CPBD 011: Graham Oppy – Contemporary Atheism

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 6, 2009 in Podcast

cpbd011

Today I interview one of the leading atheist philosophers of religion, Graham Oppy. Among other things, we discuss:

  • why are most philosophers of religion theists?
  • the recent history of philosophy of religion and the current state of the field
  • atheist philosophers and the New Atheists
  • why Rowe’s argument from evil doesn’t succeed
  • what Oppy has changed his mind about

guest graham oppyDownload CPBD episode 011 with Graham Oppy. Total time is 49:06.

Links:

Links to things we discussed:

Note: in addition to the regular blog feed, there is also a podcast-only feed. You can also subscribe on iTunes. (Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Landon Hedrick December 6, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Wow, Luke, these just keep getting better and better. I haven’t listened to all of these podcasts yet, but let me commend you for recording these interesting conversations with notable philosophers. Keep them coming.

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josef johann December 6, 2009 at 11:33 pm

It was really hard for me to hear what Oppy was saying, but I heard you clearly. A combination of his accent, and the compression, maybe?

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Briang December 6, 2009 at 11:53 pm

I’m having trouble with the audio as well.

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Summa December 7, 2009 at 12:45 am

I didn’t have any trouble with the audio, my only trouble was with the conversation. I have heard more interesting conversations on Baywatch

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Briang December 7, 2009 at 12:48 am

I think it’s interesting that you talked about why most philosophers of religion are theists. (I wish I could hear Oppy answer). I think it’s interesting that you mention this, since I’ve heard atheists on several occasions argue that there significantly more atheist scientists than in the population at large. However, this argument can be turned on it’s head since there are more theist philosophers of religion. If there is any significance in taking the weight of the experts, it would seem that philosophers of religion would be in a much better position to judge the question of God’s existence then someone in the natural sciences.

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Liam December 7, 2009 at 2:35 am

Luckily, being Australian, I understood Oppy just fine :D

It’s great to from Oppy again. I read his essay in the ’50 reasons why we are atheists’ book and it’s great!

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cole December 7, 2009 at 3:00 am

Briang: I think it’s interesting that you talked about why most philosophers of religion are theists.(I wish I could hear Oppy answer).I think it’s interesting that you mention this, since I’ve heard atheists on several occasions argue that there significantly more atheist scientists than in the population at large.However, this argument can be turned on it’s head since there are more theist philosophers of religion.If there is any significance in taking the weight of the experts, it would seem that philosophers of religion would be in a much better position to judge the question of God’s existence then someone in the natural sciences.  

it would depend on the arrow of causation in each case. are most philosophers of religion theists because they were persuaded by the philosophical arguments for theism? or because theists are more likely to become philosophers of religion due to their pre-existing religious beliefs? or because there are simply more theists than atheists among the population as a whole (the pool of potential philosophers of religion and scientists)? similarly, were all those atheist scientists already atheists when they started their scientific career? or did they move towards atheism after gaining knowledge about reality? etc etc.

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lukeprog December 7, 2009 at 5:14 am

For some reason the call quality was much poorer this time than when I called Gregory Dawes at the same university in Australia. I guess sometimes that happens when you’re calling the other side of the planet, unfortunately!

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lukeprog December 7, 2009 at 5:15 am

Briang,

Most experts on the Koran believe it is the divine word of Allah.

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Jeff H December 7, 2009 at 7:39 am

lukeprog: For some reason the call quality was much poorer this time than when I called Gregory Dawes at the same university in Australia. I guess sometimes that happens when you’re calling the other side of the planet, unfortunately!  

Next time, I expect you to fly over there and interview them in person. We shall have none of these excuses of poor phone quality. If you have to, you may both fly up here and come to my house to have the discussion in person, in my presence. Any lower quality is simply unacceptable.

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Briang December 7, 2009 at 7:57 am

lukeprog: lukeprog

Briang,

Most experts on the Koran believe it is the divine word of Allah.

Luke,
It seems that an expert on the Koran would be in a better position to judge it’s inspiration then a chemist. Wouldn’t you agree?

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Walter December 7, 2009 at 8:37 am

Briang:
Luke,
It seems that an expert on the Koran would be in a better position to judge it’s inspiration then a chemist.Wouldn’t you agree?  

How does one judge the “inspiration” of a text?

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Briang December 7, 2009 at 8:52 am

It seems to me that one must be careful of trying to count up experts to make a decision about God. I think expert opinion is important in a wide variety of issues. I don’t think that I could believe much of anything if I couldn’t trust experts (how would I know that a drug or medical procedure is safe and effective). However, as you point out one must be careful when there are sociological factors involved.

I’ve seen a number of atheist try to discredit religion by counting up the number of atheist scientists. I haven’t seen this argument made on this blog, so this criticism isn’t directed at Luke. The problem is that I don’t see any good reason to expect that scientists would be in a better position to judge the question of God, so I suspect that there are sociological factors involved.

