bookmark_borderOpening Statement from My Debate with Frank Turek

Although I’ve recently been too busy to spend any time writing original content for this blog, I’ve decided to post my opening statement from my 2016 debate with Frank Turek. Enjoy!


Introduction

Good evening! I’d like to thank Craig Freerksen for organizing this debate. I’d also like to thank Dr. Turek for agreeing to participate. Finally, I’d like to thank all veterans, including my opponent, for defending the right to have a debate like this. Now, speaking of our country, I thought I’d borrow a slogan from the presidential campaign. I’m not selling any hats, but I’m here to “make atheism great again.”

Definitions

In this debate, we’ve been asked to assess what best explains reality: naturalism or theism? Before we can answer that question, we need to have some idea of what we’re talking about, so let me begin by defining some terms.
First, by “naturalism,” I mean the view that the physical exists and, if the mental exists, the physical explains why the mental exists.[1] If naturalism is true, then there are no purely mental beings which can exist apart from a physical body and so there is no God or any person or being much like God.
Second, by “supernaturalism,” I mean the view that the mental exists and, if the physical exists, the mental explains why anything physical exists.[2] If supernaturalism is true, then there is no purely physical matter which can exist without some sort of ultimate mental creator.
Third, “personal supernaturalism” is a type of supernaturalism; it adds on the claims that one or more personal mental entities exist and, if a physical world exists, it or they produced the physical world for a purpose.[3]
Fourth, “theism” is a type of personal supernaturalism; it adds on the claim that there is just one mental entity, God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect.[4]
Finally, fifth, “otherism” is a catch-all category. It says that both naturalism and supernaturalism are false.[5]
Now the question before us in tonight’s debate is this. What best explains reality: theism or naturalism?
In support of a naturalistic answer to that question, I’m going to defend three basic contentions:
(1) The best explanation is the explanation with the overall greatest balance of intrinsic probability and accuracy;
(2) Naturalism is an intrinsically more probable explanation than theism; and
(3) Naturalism is a more accurate explanation than theism.

First Contention

Let’s look, then, at my first basic contention: the best explanation is the explanation with the overall greatest balance of intrinsic probability and accuracy.
By “intrinsic probability” of a hypothesis, I mean the probability independent of the evidence we have for or against it. The intrinsic probability of a hypothesis is determined entirely by its modesty and coherence.[6]
By “accuracy” of a hypothesis, I mean the degree to which a hypothesis’s predictions correspond to reality. We measure accuracy by looking at “evidence.”
By “evidence” I mean something which makes something else more probable than it would have been otherwise. Let me give you an example.[7] Imagine you have two jars of red and blue jellybeans. In the first jar, 90% of the jellybeans are blue and the rest are red. In the second jar, 90% of the jellybeans are red and the rest are blue.
Now imagine you are handed a jelly bean from one of the jars, but you don’t know which jar it came from. If it’s a blue bean, that’s evidence it came from the first jar, not the second. The blue bean doesn’t disprove that it came from the second jar because the second jar also has blue beans, but it’s more likely that it came from the first because there are more blue jellybeans in the first than in the second. Similarly, if it’s a red bean, that’s evidence it came from the second jar. The red bean doesn’t disprove that it came from from the first jar because the first jar also has red beans, but it’s more likely that it came from the second because it has many more red beans.
Mathematicians have a formula called Bayes’ Theorem, which can be used to specify the relationship between intrinsic probability, accuracy, and the overall or final probability of a hypothesis. It follows from Bayes’ Theorem that a hypothesis is probably true, just in case it has a greater overall balance of intrinsic probability and explanatory power than do its alternatives collectively.

Second Contention

Let’s look, then, at my second basic contention: naturalism is an intrinsically more probable explanation than theism.
Intrinsic probability is determined by modesty, coherence, and nothing else. By “modesty,” I mean a measure of how much the hypothesis asserts.[8] The more a hypothesis claims, the more ways there are for it to be false and so, before we start looking at evidence, the less likely it is to be true.
By “coherence,” I mean a measure of how well the parts of a hypothesis fit together.[9] If the different parts count against each other, the hypothesis is less coherent and less likely to be true.
Now consider naturalism and supernaturalism. They are symmetrical claims: naturalism claims that the physical explains the mental, while supernaturalism claims that the mental explains the physical. Both claims are equally modest and equally coherent. Before examining the evidence, both positions are equally likely to be true.[10]
With these definitions in mind, then, I can now defend my second contention. Theism is a type of supernaturalism but could be false even if supernaturalism is true. Furthermore, theism is less modest than either supernaturalism or naturalism. Therefore, before we look at evidence, it is less likely to be true than supernaturalism or naturalism.[11] But that entails that naturalism is intrinsically more probable than theism.

Third Contention

Finally, let’s move onto my third contention: naturalism is a more accurate explanation than theism for many facts.
I’d like to present seven lines of evidence that are red jellybeans, i.e., things more probable on naturalism than on theism.[12]

Physical Matter

(1) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that physical reality exists.[13]
If naturalism is true, then physical reality must exist. That’s just part of what naturalism means.
If theism is true, however, things look quite different. The existence of physical reality doesn’t disprove theism; if God exists, God could have created physical space, matter, and energy as part of a plan to create a universe for human beings. But God could have also chosen to create other minds without physical bodies, such as angels. Or God could have chosen to create nothing at all. In other words, God’s existence doesn’t require a physical reality.
So because the physical has to exist on naturalism but does not have to exist on theism, it follows that the existence of physical reality is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

Success of Science

(2) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that science has been so successful without the supernatural.[14]
Imagine a library that contains textbooks for all of the sciences—such as physics, chemistry, and biology—and summarizes current scientific knowledge. The percentage of such knowledge which makes no appeal to the supernatural is extremely high.
Of course, one hears about specific scientific questions which (allegedly) do not have a plausible naturalistic explanation, such as cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life, and consciousness. But, even if that is or were true, the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of the reverse. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, unlikely to be true.
Such explanatory success is just what we would expect on naturalism–which entails that all supernatural explanations are false–than it is on theism.[15] And that’s my second line of evidence against theism.

Biological Evolution

(3) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that complex life  evolved from simple life.[16]
I’m going to list five scientific facts which support biological evolution. Since Dr. Turek likes acronyms, I’m going to give you the evidence in an acronym, BONES.

  • B is for biogeography;
  • O is for vestigial organs;
  • N is for natural selection;
  • E is for embryology; and
  • S is for stratified fossil record.

Let’s look very briefly at each of these.

Biogeography

First, the evidence indicates that the habitats of plants and animals are distributed in a puzzling way. For example, why are there no land-based mammals on any island more than 300 miles away from the mainland? As University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne puts it, “The biogeographic evidence for evolution is now so powerful that I have never seen a creationist book, article, or lecture that has tried to refute it.”[17]

Vestigial Organs

Secondly, a variety of animals have organs which display traits that would be unnecessary if the organs had been designed from scratch, but would have been useful to an ancestor.

Natural Selection

Thirdly, when the genetic differences between living things provides an advantage, things with that advantage tend to be more successful at survival and reproduction than things without that advantage. This is the essence of the process Darwin called natural selection.

