Why they don’t believe: Jeffery Jay Lowder

Posted on 06/08/13 126 Comments

Next up in our series is Jeffery Jay Lowder, cofounder of Internet Infidels and editor of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.  Currently Jeff blogs at “The Secular Outpost“. Jeff is very smart, very wise and very thoughtful. But you don’t need me to tell you that. Jeff’s words speak for themselves.

* * *

Tentative, Bayesian Nonbelief

In my life, I’ve identified as a non-denominational Christian, theist, agnostic, atheist, and atheist plus metaphysical naturalist, in that order.  As a teenager, I read everything I could find about science (especially creationism vs. evolution), philosophy of religion, and apologetics. I once even talked with a Jehovah’s Witness who came to my door and paid him for a copy of a Watchtower book against evolution!  With great reluctance, my research led me to three conclusions. First, the traditional arguments for God’s existence were failures. Second, a literal interpretation of Genesis was contradicted by the overwhelming evidence for common descent. (Aside: I didn’t view this as a problem for Christianity per se, since I became convinced that evolution and Christianity were compatible. I only viewed this as a problem for Christian fundamentalism.) Third, although I would not have put it this way at the time, what I was learning in biology about the role of pain and pleasure made much more sense on the assumption that we live in an indifferent universe than on the assumption that the God of traditional theism exists.

I have never been one of those atheists who believes that all theists are stupid or irrational. In fact, I remember discovering Richard Swinburne’s trilogy on theism in college and buying new copies of all three books as an undergraduate, despite the high cost. While unconvinced, I was (and still am) thoroughly impressed with his intellect, fairness, respect for his opponents, and especially the sheer rigor of his Bayesian approach to evidence. I remember thinking at the time, “This guy’s reasonable, extremely smart, and treats his philosophical opponents fairly.” His appeal to probability really resonated with my background in mathematics.

Years later, I discovered the work of Paul Draper and had a very similar experience: Draper took the same Bayesian approach as Swinburne but explained a much broader set of data. Apart from his novel arguments for metaphysical naturalism (there are many), one key lesson I learned from Draper was the importance of trying avoid partisanship as a philosopher. I already strove to maintain a personal library that favored positions I reject.

But Draper taught me another, more important lesson. He taught me that, if I want to be a philosopher of religion and not an apologist (or atheologian), I should do more than just study the arguments for position I disagree with. I should try to write papers defending arguments I disagree with and criticizing arguments for positions I agree with, as a way of testing arguments and evidence. Following that advice has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about how to construct a moral argument for theism which actually works. My gut tells me that certain facts about morality may favor theism and others may favor naturalism, but actually showing this has turned out to be much more difficult than it looks.

My research has led me to the conclusion that metaphysical naturalism, which entails atheism, is more probable than theism. This conclusion follows from three facts.

First Fact. Metaphysical Naturalism Has a Higher Prior Probability than Theism. In other words, prior to examining the evidence about God’s existence, naturalism is more likely to be true. Allow me to explain.

Metaphysical naturalism and (metaphysical) supernaturalism are symmetrical claims and so have equal prior probabilities. Metaphysical naturalism and theism, however, are asymmetrical. Theism is more specific than supernaturalism but is not entailed by supernaturalism. Therefore, it follows that, before we examine the evidence, theism will have a lower prior probability than supernaturalism. (There are more conceivable ways to empirically discredit theism than there are conceivable ways to empirically discredit supernaturalism.)

Second Fact. Evidence about God Does not Favor Theism Over Naturalism.

I believe there are several specific facts which favor naturalism over theism: the fact that science can explain so much without explicitly appealing to the supernatural, the hostility of the universe to life (which is compatible with the universe having life-permitting conditions), mind-brain dependence, common descent, the biological role of pain and pleasure, and so forth. This is so even if there are other arguments which favor theism over naturalism, such as the beginning of the universe, the life-permitting conditions of the universe, consciousness, religious experience, moral agency, and so forth. I, for one, find most of these “theistic facts” completely unconvincing. (The argument from moral agency is the one exception.) Let’s assume (but only for the sake of argument) that all these theistic facts really are evidence favoring theism. Even so, when we compare the naturalist’s facts to the theist’s facts, it seems that that the theist’s facts don’t outweigh the naturalist’s facts. (At the very least, it’s far from obvious that they do.)

Third Fact. The Ambiguity of the Evidence about God is Evidence Favoring Naturalism over Theism.

This is where the work of John Schellenberg comes in, especially his recent book, Wisdom to Doubt. The objectivity ambiguity of the evidence about God’s existence is itself evidence: evidence against God’s existence. It provides an excellent reason to agree with Schellenberg’s claim that reasonable or nonculpable nonbelief exists. As a form of so-called “divine hiddenness,” the fact of nonculpable nonbelief is more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than the assumption that theism is true.

Jeff

* * *

In keeping with my practice, I’ve excerpted a few statements from Jeff’s comments that pique my interest. Let me stress as well that the point here is not to offer a “rebuttal” to Jeff’s story. Rather, the point is to use it as a springboard to further reflection.

“I’ve identified as a non-denominational Christian, theist, agnostic, atheist, and atheist plus metaphysical naturalist, in that order.”

First off, I am not happy with the direction here insofar as I believe Jeff has been led farther away from the truth. But nonetheless, I respect the gradual progression and in particular the move from atheist to “atheist plus metaphysical naturalist”. So many atheists think that it is simply a matter of kicking God to the curb of one’s worldview and getting on with their day. Jeff realizes that the thoughtful atheist is obliged to think through the very entities the theist invokes God to explain, and that obliges them to say something more. Most atheists have gravitated toward something like “metaphysical naturalism” in response to that challenge. I think metaphysical naturalism is a failure but I respect immensely those atheists like Jeff who recognize the challenge and get about the busy task of constructing a fully robust atheistic worldview.

“He [Draper] taught me that, if I want to be a philosopher of religion and not an apologist”

This statement has something I want to applaud and something I want to protest. The applause extends to Jeff’s commitment to objectivity and fairness, a commitment which pervades his research and writing. However, I’m not content to allow the word “apologist” be sullied in this fashion. While the term has often been claimed by those who have failed to aspire to objectivity, it need not be so. In my own work I’ve argued that we are all apologists if we value truth and aim to persuade others of what we think to be true. And this is fully compatible with the highest epistemic virtues. Those apologists who are mere salesmen (or salespeople) for their beliefs are not worthy of the name “apologist”.

“My gut tells me that certain facts about morality may favor”

The mature man is one who is not embarrassed to ride a scooter or listen to Abba or admit that his gut informs his philosophical reflection. By contrast, mere children are stuck on their regressive Harleys listening to Metallica and insisting that intuition plays no part in their reasoning. Jeff, I am happy to report, is mature.

 “I, for one, find most of these “theistic facts” completely unconvincing”

Well I find Jeff’s naturalistic facts completely unconvincing. Indeed, I’m not even persuaded that “naturalism” is a meaningful position. Jeff believes that “the fact that science can explain so much without explicitly appealing to the supernatural” supports naturalism. That leaves me mystified.

Jeff believes that “the hostility of the universe to life” supports naturalism. Interesting. When I look at the scarcity of the Goldilox Zone I am more prone to find divine intention.

Jeff also believes that “mind-brain dependence” somehow supports naturalism. I can’t fathom why. Really. God made us a nephesh (Gen. 2:7). In what sense does this support naturalism? Indeed, as Thomas Nagel argued in Mind and Cosmos, if anything it would seem to point us in the opposite direction.

Common descent? But Jeff already said this is fully consistent with Christianity. (Keep in mind that there are, no doubt, versions of naturalism that reject common descent.) So I am at a loss to conceive of what advantage Jeff thinks is gained here.

As for “the biological role of pain and pleasure”, I’ll leave that one since I’m not sure what Jeff is referring to here.

Jeff’s final reason refers to Schellenberg’s defense of non-culpable non-belief. I’ve offered a rebuttal of Schellenberg’s argument in God or Godless. Granted it is brief, but I think it gets to the nub of the issue.

These are big differences between Jeff and myself. However, if I only had six Innis and Gunn beers left in my fridge, I’d offer Jeff three and we’d work these things out.

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  • Kerk

    Are Jeff Louder and the Jeff that frequently comments here the same person?

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

    Jeff Lowder comments here occasionally, but he ain’t that Jeff. Though that Jeff is also smart, wise, thoughtful (and wrong!).

    • Kerk

      Oh so wrong!

  • Bryan

    Can you offer a concise presentation of your argument against culpable non-belief? I think this is one of the strongest arguments against theism.

    • Bryan

      Er, nonculpable nonbelief

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

        For point of clarification, are you asking about my rebuttal to Schellenberg?

        • Bryan

          I suppose so, yeah.

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

            In “God or Godless” Loftus presents Schellenberg’s argument:

            (1) If there is a God, he is perfectly loving.

            (2) If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur.

            (3) Reasonable nonbelief occurs.

            (4) No perfectly loving God exists (from 2,3)

            (5) Hence, there is no God (from 1,4)

            A theist could challenge (3) but I rebut John by rejecting (2). I do so by demonstrating how God could have morally sufficient reasons for allowing reasonable nonbelief in his existence. Consequently, I see zero reason to accept (2) and without it Schellenberg’s argument doesn’t work.

            • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

              Randal — I realize your post is just a very brief summary of what you characterize as a brief discussion in your book, but what you’ve written doesn’t follow. To be specific:

              “there is zero reason to accept (2)”

              does NOT follow from:

              “by demonstrating how God could have morally sufficient reasons for allowing reasonable nonbelief in his existence”

              As written, this seems to confuse the distinction between possibility and probability. Sure, God could have had such reasons, just as Ted Haggard’s wife could have been correct to maintain a belief in his innocence despite all of the evidence to the contrary. (I’m making a hypothetical example; for the record, I’m not claiming she actually denies his wrongdoing.)

              Do you claim to have reasons for believing that, on the assumption God exists, God would allow reasonable nonbelief in his existence?

              Or are you simply claiming to have critiqued Schellenberg’s arguments for the opposite conclusion?

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

                I’ll unpack that in a blog post.

                • Bryan

                  Thanks!

            • Bryan

              But wouldn’t that entail that people are going to hell, or, at best, have their souls annihilated over reasonable nonbelief?

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

    This is definitely one of the best of this series. Excellent.

    Randal says, “So many atheists think that it is simply a matter of kicking God to the curb of one’s worldview and getting on with their day. Jeff realizes that the thoughtful atheist is obliged to think through the very entities the theist invokes God to explain, and that obliges them to say something more.”

    This is one of my favorite issues. A couple things:

    (1) The fact that Jeff thinks that metaphysical naturalism is true does not entail that he believes that atheists can’t just kick God to the curb of one’s worldview. As he indicated, Jeff has indicated his reasons for thinking the metaphysical naturalism is true. But the fact that he thinks it is true doesn’t mean that he agrees with Randal that an atheist has to have a worldview. But I will let Jeff speak to that question.

    (2) This idea that you can’t just kick God to the curb assumes that theism, if true, would actually explain certain recalcitrant data. But it doesn’t. And, in any event, the onus is on the theist to show that it does. Once an argument that, for example, theism can account for objective morality is provided, the argument can shift to the merits of that argument. But I see no reason to grant the widespread bias that “God did it” is really an explanation of anything.

    (3) It is true that if naturalism is true, theism is false. But there is no proof that naturalism is true. Lowder’s argument is only that naturalism is more likely to be true and accounts for a larger set of data. But this is not proof. I highly doubt that such a proof will ever be forthcoming. With that in mind, the efforts of Randal and other theists to criticize naturalism, strikes me as having the wrong kind of emphasis. Why think that theism is in competition with naturalism? The theist can always say that there is a deeper level of explanation and the naturalist will not be able to refute this because there won’t be empirical evidence one way or the other.

    But there are things that a theistic worldview provides that a naturalistic one does not. For example, a proper outlet for the natural human capacity for reverence, worship and gratitude, plus, at least potentially, theism tries to provide a kind of solace that naturalism is not in the business of providing.

    • Kerk

      Ok, principle of sufficient reason – all that is contingent must be explained. Theism offers an explanation, while naturalism offers infinite regress of efficient causes.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      (1) I find the issue of whether an atheist qua atheist “has to have a worldview” to be a very odd way of wording things. I hold the belief that almost all adult human beings (i.e., those who do not have an intellectual disability) have a worldview. Atheism by itself isn’t a worldview for the simple reason that atheism asserts very little: far too little to count as a full-fledged worldview. At best, it is a “worldview fragment,” a subset of a worldview but not a worldview by itself. In other words, there is no such thing as “‘the’ atheist worldview,” but there are many “atheist worldviews” (plural). Metaphysical naturalism is one such worldview, but not the only atheist worldview.