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Briang December 7, 2009 at 9:03 am

Walter:
How does one judge the “inspiration” of a text?  

The Quran claims that one can know it’s from God because no one can write a single chapter equal to it. I would think that a Quran scholar would be in a better position to make that judgment then a chemist.
However, I don’t accept the Muslim argument. I’m not convinced that it is the most beautiful and most perfect book.

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Paul December 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Briang:
The Quran claims that one can know it’s from God because no one can write a single chapter equal to it.I would think that a Quran scholar would be in a better position to make that judgment then a chemist.  

What does equal mean in this context and what is the criteria for evaluation?

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Penneyworth December 7, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Frikkin awesome. I wanted it to be way longer. Again, I really appreciate your putting in the effort to do these interviews. It would be so tits if you got Swinburne on your show!

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Brian G December 7, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Paul:
What does equal mean in this context and what is the criteria for evaluation?  

My understanding is that for Muslims is that they mean something that’s as good, beautiful and true. The criteria for evaluation is to call on witnesses. The relevant text of the Quran is as follows:

[2.23] And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.
[2.24] But if you do (it) not and never shall you do (it), then be on your guard against the fire of which men and stones are the fuel; it is prepared for the unbelievers.

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Paul December 7, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Brian G: My understanding is that for Muslims is that they mean something that’s as good, beautiful and true. The criteria for evaluation is to call on witnesses. The relevant text of the Quran is as follows:

Frankly – I don’t follow. I think I am stuck on the call to witness. I’ve never read the Quran but I will go out on a limb and say that almost certainly there are other books that are more beautiful, good and truthful. I will go further on that limb and say I can call witness to establish it.

When taken in the context of your previous comment – “If there is any significance in taking the weight of the experts, it would seem that philosophers of religion would be in a much better position to judge the question of God’s existence then someone in the natural sciences.”

I am a bit confused why a philosopher would of religion would be in a better position to judge God’s existence. I think philosophy can make a case for the possibility and that is about it. Just as philosophy could make a case for the existence of the most beautiful of all creatures – the unicorn.

I hypothesize that there are more theists studying religious philosophy because of a desire to establish a rational foundation for theism.

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Paul December 7, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Paul: I hypothesize that there are more theists studying religious philosophy because of a desire to establish a rational foundation for theism.

Probably should have said Deism at the end.

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John D December 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

I finally got a chance to listen to this. Interesting, although the line quality was a bit annoying.

I find it hard to accept Oppy’s point about all the arguments for or against theism being failures. That may be true individually, but I don’t see how it is true collectively. And surely it is the cumulative case that needs to be assessed. After all, it is naive to expect any one argument to be watertight.

His discussion of Rowe’s evidential argument from evil is telling in this regard. He says that although Rowe’s argument is challenging, the theist will simply respond by saying “I have independent reasons for believing in God, ergo God must have some reason for allowing all this evil (or suffering)”. That strategy may work for this one argument, but surely it can’t work for all arguments.

An analogy might be helpful. Being a bit of a Quinean I always revert back to Neurath’s ship: the idea that the advance of knowledge is like rebuilding a ship at sea: in order to stay afloat, you can’t rebuild the ship from scratch because you have to have somewhere to stand.

This seems apt here. The theist can indeed refute the argument from evil by standing on another part of the ship and rebuilding from there. But surely, once we have gone through every argument and found them all to require some rebuilding or adjustment, then by the end we either (a) have nowhere left to stand (i.e. you end up with atheism) or (b) have a completely different ship (i.e. a completely different concept of god).

I own a copy of Oppy’s book, but I have only ever dipped into it. So I don’t know whether or not he addresses this issue.

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John D December 8, 2009 at 11:20 am

By the way Luke, this series of interviews is really good.

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lukeprog December 8, 2009 at 11:25 am

Oppy’s book is epic. I’ll be writing posts that use its material in the future…

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Jeff H December 13, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Hey Luke, I’ve been waiting for this to pop up on iTunes, but it doesn’t seem to be. Is there a delay on these things, or is something screwy with my iTunes?

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lukeprog December 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm

No, it’s my FTP server. iTunes checks for a file on my server, but for some reason I can’t access the FTP, so I can’t update the file that iTunes uses. D’oh! I’ll figure it out eventually.

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daniel almeida April 9, 2011 at 11:13 pm

The Quran claims that one can know it’s from God because no one can write a single chapter equal to it. I would think that a Quran scholar would be in a better position to make that judgment then a chemist.However, I don’t accept the Muslim argument. I’m not convinced that it is the most beautiful and most perfect book.

It’s probably written better than the bible

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John Smith September 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm

You should have a transcript for this one. It’s a bit hard to understand Oppy. :/

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