Embryology

Fourthly, as Coyne points out, the evidence indicates that all vertebrate embryos begin development in the same way, looking like embryonic fish, but as they progress, they often go through strange contortions before reaching their final form.[18]

Stratified Fossil Record

Fifthly, the available fossil evidence indicates that as one goes from the oldest to the youngest layers of the fossil record, the layers show gradual change from simple to more complex life forms.
Taken together, the BONES evidence is much more probable on biological evolution (which says that complex life evolved from simple life through trans-generational genetic change)[19] than it is on special creationism (which says that God created all life virtually simultaneously).[20]
If either naturalism or supernaturalism is true, life could exist or not exist. If naturalism is true and life exists, evolution pretty much has to be true. But if theism is true, God didn’t have to use evolution. Furthermore, since theism says that at least one mind existed before any physical matter, it gives a reason to expect that any other minds are fundamentally nonphysical. But that, in turn, leads us to predict conscious life was created independently of nonconscious life, contrary to what evolution claims.[21] So theism predicts that evolution is false.
Thus, the scientific fact of evolution is more likely on naturalism than on theism, and so that’s my third line of evidence against theism.

Pain and Pleasure

(4) Naturalism is the best explanation for the biological role (and moral randomness) of pain and pleasure.[22]
I’m going to give three lines of evidence.
First, moral agents experiencing biologically useful pain and pleasure.
Suppose you are a teenager sleeping in a hotel that has caught on fire. The hotel is old and doesn’t have smoke alarms. The fire gets closer and closer to you until you are actually in pain from the smoke and the intense heat. Your pain wakes you up in time for you to escape; you survive and start a family in your twenties. Your pain in this case was biologically useful because it contributed to your survival. This is just what we would expect on naturalism (and human beings are the products of evolution by natural selection).
Second, moral patients experiencing biologically useful pain and pleasure.
Most human beings are moral agents, people who can be held responsible for their actions and their consequences. But some human beings, such as young children and humans with certain mental disabilities, as well as non-human sentient animals, such as primates and dolphins, are moral patients: sentient beings who can be harmed from their own point of view, but are not responsible for their actions.
On naturalism, we would expect that (biological) sentient beings, including moral patients, would experience pain and pleasure because moral patients are biologically similar to moral agents. On theism, however, we would predict that moral patients do not suffer the same kind of pain as moral agents because such pain plays no known moral role in the lives of the moral patients who experience it.
Third, sentient beings experiencing gratuitous pain and pleasure.
Consider, for example, an animal trapped in a forest fire, suffering horrific pain as it slowly burned to death. On the one hand, this kind of pain is biologically appropriate: it is biologically useful that animals in general feel pain when they come in contact with fire. But, on the other hand, this specific instance of pain was not biologically useful because it did not contribute to the biological goals of survival or reproduction.
On naturalism, this is just what we would expect.  If naturalism is true, all animals are the byproducts of unguided evolution by natural selection, which is both indifferent to suffering and incapable of preventing it.
But if theism is true, God could “fine tune” animals so that they only experience physical pain and pleasure when it was morally necessary. So theism leads us to expect that pain and pleasure are fundamentally moral phenomena, which just happens to be connected to the biological goals of survival and reproduction. That’s a huge coincidence that naturalism doesn’t need.
So this evidence is very much more probable on naturalism than on theism.

Mind-Brain Dependence

(5) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that human minds are dependent upon the physical brain.[23]
Philosopher Paul Draper of Purdue University puts it this way: “Consciousness and personality are highly dependent on the brain. Nothing mental happens without something physical happening.”[24] Now Michael Tooley, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has stated five lines of evidence in support of this claim.[25]

  • When an individual’s brain is directly stimulated and put into a certain physical state, this causes the person to have a corresponding experience.
  • Certain injuries to the brain make it impossible for a person to have any mental states at all.
  • Other injuries to the brain destroy various mental capacities. Which capacity is destroyed is tied directly to the particular region of the brain that was damaged.
  • When we examine the mental capacities of animals, they become more complex as their brains become more complex.
  • Within any given species, the development of mental capacities is correlated with the development of neurons in the brain.

Take together, this evidence is much more probable on physicalism, which says that the mind is made only of physical matter, than it is on dualism, which says says that the mind is made of two substances (the physical and the mental). if God exists, God is not in any sense dependent on physical arrangements of matter. So theism entails the existence of at least one unembodied mind. Furthermore, if God wanted to create other minds, he didn’t need them dependent on physical brains.
So the dependence of human minds on brains is evidence against the existence of any being who is supposed to have an unembodied mind, including God. Therefore, the physical nature of minds is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

Empathy and Apathy

(6) Naturalism is the best explanation for the neurological basis of empathy and apathy, including some moral handicaps.[26]
In many cases, our ability to choose do morally good actions depends upon our having properly functioning emotional capacities, especially empathy, i.e., our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion.[27]
We now know, thanks to the relatively new discipline of neuroscience, that certain brain abnormalities cause people to experience less or even no empathy.[28] According to Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, “There is a consensus in neuroscience that at least ten interconnected brain regions are involved in empathy.”[29] These regions are shown on the slide.
For example, violent psychopaths may know in some abstract sense that their behavior is morally wrong, but utterly lack empathy.[30]
While theism is compatible with a neurological basis for moral handicaps, the fact that at least some moral handicaps can be explained neurologically is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. If theism is true, then that means both 

(a) God creates some human beings with moral handicaps that are not the result of the freely chosen actions of any human being;

and

(b) These moral handicaps make it more likely that they will harm others.

What moral justification would God have for allowing both (a) and (b) to obtain? This seems utterly surprising and completely random from a theistic, moral point of view, but precisely what we would expect on naturalism (and blind nature is indifferent to the moral consequences of brain abnormalities).[31]

Nonresistant Nonbelief

(7) Naturalism is the best explanation for nonresistant nonbelief (in God).[32]
Imagine you’re growing up in an orphanage and I told you I had met a man who claims to be your father and who really wants a relationship with you. Days, weeks, even months go by but you never actually meet your father. You never get a card, letter, phone call. In fact, the only evidence that your father is alive is my claim that he exists. Why haven’t you heard from him? Perhaps your father is ashamed for abandoning you. Or maybe he’s a prisoner of war and his captors won’t even let him write you. Although you hope your father is alive and wants to meet you, you remain skeptical.
Just as you do not believe your father is alive and wants to meet you, there are people who do not believe that God exists.[33] But notice that, whatever reasons we might invent to explain your earthly father’s absence do not explain their heavenly father’s absence.
At least some of the people who deny God’s existence are “nonresistant” nonbelievers. As philosopher John Schellenberg explains, their nonbelief 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.”[34] Such nonbelievers are open to having a relationship with God—in fact, they may even want it—but are unable to have such a relationship. But why, if God exists, does that happen?
On naturalism, blind nature doesn’t care whether anyone believes in God and so the fact of nonresistant nonbelievers is hardly surprising. On theism, however, this fact is very surprising. On theism, we would expect a perfectly loving God to always make a meaningful relationship available to those He loves.

