Thursday, August 03, 2006

Out to lunch

On his way out of the Debunkers’ bunker, Exbrainer wrote a critique of Tom Wanchick.

I was otherwise occupied at the time, so now I’m going to settle some unfinished business.

The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

EB: Wanchick's first premise is "Every substance has an explanation of its existence either in an external cause or in the necessity of its own nature."

How does one know this to be true? Wanchick attempts to substantiate his claim when he writes, ". . . for if confronted with a new substance, everyone would assume it has an explanation before they assumed it didn't."

In other words, this claim is true because of induction. Everything that we have observed that exists has an explanation for its existence. I certainly agree with this claim, but I wonder how it can be extrapolated and used to describe the existence of the universe.

Let me explain. Every existing thing that we have observed has been observed in a physical universe acted upon by physical laws. These physical laws certainly affected the "substances" observed.


i) The Leibnizian argument is not an inductive argument. Rather, it’s predicated on the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

ii) Moreover, Leibniz hardly limited the category of “substance” to sensible objects.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

EB: This cosmological argument fails in exactly the same place that the previous one did. The first premise states, "Every substance that begins to exist has a cause." Even if we grant that the universe is a "substance" and not "the set of all substances," this is still an inductive claim made within conditions in which the universe itself does not exist.

Wanchick explicitly states that his is an inductive argument. He writes, "Inductively, of course, no one in all of history has witnessed an object leap into reality this way. If this is possible, it's strikingly curious that it's never occurred."

Again, however, everyone "in all of history" has only witnessed objects coming into existence within the physical universe. The universe itself does not exist within the physical universe, so it is impossible to extract an argument that relies on the conditions within the universe and apply it to the universe itself which does not exist within the universe.

SH: Once again, the Kalam argument is not an inductive argument. It is an a priori argument, not an a posteriori argument. It is predicated on the distinction between a potential and actual infinite—along with the impossibility of a concrete (as opposed to abstract) actual infinite.

It is possible that Wanchick has mischaracterized the arguments. But since Exbrainer is a philosophy major currently enrolled in a doctoral program, he is not dependent on Wanchick for the definition or classification of these arguments.

The (fine-tuning) Teleological Argument

EB: The addition of God to this "problem" does nothing to solve it. If a god existed, he would have available to him an infinite number of options in creating the universe. There were as many possible universes without conscious life available to a god as there are available to chance. Why should we believe that a god would be compelled to create one with life? Could he not have just as easily created a universe that did not sustain life?

It does not matter, then, that ". . . the possible universes that disallow life incomprehensibly outnumber those that allow it." This is true whether if chance is responsible for the universe or if a god freely chose to create. Both chance and a god would have the same number of possible universes. That this universe exists the way it does is no less statistically "miraculous" whether by chance or by a god with infinite possibilities.

SH: Actually, the “addition” of God would do quite a lot to solve the problem.

i) In what (or whom) do possible worlds inhere? Possibility is indexed to agency—to an agent. To what the agent can possibly do. The actual is the source of the possible. An existent.

ii) Likewise, what actualizes a possible world? What (or whom) is selecting which possible world to realize?

A theist has answers to all these questions. An atheist does not.

EB: Same problem. If a god existed, he would be able to create any number of universes in which laws and phenomena are not knowable or discoverable. Chance is no different. There are the same number of options available to both chance or a god.


i) The fact that some possible worlds are opaque to human reason does nothing to explain why the actual is accessible to human reason.

ii) And the actual world is our window into possible worlds.

The Problem of Evil

EB: Wanchick asserts that "Evil obviously exists. . ." Actions certainly exist, and people certainly call some actions "evil" sometimes, but does something called "evil" obviously exist? I can't taste, hear, touch, see, or smell it. How is this obvious?

SH: Exbrainer has a point here. Evil is not an empirical property. And that points up one of the severe limitations of materialism. So where do we go from here?

Do we stick with materialism and deny morality?

Or do we stick with morality and deny materialism?

EB: Also, how is it that objects can be improperly used? It is true that a bicycle has a design function, but what if I don't want a bicycle for the function for which it was designed? Is that an "improper" use of it?

SH: I assume that Wanchick is alluding to Plantinga’s extensive analysis of proper function. That’s where one would look for such distinctions.

The Moral Argument

EB: I've dealt with the issue of morality at length before. I believe that moral judgments are relative to moral frameworks.

Now, what if the same could be said of moral judgments? What if I could say objectively that it is morally wrong of P to D (I'm stealing all of this from Princeton's Gilbert Harman if you are wondering), but had to qualify my statement that it was morally wrong according to a specific moral framework? My judgment would be objective, but not universal.

If morality is not universal, though, must I accept everyone's moral judgments as equally valid? Of course not. For one thing, it is certainly possible that someone makes a moral judgment that does not fit the moral framework they use to justify it [Just like it would be possible for someone to say that something is stationary from a framework in which that judgment is inconsistent].

Secondly, acknowledging that a belief may be justified by reference to another moral framework does not mean that I have to abandon my own moral framework. For example, I believe that it is morally wrong to rape someone. If I were to happen upon a man trying to rape a woman, my moral framework demands that I do whatever action is permissible according to that framework to prevent that action from taking place. I may acknowledge that the action is permissible according to the rapist's moral framework, but that does not mean that I must ignore what is demanded by my own moral framework.

Moral relativism, then, does not necessarily lead to moral nihilism.

Anyone familiar with Foucault's work on power structures will know that, if he is correct, social ideas and morality are shaped by power. There is nothing called "madness" out in the world. One cannot catch "madness" in a bucket and paint it pink. It is an idea that must be defined. Originally, the church and the family were the primary power structures that made this definition. The church needed a way to distinguish between God's directions to his people through the Holy Spirit and the babblings of a madman. People that had certain heretical "visions" and "promptings" from God were considered "mad." Now, it is the physicians who define these kind of terms. Whatever the age, though, power is the driver behind these definitions.

