bookmark_borderCases for God

I’m thinking about which cases for the existence of God to focus in on, for my evaluation of Christianity.  Right now, I’m thinking about examining the cases of four well-known Christian apologists:

  • Norman Geisler
  • William Craig
  • Peter Kreeft
  • Richard Swinburne

I just realized that two of these philosophers are Thomists, and two are not Thomists.
Geisler is a conservative Evangelical Christian, but his favorite argument for God is a Thomist cosmological argument, and his concept of God is clearly shaped by the thinking of Aquinas (see his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics entry “God, Nature of”, especially the sections on “Simplicity” and on “Immutability”).
Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher of religion, and his favorite arguments for God are the “Five Ways” of Aquinas (which reflects a complete misunderstaning of Aquinas, since the “Five Ways” are NOT arguments for the existence of God), and Kreeft has written a commentary on selected sections of Summa Theologica by Aquinas (called Summa of the Summa).  The commentary is an attempt to make the thinking of Aquinas about God and theology more accessible to the general public, because Kreeft admires Aquinas and believes most of what Aquinas has to say about God.  So, Geisler and Kreeft are both Thomists.
Craig, however, rejects the key Thomist notion of God’s “simplicity”:
According to the doctrine of divine simplicity God has no distinct attributes, he stands in no real relations, his essence is not distinct from his existence, he just is the pure act of being subsisting.  All such distinctions exist only in our minds, since we can form no conception of the absolutely simple divine being.  While we can say what God is not like, we cannot say what he is like, except in an analogical sense.  But these predications must in the end fail, since there is no univocal element we assign to God, leaving us in a state of genuine agnosticism about the nature of God.  Indeed on this view, God really has no nature; he is simply the inconceivable act of being.
The doctine [of divine simplicity] is open, moreover, to powerful objections.  For example, to say that God does not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same property as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other. … (Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Craig, p.524)
It’s wonderful to have Craig’s help to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, since Craig provides some powerful reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God as incoherent and as logically implying “agnosticism about the nature of God”.  I’m starting to like Craig a bit more now.
Swinburne clearly rejects the immutability and timelessness of God, which are key aspects of the Thomist concept of God, so Swinburne also provides some very good reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God, and thus one of the brightest and best modern Christian philosophers will also help me to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft.
My work is already half done, and I have not even begun!
UPDATE on 10/12/16
William Craig made a podcast earlier this year in which he criticized the Thomist concept of God:
“Is it Possible God is Not Personal?”
Dr. Craig takes on two interesting questions on the personhood and nature of God.
[Transcript of a podcast with Kevin Harris and William Craig. Date: 04-09-2016]
Edward Feser replied to Craig’s criticisms (in the above podcast) of the Thomist concept of God :
FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2016
“Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism”
[blog post by Edward Feser]

bookmark_borderThe VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics

My latest video, “The VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics: The Things Apologists Falsely Say Depend on God, But, if God Exists, God Depends on Them,” is now available on YouTube. It is a narration of some of the many hundreds of PowerPoint slides I created in preparation for my recent debate with Frank Turek on naturalism vs. theism.

This video presentation is a (roughly) 2 hour 30 minute critique of Frank Turek’s latest book, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Turek accuses atheists of stealing from God in order to argue against God. How do atheists steal from God when arguing against God’s existence? According to Turek, this is summed up by the acrostic CRIMES (Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science). So his argument is that atheists must assume each of those things, but each of those things in turn presuppose God’s existence.
For each letter in CRIMES, atheism can steal these concepts from God if and only if: (a) atheism is logically incompatible with the concept represented by that letter; and (b) positing an all-powerful God explains that concept, not just assumes it. But as I will explain, each letter in CRIMES fails one or both conditions.
Now, since repeatedly accusing an innocent person of a crime harms the accused, I’m going to frame my response as an acrostic of my own: VICTIM (Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality). Instead of talking about crimes, what we instead need to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics. The VICTIMs of Christian apologetics are things which Christian apologists falsely claim depend on God, but the truth is that God depends on them.
Since the video is quite long and detailed, the following serves as a handy index:
Counter Apologist went through the effort to list the topics covered and give time-stamps/links for each topic which you can find below:

HT: Counter-Apologist for creating the index

bookmark_borderJerry Coyne Criticizes A.C. Grayling’s Handling of God Arguments, But Coyne Gets It Wrong Himself

