Why they don’t believe: Chris Hallquist (The Uncredible Hallq)

Posted on 06/16/13 104 Comments

Today we welcome our next entry in the series “Why they don’t believe”. Chris Hallquist blogs as The Uncredible Hallq and has written a book titled UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God which is available for free download (though donations are welcome) here.

* * *

“I was raised in a liberal Christian family. That meant I was never anywhere close to being a fundamentalist, and my mother (who has a PhD in biochemistry) inoculated me against creationism early on. On the other hand, I still absorbed Christianity in Bertrand Russell’s minimal sense of believing in God and that Jesus was the wisest and best of men.

“I was first exposed to philosophy of religion some time in middle school, via Tom Morris’ Philosophy for Dummies. The arguments for the existence of God it presented (which included Plantinga’s modal ontological argument) seemed to me obviously very bad. For example, I didn’t know any modal logic at the time, but I independently thought up a version of the Gaunilo’s island reply to Plantinga’s argument. (Actually learning modal logic in college only confirmed my initial reaction. Consider: possibly it’s a necessary truth that pigs fly. Therefore, by the S5 axioms of modal logic, pigs fly.)

“At the same time, I made some initial efforts reading the Bible for myself. I liked the gospels the most, and mostly that’s what I read. Still, sometimes Jesus said things that seemed questionable; I told myself that because he was so wise, there must be some wisdom in there somewhere. Once, while reading Mark, I noticed that Mark had very little of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’/ ‘Good Samaritan’ material I like so much in Matthew and Luke, and seemed to be mainly Jesus talking about how the world was going to end soon. I think at the time I just suppressed that line of thought, though later I’d learn that the view of Jesus as a failed apocalyptic preacher was widespread among Biblical scholars.

“But by age 16, I realized I had no better reason to believe in the Christian god than in Zeus. It was sooner than that, but 16 was when I admitted it to myself, and realized that ‘faith’ would be nothing more than pretending to believe what I no longer did. And once I stopped think of myself as a Christian, it became easy to see that Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels was not very wise at all, and that liberal Christians had no better claim to ‘true Christianity’ than the worst fundamentalists.

“Then I encountered Christian apologetics; many of their arguments seemed superficially impressive, but when I looked closer I was appalled by what I found. One of the biggest examples of this is Lee Strobel’s claim that the Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White “meticulously examined the rate at which legend accrued in the ancient world” and determined the gospels could not possibly be legends, but when I got to a university library and actually read Sherwin-White’s book, I realized this claim was so wildly inaccurate that Strobel had to be either lying or else had not read the book.

“It also briefly appeared to me that there might be too Intelligent Design, which led to me spending a lot more time reading about evolution, which led to me realizing not only that there wasn’t anything to Intelligent Design, but that in many cases the ID folks were using the exact same arguments as the creationists. (Here, William Dembski’s use of the ‘evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics!’ argument sticks with me.)

“Seeing the ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics (sometimes I can’t tell which it is; sometimes I’m sure it’s the latter) pissed me off. That’s why I’ve spent a great deal of my time working to counter it.”

* * *

In this series I follow up each statement with some initial thoughts based on selected excerpts, so here goes:

“I was raised in a liberal Christian family. That meant I was never anywhere close to being a fundamentalist…”

The term “fundamentalist” is used in different ways. It is true that anybody raised in a family which would self-identify as “liberal Christian” (or progressive Christian) is likely not fundamentalist in the socio-historical sense that traces back to a conservative reform movement of Protestant Christianity which began a century ago. But that is really of secondary interest. You see, the term “fundamentalist” is also used to flag an orientation that includes intellectual insularity, defensiveness and the brusque dismissal of opposing views. This is the most worrisome expression of the term. Common hallmarks of fundamentalism in this sense include (but are not limited to) the tendency to impute to those with whom one disagrees intellectual and/or moral failings. For example, John Loftus prides himself on saying the arguments I offer in favor of theism are completely “worthless”. For an argument to be completely worthless presumably means that it is logically invalid or its premises are demonstrably false. But the arguments I invoke for theism are surely not worthless in that sense. Consequently, when John Loftus left the Christian fundamentalism of his earlier years, he rejected the Christian trappings of belief but retained his fundamentalist disposition.

When I read Chris’s statement that the arguments for God’s existence which Tom Morris (a top-flight philosopher) summarized are “obviously very bad”, or when Chris writes without qualification of the “ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics”, I worry that I am seeing the fundamentalist marginalization of the other through the sweeping imputation of ignorance and moral corruption to his intellectual foes. (To compare, it would be indefensible for me to write of “the ignorance and dishonesty of atheological apologetics”. Certainly some atheological apologetics, like some Christian apologetics, may arise out of ignorance and/or dishonesty. But broad-brushing all the products of atheology would be completely indefensible. Mutatis mutandis for Christian theology and apologetics.) In conclusion, Chris certainly leaves this reader with the impression that Christian apologists, philosophers and Christians generally are either completely ignorant or morally corrupt, or both.

“by age 16, I realized I had no better reason to believe in the Christian god than in Zeus.”

Is Chris simply saying that he realized that he lacked a reason to believe in the Christian God over Zeus? Or is he saying, more strongly, that he came to believe nobody else had a reason to believe in the Christian God over Zeus? The former claim is quite modest, since it would only relate to personal justification. If, on the contrary, Chris is making the latter claim that nobody has a better reason to believe in the Christian God, then his statement is demonstrably absurd. (I’ll be happy to unpack that claim in a subsequent post if anyone should care to challenge it.)

“realizing not only that there wasn’t anything to Intelligent Design, but that in many cases the ID folks were using the exact same arguments as the creationists.”

Once again we find Chris issuing a sweeping dismissal, this time in the statement that there “wasn’t anything to Intelligent Design”. From Francis Crick proposing a panspermia thesis to explain the origin of DNA to atheist Thomas Nagel pointing out the strength of Meyer’s argument from biological information to atheist philosopher of science Bradley Monton defending the ID program, it is clear that Chris’ assessment of ID is simply not correct. Whether or not consensus is achieved on the propriety of explaining any specific natural structure or process in accord with intelligence is a separate matter from whether it is in principle possible to do so. And on the latter issue the ID folk have raised an important debate in the philosophy of science regarding the place of intelligent cause in scientific explanation.

