Why the New Atheists Failed, and How to Defeat All Religious Arguments in One Easy Step

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 2, 2010 in General Atheism,Video

Here is the video of my talk at University of California, San Diego for Rational Thought. About 50 people attended. The title is “Why the New Atheists Failed, and How to Defeat All Religious Arguments.” It is followed by an excellent Q&A session, some of which is unfortunately missing due to the battery capacity of the camera.

It’s hard to see my PowerPoint slides on the video, so here they are.


Rough Transcript:

Hi, everyone. My name is Luke Muehlhauser, and I was a born again, baptized, Bible-thumpin’ son of a preacher man for 21 years in Minnesota. At age 20 I wanted to do nothing else but be like Jesus to a lost and hurting world. So, I had to figure out who Jesus really was, and I began to study the Historical Jesus.

What I learned, even from Christian scholars, was shocking to me. The Bible is full of contradictions. The New Testament authors have different theologies, and in fact the mission of Paul was quite different than the mission of Jesus, and it was the mission of Paul that became Christianity as we know it today. So Christianity should really be called Paulinism.

This was all pretty scary for me, because all my dreams, all my plans, all my relationships, all my comfort revolved around me being a Christian. So I read the works of conservative Christian historians and philosophers to try to recover my faith, but just to be fair I read a little bit of skeptical material as well, and I found that what the skeptics said made plain, simple sense, and meanwhile the Christian apologists had to do intellectual bacflips just to say Christianity was defensible.

So I lost my faith and now I run a popular website about atheism and morality.

The title of my talk today is Why the New Atheists Failed, and How to Defeat All Religious Arguments in One Easy Step.

Now that’s a pretty sensationalistic title, and I hope you’re all very skeptical of it. But I do want to mention that nothing I’ll say here today is original to me. I’m just popularizing and summarizing the work of professional philosophers in technical journals that nobody reads.

But let’s talk about that first part: Why the New Atheists Failed. You might say, “Luke, what do you mean the New Atheists failed? Atheists are coming out of the closet in droves. The famous New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are appearing on TV shows and radio programs all over the place to talk about atheism. And atheism books are selling millions of copies, for the first time ever. You call that failure?”

Well, no, of course not. I am tremendously grateful to the New Atheists.

What the New Atheists have failed at, rather, is something different, but something very important to the New Atheists, and that is: they’ve failed at giving a strong intellectual case for atheism.

Now I’m sure Richard Dawkins would be upset by this claim. But it’s uncontroversial among those who argue about the existence of God for a living: professional philosophers. I’ve spoken with dozens of them, believers and atheists, and none of them think the New Atheists have made a strong intellectual case for atheism.

Of course the religious philosophers write a lot about the New Atheists because they’re quite eager to show how bad their arguments are, but atheistic philosophers mostly just ignore the New Atheists, because they’re working with better arguments already, and there’s just nothing to work with in the New Atheists.

I’ll give you just two examples.

The first is what Richard Dawkins calls the ‘main argument’ of his book The God Delusion. It’s a 6-step argument that goes something like this. He says, “Look, if you’re going to posit that God is the best explanation for the bacterial flagellar motor or the human eye, then that doesn’t really help anything, because an intelligent designer of that thing as to be even more complex. Your brain, when you design something, has to be a lot more complex than the thing you design. So if you’re going to say it’s unlikely that complex things should come into existence, therefore we need God to explain it, then you’ve got an even bigger problem with God, because he’s even more complex. So it’s very unlikely that a complex God would ever come into existence. If anything, God would have to come about by a long, gradual process like evolution.”

So that’s the gist of his argument. Why does it fail?

The first problem with Dawkins’ argument is that it’s logically invalid, which is to say that even if all his premises were true, which I’m not sure they are, they still don’t even support his conclusion! But let’s say Dawkins wasn’t trying to give a logical argument, but rather some sort of messy outline toward an argument he wants to make but never does. Either way, it’s not very useful.

The second problem is that Dawkins is trying to disprove a God that almost nobody believes in. Let me explain. The God that Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in is all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, non-physical, personal, eternal, and necessary.

And it’s those last two that pose a problem for Dawkins. Because if God is eternal or necessary, then he didn’t “come into existence.” God is not the sort of being that came into existence like you or me, he’s supposedly a necessary feature of any possible world, and has always existed. So if Dawkins wants to say that it’s unlikely a complex God would come into existence, then he’s just trying to disprove a God that almost nobody believes in.1

This all comes from a paper by atheistic philosopher Erik Wielenberg, who tried to resurrect Dawkins’ argument into some logical form, only to find that it fails anyway.

So this is what I call, in my braver moments, the epic fail of the New Atheism. This is the central argument of the most popular book by the most respected New Atheist, and it is a complete failure. It fails in just about every way it’s possible for an argument to fail.

Okay, before the atheists here stone me, one more example of bad arguments from atheists.

On page 71 of God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens writes that:

The postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer… Religion and theology… have consistently failed to overcome this objection.

Who designed the designer? Who made God? This is a question that a 5-year-old can ask. But it’s a bad argument, and I’d like to explain why. I get a lot of criticism for this because it’s very popular to say “Who designed the designer?” But anyone who has done Philosophy of Science 101 will know it’s a bad argument.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you discovered that you can ask a parent “Why?”, and then no matter what they say, you can just ask “Why?” again?

“Daddy, why do birds fly?”

“Because they have to get food for the baby birds.”

“Why?”

“Because otherwise the baby birds will die.”

“Why?”

“Because they need energy to keep living.”

“Why?”

“Because… ugh, daddy’s tired, please just go away.”

Of course even if Daddy was a professional biologist, there would still come a time when she could not answer the Why question.

And scientists know this.

Many years ago, physicists posited atoms to explain certain observations – and they were right, even though they had no idea what could explain atoms themselves.

And now they posit electrons and photons and so on even though they cannot explain electrons and photons themselves.

So if in order to offer something as a ‘best explanation’ you had to have an explanation for the explanation, then you could never explain anything, because you’d need an explanation of the explanation, and then you’d need an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and then you’d need an explanation of the explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and so on… into infinity!

So I don’t think the New Atheists should require that explanations themselves be explained, because that would destroy science, and the New Atheists seem rather fond of science.

So that’s another bad argument from the New Atheists and it comes from the fact that none of them are actually scholars of religion.

Well, this brings me to the second part of my speech: How to Defeat All Religious Arguments in One Easy Step.

So why is “God did it” a bad explanation? It’s not because God himself is unexplained. It’s for other reasons. And this is how you defeat all religious arguments in one easy step.

Let’s look at a list of arguments for the existence of God:

You’ve got cosmological arguments: God is the best explanation for why something exists rather than nothing.

You’ve got design arguments: God is the best explanation for certain complex things.

You’ve got moral arguments: God is the best explanation for why some things are really right and wrong.

And here are some other arguments proposed by the most important Christian philosopher alive today, Alvin Plantinga:

He says: God is the best explanation for the existence of mathematical sets.

God is the best explanation for our experience of flavor and color.

God is the best explanation for our appreciation of Mozart.

God is the best explanation for our experience of nostalgia.

So by now you might have noticed a problem. How does saying “God did it” explain any of these things? How does “God did it” offer a solution to any of the problems that philosophers and scientists are working on? When you’re confronted with a difficult problem, you can’t just say “Well, I guess it was magic.” That doesn’t solve anything!

“Poof! Magic” is not an explanation.

But I can’t just say that “Poof! Magic” is not explanation. I have to argue for it.

Scientists and philosophers, when looking for a best explanation, have identified some qualities that are often associated with good explanations. What is it that makes something a best explanation? What is it that makes one thing a good explanation, and another thing a not-so-good explanation?

Well, the first thing is that they are testable. In fact, if a theory wasn’t testable, it wouldn’t make much sense to say it’s the best explanation of something, because there’s no way for you to test whether it’s true or not! These theories render specific predictions, so you can go out in the world and see whether those predictions are true or false.

And of course, it should be not only testable, but it should pass the test. Astrology is very testable.

For example, many astrologers say that a woman’s menstrual cycle corresponds to the phases of the moon. That’s testable! And guess what? We tested it; it’s false.

Our most successful explanations also tend to be consistent with our background knowledge. If your new theory requires that we throw out everything we know about gravity and light and animals and humans, then that’s probably not the right theory. Consistency with background knowledge is important for a best explanation.

Successful explanations also tend to be simpler than alternatives. If a cookie is missing from a cookie jar, that’s probably just because Timmy took the cookie. It’s possible that the FBI and a gang of poltergeists conspired to use a time-stopping machine to freeze time and walk right past you and steal the cookie and then get away and unfreeze time again. That’s possible. But it’s extremely unlikely. Why? Because every element in that story is by itself unlikely, and the theory requires that they all be true, which is even more unlikely. So don’t add things to your theory that don’t need to be there.

Successful explanations should also have good explanatory scope, meaning they should explain a wide variety of data. Take, for example, the theory that those puffy white lines you see in the sky sometimes are from government planes dropping mind-control gas on all of us. One problem with this theory is that it might explain why New Yorkers see them, but it does not explain why you see lots of puffy white lines in the sky over deserts and oceans, where there are no minds to control. So that theory might explain some of the data, but it doesn’t explain all the data. It has weak explanatory scope.

So this is just the start of what scientists and philosophers look for in a good explanation, but we can already see there are major problems for the “God did it” theory.

For example, is the God hypothesis testable? No. Saying “God did it” renders no specific predictions for us to test, because God is all powerful and he could be responsible for anything. And theologians are very insistent on this because if they started to make the God hypothesis more specific and he would render specific predictions, it usually turns out that he fails the test. So they’ve been very careful to make God this mysterious, all-powerful thing and we don’t understand his purposes and he could be doing just about anything and we wouldn’t understand why. So there are no specific predictions that come out of the God hypothesis; there’s no way to test it. And it doesn’t make sense to say God is the best hypothesis if there’s no way to test whether or not that hypothesis is true.

What about the second criterion? Is the God hypothesis consistent with our background knowledge? Not at all. God is an extreme violation of our background knowledge about how things work. God is a person but he doesn’t have a body. God thinks, but without the passage of time. He knows everything, but he doesn’t have a brain. God is a terrible violation of our background knowledge in many serious ways.

Is the God hypothesis simple? If you’re talking about the God of the Bible, definitely not. The God of the Bible is an extraordinarily complex person; a being with thoughts and emotions who loves and hates and condemns and forgives; a being who turns a staff into a snake and a woman into salt; a being who changes his mind; a being who starts fires and throws rocks from the sky; a being who kills and resurrects; a being who takes part in personal relationships and political struggles; and a being who incarnates himself as a complex biological organism known as Jesus of Nazareth. The God of the Bible is far from simple.

And even if you’re talking about a more generic kind of God, God is not simple. Christian philosopher C. Stephen Layman lists four ways that a hypothesis can simple, and in all 4 ways he admits that the God hypothesis is more complex than the atheistic hypothesis. But I don’t have time to go into that here.

What about explanatory scope? Does the God hypothesis have good explanatory scope? Again, no. I’ll give just one example. If you invoke God as the explanation for apparent design in the universe, you immediately run into the problem of all the incompetent and evil “design” in the universe.2

So why is “God did it” a bad explanation? It’s because “God did it” lacks all the virtues we look for in successful explanations, and instead has many of the qualities that appear in terrible explanations, like explanations from pseudoscience and superstition.

So how do you defeat all religious arguments in one easy step? When someone gives an argument for God, pick out the part where they’re saying God is the best explanation for something and ask: “How is ‘God did it’ a good explanation for that? How does ‘Poof! Magic’ explain anything? Please tell me exactly how magic is a good explanation for that.”

And when you do that, it becomes immediately clear what’s really going on here. Believers aren’t really offering a ‘best explanation’ for anything, what they’re offering is a good-old argument from ignorance.

“Woah! Lightning! I don’t know how that happens, so… it must be an angry magical being in the sky throwing down lightning bolts!”

“I can’t explain the bacterial flagellar motor, so… it must be the work of an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, non-physical, timeless, spaceless, personal magical being!”

These are arguments from ignorance and they’re really bad. When you say “We don’t know,” you don’t say, “… it must be… anything!” When you say “I don’t know,” that’s where your sentence should stop.

So when you ask people to explain “How is ‘poof! Magic’ the best explanation for this?” it becomes clear that believers are just offering arguments from ignorance and dressing them up with the language of ‘best explanation.’

How do you defeat all religious arguments in one easy step? You pick out the part of the argument that posits God as the best explanation for something, and you ask: “How is God the best explanation for that? How is ‘poof! Magic’ the best explanation?”

Thank you.

P.S. Be sure to check out the talk that Victor Stenger did for Rational Thought.

  1. Now of course Dawkins could offer an argument that God can’t be eternal or can’t be a necessary being. But if he had such arguments then those arguments would disprove theism, and his argument about complexity would be unnecessary and irrelevant. []
  2. An all-good, all-powerful God is not a good explanation for congenital diseases. He is not a good explanation for the blind spot in your eye. He is not a good explanation for the fact that a baby’s head is often bigger than a woman’s pelvic opening, which has led to millions of women and babies dying before we invented the C-section. He is not a good explanation for the useless femur and pelvis in whales, left over from when they where land animals. []

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{ 148 comments… read them below or add one }

a Nadder May 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm

The God that Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in is all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, non-physical, personal, eternal, and necessary.

I would agree with the standard claim of, say, Dawkins that there is an extremely wide gulf between theologians and philosophers of religion and “regular” Jews, Christians and Muslims. Do you really think most religious believers have an explicitly formulated concept of a “necessary being” or even know what this means?

And I must say that despite all my reading in philosophy, religion etc, I don’t know what this means either as a coherent concept. It seems to get close to the whole “God is not bound by your puny human ideas of cause and effect” schtick.

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Mark May 2, 2010 at 6:16 pm

What was the C. Stephen Layman article you referenced?

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Jayman May 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Many arguments for the existence of God are not hypotheses or explanations at all. They are metaphysical demonstrations. It is not a matter of whether these arguments provide the best explanation for some phenomenon. The only thing that matters is whether the argument is sound.

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Muto May 2, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Great lecture!
I really like the approach of questioning the ‘best explanation’. I think if someone could deliver this thought effectively most arguments of WLC would fail in a debate, thus giving speaker much extra time.

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Muto May 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Many arguments for the existence of God are not hypotheses or explanations at all.They are metaphysical demonstrations.It is not a matter of whether these arguments provide the best explanation for some phenomenon.The only thing that matters is whether the argument is sound.  

But very many of these arguments are inferences of the best explanation in disguise. For example: My own personal experience of god is prove of his existence`’ can be equivalently refrased as ‘god is the best explanation for my experience’.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Mark,

Ah, yes. I’ve added the link now.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Jayman,

Can you give an example, please? Ontological arguments are the only arguments I know of that do not at some point invoke God as the best explanation for something or other.

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Jayman May 2, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Luke, I think any deductive argument would be an example. You’re obviously familiar with the kalam cosmological argument so we can work with that. It seems to me that there are two judgments one could pronounce on the KCA: (1) it is a sound argument and God’s existence has been proven; or (2) it is an unsound argument and God’s existence has not been proven. God is not presented as an hypothesis to explain certain features of the universe. Rather God is presented as the logical conclusion one can draw from certain facts about the universe.

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TaiChi May 2, 2010 at 7:29 pm

“So there are no specific predictions that come out of the God hypothesis; there’s no way to test it.” ~ Lukeprog

“If you invoke God as the explanation for apparent design in the universe, you immediately run into the problem of all the incompetent and evil “design” in the universe.” ~ Lukeprog

There seems to be a tension here. If God fails to explain badly designed organisms, then this seems to be because we should expect well-designed organisms if God existed – but then we’ve identified a prediction of the God hypothesis, so the first statement isn’t true. That’s not you fault – there are two conceptions of God people switch between, one failing to have explanatory scope, the other failing specific predictions – but it makes your case sound a bit weaker than it actually is.

Other than that (and my disagreement with Wielenberg), it seems to me this is an excellent talk for only some 20 minutes: well done!

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Jayman,

Yours is a question I was hoping somebody would ask during the Q&A.

There is no rule that requires believers to use the phrase ‘best explanation,’ but it’s there. The argument for God as the best explanation is there in the premises: most obviously, in premise #4, where it is argued that God is the best explanation for the origins of the universe rather than any other kind of cause.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 7:51 pm

TaiChi,

Yup, there is a tension between saying there aren’t any specific predictions that come from the God hypothesis, and saying that the God hypothesis predicts something other than lots of incompetent and evil design in the universe. This is an example of what I was alluding to when I said that theologians COULD specify their hypothesis such that it rendered specific predictions, but they usually avoid doing so because it always turns out that such a God hypothesis is falsified by the data. That’s why they say God is mysterious and we can’t understand his ways and so we can’t even say that the hypothesis of an all-good, all-powerful God doesn’t even predict that, say, there wouldn’t be oodles of pointless suffering in the universe, or lots of evil and incompetent design.

What, specifically, is your disagreement with Wielenberg? Is it just that there may yet be a way to frame Dawkins’ argument such that it has some force?

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Ryan May 2, 2010 at 8:27 pm

I wrote a few thoughts about this speech here:

http://aigbusted.blogspot.com/2010/05/why-new-atheists-failed.html

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al friedlander May 2, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Nice work, and good answers in the Q&A

(1)Why the New Atheists Failed, and (2)How to Defeat All Religious Arguments in One Easy Step

Correctly predicted part 1; totally surprised by part 2

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Thanks, al.

Those weren’t even my best answers, imo. I really wish the battery on the camera hadn’t run out! You missed some great stuff.

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rvkevin May 2, 2010 at 8:50 pm

I really wish the battery on the camera hadn’t run out! You missed some great stuff.  

Do you vaguely remember them? Perhaps you could give a summary of each question and your answer given, it would be appreciated.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I remember one in particular I’ll give an answer to later.

