Why atheistic apologists are generally ignorant and/or dishonest according to Chris Hallquist’s methodology

Posted on 07/01/13 61 Comments

In the elegantly titled “Randal Rauser is not someone who it’s possible to have any sort of rational discussion about religion with” I provided a critical response to Chris Hallquist’s article “The ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics, part 1: anti-evolutionism.” In my response I focused on a couple points, including the absurdity of Hallquist’s defense of his claim that Christian apologists are generally ignorant and/or dishonest.

Before continuing, I should note a rather bizarre defense of Hallquist that was provided in the comment thread to my article. In the thread b33bl3br0x quoted Hallquist’s exact words again

“I do not claim that all Christian apologists are either ignorant or dishonest without exception… but I do think it’s generally true of the stuff that currently dominates Christian apologetics.”

Next, b33bl3br0x commented:

“Do you see it?  He didn’t extend the generalization that all apologists were “generally ignorant and dishonest”. He extended the generalization to the arguments put forward (from what he sees at least) most often.  While he does claim that a specific subset of apologists are ignorant or dishonest, he differentiates later between the people and the arguments themselves.” (emphasis added)

So according to this defense of Hallquist (insofar as I understand it), he was saying not that the apologists are generally ignorant and dishonest, but rather that their arguments are! Let me note a few things in reply.

First, this is an absurd distinction. An argument is a set of propositions. And propositions aren’t ignorant or dishonest. They’re propositions for goodness sake! Technically speaking it is true that guns don’t kill people. Rather, people kill people with guns. And propositions aren’t ignorant and/or dishonest. Rather, people are ignorant and/or dishonest with propositions. So like I said, this reply makes an absurd distinction.

But it is also telling. It tells us of the absurd extremes some folks will go to defend the indefensible claims made by an apologist for the side with which they’re sympathetic.

Now back to the task at hand. Another reader named Eric replied to my critique like this:

“You have an issue with the generalization.  Okay, let’s set that aside: do you agree with Chris that the arguments from Plantinga, Craig, and McDowell that he’s claimed are ignorant, are in fact ignorant?”

Note how he doesn’t come out and admit that Hallquist was wrong to make a generalized statement based on his selection sample. Rather, he says I “have an issue with the generalization”. Well I’m quite sure Eric would “have an issue” with that type of generalization if it were a Christian apologist generalizing about atheists rather than an atheist apologist generalizing about Christians. So all I’m asking for is some consistency here.

Regardless, Eric then went on to ask that I engage with the rest of Hallquist’s essay:

“One example that Chris mentioned in the last post was Plantinga’s claim that there are no transitional fossils.  Do you agree that’s an ignorant argument/claim? Another example he recently mentioned was the 2LOT argument (made by various apologists, but I believe Chris cited Dembski making it): do you agree that’s an ignorant argument/claim?”

Let’s focus on Plantinga. I agree that Plantinga’s claim that there are no transitional fossils was made out of ignorance of the many transitional fossils that exist. In my first podcast “Denis Lamoureux on Evolution and Creation” I interviewed my friend Denis who completed a doctorate (one of three) on evolutionary biology with a focus on the evolution of teeth. Denis discusses this and other evidence in his books Evolutionary Creation and I love Jesus and I accept Evolution. Denis has many excellent lectures available online on evolution and theology (he also has a doctorate in theology). See here.

In May I was in New York for the annual Biologos conference. Biologos is an evangelical organization started through the efforts of Francis Collins which seeks to get evangelicals better informed on the results of Neo-Darwinian science. At the conference Dennis Venema, a biologist from Trinity Western University, did a fantastic talk outlining the fossil evidence for evolution. For those interested, Dennis has put together an online introductory course on evolution at the Biologos site. The first installment is available here.

Hopefully Christian folks who think evolution is false or in conflict with Christian theological claims will avail themselves of these resources with an open mind. I know I’ve encountered many fallacious arguments against evolution over the years. Consider, for example, the claim that evolution is incompatible with the second law of thermodynamics. While I still hear this claim, it is false since the second law predicts an increase of entropy in the entire system, a claim which is consistent with the localized decrease of entropy.

So let’s concede that many Christian apologists have made claims about evolution that revealed their ignorance of aspects of the field. Does this provide evidence that Christian apologists are generally ignorant and/or dishonest simpliciter? Of course it doesn’t. But if it did, then atheist apologists (i.e. those who argue for atheism) would likewise be generally ignorant and/or dishonest. I’ll now turn to making that case based on Hallquist’s own method.

Since Chris provided three showcase examples to justify his conclusion, I’ll provide three as well. Let’s begin with Chris himself and in particular his review of God or Godless. His review does made a fair point about his frustration with the organization of the book. But insofar as he offers critical arguments he wears his philosophical ignorance on his sleeve. For example, of the distinction between agent and event causation he asserts:

“It makes little sense outside of a dualistic view of the mind and an incompatiblist view of free will.”

To be sure “It makes little sense” is not philosophically precise, but it certainly implies that there is some problem conceptually with the notion of agent causation apart from dualism and incompatibilism. This is a jolting level of ignorance about basic metaphysics. But rather than linger on this point I want to turn to Chris’ surprising ignorance of philosophical theology.

In the very next paragraph Chris observes that I argue

“that an infinite regress of event causes is unacceptable because, “it is wholly ad hoc since we have no experience of infinite causal regress.””

Chris then offers the following retort:

“But it’s controversial to say the least whether we have experience of uncaused gods–and if Randal is going to respond that we do, he’s no longer presenting the cosmological argument, but the argument from religious experience.

“Similarly, he writes, “it offers no explanation of what caused this mysterious, infinite, causal series, and this it is really a pseudo-explanation.” But I could just as well complain that Randal offers no explanation of what caused this mysterious all-powerful creator.”