Conclusion

So, in sum, we’ve seen seven lines of evidence that naturalism is true. I also happen to think there is some evidence for theism, but that it is outweighed by the evidence for naturalism.[35] In my other speeches, I will explain why I think this as I respond to Dr. Turek’s arguments.[36]

Notes

[1] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[2] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[3] This definition is similar to, but not identical with, one offered by Paul Draper.
[4] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[5] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[6] I owe this to Paul Draper.
[7] I owe this jelly bean analogy to Paul Draper. Draper’s full analogy also includes an equal number of yellow jelly beans in both jars, where yellow signifies something that is equally likely to have come from either jar and hence is not evidence that it came from either jar. I have omitted the yellow jelly beans solely in the interest of time.
[8] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[9] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[10] Paul Draper, “God and the Burden of Proof,” Secular Outpost (July 21, 2014), https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/07/21/new-by-paul-draper-god-and-the-burden-of-proof/
[11] Paul Draper, “More Pain and Pleasure: A Reply to Otte” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil (ed. Peter van Inwagen, Eerdmans, 2004), 41-54 at 49.
[12] Let N stand for naturalism, T for theism, and F for any of these facts. Using the symbol “Pr(F | H)” to stand for the epistemic probability that F is true conditional upon H, then the claim that some fact is evidence favoring naturalism over theism should be understood as the claim that Pr(F | N) > Pr(F | T).
[13] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “Potential Objections to Swinburne’s Cosmological Argument,” The Secular Outpost (March 17, 2014), https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/03/17/potential-objections-to-swinburnes-cosmological-argument/. Note that here I am using the word “matter” as a way to provide a concrete example of something “physical.”
[14] See Keith M. Parsons, Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (Ph.D. Dissertation, Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Queen’s University, 1986), 46; Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), 223-24; and idem, “God, Science, and Naturalism” Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (ed. William Wainwright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 272-303; and Barbara Forrest, “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection” Philo 3 (2000): 7-29.
[15] Draper 2004.
[16] See Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), 219-230; cf. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy of Religion (Mayfield, 2001), chapter 6.
[17] Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True (New York: Penguin, 2009), 88.
[18] Coyne 2009, 56.
[19] Draper 1997, 221.
[20] I’m using “virtually simultaneously” as a shorthand way of accounting for the seven literal days described in Genesis 1, in order to contrast that chronology with the sort of geological timescales needed for evolution.
[21] Draper 1997, 224.
[22] Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists.” Nous 23 (June, 1989), 331-350.
[23] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds,” The Secular Outpost (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2012/06/13/the-evidential-argument-from-physical-minds-apm/), June 13, 2012.
[24] Paul Draper, “Opening Statement” in William Lane Craig and Paul Draper, Does God Exist? (videotape, West Point, NY, 1996).
[25] Michael Tooley, “Dr. Tooley’s Opening Arguments”  in William Lane Craig and Michael Tooley, The Craig-Tooley Debate: Does God Exist? (http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-tooley2.html), 1994, spotted 25 Jan 99.
[26] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds,” The Secular Outpost (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2012/06/13/the-evidential-argument-from-physical-minds-apm/), June 13, 2012.
[27] Simon Baron-Cohen, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 16.
[28] Baron-Cohen 2012, 39.
[29] Baron-Cohen 2012, 28.
[30] As Baron-Cohen points out, the neurological basis for moral handicaps challenges traditional views about moral responsibility. “If zero degrees of empathy is really a form of neurological disability, to what extent can such an individual who commits a crime be held responsible for what they have done? This gets tangled up with the free will debate, for if zero degrees of empathy leaves an individual to some extent “blind” to the impact of their actions on others’ feelings, then surely they deserve our sympathy rather than punishment.” See Baron-Cohen 2012, 160.
[31] Some theists have pointed out that moral evil, such as fallen angels or demons choosing to do evil, might explain so-called “natural evils.” This argument makes the inverse point: certain natural evils explain at least some moral evil.
[32] J.L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993); idem, 2007.
[33] This sentence, of course, assumes that at least some (if not most) professions of atheism are genuine. Those familiar with intra-Christian debates on apologetic methodologies will notice that I have just ruled out the claim of some (or all?) presuppositionalists, namely, that there are no atheists and instead there are only professed atheists. I agree with  John Schellenberg: “it would take something like willful blindness to fail to affirm that not all nonbelief is the product of willful blindness (even if some of it is).” See J.L. Schellenberg, “What Divine Hiddenness Reveals, or How Weak Theistic Evidence is Strong Atheistic Proof” God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence (http://infidels.org/library/modern/john_schellenberg/hidden.html), 2008.
[34] Schellenberg 2008.
[35] It follows from a Bayesian approach to evidence sketched in my first contention that there can be “true evidence” for a false proposition. Consider, for example, people convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony for crimes they didn’t commit, only to be exonerated years or decades later by DNA evidence. The eyewitness testimony was some evidence for a false proposition (“The defendant is guilty”), but it was greatly outweighed by the DNA evidence against that false proposition. The fact that there can be true evidence for false propositions should serve as a “warning flag” to anyone who wants to claim that there is absolutely no evidence for naturalism (or theism). “There is no evidence for naturalism (or theism)” does not follow from “Naturalism (or theism) is false” or even “I believe naturalism (or theism) is false.”
[36] I am grateful to Paul Draper, John Danaher, Robert Greg Cavin, and Eddie Tabash for helpful comments on a previous version of this speech.

bookmark_borderGenuine Inquiry vs. Partisan Advocacy: Philosophy of Religion vs. Apologetics

Yesterday I blogged about a “recommended apologetics reading” list created by Western Michigan University philosopher Tim McGrew. After several cordial exchanges with Tim, I’ve decided that, despite my best attempts to be charitable, I failed. Contrary to what I had suggested, Tim stated, “I certainly would not recommend that anyone with a serious interest in the truth of Christianity restrict himself to reading only the works I have listed.” I take him at his word, and so I have decided to delete the entire blog post, rather than try to repair it, and replace it with this one.
I want to make a distinction between genuine inquiry, on the one hand, and partisan advocacy, on the other. Consider a central (but far from the only) topic in the philosophy of religion: the existence or nonexistence of God. Consider, for a moment, what it would mean to engage in genuine inquiry regarding God’s existence. If the word “inquiry” means anything at all, surely it means more than “read stuff which confirms the point of view you already hold.” It should include, at a minimum, reading opposing viewpoints, not with the goal of preparing pithy one-liners for debates, but with the goal of actually trying to learn something or consider new ways of looking at old topics. For professional philosophers, I would imagine that inquiry would also include trying to “steel man” your opposition, i.e., trying to strengthen the arguments for your opponent’s position. It might even include publishing arguments for a position you do not hold and even reject.
In contrast, partisan advocacy is, well, exactly what it sounds like it is. Much like an attorney hired to vigorously defend her client in court, a partisan advocate isn’t interested in genuine inquiry. To the extent a partisan advocate reads the “other side” at all, she does so in the same way presidential candidates try to find out the “truth” about their opponent under the guise of “opposition research.” So, for example, if a partisan advocate were to create a reading list about God’s existence, they would compile a list of recommended resources which either exclusively or overwhelmingly promoted a certain point of view and without even a hint that a balanced inquiry should be taken.
As suggested by the subtitle of this post, if we apply the genuine inquiry vs. partisan advocacy distinction to religion, I think we get the distinction between (an ideal) philosophy of religion vs. apologetics.
Now, this raises an interesting question.  At what point is a person, especially a professional philosopher, entitled to say this: “Genuine inquiry is nice and all, but viewpoint X is such obvious nonsense that the time for inquiry is over. After all, no geologist engages in ‘genuine inquiry’ about whether the earth is flat. So why should we treat theism (or atheism) any differently?”
I am not sure about the ‘full’ answer to that question, but I think at least part of the answer has to consider two points.
First, I think the current state of professional opinion is relevant. Surely part of the reason no one engages in genuine inquiry about the flat earth hypothesis is the fact that there are no competent geologists who endorse it. In contrast, among philosophers generally and philosophers of religion specifically, there are equally qualified authorities on both sides.
Second, I think the concept of intrinsic probabilities can play an important role here. I’m a naturalistic atheist, but I’m fully convinced by Paul Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability, which shows that naturalism and supernaturalism have equal intrinsic probabilities. While theism is a specific version of supernaturalism (and so is less intrinsically probable than naturalism), its intrinsic probability is not infinitesimal. Furthermore, not only does theism have a non-negligible intrinsic probability, there is evidence in its favor. It seems to me that if a theory (1) has a non-negligible intrinsic probability; (2) has evidence in its favor; and (3) is held by significant percentage of philosophers, not to mention the general population, then that theory is worthy of genuine inquiry. And notice that these same points apply to atheism or naturalism, which is why theists should also engage in genuine inquiry.