Jerry Coyne is a Harvard-educated, brilliant professor of biology who is an expert on biological evolution. His book, Why Evolution Is True, is a “must-read” for anyone interested in, well, why evolution is true.
He also likes to write about topics outside of his area of expertise, including the philosophy of religion. As I’ve explained before, non-experts have the right to write about topics outside their area of expertise, but they owe it to themselves and their readers to make sure they know what they are talking about. So, yes, Jerry Coyne has the right to publish criticisms of philosophical arguments. Furthermore, as I’ve written before, yes, Jerry, you have the right to criticize the entire discipline of the philosophy of religion.
It’s sad, however, that an atheist intellectual as influential as Coyne keeps making the same mistakes when writing about arguments for God’s existence. I’ve criticized his botched responses to various arguments for God’s existence before, including an argument from moral ontology (see here) and an evidential argument from moral agency (see here). (When I tried to submit a comment on Coyne’s website linking to the latter, Coyne blocked me from commenting on his website, lest I be allowed to present my side of the story to Coyne’s readers.)
We can now add cosmological arguments to the list bungled by Coyne. Allow me to set the context. Atheist philosopher Anthony Grayling recently debated Rabbi Daniel Rowe on God’s existence. I haven’t watched the video, but Coyne has watched it and was disappointed in Grayling’s performance. According to Coyne, Grayling made many mistakes, including the way he objected to Rowe’s cosmological argument.
First, here’s Coyne’s summary (or quotation?) of Rowe’s argument.

  • You can’t get a universe from nothing; there is a “law” that everything that begins has a cause. Ergo, God. In response to Krauss’s book about how you can get a universe from a quantum vacuum, Rowe responded, as do many theologians, that “nothing” is not a quantum vacuum—it’s just “nothing.”

Commenting on this argument, Coyne writes:

I’ve heard this many times, and what strikes me is that theologians never define what they mean by “nothing”. Empty space, the quantum vacuum, isn’t nothing, they say so what is? In the end, I’ve realized that by “nothing,” theologians mean “that from which only God could have produced something.” At any rate, the “law of causation” doesn’t appear to hold in modern physics, and is not even part of modern physics, which has no such law. Some events really do seem uncaused.
Also, Rowe didn’t explain how one can get a god from nothing. Theologians like him always punt at this point, saying that God is the Cause that Didn’t Require a Cause, because He Made Everything. But that is bogus. What was God doing before he made something? Hanging around eternally, bored out of his mind?

These two paragraphs are simply embarrassing and unworthy of someone of Coyne’s intellectual stature. Let me be clear. I respect Jerry Coyne. He is undoubtedly far smarter than I am. I can only conclude that he could make such objections because he doesn’t take the topic seriously; if he bothered to take the topic more seriously, he’d have done a much better job. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Why are these objections so bad?
Let’s go through them in detail.

I’ve heard this many times, and what strikes me is that theologians never define what they mean by “nothing”. Empty space, the quantum vacuum, isn’t nothing, they say so what is? In the end, I’ve realized that by “nothing,” theologians mean “that from which only God could have produced something.”

Coyne’s first mistake is his erroneous portrayal of the debate as if it were only ‘theologians’ who point out that, in the context of cosmological arguments for God’s existence, “nothing” means absolute nothingness (more on that in a moment). But that’s false. Atheist philosophers David Albert, Brian Leiter, Massimo Pigliucci, and Bede Rundle have also pointed this out. (I could be mistaken, but I think I can also add to this list atheist philosophers Paul Draper, Quentin Smith, and our very own Keith Parsons.) In fairness to Coyne, it should be noted that he never explicitly writes the words, “ONLY theologians disagree with Lawrence Krauss’s idea that a quantum vacuum is ‘nothing.'” But the fact remains that a reader who read nothing about cosmological arguments except Jerry Coyne’s website would get the false impression that it is ‘theologians’ vs. everybody else when it comes to the definition of “nothing.”
But his second mistake is the claim that defenders of cosmological arguments “never define what they mean by ‘nothing.'” Really? To cite just one example, William Lane Craig has clearly defined it. Commenting on a similar objection about the meaning of “nothing” made by Lawrence Krauss, Craig said in 2012:

Well, this is an incredible segment that you just played, Kevin, because here he accuses others of constantly redefining the word nothing, when that’s the project in which he is engaged. People like Leibniz and others who posed the question ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ knew what they meant by nothing. Nothing is a term of universal negation—it means, not anything. It’s Dr. Krauss who wants to redefine the word nothing to mean something, like the quantum vacuum or a state of affairs in which classical time and space do not exist. It is he who is engaged in the project of redefinition of nothing. So this is, I think, just completely wrong, and it illustrates, again, that he’s not answering the same question that Leibniz asked when he said ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ Dr. Krauss is redefining the terms. Now, it’s also very interesting when he says the potential for existence is different than existence. The point is that potentialities lodge only in things that exist. So, for example, the potential for having a child lodges in the fertility of that woman and his own fertility to impregnate her, but you can’t have potentiality in non-being. Non-being has no properties; it has no potentialities. So the very fact that he’s talking about the potential for the existence of a universe shows that he is talking about something. He’s not talking about nothing. He’s talking about something that has potentialities and powers. And therefore this just underlines, again, that fact that he’s not dealing with the fundamental metaphysical question ‘why is there something rather than nothing at all?’ (LINK, emphasis mine)

Let’s go back to Coyne. Here’s the rest of the first of his two paragraph rebuttal to cosmological arguments.

At any rate, the “law of causation” doesn’t appear to hold in modern physics, and is not even part of modern physics, which has no such law. Some events really do seem uncaused.

Although this response is a brilliant example of an ad hoc and uncharitable objection, it does not succeed. Let’s distinguish between (a) events which have a beginning in time; and (b) events which began with time, i.e., at t=0 (assuming that time did, in fact, have an absolute beginning). It seems to me that things which begin to exist in space and time — at least, those at the macro scale, i.e., excluding quantum particles — have a cause. To deny the previous sentence is equivalent to maintaining that it really is possible that cars, mountains, whales, or even planets could just pop into existence uncaused. I think that is not only false, but obviously false. So what, then, is the correct way to respond to the kalam cosmological argument, which says that “everything that begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe has a cause?”
One way might be to appeal to quantum indeterminacy: if events involving quantum particles can happen uncaused, then perhaps all of physical reality can begin to exist uncaused. To be charitable to Coyne, I’m assuming that is what he has in mind when he writes, “the ‘law of causation doesn’t appear to hold in modern physics, and is not even part of modern physics…” In response, I’m going to pull a Coyne: I’ve heard this objection many times, but no one has ever explained how quantum indeterminacy is supposed to be relevant to the question of whether all of physical reality needs a cause.
My own, preferred objection is to point out the distinction between (a) events which have a beginning in time; and (b) events which began with time. We do know that events of type (a) have a cause; we don’t know that events of type (b) have a cause. We know of only one event of type (b) and that is the beginning of physical reality itself. And there is good reason to doubt that time (and so the beginning of the universe) have a cause. It’s logically impossible for time itself to have a cause since causes always precede their effects in time. So to say that time itself had a cause is to say, “Before time existed, something happened and then at a later time, time began to exist,” which is self-contradictory. (For more on this objection, including replies to counter-objections, see here.)
Let’s move onto Coyne’s next paragraph:

Also, Rowe didn’t explain how one can get a god from nothing. Theologians like him always punt at this point, saying that God is the Cause that Didn’t Require a Cause, because He Made Everything. But that is bogus. What was God doing before he made something? Hanging around eternally, bored out of his mind?

What is bogus is Coyne’s rude and condescending tone as he tries to saddle his favorite boogeyman, ‘theologians,’ with a position they have never accepted and, in fact, have always explicitly rejected. Presumably Rowe didn’t explain it because Rowe didn’t claim it. No theist claims that God came from nothing; that is a straw man of Coyne’s creation and an appallingly bad one at that. (In my opinion, Coyne’s objection to cosmological arguments is as bad as the creationist objection to evolution, “If humans evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?” Both questions display a profound misunderstanding of the theory the objector seeks to discredit.) It’s as if Coyne has confused the definition of God (the triple-o, capital ‘G’ God of the philosophers) with gods (the lower-case ‘g’ gods of mythology, such as the Greek gods).
To avoid any misunderstandings, let me be clear: theism says that God (the triple-O, capital ‘G’ kind) exists and God did not ‘come from’ anything. Theists either claim that God is timeless (and so does not stand in temporal relations) or that God is eternal (and so God has existed for an infinite duration of time). Both options are incompatible with God ‘coming from nothing.’ So Coyne’s question, asking “How can God come from nothing?” is a category mistake, akin to the questions, “How much does the color lavender weigh?”, “What is the electric charge of the number 3?”, or “Why don’t mathematicians ever explain how it is possible to calculate the square root of 2 and get a rational number as the answer?”