      My hunch is that probability a majority of people who self-identify as atheists probably do subscribe to something very much like what I call metaphysical naturalism, whether they use that label or not. But that’s just my hunch; I don’t have the data to back it up.

      (2) I agree with everything Jason writes here.

      (3) Since naturalism entails theism is false (and vice versa), of course theism is in competition with naturalism. I get your point about a “deeper level of explanation,” but that doesn’t deny the fact that they contradict one another. More important, it’s not good enough for someone to assert that theism provides a “deeper level of explanation.” They have to be able to show that that is so. Furthermore, even if they do that, they also have to consider where more specific facts about the same topic favor naturalism. It may be the case that the theist’s “deeper explanation” favors theism, while the naturalist’s “more specific facts” favor naturalism, and the overall weight of evidence favors of naturalism. Or not. The point is that just because a theist may claim that theism provides a “deeper level of explanation” doesn’t mean we can’t weigh the evidence.

  • Stephen Maitzen

    Interesting post! JJL wrote, “My gut tells me that certain facts about morality may favor theism.” I’m curious to know what those facts could be. I think both theists and naturalists who believe in objective moral truths are committed to Platonism about morality: the existence of objective moral truths that hold independently of anyone, including God. Erik Wielenberg and Wes Morriston have argued persuasively for that conclusion. The conclusion implies that (1) God isn’t needed to ground moral truths (contrary to such theists as William Lane Craig) and that (2) naturalism is false if it says that literally everything is a part of the natural world (rather than merely than no non-natural minds or causes exist). I can’t see a way to avoid Platonism. At a minimum, the basic laws of logic can’t be given a theistic or a naturalistic explanation, because of course they’re prior to — presupposed by — any possible explanation at all. Since we have to accept Platonism about logic, it’s no ontological giant leap from there to accepting Platonism about morality.

    In his (non)rebuttal, Randal says: “When I look at the scarcity of the Goldilox [sic] Zone I am more prone to find divine intention.” No fair. The capacity of the universe to support life is supposed to be evidence of a benevolent designer. When it’s pointed out how inhospitable to life most of the universe seems to be given our current observations, it won’t do to say “That’s even more evidence of the benevolent designer’s intervention.” If convenience store managers win the lotto more often than average ticket-buyers, that’s evidence that the managers are cheating; it’s not still *more* evidence of cheating if the managers win only rarely rather than frequently.

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

      Plus there’s the whole thing about objective morality implying atheism.

      I too am surprised that Jeff thinks that certain facts about morality might favor theism. I am sure he can be convinced to tell us more.

      • Stephen Maitzen

        “Plus there’s the whole thing about ordinary morality implying atheism.”

        There is indeed. Thanks for mentioning it.

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

      Great comments Steve.

      You say my point is “no fair”. I say it is no less fair than the assumption that interstellar space should be filled with breathable air and be maintained at 70 degrees F for God’s existence to be plausible. It all depends on what one focuses. Do we focus on a hostile environment filled with radiation and astronaut-career-ending flying shrapnel, or do we focus on a universe of extraordinary aesthetic beauty and scope which is inexplicably finely tuned for life?

      Just last month I was at the Biologos Conference in New York and I heard a lecture by an evangelical Christian NASA scientist. She shared my intuition when looking at the universe. No doubt other NASA scientists share Jeff’s intuitions. But that just suggests that the evidence underdetermines the conclusion.

      • Stephen Maitzen

        Thanks, Randal. My point was simply that if life-permitting conditions are evidence of fine tuning — as the fine-tuning argument alleges — then it can’t be that their *rarity* is also, or further, evidence of fine tuning. That would be trying to have it both ways.

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

      One other thing. How do you see the naturalist Platonist accounting for moral perception? How is it that undirected evolutionary processes directed to adaptation should have equipped us with cognitive faculties able to grasp abstract, immaterial platonic truths?

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

        First, we should expect compassion to evolve in social animals.

        Second, I would expand the first point, but I don’t want to concede the argumentative move you are attempting to make. You are assuming that theism can account for the human capacity to grasp platonic truths. So what is the theistic explanation?

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

          The contemporary analytic discussion took off with Thomas Morris’ essay “Absolute Creation” and has been pursued by Brian Leftow, Richard Davis, and others. The basic proposal is one of asymmetric causal dependence across all possible worlds. I was reading in the literature more than a decade ago but have not kept up on it since, though this conversation may prompt me to do so!

          However, for the sake of argument I can leave to one side the question of whether such theistic models are tenable. My point is that even if we are left with an independent platonic good, the theist still has an explanatory advantage in terms of explaining knowledge-producing moral perception.

          Your statement that “we should expect compassion to evolve” doesn’t address this issue for at least two reasons. First, often the morally good thing is not that which is rewarded in the struggle for survival.

          Second, what makes you think that this would result in grasping truths of the platonic good? At best this would produce actions that conform to some degree to the platonic good, but that’s not moral knowledge.

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

            “However, for the sake of argument I can leave to one side the question of whether such theistic models are tenable.”

            That is fine. I am objecting to an argument that claims that theism has an advantage over atheism: Theism can account for moral knowledge and atheism cannot. I don’t think that is true.

            If we are not going to engage this argument, then whether naturalism can account for moral knowledge is an interesting question, but not relevant to the topic at hand in this post: Should we believe in theism or atheism?

            I grant that moral knowledge is an interesting problem. My point is that I don’t see that it is relevant to the theism vs. atheism debate.

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

              The topic is relevant, for if atheism cannot provide an adequate account of the reliability of moral perception, then maintaining consistent atheism may oblige one to accept moral skepticism.

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

                The same could be said of theism: If theism cannot provide an adequate account of the reliability of moral perception, then maintaining consistent theism may oblige one to accept moral skepticism.

                So, I still don’t see the relevance as it concerns which is more likely true, theism or atheism.

              • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                1. Why?

                Let’s consider a parallel argument: “If atheism cannot provide an adequate account of the reliability of color perception, then maintaining consistent atheism may oblige one to accept color skepticism”, and let’s say that the claim had been made before Darwin.

                Would the claim be correct?
                Surely not (but please let me know if you disagree). But why in the case of moral perception? Why should there be any burden on the atheist, in a matter much more complicated than color vision?

                I would say that the atheist may rely on her perception (moral or color) like everyone else, unless she has
                good reasons to doubt it (in which case a person would have to make a probabilistic assessment of how reliable or unreliable it is, etc.).

                And if someone claims that atheism actually gives us good reasons to doubt the reliability of color or moral perception, the burden is on the claimant.

                2. That aside, the atheist may say that evolution will normally give us imperfect but generally reliable faculties, and then she sees no particularly good reason to believe
                that her moral faculty is an exception. She does not need to have a belief about how exactly things happened during the evolutionary process. In fact, arguably it would be improper of her to have such a belief, given that we do not know enough about the specifics to tell. It’s a matter for future research in human evolution and moral psychology. Why would the atheist have a burden
                in the first place?

                • Kerk

                  Well, there is the EAAN. It claims exactly what you want- on atheism a.k.a. naturalism the probability of our beliefs being true is law. Not to be confused with cognitive faculties. I’ve made that mistake myself before when discussing the EAAN. Although some have argued that it can be extended to cover them as well as beliefs.

                  So the question about evolution+reliability of beliefs is still very much open.

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

                    How can a theist know that God does not have good reasons to provide humans with unreliable cognitive faculties (including belief formation faculties)?

                    If God does have such reasons, then, on theism, we should not expect belief formation to reliably result in true beliefs.

                    So, the question about divine creation+reliability of beliefs is still very much open.

                    • Kerk

                      Plantinga has a curious reply – if Christian Theism is true, than you should expect at list some of our cognition based beliefs to be false, due to the malevolent intervention of Satan. The thing is, the goal of the all-good God is for everyone to reach the perfect state of love, which seems to be inconceivable, if ALL of our beliefs are false. Thus, Plantinga concludes that theism is still in a more privileged position than naturalism.

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

                      Perhaps God has good reasons to ensure that all or most of our beliefs are false. It is possible that God has such reasons. Or do you disagree?

                      If it is true that God wants everyone to reach the perfect state of love, how do you know that false beliefs are a necessary part of God’s plan?

                    • Kerk

                      I’m having a really hard time conceiving of that. And I know that you can play the same inconceivability card against me with the evidential problem of evil. To that I will say that I may have some evidence that trumps the EPE, but I see no evidence that would indicate God using deceit for some purposes.

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

                      If theism is true and God has good reasons for wanting us to have false beliefs and unreliable cognitive faculties, then I don’t know how we could have evidence of it.

                    • Kerk

                      Exactly! No evidence – no belief :)
                      Just like the possibility of the Matrix deceiving us.

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

                      Right, so your claim that you have no evidence that God has good reasons to deceive us begs the question, does it not? Just in the same way that our replying to Descartes that we don’t have any evidence that we are dreaming begs the question.

                      The lack of evidence is not evidence of absence, at least in this case, because it is what would be expected if the hypothesis were true.

                    • Kerk

                      Sure, then you can call any default belief question-begging. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Like I said to Angra, anything is possible. But I naturally take God to be a guarantor of the truthfulness of my beliefs, all things equal. That’s my null-hypothesis, and I see no reason to change it. Perhaps there may be no evidence in principle, but so what?

                      Now, you’re in a different situation, if the EAAN works. While it is only possible that on theism God may deceive me, it is GUARANTIED on naturalism that you are deceived by the blind processes of evolutionary selection.

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

                      I think you need to take a closer look at Plantinga’s argument. He most certainly does not say that, on naturalism, human cognitive faculties are guaranteed to be defective. He says that on naturalism the probability that our faculties are reliable is low.

                      Please also pay attention to the following passage:

                      “But to have a defeater for R it isn’t necessary that I believe that in fact I have been created by a Cartesian demon or been captured by those Alpha-Centaurian superscientists. It suffices for me to have such a defeater if I have considered those scenarios, and the probability that one of those scenarios is true, is inscrutable for me–if I can’t make any estimate of it, do not have an opinion as to what that probability is. It suffices if I have considered those scenarios, and for all I know or believe one of them is true. In these cases too I have a reason for doubting, a reason for withholding my natural belief that my cognitive faculties are in fact reliable.” (p. 12)

                      http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/plantinga_alvin/naturalism_defeated.pdf

                      This applies to theists with respect to the scenarios that both I and Ahriman (I prefer Angra’s Middle Persian name) have brought to your attention. The probability that God has good reasons to systematically deceive you is inscrutable for you: you cannot make any estimate of it. This is because all of the evidence you can gather is consistent with its being true. So, as a theist, according to Plantinga, you must withhold your natural belief that your cognitive faculties are reliable.

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      Okay, let’s see if you manage to conceive of it:

                      Let’s consider first the following scenario:

                      Scenario s1:

                      Thousands of years into the future (or, if you like, millions of years into the future), some evil human or post-human scientists use genetic engineering to make some other entities most of whose beliefs would be false – or nearly all of them.

                      God does not stop them by force, but allows the evil scientists to act of their own free will instead.

                      Would you find s1 conceivable?

                      If the answer is ‘yes’ (if not, why not?), then:

                      Scenario s1′

                      Similar to s1, but we are the hapless beings, made by some evil alien scientists, created
                      by God but who decided to do evil, which God allowed because somehow he has some mysterious reason to allow evil people to freely do evil.

                      One can easily set up similar scenarios in which we are in the Matrix, or where the evil makers are some powerful demons, etc. All one needs to conceive is that:

                      a. God made creatures that (immediately or eventually) will have the knowledge and power to make other beings, intelligent but with most or nearly all false beliefs.

                      b. God allows some of those powerful and knowledgeable creature to freely choose to make those hapless entities, somehow to allow free will, or for some
                      other, mysterious reason, or for any reason you like.

                      Now, I would of course reject that a
                      being that is morally perfect and has the power and knowledge to run her creation effortlessly would create anything remotely like our world, or that she would allow that kind of thing.

                      However, since theists reject that assessment of mine (else, they would no longer be theists, at least under any more or less common definition of God), and furthermore, they even believe that God might create something like us, then it’s hard to see how they would manage to reject s1 or any similar scenarios (with demons, or conscious free machines, or whatever) on conceivability grounds.

                      In fact, it’s easily conceivable that some evil scientists in the future will do something like s1, without being stopped by God. Now, I think this is clearly an option since I believe God does not exist, but assuming God exists and created our universe (which theists do believe), then s1 is perfectly conceivable, and it’s perfectly conceivable that he won’t stop those evil scientists.

