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_borderThe Intellectual Poverty of Ken Ham’s Presuppositionalist Meme

I recently saw a Twitter meme of Ken Ham making a crude appeal to a presuppositionalist type of argument against all non-Christians, not just atheists. I don’t want to deal with any potential licensing issues with the image, so rather than display the image on my blog instead I’ll quote the words below.

Non-Christian scientists are really borrowing from the Christian worldview to carry out their observational science. Think about it. When they are doing observational science, using the scientific method, they have to assume the laws of nature, they have to assume the uniformity of nature. If the universe came about by natural processes, where did the laws of logic come from? Did they just pop into existence? Are in a stage now where we only have half logic? How do you account for the laws of logic and the laws of nature from a naturalistic worldview?

There’s an expression, “target-rich environment.” Well, what we have here is a fallacy-rich quotation. In fact, this is so confused it’s hard to know where to begin, although it was tempting to begin by writing, “Actually, no, Mr. Ham, ‘we’ do not have half logic, but maybe you do.” But let’s get serious.
First, I don’t know if Ken Ham is a presuppositionalist or simply using an argument popular among presuppositionalists, but, like them, he is confusing naturalists with non-Christians. At the risk of stating the obvious, a non-Christian doesn’t have to be a naturalist. Even if, for the sake of argument, it were the case that naturalism could not account for the laws of logic and the laws of nature, it wouldn’t follow that other worldviews–worldviews which are incompatible with both naturalism and Christian theism–could not account for the laws of logic or the laws of nature. What we need is an argument which shows why these other non-Christian, non-naturalistic worldviews cannot account for them. His meme does not provide such an argument.
Second, there is something odd about Ham’s first two questions, especially from a Christian perspective. The questions seem to assume that “the laws of logic” are material objects like rocks and trees. Surely Ken Ham doesn’t think of “the laws of logic” that way because he is a Christian theist. So why does he ask his first two questions? The most charitable interpretation of his meme is that he treats “naturalism” and “materialism” — i.e., the belief that matter is all that exists — as synonyms. If one believes that matter is all that exists and one believes that “the laws of logic” exist, then asking “where did the laws of logic come from” is no different than asking “where did galaxies come from?”
I’m not going to fault him for that, since the word “naturalism” is notorious for having so many different definitions. But, speaking as a self-identified naturalist, that’s not how I define the word “naturalism.” Following Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper, I define the word naturalism to mean “the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.” So defined, “naturalism” is logically compatible with the existence of abstract objects. So one option for a “naturalist” (in my sense) is to simply adopt some sort of Platonism about “the laws of logic” and, accordingly, deny that the laws of logic ‘came from’ anywhere.
But, just to be extra charitable to Mr. Ham, let’s assume that his intended target is materialism, which is logically incompatible with abstract objects. This leads to the third problem for this type of argument. Raising questions about how naturalism can account for X does not, by itself, show that theism can account for X. It is one thing to wax eloquently about the horrible implications of denying X and to ask how H1 account for X. It is quite another thing to provide an argument for the claim that H1 cannot account for X. Merely asking questions about X on H1 is not an argument for the claim that H1 cannot account for X.  And it is yet another thing to provide an argument for the claim that H2 does account for X.  Simply asserting that H2 accounts for X is not an argument for the claim that H2 accounts for X. In short, what’s needed is an actual argument, not a series of questions. Like much of the presuppositionalist literature, I do not find such an argument in Ham’s meme.
Fourth, I assume that the laws of nature is Ham’s way of referring to Hume’s problem of induction. If so, then, again following Paul Draper, I think the answer is that, God or no God, induction is justified because uniformity is intrinsically more probable than variety. And notice that this answer does not depend upon induction, so it avoids circularity.
Finally, what about “the laws of logic?” Again, Ham hasn’t spelled out an argument. Instead, I’ll just close with this. If we’re allowed to start outside of what can be justified by reason alone (and instead go with presuppositions), then it’s far from obvious why the belief, “the laws of logic are justified,” is any less worthy of being presupposed than, say, the belief “God exists,”[1] much less the belief, “Christian theism is true.”All of these claims entail that the laws of logic are justified, but the latter two statements entail extra claims about what exists and so on parsimony grounds –and if everything else is held equal — the former is to be preferred over the latter.
[1] D. Gene Witmer, “Atheism, Reason, and Morality: Responding to Some Popular Christian Apologetics,” talk given to the Atheist, Agnostic, and Freethinker Student Association, University of Florida, September 26, 2006.

