The Renaissance of Christian Philosophy

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 25, 2010 in Alvin Plantinga,General Atheism

Over at Ask Philosophers, someone asked:

I find the philosophy of religion immensely interesting. Recently I watched a YouTube video in which a well known Christian philosopher/theologian, William Lane Craig, explained how the Anglo-American world had been “utterly transformed” and had undergone a “renaissance of Christian philosophy” since the 1960s… Do you agree with these statements? Moreover, how well respected is Dr. Craig? Is he generally viewed as a top notch philosopher? I also wonder whether the very best arguments on the atheistic side are really being discussed. It seems there is some disdain among philosophers regarding the so-called “new atheists”: Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. Who are the top contemporary atheists working in philosophy today? I’d really be interested in reading some of their work.

Currently, Peter Smith and Louise Antony have responded, but I’m disappointed with their responses. So, here is my own:

Has there been a renaissance of Christian philosophy?

First, has there been a “renaissance of Christian philosophy” since  the 1960s?

Yes.

However, this is not as impressive as it may sound at first. This “renaissance” did not take Christian philosophy from an average position of respectability to unquestioned influence in broader philosophy. Rather, it took Christian thought from a position of complete banishment from philosophical discourse to, at least, active development. So the starting point was lower than you might have thought.

Let me explain.

In the first half of the 20th century, a view called logical positivism dominated analytic philosophy. According to logical positivism, metaphysical and supernatural claims were not just false but meaningless. They were not even a proper study of philosophical inquiry.

This was the darkest time for philosophical theism. But in the 1950s and 60s, certain (atheistic) philosophers provided powerful criticisms of logical positivism, which led to its demise. So by the 1960s, talk of God was – while not necessarily correct – at least meaningful in philosophy again.

In the 1960s and 70s, several Christian philosophers took the powerful new philosophical tools that had developed over the preceding decades and applied them to the classical problems of theism. These new tools allowed them to reformulate the old arguments for God so that they avoided their earlier refutations (see Swinburne). Or, they allowed theists to sidestep common objections to theism altogether by developing brand new accounts of what it means to be rational (see Plantinga).

Due to the extreme sophistication of certain Christian philosophers, theism is again “back on the table” in philosophy. However, it remains true that the vast majority of philosophers are atheists, and work in philosophy of religion is often ignored in other fields. Indeed, many leading philosophy universities don’t even have a resident philosopher of religion, or perhaps only one.

The renaissance in Christian philosophy is perhaps best summed up in two books. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology contains several of the most sophisticated reformulated arguments for God, and Warranted Christian Belief contains the most thorough account of how it might be rational to believe in God even if all the arguments for theism fail.

How well respected is Dr. Craig?

Dr. Craig has made few significant contributions outside philosophy of religion – namely, he has written a bit on philosophy of time. But he is respected as a professional philosopher who knows the history of philosophy, knows the contemporary literature, knows how to use the latest philosophical tools, and has published dozens of articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Mostly, I hear other philosophers object to his unabashed apologetic approach to philosophy. Most philosophers see philosophy as a means of inquiry, not a means of defending an unassailable axiom of belief. But Craig has made it very clear that he does not treat philosophy as a means of inquiry, but as a means of defending his unassailable belief in God:

…it is the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fundamental knowledge of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role… The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel… and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith…1

Atheistic Philosophers of Religion

It is true that the best atheistic arguments are not being discussed at large. The New Atheists are not trained in religious studies or philosophy of religion, and often provide weak or ill-formed arguments.

Today’s leading atheistic philosophers of religion include William Rowe, John Schellenberg, Michael Martin, Graham Oppy, Paul Draper, Nicholas Everitt, Robin le Poidevin, Evan Fales, Jordan Howard Sobel, Quentin Smith, Patrick Grim, Matt McCormick, Keith Parsons, and many others. (Also read Wes Morriston. He’s a Christian philosopher, but he spends all his time composing good arguments against Christianity.)

For recommended reading, see Best Atheism Books of the Decade and Top 10 Atheism Articles, 1975-2010.

  1. Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, pages 47-48. []

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{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman January 25, 2010 at 7:18 am

Paul Draper is an agnostic actually. He’s very explicit about this in his “Seeking but not believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic” in “Divine Hiddenness: New Essays” ed. Daniel Howard Snyder.