                      Perhaps, a theist might say God would fix things in the afterlife. There are objections one can raise, but leaving that aside for now, the scenario at least not counting the afterlife is perfectly conceivable as long as we consider the view that God created a world like ours
                      conceivable.

                      But if s1 is conceivable, it’s clearly conceivable that we are the hapless entities made by evil aliens.

                    • Kerk

                      Goodness! With each new post your brevity keeps on diminishing! I’ll reply to the other post of yours tomorrow :)

                      I commend you for your imagination. Good examples to prove me wrong. And it’s my fault really. I’ve set up a trap for myself when I went into the territory of inconceivable.

                      But let’s keep things simple and concentrate on what Plantinga has to say. Look, granted, there is infinity of metaphysically possible scenarios. I probably could even conceive of a malevolent god. But do we want to treat them all as equally live options? I hope not.

                      See, if the EAAN succeeds, then you are facing an epistemic disaster. You get an undercutting Humean defeater for your entire system of beliefs. I, theist, in turn can say that if evolution is not unguided, then I don’t get a defeater at all. After all, what reasons do I have to doubt my null-hypothesis that God cares about me more or less? Mere possible scenarios and some instances of my intuitions failing me would not be enough. I do not need to look for a necessary link between adaptability and truthfulness of my beliefs, but you do.

                      You’d have to construct an argument akin to the EAAN that would show that I’m facing the same defeater you do.

                      Oh, and by the way, with both of your scenarios you’re making it even worse for yourself, as they are both just as possible under naturalism, as under theism.

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      Goodness! With each new post your brevity keeps on diminishing!

                      Alas, it’s an unfortunate result of the fact that you persist in making more and more claims that one needs even some detail to show to be false. But don’t worry, I can’t keep this level of time consumption going on for much longer.

                      I’ll reply to the other post of yours tomorrow :)

                      I cannot guarantee another reply. It’s taking too long, and there is only one of me. :)

                      See, if the EAAN succeeds, then you are facing an epistemic disaster. You get an undercutting Humean defeater for your entire system of beliefs. I, theist, in turn can say that if evolution is not unguided, then I don’t get a defeater at all. After all, what reasons do I have to doubt my null-hypothesis that God cares about me more or less? 

                      But that would require that in an evolutionary process without God, I ought to hold it improbable that our beliefs would be generally true.
                      Since I see no good reason to believe so, I’m unfazed. :)

                      Side note: For that matter, if we set up a scenario where determinism is true, and the initial conditions before the evolutionary process in question are such that it will lead to us beings with generally mostly true beliefs, then the probability that our beliefs were generally true is 1! Granted, you may question the initial probabilities of that, since I’m finely tuning the beginning to get the result I want (not that I actually do that, of course).

                      However, similarly I would question the initial probability of an entity that is omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect, and furthermore, the probability that such a being would create anything like our universe. I assess the probability of the latter that as almost zero, even if I assumed the initial probability that God exists (i.e., before assessing the evidence from suffering, moral evil, etc.) at, say, 0.9999 (a ridiculously high number, of course).

                      Mere possible scenarios and some instances of my intuitions failing me would not be enough.

                      The idea of the conceivable scenarios was to reply to your claim about conceivability.
                      A problem with your God scenario is that the probability that such a being would exist and make a universe remotely like ours is essentially zero, even if we (mistakenly) assign a high initial probability. How do I know that?
                      Using my sense of right and wrong, and the claim that, in particular, God can run his creation effortlessly.

                      I do not need to look for a necessary link between adaptability and truthfulness of my beliefs, but you do.

                      No, I do not need to look for necessity. In fact, I deny that it’s metaphysically necessary that adaptability would lead to generally true beliefs.

                      But it seems very probable that it would, not only because of intuitive assessments (and Plantinga really does not have good objections), and also because we good grounds to hold that the probability of an evolutionary process without God is extremely high, and that the probability that our beliefs are generally true is very high as well.

                      Incidentally, suppose I accepted the EAAN (not remotely, but let’s say) and actually assessed that the probability that our beliefs would be generally true is low in an evolutionary process without God. Even then, I still assess that the probability that God exists and creates anything like our universe is negligible (i.e., almost zero). So, instead of concluding that God exists, it seems I would find myself in a conundrum. But that would still not justify going against my assessment and conclude that God exists.

                      You’d have to construct an argument akin to the EAAN that would show that I’m facing the same defeater you do.

                      I can always use the evidential problem of evil, problem of suffering, problem of the existence of moral agents with a flawed moral sense, and so on. Conceivability is not going to change the essentially zero probabilistic assessment that God exists and created our universe.
                      Of course, you’ll reject that assessment, but using conceivability as a reply just doesn’t work.

                      Oh, and by the way, with both of your scenarios you’re making it even worse for yourself, as they are both just as possible under naturalism, as under theism.

                      1. No, I’m not making it worse for myself, because the fact that they’re conceivable or even metaphysically possible does not mean they’re remotely probable. The point of the scenarios is to refute a conceivability-based argument like the one you were making.

                      2. By the way, I do not know what naturalism is. I’ve yet not been able to figure that out, though in Plantinga’s EAAN, it seems it means that it’s evolution without God or something like it.

                    • Kerk

                      Long story short, you are accepting the EAAN’s calculations, but claiming that you have other reasons to believe in reliability of your beliefs? Fair enough. Plantinga deals with this kind of objection, but I’m reluctant to decide just how successful he is at it. And further on you say that you don’t need to look for a rationally necessary link.

                      Yes, I see the point of conceivable scenarios. That was my mistake to start talking about them to begin with. I humbly request forgiveness.

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      Long story short, you are accepting the EAAN’s calculations, but claiming that you have other reasons to believe in reliability of your beliefs?

                      No, I’m not accepting the EAAN calculations.

                      Instead, I raised a number of objections to your claims, explained the objection, and then as an aside I said (assuming a counterfactual just to raise another objection) “Incidentally, suppose I accepted the EAAN (not remotely, but let’s say)…”. :)
                      (bold added now).

                      So, I don’t remotely accept the EAAN calculations.

                      My point was different. My question (in the incidental objection; the main ones are others) was: what am I supposed to do if I did, according to you and/or Plantinga?

                      But in order to prevent a misunderstanding of my position (I wouldn’t want anyone to believe that I accept Plantinga’s EAAN calculations), let’s introduce a hypothetical person instead.

                      So, makes the same assessments about God and the creation of a world like ours as I do. So, she reckons, based on the evidential problem of moral evil and/or suffering and/or the existence of moral agents with a flawed moral sense, that the probability that God exists is marginal (i.e., nearly zero).

                      However, let’s say that Alice – completely unlike me – does accept the EAAN calculations,
                      after considering Plantinga’s argument.

                      What then?

                      She still reckons (by the same argument as before) that the probability of God is nearly zero. But now by a different path, she concludes that given evolution without God (which is almost certain), then probably most of her beliefs are false. So, what to do?

                      If the claim is that she ought to conclude that God exists, that ought to be argued for (since she still has the PoE, etc.), and the burden would still be on the theist.

                      Alice may have to weigh the hypothesis that her probabilistic assessment of God’s existence based on evil, suffering, flawed agents, etc., is mistaken vs. the hypothesis that her probabilistic assessment about the reliability of her beliefs in the case of evolution without God is mistaken, or consider other options apart from either God or evolution without God.

                      In the end, it seems to me she’ll have to revise either her acceptance of the EAAN calculations, or her acceptance of the PoE, PoSuffering, PoFlawed moral senses, etc.

                    • Kerk

                      Let me try and make sure there is no misunderstanding.

                      Your objections are:
                      1) I have other reasons to believe in reliability of my beliefs
                      2) Tu quoque.

                      I assure you, this fallows from what you said. Because, when you say, “I don’t need to provide a necessary metaphysical link to rationally believe in reliability of my beleifs” that means only that you must have other reasons. I already said enough about your and Jason’s Tu quoque. I have no reasons to reject my null-hypothesis that God is good, and thus probably will ensure that my believes are mostly correct. I get it from the Aquinas’s Cosmological Argument and my personal religious experience. The problem of evil cannot trump those for me.

                      If you don’t accept Plantinga’s calculations, it’s not enough to merely say, “He is wrong.” I gotta show that. After all, they constitute a premise of his argument. As long as you haven’t shown how he is mistaken, I judge that you concede that he is not mistaken.

                      Well of course the claim is not that Alice ought to conclude that God exists! Who’d ever think that? All the argument is meant to show that the naturalistic epistemic framework is seriously flawed.

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      Let me try and make sure there is no misunderstanding.
                      Your objections are: 
                      1) I have other reasons to believe in reliability of my beliefs
                      2) Tu quoque.
                      I assure you, this fallows from what you said. Because, when you say, “I don’t need to provide a necessary metaphysical link to rationally believe in reliability of my beleifs” that means only that you must have other reasons.

                      That’s unclear. My position is:

                      1. It’s rational to trust our belief-formation system as generally reliable (i.e., generally resulting in true beliefs from the data) as a starting point, because otherwise our position would be self-defeating, since otherwise we would not be able to rely on our assessments of any arguments at all.
                      Theists do the same. Everyone does the same.

                      2. I have very good reasons to believe that Quantum Mechanics, plus General Relativity when it comes to gravity, provide a very good approximate description of the world around us. There is plenty of evidence of that.

                      3. While I do not know how to apply QM and/or GR to make an assessment about the reliability of my beliefs by means of direct application of any of those theories, unless I had any good reasons to believe that QM and/or GR would lead to not-generally-reliable belief-formation system, I have no good reasons to either reject 1., or reject the evidence for 2.

                      4. I do not need to provide any metaphysically necessary connection between QM and/or GR and general reliability of my belief-formation system. Metaphysical necessity does not even enter the picture.

                      5. I have very good reasons to believe that our faculties are the result of a process of evolution by the means posited by present-day science, or something very similar to them. There is plenty of evidence of that.

                      6. It seems pretty obvious that having a reliable belief-formation system would be advantageous in the sense of fitness over having a reliable one, all other things equal, and I see no counterevidence that would block the assessment that the mechanisms of evolution posited by present-day science, or something very similar to them, would probably result in a generally reliable belief-formation system; I see evidence for exceptions so the system would not be perfect, but general reliability sticks. So, that gives me good reasons to believe that my belief-formation system is generally reliable, aside from 1.

                      7. Even if I did not make any considerations such as point 6, I would be in a position with respect to evolution by the means posited by present day science and my belief-formation system similar to my position with respect to QM and/or GR, as illustrated in points 2. and 3.
                      In other words, even if we leave aside point 6. for the sake of the argument, I still have plenty of evidence in favor of an evolutionary process by the means posited by present-day science (or something very similar to it), and I still have no good reason to mistrust the general reliability of my belief-formation system. In fact, the proper position in that case would be to simply say that more research is needed.
                      8. Note that in all of this, metaphysically necessary connections do not even enter the picture.

                      9. Evolution by the means posited by present-day science does not include God’s actions. While I can’t expect present-day science to be a perfect description of the methods in the evolutionary process (just as QM and/or GR are not perfect descriptions of phenomena at a lower level), given the evidence, it’s very probable that evolution by the means posited by present-day science or something very similar to it led to the formation of my belief-formation system.
                      Similarly, describing the matter at a lower level, it’s very probable given the evidence that processes described by QM and/or GR or something very similar to that led to the formation of my belief-formation system.

                      10. The presence of God messing with evolution is not remotely similar to the methods posited by present-day science.

                      11. I do have good evidence that God does not exist. In fact, given the amount of suffering in the world, the existence and moreover the amount of moral evil, and the existence of moral agents with a flawed sense of right and wrong, I reckon the probability of God to be almost zero, and that would be so even if I granted for the sake of the argument a high initial probability that God exists (which surely is not the case).

                       I already said enough about your and Jason’s Tu quoque.  I have no reasons to reject my null-hypothesis that God is good, and thus probably will ensure that my believes are mostly correct. I get it from the Aquinas’s Cosmological Argument and my personal religious experience. The problem of evil cannot trump those for me.

