Last week Jonathan Pearce, the “Tippling Philosopher” blogger, reviewed God or Godless here. I was unable to offer a response at the time since I was out of country. But better late than never.
Jonathan appreciated the brevity and concision of the book as well as the eclectic range of topics. However, he thought the concluding statements, at approximately fifty words each, were too brief. That alone was enough to bump the book down from five to four stars in his rating. Interestingly my sympathies are with Jonathan on this one. After we wrote the book Loftus and I decided to bump up the manuscript by a couple thousand words. I suggested investing the extra verbiage in the closing statements of each debate, but John Loftus voted for an expanded book conclusion, and being the gentleman that I am I deferred to his opinion. (No doubt, however, that had I won the day some reviewer would probably find the conclusion to the book too brief. And had everything been longer somebody else would have complained about the overall book length.)
Jonathan writes: “As ever, and considering the brevity, a good number of the arguments created an impasse.” But surely he can’t blame that on the brevity of the book. After all, these are topics of perennial debate, and each one represents an impasse that counts thousands of learned individuals on each side.
Next, Jonathan observes: “There were some arguments where I found myself getting angry with Randal’s position and its presuppositional qualities. In a sense, it makes it almost pointless to argue with Randal, and I think John came to realise this.”
You got to love a statement like this for how revealing it is. Folks like the two Johns (Loftus and Pearce) seem to be under some sort of illusion that they reason presuppositionless. They also like to try presenting debates of this sort as if the burden of proof is borne by the theist. But that’s false. If the theist is attempting to argue that we ought to be theists the atheist is attempting to argue that we ought not be theists (or, more strongly, that we ought to be atheists). Consequently, each has a burden of proof.
Jonathan describes Loftus’ position like this: “John was often taking the evidentialist tack. This means that he was dealing with the evidence of the world around us, and more pertinently, the evidence of the Bible.”
This is a strange characterization. Jonathan seems to equate “evidence” with some sort of naïve Baconian inductionism. In short, you go out and study the world empirically and the proper understanding of the world emerges through the careful procedure of cataloguing the world. But this is false. Observation is always theory-laden, and that is baldly the case with the way Loftus reasons as I document in the book. To consider one of the most glaring cases, time and again Loftus says things like this: “We must believe with the probabilities, not merely what is possible.” But he never offers an argument to demonstrate why his claims are to be taken as probable. Basically, his plausibility structure is allowed to run unchecked. Just don’t expect Jonathan Pearce to call him on it since he buys into the same plausibility structure.
The fact is that I offer a broad range of evidence from thought experiments designed to illumine first person acquaintance with moral, aesthetic and teleological facts to an argument from reason, a person-particular argument from miracles, and an argument for the historicity of the resurrection. Along the way 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.
Presumably this doesn’t count as “evidence” because Jonathan only counts as evidence that which derives from a naïve, Baconian induction based on the rotting timbers of an unexamined naturalist’s plausibility structure.
Later in his review Jonathan complains regarding the Bible, “As John rightly pointed out in virtually all of these sections, Randal punts to possibility not probability.” This is actually a very revealing statement because it shows that both our Johns read the Bible like flat-footed fundamentalists according to whom the literal meaning of a text is to be preferred where possible. Nobody who has a background in literature could take such a grossly naïve approach to literary texts, but gnu atheists do it all the time when it comes to the Bible. Consequently they conclude that the “literal” meaning is always the most probable while any appeal to non-literal meanings is a “punt” to possibility. (Note the charming irony in the fact that Jonathan invokes a visual metaphor — punting — to make his point!)
Next, Jonathan demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the function of theodicy:
“So Randal could be the last person on Earth, could have seen his whole family tortured over a 50 year period. Seen all the animals and plants of the world around him die, and still, God might have a reason for these horrors to promote a greater good. As long as this logical notion exists, there is apparently good reason to believe.”
The best I can do at this point is suggest that Jonathan acquaint himself with the literature on skeptical theism and then provide a propositional argument on how the evil in the world constitutes a defeater for the existence of God. As it stands, his comments here get him no further than restating his own personal incredulity. In automotive terms, Jonathan’s argument is akin to revving an engine while the transmission remains in neutral. It sounds impressive but he ain’t goin’ anywhere.
And yet Jonathan keeps revving that engine as when he says that this “punting” of mine:
“entails that there is NO evidence that could ever contradict the existence of God. Randal has, as John points out, made his position unfalsifiable.”
Jonathan should read my book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. In particular he should read the chapter titled “How to show that ‘God loves me’ is false” where I outline a couple ways one might provide evidence against God’s existence. However, you have to love the double irony of an atheist complaining that the theist in a debate has made belief in God too difficult to defeat!
If Jonathan really is interested in raising a stink about unfalsifiable beliefs, he should focus his energies on the ever-evolving, hydra-headed beast called “naturalism”. Now there’s a real vacuous picture of the world.
I’ll deal with the rest of Jonathan’s review in a follow-up.