Tag Archive | Atheism

You Are a Monkey

The feature image of this post is pretty iconic; but the idea it expresses is wrong. It’s commonly said that “we are not descended from apes, we ARE apes”. This is wrong too. The image is wrong not because it shows humans evolving from apes, but because it shows humans evolving from extant apes. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ve created one to explain what an ape is, and why we are both apes and descended from ape:

https://dubitodeus.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/apes.jpg

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The New Atheism and Philosophy of Religion

Philosopher Helen DeCruz has recently posted on Prosblogion an analysis of a survey conducted on how various groups rate the strength of arguments for atheism. Most of the results aren’t very surprising (atheists rate arguments for atheism higher than theists, agnostics are somewhere in the middle); but one thing stood out to me when I was reviewing the analysis. Check out this data:

Argument from inconsistent revelations – no difference in rating between philosophers of religion (PoR) and participants who are not philosophers of religion (non-PoR)

Argument from poor design – also no difference

Argument from evil – also no difference

Argument from divine hiddenness – PoR 1.54 times more likely than non-PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral”, “weak”, or “very weak”.

Argument from parsimony – non-PoR 1.82 times as likely than PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral”, “weak”, or “very weak”.

Pragmatic argument – non-PoR 2.26 times as likely than PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral,” “weak” or “very weak”.

Argument from incoherence – non-PoR 1.76 times as likely than PoR to rate it as “strong” vs. “neutral,” “weak” or “very weak”.

Argument from lack of evidence – non-PoR 1.64 times as likely than PoR to rate it “more favorably”.

I found these results quite interesting, as I consider the arguments rated more highly by non-PoR’s to all be weak at best. The arguments rated more highly by non-PoR’s are also the arguments commonly used by many  new atheists.

The even more interesting thing is this: the survey was originally posted on Prosblogion (I’m not sure if it was also posted anywhere else, though), which has many theist readers – readers which would be unlikely to rate these non-PoR favored arguments as “strong” (even if they are non-PoR’s). So I suspect that a poll of only atheist non-PoR’s would show that they rate these arguments even higher than this, perhaps at 3.00 or even 4.00 over atheist PoR’s.

Rick Warden’s Argument For Theism

Blogger Rick Warden has decried the fact that the “top 20 atheist bloggers” have declined to offer a response to his argument for theism[1]. I think that most arguments, even if they are poor, deserve a response; so I will attempt to answer his argument[2] here (the picture is of course just a joke). The first section reads as follows:

I. Formal logic presupposes certain truths theoretically exist as a basis for sound reasoning.
A. A categorical syllogism, for example, requires the existence of implied universal truth and validity.
1. At least two laws of logic apply in all possible worlds.
a. Law of non-contradiction: It is not possible that something be both true and not true.
b. Law of identity: A = A. Something is what it is and has at least one identifying characteristic.

His (I) is correct – any logical system will take for granted that certain formulas are true; these are called the axioms of the system. But his support for this is mistaken. A syllogism does not need the existence of universal truth, because the syllogism is only valid within one system. If you take a syllogism formulated in classical logic which uses the law of non-contradiction as a premise, and translate it into a paraconsistent logic, that syllogism will no longer be valid.

He’s also mistaken about his definitions of the “laws” of logic”. They are not written in English, but in the language of symbolic logic. The LNC reads, “~(A & ~A)”, and the law of identity reads, “A → A”. A proper translation of these into English would read, “not (A and not-A)”, and “A materially implies A”.

Furthermore, the only reason we don’t allow a contradiction in “classical” logic is because that, given the rules of that system, a contradiction makes every formula trivially true – thus rendering the system useless. But if we create a new system by removing the rule of inference called “disjunctive syllogism”, then this doesn’t happen, and we can have contradictions without rendering it useless.

But anyway, I’ll grant (I), with the caveat that which “truths” (axioms) are presupposed is going to depend on what system you’re working in.

II. The foundation of cohesive logic appears to have been undermined by quantum physics.
A. A quantum particle has ambiguous identifying characteristics until it is measured and collapsed.
B. Quantum non-locality and entanglement imply boundaries that were assumed to be finite and localized are not.
C. QM phenomena and influences are not neatly compartmentalized apart from the Visible day-to-day World
D. If the physical world is truly interconnected by energy, there is only one implied physical identity.
E. It is not the laws of physics that determine how information behaves in our Universe, but the other way around.

Two things to say here. First, I disagree. Maybe it’s true that “classical” logic can’t describe the way things behave on the quantum level, but so what? Such situations are one of the reasons why we have other logics to work with.

Second, Rick mentions a lot of stuff in his writing regarding this point that doesn’t even appear to be relevant. In addition to talking about QM, he criticizes materialism and Ayn Rand’s objectivism. But some atheists are not materialists, and most are not objectivists. I am neither.

