Did a fairy kill Stephen Law’s apple tree?
Brad asked Stephen Law: “I think you presented probably the most cogent and succinct case that an atheist can give in a debate, but why should I rationally assent when you have no alternative accounts of the universe, design, morality, or the resurrection?”
Stephen Law replied: “Does the fact that I can’t explain why my apple tree died entail that I should remain agnostic on or even sympathetic to the suggestion that the fairies did it?”
Stephen, this is a response not worthy of an academic of your lofty stature. Indeed, it is not even worthy of an academic of my lowly stature.
You compare “fairies” to God. But what’s the analogy exactly? That they’re both invisible explanatory entities? So are quarks. (And don’t forget minds and their intentional states, which play a key role in the explanation of the sentences you are reading.)
So what is the comparison? That people of sufficient intellect cease to believe in fairies? No, that can’t be right. There are lots of intellectually mature individuals who remain theists but few if any who still believe in fairies.
Perhaps the analogy is this: Stephen is himself incredulous to both God and fairies. Well good for him, but why should a glimpse into Stephen’s personal psychology be of any interest to Brad? Let’s consider Stephen’s attempted slur (because that is really what it is) more closely.
The fairy analogy seems focused on treating the concept of God as a hopelessly arbitrary explanation. Stephen’s apple tree dies. What reason does he have to think that a little fairy named Tinkerbell killed it? Precisely none. Ahh, but God as an explanatory concept is not operating at the level of Tinkerbell. That would be arbitrary under the circumstances.
We have two basic options for explaining the demise of Stephen’s apple tree: natural, undirected event causes or an agent cause. Thus, if there is some reason to think that mere natural undirected event causes are inadequate to explain the demise of the tree you could legitimately default to an agent cause as an explanation. That isn’t arbitrary like fairies. It is a reasoned inference based on the evidence.
Let’s say the evidence is the ontological status of objective moral value and obligation and the origin and cosmic fine-tuning of the universe. The kind of agent you would be appealing to as an explanation for those otherwise brute facts would be one consistent with, if not entailing, that which is widely recognized as the God of the philosophers.
So now Stephen is canvassing the neighborhood trying to figure out which agent cause might have poisoned his beloved tree. Then he notices a message carved into the bark. It reads “This is for my Harley you %$#&^.” (I can’t write the last word because this is a G rated blog, at least most of the time.)
Now it all makes sense. Last week Stephen backed his camper van over his neighbor’s Harley Davidson motorcycle. And rather than make amends he then laughed at the neighbor and quipped “Now the neighborhood doesn’t have to listen to that God-awful exhaust anymore!” This new evidence is not only agent-supportive. It is agent-specific. Now we’re not just looking for any ole’ agent capable of poisoning the tree. We’re looking for Stephen’s neighbor. (Just hold on Stephen. Let me call my friends from the local Bandidos chapter. They’ll deal with this.)
The last line of evidence cited by Brad (resurrection) brings us into the territory of agent-specific evidence. It is analogous to the message carved into the tree. After all, if there is viable evidence that Jesus rose from the dead then there is reasonable evidence that it is the God Jesus worshipped who raiesd him.
And thus in the same way that Stephen can reason to a neighbor as the likely agent cause for the demise of his apple tree so somebody can reason to the Christian God as a likely agent to explain all the data Stephen failed to address in his debate.