bookmark_borderVideo of Lowder’s Debate with Frank Turek on Naturalism vs. Theism

Topic: “What Better Explains Reality? Naturalism or Theism”
Link: https://youtu.be/ENZYEPpR2Jc


Links to Specific Elements of Debate:

This debate featured many arguments. Against theism, Lowder defended the following evidential arguments:

Against naturalism, Turek argued that atheists have to steal several intellectual concepts from God in order to argue against God. These concepts include Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science, as summed up by the acrostic CRIMES. In response to the alleged ‘CRIMES’ of atheism, I argued that what we really needed to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics: Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality).
See also my comments about the debate (written a day or two after the debate).
I haven’t watched the video yet, but I’d love to hear what you think of the arguments.

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_borderTheism and the Genetic Fallacy, Part II

(Redated post originally published on 5 March 2009)
A few weeks ago I engaged in an exchange with Victor Reppert on theism and the genetic fallacy. I had meant to get back to him right away, but administrative b.s. of the sort always imposed on university faculties slowed me down. Anyway, our conversation made me think of ways to employ some of the recent biological belief theories (BBT’s) of Boyer, Atran, Dennett and others in constructing a more rigorous atheological argument:
My argument is simple. I think that Alvin Plantinga is right. If God exists, humans will very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a God-detecting faculty, which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, will present us with warrant-basic (both warranted and epistemologically basic) awareness of his existence. If this is so, and if God does exist, then humans, provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus, will have a warrant-basic awareness of God’s existence. On the other hand, if there is no God, it is extremely unlikely that humans would possess a cognitive faculty that would produce the warranted (but false) belief that God exists. In this case, evidence that belief in God is not caused by a warrant-conferring cognitive faculty, but rather is generated by a noncognitive process that does not confer warrant on that belief, will, ipso facto, constitute evidence against the existence of God. An atheological argument can therefore be set out semi-formally like this:

1) If God exists, then humans very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a cognitive faculty which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, produces the warrant-basic belief that God exists.
2) If there is no sensus divinitatis, then God probably does not exist, unless the background probability of his existence is very high.
3) It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high.
4) There is no sensus divinitatis.
5) Therefore, God probably does not exist.

Plantinga and others argue cogently for (1). The God of orthodox theism is not an aloof Lawgiver or Watchmaker. A God that loves his children will not allow them to stumble about in the dark, vainly searching for light. Surely nothing could be more important for God’s sentient creatures than to have sure knowledge of his existence, his nature, and his will for them. Therefore, he will reveal himself to them in some clear, unmistakable, and authoritative way. That is, God will reveal his existence, nature, and will in so clear and forceful a manner that no honest and rational person will mistake it. God very probably will not make himself knowable only through a process of complex inference (modal ontological arguments, say) since very many persons lack the education or the intellect to follow such complex and recondite inferences. Therefore, God will make himself knowable either through a very simple and direct inference, or immediately and noninferentially as a basic belief. The surest way would be to implant a universal sensus divinitatis that imparts a warrant-basic knowledge of God to all humans, or at least to those in whom sin has not fatally corrupted their God-detecting faculty.
(2) follows from the probabilities we have assigned. If G = God exists and S = humans possess a sensus divinitatis, and we say, with Plantinga, that p(S/G) is very high, say, .99, then p(~S/G) = .01. Also, p(~S/~G), the probability that there is no sensus divinitatis if God does not exist, effectively equals one. By Bayes’ Theorem:

                p(~S/G) X p(G)
p(G/~S) = --------------------------------------------
          p(~S/G) X p(G) + p(~S/~G) X p (~G)

Since we assume that p(~S/G) is .01, and that p(~S/~G) is effectively 1, then, the only way for p(G/~S) not to be quite low is for p(G), the background probability that God exists, to be very high. For instance, if p(G) = .8, then

             .01 X .8
p(G/~S) = ----------------------- = .038
          (.01 X .8) + (1 X .2)

Even if we say that p(~S/G) is only .1, rather than .01, and we keep p(G) =.8, that would still give us only p(G/~S) = .29. So, if we say, with Plantinga, that p(~S/G) is quite low, then the only way to keep p(G/~S) above .5, is to put p(G) very high.
With respect to premise (3): That it has not been established that p(G) is very high, I take for granted. The numerous arguments of natural theology have been extensively, and, in my view, cogently debunked by critics like Mackie, Matson, Martin, Everitt, Oppy, Gale, Le Poidevin, Sinnott-Armstrong, Fales, Drange, Edis, Carrier, Parsons (ahem), and many, many others. For the record, I think that, among the many arguments of natural theology, Victor Reppert’s argument from reason is about the best of the lot, though I have argued copiously elsewhere why I find it wholly unconvincing.
Naturalistic explanations of religious belief, such as the various Biological Belief Theories (BBT’s) of Wilson, Boyer, Atran, Dennett, Guthrie, et al., come in to support premise (4). Theistic belief is warranted, in Plantinga’s sense, only if it is the product of the proper functioning of a cognitive faculty designed to produce true belief. Now one may wish, following Richard Dawkins, to speak of highly adapted phenotypic features as “designed” by evolution, but even so, no one would say that the belief-producing mechanisms postulated by the various BBT’s were designed to generate theistic belief if and only if that belief is true. They are not God-detecting faculties. On the contrary, these postulated mechanisms would work just as well in generating theistic belief whether or not God exists. Clearly, if theistic belief is generated in a manner like those proposed by BBT’s, then theistic belief is not warranted in Plantinga’s sense. Belief is the result of an epistemologically unreliable belief-forming process, not the consequence of the proper functioning of a cognitive faculty in the appropriate circumstances, and so belief cannot be warrant-basic. If humans possess a sensus divinitatis, then theistic belief cannot be explained in terms of an unreliable, noncognitive, non-warrant-conferring process, such as a BBT. Therefore if any BBT is sound, there is no sensus divinitatis, and the fourth premise of the above atheological argument is supported.
The upshot is that appeal to BBT’s or other naturalistic explanations of theistic belief need not involve the genetic fallacy. On the contrary, when added to other highly plausible claims, they provide support for the atheological argument I have given.