Somebody asked how I work a full-time job and do all this and I recommended Rockstar Recovery.

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TaiChi May 2, 2010 at 9:01 pm

“This is an example of what I was alluding to when I said that theologians COULD specify their hypothesis such that it rendered specific prediction” ~ Lukeprog

I gather that. But in the first instance you’re saying that the God hypothesis makes no predictions, yet in the second instance you’re saying that by invoking God as a explanation “you immediately run into the problem of all the incompetent and evil “design” in the universe.“. Well, which is it? What do you understand by the God hypothesis?
The right answer is “both”: there are two major variants of the God hypothesis, one of which is predictive, and the other which is not. The downfall of each are falsified predictions and lack of explanatory scope, respectively. But if that’s the right answer, then the confident “is the God hypothesis testable? No.” is, perhaps not wrong, but not quite right, either.
It’d be better to say something like: “What about explanatory scope? Does the God hypothesis have good explanatory scope? Well, no – if the God hypothesis really doesn’t make any predictions, then he doesn’t seem to explain anything much, either. At most God would explain what was principally unobservable, which is to say, not much at all.“. That leaves out the problems of evil, but it does stay true to the non-predictive interpretation of the God hypothesis.

“What, specifically, is your disagreement with Wielenberg? Is it just that there may yet be a way to frame Dawkins’ argument such that it has some force?” Lukeprog

There’s no support in TGD for Wielenberg’s view that Dawkins assumes God comes into existence. I think its unfortunate that Wielenberg assumes this, since there is a tenable version of Dawkins’ argument which does not make that mistake (as we’ve discussed).

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Lorkas May 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I’m sensing the influence of Neil deGrasse Tyson in the last few minutes of your talk.

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Mike R May 2, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Luke, great job. I think it’s safe to say you have a promising future as a public speaker/atheist “popularizer.”

I’m curious to hear more about your maroon minivan prophesy. Do you chalk that up to complete coincidence? Or were there any factors unknown to you at the time that might have influenced your vision?

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Jelkins May 2, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Luke,

To comment on the last question you were asked in the video about religious experience: I think another helpful comment you could add about explaining rare religious experiences is to note that there are also a lot personal experiences that would be hard to explain if God did exist. In reading your personal testimony, the fact that you were searching so hard for a relationship with God and still lost your faith seems difficult to explain if there was a all loving God who desired a relationship with you. I remember many times in the past where I spent time pleading with God to just let me know he was there, and was instead met with silence and unanswered questions.

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al friedlander May 2, 2010 at 9:53 pm

@Jelkins

“I remember many times in the past where I spent time pleading with God to just let me know he was there, and was instead met with silence and unanswered questions. ”

Ditto. Although, I bet many Christian sects could simply respond that all three of us were not part of the ‘predestined-elect’.

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noen May 2, 2010 at 10:02 pm

“I learn a lot of things that were shocking to me … the new testament authors have different theologies, the Bible is full of contradictions … the mission of Jesus was different than the mission of Paul … Christianity should really be called Paulism … this was all very scary to me”

So you stopped being a Christian when you learned that it was started by those dirty papists huh?

“So I wanted to recover my faith so I read *conservative* Christian scholars and I decided to be fair and read a little bit of skeptical material as well.”

You see, you’re still a fundamentalist. Just a secular one now. Like most of today’s new atheists you carry with you your fundamentalist upbringing and attitudes into your new faith. Nothing has really changed.

You think belief in god is a public matter and that one should conduct one’s life in obedience to strict rules. You were frightened to learn that the Bible is a human record written by humans with differing views and not divine word.

Those are fundamentalist attitudes.

Re: Why the new atheism failed “The new atheism failed because of bad reasoning.”

Ahhh… no, I don’t think anyone really cared that Dawkins’ argument was poor or that his biblical scholarship was poor. Even if Dawkins had given a flawless argument and exemplary exegesis it would not have made a whit of difference.

The new atheism failed because it’s representatives were seen as arrogant, smug and self righteous. You see, religion isn’t really about belief. Religious belief isn’t about the mental assertion that the propositional content of the sentence “God exists” must be true. Religion is about the practice of faith, not doctrine.

It’s only fundamentalists and atheists who think dogma is what matters.

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noen May 2, 2010 at 10:12 pm

By the way…. I can tell you how to recover your faith. If you really want to know.

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Bradm May 2, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Luke,

You said that you are “just popularizing and summarizing the work of professional philosophers in technical journals that nobody reads.” Can you point me to which philosophers claim that these arguments are arguments from ignorance? Are you claiming that this is a standard view in the field of philosophy of religion or just that some philosophers have claimed this?

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm

TaiChi,

There are many ways I could have phrased it, but you’ll notice I really said something more like “No, at least not as theologians typically define God.”

As for Dawkins, I’m still struggling with the exegetical job of pulling a valid argument from that chapter. Perhaps there is a way to do it, I just haven’t seen it yet. I’d be most grateful if someone could do it, but I suspect that would be a lot of work. Wielenberg’s is the best attempt I’ve seen so far.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Lorkas,

You are correct.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Mike R,

I really don’t know. Memory is so unreliable, maybe my memory of the event changed after we got the minivan. Or maybe the reason we were given a minivan had something to do with the fact that I shared with a few people that I had seen a vision of a maroon minivan. Or maybe it was just a coincidence, and of course I forgot the hundreds of other visions I had that did not come true.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 10:23 pm

noen,

The way you use words is very confusing to me. What does it mean to say that I’m a fundamentalist if I reject everything about fundamentalism? Since when is fundamentalism defined as the view that god-belief is a public matter and that one should live according to strict rules?

Re: the new atheists. You will note that I said they failed not in the sense of public persuasion but in the sense of giving good intellectual arguments. Your point is about the New Atheists failing in their conquest of public persuasion.

I agree that for most people religion is only superficially about doctrine. Most religious believers are extremely ignorant of religious doctrines and the scriptures that supposedly espouse them.

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lukeprog May 2, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Bradm,

No atheistic conclusions are ‘the standard view’ in philosophy of religion because most philosophers of religion are theistic.

In the first part, I’m drawing on Wielenberg’s paper ‘Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity.’ On ‘who designed the designer’ I quote a few relevant articles here.

On the second part, you can read a great many articles in philosophy of science on the concept of explanation. As for the ‘explanatory virtues’ approach applied to the ‘God did it’ explanation, the most important work is Theism and Explanation. As for philosophers who identify theistic arguments as arguments from ignorance, the list is very long. At the moment, some who come to mind are E. Thomas Lawson, Robert McCauley, and Robert Pennock.

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Silver Bullet May 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Luke,

Congratulations on a terrific job. I enjoyed your content and style. Well done.

SB

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noen May 2, 2010 at 10:59 pm

By the way, I heard about the horrible accidents near Cambridge last weekend. I hope it wasn’t anyone you knew.

“What does it mean to say that I’m a fundamentalist if I reject everything about fundamentalism?”

Sometimes when people dream they feel they are being chased by monsters. They run away but they can never escape. The only means of escape is to stop running and face it.

I was raised a liberal ALC Lutheran. I was taught that professions of belief were personal matters and that it was rude to be openly demonstrative of one’s faith. To this day I find it embarrassing when others speak publicly of their faith and would I am insulted when people approach me in public and ask about what I do or don’t believe.

I was also taught as a child in Sunday school as common knowledge that the authors of the gospels each had their own views and that Paul kind of had his own take on things that we didn’t necessarily agree with.

Fundamentalists aren’t like that at all. They demand public profession of faith as a mean of social conformity and they regard the text as unquestioned literal truth. The New Atheists are kind of like that too. They also pressure people to give a public profession of faith and they also tend to have very received views of scientific knowledge.

“Most religious believers are extremely ignorant of religious doctrines and the scriptures that supposedly espouse them.”

I think that’s only true for fundamentalists. They have a very rigid authoritarian social structure. So it correct that most conservative believers have not really read their Bible and know very little. That’s because the authoritarian personality does not acquire information through reading, comparison and reflection. For them whatever those in power say must be true. It would never occur to them that the way to decide a controversial issue is to gather information, reflected about it and then reach their own considered opinion. They are epistemically closed and arguing with them isn’t going to phase them one bit.

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Bradm May 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Luke,

The first 3/4th’s of your talk I found very little to disagree with. I have some qualms about classifying the major arguments for God primarily as “best explanations for X” but I’m not really concerned with that.

The last quarter or so, though, I felt strayed from what even atheist philosopher’s would claim. Just to take your 3 names you suggested … I’m aware of where McCauley and Lawson have said these arguments are poor arguments, but I’m unaware of where they called them arguments for ignorance. Pennock has obviously critiqued certain design arguments in this way but certainly not teleological arguments in general and none of the others at all, AFAIK.

The reason you won’t find professional philosophers claiming this is because the arguments aren’t actually arguments from ignorance. I’m sure you could find versions of each that are arguments from ignorance, but in general it just isn’t true that they are arguments from ignorance. If they fail, they fail for other reasons.

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Jelkins May 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Ditto. Although, I bet many Christian sects could simply respond that all three of us were not part of the ‘predestined-elect’

This could be true, but its not very persuasive. I think most Christians would even reject the theology of the ‘predestined elect’. I think the point I’m making is that many testimonies from believers sometimes sound impressive, until its taken into consideration that they have cherry-picked rare events over a long period of time. The negative experiences they usually claim are a “moral lesson” form God. I’m stuck at a Christian college (free tuition) and I hear these testimonies almost every day. Most of them are underwhelming.

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contrararian May 2, 2010 at 11:53 pm

I think most Christians would even reject the theology of the ‘predestined elect’.

WIlliam Lane Craig posits that God doesn’t let people die until he knows they would have ultimately rejected Christ – and so they deserve eternal hell anyway.

(see here).

Pick the logical fallacies out of that one…

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al friedlander May 2, 2010 at 11:57 pm

The negative experiences they usually claim are a “moral lesson” form God. I’m stuck at a Christian college (free tuition) and I hear these testimonies almost every day. Most of them are underwhelming.  

@Jelkins

Your experiences sound eerily similar to mine. Back when I was in school, I underwent a kind of ‘spiritual-search’. During my freshman year, I still attended a college-fellowship, and thus decided to use this as a chance to garner ‘information’. I was thrilled to hear that they were hosting some kind of ‘personal-testimony’ event; surely, these faithful Christians would lead me away from my ‘fallen path’.

Ironically, the event produced the opposite effect. About 80% of the testimonies consisted of something along the lines of “so ‘this terrible event’ occurred…and I doubted my faith. Things got pretty bad. But after awhile, I realized it was just God testing me/wanting me to deepen my relationship with Him. And I put my doubts to rest”.

~
About the ‘predestined-elect’ bit. I understand what you mean about many Christians rejecting this branch of theology. My point was, however, that under this Calvinist-ish mindset, -Christianity still holds-. This has always been something that’s bothered me quite a bit. I can never really find myself putting that last nail in the coffin, because of specifically this. By all means, though perhaps a tad unpopular, predestination defeats all my personal/emotional arguments (unlike Luke, my conversion was largely emotionally based, rather than intellectually based). I mean, yeah, God would be similar to some type of dictator. But the problem is, He could still very well exist, and send us all to eternal-damnation just because He ‘can’ and ‘feels like it’.

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al friedlander May 3, 2010 at 12:10 am

Just to finish off with a deeper explanation of my last notion. In a debate with one of my Christian friends about how disappointed I was in God’s sense of ‘morality’, he responded with something that I could not counter. It was something along the lines of:

“What right do we, as mere humans, have to criticize and question the Almighty’s sense of right and wrong. God’s morality supersedes all. He is always just; He is always fair. For example, according to you, hell is cruel and unjustified. But God is perfect, and just because -you don’t like it-, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

This bothered me immensely. Emotionally, I felt that hell was wrong. But he was right in a sense. I couldn’t win, I mean, not intellectually. And to add to that, I’m sure that theists/apologists (WLC included) who take their faith seriously all believe hell is justified anyway. That only compounds the issue of “just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s not ‘truly’ moral in a way that exceeds your understanding).

In short, I’ve been able to put the ‘Armenian-God’ to rest within my own mind, but not the ‘predestination-God’. Funnily enough, it seems that I’ve only succeeded in screwing myself over. Because essentially, the God that I concluded -could- exist is in many ways (in my opinion anyway), some kind of ‘monster’.

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contrararian May 3, 2010 at 12:43 am

God’s morality supersedes all. He is always just; He is always fair. For example, according to you, hell is cruel and unjustified. But God is perfect, and just because -you don’t like it-, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

This isn’t “moral”. This isn’t “love” in any normal sense. This is the “love” of a psychopath who tells us he loves us but will beat us to a pulp if we don’t love him back.

In short, I’ve been able to put the ‘Armenian-God’ to rest within my own mind, but not the ‘predestination-God’. Funnily enough, it seems that I’ve only succeeded in screwing myself over. Because essentially, the God that I concluded -could- exist is in many ways (in my opinion anyway), some kind of ‘monster’.

At the very least you have the satisfaction of knowing the “Christian” God does not exist ;> … If “God” does exist, he must be some sort of moral monster, and is unworthy of worship.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 1:29 am

Bradm,

I think you’re right that the last bit in which I argue that theistic arguments are often just arguments from ignorance masquerading as arguments to the best explanation is NOT something argued by philosophers, and so it was too strong of me to say that “everything” I said in my speech was just summarizing professional philosophers. I didn’t realize that until now; thanks for pointing it out!

If I had more time, I would have gone on to explain that I don’t really mean they ARE arguments from ignorance as presented. They are, obviously, arguments to the best explanation. I just think they’re really bad ones. So what I’m really trying to say is that they seem to be coming from this very common fallacious form of argument called the argument from ignorance, and then being repackaged – consciously or unconsciously – as “arguments to the best explanation”, even if the apologist has not even bothered to consider HOW it is that God is the “best explanation” for such-and-such phenomena. That’s why they look like arguments from ignorance to me.

Of course, some theistic philosophers HAVE tried to show why God is the best explanation for, say, design – philosophers like Richard Swinburne and Robin Collins. I just, at the moment, don’t think they’ve done a compelling job of it.

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contrararian May 3, 2010 at 2:08 am

(oops to

If “God” does exist, he must be some sort of moral monster, and is unworthy of worship.  

Oops that should be “the god of the bible”. doh.

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Tim Mills May 3, 2010 at 3:12 am

Luke,

Awesome job. If it weren’t an ocean and a continent away, I would have come to your talk. Thanks for sharing the video with those of us who couldn’t come.

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RA May 3, 2010 at 6:07 am

By the way…. I can tell you how to recover your faith. If you really want to know.  

Noen,

How in the world can you tell someone how to recover their faith when you are an agnostic and don’t have any yourself? If your advice was any good, why wouldn’t you follow it?

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Josh May 3, 2010 at 6:09 am

I’ve always thought there was something fishy about defining god to be necessary. It seems to be eerily close to begging the question…

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Reginald Selkirk May 3, 2010 at 6:11 am

About 80% of the testimonies consisted of something along the lines of “so ‘this terrible event’ occurred…and I doubted my faith. Things got pretty bad. But after awhile, I realized it was just God testing me/wanting me to deepen my relationship with Him. And I put my doubts to rest”.

You mean something like this:
Laura Bush’s Crisis Of Christian Faith: Why God Doesn’t Do Favors

“The whole time,” she adds later, “I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling ‘Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,’ over and over and over again.”
…“I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years,” she says. “It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard.

Why yes, I’ll bet it was just exactly as if no one heard.

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Haecceitas May 3, 2010 at 6:45 am

The “track record” argument against theistic explanations seems quite suspect. The explanatory merits or lack thereof in any hypothesis should be intrinsic to the logical structure of the hypothesis and evidential relationship between the explanans and the explanandum, rather than being dependent on historical accidents (how often people have appealed to various gods in an effort to explain things, etc).

Let’s suppose that people just happened to find the concept of an explosion to be terribly attractive as an explanation, so they’d falsely postulate all sorts of explosions to explain things. This wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have any effect either way on whether an event that is in some respects analogous to an explosion is the best explanation for the origin of the universe. Well, I suppose a man on the street could be somewhat justified in an “oh, it’s just another one of those crazy bangs that people conjure up to cover their ignorance” type of dismissal, but a serious expert should not approach things that way.

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Reginald Selkirk May 3, 2010 at 6:56 am

Physicists have no idea what explains electrons and protons themselves

Sorry, but the physicists are a few steps ahead of you. Protons are explained as triplets of quarks, held together by the strong nuclear force. This all falls under the “Standard Model.”

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manicstreetpreacher May 3, 2010 at 8:15 am

Hi Luke

I enjoyed your lecture, but have to defend Dawkins here.

His six points at the end of Chapter 4: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God in The God Delusion is not a philosophical syllogism with premises and a conclusion a la William Lane Craig, but a simple summary of the arguments of the chapter.

Also, part of Dawkins’ case against design is very much what you call “Poof… Magic!”. For Dawkins, saying that “God did it” is a non-answer that is about as much help as saying “Zeus did it”. He’s not just concerned with Hume’s “Who designed the designer?” infinite regress, like a child asking his parents, “Yeah, but why?” ad nauseum.

As for your objection that Dawkins’ Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit attacks a God that no one believes in, so what? I usually find that God is defined largely in negative terms and when you posit something that you would expect to observe in order to make you believe, the theists will turn round and say, “But that’s not the God that I believe in!”

Dawkins’ case is that massive complexity can arise from simple beginnings to which Darwinism has raised our conscience in biology. Dawkins offers no equivalent in physics, but says that one may well exist. However, God must be an enormously complex and improbable being (which you recognise in your lecture) and therefore is statistically less likely than the existence of the universe. Simply declaring by fiat that God is all-powerful and eternal is just too easy.