There are at least three problems in these two paragraphs, but I’ll focus on the most glaring. Chris says that God is “a pseudo-explanation” because the theist “offers no explanation of what caused the mysterious all-powerful creator.” Really? Chris is supposed to have a background in philosophy and he offers the “What caused God?” retort?

Incredibly this is not an infrequent occurrence. Indeed, one often finds atheists making a similar point. Let’s consider the example of Keith Parsons. (I should note, by the way, that I had a bit of a heated exchange with Keith Parsons a couple weeks ago. He emailed me afterward to “bury the hatchet” and in doing so he showed himself to be really a first class individual. So what I say here should not be taken to suggest any personal enmity whatsoever.) In his essay “The Brutal Facts about Keith Parsons” Edward Feser quotes Parsons as follows:

Both theists and atheists begin with an uncaused brute fact.

Feser then goes on to comment (and I quote at some length):

“And the problem is that that is precisely not what theists do, at least not if we are talking about theists like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, and all the other great representatives of classical theism.  Aristotle’s Pure Act is not a brute fact.  Plotinus’ One is not a brute fact.  Anselm’s That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Conceived is not a brute fact.  Aquinas’s Subsistent Being Itself is not a brute fact.  And so forth.  In each case we have arguments to the effect that the material universe in principle must have had a cause and that the divine cause arrived at not only happens not to have a cause (as a “brute fact” would) but rather in principle could not have had or needed a cause and in principle could not have not existed.  And the reasons, of course, have to do with the metaphysics of potency and act, the difference between composite substances and that which is metaphysically absolutely simple, the real distinction between essence and existence in anything contingent, and other aspects of classical metaphysics in the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and Scholastic traditions.

“At this point, I imagine Parsons might, like so many other atheists under the delusion that they’ve mastered the arguments of the other side, indignantly demand an explanation of all this obscure “act and potency” and “essence versus existence” stuff that he’s never heard of, and of how it is supposed to show what the thinkers in question say it shows.   (Or at least he might if he wasn’t retired and all.  Sorry if I’m keeping you off the links, Keith!)  If so, my response would be: If you really need someone to explain all that to you, then with all due respect, it’s a good thing you have given up philosophy of religion, because you are simply not competent to speak on the subject.

“Neo-Platonist, Aristotelian, and Thomistic and other Scholastic writers are hardly marginal theists, after all.  They are the paradigmatic theists.  They invented (what is these days called) the philosophy of religion and the core arguments in the field.  They represent a 2300 year old tradition of philosophical theism, and their thought has historically determined the intellectual articulation of revelation-oriented religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  In the case of Christianity – certainly of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy – you simply cannot understand the key theological ideas without an understanding of the Platonic and/or Aristotelian concepts in terms of which their orthodox formulations were hammered out.  And none of these thinkers would regard God as a “brute fact.”  Nor is this some incidental feature of their position; it is the very heart of it.  The whole point of theism, for these classical writers, is that the explanatory buck must stop with something that is in itself intelligible through and through – precisely because, unlike the mixtures of act and potency which make up the world of our experience, it is purely actual; or because, unlike the composite things of our experience, it is absolutely simple; or because, unlike compounds of essence and existence, its essence is existence; and so forth.  For an Aristotle, Plotinus, or Aquinas, to show that there is no such thing as Pure Act, the One, or Subsistent Being Itself would not be to show that God is after all just a “brute fact” among others; it would rather be to show that there is no God.”

So both Chris Hallquist and Keith Parsons are ignorant of the most basic conceptual distinction of philosophical theology.

Now for our third example. Not to be outdone, Richard Dawkins wears his ignorance of philosophical theology on his sleeve in The God Delusion. For example, he takes philosophers like Richard Swinburne and Keith Ward to task for mistakenly assuming that God is simple. In fact, Dawkins claims, God is complex, and more complex than any putative effect he might be invoked to explain (p. 176 ff.).

This is ignorance of the content of classical theism to rival that of Hallquist and Parsons. Dawkins shows he doesn’t understand even what the concept of simplicity means or why God has always been understood in the classical theist tradition to be metaphysically simple. (What is more, Dawkins gets himself into an absurdity with the assumption that invoking a cause more complex than the effect it is invoked to explain is somehow problematic. This is extraordinarily ignorant. A mind is more complex than the chocolate cake baking in the oven, but the operations of a mind is surely the best explanation of the cake.)

But Dawkins goes one better. Not only is he ignorant of the content and methods of philosophical theology, but in the introduction to the paperback edition of The God Delusion he proudly places that ignorance on display by deriding philosophical theology as “fairyology”.

So there we have three token apologists for atheism who make the most rudimentary blunders in philosophical theology. Now Hallquist’s method kicks in. Based on this evidence, and the evidence that this ignorance is more widespread, we can conclude that atheistic apologists are generally ignorant and/or dishonest.

However, this is one of the many points where I have to part ways with Hallquist. Unlike him, I don’t think it is helpful to look for the quickest justification to marginalize entire groups of people. Instead, I choose to interact with individuals as individuals, and to point out ignorance, bad argument, and questionable principle as it comes whether the source is a Christian apologist, an atheistic apologist, or anybody else.

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

    Disclaimer: I haven’t been following your ongoing exchange with Chris Hallquist closely.

    If your post is an accurate summary of the exchange with Hallquist–and I have no reason to doubt that it is–then my technical judgment of this exchange can be summed up in one word: “ouch.” With all due respect to Christ, your post seems to be a very solid critique.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Jeff, I’m surprised you could say that. Randal’s analogy between me, Keith Parsons, and Dawkins on the one hand, and McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga on the other is a pretty poor one. I certainly don’t have the stature in the atheist community that McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga have in the atheist community, and it would be a stretch to claim that Parsons does.