III. NDE Cases Support a Cohesive, Logical Understanding within a Theistic Framework.
A. NDE patients describe situations they could not have perceived with their physical senses.
B. Reynolds described the appearance of a unique instrument used and recalled a specific conversation.
C. A Dutch NDE patient described aspects of an operation that occurred observed during clinical death with a cardiac arrest.
D. People born blind have made accurate, detailed descriptions of images they could not have seen with their natural eyes.
E. A specific identity and locality is maintained while experiencing clinical death, consistent with the law of identity.
F. NDE accounts imply that human volition (free will) exists and operates on a spiritual level.
G. NDE accounts imply a God with a loving nature exists. This supports the theist view over other religions.

NDEs certainly do point to some strange things which are difficult to explain, but they don’t necessarily point away from atheism. It may be that these experiences are completely naturalistic, and merely point to the fact that perhaps our senses do work when we currently think they don’t, and these experiences are merely the illusion of having a shift in location. Or it may be that substance dualism is indeed true.

But in any case, the best this can do is shift the probabilities away from materialism. These probabilities would be then redistributed equally, raising the probability of all other possibilities – theism, non-materialistic atheism, solipsism, etc. So this isn’t a gain in likelihood for theism compared to atheism; just compared to materialism.

Also, I don’t see why (F) is true. How do NDEs say anything about free will at all?

IV. Materialism has failed to provide support for answers to foundational questions while theism has provided such support.
A. Universal and certain truth and validity are implied as a necessary combination in making formal philosophical arguments but the possibility of absolute truth is rejected by most materialists because of the theistic implications.
B. Studies in quantum physics offer metaphysical under-determinism while cohesive logic regarding identity remains beyond reach.
F. Materialism has Failed to provide minimal answers with regard to the origin of the universe, the origin of matter, the origin of life, the origin of information, the origin and makeup of consciousness.
G. Theism does provide a logical and cohesive framework and specific answers to the above questions in keeping with related evidence.

I guess the lettering is off here. Oh well, no matter. Anyway, I feel that I’ve already answered the point about materialism above, so I won’t reiterate it here.

V. Conclusion
A. Proof is affirmed by logic and material evidence and the preponderance of evidence supports a theistic interpretation.
1. The materialist view is logically inconsistent and in conflict with science and evidence implying the supernatural.
2. The Christian view is supported by cohesive logic, science, evidence and scriptural text.
a. Hebrew 11.3: Logic, information and the spiritual dimension form the basis of prime reality.
b. John 1.1, 1.14: God is the logical basis of prime reality.
c. Colossians 1.17: God is both the creator and enabler of the physical world.

Rick makes an odd move here from theism to Christianity. I can’t find where Christianity suddenly jumps in, given that he’s only been talking about theism this whole time. He also once again critiques materialism, which is not identical to atheism.

Anyway, there’s a few things to say about all this. First, it seems like I could grant all his premises, and still consistently be an atheist. None of the premises given clash with atheism – just with materialism, objectivism, etc.

Second, this seems to be not so much an argument, as a series of somewhat related statements. No rules of inference are given, and I struggle to think of any that could produce his conclusions with the premises he has.

Finally, I’d like to distance myself from at least some of the atheists who have refused to respond to Rick’s argument. I’m not familiar with all of them, but P.Z. Myers is just another typical “new atheist”; and John Loftus is quite unreasonable (just ask Victor Reppert!)

But, I’d be more than happy to re-examine this argument if he wants to reformulate it, or provide his inferences. I also invite him to respond to the arguments for atheism I’ve provided elsewhere on this blog.

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[1] http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/07/top-20-atheist-bloggers-decline.html

[2] http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-identity-logic-and-physics-prove.html

Another World: An Argument From Natural Evil

Imagine a “twin Earth”, which is similar to our Earth, except that instead of being a planet with tectonic plates “floating” on a mantle, it’s solid rock with an iron core. This has a lot of biological, geographical, and meteorological implications, but imagine that the history of this twin Earth has played out roughly the same as our own. I don’t have space here to fully describe what such a planet’s history would look like (such a task would take several volumes!), but it is conceivable that there could be such a planet where evolution still happened, bipedal humanoids with roughly our characteristics still evolved, and there is still a global weather system that follows regular patterns.

The argument is as follows: a world which is similar to ours in all relevant moral characteristics is logically possible[1]; and it is both logically and physically possible that this world still has weather systems which result in natural evils which are somewhat less in both frequency and severity. Perhaps the lack of tectonic plates results in no earthquakes or volcanoes, or perhaps tropical cyclogenesis results in smaller and weaker hurricanes.

If it is the case that such a world is possible, then it is reasonable to say that God, assuming he is in the business of actualizing worlds, would be morally obligated to create that world instead of this one. It might be possible to argue that some natural evil is necessary to achieve greater goods, and I won’t dispute that here. Even so, this argument asks the question, “Why is the amount of natural evil we actually have necessary for the correct amount of greater good?”