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism? – Part 2

Levels of Analysis

I’m going to make a second attempt to clarify and define the word “atheism”.  This time, I will emphasize that the analysis and definitions exist at different levels.  Swinburne’s clarification and analysis of “God exists” makes use of different levels of definition or analysis:
Level 0:  “God exists.”
Level 1:  God exists IF AND ONLY IF exactly one divine person exists.
Level 2:  X is a divine person IF AND ONLY IF X is a spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 3: X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 3:  Person P is a perfectly morally good person IF AND ONLY IF  P is so constituted that P always chooses to do the best action when there is a best action, or one equal best action when there are  two or more equal best actions available, or a good action when there is no best or equal best action, and P never chooses to do a bad action.
Level 3:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
In Level 1, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words or phrases in Level 0.  In Level 2, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definition in Level 1.  In Level 3, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definitions in Level 2, and so on…
I am not saying that this is a good or correct analysis of “God exists” , just that I think it is a good idea or strategy to analyze complex ideas this way, with levels of definition or analysis.  One advantage is that we might be able to arrive at agreement more easily at the lower levels (such as at Level 1 or Level 2) than at the higher levels (such as Level 3 or higher), and that would still be progress worth making.
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Atheism is Opposition to Theism

Etymology does NOT determine the meaning or use of a word.  However, in the case of the word “atheism”, etymology does reflect the basic logic of the word.  Atheism is in opposition to theism.  Roughly speaking, an atheist is someone who REJECTS or DENIES theism.  The concept of atheism is logically dependent on the concpet of theism.  One can know what “atheism” means only if one knows what “theism” means.
Just as theism is an intellectual position, so atheism is an intellectual position.  It is a common mistake to think that “atheism” refers to the lack or absence of theistic belief.  Newborn babies lack theistic belief, but that does not mean that newborn babies are atheists.  Newborn babies are neither thesits nor atheists nor agnostics.  Newborn babies do not have an intellectual position about the existence of “God” or about the existence of “gods”.
Cats and dogs lack theistic belief, but neither cats nor dogs are atheists.  Cats and dogs have no intellectual position on the question “Does God exist?” nor on the question “Do any gods exist?”   Cats and dogs are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.  Rocks and trees lack theistic belief, but rocks and trees are NOT atheists.  Rocks and trees do not have an intellectual position on the question of the existence of God, or gods.  Rocks and trees are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.
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The Ambiguity of the Word “Theism”

But the word “theism” is somewhat unclear and problematic, which in turn makes the word “atheism” somewhat unclear and problematic.   First of all, “theism” is an ambiguous word:

theism

n. Belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.
(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition)
Sometimes “theism” is used in a broader sense that refers to belief in any sort of god or gods.   Sometimes the word “theism” is used in a narrow sense that refers to traditional western theism (the dictionary speaks of belief in “a personal God as creator…”).  To be clear about which of these senses one intends, we can use adjectives to qualify the term “theism”.
traditional western theism – the belief that God exists (where this belief is understood in keeping with the  traditional concept of God found in the three major western religions).
general theism – the belief that one or more gods exist.
Because there are two differnent senses of the word “theism”, there are two different senses of the word “atheism” that correspond to those two senses of “theism”:
weak atheism – the rejection of traditional western theism.
strong atheism – the rejection of general theism.
If one rejects general theism, then this implies that one ought to also reject traditional western theism.  If one rejects the claim that “There is at least one god”, then one ought to also reject the claim “God exists”, because “God exists” logically implies that “There is at least one god.”  Therefore, if one accepts strong atheism, then one ought also to accept weak atheism, because strong atheism logically implies weak atheism.
But one can reject traditional western theism without rejecting general theism.  One could, for example, reject the claim “God exists” because one believes that the concept of “God” contains a contradiction (say, between the divine attribute of omniscience and the divine attribute of perfect goodness), but have no similar objection to the concept of a “god”, and thus not reject general theism.  Thus it is possible to accept weak atheism without accepting strong atheism.
Given the disambiguation of “theism” and the corresponding disambiguation of “atheism”, it follows that one can be both a theist and an atheist without self-contradiction.  One could accept weak atheism (and thus reject traditional western theism) while also accepting general theism, by believing in the existence of one or more (finite) gods.  For example, if a person believes that Zeus exists, then that person believes that “There is at least one god” (namely Zeus), but that person might also REJECT traditional western theism, and thus reject the claim that “God exists”.  Such a person would accept weak atheism and also accept general theism.  Therefore, such a person would be both an atheist (in accepting weak atheism) and also a theist (in accepting general theism).
Here are some general advantages to the above proposed terminology:
1. It  encompasses the insight that  atheism is an intellectual position, and avoids the common mistake of viewing atheism as being merely the lack or absence of a particular belief.
2. It recognizes the ambiguity of the word “theism” and avoids confusion and equivocation by the use of adjectives to clarify which of the two senses of the word is intended.
3. It recognizes the logical dependency of the concept of  “atheism” on the concept of “theism” by creating a set of two categories of “atheism” corresponding to the two categories of “theism”.
4. The use of the word “rejection” (as opposed to “denial” or “negation” or “false”) allows the term “atheism” to include skeptics who deny that the claim “God exists” makes a statement that could be true or false.  Some skeptical philosophers assert that the sentence “God exists” does not express a true statement, and also does not express a false statement.  But such a view can be understood as a “rejection” of traditional western theism.  This also allows for atheists who reject the claim “God exists” not because they are convinced that the claim is false, but because they are not convinced that it is true.  Many atheists assert that the evidence for the claim “God exists” is too weak to justify acceptance of this belief.  Such atheists admit that the claim “God exists” might turn out to be true, but that we ought to reject this claim unless and until someone provides solid evidence for the truth of the claim.
5. Distinguishing different forms of “atheism” would be useful for making the point that everyone, or nearly every sane adult, is an atheist, in the sense that nearly every sane adult rejects belief in one or more gods.  Christians, for example, generally reject belief in Zeus and in the other gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons.  These Greek and Roman gods lack the infinite and unlimited characteristics of the God of traditional western theism.  So, we could define a specific category of theism in which a person believes in one or more finite gods, gods who lack one of more of the following attributes:  (a) eternally omnipotent, (b) eternally omniscient, (c) eternally perfectly morally good, (d) the creator of the universe, (e) a source of moral obligations for human beings.  Let’s call this “finite theism”.  Christians reject finite theism, and thus Christians could be categorized as holding the position of “finite atheism” – the rejection of finite theism.
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Varieties of Unbelief

I have previously focused in on two varieties of unbelief:
1. Belief that “God exists” makes a false statement.
2. Belief that “God exists” does not make a true statement and does not make a false statement (because it does not make any statement at all).
But there are various sorts of unbelief/atheism.  Some atheists say that the belief that “God exists” should be rejected because…

  • it is certainly false
  • it is can be proven to be false
  • it can be proven that it does not make any sort of statement
  • it is probably false
  • it probably does not make any sort of statement
  • it has not been proven to be true
  • it is not provable
  • it is not a scientifically testable belief
  • it is not subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation
  • the evidence for it is too weak to justify belief 
  • the word “God” is too unclear and ambiguous to allow for a rational evaluation of this claim

There are a wide variety of reasons for rejecting the belief that “God exists”, but so long as one is aware of the view or belief that “God exists” and one chooses to not accept that view or belief, then that constitutes REJECTION of the belief and thus is a form of atheism.
==================

Levels of Analysis of Atheism

Level 0:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism.
Level 0: Person P holds the intellectual position of strong atheism.
 
Level 1:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects traditional western theism.
Level 1: Person P holds the intelletual position of strong atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects general theism.
 
Level 2: Person P rejects view V IF AND ONLY IF person P is aware of veiw V and P has chosen to not accept view V.
Level 2: Person P accepts traditional western theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
Level 2: Person P accepts general theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that one or more gods exist.
 