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_borderRichard Gale: “The Kalam Cosmological Argument Isn’t Taken Seriously”

“Some defenders of the Kalam Argument supplement their conceptually-based argument against the universe having had an infinite past existence with contingent facts from modern Big Bang cosmology that holds there to be a point singularity at some past time, which they then gratuitously interpret as the point in time when the universe came into existence. Big Bang-based cosmological argument is an example of the God-of-the-gaps cosmological argument, since it brings in God when science is not yet able to explain the cause of some phenomenon but in principle can do so. For this reason, along with its dubious interpretation of modern cosmology, it has not been taken seriously by philosophers of religion and will not be considered further.”

LINK (skip all the way down to the very end of the page, in note 2)

bookmark_borderDecisive Refutation of the Kalam Argument

(redating post originally published on 4 February 2006)
Faith and Philosophy somewhat recently (2002) published a critique of the kalam cosmological argument that I think is decisive. The paper is written by Christian philosopher Wes Morriston and is entitled, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?“, by Wes Morriston.
Morriston grants that the universe had a beginning in time. However, he scrutinizes in detail the claim that the First Cause is timeless and that it timelessly creates time. Along the way, he clearly, methodically, and forcefully develops two main objections to the kalam argument: (1) there is no reason to believe that the universe had a cause, and (2) even if the universe did have a cause, there is no reason to believe that cause is a person. I especially liked Morriston’s paper because he deflated Craig’s slogans (e.g., “out of nothing, nothing comes”) and he showed that nontheists who reject a caused universe are not violating any widely shared metaphysical intuition.
Overall, I would have to say that Morriston’s refutation of the kalam argument is one of the best, if not the best, I have ever read. Craig wrote a reply, which was then followed by Morriston’s counter-reply. From now on, whenever someone advances the kalam argument, I intend to simply refer them to Morriston’s excellent paper. (An added plus of Morriston’s paper is that I think it could be accessible to almost anyone, even laymen, with a little effort.) Anyone who is interested in the kalam argument but who has not read Morriston’s paper should do so quickly!

bookmark_borderRobert Kuhn’s Nine Levels of Nothing

If you’ve participated in many discussions about science or religion in which the word “nothing” plays a central role, you’ve probably noticed that “nothing” has different meanings for different people. Robert Lawrence Kuhn has put together a thought-provoking taxonomy of nine levels of nothing, which I think could be very useful for clarifying which “nothing” someone has in mind during such conversations.

bookmark_borderMy Posts for 2015

My Blog Posts for 2015

FAITH (17 posts)

Jesus on Faith (6 posts)
Leap of Faith & Lessing’s Ditch (2 posts)
What is Faith? (9 posts)


The Logic of the Resurrection (7 posts)
Jesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? (5 posts)
The Slaughter of the Canaanites – related to whether Jesus is a true prophet (15 posts)
In Defense of Dwindling Probability (4 posts)

WILLIAM LANE CRAIG (23 posts in 2015 + 1 from 2016)

Happy Easter Dr. Craig (1 post)
William Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation – the Kalam Cosmological Argument (4 posts)
What is the Conclusion of the Kalam Cosmological Argument? (5 posts)
William Craig’s Response to My Objections on the Resurrection (13 posts in 2015 + 1 in 2016)

RICHARD SWINBURNE (7 posts in 2015 + 1 in 2014)

The Argument from Providence
The Argument from Religious Experience

OTHER TOPICS (14 posts in 2015 + 1 from 2016)

The Boy Who Did Not Come Back from Heaven
100 Key Psychological Studies Repeated
Farewell to Dr. Richard Paul
What is Atheism?
What is Philosophy?
How Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’? (over 2 billion ways)
Ben Carson: Nutcase
Republican Candidates Kiss the Ring of Kevin Swanson at Kill-the-Gays Conference
Trump: Make America Hate Again

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.
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.