                      1. I disagree. My position is that you have sufficient reasons to reject the hypothesis that God would create anything remotely like our universe, including you, based on evil, suffering and the existence of moral agents with a flawed sense of right and wrong, and that upon reflection, you ought to reject Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument. However, I recognize I do not have time to make all of those arguments in this context.
                      2. Regardless, you’re making a probabilistic assessment (a bad one, I reckon, but never mind that), rather than providing a metaphysically necessary connection.
                      Well, again, I have no good reason to abandon my initial trust in a reliable belief-formation system, and I make probabilistic assessments too, rather than providing metaphysically necessary conditions. We just disagree on the probabilistic assessments.
                      3. Given point 11., if I were to find good reasons to mistrust the reliability of my belief-formation system under the hypothesis of an evolutionary process by the means posited by present-day science or something very much like that, then I would be in the position of the hypothetical character “Alice” I introduced earlier. I would still have my assessment in point 11, and I would still have my evidence for the hypothesis that my belief-formation system resulted from an evolutionary process by the means posited by present-day science, or something very much like it. Luckily for me, I’m not in Alice’s shoes, since I do not find any good reason to accept the EAAN’s calculations.

                      If you don’t accept Plantinga’s calculations, it’s not enough to merely say, “He is wrong.” I gotta show that. After all, they constitute a premise of his argument.

                      1. Tu quoque. Someone might just say.
                      a. If you do not accept the Argument from Suffering, it’s not enough to merely say ‘It’s wrong’. You gotta show that. After all, that constitutes the crux of one of the arguments of many non-theist philosophers.
                      b. If you do not accept the Argument from Moral Evil, it’s not enough to merely say ‘It’s wrong’. You gotta show that. After all, that constitutes the crux of one of the arguments of many non-theist philosophers.
                      c. If you do not accept the Argument from Divine Hiddenness, it’s not enough to merely say ‘It’s wrong’. You gotta show that. After all, that constitutes the crux of one of the arguments of many non-theist philosophers.

                      2. Moreover, someone might say:

                      d. If you accept Plantinga’s calculations in the EAAN, it’s not enough to merely say that he’s right. You gotta show that. After all, that constitutes the crux of the arguments of your claims.
                      e. If you accept one of Aquinas’ arguments, it’s not enough to merely say that he’s right, etc.

                      2.. I actually have been providing reasons against Plantinga’s EAAN in some of this very long posts. It’s true that I have not provided a specific assessment of Plantinga’s EAAN here. But tu quoque (see above). It would not be reasonable to expect me to give a detailed counterargument against the EAAN here.

                      As long as you haven’t shown how he is mistaken, I judge that you concede that he is not mistaken.

                      Tu quoque: As long as you haven’t shown that the problem of suffering fails, I judge that you concede it does not fail. And so on.

                      Not really, of course I do not judge that you concede any of the sort, since there is overwhelming evidence that you’re obviously not remotely making that concession, and it would be an unreasonable judgment. But similarly, there is overwhelming evidence that I do not concede that Plantinga is not mistaken, and your judgment that I concede that he’s not mistaken is an unreasonable judgment on your part.

                      Well of course the claim is not that Alice ought to conclude that God exists! Who’d ever think that? All the argument is meant to show that the naturalistic epistemic framework is seriously flawed.

                      I’m not sure what ‘naturalistic’ is, but you’re missing the point. Your conclusion (or Plantinga) seems to be that she ought to abandon naturalism. But then what? I already assessed the matter, so I’ll leave it at that.

                  • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                    I do not agree with the EAAN, for a number of reasons, but in any case, if he goes down that road, the theist would have to argue that in an unguided evolutionary process, it’s improbable that our beliefs would be reliable (which would require that some of our cognitive faculties be unreliable, in particular those that allow belief-formation; here “unreliable” does not mean that they change all the time; it’s enough that they do not give us good information; still, if you prefer to stick to beliefs, let’s do that).

                    Plantinga does that, for instance, but the matter is no longer about a metaethical argument (neither an ontological nor an epistemic metaethical argument), but a much wider argument.

                    As for whether the question of evolution+reliability of beliefs is open, a question is: what do you mean by that?

                    1. If just because some people disagree or are uncertain on the answer, it’s open. But for that matter, the question of the compatibility of theism with the existence of moral evil
                    and/or with the amount of suffering in the world, etc., are also open, and pretty much every question is (even YEC).

                    2. If it requires that some philosophers disagree or are uncertain on the answer, then we get the same answer as in 1.

                    3. If you mean something else, please clarify.

                    • Kerk

                      Your claim “the atheist may say that evolution will normally give us imperfect but generally reliable faculties, and then she sees no particularly good reason to believe that her moral faculty is an exception.” That is what’s under question, if the EAAN works, which I think it does. Because it is possible that all our cognitive faculties are reliable, but almost all beliefs are false.

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      That’s what some theists, like Plantinga and you, question. If that’s all you mean by ‘under question’, sure, we have a disagreement. We have plenty of those.

                      If you mean something else, please specify.

                      As for whether it’s possible that all our cognitive faculties are reliable, but almost all beliefs are false, that seems to be extremely implausible if one considers, as I pointed out earlier, our belief-formation faculties. If they are generally reliable (and reliable does not mean just giving always the same kind of false beliefs), then chances are our beliefs are generally true.

                      But that’s a question of terminology rather than substance, it seems i.e., it depends on how one construes ‘reliable faculties).

                    • Kerk

                      But you have yet to establish the necessary link between the reliability of our cognition and truthfulness of our beliefs based on them. Plantinga has some statistical calculations to show that it has not to be the case.

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      I don’t agree that Plantinga has anything (I mean, anything warranted), and no, I do not think that there is that kind of burden on the non-theist, since it’s pretty clear that having false beliefs would be on average bad for reproductive success, and the kind of alignment between different false beliefs that Plantinga’s argument would require (e.g., a tiger example, where a person escapes because she believes that’s the way to cuddle it, etc.) would seem to amount to a massive coincidence, so the burden would be on the theist making the case.

                      Additionally, even if it weren’t pretty clear, the burden would be on the theist.

                      For example, no one knows how to use Quantum Mechanics to predict based on the situation 1 billion years ago that entities with complex brains would eventually come into existence. Yet, that’s no good evidence against QM. In fact, given how good its predictions are when they can be tested, chances are it’s a good approximation and complex brains are not that big a problem.

                      The point of the analogy is that even if a person does not know how to derive that entities with mostly true beliefs would result from evolution by the processes posited by present-day biology, that does not give her good grounds to reject present-day biology.

                      Rather, given that evolution by those processes makes many good predictions and no bad ones so far, chances are it’s not a bad approximation to what we got, namely entities with generally true beliefs (of course, I’m accepting entities with generally true beliefs as data, but the theist accepts that).

                      So, even then, the burden would be on the theist defender of the EAAN.

                    • Kerk

                      First of all, Plantinga gives a paradigmatic example of false belief system to be beneficial for our species – religion. It is not just a large coincidence, it’s a system.

                      Second, are you saying that you have other reasons to believe in reliability of your beliefs? Yes, several objectors made the same point. Plantinga’s response is, if the EAAN works, then it gives you an undercutting defeater for your entire belief system. And you can’t just shake it off by saying, “You need to show me more.”

                      Third, appealing to good predictions won’t do at all, as it does not establish the necessary link between usefulness and truthfulness of beliefs. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Pessimistic Induction.

                      Forth, “Brevity is the sister of talent” (W.Shakespeare)

                      ;)

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      1

                      a. Actually, natural selection does not work on ‘beneficial to our species’. It’s not about species, but about the on-balance contributions to reproductive success (considering relatives, etc.) in the evolutionary environment.

                      b. The claim that ‘religion’ is a ‘system’ needs arguing for.
                      What might be the case is – for instance – that acquiring the beliefs of the in-group may be beneficial if there are punishments for not having them. Whether those beliefs are religious or not is not the point. You will find some atheist circles where people agree with each other on issues that have nothing to do with atheism.
                      Still, there are of course costs associated with false beliefs, so there will be tensions between different parts of the mind in many cases.

                      Also, an oversensitive sense of agent may have been an advantange.

                      But all of those errors can be corrected by other parts of the mind, including systems that favor true beliefs and consistency.

                      c. There is no claim that on an evolutionary account, all of our beliefs will be true. Surely, that’s not the case. But rather, the question is about the general reliability of our belief-formation system (i.e., usually, they will produce true beliefs; that does not mean that they always will),

                      2. Actually, that would require that the EAAN works; my point was precisely that the burden to show that most of our beliefs would probably be false (or whatever it is that the defender of the EAAN claims) is on him, and the non-theist does not have an undercutter defeater or any defeater at all just if she simply does not know how evolution produced reliable belief-formation systems.

                      3. The claim is not one of metaphysical necessity. There is no need to make such claim (which I find very dubious). My point is about the burden being on the defender of the EAAN.

                      4. I would love that, but Shakespeare notwithstanding, unfortunately people sometimes make very sophisticated and/or obscure arguments, which makes it difficult to reply briefly. :)
                      That said, I can’t dedicate sufficient time for any detailed discussion of the EAAN here, so I’ll have to leave it there soon. :)

                    • Kerk

                      Then let’s end it for now.

                      Let me just quickly address the third point. Like I said, It is shown IN the argument through statistical calculations that the reliability of our cognition based beliefs is low or inscrutable on naturalism+evolution. To my knowledge, almost no one disputes Plantinga’s calculations. That’s defense enough. Now, as the rules of philosophical discussions would have it, you are the one who has to show that he either made a mistake, or his calculations are irrelevant to the point at issue.

                      Without that the argument stands.

                      Have you read this book? If not, I highly recommend.

                      http://www.amazon.com/Naturalism-Defeated-Plantingas-Evolutionary-Argument/dp/0801487633

                    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                      Paul Draper wrote an excellent critique of EAAN in the Secular Web’s “Great Debate” at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_draper/naturalism.html

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      Thanks for the link; I’ve read a number of his papers. 

                      But anyway, a quick reply: 

                      1. The ‘inscrutable’ answer does not cause the problems Plantinga claims it does, even if the probability were inscrutable (at least, not factoring in other pieces of data)

                      For example, plausibly no one knows how to use Quantum Mechanics to ascertain the probability of bacteria based on the conditions 1 billion years ago. In any case, no one knew how to do that 50 years ago. But that is not a good reason to either reject QM, or be skeptical about bacteria. 

                      Now, is the probability of bacteria given QM inscrutable?
                      It is before one considers, say, that there are bacteria and QM is very probably a very good approximation. If that’s enough to make the probability inscrutable, then then inscrutability of probabilities are not per se a problem.
                      Alternatively, one can say that the probability is not inscrutable after factoring in that there are bacteria, since on one hand, we have many pieces of evidence for QM, and evidence for bacteria, so based on that we can tell that probably something that works as QM says (or something very close to it; QM is an approximation) resulted in bacteria, from some past conditions (still, that does not mean it was probable on non-determinism, but still not a problem).

                      Now, let’s say a hypothesis says that evolution happened by mechanisms A, B, C, and based on that and some inputs, predicts X(1), …, X(1000), but says nothing (based on the available information) about the probability of Z (Z is some specific organism).

                      As it turns out, all cases X(1), …X(1000) are confirmed as predicted, and no prediction is defeated. Clearly, Z is not a good reason to reject the theory. 

                      A similar example (not using evolution) would be the QM example above. 
                      So, on this account, is the probability of Z under A, B, C inscrutable?
                      Before considering the fact that Z exists and the evidence for A, B, and C, maybe it is, but that’s not a problem.
                      But after considering the evidence, on one hand we can tell it’s probable that A, B, C is true (i.e., a very good approximation), and also that Z exists, so chances are A, B, C resulted in Z, from some early conditions.

                      2.
                      If your claim about the “rules of philosophical discussions” were right, a dismal argument would ‘stand’ just because I do not bother to refute it, because of a lack of time or interest, etc. 

                      But surely, not having time or interest in refuting every single theistic argument does not give me any remotely good reason to accept any of them. But then, what does ‘stand’ mean in that context? 

                      Let’s go further and say that no one even bothers to refute argument X (for some X). Would that mean that X ‘stands’? 

                      That’s no good reason to accept X.  But again, what does ‘stand’ mean, then? 

                      3. Point 2. notwithstanding, I have explained why the ‘inscrutable’ claim does not work in Plantinga’s favor as he claims. He would need to show that the probability is low.

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

                  “And if someone claims that atheism actually gives us good reasons to doubt the reliability of color or moral perception, the burden is on the claimant.”

                  If platonism is true then moral perception includes the perception of certain abstract facts and their relationship to actions, events and states of affairs concerning human moral agents. That is not analogous with color perception which involves no perception of such abstract objects. Correct moral perception is what you would expect if theism is true but not if atheism is true.

                  The great irony is this: atheists often like to chide theists by asking how they perceive God. And yet the perception of moral perception (from a realist perspective) is as mysterious as doxastic processes come.