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Chris Hallquist January 25, 2010 at 9:27 am

Luke,

I’m curious to know of examples of philosophers objecting to Craig’s approach. Most seem either to be unaware of it, or to feel that politeness prevents them from straying into criticisms of Craig as a person. The criticisms I hear of Craig from academics tend to focus on how bad his arguments are. My impressions were summed up in this blog post:

In spite of his multiple advanced degrees, Craig is only taken about a quarter of the way seriously in academia. His version of the cosmological argument is generally treated respectfully, but his moral argument argument is generally seen as a joke. His presentation is always based on naked appeals to authority and other non-sequiturs, and professional philosophers have called him out repeatedly on this (Craig’s response is always just to pretend he doesn’t understand why they’re so upset, though I assume he’s smart enough to understand the problem). A few Biblical scholars have been willing to treat his claims about the resurection seriously, but most are baffled at how he can make the claims he makes.

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Rob January 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

What genuinely puzzles me is why anyone who does not already share a commitment to what Christian philosophical apologetics is deployed to defend and rationalize should take any direct, first-order interest in it when even its practitioners admit the obvious fact that few, if any, people are actually prompted to piety by such scholarly endeavors. For instance, I listen to Craig’s podcasts and read the Prosblogian blog with great interest — a second-order, psychological, misanthropy-inducing interest: I’m genuinely fascinated, discomfited and humbled by the fact that so much intelligence, dialectical acuity, and argumentative rigor — vastly dwarfing mine! — can be absorbed by what, from my lowly position on the intelligence hierarchy, has seemed so false since I was a kid, and so pantently awful since a teenager.

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Hermes January 25, 2010 at 11:26 am

Roman: Paul Draper is an agnostic actually. He’s very explicit about this in his “Seeking but not believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic” in “Divine Hiddenness: New Essays” ed. Daniel Howard Snyder.  

Note that atheism/theism are statements of belief.

Gnosticism/agnosticism are claims about knowledge.

To support those comments, I have many references as well as my own words available for your review. Just ask.

That said, Draper may describe himself as a ‘strict agnostic’. He can do that, though that does not negate his theistic or atheistic beliefs (if any) that he may lean toward from moment to moment.

Then again, I like to focus on finding knowledge and then let my beliefs flow from the results of that investigation. As such, I am a gnostic atheist in regards to the Christian deity, an an agnostic atheist for other specific deities (deist and pantheist) and the general question about deities in general.

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Roman January 25, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I’m pretty sure that Paul Draper does not hold a belief either way with regards to God’s existence — that’s the sense in which he is an agnostic.

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Jeff H January 25, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Luke, just for clarification: what’s the “Ibid, pages 47-48″ source? It doesn’t really make sense without any sources above it…

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Hermes January 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Roman: I’m pretty sure that Paul Draper does not hold a belief either way with regards to God’s existence — that’s the sense in which he is an agnostic.  

Well, how about listening to someone smart and cute?

CLICK: The Atheism/Agnosticism Relationship

As I said before, I’ve got more and have convinced many self-described “agnostic only” people that they aren’t just agnostics. Hell, I’m an agnostic. I just happen to be an agnostic atheist.

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John W. Loftus January 25, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Good essay Luke. You know, I really like Professor Gericke’s description of Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology, and with it I’ll throw in some of Craig’s philosophical arguments too, as “fundamentalism on stilts.” I think you’ve linked to Gericke’s stuff before, but he’s absolutely correct. It’s nothing but fundamentalism on stilts. Fundamentalism was put into a coma a long time ago. It’s just that we need to tell these fundamentalist philosophers to wake up and smell the coffee. They don’t realize the revolution that has taken place among Biblical scholars in the last half century which completely undermines many of their philosophical arguments.

Cheers.

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Bebok January 25, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Hermes,

The problem is that people usually treat “to know” as a degree of “to believe”, not like that cutie.

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Haukur January 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm

I’m with Bebok – Hermes and the cutie aren’t using the words in the way they’re normally used. Also, the word ‘gnosticism’ is already taken and calling yourself a “gnostic atheist” will probably just confuse people. But, sure, you can try to change the meaning of words if you like – le signe est arbitraire and all that.

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Hermes January 25, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Bebok, agreed. Words are used sloppily much of the time. For example, the old canard that “Evolution is just a ‘theory’.” Should the word ‘theory’ (common usage) and ‘theory’ (scientific usage) be conflated to eliminate any difference at all? It should be clearer when the words are actually spelled differently, yet that’s often not the case even in common usage. Context tends to draw out the actual meaning, but that sometimes (as in the case of ‘scientific theory’ above) requires more than a slang understanding of language.

Another complaint I get is that when I say “agnostic” I’m not using it like Huxley did. They’re partially right. I’m using a superset that includes Huxley-style agnostics; the root words of theism and gnosticism and then the “a” prefix to say “not a”. The Huxley-restricted definition leaves a gap that no other words cover, increasing confusion not reducing it.

Yet, most people can’t seem to remember those root words when an “a” is prepended to them, and they treat each word as something totally unrelated to the root word or in the case or ‘a’theism (non-theism) it is somehow subsumed as a type of theism.

