bookmark_borderOn Generalizing about the Other Side’s Dishonesty and Ignorance

Randal Rauser and Chriss Halquist have been exchanging a series of posts about the alleged dishonesty and igorance of apologists. (See Randal’s latest post here.)

If Randal’s post is an accurate summary of the exchange with Hallquist–and I have no reason to doubt that it is–then my technical judgment of this exchange can be summed up in one word: “ouch.” With all due respect to Christ, Randal’s post seems to be a very solid critique.
So What? Why This Matters
The Hallquist-Rauser exchange is a perfect example of why I avoid debates about whether other people are rational, irrational, dishonest, ignorant, etc. In general, it seems to me that such claims are very difficult to defend and, much more important, they are a distraction from the core question of whether their beliefs are true. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go through, step-by-step, why I think Rauser’s critique succeeds.

Thinking out loud, here is what I propose.
(a) Come up with some generic criteria, method, or approach for justifying the claim that a person (any person) is “ignorant or dishonest” about subject S.
(b) Apply that generic criteria to McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga on the theistic side.
(c) Justify a statistical generalization about theistic apologists.
(d) Apply that to Hallquist, Parsons, and Dawkins on the atheistic side.
(e) Justify a statistical generalization about atheistic apologists.
How to Correctly Reason about Ignorance or Dishonesty
So let’s start with (a). The following is a logically correct argument form which can be used to establish that a person is ignorant or dishonest when making some claim.

(1) Person P sincerely made statement S about topic T.
(2) S is false.
(3) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statement S without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T.
(4) Therefore, person P is dishonest or ignorant about topic T.

The key point about premise (1) is the word “sincere.” That eliminates sarcasm, hypotheticals, etc. (2) is straightforward. If S is true, then the fact that person P said S can hardly be used to justify the claim that P is dishonest or ignorant about T. (3) also seems straightforward — we need premise (3) to eliminate the possibility that S is something about which competent authorities may disagree. Finally, (4) follows if (1), (2), and (3) are true.
The Alleged Dishonesty of Christian Apologists
Let’s now move onto (b). For Josh McDowell (JM), this would look like this.

(1) Josh McDowell sincerely made statement S1-Sn about topics T1-Tn.
(2) S1-Sn are false.
(3) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statements S1-Sn without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T1-Tn.
(4) Therefore, Josh McDowell is dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

Similar arguments would be needed for William Lane Craig (WLC) and Alvin Plantinga (AP).
Generalizing about Theistic Apologists in General
Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that all of those arguments work: JM, WLC, and AP are all “dishonest or ignorant” about one or more topics they’ve addressed. That brings us to (c). How would we justify the move from (b) to (c). The only logically correct answer would be to justify a very specific kind of premise known as a “statistical generalization.” The general form of a statistical generalization looks like this.

Z percent of F are G.

So, presumably, what Chris wants is to justify the following statistical generalization.

(CHG) Most Christian apologists are dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

That Chris is committed to CHG seems plausible, since in his original “Why They Don’t Believe” post, Chris wrote:

“Seeing the ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics (sometimes I can’t tell which it is; sometimes I’m sure it’s the latter) pissed me off. That’s why I’ve spent a great deal of my time working to counter it.”

In my opinion, if Chris can justify the claim that JM and WLC are “dishonest or ignorant” about topics T1-Tn, that would go a long way towards justifying the statistical generalization I’ve dubbed CHG. This is because JM and WLC are representative of Christian apologists. (For reasons I won’t defend here, I don’t classify AP primarily as a Christian apologist.)
The Alleged Dishonesty of Atheist Apologists
So let’s turn to (d): apply the generic criteria for demonstrating dishonesty and ignorance to Chris Hallquist (CH), Keith Parsons (KP), and Richard Dawkins (RD).
Randal Rauser would need to defend an argument like this.

(5) Chris Hallquist sincerely made statement S1-Sn about topics T1-Tn.
(6) S1-Sn are false.
(7) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statements S1-Sn without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T1-Tn.
(8) Therefore, Chris Hallquist is dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

Randal would need to defend the same kind of argument concerning KP  and RD. Randal would surely say that he has defended such arguments.
Generalizing about Atheistic Apologists in General
Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that all of those arguments work: CH, KP, and RD are all “dishonest or ignorant” about one or more topics they’ve addressed. That brings us to (e). How would we justify the move from (d) to (e)? Again, the only logically correct answer would be to justify a very specific kind of premise known as a “statistical generalization.” The general form of a statistical generalization looks like this.