Level 3:  Person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exactly one divine person.
 
Level 4:  Person P believes that there is exactly one divine person IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exacly one spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 5:  X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 5:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
We do not have to arrive at agreement at Level 4 or Level 5 in order to make intellectual progress on clarification and analysis of “atheism”.
If we can arrive at agreement at Level 2 or Level 3, that will still be some significant intellectual progress.
==========================

Counterexamples to My Previously Proposed Definitions

My previous proposals have run into a couple of powerful counterexamples.  Here are the definitions that I originally proposed:

DEF4A

Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.

DEF4B

Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.

 One counterexample stems from the fact that I am pointing to sentences in the English language.  But there are atheists who do not speak or understand the English language.  Some atheists might only understand French or German or Spanish.  Such a person would presumably have no opinion about whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a true statement, or even whether it expresses any statement at all.
Another counterexample stems from the fact that people can have a mistaken understanding or interpretation of a particular sentence in English, even if that person has a general understanding of the English language.  Suppose that someone who understood English had very limited exposure to western religions and interpreted the sentence “God exists” to mean “there is life after death”.  If this person believed there was no such thing as life after death, then this person would believe that the sentence “God exists” does  NOT express a true statement.  Yet this person might well believe that God exists while denying that there is life after death.  In that case, this person would NOT be correctly categorized as a “weak atheist”.

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism?

I know this is a well-worn topic, but I think it is worth hashing over this old question one more time.
First, some obvious points that many ignorant, bible-thumping, knuckle-dragging bigots are unable to grasp:
1. ATHEISM is not the same as MATERIALISM (not all atheists are materialists).
2. ATHEISM is not the same as MARXISM (not all atheists are Marxists).
3. ATHEISM is not the same as HUMANISM (not all atheists are Humanists).
4. ATHEISM is not the same as AGNOSTICISM (not all atheists are agnostics).
5. ATHEISM is not the same as SKEPTICISM (not all atheists are skeptics).
6. ATHEISM is not the same as NATURALISM (not all atheists are naturalists).
7. ATHEISM is not the same as EXISTENTIALISM (not all atheists are Existentialists).
If you don’t understand these basic and obvious points, then please stop reading this post now, and go back to your cave or to your church’s para-military compound in Arkansas or Alabama.
Now for something a bit more sophisticated.   Consider the following initial, rough definition of “atheism”:
DEF1
Person P accepts ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
There are a couple of problems with this definition.  First of all, (DEF1) is compatible with someone being a polytheist.  One can both believe that “There is no God” and at the same time (without any contradiction) believe that “There are many gods”.  To believe that “There is no God” is to believe that there is no god who is the one-and-only all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal creator of the universe.
But denying that there is a god who has infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite duration is NOT the same as denying that there is any god whatsoever.  One could deny the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal god and yet believe that there are many gods who have finite power, and finite knowledge, and/or who are of finite duration.  In other words, one can reject traditional western theism (the belief in God found in the western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and yet be a polytheist and believe in the existence of many finite gods.
A second problem with (DEF1) is that it does not make room for atheists who claim that the concept of “God” is incoherent.  A.J. Ayer, Antony Flew, and Kai Nielsen were all atheist philosophers, but they all believe that the sentence “God exists” is incoherent.  They believe that the sentence “God exists” is neither true nor false.  So, they also believe that the negation or denial of this sentence is also incoherent.  Thus, none of these atheist philosophers believed that the sentence “There is no God” makes a true statement.  On the basis of (DEF1) none of these atheist philosophers would be categorized as being an “atheist”.
The best solution to the first problem, is to draw a distinction between strong and weak atheism.  Weak atheism is the denial of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is the denial of the existence of any and all gods.
DEF2A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
DEF2B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There are no gods.”
On these definitions, strong atheism implies weak atheism, but weak atheism does not imply strong atheism.  Someone who believes that “There are no gods” must also believe (to be logically consistent) that “There is no God”.  But some one who believes “There is no God” could believe that “There are some gods” (i.e. gods who are finite in power, knowledge, or duration).
These definitions, however, do not get around the second objection, concening atheists who believe that the sentence “God exists” fails to make a coherent statement.  One way to get around the second objection would be to characterize atheism not as a belief, but as the absence of a belief:
DEF3A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “God exists.”
DEF3B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “One or more gods exist.”
But while these definitions might get around both the first and second objections, they are still problematic, because we think of atheism as being an intellectual position or stance.  The lack of a belief, however, is not an intellectual position.  Presumably, ALL BABIES lack the belief that “God exists”, but it is absurd and counterintuitive to say that ALL BABIES are atheists.  Babies simply don’t have any position on the question of the existence of God, and they certainly do not have a position on whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.
I propose an alternative way to deal with the second objection, a way that preserves the view that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, and that avoids the counterintuitive implication that ALL BABIES are atheists:
DEF4A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.
DEF4B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.
As far as I can see, these defintions get around the two main objections that we have been considering, and they do so while preserving the intuition that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, a belief that we cannot ascribe to ALL BABIES.
Some who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” expresses a statement that is false, while others who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” does not express a coherent statement at all.  Both sorts of atheists are encompased by (DEF4A).
Some who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” expresses a coherent statement that is false, while others who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” does not express a coherent statement at all.
One final point, which is probably the most controversial point I have to make on this topic.  Although atheism is an intellectual position or stance, it is NOT a point of view.  At least, it is NOT a worldview, and it is NOT an ideology, and it is NOT a philosophy, and it is NOT a religion.  In short, atheism is the rejection of a specific religious belief or a religious “assertion”.  Weak atheism is basically the rejection of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is basically the rejection of any sort of theism, including belief in one or more finite gods.
That is why the first seven statements at the beginning of this article are true.  Atheism is the rejection of a particular religious belief or religious “assertion”.  Atheism is NOT the assertion of a general point of view or philosophy or worldview.  Furthermore, atheists do not necessarily agree on WHY we ought to reject a particular religious belief or assertion.
Some atheists reject the assertion that “God exists” because they think it is FALSE.  Other atheists reject the assertion “God exists” because they think it is INCOHERENT.  The atheists who think “God exists” makes a FALSE statement have different reasons and arguments for thinking this statement is false.  So, atheists do not necessarily agree with each other about WHY we ought to reject the assertion that “God exists” or that “One or more gods exist”.
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Update (10/5/15):
Angra Mainyu suggested a counterexample to my proposed definition 4A:
c. What if Alice is silent on whether God exists on your definition, but she believes that “there is an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being” is not true …? 
The classification you propose does not cover a case like that.
I also came up with a similar objection to 4A.  What about a person who does not understand English?  A person who speaks French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese but does not understand English will in most cases NOT have an opinion about the truth or the coherence of the sentence “God exists.”  because he/she will not understand the meaning of this sentence.
I can get around my objection and perhaps Angra Mainyu’s objection as well by revising the proposed definition a bit:
5A. Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that a sentence S does NOT express a true statement, and sentence S has the same meaning as the English sentence “God exists.”

There is a difficulty with this defintion, however. It appears to imply that the sentence “God exists” is a meaningful sentence, which begs an important question.