The self-proclaimed agnostics are usually atheists who want to claim some kind of Switzerland-style position on the issue of belief. That doesn’t work for the same reason someone can’t be a little pregnant.

Article overview of the issue.

Theodore M. Drange’s philosophical view.

Tracie Harris and Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience.

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Robert Gressis January 25, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Hi Luke,

A couple of things:

(1) you write, “Indeed, many leading philosophy universities don’t even have a philosophy of religion program.” I don’t know what a philosophy of religion “program” is. Are you referring to Graham Oppy’s remark, in his interview with you, that Princeton doesn’t even teach philosophy of religion? In that case, you mean philosophy of religion courses. But I’d be shocked if there are many universities with non-negligible philosophy departments that don’t even offer courses in philosophy of religion. Indeed, it’s false even for Princeton, unless Oppy meant that Princeton doesn’t teach *graduate* courses in philosophy of religion. If he just means graduate courses, then I would wager that there aren’t many universities that teach graduate courses in the subject.

(2) You write that “Craig has made it very clear that he does not treat philosophy as a means of inquiry, but as a means of defending his unassailable belief in God”. Moreover, you contrast this approach to that of typical philosophers, who, on your view, “see philosophy as a means of inquiry, not a means of defending an unassailable axiom of belief.” Well, sure, most philosophers don’t *see* philosophy as a means of defending unassailable axioms, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t defend certain unassailable axioms. I think there are a number of philosophers who would treat naturalism as an unassailable axiom, even though they can’t really say what naturalism is; a lot would treat the permissibility of abortion, the impermissibility of torture, etc., as unassailable axioms. I imagine that’s not *your* view, but I think it’s the view *in practice* of the vast majority of philosophers, even if they don’t realize it. So, I’m not at all sure that Craig’s perspective on philosophy is significantly different from that of many other philosophers.

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Bebok January 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Hermes,

That’s a false dilemma. It’s not like being pregnant or non-pregnant at all. The vast majority of people don’t make the distinction between “claims about knowledge” and “statements of belief”. Theists are those who think that the existence of some kind of god is more plausible than his (her, its) non-existence, atheists are those who think the non-existence is more plausible (of course including being 100% sure) and agnostics are those who think it’s something about 50/50 – either because they find some arguments for theism counterbalanced by some arguments for atheism (like Draper) or because they think there is no good way to find out. We may add the fourth category: non-cognitivists, and then make some further distinctions, like Drange does it in the article you’ve linked. What’s wrong with that? And why should we be so much hung up about the etymology of “atheism” and “agnosticism”?

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Jeff H,

Oops, thanks for pointing that out. Fixed.

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Hermes,

What the hell angle is that? It’s like the MySpace angle but she looks very uncomfortable. I don’t get it. Is she sitting or something?

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Robert,

Re: (1), I’ll write a post to clarify what I meant. You’re right that “program” doesn’t make sense.

Re: (2), I’m not so sure. In any case, Craig actually endorses an epistemology that makes his beliefs immune to evidence or persuasion, but most philosophers would never do that. They are, at least in principle, open to evidence or argument. Craig is explicitly not open to influence by evidence or argument.

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Robert Gressis January 25, 2010 at 8:03 pm

“Re: (2), I’m not so sure. In any case, Craig actually endorses an epistemology that makes his beliefs immune to evidence or persuasion, but most philosophers would never do that. They are, at least in principle, open to evidence or argument. Craig is explicitly not open to influence by evidence or argument.”

Interestingly, I think some of your readers and some philosophers are explicitly not open to influence by evidence or argument with regard to evidence that could confirm supernaturalism. I’ve seen at least a few times, I think written by different people, claims that amount to something like, “supernaturalistic explanations are contradictions in terms; the only kinds of things that will count as explanations are explanations in terms of the laws of science. Since explanations in terms of the laws of science cannot invoke supernatural entities, it follows that there could not ever be evidence for supernatural phenomena.” When you combine the forgoing with the evidentialist claim that you should only believe propositions in proportion to the evidence you have for them, it follows that non-naturalism is ruled out a priori.

Now, two qualifications: (1) I know you don’t subscribe to the above, Luke, so I’m not attributing this view to you. (2) It’s worth trying to figure out the degree to which the readers who make something like the argument I make above are in principle open to the view that there could be non-naturalistic or supernaturalistic explanations of phenomena. But I get the sense–and of course it’s just a sense–that many people who make this argument are not in principle open to giving it up. After all, there’s no obvious contradiction in the argument; and given their acceptance of the principle, it’s hard to imagine an imaginable state of affairs in which the principle could be falsified. Imagine, for instance, that scientists can’t figure out an answer to problem X, whereas the Catholic Church not only gets an answer to X, but also makes testable, accurate predictions regarding X. Moreover, the members of the Church who make these predictions arrive at their answers by prayer. I think that even in this case, advocates of the position I mention above would claim that somehow, the Catholics are in fact engaging in a scientific approach to figuring out the right answer (maybe they’re communicating with super-intelligent extraterrestrials), or they would claim that the state of affairs is in fact not imaginable after all.