Z percent of F are G.

So, presumably, what Randal wants is to justify the following statistical generalization.

(RRG) Most atheist apologists are dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

Similar to what I wrote in my last comment about (CHG), the crucial issue here is whether Randal can justify generalization about “atheist apologists” on the basis of conclusions about individual apologists, such as CH, KP, and RD. (I am assuming, but only for the sake of argument, that CH, KP, and RD are primarily classified as atheist apologists.)
Chris protests that Randal’s inference to (RRG), for reductio, is unwarranted. He writes:

I certainly don’t have the stature in the atheist community that McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga have in the atheist [sic] community, and it would be a stretch to claim that Parsons does.(And yes, stature is relevant here, because

Unfortunately, it looks like Chris’s comment about the relevance of stature got cut off. But I think I can see where he is headed. Stature is relevant insofar as it is an indicator of whether an apologist is representative of the apologetics community to which they belong. And McDowell and Craig are surely representative of Christian apologists in the relevant respects.
But what about “atheist apologists”? Are CH, KP, and RD representative of atheist apologists in general? (Again, I am assuming, but only for the sake of argument, that CH, KP, and RD can be primarily categorized as atheist apologists). Chris is correct that both he and KP do not have the analogous degree of stature among atheists which JM and WLC enjoy among Christians. But, by itself, that doesn’t defeat (RRG). So I don’t see how Chris’s point about stature does anything to avoid the force of Randal’s reductio.
In my opinion, the best route for Chris to take is to deny the truth of RRG by showing it is either unjustified or by providing independent evidence that it’s false. Of course, in doing so, my prediction is that he will directly or indirectly undermine his own generalization (CHG). So Randal’s reductio will still have bite. 

bookmark_borderDo Christians have more to lose?

In a recent blog post, Randal Rauser wonders about the prospects that atheists (or anyone, really) are “simply after the truth”. He begins by noting that many Christians (such as the popular Christian apologist Lee Strobel), assume that atheists reject God in order to give license to their poor behavior. He’s not sold on this view, but he’s also skeptical of the alternative position that atheists are on a dispassionate quest for truth.
He points to academia (well, a subset – philosphers and scientists) in order to illustrate his point. To quote: “As an academic, you stake a claim that a certain set of propositions is true, or more likely true, than another set (even if that set is the skeptic’s set which advocates withholding belief in other sets).
He continues to say that the more time you spend defending these claims, the more attached you become to them. Your intellectual commitments seem to bleed into your personal commitments, and an attack on those ideas might seem vaguely personal. As he says, “Just as we identify emotionally with nations and persons, so we identify with truth claims, theories and ideologies.” This all seems right to me so far.
He concludes by arguing that “we all begin on the same ground, a self-interested desire to know”. While I agree with Rauser about academics being far from impersonal automatons after the pursuit of truth, it is foolish to think that all commitments to beliefs (or all persons professing commitments to beliefs) are on equal ground. As a quick example, here are two beliefs that I think are true and I defend: (1) Eating animals as a source of food is morally wrong if you have an alternative means of having a healthy diet and (2) Philosophical intuitions are not reliable sources of evidence.
Either of these beliefs are susceptible to revision given further evidence. It seems that (1) clearly has higher social costs, higher practical costs, and higher levels of emotional commitment than (2). I’ve invested significant personal resources in maintaining a vegetarian diet (so has my wife, for that matter!), part of my social identity is wrapped up in being a vegetarian, and I have a strong emotional attachment to this dietary decision. The same sorts of things cannot be said for (2), even though I do believe it’s true and do advocate for it.
Being a Christian seems to pack even more of a “sociological punch” than being a vegetarian. In fact, it packs even more of a punch in Rauser’s particular case. Rauser is employed by a Baptist-leaning seminary college, who endorses a very long Statement of Faith which provides the basis for doctrinal teaching. The major body of his (impressive) list of publications is either defending Christian theism, or discussing a particular theological view. If Rauser were to discover that he is wrong about Christianity, I imagine that admitting this in his professional life would require a not insignificant amount of courage (not to mention the courage he would need to tell John Loftus, his recent co-author, that he is right).  Many professors at Christian universities have been fired after failing to properly instruct according to the university’s theological beliefs.
However, for most other philosophical and scientific positions, there are no such repercussions. Frank Jackson was not fired from his academic post after his rejection of epiphenomenalism, a position which he advocated based on the strength of the Knowledge Argument. If anything, philosophers were impressed at the intellectual humility it took to reverse positions on a view that he had previously championed. If Flew had had academic employment at the time of his alleged conversion to deism, it would not have impacted his appointment.
Further than just professional prospects, there are many sociological and psychological impacts from leaving the faith. An excellent book on this topic is Marlene Winell’s “Leaving the Fold”, which discusses the difficulties that accompany leaving the faith. She notes that many people will inevitably lose the support of friends and family upon leaving the faith. There is no shortage of tragic stories online in which people are all but abandoned because of their religious deconversion.
There are not only sociological difficulties, but psychological ones as well. People wrestle with guilt, fear, and alienation after losing their faith. They might begin to seriously grapple with their mortality for the first time, as I did. Without the Bible to help guide their path, they might struggle with indecision – failing to intuit a pre-ordained, supernatural plan for their lives. The list goes on and on.
The conversation about the earnest search for truth is an important one, and the psychological and sociological underpinnings of belief often go unnoticed. We should welcome a discussion on these issues, but we shouldn’t pretend that all beliefs will be equally emotionally valenced, and that all parties engaged in debate have the same amount to lose by renouncing their position. It is unreasonable to compare the endorsement of (relatively) impersonal philosophical positions to the utterly personal nature of religious beliefs.