      (And yes, stature is relevant here, because

      But Randal also leaves out a key section of my latest post:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2013/06/the-ignorance-and-dishonesty-of-christian-apologetics-part-1-anti-evolutionism/

      where I multiply examples to include Dembski, Wells, Strobel, Geisler, and Habermas. As I say at the end of the post, we’re no longer talking about just three people, we’re talking about a rough equivalent of the atheist line-up of Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman, William Rowe, Paul Draper, Keith Parsons, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and PZ Myers.

      If all those atheists were as ignorant as Randal claims I am (which he’s wrong about, as I explain in another comment in this thread, but if they were), would you have a problem with people complaining about atheist ignorance?

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

        I certainly could have drawn similar examples from Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others.

        But I thought you’d be flattered to be placed alongside Richard Dawkins.

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

        I don’t have a dog in this fight, so if my earliest comment was wrong, I am more than happy to admit it.

        Thinking out loud, here is what I propose.

        (a) Come up with some generic criteria, method, or approach for justifying the claim that a person (any person) is “ignorant or dishonest” about subject S.

        (b) Apply that generic criteria to McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga on the theistic side.

        (c) Justify a statistical generalization about theistic apologists.

        (d) Apply that to Hallquist, Parsons, and Dawkins on the atheistic side.

        (e) Justify a statistical generalization about atheistic apologists.

        So let’s start with (a). Here’s my proposal.

        (1) Person P sincerely made statement S about topic T.

        (2) S is false.

        (3) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statement S without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T.

        (4) Therefore, person P is dishonest or ignorant about topic T.

        The key point about premise (1) is the word “sincere.” That eliminates sarcasm, hypotheticals, etc. (2) is straightforward. If S is true, then the fact that person P said S can hardly be used to justify the claim that P is dishonest or ignorant about T. (3) also seems straightforward — we need premise (3) to eliminate the possibility that S is something about which competent authorities may disagree. Finally, (4) follows if (1), (2), and (3) are true.

        Let’s now move onto (b). This would look like this.

        (1) Josh McDowell sincerely made statement S1-Sn about topics T1-Tn.

        (2) S1-Sn are false.

        (3) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statements S1-Sn without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T1-Tn.

        (4) Therefore, Josh McDowell is dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

        Similar arguments would be needed for WLC and AP.

        Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that all of those arguments work: JM, WLC, and AP are all “dishonest or ignorant” about one or more topics they’ve addressed. That brings us to (c). How would we justify the move from (b) to (c). The only logically correct answer would be to justify a very specific kind of premise known as a “statistical generalization.” The general form of a statistical generalization looks like this.

        Z percent of F are G.

        So, presumably, what Chris wants is to justify the following statistical generalization.

        (CHG) Most Christian apologists are dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

        That Chris is committed to CHG seems plausible, since in his original “Why They Don’t Believe” post, Chris wrote:

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

        In my opinion, if Chris can justify the claim that JM and WLC are “dishonest or ignorant” about topics T1-Tn, that would go a long way towards justifying the statistical generalization I’ve dubbed CHG. This is because JM and WLC are representative of Christian apologists. (For reasons I won’t defend here, I don’t classify AP primarily as a Christian apologist.)

        (to be continued…)

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

          Whew! Well done.

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

        (continuing my last comment)

        So let’s turn to (d):apply the generic criteria for demonstrating dishonesty and ignorance to Hallquist, Parsons, and Dawkins.

        Randal Rauser would need to defend an argument like this.

        (5) Chris Hallquist sincerely made statement S1-Sn about topics T1-Tn.

        (6) S1-Sn are false.

        (7) There is no way that someone could sincerely make statements S1-Sn without being dishonest or ignorant about topic T1-Tn.

        (8) Therefore, Chris Hallquist is dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

        Randal would need to defend the same kind of argument concerning Keith Parsons and Richard Dawkins. Randal would surely say that he has defended such arguments.

        Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that all of those arguments work: CH, KP, and RD are all “dishonest or ignorant” about one or more topics they’ve addressed. That brings us to (e). How would we justify the move from (d) to (e). Again, the only logically correct answer would be to justify a very specific kind of premise known as a “statistical generalization.” The general form of a statistical generalization looks like this.

        Z percent of F are G.

        So, presumably, what Randal wants is to justify the following statistical generalization.

        (RRG) Most atheist apologists are dishonest or ignorant about topics T1-Tn.

        Similar to what I wrote in my last comment about (CHG), the crucial issue here is whether Randal can justify generalization about “atheist apologists” on the basis of conclusions about individual apologists, such as CH, KP, and RD. (I am assuming, but only for the sake of argument, that CH, KP, and RD are primarily classified as atheist apologists.)

        (to be continued…)

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

        (continuing my last comment)

        Chris protests that Randal’s inference to (RRG), for reductio, is unwarranted. He writes:

        I certainly don’t have the stature in the atheist community that McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga have in the atheist [sic] community, and it would be a stretch to claim that Parsons does.

        (And yes, stature is relevant here, because

        Unfortunately, it looks like Chris’s comment about the relevance of stature got cut off. But I think I can see where he is headed. Stature is relevant insofar as it is an indicator of whether an apologist is representative of the apologetics community to which they belong. And McDowell and Craig are surely representative of Christian apologists in the relevant respects.

        But what about “atheist apologists? Are CH, KP, and RD representative of atheist apologists in general? (Again, I am assuming, but only for the sake of argument, that CH, KP, and RD can be primarily categorized as atheist apologists). Chris is correct that both he and KP do not have the analogous degree of stature among atheists which JM and WLC enjoy among Christians. But, by itself, that doesn’t defeat (RRG). So I don’t see how Chris’s point about stature does anything to avoid the force of Randal’s reductio.