  • James Lindsay

    I consider it astounding that any educated person today thinks theology of any brand deserves more than sweeping dismissal.

    • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

      Well, given that theism boasts widespread acceptance and given that very smart and educated people (such as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Robert Adams, just to name a few. Oh and Randal Rauser) believe in God and believe that theology is important and relevant, I think that your dismissal it a bit hasty.

      I have a great deal of sympathy for the claim that theism is impoverished as a belief system that might help us make sense of our universe and ourselves. However, I’m not sure that I understand why it is worthy of sweeping dismissal. Given that so many people are theists and derive a sense of purpose and fulfillment from that belief, it strikes me that it is eminently reasonable to take a careful look at it.

      • James Lindsay

        Hasty?! You’re joking, right?

        Theology has had literally thousands of years to produce results. Can you name a result it has actually produced?

        • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

          It has given millions of people a sense of purpose. It has provided millions of people consolation in the face of horrible evils.

          Now, again, I am more than sympathetic that these are illusory. But people report that theism does this for them. I think we err if we just ignore it.

          Also, theism has brought about atheism. And atheism is a prerequisite for any world view that might actually accomplish what is claimed for theism. In other words, the study of God has revealed, at least to me, just how much the idea of God is unimportant and superfluous. I think that is very important.

          • James Lindsay

            Have you ever entertained the idea that theism doesn’t “give” these senses, it fills in the holes that people aren’t otherwise willing or able to fill for themselves?

            Theism cannot answer any questions. It can just stop the asking. That’s some grounds for dismissal since other things can do that as well. That theism has to be asserted on no evidence, and is asserted equally by any and every tradition that wants to do it with no method to distinguish between mutually contradictory claims, that’s total grounds for dismissal.

            You’re making an argument for placebo posing as medicine.

            • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

              I am not making an argument for theism. I am making an argument that we cannot dismiss it completely. If any “placebo” did that theists claim that theism does, that would be grounds for studying the placebo.

              I agree that it is false and that the positive effects are not attributable to the truth of theism. But I would like to know what it is that people find appealing about theism.

              • James Lindsay

                Let me paraphrase you:
                “I am not making an argument for the existence of George Lucas’s ‘the Force.’ I am making an argument that we cannot dismiss it completely.”

                Doesn’t that sound silly?

                • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

                  That argument sounds silly. Yes. But it is not mine.
                  Let me paraphrase me, or rather make a better analogy using Star Wars:

                  Millions of people (including some very smart and educated ones like Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda) believe that the force provides them a sense of meaning and purpose and gives them the power to fight the Dark Side. So, we should not be so quick to dismiss as James Lindsay is.

                  • James Lindsay

                    Hilarious because I’m pointing you at reality while you point me at fiction.
                    PS: There are people who believe the Jedi religion, real people, real Force. But it’s okay to dismiss? Or not? Why or why not? Why should we have to entertain it just because George Lucas invented it for some movies?

                    • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

                      Huh? You pointed to fiction. I just followed your finger.

                    • James Lindsay

                      I pointed to fiction that is recognized as fiction in reality. Real people (barring a few) don’t believe in the Force. You tried to reverse it on me by indicating that millions of fictional characters, including specific fictional characters, believe in the fictional Force.

                    • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

                      Yes. It was an analogy. As was your first mention of it. But if you don’t want to go to fiction for analogies, I am all for it. We can focus on my actual argument rather than using bad analogies to dismiss it.

                    • James Lindsay

                      Where, pray tell, does “God” exist outside of fiction?

              • James Lindsay

                Perhaps, if you want to understand what people find appealing about it, you should read the essay I wrote for this series. I specifically touched upon those themes (and why I don’t feel I need theism to meet them). I’m intending to write a great deal more on this in the future.

              • James Lindsay

                Like with homeopathy?
                Any benefits there are due to placebo, so surely we should give some serious consideration that the underlying hypothesized mechanisms have validity? Millions of people believe in it and use it regularly, and it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry annually. It makes them feel better at times when they feel bad. So, therefore, maybe it’s not worth dismissing as bunk unsupported by evidence?

            • R0c1

              Jason is a professional philosopher. Yeah, he’s entertained the idea.

              Theism is not asserted without evidence. You might think the evidence is poor, but saying there is none makes you sound silly.

              • James Lindsay

                Oh, really? Where is there any more evidence for God than there is for The Force? Do tell.

                Nice side of credentialism, by the way. It doesn’t help his ad populum argument in the least.

                • Walter

                  Where is there any more evidence for God than there is for The Force?

                  Aquinas’s five ways would be a good start.

                  • James Lindsay

                    1. The Force is the unmoved mover, all movement proceeds from The Force.
                    2. The first cause of the universe is The Force, it is the original thought, the original movement, that gave rise to all of contingent reality, arising from the void spontaneously as is its nature. Indeed, it is eternal, defining even the void itself. Without The Force there could be no contingent reality, and to speak of The Force is to speak of contingent reality itself.
                    3. As The Force precedes, pervades, and is, in fact, the essence of all things, The Force is contingent reality itself, not merely the uncaused cause of it.
                    4. The Force exists in a variety of degrees, often seen as polarizations into the Light and the Dark. Such a gradation, though, has a pinnacle where the Light and the Dark do not distinguish themselves from one another, and that pinnacle is The Force itself.
                    5. The Force is the doing, the means to all ends, the ultimate expression of meaning in all things.

                    Look, The Force satisfies Aquinas’s Five Ways easily (just like the Taoism it’s based upon)! Plus, it’s more parsimonious because it assumes neither agency or intelligence along the way.

                    Your move.

                    • Kerk

                      Ok, here’s great news for you (because you apparently didn’t know that before) – on the minimal definition of theism, Force IS God. And the CA does not purport anymore than proving that such a thing exists. The CA works -> Theism is true.