This twin Earth would have the same amount of good, but less natural evil. One might want to argue that less natural evil would mean less chances for higher goods, or less soul-making, but it remains to be seen why this is the case. People who are moved to do good by natural evil don’t seem to be, at least to a point, motivated by the amount of natural evil, but merely that it occurs. It seems at the very least unlikely that organizations such as Doctors Without Borders only exist because we have X amount of disease rather than X-1.

Of course, it is true that DWB probably wouldn’t exist if there was only one, or just a few, people in need of medical care. But we can still estimate a “fuzzy” lower limit on how much natural evil is needed before such things arise. Maybe it’s 30% of what we have now, or maybe 50%, or maybe 90% – but it seems quite unlikely that we’re currently at the bare minimum for these types of goods to exist.

A response to this argument might be something like, “well yes, these goods would still exist if there was less natural evil, but more evil means more good”. This can be responded to by flipping the argument around, and asking why there isn’t more natural evil in the world. And of course, it also seems highly unlikely that we’re currently at the upper bound of natural evil, after which any additional evil would not result in any more good.

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[1] If you doubt this, simply consider a world in which we all have six fingers on each hand. Such a world would certainly be morally similar to ours.

A Brief Primer On Divine Hiddenness

The argument from divine hiddenness[1] starts with a simple observation that a certain kind of reasonable or nonresistant nonbelief exists. This is a sort of nonbelief such that the person holding it is not at epistemic or moral fault for doing so. We can point to several situations where such a situation may occur:

  1. After diligent and careful searching, as well as close examination of all evidence provided, a person comes to believe that he has both strong responses to all known arguments for theism, and no responses to several known arguments for atheism.
  1. A person living in a third world country is jailed from a very young age, surrounded by instances of apparent pointless evil, and has no access to any material arguing in favor of theism.
  1. A person, due to a genetic defect, is mentally retarded and thus cannot examine evidence on his own; and those around him tell him that God does not exist.

We would generally not consider any of these people at fault for not believing. Some people in these situation may very well like to believe; but of course beliefs are not voluntary. It is reasonable to assume that there exists, or has existed, at least one person in some situation similar to this at some point in time. Thus we get premise 1 of the hiddenness argument:

(1) Reasonable nonbelief exists.

What we must consider here for the argument to work is something often overlooked about the nature of God. It is often said by theologians (in one way or another) that God is necessarily the greatest possible being. He either presents with all the virtues and none of the vices, or he has every great-making property to a maximal degree, or something similar to this[2].

What this implies about God is that he is perfectly loving – and this is slightly different from being perfectly good. While it is good to be loving, goodness has to do with morality and actions in general, while to be loving has to do with interpersonal relationships. If I donate to charity anonymously, I’m doing something good, but not something loving. When I pull someone up out of the mud, I’m doing something good and loving. The difference lies in the personal nature of the action. We can say that to be loving is to be good in a personal manner.

To be such is certainly to be virtuous, or great, or however one wants to describe attributes ascribed to God in the ontological argument (and others). And of course God, being God, will have this attribute to the maximal degree. So we get our second premise:

(2) If God exists, then God is perfectly loving.

Our final concern is the conflict between a being who is perfectly loving, and the hiddenness of that being. Consider the case of a mother[3] who gives her newborn son up for adoption. She may have any of a number of reasons for doing so, but all in all, the good mother will always have the best interest of her son in mind.

Here is where the conflict lies: the loving mother will make sure that her son is aware of her existence; and though she may not be able to support him (maybe she has a drug habit, maybe she’s poor), if she is loving, she will make sure that there is always a possibility at every point in her son’s life, that the son is able to enter into a relationship with her. If she is loving, she will contact her son in some way, and say “I cannot support you, or help you financially, but I exist and I am here if you want to talk to me”.

Herein lies the problem with God and hiddenness – it is impossible for the son to do so if the son is not aware that the mother exists. To suggest that it is would be to suggest that a Christian can enter into a relationship with Zeus[4]. There will be nothing available for the son to base a relationship on; the minimum condition for one to enter into a relationship with another is belief in that others’ existence. This gives us our final premise:

  1. If God is perfectly loving, then reasonable nonbelief does not exist.

From these premises, we can extract two conclusions via modus tollens:

  1. God is not perfectly loving (from 1 and 3).
  2. God does not exist (from 2 and 4).

 

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[1] J.L. Schellenberg presents this argument in his book Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason, and defends it from objections in The Hiddenness Argument Revisited (I) and The Hiddenness Argument Revisited (II).

[2] See the works of St. Anselm, Rene Descartes, Gottfried Liebniz, Immanuel Kant, Kurt Godel, Alvin Plantinga, and Robert Maydole (as well as many others) for many varieties of ontological arguments.

[3] Schellenberg talks about God as a mother, and gives an analogy between a loving God and a loving parent, in several places. Here is one: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/john_schellenberg/hidden.html

[4] This is not the claim that many ‘new atheists’ make that the Christian is an atheist about every god except one, and that the atheist merely “believes in one less god than you do”. It’s merely an example of when one can or cannot enter into a relationship with another being.