        In my opinion, the best route for Chris to take is to deny the truth of RRG by showing it is either unjustified or by providing independent evidence that it’s false. Of course, in doing so, my prediction is that he will directly or indirectly undermine his own generalization (CHG). So Randal’s reductio will still have bite.

        (As an aside, this is exactly why I avoid debates about whether other people are rational, irrational, dishonest, ignorant, etc. In general, it seems to me that such claims are very difficult to defend and, much more important, they are a distraction from the core question of whether their beliefs are true.)

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

          Your aside deserves more emphasis, for there is an important life lesson here. So let me repeat:

          “(As an aside, this is exactly why I avoid debates about whether other people are rational, irrational, dishonest, ignorant, etc. In general, it seems to me that such claims are very difficult to defend and, much more important, they are a distraction from the core question of whether their beliefs are true.)”

  • Tim

    I love this blog.

  • Ray

    Do you think Richard Swinburne is ignorant or dishonest? He believes almost exactly the same thing as Hallq and Parsons about the necessary being/ brute fact thing.

    I can’t come up with a Theist off the top of my head who denies divine simplicity, but Anthony Kenny, who is unambiguously an expert in medieval philosophy, has publicly stated that he believes divine simplicity to be incompatible with the other attributes of the Christian God. In any event, Dawkins gives reasons why attributing “intelligence” or the ability to “design” the Universe we see, compels one to see God as complex. If the Theists want to independently assert that God is simple, perhaps Kenny is correct that they have contradicted themselves.

    In summary, the claims you call ignorant are of a different kind than those Chris Calls ignorant. The only evidence you give for thinking the atheistic claims are wrong is that Theists commonly assert the opposite. But, if common Theist definitions of God are self-contradictory, then the atheist may be correct to infer something a Theist would deny from other claims that the Theist is committed to. Theist definitions of God have not been shown to be non-contradictory — and I consider it very plausible that such definitions cannot be made non-contradictory, without either doing violence to the common meanings of terms like “brute fact,” “simplicity,” and “intelligence,” or abandoning claims like divine necessity and simplicity. On the other hand theists who deny transitional fossils, or who don’t hold to the standard interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics are not merely contradicting standard atheist assertions, they are denying scientifically established facts.

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

      “Do you think Richard Swinburne is ignorant or dishonest? He believes almost exactly the same thing as Hallq and Parsons about the necessary being/ brute fact thing.”

      Ray, where did you get that idea? Read Swinburne, “The Coherence of Theism”, ch. 14, “A necessary being.”

      • Tim

        Randal,

        Cut Ray some slack. Evidently, he felt compelled to say something and that’s all he had at the moment.

      • Ray

        I base my claim the interview with Swinburne in Jim Holt’s “Why Does the world exist” and the following sentence from Swinburne’s wikipedia page: “While Swinburne presents many arguments to advance the belief that God exists, he argues that God is a being whose existence is not logically necessary (see modal logic), but metaphysically necessary in a way he defines in his The Christian God.”

        I’ll grant you Swinburne does assert “metaphysical necessity” for God, but I think it really does violence to the term “brute fact” to claim “brute fact” doesn’t apply here.

        Wikipedia, (following John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (1997) p. 211) defines “brute fact” as “something that cannot be explained.” Jim Holt on page 106 quotes Swinburne as saying

        part of me wants to know, wants some guarantee that there couldn’t not be a God. But I understand that it’s not logically possible to explain everything. You can explain A by B, B by C, and C by D, but in the end all you can do is find the simplest hypothesis that explains as much as possible of reality. That’s where explanation has to stop. And that intellectual stopping point, I claim, is God. As to why God exists, I can’t answer that question. I can’t answer that question.

        It sure sounds like Swinburne is denying that the existence of God can be explained. That makes God’s existence, at least according to one common definition, a brute fact.

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

          Ray thanks for following up. That’s helpful to see where you’re coming from.

          “It sure sounds like Swinburne is denying that the existence of God can be explained. That makes God’s existence, at least according to one common definition, a brute fact.”

          Sure one can refer to the existence of necessary entities as brute facts in the sense that there is nothing beyond the entities themselves by which one can explain their existence. But that’s not the point at issue here. Appealing to a necessary agent is appeal to an entity that exists in every possible world and this provides an answer for contingent entities that exist in the actual world which is not provided by direct appeal to those contingent entities themselves. Thus it is an equivocation to suggest that each side appeals to “brute fact”.

          • Ray

            Appealing to a necessary agent is appeal to an entity that exists in
            every possible world and this provides an answer for contingent entities that exist in the actual world which is not provided by direct appeal to those contingent entities themselves. Thus it is an equivocation to suggest that each side appeals to “brute fact”.

            Not really. Assertions of metaphysical necessity are cheap. It’s trivial to show that any theory with metaphysically contingent brute facts can be transformed into one with metaphysically necessary brute facts, merely by defining “metaphysical possibility” in such a way that those logically possible worlds in which the brute facts do not hold, are not metaphysically possible. If the S5 axioms held for the old definition of metaphysical possibility, they still hold for the new one.

            My guess is that Swinburne justifies the claim that it is more reasonably to consider God metaphysically necessary than any other brute fact by way of divine simplicity, but again, if Kenny is right, that move requires self contradiction.

            In any event, I think we’ve pretty well established that the claims your Atheists make are not as indefensible as the claims Hallq cited re transitional fossils and the second law of thermodynamics.

    • Kerk

      “Theist definitions of God have not been shown to be non-contradictory” – Neither have they been shown to be contradictory. Or else I’m missing something.