Vic Stenger on the other hand states that the natural order is to go from simple to complex, like water vapour turning into liquid water and then solid ice. Why is there “something” rather than “nothing”? There has to be, according to the likes of Krauss and Stenger. “Nothing” is unstable and therefore inevitably will turn into “something”.

Keep up the good work.

MSP

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Jelkins May 3, 2010 at 8:21 am

@ al friedlander
“In short, I’ve been able to put the ‘Armenian-God’ to rest within my own mind, but not the ‘predestination-God’. Funnily enough, it seems that I’ve only succeeded in screwing myself over. Because essentially, the God that I concluded -could- exist is in many ways (in my opinion anyway), some kind of ‘monster”

This could be true, however if God does exist as this kind of “moral monster” it would be hard to show why Christianity makes any more sense than Islam. The religion with the most evidence could just be God’s plan to elect the most people to go to hell. God could have used Jesus to trick people into hell, or a least allowed him to. So even if someone accepted this view of God there is more than one god to be afraid of. You could respond to friend you were debating by asking him on why he is not afraid of other gods like Allah who could be predestining him to believe in Jesus. This would not be a defeater, but might get him thinking. That goes back to the point Luke made in his speech about Christians claiming the religious experiences of others being demons. This could be true, but it could also be the other way around.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 8:35 am

MSP,

I’m continuing my series ‘Rescuing Dawkins’ Main Argument Against God,’ in which I test out various interpretations of Dawkins’ argument to see if they work. The problem is that when I go with one person’s interpretation of Dawkins and find that it fails, somebody else comes along and says, “No, no, THIS is what he’s REALLY trying to say.” And then I show why that fails and somebody else says, “You’ve got it all wrong, THIS is what he’s trying to say.” I hope you will comment on my upcoming 4th part of that series in which I try to figure out what Dawkins’ argument might be.

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Charles May 3, 2010 at 8:40 am

I thought he said electrons and photons, but I could have misheard.

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manicstreetpreacher May 3, 2010 at 9:45 am

Luke

Perhaps that’s your fault for not understanding Dawkins’ argument!

Remember those “Refuting WLC’s five arguments for God existence” vids? Our narrator counters Craig’s assertion that “atheists have for centuries been trying to disprove the existence of God, but no one has ever come up with a decent argument”, with, “No, many respected philosophers have devised excellent disproofs for God. Just because Craig doesn’t understand or agree with them, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them!”

Can’t you learn anything from Th1sWasATriumph?

:o

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MauricXe May 3, 2010 at 10:32 am

Neon said:

By the way…. I can tell you how to recover your faith. If you really want to know.  

I am interested in hearing this.

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Reginald Selkirk May 3, 2010 at 11:02 am

I think it involves a lobotomy.

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Al Moritz May 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm

The “track record” argument against theistic explanations seems quite suspect. The explanatory merits or lack thereof in any hypothesis should be intrinsic to the logical structure of the hypothesis and evidential relationship between the explanans and the explanandum, rather than being dependent on historical accidents (how often people have appealed to various gods in an effort to explain things, etc).

Luke’s argument really does not address the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God, as has been pointed out. For some introduction I suggest Edward Feser’s “Aquinas, a Beginner’s Guide” — which is not just for beginners, really, and Reitan’s “Is God a Delusion”, which also, like so many other sources, points out that Dawkins’ presentations of Aquinas’ arguments are really nothing but uninformed, simplistic strawmen.

But another fundamental problem with Luke’s argument is that it addresses the alleged workings of God *within* nature. However, it does not address the arguments for why there is something like nature at all 1), or why nature is the way it is. Both of these questions are philosophical questions, not scientific ones. When it comes to the latter question, all ‘scientific’ arguments really become philosophical ones too, because

a) we cannot observe beyond the particle horizon 2), and thus cannot see, for example, a putative multiverse, and even if we could, the philosopher may then legitimately ask, why this particular multiverse that can produce our local universe, and not any other multiverse?

b) science cannot explain *why* the laws of nature are the way they are, it can only explain *what* they are and how they work

The *why* is always a metaphysical question. Suppose that, vastly unlikely as that appears, there is indeed just one single solution to the laws of nature in a unified system of general relativity and quantum mechanics (a system of ‘quantum gravity’, perhaps), and the laws of nature, including the initial conditions of the universe (!), thus have to be that way and not any other. This still would not explain the *why* of the laws of nature, since the philosopher may then legitimately ask, why this particular unified system and not any other mathematically self-consistent one?

1) the Stengerian answer “because nothing is unstable” confuses the (alleged) properties of the ‘physical nothing’ of the quantum vacuum (which already *is* part of nature) with the philosophical ‘nothing’ which really is nothing in the sense of having no properties at all, i.e. also no ‘instability’.

2) the maximum distance from which particles (i.e. also particles carrying information) could have traveled to the observer in the age of the universe. It represents the portion of the universe which we could have conceivably observed at the present day. Any other universe would lie outside this particle horizon.

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Joshua Allen May 3, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Yes, I recall Marquis de Sade in “Juliet” pointing out (in response to Aquinas’s “prime mover” argument) that “explaining away one absurdity with another is no explanation at all”.

On the other hand, I think you’re making a huge leap by assuming that people believe in God because they want to explain something. Does that ever really happen? I mean, does anyone start by saying, “I don’t understand the universe? I guess I’ll choose Christianity as an explanation!”? It’s a clever (and common) explanation for religion, but it seems like fiction to me. There are several more plausible potential explanations for the existence of religion, IMO.

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Data May 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Hey Luke, great talk. 1 quick question.

In the second part of the Q&A section, the last woman to ask a question sounded remarkably similar to Jean Houston. Did she attend your speech?

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Data,

Maybe. Who is Jean Houston?

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Data May 3, 2010 at 3:51 pm

She just debated along side Deepak Chopra against Harris and Shermer in the “Nightline Face-Off” debate that occurred recently.

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=123129A3713A2B58

It’s where I think I recognized her voice. You may recognize her as well.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Data,

Oh, no, definitely not.

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Al Moritz May 3, 2010 at 4:15 pm

On the other hand, I think you’re making a huge leap by assuming that people believe in God because they want to explain something.Does that ever really happen?I mean, does anyone start by saying, “I don’t understand the universe?I guess I’ll choose Christianity as an explanation!”?It’s a clever (and common) explanation for religion, but it seems like fiction to me.There are several more plausible potential explanations for the existence of religion, IMO.  

Some people come to God and even Christianity through exactly that rational route, to explain something. For example Allan Sandage, student of Hubble and perhaps the greatest observational astronomer from the Fifites through the Seventies.

Here one story about him:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/93188

I personally did not come to faith that way, but I kept it through rational philosophical arguments for theism, which to me are far more convincing than atheistic reasoning.

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TaiChi May 3, 2010 at 4:35 pm

“As for Dawkins, I’m still struggling with the exegetical job of pulling a valid argument from that chapter. Perhaps there is a way to do it, I just haven’t seen it yet. I’d be most grateful if someone could do it, but I suspect that would be a lot of work. Wielenberg’s is the best attempt I’ve seen so far.” ~ Lukeprog

I’m astonished, since I’ve laid this out for you in the comments of various Dawkins-related posts. Some of the premises could do with further justification, but the logical structure is obvious.

“I’m continuing my series ‘Rescuing Dawkins’ Main Argument Against God,’ in which I test out various interpretations of Dawkins’ argument to see if they work. The problem is that when I go with one person’s interpretation of Dawkins and find that it fails, somebody else comes along and says, “No, no, THIS is what he’s REALLY trying to say.” And then I show why that fails and somebody else says, “You’ve got it all wrong, THIS is what he’s trying to say.”” ~ Lukeprog

I wasn’t aware I’d been refuted. Your last concern with the argument offered was the fickle issue of applying probabilistic reasoning to a necessary being, and since then I’ve pointed you towards Draper’s reasonable denial that this assumption of the the theist needs to be honored, and have posted a link to an askphilosophers question which provides additional support.

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Zeb May 3, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Does that ever really happen?I mean, does anyone start by saying, “I don’t understand the universe?I guess I’ll choose Christianity as an explanation!”?

When I lost faith in Christianity and decided I could only believe things that I could prove to myself, I retained faith in some kind of god based on a sort of argument from contingency, thinking there had to be some unlimited necessary personal being in order to explain the limited contingent perceptible world. That argument still holds water for me.

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André May 3, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Luke,

Thanks for that. I translated your talk to Portuguese and posted it in my blog – credits given, of course.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 5:14 pm

TaiChi,

I wasn’t thinking of you. I know you wrote some things back there I haven’t had time to read or fully understand.

For others, here’s Draper (one of the smartest critics of theism) on theism as a necessary hypothesis:

I assumed in my opening case that theism is a contingent proposition, a proposition that is possibly true and possibly false.[2] Is this assumption dialectically deficient? Generally speaking, in the absence of some positive reason for believing that a hypothesis is necessarily true or necessarily false, objective inquiry into whether that hypothesis is true or false should (and in fact almost always does) proceed on the assumption that the hypothesis in question is a contingent proposition. So in the absence of good reasons to believe that theism is a necessary proposition, my assumption that it is a contingent proposition is dialectically appropriate. Plantinga disagrees, on the grounds that most of the (tiny percentage of) theists who have thought about this issue have held that theism is a necessary proposition. I suspect that the sample of theists upon which Plantinga bases this judgment is not representative, but it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. Regardless of how many or what percentage of theists believe that theism is a necessary proposition, the only important question is whether there is any good reason to believe that it is a necessary proposition. Plantinga offers no reasons in his reply; so I’ll just note here that the reasons that have been offered are not, in my opinion, good ones.

Suppose, however, that my assumption is false. Suppose that theism is not a contingent proposition. Then it is much more likely that it is necessarily false than that it is necessarily true. This is made clear by any objective comparison of the available reasons for thinking that theism is necessarily true to the available reasons for thinking that it is necessarily false. The former are limited to various versions of the ontological argument, which is almost universally rejected by philosophers. Indeed, even Plantinga admits that this argument fails to prove its conclusion. The latter include a whole host of serious arguments for the incoherence of theism.[3] Keep in mind that I’m not convinced by these arguments for the necessary falsehood of theism, but they are clearly more persuasive collectively than the notoriously unpersuasive ontological argument. Further, theism asserts that the natural world was created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person, which assumes, not only that there is a maximum possible degree of power, knowledge, and moral goodness,[4] but also that these three attributes are compatible with each other and with the existence of natural entities. Even ignoring specific arguments, clearly it is much more likely that some hidden incoherence lurks in the assertion that there exists a creator of nature possessing the highest possible degree of several distinct scaling[5] properties than in the simple assertion that no such creator exists. Therefore, if I am mistaken and theism really is a necessary proposition, then it is very probably a necessary falsehood, which means that my assumption in my opening case that it is a contingent proposition is not only dialectically appropriate (for the reasons given in the previous paragraph), but dialectically generous.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Cool; thanks, Andre.

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Joshua Allen May 3, 2010 at 5:58 pm

@Al – Thanks for that pointer. The fact that he “willed himself into believing” (quoting the article) does raise an eyebrow. It certainly doesn’t sound anything like the normal Christian experience.

@Zeb – I understand that Christians like to use it as an apologetic device, but the question is whether or not you first came to faith in Christ out of a desire to explain the universe? My assertion is that nobody in scriptures ever arrived at belief this way, and very few people today do.

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TaiChi May 3, 2010 at 6:07 pm

“I wasn’t thinking of you. I know you wrote some things back there I haven’t had time to read or fully understand.” ~ Lukeprog

Oh. If you do end up dropping the subject, I’d like to know, since I’ll take up the baton on my blog.

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 6:21 pm

TaiChi,

I’d be happy to have you do that anyway, but I do plan to continue the attempt at exegesis.

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ayer May 3, 2010 at 7:08 pm

You focus on “testability” as a criterion for inference to the best explanation seems misplaced outside of the realm of scientific experiment. The criteria laid out by C. Behan McCollough for application to historiography would seem more apt for questions of philosophy of religion, since the God explanation is meant to apply to the evidence left by the creation event (e.g., design, objective moral values, the fact that the universe had a beginning, etc.): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_method
A detective or historian can use inference to the best explanation to explain evidence without being able to perform a predictive “test” and it is perfectly valid.

As for “simplicity”, you cite Layman, but of course Richard Swinburne can be cited to the effect that God is the most simple explanation: http://tinyurl.com/2cb7p25

And regarding “explanatory scope”, a proposal that explains fine-tuning, the beginning of the universe, and the existence of objective moral values would seem to have a fairly wide scope (at least as wide as naturalism).

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Mike Young May 4, 2010 at 1:31 am

Luke, You have provided an explanation of what makes a good explanation. Your criteria are as follows:
1. It must be testable.
2. It must be consistent with our background knowledge.
It must be as simple as possible.
It must have explanetory scope.
I think you are going to have significant problems, I will deal with the criteria in order going from 1-4
1. False, and clearly false. Take for example A and B theories of time. Do we toss them both out cause they are untestable? Bad argument luke. Testability helps, but it cannot be necessary for a good explanation. Lots of explanations taken very seriously in physics cannot be tested: mulitverse hypothoses’, String theory (no one has even thought of a way in which we might test some of the assumptions here), Lorentz VS. Einstein on Reletivity (relatin to A and B theories of time) and a host of others. Also Given that you have offered and explanation of what makes a good explanation (we will call this Luke’s Hypothosis) is Luke’s Hypothosis testable? If it is then it’s circular (we know testability is part of the criteria because we tested it and found out it is) if not then you violate your own principles.
2. Yes, you should be consistent with background information, but I see no reason that God would be inconsistent with background information about the world. He might be inconsistent with some of the assumptions of methodological naturalism, but I think God ought to be inconsistent with those assumptions, and I think that methodological naturalism is itself false. Besides, methodological naturalism is false and we can get all (yes all) the knowledge gained by the methodological naturalists without theor atheistic assumptions. (I can get uniformity of nature without assuming atheism)
3. A explanation might need to be as simple as is possible, but maybe the explanation, in its most simple form is just amazingly complex. Your doing a series on Language so lets look to this for an example.
Bertrand Russell wanted to go with the simplest explanation for reference that he could. So he said we ought to look at language in the abstract to get a theory of meaning. If we look at context, and speakers intentions and all the rest we will wind up with a mess. So Russell proposed something simple. He took sentences of the type “The X is Y” and said the meaning of that sentence is this:
1. There is at least one X
2. There is at most one X
3. Anything that is X is Y
Of cousre this look at the language in the abstract without regard for context. Russell thought htis was good cause he wanted something precise (he was attempting in the article to explain the meaning of the word “the”) and definite. Of course, his theory of language was eventually taken out by Strawson using this example “The table is round.” THis sentence depends on context cause if we use Russels analysis we et
1. There is at least one table
2. There is at most one table
3. Anything that is a table is round
As you can see, a Russellian analysis of “the table is round” give us an absurdity (there is at most one table?) It turns out that the more complex explanation is the right one. Trying to oversimplify gives us absurd results which we will have to reject. So while the simpler explanation might be the desired one, the comlicated explanation might be the better one.
It must have explanetory scope.
So and explanation must explain something, this seems a little like a tautology, but Ill be charitable and say that you mean it must have a large explanetory scope, or that it must explain all of what it claims to explain. If that is what you mean, I will grant you that, but I think theismt does this so that not a problem.

This is an abysmally bad attempt at getting rid of theism. In fact just to toss it back at you, here is an argument against materialist theories of mind that I think you might have some trouble with. As you can see, if I am right about this (and I think I am) then your naturalistic belief set falls victim to the very sam,e roblems Russells theory of language falls into namely that it commits a reduction that is absurd. Enjoy, and be careful how you answer.
If materialism is true rationality is absolutely out in any meaningful sense and determinism (intersparsed with quantum randomness)is the case. However, if all our beliefs are determined with bits of randomness tossed in, then all my beliefs are determined by causes that I have no control over. If I could control the particles that act in a random way they would not be random, and I certainly dont have any say over what the laws of physics do with the particles that are determined. Given that one of those two cases, determinism or randomness, is going to be the case with respect the the particles that make up my brain it seems that my beliefs are in the hand of blind proceses. This means that I believe what I believe regardless whether it is true or false; all that matters is the causal chain (either that or I have some random beliefs tossed in but you get the idea). If thats true, you cant affirm naturalism rationally because you have to admit the only reason you affirm naturalism is because of one of: A) and unbroken causal chain over which you have no control, B) some random quantum even over which you have no control, or C) a mixture of determined and random evenst over which you exercise no control. In other words, you have the beliefs you have because those are the beliefs that the causal processes gave you and rationality has nothing to do with it. It doesnt enter into the calculus anymore then truth enters into the calculus of me trying to solve a math problem by rolling a dice for an answer. both are determined purely by laws of physics.
As you can see, this a problem for you, you want to be rationaly, but if you take materialism seriously you have to admit that you have this problem. Your affirmations of naturalism have nothing ot do with logic or reason, they have to do with the way laws ofphysics operate on your brain. This creates the following problem:
Suppose you and I have two seperate and mutually exclusive beliefs. What reason do I have for believing your causal chain leads you to more correct beliefs then my causal chain leads me to. Of course, anythaing that you might use to sway me is itself going to draw on beliefs that you have that come from the same causal chain that I am asking you to prove gives you superior beliefs. Telling me why you think your right is going to involve you using your beliefs about why you are right, beliefs that were determined. Given that I am asking why I should trust your determined beliefs rather then my own determined beliefs, appealing to some of your determied beliefs to answer me is question begging. Of course you see the point here. You need a way out of determinism, and compatibilism will not help you, this critique works against compatibilists aswell. Heck, this even works against calvinists (Christians who hold that there is no free will and the God predestined everyone). SO, be careful, and now Ill throw your presentation back at you, Given what we just saw, how is Magic, Poof, I just have the right beliefs and you just got determined to have false beliefs, the best explanation for who is right?
Also, please note that I have not argued from ignorance here. Wha I have done is taken your beliefe set and from it I have produced and absurdity which falsifies your view of the world, the view which you use to criticize theism. Also, I have not form this argued for the existence of God,I have argued against the possibility of Naturalism. If you grant me this argument you allow me to posit the soul and once you do that, the flood gates open, and from there I will argue for Gods existence. I hope to hear a response soon.