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Hermes January 25, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Bebok, without derailing this discussion too much, I can only request that you take a look and consider these ideas again. If you want to see more arguments on this issue I’ve gone over them many times in this thread on WWGHA;

What is your religious position?

Feel free to vote in the poll it if you wish or post your criticisms of the comments there as you wish.

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Landon Hedrick January 25, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Christ Hallquist wrote: “[Craig's] moral argument argument is generally seen as a joke. His presentation is always based on naked appeals to authority and other non-sequiturs, and professional philosophers have called him out repeatedly on this (Craig’s response is always just to pretend he doesn’t understand why they’re so upset, though I assume he’s smart enough to understand the problem).”

I’m currently working on a graduate seminar paper about Craig’s defense of the moral argument, and I’ve found it (his defense) incredibly weak. I’ve noticed the same things you mention (illegitimate appeals to authority, non sequiturs, etc.). Do you know of any professional philosophers who have pointed these things out to him before?

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Hermes January 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm

lukeprog: What the hell angle is that? It’s like the MySpace angle but she looks very uncomfortable. I don’t get it. Is she sitting or something?

I have no idea. She’s 19(?) and does quite a few highly stylized videos, especially on her new peer-focused channel. I think she just likes playing with the media format. That said, her gogreen18 channel (mostly about atheism and related issues) has quite a few good videos. She’s no dummy.

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Robert,

I wonder how many philosophers would rule out the supernatural a priori.

Anyway, I don’t think even my readers here rule out the supernatural as thoroughly as Craig rules out all non-Christian views. I’m pretty sure even the staunchest atheist would admit that if God appeared in the sky all around the earth at the same time and declared his ownership of Earth and made Jesus appear in the clouds or something, then this would pretty decent evidence for God’s existence.

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Robert Gressis January 26, 2010 at 12:03 am

“I’m pretty sure even the staunchest atheist would admit that if God appeared in the sky all around the earth at the same time and declared his ownership of Earth and made Jesus appear in the clouds or something, then this would pretty decent evidence for God’s existence.”

I think they may in fact admit that we had good evidence for God’s existence should such a case arise, but if you asked them what they would say to something like that, I shouldn’t be shocked if they would dispute your characterization that “God” appeared in the sky. “What do you mean”, they would ask, “in calling this being God? Is it a face? Then maybe it’s a space alien; or a mass hallucination; or something else. But to conclude from a loud voice/face in the sky that spoke in a language that everyone could hear and understand and that made Jesus appear in the clouds, that this is a 3-O God, is hasty. All we know, at best, is that there is some powerful being, and that maybe Jesus is a similarly powerful space alien.” Why wouldn’t they say that?

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 12:27 am

Robert,

I would hope they say that, as the naturalistic explanation of those events is more plausible than the supernaturalistic explanation. My point was that there are things that even the staunchest atheists would accept as evidence for God. For example, if the world looked like an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing being had intelligent designed it.

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Robert Gressis January 26, 2010 at 1:07 am

Ah, that makes more sense. I guess, though, that it’s not obvious what you mean by such a world, and there could be room for disputing that. But I gather that some of the atheists in question may agree with you about what such a world would look like, and so would take the existence of such a world to count as evidence for God’s existence.

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Haukur January 26, 2010 at 4:55 am

Hermes: Words are used sloppily much of the time.

Hermes: Yet, most people can’t seem to remember those root words when an “a” is prepended to them, and they treat each word as something totally unrelated to the root word or in the case or ‘a’theism (non-theism) it is somehow subsumed as a type of theism.

This is at best the etymological fallacy and at worst the Humpty Dumpty theory of semantics. You’re free to define a word in some precise way for the purposes of a particular essay or conversation but you shouldn’t then imagine that the particular meaning you’ve assigned the word is the only correct one and be scornful of other uses.

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 5:10 am

Haukur, the references I provided give both historic and linguistic details. If you want to pick at my examples, you are free to do so, but they stand by themselves and unaddressed. All other comments you have can go in the forum link I’ve provided and we can address it in as much detail as you wish.

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 5:17 am

(Note: You might want to actually criticize me for what I said in toto, not for what you attributed to my words in one segment.)

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Haukur January 26, 2010 at 5:51 am

Hermes: Haukur, the references I provided give both historic and linguistic details.