      • Ray

        Kerk. You are missing something: the larger context of the discussion. Randal claims in the OP to have found ignorant/dishonest claims in the works of certain Atheist “apologists.” I point out that in order for Randal’s argument to work, he needs to rule out the possibility that standard Theist definitions of God have mutually contradictory implications (e.g. complexity and simplicity. Brute fact and logical necessity.) Without that demonstration, the mere fact that classical theism asserts one contrary is no argument against the claim that classical theism or Christianity in general implies the other.

        In contrast, Randal’s argument fails even if the Atheist cannot produce a rigorous proof that all Orthodox forms of Christianity make contradictory claims. If the best Randal can do is reach a stalemate where neither can prove the other’s claims wrong, he has not demonstrated that the Atheists in question have made claims so absurd that they can only be attributed to ignorance or dishonesty.

        • Kerk

          That doesn’t worry me. I was just wondering what part of traditional definitions of God may be classified as contradictory, since it “has never been shown to be non-contradictory.”

          • Ray

            So I listed two examples:

            1) Divine simplicity, seems to contradict pretty much everything else anyone has ever asserted about the Christian God.

            2) Any non-trivial notion of God’s supposed ontological necessity seems to contradict the fact that logically consistent ontologies, not including God, have been formulated. (The simplest example being the null world described by Jim Holt on page 59 of “Why Does The World Exist?”)

            I hasten to add that I don’t think either of these contradictions can be rigorously proved, but this is only because the theist can always retreat by saying “I didn’t mean that” with regard to a term like “necessity” or “simplicity.” So for example, the Theist may say, “when I assert that God is ‘simple’ it doesn’t mean I have a brief, complete description of God from which I can derive all true statements about God with machine-verifiable rigor.” * Fine, but the weakened notion is no longer useful for theory choice — if I could take a supposed explanation for something and declare it simple without doing all the work I allude to above, I could just overfit a curve, declare the resulting monster polynomial to be a description of an “ontologically simple” function, and then get a perfect fit the next time with “no free parameters.” Needless to say, this standard of simplicity would destroy science. Thus I believe Dawkins would be correct in asserting that “simple explanations are to be preferred” is only a valid epistemological principle if simplicity is meant in something closer to the scientist’s sense than the theologian’s sense, and therefore he is correct to ignore the Theist assertion of “divine simplicity” as irrelevant to his argument.

            *If you doubt my standard of simplicity is hard for the theist to meet, note that, on Theism, “God created a universe obeying physics whose low energy limit is the standard model of particle physics” is a true statement about God. In other words, in order to verify that you have completely described God, you need not only derive the apostolic creed from your brief description, but also all of physics. Needless to say, “that than which nothing greater can be concieved” ain’t gonna do the trick.

            As a side note, if you don’t like Swinburne as a theist philosopher who accepts the triviality of “divine necessity,” Al Ghazali is much more explicit about it, in his “incoherence of the philosophers,” and I (and the vast majority of Muslim philosophers, I think) agree with him on this point.

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

          “he needs to rule out the possibility that standard Theist definitions of God have mutually contradictory implications”

          Chris and Keith Parsons aren’t raising any objection to the coherence of a metaphysically necessary being. Nor is Richard Dawkins raising a high level critique to the concept of simplicity.

          What do you think the chances are that Dawkins is familiar with Christopher Hughes, “On a complex theory of a simple God”, particularly based on the fact that according to Dawkins this is all “fairyology”?

          • Ray

            “Chris and Keith Parsons aren’t raising any objection to the coherence of
            a metaphysically necessary being. Nor is Richard Dawkins raising a high
            level critique to the concept of simplicity.”

            I don’t see why that’s relevant. Chris and Keith never claim to be talking about metaphysical necessity in the first place, and Dawkins writes about “complexity” and “simplicity” not “ontological complexity” and “ontological simplicity.” In context, it is far more plausible that Dawkins is talking about the scientist’s notion of simplicity/complexity, not the theologian’s, in which case he’s absolutely right in his assertions, or at least in very good company. Likewise, it is far more likely Parsons meant “brute fact” in the wikipedia sense, rather than in the sense “metaphysically contingent according to Christian metaphysical assumptions.”

            As far as whether Dawkins has read Hughes. Again, that is irrelevant. The claim you are trying to make is that Dawkins is demonstrably wrong, not that he hasn’t considered every possible objection to his position. Unless Hughes paper is both uncontroversially correct and uncontroversially relevant to Dawkins’s position it is insufficient justification for the point you are trying to make.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

    I won’t try to speak for Parsons or Dawkins here. As for my own alleged ignorance:

    …it certainly implies that there is some problem conceptually with the notion of agent causation apart from dualism and incompatibilism.

    I wouldn’t say that, exactly. But treating agent causation as something wholly apart from event causation, so that you can rule out ordinary physical events and arrive at “an agent did it,” no I don’t think that makes any sense outside dualism.

    There are at least three problems in these two paragraphs, but I’ll focus on the most glaring. Chris says that God is “a pseudo-explanation” because the theist “offers no explanation of what caused the mysterious all-powerful creator.” Really? Chris is supposed to have a background in philosophy and he offers the “What caused God?” retort?

    This is false. Nowhere in my review do I make claim you attribute to me.

    Rather, the point is that the claim you falsely attribute to me would be just as justified as the claim you make in the book. And you give no argument to the contrary, either in the book or in this post.

    I am perfectly aware that theists have tried to give such arguments, but I don’t think any of them are any good. And I didn’t think it was necessary to get into that in my review, because I was commenting on the version of the argument that appeared in God or Godless, not some other version of the argument.

    (These points are in addition to the fact that accusing someone of ignorance over their philosophical opinions itself suggests ignorance of the fact that philosophers hardly ever agree on anything.)

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

      “I wouldn’t say that, exactly.”

      You wouldn’t say exactly what you exactly wrote? Are you now revising your earlier statement?