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Al Moritz May 4, 2010 at 2:52 am

2. Yes, you should be consistent with background information, but I see no reason that God would be inconsistent with background information about the world. He might be inconsistent with some of the assumptions of methodological naturalism, but I think God ought to be inconsistent with those assumptions, and I think that methodological naturalism is itself false. Besides, methodological naturalism is false and we can get all (yes all) the knowledge gained by the methodological naturalists without theor atheistic assumptions. (I can get uniformity of nature without assuming atheism)

Mike, I am afraid you are confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism. I subscribe to methodological naturalism in my daily work as a scientist, and so do all other theistic scientists — at least the ones who perform their science properly; science (the natural sciences) is based on it.

I agree with the issue that you raise, that rationality provides a serious problem for materialism.

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Alexandros Marinos May 4, 2010 at 8:42 am

Luke, thanks for a very cool speech and a refreshing approach to refuting the god hypothesis. I especially liked your structure which, instead of firing multiple arguments in all directions hitchens-style, was structured to support a single string assertion at the end, and you did that in a very short time as well. If I had to argue against the existence of god, I would probably work from your template.

However, in your ‘who designed the designer’ rebuttal, I think you are missing the point. The ‘designer’ is being proposed as an answer to the ultimate ‘why’ question, not as a single step in a long why chain. Therefore, showing that a ‘why’ can still be asked in that state of affairs is to show that the explanation fails -as an answer to the ultimate why question-.

This however has been stated many times in the “Who Designer the Designer?” thread and I haven’t seen you engage it so maybe there is something obvious I’m missing.

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Mike Young May 4, 2010 at 9:49 am

Nice point Al, ther is a difference between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism, but I think BOTH are needless, I can assume that there is uniformity in nature without assuming naturalism. This was my point, but you raise an important distinction and if I blurred the lines I am sorry.

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Justfinethanks May 4, 2010 at 10:35 am

Your affirmations of naturalism have nothing ot do with logic or reason, they have to do with the way laws ofphysics operate on your brain.

Irrelevant. Genetic fallacy.

In order for this to be relevant, you must somehow prove that it’s impossible for a “true belief” and a “determined belief” to intersect.

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ayer May 4, 2010 at 11:17 am

In order for this to be relevant, you must somehow prove that it’s impossible for a “true belief” and a “determined belief” to intersect.

As Plantinga has pointed out in his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, it is not necessary to show that it is “impossible” but only that the probability of such intersection is inscrutable

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Justfinethanks May 4, 2010 at 11:34 am

As Plantinga has pointed out in his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, it is not necessary to show that it is “impossible” but only that the probability of such intersection is inscrutable

The EAAN is a different beast, because it doesn’t commit this particular fallacy. But to say that a belief is false because is “physically determined” is obviously not true.

Atheists commit when the same fallacy when they argue Christianity is false because it is socially determined by many people. Suppose someone argued “My! What are the chances that of all the religions in the world, you happened to be born in a family that believed in the one true religion.” The odds are very slim, and its a simple statistical fact that had you been born in Nigeria you would have been a Muslim. But just because you were socially determined to believe in Christianity has precisely zero bearing on whether or not your belief in Christianity is true or false. The same goes for a physically determined belief. It adds zero information about the belief’s ultimate veracity.

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lukeprog May 4, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Alexandros,

Theists have given arguments for why God is a necessary being. I may not agree with them, but then the debate moves there. Also, this is a slightly different meaning of ‘who made god’ that you’re referring to, and I’m not sure I would offer a rebuttal to it. I was very explicit about the interpretation of ‘who made God’ I was rebutting.

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Mazen Abdallah May 4, 2010 at 6:33 pm

God only falls short as an explanation because he needs someone to explain his own existence. My modest proposed solution: Supergod. Just like God in some ways, only more holy, more divine and at least twice as powerful. As a believer in Supergod, i acknowledge all the problems with God’s existence to be solvable through Supergod. Also, if on judgment day God feels like being cute and damning me…I go over his head to Supergod. All hail Supergod!

What will believers in Supergod call themselves? Any ideas?

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Muto May 5, 2010 at 12:53 am

Luke,
Where did Draper write this? I would like to read the article /book.

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lukeprog May 5, 2010 at 1:13 am

Muto,

Here.

Also, there’s Google.

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Taranu May 5, 2010 at 2:57 am

Luke,

I finally got to listen to to your presentation and I must say, given the short time span, this was a great and mind-opening talk. Congrats! Hope to see more in the future and some day perhaps a debate as well.

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Mike Young May 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Justfinethanks, it is not a gentic fallacy. I did not say that It was impossible for deteminism to be true, I said it was impossible for it to be rationally affiremd. Waht that means is not that the belief is not true, but rather that the belief in determinsim is not on ereached by rational means for the reasons that I gaveSo you are corredct in saying that a true belief and a detmined belife might intersect, but if that were to happen it would be sheer luck. Further a rational beliefe is a belief reached through using to process of rationality, but if determininsm is the case, there is no room for rationality. Of course, you assume that you are being rational which makes you inconsistent. No genetic fallacy here. in order for it to be a genetic fallac I would have to be claiming the determinism/naturalism, is false because it was formed in a deterined way, I never made that claim, I said you cannot rationally afffirm it because to affirm it rationally would mean using rationality as the thing which determins what you believe, if determinsim is true then rationality never enters in. I was careful about this very subtle point.There is no genetic fallacy here.

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lukeprog May 6, 2010 at 5:03 am

TaiChi,

I was able to put Draper’s thoughts to Greg Ganssle in my upcoming interview with him. Thanks for pointing me to the article again.

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Justfinethanks May 6, 2010 at 6:51 am

Further a rational beliefe is a belief reached through using to process of rationality, but if determininsm is the case, there is no room for rationality.

Again, you are going to have to explain why this is the case. To say “you arrived at your beliefs because they were determined, not because of rational consideration” requires you argue why a determined belief cannot simultaneously be rationally considered. It’s not subtle, it’s a textbook genetic fallacy, saying that we have reason to doubt the rationality of a belief because of the reasons one came to a belief. When WHY I hold to the beliefs I do have nothing at all to do with whether or not they are rational. To say that determinism cannot be rationally affirmed because, if true, then I was determined to believe in determinism doesn’t make sense in the slightest.

Of course even you admit:

So you are corredct in saying that a true belief and a detmined belife might intersect,

If that’s the case, then it’s possible my beliefs, despite determinism, are in fact true. But then how do we determine if that’s the case or not? Well, we could examine the reasons I offer for affirming said beliefs (like belief in determinism), which brings us back to square one.

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ayer May 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm

If that’s the case, then it’s possible my beliefs, despite determinism, are in fact true.

Yes, but would you be justified in holding a belief that is the result of a nonrational deterministic process (since the there is only a random possibility that it intersects with truth)? I think not.

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TaiChi May 6, 2010 at 3:42 pm

TaiChi,I was able to put Draper’s thoughts to Greg Ganssle in my upcoming interview with him. Thanks for pointing me to the article again.  

Excellent, I’ll look out for it. I found another quote on the matter yesterday:

“Is the atheologian right in holding that if God is omnipotent, then he could have actualized or created any possible world He pleased? Not obviously. First, we must ask ourselves whether God is a necessary or a contingent being. A necessary being is one that exists in every possible world—one that would have existed no matter which possible world had been actual; a contingent being exists only in some possible worlds. Now if God is not a necessary being (and many, perhaps most, theists think that He is not), then clearly enough there will be many possible worlds He could not have actualized—all those, for example, in which He does not exist.
Clearly, God could not have created a world in which He doesn’t even
exist.” ~ Plantinga,
God, Freedom, and Evil, bold mine.

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justfinethanks May 6, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Yes, but would you be justified in holding a belief that is the result of a nonrational deterministic process

I would as long that belief was ALSO held on rational grounds. The whole argument is based on the idea that “determined” and “rational” are mutually exclusive categories, and I simply don’t see anyone even attempting to argue why that is necessarily the case.

And if you attempt to make the weaker argument that it is merely unlikely for a determined belief to also be rationally considered and held, then the charge is wholly irrelevant and the only way you can actually show how this intersection of “determined” and “rational” didn’t take place is by considering my arguments.

For example, even granting libertarian free will, I think it is pretty uncontroversial that most people are poor rationalists and hold onto their beliefs for bad reasons (considering that 2/3 of the world is non Christian, Christians should have no problem affirming this proposition). Therefore, it is extremely unlikely for someone to simultaneously have the property of “personhood” and have “rationally considered beliefs.” Does it then follow that you can’t rationally affirm any belief you have while considering yourself a “person”? Of course not, because though it is unlikely, the possibility remains for a “person” to be “rational” (barring any argument that “person” and “rational” and necessarily mutually exclusive) therefore one would be quite justified in considering arguments to see if the intersection of “rational” and “person” occurred.

So if a “determined” belief cannot be rationally held on the mere basis that it is unlikely for it to also be a “rational and true” belief, I think it also follows that you have a defeater for your rationality if you consider yourself a “person” by working from almost the identical line of thinking.

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Mike Young May 6, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Justfinethanks, Read what I wrote. There is no genetic fallacy because I am claiming all and only the following thing: Naturalism cannot be rationally affirmed. Let me restate the argument for clarity.
If you rationally affirm naturalism you must have arrived at the conclusion using your faculty of reason. This would mean rationality is the lynch pin on which your belief hinges.
If you are determined then all your brain states are determined by what we will loosely call the laws of physics. Which means every belief you have is decided by things like the weight, inertian, size, etc of the atoms in your brain. If that is the case, then your belief hinges on the physical properties of your brain. Which means that every single belief that you hold can be explained purely and entirely in terms of the laws of physics WITHOUT EVER MAKING REFERENCE TO RATIONALITY. Rationality has no say because we explained all your beliefs entirely in terms of the laws of physics controlling your brain states, there is no place for reason to do anything. In other words, its the laws of physics doing all the work. Your reasons do not do any work in belief formation, you reasoning is merely the product of what the atoms in the brain are doing. Thats the point, the work of belief formation in naturalism is done by the atoms being acted ony by a force according to the laws of physics and neither the atoms nor the forc nor the laws of physics cares about reason. Reason doesnt do anything, Rason does not move the atoms, nor does it control the laws of physics. As such, reason, in naturalism, doesn actaully do anything. The macro function of your mind does not do any of the work all the work is done at the micro level of atoms and so causation is a bottom up one way street. Saying that reasons control your beliefs, is like saying that the hardness of the metal is what determines the color of the metal. Well that is flase, both the hardness and the color are products of the way the atoms in the metal are behaving at a given time. Same is true with your mind. Your beliefs and your reasons are products of the way the atoms in your brain are behaving at a given time, thus any attempt to prove that one is good using the other is to beg the question because both are the result of a pocess that is purely mechanical and does not use rationality at all. In the same way that the solidity of a metal does not determine its color because both are a consequence of the way the atoms in the metal are behaving, your reasons do not determine your belifs because both are determined by the behaviour of the atoms in your brain. The behavior of these atoms is not determined by reason. This would mean that your belief hinges on all and only the movement of atoms and the lynchpin of your beliefs is atom movement and not rationality.
Thus affirming naturalism raioanally would force you beeive that ratioanlity is the lynchpin of your belief and that it is also not the lynchpin of your belief.
Also, ask yourself this, if the whole apparatus of belief, and by that I mean your brain, central nervous system, and all the things you use to take in data from the world around you (sight hearing etc), can be explained pruely in terms of the movement of atoms, what work is done by ratioanlity? Or to put it another way, if it is the mechanical processes under all and only laws of physics which determines belief than what is the glue that attatches your beiefs to rationality? Or to put it a third way you assume the atoms in your brain always end up behain such that your belifs are rational, what is the thing that makes the mechanical atoms select the thing that would have been selected if there was a mind in charge (which there isnt, atoms in the brain follow all and only laws of physics)

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ayer May 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm

So if a “determined” belief cannot be rationally held on the mere basis that it is unlikely for it to also be a “rational and true” belief, I think it also follows that you have a defeater for your rationality if you consider yourself a “person” by working from almost the identical line of thinking.

You seem here to be conceding that it is unlikely for a determined belief to be rational, but then also asserting that it is unlikely for “persons” to be rational. I’m not clear on why that saves rationality from being defeated by determinism?

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Justfinethanks May 6, 2010 at 8:51 pm

If you rationally affirm naturalism you must have arrived at the conclusion using your faculty of reason.

With you so far.

If you are determined then all your brain states are determined by what we will loosely call the laws of physics.

Uh-huh…

Which means that every single belief that you hold can be explained purely and entirely in terms of the laws of physics

Ok.

WITHOUT EVER MAKING REFERENCE TO RATIONALITY.

And that’s where you lose me. To say that I arrived at my beliefs because they were determined, and without reference to rationality yet again asserts, without argument in its favor, that “rationality” and “determinism” are necessarily incompatible. As I think you admitted earlier, it’s possible for BOTH to be true.

To put it another way, consider this sentence

“I have been physically determined to rationally consider arguments and come to the most rational and ultimately true conclusion.”

Is there anything necessarily incoherent about that idea? Now, you might find such a state of affairs improbable, but since you are making the extraordinarily strong claim that naturalism CANNOT be rationally affirmed, for the moment I need only explain why it could fall within the realm of possibility to deny your argument.

To restate the idea again: Possibly, the deterministic laws of physics have influenced my brain state so that I engage in arguments with rational consideration, and ultimately settle my brain state in what we might call the true and accurate belief of naturalism.

If you cannot argue why such a state of affairs is necessarily impossible (and I honestly don’t see how you can), then your claim that naturalism CANNOT be rationally affirmed due to determinism is false.

You keep asserting that “It was just determined! Rationality had nothing to do with it!” When you haven’t made a real argument why it is impossible for rationality and determinism to both have something to do with it. If it’s because you are under the impression that rationality presupposes indeterminism, I haven’t seen an argument to that effect either.

Ayer: You seem here to be conceding that it is unlikely for a determined belief to be rational

I’m not, I’m simply using parody to illustrate the absurdities that result when you argue that a state of affairs necessary to an individual give you any meaningful information about the rationality of an individual or the veracity of their beliefs.

e.g.
P1) People are typically irrational.
P2) ayer is a person
C) ayer is probably irrational, and therefore has a defeater for his rationality by virtue of being a person.

Do you see the problem here?

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drj May 6, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Please forgive my butting in for a second, but I’d like to ask a question of those who are arguing for this idea that determinism makes rationality incoherent.

So far, we’ve seen a lot of bluster over this notion that, under determinism, beliefs we feel are rational, would really just be the inevitable result of the laws of physics.

So my question is, if determinism is true, and our beliefs are really just inevitable results of the laws of physics, what is the essential property that this universe lacks, that prevents us from referring to them as ‘rational’, in a meaningful way?

In other words, what exactly *is* required for it to make sense to call a belief rational?

Until this mysterious requirement is clearly presented, it seems there’s no good reason to indulge this idea that rationality and determinism are incompatible.

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Justfinethanks May 6, 2010 at 9:16 pm

drj: what is the essential property that this universe lacks, that prevents us from referring to them as ‘rational’ in any meaningful way?

That’s an excellent why of framing the issue, and I certainly would like this question answered as well.

Really, “to reason” is just a verb, the same way “to jump” is just a verb. I would feel just as confused if someone were to confront me saying:

“You didn’t jump right then, because you believe in determinism! All that happened was that the mindless laws of physics carried you off the ground, through the air, and back onto the ground. ‘Jumping’ never entered into the picture at all!”

And I would of course say that of course I actually jumped, based upon a fundamental understanding of the word, even if it was determined, barring some sort of argument of their necessary incompatibility.

To go around asserting that it’s impossible for someone to take “action X” if determinism is true (whether action X is reason, jumping, thinking, driving, typing, or whatever) is seriously confused.

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Joshua Allen May 6, 2010 at 10:16 pm

@drj, @justfine — Christianity itself can be accused of this paradox of determinism. God elects or predestines some to find Him and some to reject Him. And a Christian needn’t be Calvinist to agree that this is true at least for “some”. So I understand and agree with your objection to Ayer’s formulation of AfR.

However, I don’t think it’s fair to call it “genetic fallacy”. Technically, it’s the fallacy of “circumstantial ad hominem”, which might overlap with genetic fallacy, but is very different. Ayer is essentially saying (if I can be so bold as to presume), “You’re a naturalist, of course you would believe that!” Naturalism doesn’t make rationality incoherent; it just eliminates any higher authority by which we might judge something “rational” or “irrational”. You’re just calling it “rational” because of who you are — thus, the circumstantial ad hominem (which applies to Christians as well).

When you speak of something as being “rational”, you might think that you’re using a dictionary definition, but you’re using the word specifically because you think it confers an authority that supersedes all else. Unfortunately, your version of “rational” might be slightly different from mine, and we end up bickering about it. We like to pretend that the definition of “reason” is a universally accepted thing that supersedes all else, but that’s only a ploy to excuse our indulging ourselves in the endless bickering about what constitutes “rational”.

FWIW, I have always had a tough time accepting any theist or atheist argument which starts with the premise, “First, assume that people will be rational”. Not only does the Bible reject this premise; mountains of empirical evidence in psychology and behavioral economics reject it. This holds true even if we constrain ourselves to bounded rationality! Neither atheist scientists nor Christians have any right to start with the premise that humans will reliably exercise rationality. Such a premise is unscientific and un-Christian, so one wonders why both sides so desperately assume it?