The first link you cite proclaims that “EVERYONE ON EARTH WAS BORN AN ATHEIST” which is a lot like saying “EVERYONE ON EARTH WAS BORN A DISBELIEVER IN ANTHROPOCENTRIC GLOBAL WARMING” and about as interesting an argument. The rest is mostly just railing against the way people actually use the words ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ with a Chick-tract like appeal at the end:

Are you open to the evidence that you might have been lied to about what the terms mean? Do you realize that theists lie to spread their belief? If so, can you admit they lied about a topic they were highly ignorant of(atheism)?

Lying about what terms mean is very nearly a self-refuting idea; terms mean what people think they mean. Do I “realize” that theists lie to spread their belief? Uhh… I realize that some theists lie some of the time to spread some of their beliefs. Can I “admit” something I don’t think is true? Well, I’ll say that for an article hectoring people about terminological precision this one sure picks manipulative ways to phrase its questions.

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 6:41 am

Lol. Everyone on earth is born a disbeliever in anthropogenic global warming.

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 6:59 am

Haukur, the question I have for you is simple, but it is one you should consider carefully;

* Do you really wish to have my full attention?

If the answer is YES, then I ask if your current list of complaints and comments are the extent of your interest or if you have any additions? I do not want to chase this issue around on each and every new whim you may have. Dealing with your current misunderstandings will be enough.

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Haukur January 26, 2010 at 7:54 am

Hermes: Do you really wish to have my full attention?

Neah, I’m sure you have better things to focus on than some smart-ass on the Internet. Just put whatever effort into this that you feel like – when you don’t feel the conversation is rewarding anymore, just stop. That’s my plan, anyway.

I don’t think I have much to add here but one point I haven’t made before is that in these enlightened times we usually grant groups of people significant leeway to decide how they self-identify. So of course atheists and kindred thinkers can debate these things among themselves and perhaps come to conclusions with some hope that society will accept their terminology.

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ildi January 26, 2010 at 8:26 am

lukeprog: Robert,I wonder how many philosophers would rule out the supernatural a priori.Anyway, I don’t think even my readers here rule out the supernatural as thoroughly as Craig rules out all non-Christian views. I’m pretty sure even the staunchest atheist would admit that if God appeared in the sky all around the earth at the same time and declared his ownership of Earth and made Jesus appear in the clouds or something, then this would pretty decent evidence for God’s existence.  

Maybe this points to a core difference between philosophers and scientists, then. The minute any phenomenon occurs reliably enough that it can be studied, then it no longer falls in the realm of supernatural. God in this case would no longer be supernatural if he kept up the “old man in the clouds a la Monty Python” communication.

Or, another example; say, the earth started to split apart, demon hordes came rushing out, and the earth would close up again seamlessly. My first thought as a scientist (besides ‘holy fucking shit’) would be “well, I don’t know of any controlled way of opening and closing the earth like that, I wonder if I can figure it out” and “maybe these beings just look like demon hordes to me because my perceptual systems translate them into something I can conceive of.”

Even in the case of God indirectly being observed as having created a world that looked like an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing being had designed it, I would still study what information do I have about this creator based on its creation – what can I learn about this intelligent designer, or in Dawkins’ catchphrase for what scientists do: “who designed the designer?” God could be the possible best contingent explanation for that world, but for a scientist it wouldn’t stop there.

The problem for me is that the definition of God seems to be a moving target, depending on what point a theist or philosopher wants to make. The label is used as the explanation, sort of like what people do with the term schizophrenia:

What is schizophrenia? A mental disorder where a person has hallucinations, delusions and disorganzed thinking.

Why is he hallucinating? Because he has schizophrenia.

So, as a scientist, if there are reproducible observations I can make, then “supernatural” just means “I don’t know yet, let me readjust my theory.” If the supernatural, on the other hand, is an individual revelation, I can still study, “what is going on in your head when you have one?”

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 8:33 am

ildi, stop it. You’re proving Robert’s point! :)

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ildi January 26, 2010 at 8:41 am

I know… bummer, huh?

It does tie in with the Hermes/Haukur discussion re. the meaning of words (and look how well that turned out!)

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snafu January 26, 2010 at 9:42 am

Without wanting to polish your already-gleaming ego, I find your contribution more informative than the efforts of the two professionals in question. That’s not to denigrate them per se…I’ve no idea how much real attention they gave to their answers.

Luke, do I detect an uptick in blog activity in 2010? More posts, more CPBDs etc? Keep up the great work if so.

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

snafu,

I doubt I can maintain this pace much longer, actually. :(

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Robert Gressis January 26, 2010 at 11:38 am

snafu,

Not to be self-centered, but was I one of the two professionals in question? I haven’t read all of the thread (I usually just search for my name, as is my practice in all of life), so I don’t know if you took my responses to Luke to be responses to you.

EDIT: Oh wait, the two professionals were Anthony and Smith. Yeah, I thought Smith’s answer was pretty lousy. He’s very much in a bubble.