      “But treating agent causation as something wholly apart from event causation,”

      I don’t know what you mean by “wholly apart”. These are two distinct types of causation and your suggestion that a non-dualist cannot maintain this distinction is false and bizarrely so.

      “Nowhere in my review do I make claim you attribute to me.”

      Yes you do. You wrote:

      “I could just as well complain that Randal offers no explanation of what caused this mysterious all-powerful creator.”

      So you’re complaint is that I fail to explain what caused an uncaused being. That is the “What caused God?” retort.

    • Tim

      “These points are in addition to the fact that accusing someone of ignorance over their philosophical opinions itself suggests ignorance of the fact that philosophers hardly ever agree on anything.”

      Huh?! Talk about a non sequitur.

      Chris, now that you’ve acquired a college level vocabulary it’s time to work on your critical thinking skillz.

  • cyngus

    Part of being atheistic apologist is to deal with religious ignorance AND look like an ignorant vis-a-vis to theistic apologist research.

    Most of theological research is trying to figure out new terminology to explain why the bible writers were not ignorant. There is no way somebody cannot be called ignorant by theistic apologists, unless one has faith in theology, then the “ignorance” disappear. Atheistic apologist can be ignorant in religious matters, but to be a theistic apologist is exercise in futility. Beside making money from the ignorance of the faithful, what else “GOD exists” is good for?

    Theistic apologists cannot use Philosophy or Science as sources for Theology, for Science and Philosophy don’t ask for converts for a God, god or GOD. Atheists do not use Science or Philosophy to show that god does not exist, atheists use the findings of Science and Philosophy to sustain their religious disbelief. Philosophy even works with the “god” and “God” items, but not for proselytism purpose.

  • Kerk

    Randal, can maybe ban someone already? Please? That guy just ruins the atmosphere.

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

      Who?

      • Kerk

        cyngus. obvious troll.

    • cyngus

      C’mon Kerk, what atmosphere would that be? A religious one?

      You want to have only “yes man” type of people here?

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    The whole endeavor of classical theism is a farce. You cannot learn anything about the world through a priori “truths”. Causal arguments, for example, take empirical observations (e.g., “things we observe within our immediate frame of reference in the physical universe are subject to laws of causality”) and then cantilever them into realms in which they are either untested and/or untestable.

    In other words, it’s taking an empirical observation and then elevating it to the stature of an immutable truth – e.g., that causality must apply to all things that begin to exist in all conceivable circumstances. But that is an empirical claim, and an unsubstantiated one at that.

    I would argue that quantum mechanics has undone a great many classical assumptions about the ubiquity and applicability of logical “laws” and a priori “truths”. What philosopher could have inferred the behavior of photons in the double-slit experiment through reason alone? What philosopher could have used classical logic and a priori “truths” to describe nuclear decay, virtual particles, quantum entanglement, or quantum nonlocality? None of these phenomena conform to classical notions of causation, motion, actuality/potentiality, etc.

    But even without the knowledge of quantum mechanics, we can still reject classical theism on its face with the most simple retort to premises like “everything that begins to exist has a cause to its existence”: maybe not. Even if it were true that all things in our immediate observable reality obey such a rule, it doesn’t follow that we are justified in assuming that such rules apply in unobserved realms or to the universe itself.

    We could even go a step further – all notions of causality, including the antiquated “Four Causes” of Aristotle, have been inferred from empirical observation of the physical universe. It’s therefore nonsensical to talk about causality applying to the universe, because it relies upon the notion that this empirically observed phenomenon is not constrained by the physical laws we use to define it in the first place. What is causality without time, space, matter or energy?

    This is why theologians have been in the back seat as science unravels more and more mysteries about the universe. While theologians are sitting in leather-bound chairs talking about a priori “truths”, scientists are busy actually going out and looking at the world.

    That’s why I sympathize with Chris; it is impossible to have a rational discussion with you, or any other theist for that matter, about God. But that’s not because you’re an irrational person in general; it’s because in principle you cannot use arguments that rely on a priori “truths” to establish the existence of God, and so unless you have empirical evidence of God then you’re not dealing with something that can be reasoned about in the first place.

    • Jake

      You seem to be confused “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” cannot be both a priori and empirically derived. It’s either one or the other. WLC argues that we empirically observe causes to every events and observed no uncaused events, therefore…

      What are a priori claims are things like “You cannot learn anything about the world through a priori “truths” or “unless you have empirical evidence of God then you’re not dealing with something that can be reasoned about in the first place.”

      So if we can’t learn anything from a priori truths, then thanks for nothing, I guess.

      • Kerk

        Haha! spot on! I told him the same thing a month ago. You just can’t make sense out of any truth-making claim if you deny that we can know some truths a priori. That’s a self-defeating position. If a sceptic says, “I know nothing,” it means he knows at least one thing.

        • cyngus

          “I know nothing” is just the first step of using your capacity of knowing. Yea, at least one thing you know is that you have that capacity to know.

          The next step of theists, when they “know nothing” is to have faith, as if it helps to know something.

        • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

          You’re conflating provisional assumptions with a priori “truth”. The difference is that the former can be wrong, while the latter must be true. It may not be the case that I exist, or that my sensory experience is generally trustworthy – making all knowledge illusory.

          However, we’ve been able to formulate a reliable understanding of an external reality by using such provisional assumptions as a starting point to further inquiry. The whole notion of a priori “knowledge” is a farce. We have only provisional assumptions based upon our experience, and these assumptions may be reliable or not.

          • Kerk

            We’ve been through this. I’m not conflating anything. You do not build your system of beliefs on assumptions, you build it on knowledge. I say the knowledge of efficient-final causality is embedded in our minds by nature, and we know it a priori. But even if it was an empirical knowledge, it’s still strong inductive inference.

            • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

              You do not build your system of beliefs on assumptions, you build it on knowledge

              Not only is that wrong, but it’s an assumption! How can you KNOW that you exist? Y’know, the old “how do you know you’re not the dream of an elephant?” question. How do you KNOW that you’re not in a Matrix-like simulation? That you weren’t created moments ago with simply the illusion of memory? Well, you don’t! You CAN’T! But you make the assumption that such proposition aren’t true, because a) there’s no evidence they’re true, and b) because you’ve been able to form a reliable model of reality without them.

              I say the knowledge of efficient-final causality is embedded in our minds by nature, and we know it a priori.

              You’re just begging the question. You might as well say, “I know what I know because I know it, and that’s because I know it”. You’ve effectively ended any possibility of discussion by constructing a question-begging argument that you assert as an infallible proposition.

              • Kerk

                You still don’t see that your “All is assumption” mantra is self-refuting. You cannot claim that some assumptions are better than others, basing them on assumptions. That’s a vicious circle.

                I know stuff, and that’s it. You claim that I don’t? PROVE IT! “What ifs” are not good enough.

                • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

                  I don’t claim that. Assumptions are a starting point for investigating our external, empirical reality. Assumptions that prove unreliable or superfluous can be discarded.

                  I know stuff, and that’s it. You claim that I don’t? PROVE IT! “What ifs” are not good enough.

                  Once again you’re just begging the question. It’s not my burden to disprove claims that cannot be independently verified. That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

                  • Kerk

                    Ah, that’s better. Sure looked like you were claiming. Welp, a lot of people would disagree with you about reasons to believe in knowledge, as general skepticism is a minority position. So, at the end of the day all you can do is say, “I’m not convinced.” Let’s leave it at that.

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        Uh, no.

        Firstly, the claim “whatever begins to exist has a cause” is an empirical claim. This is arrived at by two steps:

        1. Observe things around you coming into existence with a cause.

        2. Infer that this is a law of causality that applies to all things in all circumstances, even in the absence of all physical reality.

        The first is a posteriori, but the second is a priori. We have not observed all things in all conceivable circumstances coming into existence without a cause – especially if we imagine the universe not existing at all, and the laws of causality still somehow applying.

        Are my own statements a priori? Hardly. They are provisional assumptions that are derived from our best understanding of epistemology – the reliability of which is gauged through empirical analysis of our external reality.

        • Jake

          No, the a prior truth is that inductive reasoning works. Observed phenomena can be expected to occur again in similar situations. As with any inductive conclusion, it’s probably, not certain.

          But as you’ve said, “You cannot learn anything about the world through a priori “truths””, so I suppose you reject inductive reasoning? It clearly is self-defeating.

          • TristanVick

            No, inductive reasoning works some of the time. This is true. It doesn’t always work.

            Mike’s observation is not wrong. We typically observe things coming into existence *with a cause. It begs the question, because we have to ask what caused the universe to exist–according to this reasoning–and if God, then what caused God to exist?

            But our intuitions are often inadequate to guess at the subtleties of the universe, let alone the laws of physics. The first cause argument is impotent because quantum mechanics has shown how things can pop into existence without causes. Not all things, then, require *causes to come into existence.

            The question modern cosmologists and particle physicists ask is, why not the universe? And thus far, much of the evidence seems to suggest existence minus causes (at least that’s how it appears for the moment).

            This is why using syllogisms to logically deduce things isn’t always the best way to think about the world. Often times the real world proves counter intuitive to our inductive reasoning.

            • Jake

              “No, inductive reasoning works some of the time. This is true. It doesn’t always work.”

              Not sure exactly what you mean. If you mean that inductive reasoning only gives you probable conclusions and not certain conclusions, I already said that. If you mean that it doesn’t work if you’re trying to apply past observations to speculate on non-similar events, well I said this too. So, not sure what you’re saying.

              So if you don’t like the first premise to the Kalam argument, then you have to show that the past observations are for dissimilar phenomena or that there are observations to the contrary. You seem to be trying to do the latter in bringing up particles appearing in the energy rich quantum field. Then Craig would rebut with the former that you’re trying to compare a particle somehow emerging within a energy field as uncaused.

              I’m not qualified to argue quantum physics (even at this elementary level!), but i don’t think I need to. All I’m saying is there’s nothing wrong with the methods of logic. You have not shown inductive reasoning to be faulty. And you actually are using deductive and inductive reasoning to make your point! Just like aunicornist was.

              • TristanVick

                I merely meant inductive reasoning to work all of the time requires uniformity.

                There are examples, such as Goodman’s paradox, in which inductive reasoning alone cannot solve a problem due to the problem of induction when variance in uniformity arises thereby leading to a preference which will, often times, give us the wrong conclusion.

                So although logic works, most of the time, there are problems with its application in certain instances, and therefore is not always 100% reliable. It’s more of a good check and balance system of coherence.

    • Tim

      “I would argue that quantum mechanics has undone a great many classical assumptions about the ubiquity and applicability of logical ‘laws’ and a priori ‘truths’.”

      And you would argue in vain since we don’t know the correct interpretation of QM (i.e., what the theory is telling us about reality).

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        That’s irrelevant. What we know is what methodology is useful in describing and predicting the behavior of quantum mechanics, and classical logic is simply nonsensical at the quantum scale.

        • Tim

          This is an overstatement. What we know are some of the mathematical regularities of the quantum world (i.e., QM), which otherwise remains deeply mysterious to us and continues to defy explanation.

          • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

            Interpretations of QM having nothing to do with classical logic. They don’t change the fact that quantum behavior is probabilistic and determinate, and cannot be accurately describe using classical logic.

            And why should we expect it to? Classical logic is a framework for understanding the world around us, not a means for inferring immutable truths. At scales at which we cannot intuit (the quantum-small and the black-hole-big), why should we expect our intuitions to tell us anything reliable or valid?