BTW, the story of Babel has something to say about our discordant definitions of the word “rational”, while the Garden story has something to say about our concordant definition of names in general.

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Mike Young May 6, 2010 at 11:35 pm

justfinethanks, you seem to missing the point so lets explicate it one more time. I have said this twice, so maybe go back and read my last post again cause I gave you the explanation. I will do so again though just to make it more clear.
The notion of rationality requires that my mind and the all of the thoughts, ideas, and notions that I have are going to provide the materials out of which I form my beliefs. Further my mind uses something like logic to assemble those thoughts and ideas into beliefs. (this is a rought sketch, so take that into account) Now, here is the problem, You said this
To put it another way, consider this sentence
“I have been physically determined to rationally consider arguments and come to the most rational and ultimately true conclusion.”
Is there anything necessarily incoherent about that idea?
Yes there is and it lies in the first word of your second quoted sentence. Remeber what I said about the brain (assuming you read my whole post) there is no “I” that is doing anything at all. Everything is bottom up causation. There is no work being done by an “I” anywhere. The “I” on naturalism is the result of the movement of atoms in the brain, that is it occurs because the atoms are doing what they do. Notice what that means: there is not some “soul” or some ethereal “spirit” that is “doing” anything at all. All the work is being done by the atoms, and the laws of physics in a bottom up fasion. Because rationality qould require at the very least that the mind be doing some work of some kind and because the mind, at least on naturalism, isnt doing any work, at least not causally, then you have your problem. The works is not being done in a rational way.
Secondly, there is no consideration at all. Remember, considering doesnt DO anything it is the RESULT of something, namely the movement of atoms. The mind, on all and every materialist view of mind does not have any causall powers above or beyond the movement of atoms, the mind cannot be something that is created by the brain and then once created by the brain, takes over and begins to tell the atoms what to do, atoms dont care about minds, they care about laws of physics.
To put it another way, no one suggests that the solidness of a baseball bat is what makes the atoms in the bat do what they do. There is not thing floating around the world called solidness that we take and rub on bats to make them useable. In order for a belief to be rational the belief must be formed by reason, but remeber reason doesn DO anything. It MIGHT be the case that if you roll the dice enough and make enough humans, one might be determined to come to beliefs that would be held if rationality were part of the process, it might even be the case that one could have a situation where one thinks he is being rational and goes through all the step of rationality. but that would only be a fluke. Take this example. Say I have ten shoes. If I count and go from one to ten (cause thats how many shoes I have) I do it in order because I know and understand the order of numbers and I wish to make a log of how many shoes I have. so I begin to count and assign each shoe a number until I get to the last show and stop at ten. Suppose a computer does the exact same thing. What you will see is that there is large difference between what I did and what the computer did, the difference lies in the understanding of what is going on in my mind and the MENTAL THOUGHTS WHCIH ARE DOING CAUSALLY EFFICACIOUS IN DOING THE WORK OF COUNTING. In the naturalist mindset, mentalthoughts are the effect of the physical process which does all the work, from the bottom (atoms) to the top (the mind) there is not top down causation. Rationality is a mental phenomena, without ti you cant have rationality. If the mental thoughts are determined by something like an outside force, a man with a compute that takes over your mind, Or even God (I have nailed calvinists with this objection) then your toasted. In naturalism it is determined by physical processes and thus you are no more rational then a computer. and computers are many thing but they are not rational in the sense that you and I are.

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Justfinethanks May 7, 2010 at 8:19 am

Joshua Allen: Neither atheist scientists nor Christians have any right to start with the premise that humans will reliably exercise rationality. Such a premise is unscientific and un-Christian, so one wonders why both sides so desperately assume it?

I agree that people generally don’t exercise rationality, and I pointed out earlier. But I also pointed out that assuming any given person is irrational because of that is a poor and unproductive way of doing debate or philosophy, for the same reason “Most people aren’t criminals, therefore this person I’m speaking to didn’t commit a crime” is a poor way of doing police work.

Mike Young: I have said this twice, so maybe go back and read my last post again cause I gave you the explanation.

Believe me, I read over your posts a couple times, and I all I see you do is explaining what determinism means, explaining what rationality means, and then asserting that they are incompatible. I still haven’t seen a genuine argument to that effect. I understand what you are trying to say, you just haven’t made your case.

Yes there is and it lies in the first word of your second quoted sentence. Remeber what I said about the brain (assuming you read my whole post) there is no “I” that is doing anything at all.

This argument seems to be more broad than simply “a person cannot be rational” on determinism. Rather it is “a person cannot take any action” determinism. But if that is true, there there are no actions. If that were the case, then something like “the asteroid hit the Earth” would also be untrue, because asteroid, didn’t really “hit” the earth, it was just the laws of physics that brought the asteroid to the Earth. But I see no reason why, even if the asteroid was determined by physics to hit the Earth, it wouldn’t also be true to say “the asteroid hit the earth.”

All the work is being done by the atoms, and the laws of physics in a bottom up fasion. Because rationality qould require at the very least that the mind be doing some work of some kind and because the mind, at least on naturalism, isnt doing any work, at least not causally, then you have your problem. The works is not being done in a rational way.

Physics are doing the work of rationality.
The mind is doing the work of rationality.

Again, I fail to understand why it is necessarily the case that both can’t be true. Just as:

Physics are doing the work of jumping.
My body is doing the work of jumping.

Can’t both be accurate and true. In this second instance, I think that it’s the case even granting libertarian free will.

In both instances, the fact that physics are casually prior to either my mind or body have nothing to do with the action of “rationality” or the action of “jumping.”

You seem to arguing that “if physics causes the mind, then the mind can’t take an action, like the action of reason or rationality, therefore a physically determined mind can’t be rational.” But you haven’t explained how that necessarily follows. It would be like saying “if physics causes the movement of the earth, then the earth can’t take an action, like the action of revolving around the sun, therefore a physically determined Earth can’t revolve around the sun.”

Accepting your argument leads to a slew of absurdities like this.

In order for a belief to be rational the belief must be formed by reason, but remeber reason doesn DO anything.

I agree, but only because “to reason” is a verb, and verbs, out of grammatical necessity can’t themselves take an action. Rather, reasoning is something that you do, just like jumping, typing, dancing, or walking are things that you do.

mentalthoughts are the effect of the physical process which does all the work, from the bottom (atoms) to the top (the mind) there is not top down causation.

Still not relevant. To rephrase your statment, and add in the conclusion that you seem to think it means “Earth revolution is the effect of the physical process which does all the work, from the bottom (atoms) to the top (the Earth) there is not top down causation. Therefore, the Earth cannot revolve.”

If the mental thoughts are determined by something like an outside force, a man with a compute that takes over your mind, Or even God (I have nailed calvinists with this objection) then your toasted.

Again WHY is this necessarily this case? Why, if a man was controlling my mind with a computer, would it be impossible for this man to force me to take the actions of reason and rationality? Why must I be my own personal unmoved mover to take those particular actions, and yet such a situation is not necessary to take the actions of jumping or walking?

Again, you haven’t made any sort of argument for the necessary incompatibility of “rationality” and “determinism.” You seem to have sort of made a more broad argument for the incompatibility of “action” and “determinism,” but I think that is clearly false, and as I illustrated above, accepting it puts you an absurd position.

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ayer May 7, 2010 at 8:39 am

I’m not, I’m simply using parody to illustrate the absurdities that result when you argue that a state of affairs necessary to an individual give you any meaningful information about the rationality of an individual or the veracity of their beliefs.

Then what is your standard for judging whether a belief was arrived at through reason?

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ayer May 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Excellent article by Dallas Willard on the issue of determinism and reason (logical relations, etc.):

http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=64

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Joshua Allen May 7, 2010 at 5:28 pm

@justfine – There is an old joke where a priest, an engineer, and an economist get locked in a prison. They want to escape. The priest says, “Let us pray to God and ask Him to free us”. When that doesn’t work, the engineer devises some Rube Goldberg plan which likewise fails. They sit dejected for awhile, until the economist leaps up and shouts, “I’ve got it! First, let’s assume that we have a key, then…”

It’s only hilarious because it’s so true, and this is exactly how I feel when two people sit down to debate, and say things like, “People are generally irrational, but for the purposes of this discussion, we must assume that we are rational”. It is sheer lunacy. People might as well start by saying, “Let’s assume that we have magic fairy wings, because it’s harder to debate without them”.

I presume that you’re an empiricist, based on your previous comments. If everything in our arguments relies on us trusting one another to be “rational”, or trusting our own ability to refute irrationality, that seems like a pretty important assumption. It seems that we would want to investigate the reliability of that assumption. We don’t just take it as a matter of faith, based on the observation that “debate would be hard without it”. Scientists cannot be pompous, nor can we take claims on faith, based on expediency.

What does the empirical record say about human rationality? Is human rationality capable of apprehending the transcendent, or is it bounded? Under what conditions are humans most prone to irrationality? All of these things are important. And all are roundly ignored when people sit down to “reason together”.

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Zeb May 7, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Why can’t rationality just be a physical process, in the same way natural selection is? If basic logic process were encoded into human brains through evolution, then I don’t see why those processed couldn’t have blossomed into the complex field of ‘rational discourse’ that see today. Of course in that model, rationality is just one of a number of belief creating and modify processes that occurs within and between brains.

I do think determinism undermines the ‘rational pursuit of truth’ and ‘rational communication,’ but is is the pursuit of truth and the communication that are undermined, not the rationality. On determinism rationality is just an event that is happening; there is no purpose, no meaning, and no agency. Pursuit requires purpose and agency, and communication requires meaning and agency, and truth also requires meaning.

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Mike Young May 8, 2010 at 12:31 am

Justfinethanks You made the following comparson :
A.Physics are doing the work of rationality.
B.The mind is doing the work of rationality.
Again, I fail to understand why it is necessarily the case that both can’t be true. Just as:
1.Physics are doing the work of jumping.
2.My body is doing the work of jumping.
This is a nice exmple so Ill use it. Notice I labelled your sentences as A, B, 1, and 2 so I can refer to them in short hand. In sentence 1, you said physics is doing the work of jumping. Sort of, if by physics you mean the atoms behaving according the laws of physics then yes. Then you say that 2 is also true, what you want to get at here is that 1 and 2 do not say anything different. They both say exactly the same thing. the atoms behaving accoring to the laws of physics constitute what my body is doing.
Now, look at sentence B. This asserts that my mind, presumably under my control (there is no evil physicist that is controlling my brain remotely, I assume you mean that “the mind” in sentence 2 refers to a mind under normal circumstances)is doing the work of rationality. Ok I can accept that, but it is sentence A that I deny.I will explain why.
Jumping is the name of an action, by that I mean it is the name of an event that is done when a person bends at the knees and then accelerates off of the gorund. every single aspect can be totally defined in the language of physics. The reason we call it an action rather then a mere event (like an astroid hitting the earth) is because is is the result of the decision of an agent (it need not be a rationaly agent, it could be a crazy agent action irrationally). Notice that the event of jumping can be explaind entriely in the language of physics. The reason for it being an action rather than a mere event, requires a survey of the intentions of the agent. (we do not say a man who has spontaneous leg spasm and accelerate into the air has jumped, we say he had leg spasms) This is where you run into trouble. Once an agent has decided to jump the whole thing can be described purely in the language of physics, we do not need to bring anyhting else into it.
Now look at sentence B again, The mind is not doing the work of rationality. the mind is BEING rational. this is not a grammtical point aht can be explaind away through analyzing my grammer. what you want to say is not that the mind does the work orf rationality what you want to say is that the mind is intentionally following the dictates of reason to make valid inferences. Or the mind is self aware of its own attempt to be rational. It is not “Doing to work of rationality” Nothing “does the work of rationality.” Now, this next part explain exactly how rationality is cleaved from determinism.
Look at sentence A, it says Physics are doing the work of rationality. think about that, I think physics is doing the work of controlling what I do, but in order to be described as rational by behaviour must happen for reasons that are inferred using valid methods; think, for example, of logic. But my behaviour is not happening because of that, my behavious is happening because of the behaviour of the atoms,….and here is the killer….all my reasons are merely side effects that dont do anything at all. Noting, it only feels like my reasons do something, but they do not. My reasons dont do anything at all nothing. If naturalis is true, there is no place for my reasons to do anything. What this means is that if I accept both A and B on your view, then my thinking is “Over-determined.” Trying to say that both your mind and the laws of physics are doing the work of thinking in a rational way is like putting to 5 pound wieghts on a scale and expecting the scale to say five pounds (instead of ten) because “both of the weights are doing the work of wighting 5 pounds.” False.
my mind cannot be adding anything to what is going on. Think of digestion. we can describe digestion purely in terms of the behaviour and position of atoms. now think of logic, try to describe demorgans theorums in terms of the position and behaviour of atoms. You cannot do it. It requires something that is irredcuible mental. If naturalism is true, then the irriducably mental, while maybe being cause by the atoms, is not a part of what the atoms are doing, and if the atoms are form the beliefs and if logic is irreducible metnal logic is nowhere in the beliefe formation. in formal terms
1. reason is an irreducibly mental phenomena
2. beliefs are formed by the position and behavious of atoms according to all and only physical laws (naturalist assumption)
3. mental phenomena are caused by the atomic processes and thus cannot supervene on the physical
4. Reason is not a part of any belief formation

It may be that some beliefs are logically consistent, but like I said, those would be flukes.

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Justfinethanks May 8, 2010 at 6:54 am

Ayer:
Excellent article by Dallas Willard on the issue of determinism and reason

That’s an interesting article. And, might I note, a much more sophisticated challenge to rationality on naturalism than simply “rationality can’t be determined.”

Mike Young: This asserts that my mind, presumably under my control (there is no evil physicist that is controlling my brain remotely, I assume you mean that “the mind” in sentence 2 refers to a mind under normal circumstances)

If by “under my control,” you mean “not determined,” then no, I don’t mean it that way. And if that is the case, why exactly is a non determined mind “a mind under normal circumstances.” It seems you have simply descended into question begging by defining a mind as something which must exert contra causal free will, but I don’t see why that is. If an evil scientist took over my mind, then I don’t see why it follows that my mind ceases to exist (if that were the case “a scientist took over my mind” would be an incoherent thing to say, because as soon as he did such a thing, there would be nothing to control.)

Once an agent has decided to jump the whole thing can be described purely in the language of physics, we do not need to bring anyhting else into it.

The fact that a “jumping” can be described in terms of physics while “reasoning” cannot is not an indictment of how how the act of reason can exist atomically. Rather, it is an testament to our good understanding of the physics of the body and our poor understanding of the physics of the brain.

And please note that this objection has veered away from the idea that “reason” and “determinism” is incompatible. Rather, it is more of an argument as to why “reason” and a “materialist account of the mind” are incompatible. So, even in granting this, it doesn’t demonstrate why reason and determinism are necessarily incompatible.

The mind is not doing the work of rationality. the mind is BEING rational.

???

Firstly, you just admitted that a mind can “be rational” on a deterministic naturalism, so I don’t see what else there is to discuss. (i.e. Given that my mind can “be rational,” I should have no problem affirming the rationality of determinism on naturalism. So, even if it’s not “doing the work,” this jig is up)

Secondly, I would like to argue that the mind IS doing the work of “rationality” because it is causally prior and necessary for the act of rationality. Just as we might say that an asteroid is doing the work of crater formation, because it is casually prior and necessary for the act of crater formation.

Trying to say that both your mind and the laws of physics are doing the work of thinking in a rational way is like putting to 5 pound wieghts on a scale and expecting the scale to say five pounds (instead of ten) because “both of the weights are doing the work of wighting 5 pounds.” False.

Not a very good analogy. It would actually be more akin to saying that both gravity and the weights are doing the work of making the weights a total of ten pounds. And that’s true, because without gravity, they won’t weight ten pounds, and without the weights themselves the scale won’t show ten pounds. So in that sense, they are both doing the “ten pounds” work.

Think of digestion. we can describe digestion purely in terms of the behaviour and position of atoms. now think of logic, try to describe demorgans theorums in terms of the position and behaviour of atoms

Again, this is a BRAND NEW ARGUMENT. This is not “rationality cannot exist under determinism,” this is “abstract objects like theorums cannot exist under naturalism.” I disagree that this is a challenge to naturalism, but for the moment I simply am not going to entertain your new arguments simply because you seem unable to defend the first one you brought up.

1. reason is an irreducibly mental phenomena
2. beliefs are formed by the position and behavious of atoms according to all and only physical laws (naturalist assumption)
3. mental phenomena are caused by the atomic processes and thus cannot supervene on the physical
4. Reason is not a part of any belief formation

Where exactly is the word “determinism” in this syllogism? For example, would this argument have any meaning at all to a non-naturalist who believed in determinism, such as a Calvinist? For the record, I disagree with premise one. But even granting the entire argument, does it then follow that rationality and determinism are incompatible? No, it only follows that reductive materialism and rationality are incompatible, a position I disagree with, but not one you have at all attempted to advance in the last few posts.

Look, the fact that you have 1) Introduced two new arguments against naturalism rather than defend your original one. 2) Admitted that a mind can “be rational” on determinism 3) Still haven’t made your case as to why determinism and rationality are necessarily incompatible.

Makes me think that this conversation isn’t about to get any more fruitful. You can have the last word.

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Joshua Allen May 8, 2010 at 11:39 am

That’s an interesting article.And, might I note, a much more sophisticated challenge to rationality on naturalism than simply “rationality can’t be determined.”

I’m not sure how strong the Willard formulation really is. Deception and logical relations can be easily explained in physical terms. I suppose that if you consider “truth” to be something that requires fourth-order intentionality, it’s a stronger argument, but in that case it’s not much different from Vic Reppert formulation of AfR, or Plantinga.