bookmark_borderParsons is Mean

Someone named Randal Rauser thinks I am being mean to fundamentalists:
I am. I ain’t a Christian. I don’t turn the other cheek or love my enemies or pray for those that say mean things about atheists.
What justifies ridicule? The ridiculous deserves to be ridiculed. Well, we should spare the innocent ridiculousness of those who cannot help it–the genuinely, pathetically dimwitted or uneducated. But pernicious, aggressive ridiculousness by smart, educated people who are attempting to foist their ridiculousness on the rest of us–that richly deserves ridicule. Those who attempt to use the power of the state to cram their fatuous, hateful ideology down the throats of everyone else–by having creationism taught in the public schools, say–are contemptible and fully deserving of contemptuous laughter. I heard Lewis Black do a terrific rant on creationism. Priceless.
The only interesting issue raised in Rauser’s post is how we define “fundamentalist.” Can we do no better than to say, after Alvin Plantinga, that a fundamentalist is a “stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine”? First, as to the “stupid” characterization: It may well be that most stupid people are fundamentalists, but it certainly is not the case that all fundamentalists are stupid. Some are very smart, or at least very clever. It is the clever ones we should ridicule. Chiefly though, it is the doctrine, fundamentalism, that should be ridiculed, not individual fundamentalists. What is fundamentalism? I identify it with the following doctrines/positions:
1) Biblical inerrancy: This is the view that the canonical books of the Protestant Bible (in the “original autographs”) are not only reliable in matters of morals or faith, but are scientifically, historically, and in every way true in every detail and contain no inconsistencies, discrepancies, or error of any sort. Lot’s wife really did turn into a pillar of salt. Sampson really did pull down that temple on the Philistines. There really was an earth-covering flood and an Ark full of animals. The walls of Jericho really did tumble down at the trumpet blast. The snake really did talk to the naked woman in the garden. Balaam’s donkey spoke, too. Jonah really was in the belly of the whale, er, great fish, for three days. The Nile really did turn into blood and the first-born of every Egyptian household was slain. Samuel really did tell Saul to commit genocide on the Amalekites. Elisha really did curse the children in the name of the Lord, and two she-bears mauled forty two of the children. Jesus really is coming back in glory to kick the Antichrist into hell. Really.
2) Extreme social conservatism. Marriage must be between one man and one woman (It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve). In fact, sexual love between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is sinful and morally reprehensible. Organizations should be allowed to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against gays. The Boy Scouts should not admit gays. Abortion is wrong under all circumstances. Even pregnancies due to rape or incest must not be terminated. (Oh, I forgot. Some fundamentalists believe that a woman’s body will shut down and prevent pregnancy by rape). Even contraception is suspect for some fundamentalists. A woman should not have the choice to terminate her pregnancy. In fact, women should mainly be wives and mothers, since that is their Biblically-appointed role. “KInder, Kuche, Kirche (children, cooking, and church)” as the Germans used to say. A wife should accept the authority of her husband and recognize that he is the head of the household. There should be sectarian prayer in the public schools. This country was founded on Christian (i.e. fundamentalist) principles.
3) Young Earth Creationism. The universe was created from six to ten thousand years ago in six literal days, as it says in Genesis. Macroevolution did not occur, and is, in fact, a Satanic lie. The geological record is explained by the Noachian Flood. Humans and the great apes are not related. Dinosaurs were on the Ark with Noah. T. rex was a harmless herbivore before the Fall of Man. There is no evidence for evolution. There are no intermediate fossils. There is no genetic evidence for evolution. Organisms were created of basically the same “kind” they are now. Human languages became diverse at the Tower of Babel. Evolutionary theory is only atheist ideology.
Now, if fundamentalism were only practiced by consenting adults, I might snicker at it in private with friends. But the advocates of such preposterous stuff are very, very aggressive in propagandizing for it f and in trying to get laws passed to impose it on everyone. Therefore, if public ridicule is an effective counter-measure, we need to go for it.