                    • James Lindsay

                      No, The Force is not an agent. Theism assumes agency, unless you want to claim it doesn’t. Have fun with that.

                    • Kerk

                      Yeah, that was hasty of me. Should have said “The CA works – > supernaturalism is true.” And we take it from there.

                    • James Lindsay

                      LOL, no, still hasty. The Force isn’t supernatural. It is nature, but to call it nature misses it.

                    • Kerk

                      It is by the way you put it in your caricature.

                    • Walter

                      2. The first cause of the universe is The Force, it is the original thought

                      If the Force has thoughts or just is a thought, then the Force possesses a mind in some fashion, therefore the Force is an agent.

                    • James Lindsay

                      Hahaha, thoughts don’t have agency. Thoughts come from agents, except not The Force because it’s the original unthought thought.

                    • James Lindsay

                      Dude, I was a Taoist for a while in my early 20s. You won’t win this with me. Stop wasting your time.

                    • Kerk

                      Why do I sense nerdrage? Here? On a philosophical forum?

                    • James Lindsay

                      I hoped I’d get a chance to share this somewhere today. Yes, nerdage. Also, this is the right way to mock religious belief, since apparently there’s an attempt to make that taboo here too.

                    • Kerk

                      Attempt to make it taboo? Where? I missed something again?

                    • James Lindsay
                    • Kerk

                      Right, I’ve read those. And?…Where IS the attempt to make mockery a taboo? All I see is careful reasoning and suggestion that mockery is not a right tool to change minds.

                    • Walter

                      I sense fundamentalist thinking. Randal fears that Hallquist is engaging in it, then Lindsay shows up to demonstrate what it looks like.

                    • James Lindsay

                      I sense ad hominem dismissal.

              • James Lindsay

                “Theism is not asserted without evidence.” <–a sentence asserted without evidence.

              • David

                I like your last statement. I find that often when people say “There is no evidence for X”, what they really mean is that there is no evidence that convinces THEM. There are plenty of viewpoints that I would disagree with, but I would not make the claim, “There is no evidence.”

          • John

            Theism might do that for them, but theology or philosphy of religion, what are they good for? They may help people like RR be comforted/make a living, but most people’s theism is much more basic and it serves them just fine.

      • James Lindsay

        Let me clarify the reasons for my surprise.

        Theism was accepted early on as an explanatory hypothesis, but it isn’t one. Once the hypothesis is accepted as having explanatory worth, we’re stuck with it and will see things in light of it. That causes us to think there is evidence supporting the hypothesis when there, indeed, may not be.

        That theism has utility and has been embraced by and is embraced by billions of people, including smart ones, is no grounds upon which to conclude that we shouldn’t be dismissive of the underlying axiomatic hypothesis in the first place.

        I think you are trying to say that the phenomenon of accepting theism, with it’s underpinning psychology, shouldn’t be dismissed, but theism itself has no merit to support it and thus fails a great many razors, rendering it imminently dismissible even if the phenomenon is not.

        • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

          If you are saying that the balance of the evidence is pretty definitive that theism is false, I agree. However, I am unwilling to say that any educated person should agree with me. The arguments are difficult and I think that there are powerful reasons to accept religious beliefs. As example of the difficulty, some very smart people take mistake reasons to be religious with reasons to believe in God. I think that it is possible for educated people to make that kind of mistake.

          As an aside, I doubt that theism arose only as an explanatory hypothesis. I suspect that a more complete understanding of the phenomena will involve the human desire to exert control over our world. Believing that natural phenomena are animated by supernatural beings allowed our ancestors to feel as if they could have some kind of relationship with natural forces and thus could have some influence over them. This is just a suspicion; I am not married to this idea.

          • James Lindsay

            There’s a bit to untangle here.

            First, the balance of evidence is definitive against theism. I agree. That was my first statement, in fact–“I’m astounded..” (personal statement about my mental state) “..that anyone doesn’t dismiss it.” I also do not presume “educated” (or “not educated”) people should agree with me. It’s how the theistic hypothesis gets inserted in the first place. John Loftus’s OTF is beautiful at summarizing this.

            Second, the arguments are only difficult if you mistake logic for reality, I think. They’re actually quite transparent once you realize that logical frameworks do not determine reality, they’re tools for describing it. They do determine how we think, but that’s not the same as making something real. I cannot, as someone else noted here, logic a flying pig into existence, however clever my argument for such a thing. I also cannot logic away the moon.

            I don’t think “smart” has anything much to do with it. It comes down to having accepted various axioms at the worldview level. At that point, being “smart” can actually be a problem because it can create sophisticated defenses of the underlying axioms.

            None of this, though, is the same as accepting the proposition that we take theism seriously, only the phenomenon of the acceptance of theism. My initial anology to The Force was attempting to highlight that. We don’t hesitate to dismiss The Force, despite its explanatory power (for many real-world “Jedis,” it is their religion, with all the necessary trappings). I used “The Force” intentionally instead of “Harry Potter” or “unicorns” for that purpose. What makes “God” different? The fallacy to antiquity? The fallacy to popularity? The fallacy to (psychosocial) utility? Have your pick; it does nothing to vindicate theism.

            I also do not suspect that theism arose merely for phenomenological attributitions. There is an entire slough of psychosocial needs being addressed by theism, but the “being addressed” here is to be read “being filled by a vacant proxy.” My next writing project is intended to be an examination of this exact issue. [Others: teleological attribution, control, esteem, affective, sociality, psychosocial valuation (morality and cultural context), and transcendent/mystical, which is something of a need for certain states of mind outside of the normal experience.]

        • Luke Breuer

          Theism was accepted early on as an explanatory hypothesis, but it isn’t one.

