaters do debates and the way the general public thinks about debates. I believe that speaking faster than 190 WPM is a huge turn off for the general public, whether for a podcast or in a live debate. Even if Vandergriff had not edited the audio file and instead chose to speak (naturally) as fast as possible, I predict that many listeners still would have complained about the fast delivery. I can see how the use of audio editing software might lead people to think Kevin had cheated, but that conclusion is mistaken. He did not.
Operating from a collegiate debate perspective, Vandergriff opted to increase his WPM ratio as needed in order to address every single in the point in every single speech. Some people call that the “Gish Gallop” approach but, as anyone with high school or college debating experience can confirm, that’s the way they do it in that style of debating.
In contrast, my approach was to speak at a more comfortable pace (< 190 WPM). Of course, that meant I could not include as much content into my speeches as Vandergriff included in his. Instead of simply “dropping” arguments, however, my strategy was to “group” various arguments together in a way so that one objection could apply to many of his arguments at the same time. If our debate were judged by collegiate debate judges using collegiate rules, it’s quite possible they may have voted for Vandergriff as the winner. Since this wasn’t a collegiate debate, however, and since I did respond to all of his points at least indirectly (through grouping), I don’t care how a collegiate debate judge might vote. My courtroom was the court of public opinion and my intended “judge” was the judgment of the general public.
The real risk is that, once transcripts of the debate are made available, they may give Vandergriff an unfair advantage insofar as it will be much easier for readers to understand a written transcript of his speed talking than it is for listeners to understand an audio recording of his speed talking. I think that we can manage risk that by putting some sort of note at the beginning of the transcript which explicitly addresses the WPM issue.
Lessons Learned
In my opinion, this debate is a “lesson learned” for all parties involved. If I could go back in time, I would have proposed the following:
(1) No cap on the number of arguments because I think the only way to truly test both worldviews in a debate is to actually debate this large number of arguments.
(2) A modified time limit structure, such as 25 minute openings, 20 minute first and second rebuttals, and 15 minute closings. These longer speeches would provide both debaters more time to address the points raised by their opponents.
(3) A strict cap on the maximum allowed WPM, which I would probably set at 190.
(4) The use of audio editing software to manipulate WPM would be allowed, but rendered irrelevant by rules 2 and 3.
Vandergriff and I have already talked about the possibility of having a re-match in the future using the above proposal or something similar. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we both hope this re-match happens. For my part, I greatly appreciate his informed, thoughtful, and novel approach and think it deserves a fair hearing by everyone interested in pursuing a deeper understanding of these topics.
We’d love to know your reaction to this debate; please feel free to leave your reviews of the debate and/or debate the arguments yourself in the combox!
 
Notes
[1] I recognize that several of the claims in this paragraph will be controversial. For example, some theists deny the truth of common ancestry. Even more important, in my opinion, is the fact some theistic philosophers believe that God is required as the ontological foundation for morality and that skeptical theism is a good response to arguments from evil. I obviously disagree, but I’m not going to attempt to defend my perspective in this blog post.