bookmark_borderInitial Impressions on the Andrews-Schieber Debate: Part 4

In this post, I’m going to comment on Schieber’s’ first rebuttal.
Schieber’s First Rebuttal
In defense of his argument from divine lies, Schieber writes:

As to my argument against Christian knowledge, Mr. Andrews replies that he knows God is essentially truthful – that it is impossible for God to lie because it logically contradicts his moral perfection. The problem here is that nothing about moral perfection logically entails always telling the truth. While lying is usually seen as a moral deficiency, there are certainly obvious instances where lying is justified because it is necessary for some over-riding greater good or to avoid some greater evil. To claim that it is impossible for God to ever be morally justified in lying, Mr. Andrews would need to be morally omniscient – he would need to have exhaustive knowledge of all possible goods that God might act towards and evils that he might act to avoid then conclude that none of these reasons could, in any circumstance, justify a divine lie.

Excellent point. Schieber continues:

Moreover, Mr. Andrew’s criticism of the noseeum inference in the Rowe-style evidential problem of evil wont [sic] allow such epistemological boldness. …

Not exactly. In fairness to Andrews, his primary objection against the argument from divine lies is not a noseeum inference based upon the failure to think of any greater goods which would justify divine lies. Rather, his objection is based upon God’s moral perfection, a point which Schieber addressed above.
Turning to the fine-tuning argument, Schieber writes:

I want to address these arguments in the order they were presented – though, a few comments first. Regarding likelihood arguments, Elliot Sober, Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin writes,
[Likelihood arguments] don’t tell you which hypotheses to believe; in fact, they don’t even tell you which hypotheses are probably true. Rather, they evaluate how the observations at hand discriminate among the hypotheses under consideration.

That is what we call a “money quote.” And Sober’s point is very similar to an objection I made in part 1, albeit worded in a different way.
What about the Thomistic cosmological argument? Schieber writes:

That aside, lets examine Max’s first argument – a likelihood version of a Thomastic-type cosmological argument that argued for the existence of an uncaused cause of the contingent constituents of the Universe. For the sake of argument, I am willing to go along with Max’s conclusion here – World-views that are atheistic have no problem adopting necessary beings.

When I first read that, I said out loud, “Huh?” Atheistic worldviews are logically consistent with abstract objects, impersonal things which include necessarily true propositions. But I cannot figure out why Schieber would say that “World-views that are atheistic have no problem adopting necessary beings.” I’m not sure off the top of my head, but it may be true that atheistic worldviews have no logical problem adopting necessary beings. In other words, it may be the case that there is no logical contradiction between “There is no God” and “There are one or more necessary beings.” But even if that is so, I think the existence of one or more necessary beings would be an evidential problem for atheism. If such beings exist, they would be metaphysically necessary. I don’t see any way to reconcile such metaphysically necessary beings with metaphysical naturalism, since any metaphysically necessary beings would have to be supernatural persons by definition. And metaphysical naturalism is very probable on the assumption that atheism is true. So the existence of necessary beings would be evidence against atheism.
Furthermore, if Schieber admits there are necessary beings, then it seems that Schieber is conceding the Thomistic cosmological argument to Andrews in the debate. He admits that the conclusion of the argument (4) is true.
Andrews’ First Rebuttal 
Abductive Arguments
As puzzling as I found Schieber’s statement about atheism and necessary beings, I found Andrews’ statements about abductive arguments to be the most bizarre statements in the entire debate. He writes:

First, he argues against my wording concerning the relationship of the evidence and the fine-tuner. This is simply a dislike for abductive arguments on his part. It is not the case that the premises strongly support the conclusion. It is the conclusion that supports the premises. An abductive argument for fine-tuning is very similar to induction. Rather than the premises adding to the probability of the conclusion the conclusion adds to the probability of the premises.  This is not to completely exclude the role of the premises adding to the probability of the conclusion but there is a greater emphasis of using the best explanation (the conclusion) to fit the data (the premises).  The belief in question is assessed as the consequent and then considering what may be the best explanation for that belief, antecedently.  This may seem fallacious but inference to the best explanation is a commonly accepted form of reasoning.  Additionally, this abductive process only comes into the process when assessing whether the evidence sufficiently corresponds to the belief since the belief typically arises by the antecedent evidence and then as the consequent, it is the assessment of the belief that requires working backwards.