                  • Stephen Maitzen

                    “The great irony is this: atheists often like to chide theists by asking
                    how they perceive God. And yet the perception of moral perception (from a
                    realist perspective) is as mysterious as doxastic processes come.”

                    What if it’s not moral *perception* (analogous to visual perception) but instead moral *reasoning*, as I suggested above? Does that make it less mysterious? Maybe our knowledge of the most basic truths of logic is mysterious, but only because our knowledge of those basic truths is prior to — presupposed by — any possible explanation *of* how we know them, *including* any possible theistic explanation of how we do. If that’s the mystery, then theism can’t hope to dispel it.

                  • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                    If platonism is true then moral perception includes the perception of certain abstract facts and their relationship to actions, events and states of affairs concerning human moral agents. That is not analogous with color perception which involves no perception of such abstract objects. Correct moral perception is what you would expect if theism is true but not if atheism is true.

                    a. I’m not a Platonist, though it seems to me atheism would have no problem with Platonism as long as it’s allowed there might be Platonic objects for different sets of potential moral-like systems. Else, I do not know.
                    More to the point, I would say a difficulty would be a big exobiology claim about the entire universe that is implicit in a number of theistic metaethical arguments, whether epistemic or ontological (e.g., Linville’s metaethical argument, Craig’s argument), as well as in some Platonist atheist accounts.
                    For instance, a common claim is that if evolution without God were real, then some aliens might evolve something akin to the sense of right and wrong and/or good and evil, but not exactly quite like that, etc., and allegedly that would be a problem either for objective moral values and duties, or for our knowledge of moral truth, even after reflection (depending on the kind of argument).
                    I do not know whether evolution without God would result in such aliens, and I do not make implicit or explicit claims about whether they are actual (so, yes, I would reject an assumption that such aliens would be a problem, whether epistemic or ontological).

                    But anyway…

                    b. Why do you think that on theism, you would expect correct moral perception?
                    Sure, we can assess what God would do, based on the facts about his psychology that are posited by theists, like his being morally perfect, or even loving.
                    However, based on that, I reckon that if theism were true, one would expect perfect moral perception, since there seems to be no good reasons why God would create moral agents with a flawed moral sense, or even allow other agents to make such agents.

                    Granted, a theist might say that God might have had some good reasons we don’t know about (for instance). But the ‘mysterious reasons’ alternative is not epistemically sound, and invites the reply that, for that matter, God might have had good reasons to give us unreliable moral perception in general. If you think that’s extremely improbable, I would agree but say that so is imperfect moral perception, even if slightly less improbable.

                    The great irony is this: atheists often like to chide theists by asking how they perceive God. And yet the perception of moral perception (from a realist perspective) is as mysterious as doxastic processes come.

                    a. That depends on what is meant by ‘realist’. For instance, if one analyzes Craig’s metaethical argument (it’s an example), when he claims that objective moral values and duties do exist and gives arguments to that conclusion, what he seems to be arguing for seems to be at least equivalent to the following two conditions:

                    OMVD1: Statements – or judgments, or whatever one calls them – of the form ‘X is immoral’, ‘Y is morally good’, ‘A has a moral obligation to Z’, etc., are objective, in the ordinary sense of the term ‘objective’ mentioned above. For instance, if someone claims that gay sex is immoral among humans – as Craig does -, then there is an objective fact of the matter as to whether that claim is true, and so on.
                    OMVD2: Some statements of the form ‘A has a moral obligation to Z’ are true, and some statements of the form ‘Y is morally good’ are true, and so on, where Y is an actual behavior of a person, or a person, A is an actual agent, etc.

                    Now, if the theist claims more than that, I would say that the burden is on him, but in any case, the usual arguments in the context of metaethical arguments for theism do not provide any support for that.

                    b. We do not have evolutionary accounts of how we got every one of our species-wide mental capacities. An atheist can just say that she has no knowledge of exactly how we got our sense of beauty, or of right and wrong, but that’s a matter for future research.
                    If a theist claims that what we observe is not what we would expect from an evolutionary process by the methods posited by science or any similar ones, the burden is on him.

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

            “what makes you think that this would result in grasping truths of the platonic good? At best this would produce actions that conform to some degree to the platonic good, but that’s not moral knowledge.”

            Everything I said in my other posts notwithstanding, I don’t see the problem here.

            Moral behavior involves recognizing that the interests of others matter. Let us suppose that the fact that every sentient being’s interests have moral significance is a platonic truth. Compassion is an emotion that facilitate the recognition of the significance of the interests of others. Thus, compassion allows conscious beings to access platonic truths.

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

              “Thus, compassion allows conscious beings to access platonic truths.”

              *head scratch*

              This sounds like a whole lot of who shot John to me.

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

                *head scratch*

                There is medicine for that.

                Okay. I admit that I don’t get the reference. Who shot John?

          • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

            First, often the morally good thing is not that which is rewarded in the struggle for survival.

            Not a Platonist, but in any case, we shouldn’t expect that evolution equip us with a predisposition like ‘Do whatever is good for reproductive success in the given circumstances’.

            If that were what evolution (by the means posited by present-day science), we would have an excellent refutation already (actually, plenty) and then we would know that present-day science is not just wrong, but not even close to being right (question: is that your position?).

            But that’s not how evolution by the means posited by science works. The process does not have foresight,
            and roughly natural selection favors genes that result (in some environment) in traits that are on balance conducive to reproductive success (counting relatives, etc.) in the evolutionary environment (not necessarily the present-day one), but they sometimes come together with other traits that on their own would not be so conducive, etc.

            Granting that there are objective moral truths (e.g., there is an objective fact of the matter as to whether a specific person is good or bad, etc., and some people are good). then identifying good people and bad people may well have been so conducive, though the evolutionary process would have worked by identifying some traits at some point, then others, etc. As for doing the right thing, that
            also may well have been the case in most cases, though there are other motivations that pull in other directions in specific situations; even then, the motivation will be there, conflicting with others perhaps.

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

              “identifying good people and bad people may well have been so conducive…”
              What does “good” and “bad” mean here? And do you think that “may well have been so conducive” is really an adequate cornerstone for a moral epistemology?

              • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                1. I still do not know what your position is. Are you suggesting that the evolutionary process, by the means posited by present-day science, would not have resulted in the traits we observe?

                2. By ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ I mean what they mean in usual speech. I’m not using those words in a non-standard fashion.

                3. The point that they may well have been so conducive (or, more precisely, identifying a number of different traits, at different times, which ended up with our being
                able to identify good and bad people) was not an attempt to do epistemology, but a reply to the apparent suggestion (though your point is not clear enough, so I would still like to ask you to clarify if you’re actually suggesting that the evolutionary process, by the means posited by present-day science, would not
                have resulted in the traits we observe?) that we would not observe what we do.

                The reason I say ‘may well have been’, etc., instead of ‘was’, is that not all traits are adaptations. Some traits are the result of other adaptations (e.g., trait X is conducive to fitness in the ancestral environment; trait Y is neither conducive nor detrimental on its own, but the mutations that, under certain conditions, result in X, also
                result in Y, etc.; there are plenty of variants), and since our sense of good and evil may be the combination of many other traits, it would be premature to claim that all of it came through adaptations. Moral psychology is still in its infancy, and I see no good reason to be making assumptions about how exactly it went. I do not know the answer to that. It’s not even known yet, and there is a lot of work ahead.

                4. Regarding epistemology, I don’t think that there is any particularly good reason to be skeptical about our faculties in general (in particular, I do not agree with Plantinga’s EAAN), and with regard to morality, I also do not think that just because our faculties are the result of the evolutionary process without God, there is a good
                reason to be skeptical about them.

                5. Still, I was trying to make a point about what evolutionary science does not say, not to make this epistemological point. But if you think that on evolution without God, we should be skeptical about our faculties in general or in particular, I’m all ears.

                • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                  In case point 2. is not detailed enough – and
                  to address potential objections – in the environment
                  in which our species evolved there were good people and bad people in relatively recent times; whether there were good and bad people before our particular species was around depends on whether previous species count as people.

                  But in any case, some time before there were people, there were of course no good or bad people, but instead there were entities very similar to that.

                  In other words, there were no ‘jumps’ like Adam and Eve showing up with no early ancestors, or somehow people being born to some sort of brutish non-people with nothing like morality. Rather, what actually happened – on an evolutionary account (without any agent messing
                  with the process), which of course is nowhere near complete in the details – is gradual changes (I’m not denying punctuated equilibrium, etc., but that counts as gradual in our usual time context) that eventually resulted in our species.

                  The sense (or more likely senses; it’s probably a combination of different faculties) that allows us to tell good people from bad people did not spring from nothing among brutish non-people, but rather, evolved (i.e. the
                  different faculties that probably make up the sense of good and bad evolved) from very similar senses that already allowed some of our ancestors to detect something very similar to good people (e.g., close-to-good close-to-people) or bad people, which in turn gradually evolved from another similar set of faculties or sense, and so on.

                  That would be a sketch of an evolutionary account, but again, there are significant parts we do not know, so I take no stance on any of those.

      • Stephen Maitzen

        It’s a fair question, and one to which I don’t have a confident answer. I’m inclined to treat basic moral truths as truths of reason and therefore graspable in the way that truths of reason are, i.e., by careful reasoning. It’s not surprising that evolution would favor careful reasoning, and as brains got bigger and more complex they became able to reason carefully about more abstract matters than hunting and gathering, including morality and higher math.

  • David Marshall

    I agree that Jay is a person one needs to take seriously, and find his honesty refreshing.

    His first fact is a very theoretical point, that I think carries no actual weight — it is like saying, “The prior probability that large Mongolian denominations of currency will be made of paper, is much less than the probability that they will be made of granite, shale, realgar, limestone, obsidian, basalt, fossilized ammonites, or the hides of purple musk oxen, since there is only one of the former, and eight of the latter.”

    But what absolutely kills naturalism for me, is not a particularly philosophical point. It is that miracles (in the New Testament sense) do, in fact, seem to happen sometimes. Sometimes I wonder is God is conspiring to keep this fact secret from professional philosophers.

    • Bryan

      If pressed, would you have any evidence to present for this extraordinary claim? Or would you just link to Craig Keener’s book of anecdotes?

      I’m aware that you hold David Hume in such contempt, but in seems like you’re in fringe minority position as to the efficacy of his arguments.

      But you’re right, it is interesting that God keeps hiding all of the powerful evidence from most of the really smart people.Or people with camcorders. It seems like Bigfoot has one up on him there.

      • David Marshall

        Bryan: Baloney about Hume. Earman destroyed his argument, not that it took much destroying — the circularity is palpable. Fogelin tried to rehabilitate Hume, and in his own eyes apparently did, but McGrew takes the wind out of those sails — to the extent there was any wind in them.

        Hume’s “argument” remains simply an artifact of naturalistic fideism.

        (It does not, however, follow that I “hold Hume in contempt” in any sense other than denying that this particular Humean argument is worth a warm bucket of spit. By most accounts he was a decent chap, and a fine writer.)

        The word “anecdote” is, I gather, supposed to scare me off, somehow. I think the phrase you want is “human testimony,” that on which all human knowledge depends. (Even if you remember putting the top on the pickle jar personally, that’s the testimony of your own memory – an “anecdote,” if you will. So much more for any scientific studies you may claim to have read.)

        So sure, miracle claims all depend on human testimony, whether from Keener or from someone else. Since everything else we know does, too, I’m not sure why that’s supposed to be a problem, unless you want to throw out all human knowledge and go live in a cave.

        • Bryan

          It raises a curious eyebrow when someone so dogmatically declares that a philosopher as celebrated as David Hume has been “refuted.” Especially when 1) many thoughtful critiques of John Earman as well are available and 2) one holds a fringe, minority position. There isn’t an ounce of epistemic humility to your tone, and it sounds very sophomoric and disconcerting. Though I suppose when one’s worldview is built upon so much incredible human testimony one must conjure up this level of confidence to avoid cognitive dissonance.

          There is also an obvious and palpable difference between the testimony of the handling of a pickle jar or a scientific publication (and accepting that as provisional knowledge) and someone testifying that the Sun was stopped in it’s place for hours, the Red Sea was split in two, or that someone was raised from the dead. We should obviously demand strong evidence for the latter claims. A person’s say-so isn’t it.

          • David Marshall

            You claim Bigfoot “has one up on” God, call my position “fringe” without offering a lick of evidence for that claim, then accuse me of a “sophomoric tone?” All right . . .