          What is your… evidence, for this? The following is from Keith Ward’s The Case for Religion:

          One immediate result of such an inquiry [figuring out how modern religious adherents would describe ‘religion’] would surely be to suggest that people are not primarily interested in trying to explain why events happen, and their practice is not primarily intended to make things happen as they wish. The contemporary Christian does not go to church to find out how televisions or transistors work, or to make sure that she gets a good job. Appeal to God is so far from explaining anything that it is more often a puzzle than a clarification. The query, ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ never explains it; it intensifies the problem. So it seems very odd to suggest that the motivation for belief in God is a desire for explanation. Similarly, Christians are usually castigated by preachers for trying to use religion as a means to worldly success. Abandonment to the divine will is more often recommended than attempts to get God to do what one wants. Of course, in prayer people often do ask God to do what they would like to see. But it again seems very odd to suggest that this is the primary reason for their practice, when it is so frequently and vehemently criticized by most Christian teachers as mislocating the primary importance of the adoration of God as being of supreme value. (46)

          It seems, James Lindsay, that you’ve accepted a just-so story about religion. Can you point to how your model of religion has done anything more than systematize an extant corpus of knowledge? Has it predicted anything new that was verified? What has it done for us? What makes it more than a just-so story?

          • James Lindsay

            I’m not impressed by Ward’s rationalization. I have personally been present on countless occasions when some simple physical phenomenon (e.g. phases of the moon, something a grade-schooler could explain) was given–by adults mind you–the explanation “because Jesus wants it that way.” Ward is clearly more educated than the people he speaks for and can’t buy into it. That Ward doesn’t think “God’s plan” equates to an explanation does absolutely nothing to reduce the fact that most believers rely upon it for exactly that purpose.

            If you want evidence, I suggest you pick up any serious text on the psychology of religion (I might recommend Hood, Hill, and Spilka’s 4th edition). It is stated plain as day in there that one of the three primary psychological needs satisfied by religion is attribution, including for phenomena, and that all but fundamentalist believers will accept a natural explanation that they understand over a religious one–but that when a natural explanation is not available, “God did it” fills in.

            • Luke Breuer

              I’m not impressed by Ward’s rationalization.

              Heh, you remind me of first The Gravedigger File quotation I typed up, on rationalization. So, let’s examine your rationalization: the evidence you’ve provided is 100% anecdotal. Unless you are a world traveler or researcher, or read them, your sampling will be inherently biased. Do you fully recognize this? The textbook you referenced might be good, but other than that, you’ve spun a story which matches your local experience.

              If you want evidence, I suggest you pick up any serious text on the psychology of religion (I might recommend Hood, Hill, and Spilka’s 4th edition). It is stated plain as day in there that one of the three primary psychological needs satisfied by religion is attribution, including for phenomena, and that all but fundamentalist believers will accept a natural explanation that they understand over a religious one–but that when a natural explanation is not available, “God did it” fills in.

              Does the dichotomy you evidence here also show up in the book?

                   (i) either there’s a how
                   (ii) or there’s a why

              I would hope not, with this being a psychology textbook after all. In addition, does the book argue that e.g. the great scientist of centuries past who were Christian were somehow… less Christian than average (it was hard to be atheist if you go far enough back)? I am told that Newton spent more time on bad theology than on science and math. There is a neat section in Ard Louis BioLogos whitepaper in which he contrasts Newton’s view with Leibniz view on whether comets were occasionally sent into the solar system to fix up the elliptical orbits.

              Leibniz, who was definitely Christian, believed that no miracle violates natural law. A friend of mine wrote the draft A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles, which explores this. And yet, Leibniz did not say that (ii) supervenes wholly on (i). He though both were valid questions. Indeed, the distinction between the two plays a critical role in his account of miracles. We humans reason teleologically all the time, and often to great positive effect.

              Anyhow, I’ve ordered the book, and look forward to looking at the papers it cites. There is a lot of work out there which spins research into complex tales which the research doesn’t really support. What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite is an example, but hopefully a textbook does a better job than a popular book.

              FYI, to give you a taste of what I’m like, these three quotes are on my website. I have no problem with holding both (i) and (ii) in my head.

              What I cannot create, I do not understand.

                   — Richard Feynman

              He who is unaware of his ignorance will be only misled by his knowledge.

                   — Richard Whately

              Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.

                   — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love

              • James Lindsay

                Luke, you work very hard to defend your belief. That’s wonderful for you, I suppose, and I wish you luck in your efforts, whatever those are.

                I have no interest in helping you get further entrenched in those beliefs, though, and will not do so here.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  James Lindsay, you have just earned the Lame Defense Award!


                • Luke Breuer

                  Holy crap, do you think people ought not work hard to defend their beliefs??? Your response provides confirmatory evidence, as my asking you to talk about the justification of your own beliefs resulted in a mere reference to a book. The anecdotal evidence is, well, inadmissible in any attempt to generalize—an attempt you were making. You realize how thoroughly a theist would get pounced on for relying on anecdotal evidence, right?

                  This is part of Mike D’s big complaint, which I can empathize with:

                  Pastors, theologians, armchair apologists on the internet – they all either just do what you did in this post and complain about “tone” or “charity”, or they tell me to read this-or-that book or article which supposedly contains relevant answers but, when I go chasing that rabbit trail, there’s nothing of substance.

                  So I am fascinated to know whether the book you recommend provides substantive support for your very strong assertion.

            • Luke Breuer

              I finally got around to reading The Psychology of Religion, Fourth Edition: An Empirical Approach, which I got via interlibrary loan and have to return today. It’s really neat; thanks for the suggestion! I don’t dispute that your analysis describes much of religion. But it’s that extrapolation from ‘much’ ? ‘all’ which is disturbing. Especially when the very book you referred to has quotations like: (p. 477)

              Some significant portion of traditional supernatural belief is associated with accurate observations interpreted rationally. – Hufford 1982, p. xviii

              We have yet to fully understand the profound and mysterious religious experiences of human everywhere, experiences that shape attitudes toward life and arouse hopes for transcendence and personal immortality. – Wiebe 1997, p. 222

              Furthermore, on the previous page:

