Jonathan Pearce offers a reply to my reply to his review (this is getting complicated) here. So let this current article be my reply to his reply to my reply to his review.
“The rebuttal [of each debate] was too short. Although this sounds like a contradiction since I admire its brevity…”
It’s not a contradiction. I admire a monk who can transcribe a haiku on a grain of rice even though I would prefer a larger text for my personal library. Similarly, Jonathan can admire our brevity while wishing the summaries had been longer. I wanted to take a moment to make this point because it is the last point on which I will be able to offer agreement with Jonathan.
“I didn’t really enter into notions of burden of proof since it seems clear to me that, in a debate book, that falls upon both people in order to establish their arguments. I’m not sure his point here is warranted or well made. My broader point was that if Randal is to assert arguments which appear to predicate upon the ontological argument, then he needs to establish that in some way. He didn’t.”
Jonathan says he’s not sure my point is “warranted or well made”. If he’s not sure I wish he’d get sure (one way or the other) and then explain why he disagrees (if his assurance amounts to disagreement).
As for Jonathan’s claim that I predicate arguments on the ontological argument, I really have no idea what he is referring to. Perhaps he could explain himself by providing textual evidence that I appeal to the ontological argument as substructure for other derivative arguments, because this is news to me.
Now back to Jonathan:
“No, my point was that John was approaching the issues evidentially (empirically) and Rauser seems to have taken very much a rationalist approach. Now, there is nothing wrong with throwing this philosophical argument into the mix, but again it comes down to establishing the OA. John is well within his rights to look at the biblical evidence and find it wonting.”
Hmm, so when Jonathan says John appeals to evidence, he in fact means John appeals to empirically derived evidence. Too bad he didn’t say that at the outset to avoid confusion. It sounds like Jonathan is working from the post-Hegelian breakdown of pre-Kantian philosophy as consisting of empiricist and rationalist schools. However, that helpful typology has been widely abandoned. To take one example, while Locke is often taken to be the poster-child for empiricism, his philosophy was also highly rationalistic. And my point on theory-laden interpretation is completely apposite here. John isn’t neutrally acquiring empirical data to ground his argument. Rather, he’s selectively collecting and interpreting evidence from the world based on certain axiomatic starting points. And I appeal to evidence from the world as surely as I appeal to intuitive axiomatic starting points. So Jonathan’s division of John and I into empiricist and rationalist camps dissolves as surely as it did for the pre-Kantians.
“I do not deny that we all have baggage. But one should establish that baggage. I don’t think the burden of proof is on John to disprove the OA, and thus disprove God. So he should and does approach the arguments and the Bible using his Outsider Test For Faith (OTF) approach. Again, we get back to this idea that no matter what evidence John produces, Randal can wave it away using the notion, unproved, that God is necessary, and that the evidence MUST fit with the logic (unproven).”
Once again, it appears Jonathan is confused because here he equates “ontological argument (OA)” with “the notion, unproved, that God is necessary”. This is confused on two counts. First, the ontological argument isn’t simply an ungrounded assertion, or as Jonathan says, “the notion, unproved”. Rather, it is an a priori argument which aims to demonstrate that if it is possible that God exists then God must exist. Second, the argument isn’t simply “that God is necessary”. Rather, it is an argument that proposes it is possible that a being with the maximal set of compossible great-making properties exists, and since necessary existence would be part of that set of properties, if this being possibly exists then he necessarily exists. Jonathan’s reconstruction of arguments is surprisingly sloppy and careless.
Moreover, note how Jonathan asserts that if I did present an ontological argument for God’s existence, John Loftus would not have a burden of proof to defeat the argument. Did you get that? In a book where two parties are debating whether God exists, Jonathan asserts that the atheist is not obliged to rebut the theist’s argument for God’s existence. Well isn’t that convenient!
Jonathan continues his confused and unreliable reconstruction of the book:
“What this does, from Randal’s position, is assert God as ontologically necessary, and then massage the evidence, or appeal to ignorance, in order to make the evidence fit to the asserted God.
“On the other hand, John, using the OTF, approaches the J-C God as he would any other god-claim of the world – with a warranted skepticism. Even given the OA’s conclusion, John is critiquing the J-C God. The OA makes no claims on what a maximal God would actually do and how it would manifest itself and communicate, past asserting that whatever it does, it does it maximally.”
I won’t bother responding to this except to say that Jonathan still seems to be equating “ontological argument” with the bare assertion that God necessarily exists. Or perhaps he’s objecting to the fact that the concept of God is of a being that exists necessarily. If that’s his objection then he apparently doesn’t even understand the most basic rudiments of what the term “God” means in academic discourse.