            I know what Hume says. I’ve argued with professional philosophers (atheists) who tried to show that Hume does not argue in a circle, and failed (in my most humble opinion) miserably. Arguments “ad populum” (“fringe;” “minority;” vs. “celebrated”) or ad hominem (laced subtly throughout your posts), simply do not impress me, having faced Hume’s arguments directly, and (like many eminent thinkers before me, McGrew tells some of the history in his Stanford Encyclopedia article on miracles) found them woefully wanting.

            But there are signs in your final sentences, that you are also beginning to think, rather than just toss fallacies around. Now you back off from implying that all human testimony is a disreputable source of knowledge, as the term “anecdotal” seemed to, and offer a distinction, Hume’s distinction, in fact: historical claims about mundane occurrences, which you admit can be accepted on human testimony, and some other kinds of claims, which you seem to claim cannot.

            But it is not clear from what you say, whether those other kinds of occurrence are (a) miracles, or (b) extraordinary events in general. Conflating the two is one of Hume’s major errors, so we need to get this clear.

            Who says all reports of miracles are unusual? I have met more people who claim to have been healed instantly in prayer, or seen this happen, than claim to have witnessed a murder. Does it follow that murders are necessarily less credible than miracles? If not, why not? Merely because your worldview allows for the former, but not the latter? Or can you give some other reason?

            • Bryan

              “You claim Bigfoot “has one up on” God…”

              I was just pointing out how we’ve captured Bigfoot on film, but not God or any of his alleged miracles. It was sort of a joke.

              “…call my position “fringe” without
              offering a lick of evidence for that claim…:”

              Well, since most philosophers are atheists, I just presume that most philosophers hold David Humes’ argument in higher esteem than you do. I’m not aware of any widespread consensus against David Hume spurred on by John Earman and his sympathizers. It seems that most philosophers are quite secular in their thinking, much like Hume. Those are my “evidences” that yours is a fringe position.

              “…then accuse me of a
              “sophomoric tone” because I don’t think much of Hume’s argument against
              miracles?”

              Your tone is sophomoric because you’ve dogmatically declared that David Humes’ challenging argument against miraculous testimony has been “refuted.” That is a highly, highly controversial claim, and so it seems that more epistemic humility is warranted.

              “…(like many serious thinkers before me, McGrew tells some of the history
              in his Stanford Encyclopedia article on miracles) found them woefully
              wanting.”

              I wonder how many were found wanting based on misrepresentations of Humes’ argument (like C.S Lewis’ famed gaffe, who likewise tried to argue that Hume had argued in a circle). Is C.S. Lewis one of the serious thinkers cited, I wonder?

              “But there are signs in your final sentences, that you are also beginning
              to make distinctions, rather than just toss fallacies around. Now you
              back off from implying that all human testimony is a disreputable source
              of knowledge, as the term “anecdotal” seemed to, and offer a
              distinction, Hume’s distinction, in fact: historical claims about
              mundane occurrences, which you admit can be accepted on human testimony,
              and some other kinds of claims, which you seem to claim cannot.”

              I never said all human testimony is a disreputable source of knowledge, nor am I backing off from anything. My position just requires further clarification, and teasing out of nuances, as you’ll see in my final paragraph.

              “But it is not clear from what you say, whether those other kinds of
              occurrence are (a) miracles, or (b) extraordinary events in general.
              Conflating the two is one of Hume’s major errors, so we need to get this
              clear.”

              I’m speaking of miracles, not, say, winning the lottery. Acts of God which have no natural explanation.

              “Who says all reports of miracles are unusual? I have met more people
              who claim to have been healed instantly in prayer, or seen this happen,
              than claim to have witnessed a murder. Does it follow that murders are
              necessarily less credible than miracles? If not, why not? Merely
              because your worldview allows for the former, but not the latter? Or
              can you give some other reason?”

              Here’s the difference, David. We have undeniable, empirical evidence that murders happen. So someone claiming to have witnessed a murder isn’t claiming anything particularly special. A bona fide miracle, however, has never been established. Therefore, you aren’t justified in accepting the testimony of those who’ve claimed to have witnessed miracles unless they also have strong evidence to support their claims (NOT just their say-so). That’s the difference between justified human testimony, such as someone who has claimed to have witnessed a murder, and a mere anecdote, to which you appeal.

              • David Marshall

                So now it turns out you have no reason at all to believe that the vast majority of philosophers agree with Hume’s argument, besides the fact that most philosophers are atheists, and your vague notion that atheist philosophers ought to buy the argument! And you scoff at Keener’s epistemology, which is based on human testimony from millions of people? We have a serious problem with epistemology, here, and maybe a little problem with honesty, too. You should have admitted that from the beginning.

                It appears that most of your other arguments are likewise based on speculation.

                Hume did argue in a circle. So are you:

                “We have undeniable, empirical evidence that murders happen.”

                No we don’t, no more than that miracles happen, or perhaps less. (Because they are far less common.) One could deny that evidence on exactly the same grounds, if one had a philosophical prejudice against the very possibility that murders ever occur, and rationalize each purported instance away, as skeptics do to miracle reports.

                “So someone claiming to have witnessed a murder isn’t claiming anything particularly special. A bona fide miracle, however, has never been established.”

                You mean, it is has never been admitted by materialists yourself — which is presumably why you remain an materialist. Again, you appear to be arguing in a circle.

                “Therefore, you aren’t justified in accepting the testimony of those who’ve claimed to have witnessed miracles unless they also have strong evidence to support their claims (NOT just their say-so). That’s the difference between justified human testimony, such as someone who has claimed to have witnessed a murder, and a mere anecdote, to which you appeal.”
                As you clearly now seem to admit, you do indeed define “anecdote” as “an historical claim backed up by human testimony, for an event to which I am philosophically opposed.” The pretense that murders have some other great epistemic advantage over miracles appears unjustified. Many miracles would not normally otherwise be confined within the standard definition of “anecdote,” any more than accounts of murders are. But let me give you one more shot. Can you justify your distinction on any other coherent grounds?

                • Bryan

                  “So now it turns out you have no reason at all to believe that the vast
                  majority of philosophers agree with Hume’s argument, besides the fact
                  that most philosophers are atheists, and your vague notion that atheist
                  philosophers ought to buy the argument! And you scoff at Keener’s
                  epistemology, which is based on human testimony from millions of people?
                  We have a serious problem with epistemology, here, and maybe a little
                  problem with honesty, too. You should have admitted that from the
                  beginning.”

                  David, secular/atheist philosophers (especially non-Christian philosophers) are more likely to accept Hume’s argument, since they have no reason to be fiercely biased against it. And I’m not aware of any widespread concensus against Hume’s argument. Rather, Hume is quite celebrated. That is ample reason to consider yours a minority position (though I’m open to correction).

                  Keener did not interview millions of people. And even if his book somehow relates the anecdotes of millions of people (which is an incredibly small minority of the population), all you have his stories. Mere stories for which you have no prior evidence to appeal to, like someone who claims to have witnessed a murder could (as you’ll see in the next paragraph). Stories for which actual miracles are the least likely explanation, since miracles, having never been empirically established or demonstrated, are far, far less likely than outright lies, hallucination or other brain malfunction, trickery, etc, which have been empirically established and demonstrated, not just empirically, but personally.

                  “No we don’t, no more than that miracles happen, or perhaps less.
                  (Because they are far less common.) One could deny that evidence on
                  exactly the same grounds, if one had a philosophical prejudice against
                  the very possibility that murders ever occur, and rationalize each
                  purported instance away, as skeptics do to miracle reports.”

                  David, the evidence we have for murders happening is much stronger, more abundant, higher quality, and much more empirical. We have video of people being murdered on film. You can listen to the blood-curdling screams of someone being butchered midway through a 911 call. You can see photos of murder victims and scenes on the internet. The evidence is also rational/logical/mathematical in nature, for the chance that everyone in the world is conspiring to trick you and I into believing murders happen, with elaborate video, phone calls, murder scenes, butchered corpses, missing people, and plausible testimony (because their claims do not violate natural law, are congruent with what we know about human nature, etc) is essentially zero. Now what is the evidence that a miracle has ever occured, that the laws of nature have ever been violated? I’ve never seen any on YouTube or CNN. I’ve never met anyone who’s claimed to have seen a miracle and could show me hard evidence. All you have is your tall tales. This has nothing to do with “philosophical prejudice.” It has everything to do with evidence. Show me a video on YouTube demonstrating someone’s arm growing back. Show me something from CNN or pictures from a newspaper. I’m waiting.

                  “You mean, it is has never been admitted by materialists like yourself —
                  which is presumably why you remain an materialist. Again, this looks
                  to me like arguing in a circle.”

                  Show me where a miracle has been established, David. Show me some hard evidence. I’ll believe! I won’t believe stories when their are more probable explanations available. I’m not arguing in a circle–claiming miracles don’t happen a priori. I’m open to the existence of some miracle-working God (hell, I even prayed a month ago, and I’m a former believer) I’m just waiting for quality evidence that they do happen. Quality evidence available to everyone. A rational person proportions his belief to the evidence. Why should we believe supernatural explanations when we have perfectly acceptable natural explanations?

                  • David Marshall

                    Bryan: Let us compare two arguments, and consider which one is more convincing, and how they stand in relation to “anecdotal evidence”:

                    (A) Skeptic B believes that rejection of Hume’s argument against miracles is a “fringe” position among philosophers. What are his grounds for so believing?
                    1. He knows that most professional philosophers are atheists.
                    2. He knows that Hume is famous and widely respected.
                    3. He is not aware of any “widespread consensus” against Hume’s argument. But neither does he seem aware of what philosophers in general have said about the matter, so as to cite a consensus for Hume’s argument.
                    4. B also reasons that because Hume’s argument seems convincing to him, and since atheists have no reason to be “fiercely biased” against the argument, of course they will all admire it deeply.
                    5. Therefore, B surmises, rejection of Hume’s argument is a “fringe position” in philosophy.
                    Now to be charitable, let’s describe this as an argument. How does this argument stand in relation to anecdotal arguments of a very weak kind — say, “My second cousin told me his teacher’s girlfriend spotted a blue whale off of San Diego?”
                    I’d have to say it’s much, much weaker.
                    For one thing, of course there is no conflict whatsoever between “most philosophers are atheists” and “many philosophers are theists.” And if many philosophers are theists (as they are), the rest of the “argument” can just be ignored, since it may be that most theists line up against Hume, and constitute more than a “fringe.”

                    (4) is just question-begging conjecture, based apparently on no evidence whatsoever. (3) is a mere confession of ignorance.
                    So that leaves us with (2). Hume is famous, therefore there must be an overwhelming consensus in favor of his famous argument!
                    As an argument, this falls well shy of even very weak anecdotal evidence, that we call “rumor.” This is a couple rungs down from unsubstantiated rumor. Of course it wouldn’t work for anyone else: “Plato is widely respected, and I have not heard otherwise, so there must be a consensus among philosophers for his view that wives should be held in common by the Guardians.”
                    Compare that “argument” to:
                    (B) Christian scholar C thinks miracles sometimes happen. He believes he has seen people instantly cured from terrible diseases during prayer. He has interviewed hundreds of people who relate similar stories. He cites doctor reports in support of some of those claims.
                    B, by contrast, is clearly a few rungs up the ladder from “anecdotal evidence.” It does not even fit the dictionary definition for the term.
                    Yet you believe A, and dismiss B. In fact, you seem to think B is quite incredible.
                    As I said, I think your epistemology is badly confused. And it is hard to see what, if not a fixed dogma, could bend it into quite that remarkable shape.
                    As for reports of murders, of course all those pieces of “evidence” could be explained away in the same way that skeptics explain away miracle claims. One hears screams on TV all the time. This is all quite easy to fake.

                    • bryan

                      These posts are getting longer than I usually like to write, and taking more time, so I’m going to try to be concise.

                      Rather than waste time defending the nuances of my argument–my point, David, was that it sounds sophomoric when you make bold, dogmatic declarations about the demise of Hume’s argument, when surely that is a highly controversial claim among philosophers. If that’s your opinion, fine, that is your right, but you shouldn’t assert such things as if they are facts, given the sea of journal articles out there furiously debating these issues. The John Earman’s of the world have not gone unchallenged. Moreover, if you have evidence that your position on David Hume’s argument is not in the minority, or that a consensus has emerged against Hume’s argument, I’m open to it.

                      I’m curious–what was this miracle that you think you’ve witnessed? Was there anything directly observable? And isn’t a doctor’s report just another anecdote committed to paper? Are you aware of spontaneous remissions and misdiagnoses?

                      Have you read this article about your debate with Richard Carrier? http://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2013/04/18/random-and-zany-notes/. As Nick rightly points out, given the the millions of Christians in the world, and the millions of events that happen to them every day, statistically, it is quite expected that there would be some miraculous coincidences.