You should read his trashing of Rea’s and Murray’s book, by the way. See how much he backs off his claims when Michael Almeida starts to challenge him.

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Robert Gressis January 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

You can find millions of proofs for my point on almost any comments section having to do with theism/atheism on the Internet. That said, ildi, what do you make of Luke’s response–that our world being “the kind of world designed by a 3-O God” would count as evidence for the existence of such a God? Can you imagine such a world? What do you think that world would be like? I’d be especially interested if your imagining of that world were different from Luke’s.

Incidentally, this a priori ruling out of the supernatural that is so common doesn’t work against an argument like Craig’s Kalam CA, or Ed Feser’s reconstruction of the five ways.

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Haukur: Just put whatever effort into this that you feel like

Since you’re not enthusiastic at the moment, I’ll spend a moment on *one* point you made.

Haukur: you shouldn’t then imagine that the particular meaning you’ve assigned the word is the only correct one

I gave two examples of people doing just that kind of thing and that I objected to that behavior; ‘theory’ (common usage used exclusively even in scientific contexts) and ‘agnosticism’ (Huxley version being used without regard to the superset of all agnosticisms).

As such, I argued that a forced colloquial application of words should not be the only ones that are valid. It would be like referring to all forms of frozen water as “ice cubes” because that’s how people with freezers see frozen water in their freezers regardless of where they live.

The other points you made — including the one Luke commented on — were also invalid or were addressing things I did not say. If you care to connect the dots on your own, knock yourself out. In light of your stated frame of mind, I’ll not spend any additional time on this.

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ildi January 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Incidentally, this a priori ruling out of the supernatural that is so common doesn’t work against an argument like Craig’s Kalam CA, or Ed Feser’s reconstruction of the five ways.

Well, I’ve been on C’s KCA merry-go-round a few times here, and at best it supports the “we don’t know” definition of “supernatural.” I prefer “initial cosmological singularity = God.” However, if physicists like Lawrence Krauss are correct in stating that the laws of physics allow the universe to begin from nothing, then it seems to become moot.

I am not familiar with Ed Feser or his arguments – maybe you can summarize or provide a link to one that is written for the non-philosopher?

(I really haven’t thought through what kind of world a being such as that would design…definitely not ours, though.)

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Note that Krauss’ ‘nothing’ is not an actual ‘nothing’.

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ildi January 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Hermes: Note that Krauss’ ‘nothing’ is not an actual ‘nothing’.  

Picky, picky… it’s not God or supernatural, either… btw, does anyone have a link to a script of that talk? I want to be able to read it, rather than have to listen to it again.

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Reginald Selkirk January 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Note that Krauss’ ‘nothing’ is not an actual ‘nothing’.

But not as interesting as Shakespeare’s use of ‘nothing.’

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Haukur January 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Hermes: As such, I argued that a forced colloquial application of words should not be the only ones that are valid.

Haha, no, that’s not what you argued at all – but I agree with you that we shouldn’t spend additional time on this. Still, this went better than our last exchange a few threads back where I had only the vaguest idea what you were trying to say.

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Chris Hallquist January 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Landon:

I’d pick up the debate books Craig did with Anthony Flew and Walter Sinnot-Armstrong. Sinnot-Armstrong did a very good job (I think Luke has mentioned him as one of the few people who has arguably bested Craig in a debate), and while Flew did a horrible job in his debate, the commentaries on that debate are very good.

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Bebok January 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Hermes,

Don’t you think that derailing the discussion is quite common practice here? I actually like it.
Your poll is pretty confusing. It is generally based on the assumption that the difference between “to know” and “to believe” or “to think” is clear and obvious to everyone. Those terms differ in respect of level of certainty or illocutionary force, but the difference is in fact far from obvious. Also, much depends on context. Also, religious people talking about God often assign a special meaning to “to believe”: something like “to know sth well with no good evidence”. This makes it all even more jumbled.
You should start with providing precise definitions of “knowledge” and “belief”. But anyway, what is your point? What’s wrong with good old theism-agnosticism-atheism and cognitivism-noncognitivism distinctions?
Appealing to etymology (leaving aside it’s a fallacy) is also scoring an own goal in this case, because in Greek “not believing in gods” is only one of many meanings of “atheos”. Others are “that is without God”, “lacking divine nature”, “having no connection with the gods” and “godless, impious”.
Also, all those “ignostic” options in the poll are self-contradictory. When something is meaningless it cannot be true and cannot be false.

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Yeah, Flew was AWFUL.

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BathTub January 26, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I’m surprised you have stumbled onto Laci Green before. Yeah her angle is extreme, she sits on the floor with her laptop on like a table. She’s quite entertaining and interesting, though she doesn’t post as much as she used to.