                  Serious defects that often stemmed from antireligious perspectives exist in many early studies of relationships between religion and psychopathology. The more modern view is that religion functions largely as a means of countering rather than contributing to psychopathology, though severe forms of unhealthy religion will probably have serious psychological and perhaps even physical consequences. In most instances, faith buttresses people’s sense of control and self-esteem, offers meanings that oppose anxiety, provides hope, sanctions socially facilitating behavior, enhances personal well-being, and promotes social integration. Probably the most hopeful sign is the increasing recognition by both clinicians and religionists of the potential benefits each group has to contribute. Awareness of the need for a spiritual perspective has opened new and more constructive possibilities for working with mentally disturbed individuals and resolving adaptive issues.
                  A central theme throughout this book is that religion “works” because it offers people meaning and control, and brings them together with like-thinking others who provide social support. This theme is probably nowhere better represented than in the section of this chapter on how people use religious and spiritual resources to cope. Religious beliefs, experiences, and practices appear to constitute a system of meanings that can be applied to virtually every situation a person may encounter. People are loath to rely on chance. Fate and luck are poor referents for understanding, but religion in all its possible manifestations can fill the void of meaninglessness admirably. There is always a place for one’s God—simply watching, guiding, supporting, or actively solving a problem. In other words, when people need to gain a greater measure of control over life events, the deity is there to provide the help they require. (476)

              Once again, thanks for the book suggestion! Would you care to indicate how you know that the enhanced meaning, control, and unity that religion promotes is based on illusion? The positive results are there. It’s up to you to say why we ought still eviscerate religion from humanity—if indeed you believe that.

              That Ward doesn’t think “God’s plan” equates to an explanation does absolutely nothing to reduce the fact that most believers rely upon it for exactly that purpose.

              What’s your point? See Fundamentally Misunderstanding Visual Perception, in which a significant fraction of adults buy into the emission theory of vision. Why do we care about what “most believers” do? How are you not making a kind of argumentum ad populum?

              but that when a natural explanation is not available, “God did it” fills in.

              And therefore, religion is false? (Please insert the actual implication you were making, if this isn’t it.) C’mon. Not all Christians through spacetime have thought that the claim “God did it” means one ought stop looking for naturalistic causes. Surely you are aware of Aristotle’s four causes? Discovering one of them doesn’t immediately obviate the quest for the others. And yes, Aristotle was not a Christian, but he was highly respected by Christians; see the Scholastics, for example.

    • Kerk

      Right, Right! Just like RonH said here the other day, “All theistic professors should be denied tenure at any university, because they obviously like the capacity for critical reasoning, which is crucial for any philosopher.”

      • Rob Gressis

        A friend of mine in graduate school made that very claim to me. When I pointed out that Kripke was a theist, he paused, thought a second, and then concluded, “I guess Kripke isn’t as smart as I thought!” He didn’t say, however, that Kripke shouldn’t be allowed to teach philosophy, but I didn’t press him on that either, so I don’t know what he would have said.

        • James Lindsay

          The point in either case isn’t whether or not they should be allowed to teach their own subjects or be there. They shouldn’t teach theology unless in a theology class or as a survey of theologies (e.g. comparative anthropology/religions). I’d quite agree that theology shouldn’t be a subject taught at any respectable university. Theists as professors doesn’t matter as long as they profess on their subject matter and do it well.

          • Rob Gressis

            What if they defend theism in a class on the philosophy of religion or metaphysics?

            • James Lindsay


              Isn’t that red herring my central question, though? Defend it how, exactly?

              • Rob Gressis

                What’s your central claim? Is it that “theology shouldn’t be a subject taught at any respectable university”? Or is it that “[professors] shouldn’t teach theology unless in a theology class or as a survey of theologies (e.g. comparative anthropology/religions)”?

                As for the context, imagine that it is this: professor Pruss is teaching a class on metaphysics, and one of the metaphysical issues they cover is whether God exists. Pruss canvasses several arguments for and against, including his new cosmological argument for theism and the problem of evil, and tells the students, “personally, I think my ‘new’ cosmological argument for the existence of God works, but of course you don’t have to agree with me about that, and I certainly won’t grade you down on any of your papers if you defend the problem of evil, even though I don’t think it works, or if you criticize my cosmological argument.”

                • James Lindsay

                  No, sorry, my central claim is that theology doesn’t have enough going for it to warrant a defense. To your example, Pruss might be crossing the line. Prime mover doesn’t have to be equated with God or theism (it is, in fact, deism), so even in a metaphysical context, he has no grounds to cross from deism to theism and is creating an error beneath his station to do so, thus doing a poor job at his job.

                  • Walter

                    Deism is a form of theism. The deistic god is considered to be a necessary agent.

                    • James Lindsay

                      Please say that again and again and again. I love to hear it. “Deism is a form of theism.” Shows just how far theism has fallen.

                    • James Lindsay

                      You do realize that the whole reason we use the term “theism” now was to distinguish it from deism in the 17th and 18th centuries, right?

                    • Walter

                      You do realize that I am a deist, right?

                      I am quite aware of the difference.

                    • James Lindsay

                      I don’t really care what you are. I only care how you think you know what you claim to know.

                    • Walter

                      Then I will state it again: deism is a form of theism. Deists believe in a Creator who is a necessary agent. The main difference is that deists do not believe in a deity that intervenes miraculously in human affairs, while theists do believe in a Creator who intervenes miraculously and takes a personal interest in each of us.

                      I only care how you think you know what you claim to know.

                      I believe what I do because I have been convinced by the arguments of classical theists ranging from Aristotle to Aquinas. Your silly caricature of those arguments above simply shows me that you don’t seem to understand them. Could my metaphysical worldview be wrong? Absolutely. It is why I continue to read the arguments and interact with those who believe differently than me.

                    • James Lindsay

                      Presumptive that I don’t understand that. I was a theist. Then I wasn’t. I got all behind those arguments too. I would have made similar arguments to yours. Don’t insult me.

                      That you didn’t understand that my “caricature” above is not silly but rather indicative of the fact that many such philosophical idea could satisfy the requirements (including ones I could make up here and now, on the spot), indicates that you’re missing my point entirely. We have more than enough reason to cast doubt on theism and even deism by pointing out that non-agent mechanisms can explain the same thing with more economy and with exactly the same degree of support, which is to say mostly vacant philosophical arguments and no empirical substance.