In any case, the topic has been beaten to death, and neither side really wins. Luke has covered this frequently on this site. See Luke’s answers to questions 36 and 40 in this morning’s post about “ask the atheist” — I think he has just the right attitude about “philosophy of science” and “defining the term ‘rational’”.

http://www.galilean-library.org/manuscript.php?postid=43811

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ayer May 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

Still haven’t made your case as to why determinism and rationality are necessarily incompatible.

Since you have not explained how you distinguish what makes a mental act “rational” versus one that is “irrational,” I can understand why the discussion cannot move forward. Until you have explained that, there is no way to decide whether a “rational” mental process (as you define it) is compatible with determinism or not.

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Mike Young May 9, 2010 at 1:55 am

I have not introduced any new arguments, what I am trying to do is get you to admit the following, there is some thing that is a part of rationality that requires my mind to actually have some causal force of its own. That is what the last post was for, to get you to admit what you admitted namely that you deny premise one of my final syllogism, ( to remind you that premise was the following: 1. reason is an irreducibly mental phenomena). This is false, I can not give the argument here, but I will say to read, and read very slowly and very carefully the chinese room argument by John Searle (dont use a wiki for this one, all the wikis on this argument to do not understand it) What searle shows is that you cannot get meaning from syntax. He uses this argument to knock out eliminative materialism and computer functionalism. But Ill take it and argue that laws of physics are purely syntactical,( they follow only rules and that isit, they do not care for the content of a thought, only that physical properties of the brain that holds that thought,) they cannot through their own operation ever take heed of any semantic considerations. The difference between meaning and syntax is huge and you had better get a very firm grasp of it before trying to say you can get one from the other, if you could show how to get meaning from syntax, you would have a full tenure at any major university you wanted. This is not a new argument, this is a distinction that I have been making the whole time that I am now making explicit so that we can get to what I have been trying to get the whole time. keep your eye on the ball, determinism knocks out rationality.
With that in mind take the following examples.
An evil scientist is controlling my brain. He makes me believe all kinds of things that happen to be true. Further he decieves me so that I have an experience of doing the reasoning to come to these true beliefs (even though the scientist controlls every single part of my brain, every atom that is there, I am not in control of anything the scientist controls all). Now the scientist gives me the feeling of being in control. even though I have no control of anyything at all. The question is this: am I doing good reasoning? Of course not, the scientists is doing all the reasoning and then making the atoms in my brain behave such that they make me feel like I am the one in charge. I FEEL like I am reasoning, I would tell you that I am reasoning, but in actual fact I am merely a pupet of the scientist, not doing anything at all. I am not the one reasoning, all that is happening is that the scientist is manipulating my brain the give me an experience that feel like I am engaging in an act of reasoning. The fact is I am not, I am (for our example) merely having the experience that I am having because the scientist is pushing all the buttons.
Example two. if you still think that I am reasoning then take the same senario only this time, the scientist take over my brain an manipulates it to give me the belief that I want to kill someone, and then manipulates it so that I do kill someone. Would we say that I am guilty of murder? or is the scientist guilty of murder? Are both of us guilty? It seems obvious to me that the scientist is guilty, not I. In the same way, it is the scientist doing all the reasoning in the first example. Now, make the scientist into God, I am i responsible or is God responsible for the murder? well oif we replace the scientist with God, then its God’s fault. Now replace the scientist with the laws of physics. Whose fault is it now mine or the laws of physics….well…obviously the laws of physics.
But hold on, what works for the murder case works also for the reason case (the first case) If its true that the laws of physics are in fact making me reason then we would have to say that it is actually the laws of physics doing the reasoning, but we alread showed (if you read the Searl argument) that physics cannot reason because reasoning requires the consideration of semantic content and physics can only take notice of syntactical content. Again keep our eye on the ball, this isnt a new argument, it is still the same one, determinism knock out rationality.
Same is true for the calvinist, if God is making you think a certain way then you are not reasoning, God is doing the reasoning for you and then making your brain do a process which means GOD is reasoning, you arent. Your not rational, why? cause you aint reasonin, God is, your just doing what he makes you do. He isnt making you be rational, he is pushing buttons and giving you an experience of reasoning which is in fact false, and its false cause your not the one doing anything, God is doing things and what God does is “Happening” to you. Your just a puppet, God is pulling all the strings. So here is the point, all determinism is going to turn out to be of two sorts: Etiher it will be rule governed and there for purely syntactical and unable to give an account of the semantics necessary for reason, OR, it will be of the type where Some agent (God?) is controlling everything in which case none of the creature are rational cause none of them reason becasue (as shown in the scientist example) he who pulls the string does all the reasoning. determinism knocks out rationality.

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Dan May 9, 2010 at 5:02 am

IT’S 2010!!!

CAN WE ALL PLEASE, FINALLY LEARN WHEN AND HOW TO TURN OFF OUR CELL PHONES?!

(3:15 in the video)

What’s around that mans right ear anyway? It better be a hearing aid and not a hands free bluetooth headset!

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lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 7:01 am

Dan,

Yeah, it was a hearing aid. :)

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caseywollberg May 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Wow. That’s your answer to the New Atheists’ supposed “failure” to engage theistic arguments: identifying an argument from ignorance? You had to pore over arcane “technical journals that nobody reads” for that? This is your big argument? You fail to impress, Luke. And, moreover, you are misrepresenting the authors who need to “fail” in order for you to puff out your chest.

1) Your argument to end all arguments, which you claim has never been seen before by non-philosophers, is covered comprehensively by at least one of the two authors you disdain, and in the very book you misquote him from. See the section, “The Worship of Gaps,” in chapter 4 (pp 151-161) of The God Delusion.

2) Your critique of the infinite regress argument is a bit of sophistry, since you take it completely out of context. In this case, Dawkins is responding to theists who try to make a case for design in nature (the argument from improbability), on the basis that nature is complex: complexity demands design. So, since the god of the Bible is (as you admit) highly complex, by the same reasoning theists use to demand design for a complex entity, Dawkins turns their argument on them and demands design for a complex entity. He does it to show the weakness of the argument, not because he trusts in its strength! As in several other cases I’ve observed, you have this exactly backwards, as well as taking it out of context. Read chapter four again, and pay attention to the concept of the illusion of design, the theist’s false dilemma between chance and design, and how Dawkins actually uses the argument from improbability to support natural selection (as opposed to special creation–hint, hint). You obviously don’t get it.

3) I don’t remember Dawkins ever calling that infinite regress argument the “main argument” of “The God Delusion,” as you claim. I invite you to substantiate this or retract it.

4) What you’re doing is taking one measly argument out of context, ignoring everything else these authors have written, and then attacking them for it, claiming they have failed to provide any good arguments against theism. Anyone who has read these authors knows this is ridiculous. Furthermore, as if to prove your absurdly false point, you offer up one of the most obvious arguments in the whole debate and claim that it can only be found in the esoteric texts of an elite cabal–philosophy journals so technical and obscure that only you and your high-brow brethren have the foresight to read them. Give me a fucking break, Luke. It’s not true, it’s stupid, and it’s arrogant. Dunning-Kruger effect maybe?

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Joshua Allen May 11, 2010 at 8:19 am

@caseywollberg – Did you read Luke’s post, or the footnote reference comment near the Erik Wielenberg reference? That applies directly to your assertion about “demanding design for design”. To take that route, Dawkins would have to presuppose that there is no such thing as a necessary being, and if he could do that, he wouldn’t need his blind watchmaker narrative. This should be very simple to understand.

Dawkins does a terrible job of defending his views intellectually. There are far better atheist apologists around today. Hardcore materialism and eliminativism have been losing steam (and Dawkins was never capable of articulating either position coherently anyway). For some very recent thoughts from 23 philosophers (most of whom I assume are atheists):
http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Philosophy/Metaphysics/?view=usa&ci=9780199556199

None of this is controversial. Dawkins is a popularizer and a scrappy brawler who does well with soundbites on TV interviews. Does anyone consider him to be a serious intellectual?

I tell people “If you can read Dawkins and find the holes in his arguments, it only proves that you have the ability to think critically. If you can read Loftus’s ‘Christian Delusion’ and find holes in the arguments, then you might not be an atheist.”

BTW, Luke never said that the argument from ignorance was from philosophical journals.

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caseywollberg May 11, 2010 at 10:18 am

“BTW, Luke never said that the argument from ignorance was from philosophical journals.”

Yes. Yes he did. “The title of my talk today is Why the New Atheists Failed, and How to Defeat All Religious Arguments in One Easy Step…I’m just popularizing and summarizing the work of professional philosophers in technical journals that nobody reads.” And then the only thing he offers that is supposed to be new information to us poor, uninformed laymen is the recognition of an argument from ignorance in the theist position. I find that on page 161 of “The God Delusion,” but, again, it is obvious to anyone who thinks about it a little bit. Only professional sophists would claim that it is a technical argument that only they can suss out.

“Did you read Luke’s post, or the footnote reference comment near the Erik Wielenberg reference? That applies directly to your assertion about “demanding design for design”. To take that route, Dawkins would have to presuppose that there is no such thing as a necessary being…”

Yes, I did read it. Did you read mine? I explained what Dawkins actually explained in “The God Delusion,” namely that he doesn’t need to presuppose anything about a necessary being to use theists’ own reasoning about complexity to show that their position (concerning complexity) is ridiculous. The argument isn’t that there is a necessary being that doesn’t require a beginning. That is a different context. The context is the argument from improbability in the creationism/evolution debate. The argument here is that nature is too complex to have come about by chance–that is to say, it is the complexity of nature, not its being necessary or contingent, that this reasoning turns on.

This is the context Dawkins’ critics are ignoring when the try to show that this argument doesn’t work against a position he wasn’t challenging in the first place (with that argument). For that position, he uses other arguments, one of which is the same one Luke pretends cannot be found on page 161 of “The God Delusion,” and is instead some obscure secret among philosophers. (Again, I invite Luke to make the appropriate corrections to his published claims that the New Atheists have failed to make this argument.)

Also ignored is the fact that New Atheists use all the arguments these philosophers use (I challenge you to show me I’m wrong about that–you haven’t done so) to support atheism and challenge theism. I guess some philosophers are feeling a little left out, so what do they do? They take arguments that are strong in the context in which they were offered, remove them from that context, and then show how they are weak in entirely different contexts, all the while pretending that the New Atheists have never offered all the relevant arguments in the appropriate contexts. It’s plain sophistry (“we have better arguments–we’re the professionals”), born (one can only presume) of jealousy.

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caseywollberg May 11, 2010 at 10:37 am

“None of this is controversial. Dawkins is a popularizer and a scrappy brawler who does well with soundbites on TV interviews. Does anyone consider him to be a serious intellectual?

I tell people “If you can read Dawkins and find the holes in his arguments, it only proves that you have the ability to think critically. If you can read Loftus’s ‘Christian Delusion’ and find holes in the arguments, then you might not be an atheist.””

And I tell people, don’t let “serious intellectuals” (sophists) do your thinking for you. You should follow that advice. Some people are clever–but just because you are clever does not mean you are correct. Only a sophist looks for holes in arguments, any hole of any variety will do for him (nuance is not convenient), and he is very clever and creative in finding them. But with cleverness one can “disprove” lots of things that are true. Some even make a living at it, or use it to promote themselves on a blog.

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Joshua Allen May 11, 2010 at 1:22 pm

@caseywollberg – I would caution you against anti-intellectualism. You have nothing to be afraid of. Pointing out the sloppy holes in Dawkins’ arguments does not “disprove” his conclusion, it just points out that his arguments are inadequate for a matter of such importance. When Dawkins presents a flawed argument, are we supposed to just accept it “on faith”, or because we like the guy, or because he’s saying what we want to hear?

Many would agree that Loftus’s compilation is better than anything Dawkins ever wrote. Additionally, Dennett’s ideas are considered stronger and more developed than Dawkins. I would recommend you get familiar with both. It would be a lot easier and more rewarding than defending Dawkins on the grounds that his critics are “too smart”.

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caseywollberg May 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm

@Joshua Allen

You have a problem with reading comprehension. I never said anything against intellectualism; I was commenting on sophistry. You ignored that and accused me of anti-intellectualism, which I vigorously oppose in matter of fact. Your problem is that you consider intellectualism to be the exclusive domain of “serious intellectuals” (a no true Scotsman argument), i.e., ostentatious (that doesn’t mean “too smart”) professional philosophers–when in reality intellectualism is the goddamn *prerogative* of any sufficiently intelligent person who knows how to read, *whether they get paid for it or not*. I don’t go in for anti-intellectualism at all, I’m just not a fucking bigot.

“When Dawkins presents a flawed argument…”

I already challenged this assertion. Are you going to address it like an honest intellectual, or ignore it like a sophist? How about conceding that the special, top-secret, highly technical argument Luke offers in his ridiculous little talk is nothing new, and is in fact found on page 161 of “The God Delusion,” which Luke claims is devoid of any good arguments? He kind of shot himself in the foot there, didn’t he? Will you concede that, or continue in your sophistry?

Loftus and Dennett I know well. I’m particularly fond of Dennett’s treatment of consciousness, but “his” arguments in support of atheism are the same as (not superior to) Dawkins’ arguments (you have heard of “the Four Horsemen,” right? And you are aware that Dennett is considered to be one of the New Atheists?)–except perhaps when it comes to arguments deriving from his own area of expertise.

That’s what I’m trying to get across to you boneheads: the “New” Atheists are not saying anything new, but they aren’t *missing* any of your supposedly superior arguments either. I’ve already challenged you to show me how this assertion of mine is incorrect. Do you have anything besides unfounded assumptions about what I have not read or considered?

“…more rewarding than defending Dawkins on the grounds that his critics are “too smart”.”

You really are a dirty little sophist. I wasn’t defending Dawkins, necessarily, I was pointing out Luke’s blatant misrepresentation. And I certainly wasn’t doing it on the grounds that his critics are “too smart.” You completely ignored my arguments about Luke’s misrepresentation of Dawkins and went after this red herring. I railed against sophistry in response to your illogical statement about “serious intellectuals.” You conflated the two responses because you are a sophist, whose only interest is in “winning” an argument. Well, it didn’t work. Try responding to these directly:

1) Luke misrepresented Dawkins (see all of chapter 4, but especially page 151, of “The God Delusion”).

2) The “New Atheists” are not missing any of the “really, really good arguments” against theism. This is a myth propagated by snooty philosophy majors and their professors, who got their panties in a bind because they just can’t stand that “their” intellectual ivory tower is perfectly accessible to smart atheists who aren’t “serious intellectuals” (that is, they don’t get paid for their cogitative efforts). If it is true that we lay people (and Thor forbid, biologists!) just don’t get it, then why bother “popularizing” arguments we aren’t “intellectual” enough to understand? No, the truth is those arguments are already quite popular, and you poor “serious intellectuals” missed your day in the sun. Boo fucking hoo.

3) Challenging the ridiculous assertions of professional “intellectuals” is not anti-intellectual–quite the contrary. Anti-intellectualism is when one group tells another group that they shouldn’t try this thinking thing, that they should just leave it in the hands of the professionals (whether they be the church fathers, the party leaders, or the “serious intellectuals”). Then they attack the professionals whose conclusions they don’t like as anti-social, anti-christ, anti-fatherland, not serious enough, etc. The point of anti-intellectualism is not to sow distrust of the intellectual class (although that happens, too, where it is convenient), it is to get people to mistrust their *own* intellect, and thereby misuse it in service to the cause of their leaders. I take it you weren’t raised in a cult. If you were, you would know all about anti-intellectualism–and you would also know how stupid it sounds when someone accuses you of it.

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Joshua Allen May 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm

@caseywollberg – There are 2 rather different issues covered in the post, which were clearly labeled as different issues:

1) The intellectual failure of Dawkins and Hitchens approach (an issue which requires some acquaintance with recent philosophical debate to understand)

2) The way to defeat all “God of the gaps” arguments for theism; which doesn’t require you to keep up with the philosophical journals and isn’t claimed to be novel. Luke’s way of deploying it (asking a simple question) seems more productive that the typical technique of arguing through repeated assertion.

As far as #1 goes, I mentioned Dennett, because he stands virtually alone among the new atheists in roughly agreeing with Luke about the poverty of Dawkins argument.

Reductionist materialists like Dawkins are committed to the belief that everything observable can ultimately be reduced down to a core set of *irreducible* material properties and laws of nature. From Dawkin’s frame of reference, asking “who designed the (complicated) designer” is simply a way of pointing out the absurdity of the theists “argument from complexity”. But it presupposes that his frame of reference is correct — and that is the problem. To presuppose that everything must be materially reducible begs the question of whether science can even exist. It is because of this that most philosophers are falling out of love with reductive materialism. Dawkins has never even attempted to defend against this challenge, choosing simply to ignore it.

You are welcome to call the 23 philosopher I linked, “dirty little sophists”. But if you expect anyone to take your word above theirs, you will need to explain exactly how they are wrong, or how materialism meets these challenges.

As I mentioned, Dennett *has* admitted that intentionality must be presumed to be true, apart from materialism. This is pretty much the same as positing a “necessary being”, just as the materialists posit “irreducible properties”. You shouldn’t act as if you are smarter than Dennett, Luke, and these 23 philosophers, in an attempt to “defend” Dawkins, when Dawkins just avoids the issue.

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caseywollberg May 11, 2010 at 5:27 pm

@ Weak Sauce (aka Joshua “Scaredy-Cat” Allen):

I see you are continuing to avoid addressing my arguments directly and are unwilling to concede plain facts–instead you have offered another serving of red herring. Classic sophistry. Well, I’m not taking the bait. That’s not to say I can’t address the latest very weak, misinformed, and irrelevant arguments you’ve just vomited up in a panic (sophists always panic when they know they’ve lost a debate, because “winning” is what they are in it for). I can (and my gears are already turning and crushing your ad hoc evasions as I type this)–but, being a gentleman, I have noticed that it is *your* turn to respond to *me*, and I must yield. Do I need to re-post my three points you have heretofore remained silent upon, or can you take the trouble to just go back and read them again on your own?