In the case of morality, then, power will be the stabilizing (or destabilizing) force behind societal morality. Obviously, that does not mean that one must accept society's morality (both the Christians here and myself reject our current society's morality, but for drastically different reasons). For example, though most of current, American society opposes same-sex marriage, I adamantly support it. I do not have to accept the majority opinion even if I acknowledge that that opinion is justified by reference to a certain moral framework. I can exert my power (however limited it is) to try to change societal opinion. I can also point out that denying homosexual couples marriage is inconsistent with other, primary societal values like equal treatment under the law.

SH: Other issues aside, this presents Exbrainer with a dilemma. He can undercut the moral argument for God’s existence by adopting moral relativism.

But if he makes that move, then it will cost in another department—for he thereby forfeits the right to deploy the problem of evil as an atheological argument.

The Ontological Argument

EB: Ontological arguments suck. Fight fire with fire, though, I guess. Here is my ontological argument:

P1: It is possible that a possible world in which a god does not exist exists.

P2: If it is possible that a possible world in which a god does not exist exists, then a possible world in which a god does not exist exists.

P3: If a possible world in which a god does not exist exists, then a god would not exist in every possible world.

P4: If a god does not exist in every possible world, then it is possible that a god does not exist in the actual world.

P5: A god does not exist in a possible world in which a god does not exist.

C: Therefore, it is possible that a god does not exist in the actual world.

Theists assert that a god does exist in the actual world. It is their responsibility, then, to demonstrate this.

SH: two problems:

i) Exbrainer has done nothing to establish P1, without which the rest of his syllogism is otiose.

ii) Christians like Plantinga have elaborated a modal version of the ontological argument, which Exbrainer does nothing to rebut.

The Resurrection

EB: In answer to a - d above:

(a) I agree that a man named Jesus was crucified around 30 CE.

(b) I do not know whether or not Jesus' tomb was empty days after his burial. All I have to go on are works written by biased followers years after the event. (i) There is no indication that the Jewish authorities felt threatened enough by the Christian sect as to desire to disprove their claims. Plus, if the first record we have of an empty tomb was written 3 years after the burial of a body, there would be nothing left of that body to disprove the Christian claim. The Jewish authorities would be helpless to defeat Christianity because the body would have been unrecognizably decomposed (maybe completely so). (ii) Who knows why the biblical writers wrote what they wrote. As a team member recently pointed out, there are many inconsistencies with the gospel stories. Maybe the gospel writers were idiots. (iii) Legends can appear much faster than 3 years. (iv) By the time the Jews "denied the empty tomb" the body would have decomposed. They would have been denying that it was empty because of the resurrection. (v) How a story about a person miraculously raising from the dead can be considered "benignly straightforward" is beyond me. If this is straightforward, what is a "legend" to this man?

(c) Why should anyone believe the writers of the Bible and church creeds are attempting to give an honest historical account?

(d) This assumes that the conversion stories of James and Paul are not also made up. How do I know they are not?

Wanchick writes, "If the Resurrection occurred, this series of facts can be explained plausibly and coherently. But what coherent natural explanation can be offered?"

Jesus was buried in a tomb and his body decomposed before people started claiming he was resurrected. The gospel writers were people of faith who believed what they wanted to believe much like the Heaven's Gate cult. They were so convinced that they were willing to die, just like Marshall Applewhite, the founder of the Heaven's Gate cult. The conversion stories of Paul and James were embellished to make it sound better.


i) Yes, you can say the NT writers make it all up. You can also say the lunar landings were staged in a movie studio. While you’re at it, you can say that Roswell was a governmental cover-up.

Exbrainer resorts to the tactics of a conspiracy theorist.

ii) Exbrainer recycles stock objections that have been repeatedly addressed in the apologetic literature.

iii) Exbrainer’s conspiratorial criteria are on an epistemic par with ufology.

iv) There’s an obvious difference between a delusive belief in a falsehood, and dying for something you know to be false.

The gospel writers were in a position to know whether Jesus really rose from the dead.


  1. Steve! Numer your premises like I do. How do you expect me to respond when you don't number your premises?

    And, the next time you call me exbrainer will be the last. If you want to call me exbrainer then construct a valid syllogism and argue for every step along the way.

  2. exbrainer,

    I hate to disagree, but we can't apply logic to metaphysical beliefs.


    Don't you know we can't reason with eachother!

  3. Why don't you buzz off John, if you don't agree with me you're not a real atheist...

  4. How can I "buzz off?" I don't have wings and am not a bug.

    You see, you agreed with me that when the Bible says that Jesus sits at "the right *hand* of God" this shows that the ancients believed that God had a body.

    You're still writing like a Christian, exbrainer.

    Also, maybe I'm a "fake" atheist. We can't apply logic to metaphysical truth claims, so real and fake have no meaning.


  5. Neither god belief nor the lack of it, is any guarantee of morality.

  6. Sadly, however, the belief that one may jettison Christian belief while retaining Christian ethics is a mirage, too.

    Oh yes, and this is the one and only Hiraeth (who'd want to be a Church historian living in a library), despite the fact that this is written under 'other.'

  7. Loftus,

    How dare you. I thought we were on the same team. I'm glad I left DC when I did, I much prefer being the Man at my own site rather than being one of your towel boys. You're the one still writing like a Christian, you little bug. I'll squash you. Oh, and don't expect me to provide you with free lodging the next time the Atheist Association has a non-belief pep rally in my town. You're no longer welcome.......