                    • Kerk

                      In other words, you concede that the CA works. It’s the only inference I can make, because you haven’t even attempted to show how it can be wrong. Instead, you’re saying that anything can be the first cause, the immovable mover. And that “anything” neatly fits your naturalism. Is that right?

                      No problem then! Have fun stretching your notions of reality so wide that they cover everything. And we’ll have fun claiming that believing in the first cause is theism in its minimal sense. One’s naturalism is another’s theism.

                      And we all lived happily ever after.

                    • James Lindsay

                      I have a jump-to-conclusions mat I no longer use. Would you be interested in buying it?

                      No, I do not think that the CA works. I think it fails at its first premise. I see no requirement that there was any “uncaused first cause” or if there was that the universe itself couldn’t have provided the cause as part of its necessary beingness. I think the Kalam CA, in specific, is an example of Russell’s Paradox–and thus a category error in action.

                      A good question for you is why you think the CA proves anything of any value whatsoever? Who cares if there is some necessary first cause? How can one prove from there that it must be an agent? (You can’t without assuming it.) How can one get from there to the “God” worshipped in any religion? (You can’t without baldly asserting it.)

                      Furthermore, I’d hardly consider an exercise in modal logic (Plantinga got his argument from Godel, after all) to constitute meaningful proof of anything cosmological. Modal logic proofs only prove things within the axiomatic framework that they’re working in. Woohoo, you believe in an abstraction because of a word game! A thousand points to you! Don’t spend them all in one place!

                      You are easily impressed and blaspheme the God of any Abrahamic religion–if you believe in that–with this crap.

                    • Kerk

                      No thanks, I have like risking it.

                      Good. That’s more constructive. Well I think that the notion of infinity of efficient causes is absurd and far less believable than the notion of a first cause.

                      Wrong and right. From establishing the first cause you can’t get into any religion. But you CAN argue for an agent. The argument is that his perfect actuality demands that he be an agent.

                      And of course….my favorite “You can’t just define something into existence.” Well, I’ll tell you this, go and write a paper on why, say axiom S5 is false. Or point me to someone who has done so already. Until then don’t be too laze to add “IMHO.”

                    • James Lindsay

                      S5 doesn’t have to be “false.” In fact, I doubt you even understand what that means at this point. Truth and falseness are only determinable within axiomatic systems, not within reality. That’s the whole problem with modal logic. All it does is prove necessary existence within the abstract framework of axioms being employed. There is no guarantee that those axioms match reality, and no statement of axioms forces reality to behave a certain way.

                      The axioms are guesses about reality. The axiomatic system creates a framework through which we try to understand reality. It’s like looking at a map, but drawing a flying pig on the map or changing the underlying scale doesn’t actually change reality. It only changes how well the map reflects it. Don’t lose the forest for the trees, or rather, the terrain for the map.

                  • Rob Gressis

                    First, Pruss’s new cosmological argument isn’t the First Way. It’s the argument that goes, roughly, like this:

                    (1) Possibly, there is an explanation for the set of contingent facts.
                    (2) If it’s possible that there’s an explanation for the set of contingent facts, then it’s actual that there’s an explanation for the set of contingent facts.
                    (3) Therefore, there’s an explanation for the set of contingent facts.
                    (4) Any explanation for the set of contingent facts cannot itself be contingent.
                    (5) Any explanation that is not contingent is necessary.
                    (6) Therefore, there is a necessary explanation for the set of contingent facts.
                    (7) The only way for a necessary explanation to explain a set of contingent facts without making all contingent facts become necessary is if it freely agent causes the set of contingent facts.
                    (8) Therefore there exists a necessarily existent being that has libertarian free will.

                    I think (8) is all his new cosmological argument is trying to prove (actually, (6) is all it’s trying to prove, but it’s pretty easy to go from (6) to (8), so I just added that), but that would be the argument. He also wrote a whole book in defense of (1), but I don’t know the arguments of that book, so I can’t offer his defense, though.

                    As for your claim that the First Way only proves deism, and not theism, what the First Way allegedly proves is that there exists a first mover that cannot, itself, move. To put it in more contemporary terms, it supposedly proves that there exists a First Changer that cannot, itself, change. In the metaphysics that forms the backdrop for the First Way, though, the only thing that could not change would have to be something that had no potentialities, i.e., something that is pure act. In addition, because Aquinas adheres to the doctrine of the transcendentals, anything that is pure act would have to be pure goodness and pure truth. That still doesn’t get you to classical theism, but when you add the Fifth Way to it, then you get classical theism. And, presumably, there’s a reason why Aquinas offered Five Ways and not just one.

                    • James Lindsay

                      You have done a fine job typing up an ontological argument relying upon modal logic after I wrote a comment (http://randalrauser.com/2013/06/why-they-dont-believe-chris-hallquist-the-uncredible-hallq/#comment-932551653 ) explaining why no modal-logic ontological argument achieves anything of substance.

                      Some of the claims in this one look pretty suspect.

                    • Rob Gressis

                      I’ve read your comment below. So are you saying that anyone who accepts that S5 is a correct description of reality should not be teaching that in a university? I assume you don’t believe that. So if you don’t believe that, then why is using S5 to argue for the existence of God such that it shows you shouldn’t be teaching in a university?*

                      *–I’m being a bit imprecise here. I take it your claim is that people are permitted to accept theism just as long as they don’t teach it in class. So, imagine that some professor accepts theism, and defends his view in a classroom, relying on S5 to do so. Does that show this professor to be such as to not be worthy of teaching in a university?

                    • James Lindsay

                      I think no professor can make a sustained case that S5 modal logic does anything more than operate in a logico-axiomatic system which gives us frameworks for which we understand reality but not reality. If they teach other than that, then they’ve missed the central point of their entire enterprise and should be ashamed of themselves.

                    • Rob Gressis

                      Do you think that’s true for all logical systems?