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james v January 26, 2010 at 5:58 pm

A common mistake in this ‘renaissance’ narrative is its subtle assumption that Anglophone phil of religion in general just was mainly Protestants working in analytic philosophy (Plantinga, Wolterstorff, et al.). These academic philosophers rediscovered phil of religion, ergo a renaissance.

This ignores that Catholic thinkers and institutions never abandoned the endeavor, where in fact a lot of the spade work was done for the same ideas that Craig et al. rehash with a bit of analytic razzle-dazzle and get the contemporary publicity for.

Thank you

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Bebok, thanks for taking a look at the poll. It’s the 3rd revision of the same basic poll I’ve been running for a few years.

The poll has multiple goals. The main one is to simply ask people what they think and believe without dragging in specific dogmatic belief systems. That’s why I gave the gnostic and agnostic monotheist example in the first post involving monotheists (who follow UFO aliens) and monotheists who follow an Abrahamic religion.

Other goals include;

* To improve the 4th, 5th, … revisions of the poll.

* To show to the poll takers that while there are more popular religious positions, there is also quite a bit of variety as well.

* To identify and investigate the differences in and between different groups organized by religious position.

Bebok: It is generally based on the assumption that the difference between “to know” and “to believe” or “to think” is clear and obvious to everyone.

Nope. The sentence following each title describes what it means. The person taking the poll does not need to agree with the specific terms I chose, though using them in the comments and elsewhere on the forum or off the forum helps facilitate conversations. For example;

ignostic pantheist – While the concepts of god(s) are meaningless, it is likely that that everything is god.

The person doesn’t need to know what ignostic means, or the variety of pantheisms. They either agree and check that box, or disagree and ignore it.

Additionally, the knowledge types — gnostic through apnostic — tend to take care of the ‘level of certainty’. Adding a single category would make the list 5 positions longer.

Bebok: Also, all those “ignostic” options in the poll are self-contradictory. When something is meaningless it cannot be true and cannot be false.

The term ignostic was requested in a previous revision of the poll. I added it after very careful consideration, and that turned out to be a good choice as 10% of the choices cast were for one of the ignostic positions. Not bad for a list of 21 serious choices!

Conversely, henotheism was added but only as a single choice. This was because I judged that while there were many henotheists in the past, few people answering this poll from mostly English speaking countries would self-identify as henotheists. Still, 4 people out of just over 310 so far did choose it.

Many of the positions on the list are there to address both a popular category (belief or knowledge claim) and by extension a logical category (knowledge claim + belief).

Most of the changes from the previous versions of the poll were to add categories without making the list too long. If I listened to every request for changes to the list, it easily could be about 5-8x longer.

If the forum software (SMF) allowed for more flexible polls, the 2 categories of belief and knowledge could easily be expanded by 2-4 more categories. A sliding scale from “I strongly agree.” to “I strongly disagree” could be used as well. Yet, that’s not available with SMF by default. Addins tend to cause problems, so even if there is an available poll module for SMF, it may be rejected by the administrators who already have enough to deal with.

* * *

While the poll is not intended to be rigorous, the admittedly questionable results are still interesting. For example, note the relative % of votes cast for each of these positions;

gnostic atheist
gnostic monotheist
agnostic atheist
agnostic monotheist

The monotheists are 8x more likely to claim certain knowledge of a deity (gnostic) than to admit they do not have certain knowledge (agnostic). The atheists are 1/2 as likely to make the same claim.

Yet, it gets more interesting when you realize that the poll is mainly a long checklist. Since one person can choose multiple positions, the interpretation of those results tells us a different story.

The monotheists aren’t likely to claim both a gnostic position and an agnostic position as they have only one deity. The atheists, while having no deities, may be responding with more than one deity in mind. So, not counting any other positions for now, any single atheist can answer “gnostic atheist” and “agnostic atheist”.

This means that the % of firm (gnostic) atheists may be much lower when all deities are lumped together.

As a practical issue, this means the criticism of atheists being generally more unreasonable in their positions as opposed to monotheists is unwarranted.

* * *

To close, I think after running versions of this poll for a few years, and by providing the references from the OED to philosophers and people who self-label themselves as I’ve described, I’m justified in making the belief / knowledge claim distinction and using it as I and many others have.

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 6:31 pm

james v,

Can you give some examples of Catholic spadework from 1910-1950?

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 7:20 pm

ildi: Picky, picky

I try. :-}

As for a transcript, I don’t know of any.

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Mike Young January 27, 2010 at 12:18 am

I am in philosophy at the U of R in Canada and in the philosophy of Religion Craig is a big deal, but generally not outside of Phil of religion. Plantinga on the other hand is a big deal in bothPhilosophy of Religion and in Modal Logic. He has made important contributions to possible world semantics and the notion of what necessity (in the philosophical sense) means.