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Joshua Allen May 11, 2010 at 6:51 pm

@caseywollberg – OK, so I guess you’re conceding the original 2 points, and we’re moving on to your 3 new points? For the record, the 2 original points, which you are conceding, are:

A) The Dawkins and Hitchens arguments cited here are fatally flawed, for the reason that Luke provided, which is that they presuppose that there is no such thing as a necessary being. Indeed, they presuppose that there is only a set of irreducible properties.

B) Luke’s argument from ignorance was presented separately from this philosophical discussion, and was not claimed to be novel (although his way of presenting it is unique).

Excellent! Now for your additional 3 points:

1. It is true that Dawkins raises the “god of the gaps” objection. Perhaps Luke could have mentioned that in his second part, but it seems redundant, since practically everyone knows that argument. I have read it in the writings of authors who were writing before Dawkins was born.

2. I can’t comment on people’s panties. Personally, I would be surprised if philosophers are conspiring together to smear Dawkins, since he does a fine job of making a clown of himself with nobody’s help. How can we go about testing the veracity of your allegations?

3. You are correct. And on this point, I must apologize for causing you to lose control of your emotions. I’m beginning to suspect that your reaction is more of frustration at not actually understanding what I wrote, than of any real anti-intellectualism.

Can you do me a favor? Could you try to paraphrase and repeat back my *previous* response in your own words? This will allow me to see if I’m even communicating at a level you can understand. I used the words I did for sake of brevity, specifically because you claimed to be familiar with Dennett. If you’re not that familiar with the concepts, I can see how you could take my response as being meaningless sophistry, which would cause you to get emotional. So why don’t we do a reality-check to demonstrate whether or not you even understood.

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caseywollberg May 11, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Nice try, sophist. But not good enough. (Also, I hope comedy isn’t your day job.) It’s okay; I know you’re nervous. But I’m still waiting for you to exhibit some forthrightness with regard to my three points:

1)Luke says the New Atheists have “failed at giving a strong intellectual case for atheism,” and that “atheistic philosophers mostly just ignore the New Atheists, because they’re working with better arguments already, and there’s just nothing to work with in the New Atheists.”

He then goes on to reveal his ace in the hole: “So how do you defeat all religious arguments in one easy step? When someone gives an argument for God, pick out the part where they’re saying God is the best explanation for something and ask: “How is ‘God did it’ a good explanation for that? How does ‘Poof! Magic’ explain anything?…Believers aren’t really offering a ‘best explanation’ for anything, what they’re offering is a good-old argument from ignorance.”

But, wait a minute, here’s a quote from a New Atheist, Richard Dawkins, in the very book Luke claims has no good arguments: “As…Jerry Coyne put it…’if the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labelling [sic!] our ignorance “God”.’ Or, in the words of an eloquent blogger…’Why is God considered an explanation for anything? It’s not–it’s a failure to explain, a shrug of the shoulders, an “I dunno” dressed up in spirituality and ritual…’ (“The God Delusion” p 160-161)”

It’s the same argument as Luke’s epiphany! Wow, how’d that get into a New Atheist book? I thought there was “nothing to work with” there. Of course, Luke is just being a puerile sophist–a pesky, self-promoting, little flea.

2) The “New Atheists” are not missing any of the “really, really good arguments” against theism. You got a new argument I haven’t heard about? Luke doesn’t.

3) Well, okay, you actually conceded this one. Good job! Although we could have done without the insecure parting shot tacked on at the end (“Yeah, make it look like he’s an idiot by asserting, without basis, that he didn’t understand my argument; then any poor bastard reading this exchange will give me some much-needed points!”–I know you can’t help yourself, little sophist).

I’ll address your other idiocy when you properly address the points you are unsuccessfully dodging and trying to parry with red herrings. Good luck.

And Luke, in the off chance you’re reading this, you might want to delete this post as your claims in it are counter-factual, and this is easy to verify. A little damage-control goes a long way when you are trying to make yourself look like a big boy by taking swipes at the knees of your betters. Hack.

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caseywollberg May 11, 2010 at 9:02 pm

One more thing before I retire, secure in my iron grasp of this little debate, to sleep the sleep of a real winner.

What is the percentage of atheists among philosophers and how does that measure up to the percentage of atheists among biologists? Just wondering. Good night.

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Mike Young May 11, 2010 at 9:15 pm

@caseywoolberg. Calm down casey. No need for name calling or aggresivness. FIrst off, the argument luke claims is Dawkins central arugument, dawkins calls his central argument in many interviews. I am to lazy to post any at the moment but they are out there, althought thats a side point.
The fact is that on that particular point, luke is correct. Dawkins argument is comically bad, I am in philosophy at THe university of Regina and my professors who are atheists will tell you jus how bad that argument is.
As for the last part, I think you are right Dawkins and kitchens both make forms of Luke’s arguments in their books. You quoted one.
Lastly, I have to say that the argument Luke gave, is horrible. It’s a terrible argument. In fact, it as bad as the Dawkins argument. So your right, but it really doesnt help you.

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lukeprog May 11, 2010 at 9:23 pm

caseywollberg,

I’m only replying to your post that begins “Nice try, sophist.” I haven’t read the rest.

I’ve already said that the New Atheists make lots of good points. The problem is that they don’t take the time to carefully form them as good arguments. Instead of a carefully-argued 20-page paper (or a 200-page book, as with Greg Dawes) of analytic philosophy explaining why ‘God did it’ is a poor explanation, all you have in The God Delusion is a bare assertion that ‘God did it’ is just a failure to explain. There’s no substantive defense of that assertion in The God Delusion.

Likewise with the New Atheists who mention the problem of evil. I think that’s a strong argument, but not as the New Atheists formulate it, if they can be said to ‘formulate’ it at all. That’s part of what I referred to when I said that the New Atheists are busy working on “good arguments” (meaning “strong formulations of arguments for atheism”) whereas there’s little or nothing they can learn from what the New Atheists have written.

You say I haven’t got an argument you hadn’t heard about. Were you already familiar with atheists who outlined exactly how ‘God did it’ is a poor explanation according to the ‘explanatory virtues’ approach to explanation? In any case, I said up front that I didn’t have anything new. But there are lots of good arguments the New Atheists don’t mention – in particular, a whole boatload of incompatibility arguments against various conceptions of theism that even many theists admit now don’t work, and so they’ve gone about radically revising the theistic hypothesis.

That’s about all I’ll say for now. I suggest that IF you really think it’s useful to call people names, you might at least attempt something like the philosopher’s principle of charity first and attempt to understand your opponent before calling him names. All it takes is a few clarifying questions.

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lukeprog May 11, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Oh, and most philosophers are atheists. Most scientists are also atheists, and in fact biologists are the most atheistic bunch among the scientists, at 94% atheist.

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Joshua Allen May 11, 2010 at 10:05 pm

@caseywollberg – Glad to see that you conceded the first 2 points. As for the additional 3 points you raised, I believe I responded adequately. If you think not, you’ll need to summarize what you think I said, and specifically what you find unconvincing. I have never played Dungeons and Dragons, so I can’t keep up with all of the prattle about “iron grasp” and “knees of your betters”.

Until you show any capability of paraphrasing my points in your own words, I must assume that you are failing to understand the words and thus regressing into your own personal D&D fantasy world. With that in mind, I’ll try to use even simpler words to address the remaining two points:

1) Luke is entirely correct to point out that atheist philosophers ignore Dawkins and Hitchens. That’s a fact. What is in dispute is why they dismiss these two. Is it because the atheist philosophers have panties in a bunch (your claim), or because Dawkins and Hitchens presuppose an excessively reductionist materialism which has fatal flaws (Luke’s claim)? Since we have no evidence to support your conspiracy theory about panties, we need to evaluate what each of the philosophers say about the matter on its merits. What they say is very problematic for the position that Hitchens and Dawkins take, in the specific examples given by Luke.

1b) Nobody disputes that Dawkins has used the “God of the gaps” argument. He has used many other relatively good arguments as well. The fact that Dawkins has used good arguments in the past has no bearing on the validity of the argument in question. Just because one proves his opponent to be using an invalid argument, it does not automatically prove that one’s own argument is valid. Just because some theists stupidly argue for “God of the gaps”, that does not mean that Dawkins and Hitchens nonsensical reductive materialism is true.

2) I don’t see Luke claiming anywhere that his prescribed response to “argument from ignorance” is completely new. If you are arguing otherwise, you need to support it with more than blind assertion and conspiracy theories. What I read from Luke’s post is that he is lamenting the “new atheists” tendency to lead with a fatally flawed version of materialist reductionism. It’s counterproductive and even suicidal. If Dawkins and Hitchen would instead lead with a “God of the gaps” argument — especially in the manner that Luke prescribes, this post would never have been written.

If you still don’t see why it’s a major problem for Dawkins and Hitchens to presuppose strict materialism, and to lead with that, why don’t you watch this clip about the underpants gnomes and get back to us?
http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/151040/
For phase 1, substitute “biology” and for phase 3, substitute “intentionality”. If you don’t know what “intentionality” means, let me know and I’ll provide some links.

In any case, I have to wag my finger at you for being a naughty boy. You’ve changed your question! Your previous formulation of point 2 was an attempt to make me believe in a panties conspiracy amongst atheist philosophers, but now you’re on a fishing expedition to get me to provide “better” arguments against theism. As I said in my very first response to Luke, I don’t find the “God of the gaps” argument to be terribly convincing, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the implausible materialism that Dawkins wants us to accept. As I’ve also said already, Loftus’s book is vastly superior to Dawkins. If that’s not enough, read the 23 philosophers I pointed you to in the beginning. And if that’s not enough, I do have some even better arguments against theism which I’ve never seen anyone else use.

CAVEAT: Saying, “I read the Loftus book and the 23 philosophers and none of them are better”, is not a valid way to graduate from the breastmilk to solid meat. If you want to dismiss all of these intermediate stages, you will need to show that you have the capacity to comprehend what they said, summarize each in your own words, and explain exactly why you think each of their arguments are inferior. Accusing them of self-promotion, bunched up panties, or blue monkeys flying from their butts (ala Richard Carrier), will not be considered valid.

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ayer May 11, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Oh, and most philosophers are atheists. Most scientists are also atheists, and in fact biologists are the most atheistic bunch among the scientists, at 94% atheist.

Yes, but what percent of philosophers whose area of specialty is philosophy of religion (i.e., those who actually have expertise with the detailed theistic and atheistic arguments and counterarguments) are atheists?

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Joshua Allen May 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm

@caseywollberg – BTW, how is Dennet’s account NOT a “better” argument against theism? You never responded to that. How many “better” arguments do you need before you consider the fishing expedition concluded?

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lukeprog May 11, 2010 at 10:53 pm

“Dawkins and Hitchens presuppose an excessively reductionist materialism which has fatal flaws (Luke’s claim)”.

Woah. I said that??? I don’t think so…

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lukeprog May 11, 2010 at 10:53 pm

ayer,

What percentage of Koranic scholars believe it is the inspired word of God?

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Joshua Allen May 11, 2010 at 11:13 pm

“Dawkins and Hitchens presuppose an excessively reductionist materialism which has fatal flaws (Luke’s claim)”.Woah. I said that??? I don’t think so…  

Trying to be succinct. What you said is that they presuppose that there is no such thing as a necessary being.

In actuality, they presuppose a superset of your original claim, which is considered problematic by the atheist philosophers even if the presupposition of “no such thing as necessary being” were accepted.

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Al Moritz May 11, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Luke’s (Dawkins’, Coyne’s, deGrasse Tyson’s) argument from ignorance does not work; I have given reasons in my post here from May 3.

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lukeprog May 11, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Joshua,

I appreciate the difficulty of trying to be succinct, but “excessively reductionist materialism” has nothing to do with what I’ve said about Dawkins. If you think it does, then I haven’t been clear enough.

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Joshua Allen May 12, 2010 at 12:12 am

@lukeprog – I was trying to be charitable. I know of no atheist philosophers who would dismiss or ignore Dawkins for presupposing that there is no such thing as a necessary being, as you appear to have argued. If that’s the meat of your post, you might want to cite exactly which atheist philosophers find Dawkins’ presupposition that there is “no such thing as a necessary being” problematic. Do any such atheist philosophers exist?

In my responses, I allowed that you must have really meant that atheist philosophers dismiss Dawkins presupposition that “everything, including intentionality, derives from irreducible properties”. This is, in fact, what Dawkins presupposes, and would logically entail your “no such thing as a necessary being”. This broader claim about intentionality is, in fact, what philosophers find problematic, so it’s not a stretch for me to have imagined that you were taking this factual position.

If, instead, you were asserting that atheist philosophers dismiss or ignore Dawkins’ presupposition that “contingent beings do not exist”, I stand corrected — and surprised. Shocked, even. I would love to see any evidence to support this claim.

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lukeprog May 12, 2010 at 12:24 am

Joshua,

This isn’t how I argued at all.

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Joshua Allen May 12, 2010 at 12:41 am

@lukeprog – Allow me to directly quote from your post:

atheistic philosophers mostly just ignore the New Atheists, because they’re working with better arguments already, and there’s just nothing to work with in the New Atheists.

I’ll give you just two examples.

And it’s those last two that pose a problem for Dawkins. Because if God is eternal or necessary, then he didn’t “come into existence.” God is not the sort of being that came into existence like you or me, he’s supposedly a necessary feature of any possible world, and has always existed. So if Dawkins wants to say that it’s unlikely a complex God would come into existence, then he’s just trying to disprove a God that almost nobody believes in.

It sure looks like you’re arguing that the “new atheists” ignore Dawkins because Dawkins fails to acknowledge that the God he is trying to disprove is actually considered by theists to be a “necessary being”. I find that claim to be astonishing, and in need of solid supporting evidence. Can you clarify?

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Joshua Allen May 12, 2010 at 12:52 am

Doh! As you’ve probably guessed, I meant to say “atheistic philosophers” where I wrote “new atheists” above. (love the blog, BTW)

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lukeprog May 12, 2010 at 6:50 am

Joshua,

I’ve cited one example who argues what I said there: Erik Wielenberg. Now of course many atheist philosophers agree with Dawkins belief that there can’t be a necessary being, but Dawkins offers no argument to that effect, so he contributes nothing to the dialectic that philosophers are engaged in.

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ayer May 12, 2010 at 7:20 am

ayer,What percentage of Koranic scholars believe it is the inspired word of God?  

If you are saying that believers are drawn to philosophy of religion because of the subject matter, then I could just as easily say that nonbelievers are repelled from the subject matter because of their pre-existing atheism and enter other fields. So I’m unclear on the point of your comment about the percentage of philosophers/scientists who are atheists?

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Joshua Allen May 12, 2010 at 8:56 am

@lukeprog – Thanks for clarifying. In “The God Delusion”, Dawkins was trying to do two things:

1) Demonstrate that theism as an explanation is self-refuting (on this, he failed)
2) Argue that evolution from irreducible properties is a simple explanation for everything we see in nature, including intentionality

Point #1 is just dumb, and I would’ve been tempted to side with casey and say that it wasn’t Dawkins’ main point in “The God Delusion”. But you’re right. Dawkins doesn’t cleanly separate between the two points, and does indeed make the first argument essential to his overall claim.

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lukeprog May 12, 2010 at 9:26 am

Joshua,

Phrased in your words, I’m not sure (1) is so dumb, but Dawkins didn’t put forward a very clear argument for that conclusion.

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Joshua Allen May 12, 2010 at 12:50 pm

@lukeprog – Yes, of course, I meant his formulation of point #1, which he makes on page 121 and again on page 158, literally saying “who designed the designer”, and presenting a regress problem.

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caseywollberg May 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm

@ Joshua: I’m bored with your evasions.

Luke: “You say I haven’t got an argument you hadn’t heard about. Were you already familiar with atheists who outlined exactly how ‘God did it’ is a poor explanation according to the ‘explanatory virtues’ approach to explanation?”

Ding, ding, ding! This is precisely the challenge I was waiting for Joshua to bring up, but it seems he gets nervous when he comes too close to his opponent’s actual arguments. Thank you for showing him how it’s done.

I have a two-fold answer to your question.

1) No, I haven’t heard it before, and I’m glad “philosophers *and scientists*” have formulated a rigorous scheme for determining what makes for a good explanation. But…

2) That is not an argument against theism. It is a description of what makes for a good explanation, and it is applicable to any kind of explanation, not just those bearing on the question of theism. You claimed that Dawkins did not offer a compelling argument against theism (not that he failed to school us in the explanatory virtues) in “The God Delusion,” and the compelling *argument against theism* you hold up as missing from his book is the same one found on page 161. *That* is the argument against theism under consideration–not the explanatory virtues scheme (which you admit is nothing new to scientists, like Dawkins–it is probably something that is so second-nature to him that it goes without saying, and anyway, it is of general application–like what makes for a logical argument–do the New Atheists have to cover that, too, in order to avoid being called failures?). You can’t very well fault Dawkins for “failing” to offer up as an argument against theism something that is not an argument against theism.

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caseywollberg May 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm

“But there are lots of good arguments the New Atheists don’t mention – in particular, a whole boatload of incompatibility arguments against various conceptions of theism…”

I agree with this, but then this supposed “failure” of the New Atheists is only “failure” in certain obscure, pedantic contexts. Philosophers will always argue over individual arguments, up in their lily-white ivory towers, but at the end of the day, down here in the land of “common-sense atheism,” where we peasants are obliged to stack mud for a living, when we look at the *set* of arguments supporting one proposition and the *set* of arguments supporting the opposite proposition, and we see *a preponderance* of good arguments (and we know what they look like without your professional help) on one side, and *a preponderance* of bullshit on the other, we tend to say, “Gee, these guys make more sense to me and those other guys are just retarded.” The difference between the common atheist and theists is that the atheists don’t get the two mixed up.