                    • James Lindsay


                      Logical systems are abstract mental models made by sentient people for better understanding the universe we live in. Mental models.

                      I feel the same way about science and mathematics, if you think you’re setting a trap. They’re mental models too, and they’re far better (judging by success rate) at providing useful information for us than any other models we’ve cooked up, esp. theisms.

                    • Kerk

                      General Skepticism and Scientific Anti-Realism. I’ve always said that those are the only coherent conclusions one can draw from materialism.

                    • James Lindsay

                      And I actually agreed with your point that theists should be allowed to teach in the university. I do not think that theology is a subject that belongs in universities, however, and therefore no one should be teaching theology because it isn’t within the purview of their job description or field to be doing so.

                      Don’t confuse theology and philosophy either. Philosophy threw theology out centuries ago, and it’s laughable to entertain otherwise. Theology, necessarily, assumes its central premise.

                • James Lindsay

                  To flesh out my point a bit: Imagine Pruss used his lectures in his philosophy class to argue that The Force from Star Wars isn’t a literary creation but a fundamental aspect of contingent reality, in seriousness, not as a pedagogical exercise. Would that raise a flag about him and his teaching?

  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

    Can I hijack this discussion and suggest the following:

    Whether Hallquist meant that he lacked reason to believe in the Christian God over Zeus or he meant that nobody has good reasons to believe in the Christian God over Zeus, there is a problem for theism. Either disjunct supports Schellenberg’s divine hiddenness argument.

    If it is true that Hallquist lacks reason to believe in God, then reasonable (and non-culpable) non-belief occurs. If nobody has reason to believe in God, then reasonable (and non-culpable) non-belief occurs.

    • Rob Gressis

      Jason, you seem to be saying:
      1. Chris Hallquist lacks reason to believe in God.
      2. Therefore, there exists at least one instance of reasonable, and non-culpable non-belief.

      But we’d have to know a lot more about Chris Hallquist to be able to move from 1 to 2.

      P.S.: assuming that you can’t move from 1 to 2 — and I don’t think you can — this wouldn’t imply anything special about Chris Hallquist. I think all of us are, in many ways, poor reasoners.

      • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

        The move from (1) to (2) is not so problematic. At least so long as we take “Chris lacks reason to believe in God” to be equivalent to “Chris is not presented with evidence sufficient to make it probable that God exists,” which is what we would assume under a charitable interpretation of his comments.

        • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

          “Chris is not presented with evidence sufficient to make it probable that God exists” should probably be replaced with “Chris has not yet been presented with evidence sufficient to make him assess a high probability of God’s existence”, which is a little different.

          • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

            Can you elaborate on the importance of the difference?

            • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

              The distinction between “is not” and “has not been” should be readily apparent. Without directly addressing what “sufficient evidence” is, it’s clear that the presumed existence of “sufficient evidence” implies that there could also be such a thing as “insufficient evidence”. The possibility that Chris could be presented with insufficient evidence before being presented with sufficient evidence requires we use present perfect tense.
              Next, “sufficient to make it probable that God exists” seems like a strange construct. It is either probable or improbable that God exists; the amount of evidence Chris is presented with can only change Chris’s perception of that probability, not the true value of that probability.

  • David_Evans

    I do not think there is anything to intelligent design. It seems to have two arguments:

    1 Natural selection and mutation cannot produce an increase in “specified complexity”, or cannot add new information.

    2 There are biological structures which are “irreducibly complex” in that there is no credible evolutionary path to them from simpler structures which are themselves viable.

    #1 has been disproved in practice by experiments such as those of Lenski


    and suffers from equivocation about the meanings of “complexity” and “information”.

    #2: I think no such structures have been shown to exist.

    Nagel’s reliance on Meyer was a mistake in my view. I don’t think Meyer has proved anything. Crick’s panspermia idea was just speculation, and furthermore is 40 years old. We now have far more evidence of what organic molecules could have been present on the early Earth, and about possible environments for chemical evolution. Of course we don’t know how life formed. At 5 billion years’ distance would you really expect us to?

    I haven’t read Monton. One can of course defend ID if it’s part of a serious program to test the limits of evolutionary theory. But so far it seems to have achieved nothing.

    • David

      Hi David. Regarding #2, what is your take on the bacterial flagellum, the poster child of irreducible complexity? Although I am a supporter of ID, I can see where skeptics might object to it because it appears to be giving up. Perhaps an evolutionary path might eventually be found. On the other hand, when I read some of the proposed explanations, I’m left with the same sentiment that John Loftus has expressed in response to some of Randal’s arguments: It’s possible, but is it probable? Does your understanding of science lead you to believe that the proposed evolutionary pathways to irreducibly complex structures are probable?

      • David_Evans

        Hi David. My understanding of science starts with physics and stops well short of being to evaluate those probabilities. I would only point out that there are questions on both sides. How probable is it that a designer would intervene to make the malaria parasite resistant to chloroquine (one of Behe’s examples)? Presumably the answer would be different for a maximally kind and merciful designer than for a maximally wrathful one. But now we are straying into theology, which I am assured is nothing to do with ID.

        • David

          I was trying to read up a little on the malaria/chloroquine issue, but I’m not sure I get it. Would you be able to elaborate on that and how it is evidence against a benevolent designer?

      • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

        The advantage of mainstream biologists is that possibility becomes probability in the context of bacterial reproduction. Bacteria reproduce so quickly and in such great numbers that any remote possibility has a very high chance of being realized.
        If I recall correctly, the bacterial flagellum shares several mechanisms in common with a simpler injection system.

        • David

          From what I read, bacteria seem to be good testing grounds for evolution. Do you think they show good evidence of macroevolution? I know that Hugh Ross has argued that bacteria are not necessarily good examples because of their small body size and short life span. He argues that for larger creatures with longer life spans, mutations are more likely to cause the creature to go extinct before producing a positive benefit. I think he cited whales as an example.

          • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

            Ross would need to provide a rigorous, clear explanation of why bacteria can evolve but whales cannot. True, bacteria are simpler…but larger creatures also have more redundancies in their design.
            In any case, the question is not macroevolution so much as it is whether common descent is a good model.

  • Kerk

    Ok, I don’t get this. First of all, S5 has nothing to do with theism. It hasn’t been invented to specifically prove God’s existence. Secondly, It states that “If something is possibly necessarily true, then it must be true in at least 1 possible world.” But to be maximally great means to exist in all of the possible worlds, including the actual one. Therefore, if God exists in at least 1 world, he must be in others too.

    How does the Gaunilo’s Island analogy even touch on this argument? Pigs flying in no way implies that they must fly in most or all possible worlds.

    • Rob Gressis

      Plantinga’s modal ontological argument goes, roughly, like this:

      1. Possibly, there exists a maximally great being.

      2. A maximally great being has necessary existence as one of its great-making properties.
      3. If it’s possible that there exists a maximally great being, then it’s necessary that there exists a maximally great being.
      4. If it’s necessary that there exists a maximally great being, then it’s actual that there exists a maximally great being.
      5. Therefore, there exists a maximally great being.

      Hallquist’s parody argument goes, as far as I can tell, like this.
      1*. Possibly, there exist pigs who have, as essential properties, necessary existence and flight.
      2*. If such beings are possible, then they are necessary.
      3*. If they are necessary, then they are actual.
      4*. Therefore, there exist necessarily existent flying pigs.

      The parody argument is absurd, and I gather that Hallquist thinks that if you agree to that, then you should agree that Plantinga’s argument is absurd. Personally, though, I think there are significant differences between 1* and 1.

      • Kerk

        Right! And that’s what puzzles me. Even in Anselm’s times the reply to Gaunilo was roughly the same – The greatest being possesses as many positive features as possible. No island, for instance, ever can be kind or merciful.

        • James Lindsay

          Mathematically speaking, as it turns out, a “greatest being” cannot exist. As soon as we specify greatness, more greatness is not only possible but immediately conceivable, and this is always true.

          I make and defend this argument in my book God Doesn’t; We Do, and am elaborating upon it quite a bit in my upcoming Dot, Dot, Dot.

          • Kerk

            Ok, what am I missing? You sure you’re not confusing greatness with prime numbers?

        • David_Evans

          Can a being be maximally just and maximally merciful?

          • Kerk

            I know what you’re saying. The idea is that the greatest being would manifest a balance of maximally positive features. Eg, can God sin? No, he can’t. Does that mean that his free will is limited? Yes, it’s limited by his benevolence. Otherwise, his free will would increase, but his benevolence would decrease. Instead, we have a balance. And a being that manifests such a balance is greater than that, which doesn’t.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          The greatest being possesses as many positive features as possible. No island, for instance, ever can be kind or merciful.

          I shall have to remember this when apologists* attempt the “God is simple” argument.

          * Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, for example.

          • Kerk

            Good for you. Though I have not idea what you have in mind, but glad I could help.

      • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

        I agree with James Lindsay that premise 1 is problematic. “Maximally great” is vague enough to cause problems. And, as James says. it is not clear that anything can be maximally great. It seems that it would always be possible to imagine something greater.

        I’m not convinced that this is a good objection. But I think that the premise is not something that we should easily consent to.

        But, in addition, (2) is even more troubling. The main problem is that the property of necessary existence is not a genuine property. For any being that exists, it is always possible to imagine that it does not exist. Thus, it would seem, for any existing being, there is a possible world in which it does not exist. Again, maybe this objection is not definitive. But the concept of necessary existence is highly problematic.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    From Francis Crick proposing a panspermia thesis to explain the origin of DNA

    This argument is horribly outdated, please stop using it. If you actually read Crick’s book on panspermia (Life Itself, 1981), or at least the foreword, you would know that Crick specifically stated the motivation for his proposal: that RNA enzymes, a key part of the RNA World hypothesis, had not yet been found. RNZ enzymes were identified early in the 1980s, resulting in a 1989 Nobel prize for Sidney Altman and Thomas Cech. Later, crystallographic studies revealed that the core of the ribosome, the large RNA-protein complex which builds proteins from genetic information, is at its core an RNA enzyme.

    The impediment to the RNA World Theory, clearly identified by Crick, has been removed. Thus you should no longer throw Crick’s name around as a supporter of panspermia. To continue to do so would be dishonest.

  • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

    I typically characterize “fundamentalism” as an approach to evidence and reasoning. Fundamentalists have difficulty looking at the evidence from more than one angle; they believe their personal interpretive metric is the only possible one. As a result, they are fairly impervious to logic or reasoning, not because they lack reasoning skills, but because they immediately perceive any alternate interpretive metric as invalid.
    That’s why a fundamentalist atheist will protest loudly as soon as someone begins explaining genre-based criticism while a fundamentalist Christian will do exactly the same thing.

    • cyngus

      Your definition of “fundamentalism” fits only the theists and that’s why John Loftus asked if Randal is impervious to logic or reasoning. Randal started to “blur” religious fundamentalism because, as he says, “fundamentalism is more about an orientation than a specific set of beliefs”

      An atheist is not impervious to theist logic or reasoning, an atheist just disbelieve the logic or reasoning starting with god(s) in mind.

      Atheists base their disbelief in the logic or reasoning of science, analyzing science findings with biblical findings. However, theists become paranoid for thinking that science is after them, so they have to interpret science as coming from “god(s)”.

      Science does not prove or disprove god(s) existence, atheists use the findings of science to base their disbelief in god(s) by showing the falsity of biblical made up findings.

      Unsuccessfully, theists try to do the same to defend their beliefs, but modern science does not support theism, no matter how much modern religious apologists struggle with their plethora of “educated” terminology used for their mental contortionist gymnastics, or Christian “philosophy”.

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  • Alejandro Rodríguez

    The reason to stop believing because of a minority belief that is only in the USA like ID is a very ignorant one. I know he said that it’s not the only one, but needless to say, when I was in my crisis of faith, it wasn’t because of the creation-evolution debate.