First, the idea that abductive arguments are separate from both deductive and inductive arguments is a controversial idea among logicians, but Andrews writes as if it were a fact. For my part, I think abductive arguments are a type of inductive arguments, but I recognize that not all philosophers agree.
Second, abductive arguments are invalid arguments. (To be precise, abductive arguments are deductively invalid because they commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent.) In other words, if the premises of an abductive argument are true, that does not guarantee that the conclusion is true. The conclusion may or may not be true. But that entails that the truth of the conclusion is uncertain. So what? Here’s the problem for Andrews: probability measures uncertainty. It makes no logical difference whatsoever  whether the person making an abductive argument is placing “greater emphasis” on “using the best explanation” than on “adding to the probability of the conclusion,” since there is no logical distinction between the two. The best explanation for the data must be the most probable explanation of the data.  
I don’t know if this applies to Andrews, but in my experience what typically motivates the “abduction is an independent category of logic, not a type of induction” position is this. People who hold that view think of induction as nothing but induction by enumeration, i.e., moving from an enumeration of individual cases to a generalization. But induction includes much more than enumerative arguments. To cite just one example, statistical syllogisms are universally recognized to be inductive arguments, but statistical syllogisms are not enumerative arguments. (In fact, they go in the opposite direction: they move from premises about what is generally true of a population to a conclusion about an individual.)
Third, Andrews is simply mistaken when he writes, “It is not the case that the premises strongly support the conclusion. It is the conclusion that supports the premises.” That is simply false. Even in abductive arguments, the premises supports the conclusion.
The Fine-Tuning Argument
While I disagree with much of what Andrews writes in defense of his fine-tuning argument, I’m going to comment on only one item. Andrews writes:

What is an adequate cause for the effect in question—the origin of cosmic information? Logically, one can infer the past existence of a cause from its effect, when the cause is known to be necessary to produce the effect in question. In the absences of any other known causes then the presence of the effects points unambiguously back to the uniquely adequate cause—a mind.[4] This issue will also address the range of possible values for constants. If physics can be expressed counterfactually then we can certainly derive a random sample by which to compare to some type of background information. The full range of values is not a necessary epistemic component. It’s my suspicion that the greater the range is it inversely increases the probability for the fine-tuning argument to be true.

Once again, Andrews is understating the evidence. In order to avoid begging the question in favor of intelligent design, let’s focus on all examples of complex specified information except for complex specified information related to intelligent design.(In other words, we’re going to temporarily ignore cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life and biological information, the origin of complex specified information related to the Cambrian “explosion,” etc.) For all of the remaining examples of complex specified information, let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that the only known cause of complex specified information is a mind. But Andrews fails to mention that the only known cause of that (remaining) complex specified information is not only a mind, but a mind dependent on a physical brain and a mind working with preexisting matter (and laws of physics). So, to sum up, the only known cause of that complex specified information has three features: a mind, a brain, and preexisting laws of physics. It seems arbitrary for Andrews to focus solely on the one feature which supports the inference to fine-tuning while ignoring the two features which count against it. At the very least, this much is certain: Andrews has not yet given us any reason to justify that.
Schieber’s Second Rebuttal
I’m only going to comment on one item in Schieber’s rebuttal because I think Schieber’s point is so important.

Nearly every one of Mr. Andrew’s blog posts related to Fine-tuning cites the work of prominent Christian philosopher Robin Collins – so, clearly, this is someone who Mr. Andrews holds in high esteem – and rightly so. However, In his excellent and very well-known article in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Collins makes this very point much clearer than I.
Because of certain potential counterexamples, I shall use what I call the restricted version of the Likelihood Principle, although I shall often refer to it simply as the Likelihood Principle. The restricted version limits the applicability of the Likelihood Principle to cases in which the hypothesis being confirmed is non-ad hoc. A sufficient condition for a hypothesis being non-ad hoc (in the sense used here) is that there are independent motivations for believing the hypothesis apart from the confirming data e, or for the hypothesis to have been widely advocated prior to the confirming evidence.
Now, because Max’s fine-tuning argument clearly fails to restrict the likelihood principle to hypotheses that are Non ad-hoc, Robin Collins would almost certainly agree with my criticism. This is a significant technical problem for Mr. Andrews‘ particular formation of the argument as it is now susceptible to damaging counterexamples.

This objection is not just “damaging” to Andrews’ fine-tuning argument, but devastating.