    • Tim

      “You cannot learn anything about the world through a priori ‘truths’.”

      Apparently Mike D’s world has no room for mathematics.

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        Ha! I saw that coming a mile away. Two problems:

        1. Mathematics is based on set theory, which is derived empirically – from our observation of discrete objects that can be grouped into sets. No a priori “truths” required.

        2. Higher mathematical concepts (such as proofs) can only tell us the consequences of axioms. They cannot tell us which axioms actually correspond to reality. To do that, we have use observation and experiment – y’know, a posteriori knowledge.

        Ask yourself: why do physicists do experiments? If mathematical axioms alone could tell us about the external world, then why did anyone ever expect Einstein to prove his theories of relativity with empirical observation and experiment? Why don’t modern physicists simply sit around doing math, instead of building $10 billion particle colliders?

        • Tim

          Mike D,

          Wrong. The axioms of modern set theory were not discovered empirically but discerned intuitively (e.g., the axioms of infinity, replacement, and regularity).

          “If mathematical axioms alone could tell us about the external world,
          then why did anyone ever expect Einstein to prove his theories of
          relativity with empirical observation and experiment?”

          Because mathematics gives us knowledge of the world of abstract truths and not the physical world.

          • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

            No, they weren’t. How could axioms be discerned independently of experience? If you spent your whole life in some sort of sensory-deprivation vat, having no referent in an external empirical reality, do you still think you could intuit mathematical axioms? If so, how? And how do you know if an abstraction is a truth without a physical referent?

  • Nox

    It is a good idea to try to understand a statement before you try to criticize it (and really helpful to understand it before you start trying to add implications). You still don’t appear to quite understand what Hallquist was saying or what the basis for his statement was.

  • TristanVick

    Honestly, I didn’t read more than a couple of paragraphs.

    But as an atheist, I don’t think all apologists are ignorant or dishonest.

    I think they do happen to be great rationalizers, however.

    I have recently written an article at how to recognize when rationalizations become self-deceptions.

    Perhaps it is more accurate to say apologists have, in many cases, simply deceived themselves by being too good at rationalizing!

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

      Do you have evidence that Christian apologists are better “rationalizers” than atheological apologists?

      Or is this just a matter of vague impressions being justified when they suit my position?

      • TristanVick

        I didn’t say they were better at it.

        All humans will rationalize when their beliefs are challenged. What it comes down to is the capacity to correct erroneous beliefs when they’re shown invalid or else unfalsifiable.

        Reliabilism provides a good method for getting around our psychological hang ups with regard to changing our minds and improving our critical thinking skills.

        My claim would be this: Apologists are on average great rationalizers, but poor critical thinkers.

        And yes, I think there is abundant evidence that atheists (not atheologists, mind you) do on average exercise better critical thinking skills.

        Not always, of course, but in my experience, most of the time.

        I think this may be due to the fact that many atheist come out of religion, and so are highly aware of their own beliefs, and so are more self-critical and reflective for this reason. The fact that so many atheists desire to improve their critical thinking and so many apologists simply continue to rationalize uncritically is just a side effect of different ways in which we go about responding to how our beliefs are challenged.

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  • eric

    So let’s concede that many Christian apologists have made claims about evolution that revealed their ignorance of aspects of the field. Does this provide evidence that Christian apologists are generally ignorant and/or dishonest simpliciter? Of course it doesn’t.

    Many of the top Chrisian apologists – as identified by the creationist community themselves – are revealing their ignorance in aspects of the field in which they claim to have expertise. When it comes to probabilistic theory and understanding the concept of entropy, Dembki is your Babe Ruth. It is very difficult to belive that he cold be getting the math so badly wrong, and if he is and you know he is, it is incomprehensible why the creationist community would continue to tout him as an expert in this area. “Billy’s not really a very good batter…we just refer to him as our best batter in practically every public announcement our team makes.” How does that work? Why would you, as a team, behave that way?

    Having said all that, I was never enamoured of Chris’ generalization so I’m not going to go to the mat (any more) for it. I’m perfectly happy to hear an apologist like you admit that Plantinga and Dembski are ignorant in aspects of the field, and leave that statement to speak for itself:
    We agree that Plantinnga and Dembski are ignorant in aspects of intelligent design creationism, such as the fossil record (P) and how the laws of thermodynamics work (D). Is that correct?

  • UWIR

    “A mind is more complex than the chocolate cake baking in the oven, but the operations of a mind is surely the best explanation of the cake.”

    What utter nonsense. If I see a cake, I know a mind exists, not because there is a cake, but because if no mind existed, then I could not be aware of the cake. It is utterly impossible for “there exists a cake” to be the entirety of knowledge that we have about the universe. Thus, “the best explanation of the cake” refers either to a logically incoherent circumstance in which a rational thinker knows that the cake exists, but does not know that any rational thinkers exists, OR to a circumstance in which a rational thinker, upon knowing that there is a cake, and that there is at least one mind, proposes that another mind is responsible for the cake. And the “two minds” hypothesis isn’t really much more complicated than the “one mind” one. And all of this ignores the blatant fact that Rauser (almost certainly) already, prior to seeing a cake, believed that multiple other mind exist, and they frequently bake cakes. The additional hypothesis, that one of the other minds that has already been established as existing is responsible for this particular cake, is quite lower in complexity than the cake.

  • Alejandro Rodríguez

    I think I shouldn’t be prideful, what with that being against by views of Christian morals and virtues, but I resolved the problem of infinite regression since I was 10. Basically, it is logically impossible for an infinite regression to exist, so it has to stop somewhere, which is why you can’t have a line of gods creating infinitely. Also, the same can be applied to the universe too. What created the universe, and what created that thing, and so on and so on. It really is one of the most simple atheist arguments to refute, so I simply don’t understand why people still use it.