Now, I’m not anti-philosophy, and I positively love pedantry, so, yes, context makes all the difference. If you’re talking about, for example, the problem of evil (widely considered to be a fool-proof argument against theism), you may run into trouble in the context of, say, my former belief system. Armstrongism uses a very tricky teaching to weasel out of the problem of evil, one that even Loftus does not to my knowledge address. So, in that obscure, pedantic context, the problem of evil is a bad argument–it doesn’t work–you need something else. But, in most contexts it is a superb argument (and Loftus does do a good job of addressing most objections to it–all but one as far as I know–in “Why I Became an Atheist.”) So, what is the moral here?

1) Some arguments are just bad in any context, but some may be good or bad depending on the context.

2) One should consider an argument in the context of other arguments offered along with it, not take it out of context and isolate it to make sweeping claims about the group proposing the arguments.

3) Arguments are not enough, since the arguing will never end, and since clever and elaborate arguments can by synthesized to support just about any metaphysical nonsense (that is what I was hinting at with my question about the comparison between proportions of atheists among philosophers and biologists). The thing that got me from fundamentalist cultist to atheist was *lack of evidence*. For me, the most compelling challenge to theists’ claims is, “Prove it.”* So simple, so devastating.

4) The New Atheists’ “failure” is only contextual, and is convenient to the egos of philosophers arguing amongst themselves. It isn’t a “failure” that is relevant in the world of “common sense atheism.” In general, in the real world, they have succeeded wildly in challenging theists’ claims (not that they’ve said anything “new”–all the new stuff is being furiously propagated by lovely pedants who are endearingly–to me, at least–out of touch with the rest of us. So, really, it’s the philosophers who are the “New Atheists.” The rest of us are the “old” atheists, who still think the infinite regress problem is pretty damn cool.) To me there is no “bad” argument against theism, as long as it is logical. I like ‘em all, even the pedantic ones. And taken *together*, they make a formidable case. (Theists love to move from one defeat to the next, as though they only need to win one argument for Jesus to make all those inconvenient losses go away).

Don’t be like them, Luke. Don’t claim there aren’t any good arguments in “New Atheist” literature just because some fuckwit with a philosophy degree can whip up a creative way to defend some obscure metaphysical claim about Yahweh (which, thanks to you guys, won’t last very long). Like I said, the pedantic arguing will never end, and it’s good some people are engaged in it, but it doesn’t discount the ancient, general victory of atheism over theism.

*Note that I am using “prove it” in the colloquial sense, by which I mean, “show me some evidence.”

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caseywollberg May 12, 2010 at 7:27 pm

“Lastly, I have to say that the argument Luke gave, is horrible. It’s a terrible argument. In fact, it as bad as the Dawkins argument. So your right, but it really doesnt help you.”

See what I mean?

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Zeb May 13, 2010 at 6:22 am

Casey, I am no philosopher but every argument I heard the new atheists give in interviews and debates was so easily dislensed that I never wasted my time on their books. On this site however I have found much more challenging critiques of my faith. Until I came here I honestly thought atheism was a pathetic losing battle. The new atheists left me much more confident in my beliefs.

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Ignostic Morgan December 5, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Luke, please interview this most redoubtable, intellectual atheologian,Casey Wollberg.
Casey, perhaps you might take on that apparent sophist Edward Feser [ Google his name to find his comments against us. He finds the courtier's tale as flawed.] in his objurgation of us gnu atheists in his book against us. Oh, I ever give substantial argument as Luke can attest! Also Google Skeptic Griggsy to see how I so enjoy retirement by eviscerating the superstition of the supernatural. You are fleshing out the arguments of the four horsemen of the new Enlightenment.
Not only do theologians use the argument from ignorance ,but beg questions and use unsubstantiated it must be’s and it may be’s in their pure guesswork!

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Ignostic Morgan December 5, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Casey Wollberg, as that intellectual, atheologian, you just might want to take on what nEdward Fese in his book against us gnu atheists. He finds the courtier’s reply as silly. Google his name to see what he has to say about us.
Luke, please interview Casey!
Google Skeptic Griggsy to see my fulsome argumentaton against the supernatural,please. Oh, I have made some typos. Thanks both of you.

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Ignostic Morgan [ Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth] December 5, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Carneades, the first ignostic, eviscerated theism eons ago.
Luke,please chekceckout my blog and add to it if perchance you have the time.
Edward Feser

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wissam December 10, 2010 at 2:58 am

Validating Dawkins’ argument (this goes out to Luke):

Luke, you seem to be reading too much Plantinga and Craig. They seem to do a great job in popularizing illogic.

1. For all x, if x is very complex and ordered, then x is probably designed.
(this is the design premise).
2. God is very complex and ordered.
(this can be easily defended)
3. Therefore, God is probably designed.

Since this reductio ad absurdum is fairly straightforward and convincing, then we can reject premise 1. How can the theist save the design argument and reject 1? Well, they can rephrase it as such:

1*. For all x, if x is contingent and x is very complex and ordered, then x is probably designed.

Since it is claimed that God is necessary, he does not satisfy the condition. This would seem to save the design argument since the universe is contingent (as claimed by theists).

But, this is not the case.

1. [N(x-->y)&Nx]–> Ny.
If [(x necessarily entails y)& x is necessary], then y is necessary.

2. [N(g-->u)&Ng]–>Nu.
We use the valid formula (premise 1) and apply it to god and the universe (by Universal Instantiation U.I.):
If [(god necessarily entails the universe) & god is necessary] then the universe is necessary.

3. ~Nu.
The universe is not necessary i.e., the universe is contingent (as all theists argue).

4. ~[N(g-->u)&Ng].
From 2 and 3, we conclude by modus tollens, it is not the case that [(god necessarily entails the universe) & god is necessary].

5. ~N(g–>u) v ~Ng.
By De Morgan’s theorem: from 4, either it is false that [(god necessarily entails the universe) or it is false that (god is necessary).

6. g=df a necessary being i.e. Ng.
God is defined as a necessary being i.e. God is necessary.

7. ~~Ng.
From 6 by double negation: it is not the case that it is false that God is necessary.

8. ~N(g–>u).
From 5 and 7 by disjunctive syllogism: it is false that (god necessarily entails the universe).

Even if we concede God’s necessity and the contingency of the universe, we still have to account for the contingency of (g–>u). (g–>u) might represent god’s will, or god’s properties which cause the universe, etc. And it seems incoherent to say that God designs his own will.

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Peter Andes April 3, 2011 at 3:57 am

Hi Luke,

I really enjoy your website but have not posted until now. Sorry about the random small text in the following post, I could not get it to go away.

I think Dawkins’ argument might be a bit different than how you explained it. The 6 steps as he puts them are not a deductive or inductive argument but rather a summary, so the criticism that it is logically invalid does not seem to apply, the steps are not even premises:

“This chapter has contained the central argument of my book, and
so, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I shall summarize it as a series
of six numbered points.” (p. 157 The God Delusion)

He says this right before giving the points, specifically using the word “summarize.” I think it is clear he was not trying to give a logical argument. I agree with you that Dawkins could have made himself clearer, but the summary was useful in that it at least brought together what he had been elaborating on in the various subsections of the main chapter of the book.

You describe his argument as:

“So if you’re going to say it’s unlikely that complex things should come into existence, therefore we need God to explain it, then you’ve got an even bigger problem with God, because he’s even more complex. So it’s very unlikely that a complex God would ever come into existence. If anything, God would have to come about by a long, gradual process like evolution.”

Concerning the improbability of complex things Dawkins says:

“The argument from improbability states that complex things could not have come about by chance. But many people define ‘come about by chance’ as a synonym for ‘come about in the absence of deliberate design’. Not surprisingly, therefore, they think
improbability is evidence of design.” (p. 114 The God Delusion)

So it seems that Dawkins might not mean “come into existence,” but rather that many people find complex things improbable because they do not think complex things could exist without having been designed, by someone. God does not have a designer, he simply exists eternally and is highly complex. So if you are saying that something in nature is so complex that it is very improbable that it exists without having been deliberately designed by someone, then you have to realize that God is even more complex and exists without deliberate design and so is even more improbable. Thus it might not be that God is improbable because it is improbable that such a complex thing could come into existence, but rather God is improbable because, by the criteria of the argument from improbability, it is unlikely he could exist without having been deliberately designed. I think when looked at this way Dawkins argument still holds, but maybe I am misunderstanding something. Here is a possible logical formulation:

1. Complex things are more unlikely to exist without having been deliberately designed.
2. Features of nature are complex.
4. Features of God are more complex than features of nature.
5. It follows then from (2) and (4) that: the complex God is more unlikely than the complex features of nature to exist without having been deliberately designed.
6. God is not designed.
7. Therefore it is unlikely that God exists.

If you grant the first premise, which many who criticize evolution in order to make their case do, then the conclusion follows logically as far as I can see but I may be wrong. It seems to be designed as a direct retaliation against the idea that because things are complicated there must have been someone who made them, against the argument from design. So just because God is eternal does not exempt him from the first premise since he would still fit into the category of a complex thing that had not been deliberately designed. As for God being necessary and therefore this argument not applying, this seems curious, like suggesting some kind of ontological argument:

1. God is a necessary feature of any possible world.
2. The environment humans inhabit is a world.
3. Therefore, God is a feature of this world.

This of course does not work because there is no basis other than theology for the first premise. It does not seem like the theological idea that God must exist in a world prevents Dawkins’ argument from suggesting based on the argument from improbability that it is improbable that he does in fact exist. I guess I personally do not see why it undermines Dawkins’ argument. At least for me it seems this objection needs to be explained more before it can raise a problem for the argument.

As for Hitchens’ use of “who designed the designer,” first of all I think it is important to note that unlike Dawkins’ Boeing 747 Gambit, this argument is only one among many that he incorporates. In fact I could only find one other mention of it in God Is Not Great besides the one you gave, though it is possible I could have missed other references. I know he did mention it very, very briefly at the end of his opening statement in his debate with William Lane Craig so he does seem to think it is useful. Though I could be mistaken, I believe some atheists tried or try to show that the infinite regress of “who designed the designer” countered the question of who designed the universe. Instead of a God who needed a designer himself, you might as well stop with the universe rather than settling on an explanation for the universe that simply needed another explanation using the principle of Ockham’s razor. When put this way the argument actually depends on the idea of an infinite regress applying to both God and to the universe since it relies on the razor to say that you might as well stop with the universe. This argument concerning “who designed the designer” at least seems not to be as easily knocked down as you have the argument set up.

Here is the first time Hitchens mentions the argument, I apologize for the length but the context is necessary:

“We now know things about our nature that the founders of religion could not even begin to guess at, and that would have stilled their overconfident tongues if they had known of them. Yet again, once one has disposed of superfluous assumptions, speculation about who designed us to be designers becomes as fruitless and irrelevant as the question of who designed that designer. Aristotle, whose reasoning about the unmoved mover and the uncaused cause is the beginning of this argument, concluded that the logic would necessitate forty-seven or fifty-five gods. Surely even a monotheist would be grateful for Ockham’s razor at this point? From a plurality of prime movers, the monotheists have bargained it down to a single one. They are getting ever nearer to the true, round figure.” (p. 87 of God is Not Great)

Though he mentions Ockham’s razor in this first passage, it does not seem like he is alluding to the way the argument is put above. He is using “who designed the designer” to undermine the fact that traditional cosmological arguments require that everything have a cause but God. In fact, “who designed the designer” seems to be making a rhetorical point that speculating about God as a designer is as “fruitless and irrelevant” as asking who designed God, which seems to be the very point you were making by saying a 5-year-old can keep asking questioning a parent. So actually it looks like you and Hitchens agree.

The second time I found that Hitchens mentions it is the one you quoted. Just prior to your quote Hitchens considers Ockham in the context of the “who designed the designer” argument I mentioned above:

“It was actually Ockham who prepared our minds for this unwelcome (to him) conclusion. He devised a “principle of economy,” popularly known as “Ockham’s razor,” which relied for its effect on disposing of unnecessary assumptions and accepting the first sufficient explanation or cause. “Do not multiply entities beyond necessity” This principle extends itself. “Everything which is explained through positing something different from the act of understanding,” he wrote, “can be explained without positing such a distinct thing.” He was not afraid to follow his own logic wherever it might take him, and anticipated the coming of true science when he agreed that it was possible to know the nature of “created” things without any reference to their “creator.’”
(p. 70-71 God Is Not Great)

He continues with even more discussion of Ockham. Like the first passage, this one is in the context of a section where Hitchens talks about a first-cause. So it seems Hitchens is not bringing up “who designed the designer” simply to say God is an infinite regress so He is not an explanation and thus unintentionally refuting science as well. Rather he is using it along with Ockham’s razor to suggest that we ought to stop with the universe and natural processes as an explanation rather than go on and use God as an explanation for that and then still be in need of another explanation anyway. Hitchens could have made this a bit clearer.

As for the argument you offered that “God did it” is not an explanation, I think it is a great one and I have used it effectively in arguments and debates after seeing your presentation. It does not make sense that for something that needs to be explained theologians and ap0logists can just say “God did it,” while scientists actually investigate HOW it could have happened. Thanks for outlining it so well and explaining it so clearly.

I think Dawkins actually touched on your argument in The God Delusion, using the term “skyhook” as coined by Daniel Dennett:

“Skyhooks – including all gods – are magic spells. They do no bona fide explanatory work and demand more explanation than they provide.” (p. 73 The God Delusion)

“To suggest that the first cause, the great unknown which is responsible for something existing rather than nothing, is a being capable of designing the universe and of talking
to a million people simultaneously, is a total abdication of the responsibility to find an explanation. It is a dreadful exhibition of self-indulgent, thought-denying skyhookery.” (p. 155 The God Delusion)

So in conclusion, I’m not sure that you have shown that the arguments of the New Atheists fail. I understand you had to simplify your points since this was a talk, and I look forward to hearing more what you have to say about the objections I have raised. I could very well have misunderstood certain things and I am sure you will have good responses. I do think you succeeded in laying out a great argument for atheism, that “God did it” is not a good explanation. Thanks for managing this site and working hard to make philosophical atheism accessible, its a very educational and you do a great job.

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Tyler V May 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm

First, I absolutely agree with you that the so called New Atheists, despite a growing cult following (pun intended), are just quite simply sophomoric in their treatments of philosophy, theology and Biblical criticism. They almost always try to disprove a strawman- a concept of God that all theists have actually already rejected centuries ago. It is precisely for the kinds of objections of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris posit that Christians DONT believe in that kind of God.

But just a quick two thoughts on why I think your whole approach also fails.

First, it seems that your assumption of naturalism and empiricism is itself unfounded and cannot account for the very tools you would like to use (logic, laws of nature, science, etc.) What I find is that when someone sets up an empirically testable standard for truth they often completely fail to grasp (as did those who left logical positivism en masse) is that there is no empirically testable reality for THAT standard. It simply begs the question on what passes for veridical truth.

Second is something I am not sure if you have been told before and that is the different KIND of usages of the term “explanation”. If I were to ask you for the explanation for the internal combustion engine, I could give you all kinds of explanations from chemistry, physics, from the mechanics of combustion, etc. OR I can just say “Henry Ford.” In both cases I have argued to valid explanations but they are different KINDS of explanations. When I appeal to Henry Ford does that explanation mean that all exploration of combustion becomes impossible because it is no longer a scientifically advancable topic? When people say that they “God” explanation is a science stopper, they are simply equivocating between the different kinds of causation. I think your method makes this equivocation.

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Daniel June 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm

“How do you defeat all religious arguments in one easy step? You pick out the part of the argument that posits God as the best explanation for something, and you ask: “How is God the best explanation for that? How is ‘poof! Magic’ the best explanation?”

Thank you.”

All you are doing is shifting the burden of proof… off of yourself.

We all know that complexity is more than often evidence of a designer. You said yourself there is no way any of us could explain all explanations. There comes a point where we all assume.
Your problem is that you assume that nature/material is all there is. Theists will also offer nature/material as explanations but also realise there has to be some design in there, to be honest with ourselves. There is no proof for a Designer but strong evidence. Science is not only way for finding truth. Reason is also. I cannot test everything so I reason them out to my best conclusion. To live in “I don’t know” is not practical and will always develop its own assumptions.

cheers,

Dan

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Alex Hogendoorn October 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Good start to an argument. I don’t find it as compelling as you might have felt it. I think it needs to be tested some more and even clarified. For example, what is it that “God does” in this argument?

If this is an argument against the “God of the gaps”, congratulations, you won that argument and many thinking Christians weren’t interested in fighting you on that. To simply pass off our position as carefully defining God as mysterious is an oversimplification; the biblical truth is that “no one has ever seen God” and we are now coming to terms with this in a new way–no magnification level on a lens will get us any closer to “seeing” or “observing” Him. So, it falls like the proverbial water from a duck’s back.

If we mean by “God did it” that God, following His normal “incarnational” modus operandi caused the universe to happen (which would mean that all the direct means would be normal-looking, naturalistic sequences perhaps even beginning with nothing other than gravity) *for a reason*, then you haven’t addressed what we mean by “God did it.” Here the human heart asks the question “Why?” and no Scientific Weltanschauung answers satisfactorily. Is there objective purpose? Is there meaning?

I share this with you to help you clarify your points. If you’re fighting against the “God of the gaps” this argument wins a meaningless fight. If you are trying to address the matters of meaning and purpose for which “God did it” answers, equating “God did it” to “Poof! It was magic,” completely misses the point. All of those debates that you mentioned do find a very satisfactory explanation in “God did it” because (as Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 say and as the entire story of Jesus redeems) we were made in God’s image. “Poof! It was magic,” could not be farther from what we’re saying.

So, fun start. I appreciate the honest critique of the New Atheists. I think you are of a much better breed of Atheist. I hope in this case the fitter survives. ;-)

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