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Landon Hedrick January 27, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Chris,

Thanks for the tips. I’ve read William Wainwright’s essay in the Craig-Flew book, and I noticed that Martin challenges Craig’s moral argument (using the same points he uses in his online papers and in his book “Atheism, Morality, and Meaning”). As far as the moral argument goes, I’m not sure I would get much more help from the Sinnott-Armstrong debate since I have access to Armstrong’s new book on the topic as well as his contribution to “Is Goodness Without God Good Enough?” I can’t imagine Armstrong had any great criticisms in the first debate that he didn’t repeat in his more recent work.

Personally, I like how Shelly Kagan dealt with Craig, though I know Luke doesn’t agree with that.

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Briang January 28, 2010 at 12:12 am

lukeprog: james v,Can you give some examples of Catholic spadework from 1910-1950?  

As a Catholic, I’d be interested in knowing what Catholic philosophers were doing during that time. From my understanding, philosophy has been considered important in the formation of Priests. I’d be surprised that the philosophy departments were merely teaching verificationism in the seminary.

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Briang January 28, 2010 at 12:21 am

http://www.amazon.com/God-Philosophy-Universities-Selective-Philosophical/dp/074254429X

This book might help, I just found it by googling, so I haven’t read it. Two names mentioned in the reviews were Edith Stein and Karol Wojtyla. The former was canonized as saint, the latter became Pope. (Edith Stein was an atheist, so there is hope for you Luke. ;-)

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Bebok January 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

I’d like to know who are those Catholic philosophers too. For me it may be the 1910-2010 period. It seems to me that Catholics have generally little interest in natural theology, in contrast to dogmatic theology. The condition of Catholic philosophy seems to be gloomy, at least here in Europe. There are mainly some ingenuous preachers calling themselves philosophers for unknown reasons, some pretentious and obscure declaimers a la Maritain or Heidegger and some gleams of process theology.

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Bebok January 28, 2010 at 11:19 am

Hermes,

I can’t understand what was the purpose of you linking to Drange’s article. It has nothing to do with your belief/knowledge distinction. Can you name those philosophers who adopt it? Your link is apparently broken.
You are free to self-identify as you like. I was just trying to tell that unless you define “belief” and “knowledge” effectively, this distinction is only confusing. In common usage, meanings of those words overlap. And it’s only one of the many problems I have with your poll.

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Hermes January 28, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Bebok: I can’t understand what was the purpose of you linking to Drange’s article. It has nothing to do with your belief/knowledge distinction. Can you name those philosophers who adopt it? Your link is apparently broken.

The link was broken and I could not edit it. Sorry for any confusion. The intended link was a Google search of “agnostic atheists” (note that the quote marks are important in this instance).

Bebok: In common usage, meanings of those words overlap. And it’s only one of the many problems I have with your poll.

I addressed why common usage is acceptable, where it falls down, and why I structured the poll as I did.

If you want to create your own poll and deal with a few years of comments while making adjustments to allow for a multitude of valid comments that may or may not be applicable or are too narrow, you are free to do so.

If you want more details on the actual process I went through, there are over 300 messages you can review in the forum thread for the latest poll and older polls that are linked to from the first message in that thread;

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=833

Knock yourself out.

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Bebok January 29, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Hermes,

I don’t know what to say. You haven’t even tried to address my objection to the knowledge/belief distinction.

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Hermes January 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Bebok, I did and provided references from the OED on through plus 300+ forum messages. What were you expecting that was different?

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Hermes January 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm

To simplify things;

* Atheism = Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of one or more deities.

* Theism = Belief in, or affirmation of, the existence of one or more deities.

These definitions are roughly from the Oxford English Dictionary and are quoted by multiple atheists including one I linked to earlier.

In both instances, the terms focus on belief not knowledge.

To continue, gnostic comes from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning knowledge. Paraphrasing the OED on agnostic and gnostic (also from the same link above), we get;

* Gnostic = Someone that states that non-material phenomena is knowable and is known.

* Agnostic = Someone that states that non-material phenomena is unknown and unknowable.

In both instances, the words focus on knowledge not belief.

Conclusion: It is not that dictionaries define words like some authority from on high. Usage is what defines words, dictionaries are reporters documenting usage. When common usage muddles the meanings that peopel intend to express — such as the case of ‘theory’ — that low standard digs shallowly into the actual meanings people give to their more private thoughts.

By looking at the words carefully, we can see that there can not be an overlap between knowledge and belief except when little care is given to the meanings behind the words actually used.

As we can’t transport neural structures between brains — we can’t mind read — to discard our second best but actually available tool proper word usage in an effort to go with the words that are not as accurate does not honor what people are actually thinking.

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