However, it does NOT assume that the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.  The sentence, “This is a four-sided triangle.” is a meaningful sentence, and it can be translated into other languages, but it is an incoherent sentence in that it contains a logical contradiction.  So, 5A leaves open the question as to whether the sentence “God exists” contains a logical contradiction, but does assume that this sentence has a meaning, at least enough meaning for it to be possible to translate the sentence into another language.

Personally, I don’t mind begging the question as to whether “God exists” is a meaningful sentence.  It seems obvious to me that it is a meaningful sentence, and one reason for thinking this is that it is obvious that this sentence can be translated into other languages.  How could a meaningless sentence be translated correctly into another language?  So, I’m OK with begging this particular question.

bookmark_borderThe Logic of the Resurrection – Part 1

In thinking about the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, one needs to either determine an answer to this very basic question:
Q1: Does God exist?
Or else one needs to determine some sort of approach to how this question is to be dealt with in relation to the two key questions about the resurrection:
Q2: Did Jesus rise from the dead?
and
Q3: Did God raise Jesus from the dead?
If one determines that there is no God, then the answer to (Q3) is obviously: NO.  Also, if one determines that the answer to (Q3) is NO, then the answer to (Q2) becomes much less interesting or significant.  If God did not raise Jesus from the dead, then who cares whether or how Jesus rose from the dead?  (Q2) would become just a quaint question of interest to perhaps a small handful of ancient historians.
Obviously skeptics cannot simply assume that there is no God when arguing with Christian believers.  That would beg the question against the Christian point of view.  But one skeptical strategy would be to dig in, and argue for atheism, in an effort to answer both (Q1) and (Q3), thus showing (Q2) to be an insignificant and unimportant question.
One could also take the opposite approach, and concede the existence of God from the start, for the sake of argument, and then proceed to argue that these two key Christian claims are probably false:
JRD:  Jesus rose from the dead.
GRJ: God raised Jesus from the dead.
Swinburne suggests a third alternative which is a sort of compromise between the previous two approaches.  He begins his case for the resurrection of Jesus on the assumption that  “given that general background evidence makes it as likely as not that there is a God…” (The Resurrection of God Incarnate; hereafter: ROGI, p.5).
GE: God exists.
B: [general background evidence]
Swinburne’s assumption for his case for the resurrection of Jesus is thus:
P(GE | B) = .5
A skeptic could take a similar approach but make a somewhat less generous assumption (which could be argued for separately, as Swinburne did):
P(GE | B) = .2
or
P(GE | B) = .1
Ideally, I think skeptics should combine two (or more) of these approaches.  If a case can be made against the resurrection while simply conceding, for the sake of argument, that God exists, then that should be done.  If such a case can be made (and I believe it can), then a skeptic could also begin with Swinburne’s assumption, to show that the resurrection of Jesus is unlikely even if we assume that there is a 50/50 chance that God existsStarting out with these generous assumptions and yet showing that the resurrection of Jesus is still improbable is a powerful way to argue against the resurrection and against the truth of the Christian religion.
Although (Q3) cannot be tackled without making some sort of assumption about the existence of God, (Q2) can be considered apart from making such an assumption.  The claim (JRD) can be considered in terms of two relatively straightforward historical and non-theological claims:
(DOC)  Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
(JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around (unassisted) on Sunday, only about 48 hours after he was crucified.
If these historical claims about Jesus can be established on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis, then (JRD) can be established on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis.  Furthermore, if one or both of these historical claims can be shown to be false or questionable on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis, then (JRD) can be shown to be false or questionable on the basis of objective historical evidence, investigation, and analysis.
If an estimated probability can be assigned to (DOC) and to (JAW), then we can use those estimated probabilities to determine a probability for (JRD).  Suppose we accomplish this task and have arrived at a probability for (JRD).  The next step in evaluating the Christian doctrine of the resurrection would be to use the probability assigned to (JRD) to determine the probability of the main Christian claim (GRJ).
But even if it could be shown that (JRD) was very probable, it would not follow that (GRJ) was probable.  One reason why this would not follow is that (GRJ), unlike (JRD), presupposes that God exists.  Thus, one must now make some kind of assumption about the probability of the existence of God before one can evaluate (GRJ), even if one is convinced that (JRD) is probably true.  If one determines that there is no God, no significant chance that there is a God, then (JRD) would just become an odd and quirky bit of historical trivia.
Let’s take the hard road here, and simply grant the assumption, for the sake of argument, that God exists.  I believe there are still very serious problems with the case for (GRJ), and good reasons to believe (GRJ) is false, even if we assume (GE) and (JRD) to be true.
There is one simple and straightforward way of attempting to prove (GRJ) on the basis of (JRD):
1. Only God has the power to raise the dead.
Thus:
2. Anyone who rises from the dead, must have been raised from the dead by God.
 3. Jesus rose from the dead. (JRD)
Therefore:
4. God raised Jesus from the dead. (GRJ)
Premise (1) is very questionable.  Clearly, God has the power to raise the dead, assuming that there is no logical contradiction in the idea of the resurrection of a dead person, because God is omnipotent by definition.  To say that ‘God exists’ is to imply that an ‘omnipotent person exists’.  But how could we possibly know that God was the ONLY person (or force) that could cause someone to rise from the dead?  What about angels? Or demons? What about lesser gods or deities?  What about wizards? What about magic elixirs?
How would we come to know that, for example, an angel cannot bring a human back to life from the dead? We cannot talk with angels or observe the actions of angels.  We cannot ask angels to perform a resurrection, or entice an angel with money or gifts to attempt to perform a resurrection.  Isn’t the trumpeting of Michael the Archangel supposed to herald the second coming of Jesus (1 Thess. 4:16)?  If so, perhaps it is Michael who will bring the dead back to life.  In any case, I see no way to objectively determine that God was the ONLY person or being who has the power to raise the dead.  Assuming there is a God, there might well be other supernatural kinds of persons and beings.
One might try to prove that God is the ONLY supernatural being, and that there are no other supernatural persons, that there are no such beings as angels or demons.  But in that case, the theological teachings of Jesus would be filled with falsehoods, because Jesus frequently talked about angels and demons as real beings who are actively involved in the events of this world.  If there are no angels and no demons, then Jesus was a false prophet whose teachings were NOT from God, and it would be unlikely that God would raise a false prophet from the dead.
Finally, since God is omnipotent, God can give virtually any power to any person to whom God wishes to give it.  If God wants to give Moses the power to raise the dead, then God can do so.  If God wants to give Jesus the power to raise the dead, then God can do so.  We don’t know whether God has in fact given such power to other persons or creatures, but he can do so easily and instantly if he so chooses.  Therefore, there is no solid and objective reason or evidence that shows premise (1) to be true, and the above argument thus fails to establish (GRJ) on the basis of (JRD).

bookmark_borderLink: Darwin’s Argument from Evil by Paul Draper

Draper’s chapter was published in Yujin Nagasawa (ed.), Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion. Palgrave Macmillan. 49 (2012). It’s available online for free courtesy of Google Books.
LINK

bookmark_borderThe Nature of Naturalism

Over the last year (or two?), I’ve had on-again and off-again exchanges on various blogs with reader “Crude” about the definition of metaphysical naturalism. I’d like to comment on his (?) recent objections in the combox on Victor Reppert’s blog start with the linked comment here and work your way down. Each time we’ve had an exchange, I’ve (virtually speaking) walked away scratching my head, not feeling the force of Crude’s objections. Since that could be due to a misunderstanding on my part, I’d like to formally state that I consider my views on these matters to be tentative and a work in progress. In other words, I’m publishing the post in the spirit of truth and learning, not in an attempt to try to score “debate points.” I hope this post (and his responses) will help to advance the discussion.*
* I’m referring to Crude as a “he” but I don’t know if that’s the correct pronoun. Crude can correct me on that also if I’m wrong.