I point out that while Loftus invokes the rhetoric of belief on probabilities, he never justifies it by establishing any probabilities. This is how Jonathan replies:
“Well, we could look at prior probabilities of the God claim as being true based on all the other god claims throughout history. Since the Christian would agree that these are false, then the low priors, using Bayesian analysis, would have to be countered with high consequents. In other words, the most extraordinary claims of the Bible would have to be supported with extraordinary evidence. The Bible is not extraordinary evidence, and is not even corroborated by extra-biblical sources.”
This is a great passage because it begins with Jonathan implicitly conceding my point! Note how he never says “Oh John establishes the probabilities on pages 56 and 123” (or whatever) because he obviously recognizes John never does this. Instead Jonathan suggests ways that John could begin to defend his claim about the probabilities. To say the least, Jonathan’s proposal is half-baked. But regardless, the point is that John never even attempted to shoulder the burden of defending his appeal to probabilities in the book.
Next, Jonathan observes:
“In other words, one usually has to presuppose the existence of God and faith in Jesus in order to assess the value of the evidence in the Bible. This then leads to confirmation bias (which the OTF seeks to diffuse) which applies unwarranted evidential value to the Bible which then leads to a firmer belief in God and Jesus (remember, all Jesus is God, but all God isn’t necessarily Jesus, or some such ‘coherent’ idea). The whole idea is terribly circular. As I pointed out here.”
This is a genuine face-in-palm moment. Of course for evidential purposes you begin by establishing the existence of God. Once you’ve done that you can move on to establishing Christian claims about God. This doesn’t of itself lead to “confirmation bias”. Rather, it reflects a step-wise progressive approach to academic debate and dialogue. If the OTF is supposed to help people avoid confirmation bias, it sure ain’t doin’ Jonathan any favors in this review.
In my first response I observed:
“I also offer concise evidentialist rebuttals of Loftus’ claims including his ill-begotten canine “argument” against aesthetic facts and his failed appeal to the problem of evil.”
“I am unable to find substantiation for either of these claims.”
Of course he’s unable. So let me help. John replies to my argument for God from objective aesthetic value by observing that dogs like to smell “butts”. I rebut this, er, “argument” on page 130. Later John appeals to Schellenberg’s argument from divine hiddenness. I rebut premise 2 of this argument on page 171.
Next, Jonathan defends John’s failure to justify his probability appeal:
“Randal has not shown the OA as proving God is necessary. Without doing this, then John’s probabilities, whether spelled out or not, are the more accurate portrayal of how to assess the likelihood of God existing.”
Let’s see. If person A fails to establish p then person B can assert not-p is more probable without defending the claim that it is more probable because person A failed to establish p? Really Jonathan?
Jonathan goes on:
“Randal is deflecting John’s critiques of the Bible saying that these nasty bits are symbolic, allegorical, wrong due to human error, ironic or whatever. But he is special pleading language or assuming a proven God where there was none proven.”
The confusion here apparently runs deep. So let me explain to Jonathan how debates work. I present positive arguments for my case and John tries to rebut them by showing they don’t establish my case. John then presents positive arguments for his case while I try to rebut them by showing they don’t establish his case.
Consider the Bible. John tries to show the Bible cannot be divine revelation because of x, y and z. I rebut this by showing that the evidence is consistent with the Bible being God’s divine revelation. In that way I neutralize John’s objections by showing x, y and z do not constitute defeaters to special revelation. This isn’t special pleading. It’s called defeating a defeater.
By this point Jonathan is finally getting some fire in his belly:
“And THEN Randal has the gall to ad hom accuse John and myself of either being flat-footed or ignorant or straw-manning in some way.”
It is not surprising that Jonathan doesn’t understand what an ad hominem is. I didn’t attack his person. I pointed out, rather, that both he and John assume a naïve literal if possible hermeneutic which considers any idiomatic reading of a biblical text as automatically suspect.
Jonathan then asks me pointedly:
“Can ANY evidence EVER invalidate your belief in the existence of God? Craig is pretty clear on this one. He says no.”
It strikes me as disingenuous that Jonathan should ask this question since I pointed out in my response that I wrote a chapter in Swedish Atheist on how to argue against God’s existence. I also discuss the conditions under which one might lose one’s faith at some length in You’re not as Crazy as I Think, particularly in chapter 7.
Jonathan then acknowledge that I pointed him to the chapter in Swedish Atheist where I outlined how an atheist aim to rebut theism. His response is predictably dismissive:
“That’s great (reading the arguments in your book), but I won’t have time to do that now, and you cannot have expected the entire readership of God or Godless? to have done that either.”
This is a humorous point on which to end. Note that Jonathan is now complaining I didn’t outline in God or Godless how John ought to mount a case in defense of atheism! Gee I thought that was the atheist’s job!