bookmark_borderMy Guest Post on Randal Rauser’s Blog

In case you don’t already follow Randal Rauser’s blog, The Tentative Apologist, he has been posting a series of guest posts by prominent atheists on his blog about “why they don’t believe.” Rauser just posted my short essay, for which I am truly grateful.
Rauser offered a few comments on my short essay. I, in turn, would like to offer a few short comments of my own.

“He [Draper] taught me that, if I want to be a philosopher of religion and not an apologist”
However, I’m not content to allow the word “apologist” be sullied in this fashion. While the term has often been claimed by those who have failed to aspire to objectivity, it need not be so. In my own work I’ve argued that we are all apologists if we value truth and aim to persuade others of what we think to be true. And this is fully compatible with the highest epistemic virtues. Those apologists who are mere salesmen (or salespeople) for their beliefs are not worthy of the name “apologist”.

Given that I did not define my terms, this is a fair response. I agree with what he writes. What I am trying to do is to make a distinction between (1) people whose number one priority is to be an apologist; and (2) people whose number one priority is to be a philosopher of religion. So we could reword my somewhat terse statement (quoted by Rauser) as follows: “He [Draper] taught me that, if my number one priority is to be a philosopher of religion, then …”

Well I find Jeff’s naturalistic facts completely unconvincing. Indeed, I’m not even persuaded that “naturalism” is a meaningful position.

Rauser and I have exchanged posts about that before.

Jeff believes that “the fact that science can explain so much without explicitly appealing to the supernatural” supports naturalism. That leaves me mystified.

My statement was a reference to what I have elsewhere called the evidential argument from the history of science, which is an argument which Rauser and I have debated before.

 Jeff also believes that “mind-brain dependence” somehow supports naturalism. I can’t fathom why. Really. God made us a nephesh (Gen. 2:7). In what sense does this support naturalism? Indeed, as Thomas Nagel argued in Mind and Cosmos, if anything it would seem to point us in the opposite direction.

“Mind-brain dependence” is a reference to what I have called the evidential argument from physical minds.

Common descent? But Jeff already said this is fully consistent with Christianity. (Keep in mind that there are, no doubt, versions of naturalism that reject common descent.) So I am at a loss to conceive of what advantage Jeff thinks is gained here.

“Common descent” is a reference to what I have called the evidential argument from biological evolution. It’s true that common descent is logically compatible with theism, including Christian theism. What Rauser overlooks is the fact that common descent is much more probable on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, and so is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

As for “the biological role of pain and pleasure”, I’ll leave that one since I’m not sure what Jeff is referring to here.

Again, since my brief essay left a lot of things undefined, that’s a fair reply. “The biological role of pain and pleasure” is a reference to Draper’s version of the evidential argument from evil, which in my opinion is the strongest version of the argument from evil.
Again, I truly appreciate Rauser’s open-mindedness demonstrated by his willingness to post a series of blog entries by atheists. And I love the way he closes his post:

These are big differences between Jeff and myself. However, if I only had six Innis and Gunn beers left in my fridge, I’d offer Jeff three and we’d work these things out.

If I’m ever up in his neck of the woods (or if he’s ever down in mine), that would be fun!
I encourage everyone to follow the discussion in the combox on Rauser’s site, since I’m sure his post will provoke some interesting discussions!