Definitions

First, let’s start with my definitions, which are almost entirely taken from the writings of Paul Draper.
physical entity: an entity which is either (1) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists today; or (2) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists in the future, which has some sort of nomological or historical connection to the kinds of entities studied by physicists or chemists today.
causally reducible: X is causally reducible to Y just in case X’s causal powers are entirely explainable in terms of the causal powers of Y.
ontologically reducible: X is ontologically reducible to Y just in case X is nothing but a collection of Ys organized in a certain way.
natural entity: an entity which is either a physical entity or an entity that is ontologically or causally reducible to a physical entity.
nature: the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities.
physical world: equivalent to “nature.” Notice that the physical world, if it exists, is a public, objective world, in contrast to the mental world (see below).
mental world: a private, subjective world of conscious experiences like thoughts, feelings, imaginings and sensations
supernatural person: a person that is not part of nature but can affect nature. Examples of supernatural persons include God, angels, Satan, demons, ghosts, etc.
metaphysical naturalism (hereafter, “MN”): the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it. MN has three implications.
(1) MN entails the non-existence of all supernatural persons, including God, and so entails atheism.
(2) MN entails that nature causally explains the existence (or, making room for eliminative physicalists, the apparent existence) of the mental world. In other words, MN entails that natural entities are ontologically fundamental.
(3) MN entails that nature does not have a teleological or purposive explanation.
scientific naturalism (hereafter, “SN”): a form of MN which holds that the explanation in question is a scientific one (and in particular a covering law explanation). Of course, scientific naturalists don’t know exactly what that explanation is. They don’t know what the laws are that explain why matter, when arranged in a certain way (e.g. in the form of a functioning nervous system), brings mind (or apparent mind) into existence. But scientific naturalists must hold that there are such laws.
eliminative physicalism: a form of SN which holds that the mental world doesn’t exist.
eliminative idealism: the view that the physical world doesn’t exist.
metaphysical supernaturalism (hereafter, “MS”): the hypothesis that the physical world (or, making room for eliminative idealists, its appearance) is a product of one or more non-physical mental entities. In other words, MS entails that mental entities are ontologically fundamental.
personal supernaturalism (hereafter, “PS”): a form of MS which holds that the mental entities in question are persons and that the explanation of the physical world is teleological or purposive. Of course, personal supernaturalists need not claim to know what purposes were being pursued when the physical world (or apparent physical world) was created; but they must hold that there are such purposes.
metaphysical deism (aka “deistic supernaturalism” or simply “deism”): a form of PS which identifies the mental reality responsible for the existence of physical reality with a supernatural person who created the natural world but does not act in it and is not worthy of worship. (To say that God acts “in the natural word” is to say that, in addition to creating and/or sustaining the world, God intentionally brings about particular natural effects involving God’s creatures or other parts of nature.)
metaphysical theism (aka “theistic supernaturalism” or simply “theism,” hereafter, “T”): a form of PS which identifies the mental reality responsible for the existence of physical reality with God—in other words, with a unique person who is omnipotent and omniscient and thus, lacking non-rational desires, omnibenevolent as well.
metaphysical atheism: the belief that T is false.
otherism (hereafter, “O”): a catch-all category for all hypotheses which are incompatible with both MN and MS
pansychism (hereafter, “P”): a form of otherism which holds that concrete reality consists of a single sort of “stuff” that essentially has both physical and mental aspects.

Objections

As I understand him (?), here are Crude’s objections.
(1) Regarding the definition of “physical entity,” this leaves the definition of MN open-ended. In Crude’s words, “Having some kind of historical/nomological connection to what we study today’ is absurdly open-ended and lets all of the usual problems obtain.”
(2) Regarding the definition of MN, MN is logically compatible with things we normally regard as logically incompatible with atheism. In Crude’s words, “When we see the list of theisms on offer (polytheism of the sort that involves Zeus, etc, would swing right against it – those gods were apparently physical beings).”
(3) Regarding the definition of “supernatural person,” I will quote Crude at length:

And we’re right on back to various problems. For one, whether these things are or aren’t part of nature depends on the attention and scope of physicists and chemists, which itself is a tremendously slippery standard to make use of since it inevitably is tied up in social considerations. Were angels and God ‘natural’ in Newton’s time?
And all of this ignores the historical views that were problematic here – everything from quantum effects to action at a distance to otherwise, at one point historically, could have easily been put into the ‘supernatural’ pile. Multiverses? Measurement problems? Supposed waveform ‘collapse’ in general? Action at a distance? Universes being created, period? Weird stuff that sure ran contrary to our views of what nature was defined as or supposed to be. So we just kept changing the definition of nature.
To that end, I think, the damage is done – this is a historical problem, a set of shifts of understanding that has already taken place, and will likely take place again.

Response

Let’s consider each of Crude’s objections in turn.
First, what about (1)? It’s not exactly clear what Crude takes this objection to mean. Take the statement, “Physical entities exist.” What is the problem?
(a) Perhaps he (?) means that the statement is non-cognitive, i.e., that it does not express a proposition. This seems false, however, since it seems that the statement has a truth value, i.e., it’s either true or false.
(b) Perhaps Crude’s complaint is that the scope of the statement is dynamic, i.e., it can change over time in the light of new scientific discoveries. There is truth in that statement. Suppose that in the year 2015 physicists revise the Standard Model to include a new type of elementary particle called the darkoton which accounts for the presence of so-called “dark matter.” But such a discovery would pose no problem because it would be nomologically and historically connected to the kinds of entities which physicsts study today. Crude would probably say, ” I agree, but that’s not the kind of discovery I was talking about.”
Since I don’t want to attack a straw man, I’ll defer to Crude to provide an example of a hypothetical discovery which he claims makes MN open-ended in a problematic way. What I want to emphasize here is two-fold. First, MN is falsifiable: there’s a limit to the kinds of discoveries which are compatible with MN. If “nature” ultimately has a teleological or purposive explanation, then MN is false. And so any evidence of a cosmic telos or purpose is, accordingly, evidence against MN; the definition of MN cannot be revised or expanded to include it. Or so it seems to me; again, I’ll defer to Crude to explain why he (?) disagrees.
Second, the track record of naturalistic explanations gives us a strong reason to expect that future scientific discoveries will not appeal to supernatural agents like gods, ghosts, souls, vital forces, etc.
Let’s turn to (2). I used to study Greek mythology when I was younger and so I consider myself decently well-informed about it. Such beings as the Greek gods are logically incompatible with MN. As I understand Greek mythology, the Greek gods were conceived to be physical beings in the same way that the second person of the Trinity was/is conceived to be a physical being: by being incarnated. Their supernatural powers did not derive from their physical body or the laws of nature. So, while various polytheisms may have held that various gods did take physical form, it hardly follows that such gods were nothing but physical entities. All that follows is this: their physical forms were physical entities, but the gods themselves were much more than their physical forms. In short, (2) is a very weak objection.
Finally, consider (3). This can be easily dispensed with because this objection  just ignores the part of the definition of “natural entity” which refers to what physicists and chemists study today.
Related Resources
Defining the Supernatural” by Richard Carrier