                      You attempt to explain away the evidence for murders is unconvincing. Maybe you can hand wave away the sound recordings taken in isolation, but the evidence as a whole would have to lead me to believe that I’m in the Truman show or a brain in a vat. There isn’t any analog to the mere anecdotes–sorry, “human testimony”–for miracles. That evidence is quite explainable without recourse to hyperskepticism.

                      Like I said David, it’s not about a philosophical bias against miracles (which I lack), it’s not about dogma, it’s about evidence. My experience of the world has testified billions and billions of times over that some things happen without exception–apples fall to the ground rather than suspend themselves in midair, people lie and are deceived, are prone to delusion, error and irrationality. Dead men stay dead. So when someone tries to come along and tell me a dead man was raised to life, I have billions and billions of reasons to reject their testimony, unless they have strong evidence to accompany it.

                      God, that was still long.

                    • Bryan

                      ^and my personal experience is shared by most people.

            • Bryan

              There are many other reasons why someone human testimony is acceptable and not others, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      David — Thank you for the nice words in your first paragraph.

      As a Bayesian, I cannot agree with your second paragraph. I wouldn’t the role of prior probabilities as “a very theoretical point, that I think carries no actual weight,” as you have done. For that simply reveals the fact that you aren’t well versed in Bayesian epistemology. This isn’t a Christian-vs.-atheist thing. Christian philosophers like Richard Swinburne and the McGrews understand the role of prior probabilities all to well.

      According to one version of Bayes’ Theorem, the final probability of a hypothesis equals the product of its prior probability and its explanatory. If we want to compare two hypotheses (H1 and H2), we can derive a version of Bayes’ Theorem known as the odds-ratio form. According to the odds-ratio form of BT,

      Final Odds (H1:H2) = Prior Odds (H1:H2) x Bayes Factor (H1:H2)

      For example, suppose we want to compare these two hypotheses:

      H1: Ted Haggard is only sexually attracted to women

      H2: Ted Haggard is sexually attracted to men

      Prior to any of the news stories about Haggard’s scandal and downfall, we would have judged the prior odds to massively favor H1 over H2. To put a number on it, let’s say that the odds are a billion to one, i.e., 10^9: 1.

      Let E be all of the evidence about Haggard’s scandal, such as news reports, Haggard’s confession, his loss of his post with the NAE, etc. We judge that E even more massively favors H2 over H1. A Bayes’ factor can be our estimate of the strength of E. We judge that the Bayes’ factor for E is one in ten billion, i.e., 1: 10^10.

      So the final odds of H1 to H2 are: 10^9 x 10^-10 = 0.1 — in other words, 1 in 10.

      Meanwhile, let us suppose that Ted Haggard’s wife has a massive case of denial and isn’t nearly as impressed by E as the rest of us. She judges the Bayes’ Factor for E to be (merely) one in a million, i.e., 1: 10^6. So her final odds for H1 to H2 are 10^9 x 10^-6 = 10^3 — in other words, 1,000:1.

      This shows why prior probabilities actually matter. The prior probability of a hypothesis determines the strength of evidence required to confirm it.

      • David Marshall

        Jeff: You’re right that I haven’t yet taken the time to figure out Bayes as a whole. Tim McGrew kindly sent me an explanation, but I have neglected to bare down on it.

        But I’m not talking about priors in general (which I think I do understand, and fully credit), just the particular argument you made, above.

        Here in fact is how I discuss prior probability in relation to the Resurrection — some factors that are rarely taken into account, but I think ought to be. You’ll see I fully credit the concept, and find it quite useful — though I wrote this before attending to Bayes at all. This post has proven quite popular:

        http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/03/prior-probability-of-resurrection.html

  • John

    “Jeff believes that “the hostility of the universe to life” supports naturalism. Interesting. When I look at the scarcity of the Goldilox (sic) Zone I am more prone to find divine intention.” – Randal

    It seems remarkable that anyone finds it compelling that a Creator would create a universe of immense proportions (assuming it is finite at all) whilst only creating “scarce” regions (i.e. Goldilocks Zones) where life could exist. On top of that, some paleontologists believe over 98% of documented species to ever inhabit one such “Goldilocks Zone” (i.e. Earth) have gone extinct. If so, that sounds like a remarkably inefficient design re. all those species that simply could not survive in their “Goldilocks Zone”.

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

      “It seems remarkable that anyone finds it compelling that a Creator would create a universe of immense proportions (assuming it is finite at all) whilst only creating “scarce” regions (i.e. Goldilocks Zones) where life could exist.”

      Compare: It seems remarkable that anybody should eat seaweed with rice.

      Both statements are naively provincial, the latter relative to a particular culture, the former to the human species.

      • John

        “Both statements are naively provincial…” – Randal

        Randal, I don’t consider the statements to be remotely comparable. Having earned multiple engineering degrees (unlike you), and having spent a career rigorously employing the scientific method to make tangible contributions to advance industry (unlike you), I find it astonishing that someone could look at what appears to be a grossly inefficient “design” of the universe to be evidence for a Creator of supreme Intelligence. Then again, with your being a career academian in a non-scientific discipline who is cloistered in a self-affirming environment filled with academians of a similar ken, I believe I can understand why you might…

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

          Unfortunately degrees in engineering don’t provide any special insight into the divine intentions in creating.

          “someone could look at what appears to be a grossly inefficient “design””
          Lack of aptness for human flourishing is not equivalent to “grossly inefficient design”. That’s precisely what I’m talking about: naïve anthropocentric provincialism.

          • John

            “Unfortunately degrees in engineering don’t provide any special insight into the divine intentions in creating.” – Randal

            I am not attempting to ascertain reasons why some supremely Intelligent being would create a universe (as we understand it) akin to the one surrounding us. However, being an engineer and a human, I do believe the universe appears to me to be inefficiently constructed. And btw, I personally don’t believe degrees in theology provide any more insight into the “divine intentions in creating” than engineering degrees. If God is the ultimate author the “law of gravity” and the “law of conservation of energy” etc., I suppose such a God would appreciate those of us who have more than a faint grasp re. the complex mechanics involved.

            “That’s precisely what I’m talking about: naïve anthropocentric provincialism.” – randal

            an·thro·po·cen·tric (adj.)

            1. Regarding humans as the central element of the universe.
            2. Interpreting reality exclusively in terms of human values and experience.

            Gee whiz, Randal. Doesn’t Christian tradition proclaim that human beings are the very “Pinnacle of God’s Creation”?

            http://www.icr.org/article/mankind-pinnacle-gods-creation/

          • cowalker

            “Lack of aptness for human flourishing is not equivalent to “grossly inefficient design”.”

            I totally agree. Why assume that “human flourishing” or even the existence of beings with consciousness is the point? Why assume there is a design? Why not assume that human flourishing is simply something that happened, like animals with lungs on earth?

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

              How do you define “human flourishing”?

              • cowalker

                By “human flourishing” I mean where humans can naturally evolve and reproduce successfully. That type of environment seems to be pretty limited in our universe. But why analyze the universe from the perspective that it was designed to produce humans? It produces radiation, gravity, and atoms. On our planet it produces vegetation, viruses, microbes, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc. Where is the evidence that the universe was designed to do any or all of these things? They happened. That is all we know. The apparent “inefficiencies” disappear when you don’t assume that humans were the point all along.

                • John

                  “But why analyze the universe from the perspective that it was designed to produce humans?” – cowalker

                  That seems to be the point Randal directed at me re. his charge of naïve anthropocentric provincialism. I didn’t anticipate such a charge from a Christian apologist. I remain amazed… ;->

      • John

        “Lack of aptness for human flourishing is not equivalent to “grossly inefficient design”.” – Randal

        Randal, I would like to offer you a practical example (from my perspective) why I consider the universe to appear to be “inefficiently designed”.

        I spent most of my engineering career developing and manufacturing electronic equipment. Now, let us suppose, for example, you were given the task of designing a widget to perform a specific function. Let’s also assume you were given no specific cost constraint or physical size constraint to develop your widget. The bottom line is that your widget must perform its intended function. Let’s then suppose I was separately given the task of designing a widget to perform the exact same function your widget does, and I was also not given a specific cost constraint or physical size constraint re. my widget. Now, let’s assume that your widget performs its intended function exactly as mine does, but your widget is less complex than mine, it requires less material (e.g. components etc.) than mine, and it costs less to produce than mine. If so, my design would be considered to be “inefficient” relative to your design because your widget performs the exact same function as my widget does, but your widget is less complex, it requires less material to perform its intended function, and it costs less.

        I was raised in the Christian faith, and I was taught that (a) humans are the peak of God’s creation and (b) God created humans for the purpose of having fellowship with them. If so, I am confounded as to why God would need to create a universe of nearly unimaginable proportions to accomplish that. The “design” of the universe seems “inefficient” to me, because it seems to be vastly larger and vastly more complex than necessary (not to mention dangerous) just for humans to have a place to live (e.g. a Goldilocks Zone) and for God to have a relationship with humans. If you have a different perspective than me re. this, I would respectfully consider it.

  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Randal, thanks again for offering to post this! A few comments:

    Well I find Jeff’s naturalistic facts completely unconvincing. Indeed, I’m not even persuaded that “naturalism” is a meaningful position.

    Note for interested readers: Randal and I have exchanged posts about that before.

    Jeff believes that “the fact that science can explain so much without explicitly appealing to the supernatural” supports naturalism. That leaves me mystified.

    My statement was a reference to what I have elsewhere called the evidential argument from the history of science, which is an argument Randal and I have debated before.

    Jeff also believes that “mind-brain dependence” somehow supports naturalism. I can’t fathom why. Really. God made us a nephesh (Gen. 2:7). In what sense does this support naturalism? Indeed, as Thomas Nagel argued in Mind and Cosmos, if anything it would seem to point us in the opposite direction.

    “Mind-brain dependence” is a reference to what I have called the evidential argument from physical minds.

    Common descent? But Jeff already said this is fully consistent with Christianity. (Keep in mind that there are, no doubt, versions of naturalism that reject common descent.) So I am at a loss to conceive of what advantage Jeff thinks is gained here.

    “Common descent” is a reference to what I have called the evidential argument from biological evolution. It’s true that common descent is logically compatible with theism, including Christian theism. What Rauser overlooks is the fact that common descent is much more probable on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, and so is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

    As for “the biological role of pain and pleasure”, I’ll leave that one since I’m not sure what Jeff is referring to here.

    Again, since my brief essay left a lot of things undefined, that’s a fair reply. “The biological role of pain and pleasure” is a reference to Draper’s version of the evidential argument from evil, which in my opinion is the strongest version of the argument from evil.

    .

    .

    .

    Again, I truly appreciate Rauser’s open-mindedness demonstrated by his willingness to post a series of blog entries by atheists. And I love the way he closes his post:

    These are big differences between Jeff and myself. However, if I only had six Innis and Gunn beers left in my fridge, I’d offer Jeff three and we’d work these things out.

    If I’m ever up in his neck of the woods (or if he’s ever down in mine), that would be fun!

    Jeff

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

      Thanks for providing the links.

  • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

    Interesting.
    When I look at the scarcity of the Goldilox Zone I am more prone
    to find divine intention.

    A couple of questions:

    1. Would you have assigned a lower probability to the
    hypothesis that God existed than the probability you assign now (and
    which seems to be at least very close to 1) if Kepler and other
    telescopes had found that, say, most planetary systems had at least
    one planet in the Goldilocks zone?

    2. If further analysis of the data from Kepler, plus the data from other
    telescopes in the future, lead to a significant increase of the current estimates of frequency of Goldilocks planets, would you consider that to be evidence against
    the existence of God?

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

      It would be reasonable to remain agnostic about that data until we had a better grasp of it. For example, is the ratio of planets in the Goldilocks zone disproportionately high? If so, what reasons might explain this disproportion? Too many questions here.

      • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

        Not too many questions, since:

        1. You said earlier that you were prone to find God’s intentions in the scarcity in the Goldilocks zone.
        But that indicates that you’re trusting the data at least to the
        point of considering that there is a scarcity of Goldilocks planets,
        under some conception of ‘scarcity’.

        So, I’m asking whether:

        a. If the proportion of Goldilocks planets had turned out to be higher (i.e., less scarce), you would have counted that as evidence against the existence of God.

        b. Similarly, if we revise the proportion to a higher value due to
        further data, would you consider that evidence against the existence of God?

        I do not know what you call ‘disproportionately high’, but my two related questions are based on your own previous assessment.

        • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

          It is trivial to show, using probability theory, that if E is evidence for H1 and against H2, then ~E (that is, not-E) is evidence for H2 and against H1. So that forces Randal, if he is to be rational, to admit that:

          a. If the proportion of Goldilocks planets had turned out to be higher (i.e., less scarce), … [that would be] evidence against the existence of God.

          Regarding your second point:

          b. Similarly, if we revise the proportion to a higher value due to further data, would you consider that evidence against the existence of God?

          I’m not sure about this, but this one seems different to me. In that (hypothetical) situation, why couldn’t he say that that is stronger evidence for the existence of God, than the actual degree of scarcity provides?

          • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

            I’m not sure about this, but this one seems different to me. In that (hypothetical) situation, why couldn’t he say that that is stronger evidence for the existence of God, than the actual degree of scarcity provides?

            The cases seem similar to me.
            I was asking about his position, because in that case, such planets would be less scarce, and scarcity is evidence for the existence of God, according to Randall.
            Given his words, it seems a plausible interpretation of his position that a proportion X of planets (which is the one assessed by present-day data, roughly if not too precisely) increases the initial probability of God P(G) more than a proportion Y > X does, so if he were to revise the proportion from X to Y due to new data, then he would have to revise the probability of God to P(G|Y), which might still be greater than the initial probability P(G) (or not), but lower than P(G|X).
            If so, the hypothetical new data (that would make the proportion go up from X to Y) would be evidence against the existence of God if found now since it lowers the probability from the probability given today to God.

            I guess an alternative – one of the reasons I was asking him that question, and the other one – would be that he thinks that a higher proportion than the one supported by present-day data but which he would still called “scarce” would be even better evidence for God than that supported by present-day data, even though further increases before what he calls “scarce” would be evidence against it. Is that the kind of reply you have in mind?
            If so, then this reply is also available for the first question (i.e., he might similarly say that if the planets had turned out to be less scarce but still scarce, that would have been better evidence for God), so it seems to me that the cases are similar.
            Still, a reply like that would make his statement that he was prone to find divine intention in the scarcity of the Goldilocks Zone quite misleading (i.e., it seems a less plausible interpretation of his position given what he said), but in any case and perhaps more importantly in the context of the discussion (I mean, if Randall had decided to continue the conversation), it would invite further replies and questions that would highlight the oddity of such probabilistic assessments.

  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Many of you asked what sort of fact about morality I think might support theism over naturalism. I’m not sure exactly. I’m still doing a lot of introspection to try to narrow down what is driving this intuition I have.

    It’s easier for me to say what kind of fact does not support theism over naturalism. For example, I don’t think objective moral values or necessary moral truths provide any evidence at all for theism.

    • James Lindsay

      Not to start trouble with you, Jeff, but I will be surprised if you find such a fact or even a kind of fact. I don’t think your intuition is misguided, if you will, but misconcluded. I do not believe that you will find such a fact or kind of fact at all, because I don’t think such a fact or kind of fact exists if it has to be “about morality.” Only resutls from following a certain dictated (from God) moral code instead of another could lend credibility to theism, I think.

      Instead, I might suggest that your intuition is being driven by the fact that “God” is itself a metaphor for perfection along various psychosocial valuation constructs called “moralities.” Those moralities are literally woven into the fabrics of our cultures, and so it’s no surprised that there’s an intuitive feel that such ideas could be perfected in a way consistent with something that could be aligned with theism.

      • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

        No trouble at all. You may well be right.

        • James Lindsay

          I’ve been cranking for about eight months on the psychology and sociology of religion, and it’s profoundly changing how I think about these matters and how I feel they need to be argued/discussed. It’s a fascinating subject.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      Hiya Jeff!

      A question, if I may. You say, “I don’t think objective moral values or necessary moral truths provide any evidence at all for theism” as if it were possible for objective moral values and duties can be distilled from a purely subjective environ. How exactly is that possible?

      • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

        Hi Joseph

        I don’t see anything in Jeffery’s arguments suggesting anything being distilled from anywhere, or anything about a ‘purely subjective environment’.

        Or are you assuming something beyond:

        a. There is a fact of the matter as to whether behaviors are morally good or bad, immoral or obligatory or neither, etc., and as to whether agents are morally good or bad, etc. In other words, such questions are matters of fact, not matters of opinion.
        b. Some judgments of the form ‘A has a moral obligation to Y’, where A is an actual agent, and Y is some behavior, are true, and the same goes for some judgments like ‘B is morally good’, where B is actual.

        If you think that the above (which seems to me what, say, William Lane Craig argues for when he claims that objective moral values and duties do exist) is evidence for the existence of God, I would ask why you think so.
        If, on the other hand, your metaethical claim goes beyond a. and b., I would ask what that is, and in that case, I do not know that Jeffery and you are using the terms to mean the same, so there might be some miscommunication going on.

        • Joseph O Polanco

          Jeff said, “I don’t think objective moral values or necessary moral truths provide any evidence at all for theism” as if to say “I think objective moral values or necessary moral truths are wholly subjective in nature.” If this is what he is in fact insinuating then I wonder, how exactly is it possible for objective moral values and duties to be distilled from a purely subjective perspective? Follow?

          • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

            Given the “as if to say” part in your post, you appear to be implying that saying “I don’t think objective moral values or necessary moral truths provide any evidence at all for theism”, somehow implies or at least strongly suggests “I think objective moral values or necessary moral truths are wholly subjective in nature.”
            While it’s not clear what you in particular mean by ‘objective moral values’, or ‘wholly subjective in nature’ (I asked for clarification; see my previous post), under usual understandings of those terms, I do not see any connection.

            For example, if I say “I don’t think that objective color or necessary color truths provide any evidence at all for theism”, that does not imply or even suggests “I think that objective color or necessary color truths are wholly subjective in nature”.

            If you mean something else by ‘objective moral values’, etc., please clarify.

            By the way, for example, I too do not see how objective moral values and/or duties would provide any good reasons to believe that God exists, either. But I’m not insinuating anything about objective moral values and/or duties’ somehow being subjective in nature (which would be an oxymoron, unless someone is using ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ equivocally).
            I’m just rejecting any of the arguments I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a good number of them (not that anyone has an obligation to take a look at all or even most arguments for each position one rejects, since that is simply not doable due to the fact that there is only one of each of us, and our time is limited. But as it happens, I have taken a look at a good number arguments of these particular kind).

            Anyhow, while I can’t speak for Jeffery, I do not see any suggestion that he’s suggesting and/or implying what you seem to imply or at least strongly suggest that he does.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              i. Yes.

              ii. I don’t follow. If something is not objective how does that not necessarily make it subjective? Is there some mucky middle between the two positions?

              • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                i. Okay, but I still do not see any connection from “I don’t think objective moral values or necessary moral truths provide any evidence at all for theism” somehow implies “I think objective moral values or necessary moral truths are wholly subjective in nature.”
                I cannot speak for Jeffery, but I do not see anything in his words suggesting that he believes that objective moral values are “wholly subjective in nature” (which would be a contradiction as long as someone is not using the words equivocally), and in any case, I do not see why the existence of objective moral values and/or duties and/or necessary moral truths provide any good reason to believe that God exists, using the terms as I mentioned in a previous reply.

                ii. While there might be a question as to whether, in common usage, a statement that there is no objective fact of the matter on a certain issue is equivalent or only implied by a statement that it’s a subjective matter, I wasn’t attempting to argue that point.

                Rather, I’m implicitly accepting the classification that Craig uses, between matters of fact on one side, and matters of opinion or subjective matters on the other.

              • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                As usual, Angra has done an excellent job responding — he makes many of the same points I would make. I would add this point.

                You originally wrote:

                Jeff said, “I don’t think objective moral values or necessary moral truths provide any evidence at all for theism” as if to say “I think objective moral values or necessary moral truths are wholly subjective in nature.

                No. Everything after “as if to say” is NOT at all what I was trying to say. In fact, the sentence, “objective moral values or necessary moral truths are wholly subjective in nature,” is a contradiction in terms. If moral values are objective, by definition they cannot be subjective (and vice versa).

                I could be wrong, but I think you are confused about the possibilities. Here are four possibilities.

                1. God does not exist and morality is subjective.
                2. God does not exist and morality is objective.
                3. God exists and morality is objective.
                4. God exists and morality is subjective.

                My point, in my original post, was simply that the objectivity of morality does not favor theism over naturalism. In other words, there is no reason to believe that 3 is more likely than 2.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Perhaps the following thought exercise will help clarify your position for me. If the Neo-Nazis were to attain world domination and exterminated everyone who thought racism was wrong, would that suddenly make racism and bigotry moral?

                  • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                    I have a question. Your question to Jeffery (by the way, my answer would be ‘no’) sounds very similar to William Lane Craig’s example of the Holocaust, which he gives in the context of some of his defenses of his metaethical argument.

                    Are you basing your assessments on Craig’s metaethical argument, or at least an argument similar to his metaethical argument?

                  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                    No.

                    • Joseph O Polanco

                      This, therefore, points to the reality of objective moral values and duties. Moreover, it’s something you know to be true innately the same way you know, for instance, that raping a little girl to death is also evil.

                      In fact, mankind doesn’t treat acts like pedophilia, the gunning down of innocent children, racial bigotry, sadism, genocide, gang rape and serial murder as just socially unacceptable behavior, like, say, picking your nose at the dinner table. Rather, these cause shock and horror and are treated as a moral abominations – acts of evil.

                      On the other hand, love, equality and self-sacrifice are not just treated as socially advantageous acts, like, say, bringing a girl flowers on a first date, but, instead are treated as things that are truly good.

                      Now, irrational beasts don’t have **objective** morals. When a lion savagely kills another it doesn’t think it’s committing murder. When a peregrine falcon or a bald eagle snatches prey away from another it doesn’t feel it’s stealing. When primates violently force themselves onto females and their young they’re not tried and convicted of rape or ped0philia. Obviously, then, we certainly didn’t “inherit” our **objective** moral sense from them.

                      **Objective** morals do not come from science either because science, by it’s very nature, is morally nihilistic. Where, then, do we get our **universal objective morals** from?

                      Consider the following:

                      (1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
                      (2) Evil exists.
                      (3) Therefore, objective moral values and duties do exist.
                      (4) Therefore, God exists.
                      (5) Therefore, God is the locus of all objective moral values and duties.

                      In other words, as Dostoevsky once mused, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”

                    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                      This is simply a rehash of the points WLC uses to defend his moral argument for God’s existence. I think that argument has been discredited by numerous philosophers, including both theists (such as Richard Swinburne and Wes Morriston) and nontheists (such as Erik Wielenberg, Quentin Smith, Stephen Maitzen). Your comment contains nothing which addresses their objections.

                    • Joseph O Polanco

                      How so?

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      You can find some of their papers on the internet. For instance, links to papers containing Morriston’s objections (also, there are papers objecting to Craig’s Kalam argument) can be found on his website.

                      A paper by Wielemberg objecting to Craig’s metaethical argument can be found here (pdf file)

                    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

                      I’m not sure what you’re asking. If you’re asking, “How is what I’ve written simply a rehash of the points WLC uses to defend his moral argument for God’s existence?”, then the answer is, “They just are. Anyone who has read his stuff on the moral argument will instantly recognize the numerous parallels.”

                      If, instead, you’re asking, “How has WLC’s moral argument for God’s existence been discredited?”, then the answer is, “Go read Swinburne, Morriston, Wielenberg, Smith, and Maitzen.”

                    • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

                      Actually, bonobos, chimpanzees and other non-human primates do punish others for some behaviors, seem to exhibit remorse in some situations, help others in distress, etc.

                      For those who are interested in those matters of psychology of some non-human primates, I would recommend (for example) this
                      page
                      , which has several related papers.

                      But aside from those issues about the psychology of some non-human primates (though there are clear
                      similarities between them and human moral behavior), as Jeffery points out, you seem to be talking notes from William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument.

                      Replying to his argumentation would take too long for this thread, but if you or any readers are interested in my reply to his argument, it’s just 3 clicks away (two
                      after clicking on my username).

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

    Jeff believes that “the fact that science can explain so much without explicitly appealing to the supernatural” supports naturalism. That leaves me mystified.

    This is what jumped out at me the most. Should the supernaturalist expect something different? Obviously the scientific method will properly explain quite a few things. The question is not how many events the scientific method can easily explain, but how many events are better explained by a supernatural agent cause.

    To argue that scientific explanations of events supports naturalism is untenable. Consider a supernatural event A which precipitates natural events X, Y, and Z. In this case, X and Y and Z are evidence for the supernatural because they proceeded from A….but Jeff’s argument would force us to accept X and Y and Z as evidence for naturalism simply because they involve natural processes.

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