Saturday, February 16, 2008
Since the best way to explain this is actually by example, I’d spent some time wondering how to come up with a good example. Thankfully, I was afforded the opportunity at work the other day due to some shenanigans that happened with a couple of my co-workers. One of my friends, Travis, is a huge Star Trek fan. He’s got a model of the Enterprise sitting on the shelf in his cubicle. Or rather, he had a model of the Enterprise sitting on the shelf by his cubicle, since one of his other friends, Jeff, had stolen it over a week ago.
It quickly became apparent that Travis did not know it was missing. As a result, on Friday Jeff came up with a plan to “ransom” the model back to Travis by setting up a fake e-mail account. In the meantime, one of our other coworkers has been taking several pictures of a gnome in random locations, so I suggested to Jeff that he get a picture with that gnome. The end result is this ransom picture.
After the photo was taken, I came up with an idea. Rather than make it easy for Travis to figure out what was going on, we could make a secret code for him to crack. At the same time, I realized this would work for my illustration of Information Theory. So I wrote up the code and put it in my previous post. Then we sent Travis on a long scavenger hunt to finally claim his stolen Enterprise (although in reality the scavenger hunt was completely pointless because it lead nowhere and in the end Jeff just gave the model back anyway).
The only clue that I gave Travis was a link to my previous post on Information Theory as well as the instructions about “First letter. Last letter. One is forward, one is not.” From that, you can look at my previous post and see that it spells out the following hidden messages. The first letter of each sentence spells out “DON’T TRUST THE SMILE O’ THE GNOME WHO ROAMS OVER THE EARTH HERE” backwards (with punctuation added for clarity) and the last letter of each sentence spells out: “i saw travis’s enterprise go in the shredder box by kayla’s cube.” (By the way, this was a factual, yet misleading, statement. I actually wrote “Travis’s Enterprise” on a piece of paper and put it in the shredder box, hoping that Travis would get Building Services to open the box and reveal the paper…but due to the fact that Travis’s department was short-handed Friday, he was unable to do this.)
Obviously, if I was only intending to play a prank on a co-worker I would not have posted anything on Triablogue—I would have just kept that on my personal site. However, since I got a wonderful opportunity to use this as an example for Information Theory, I thought it was worth putting on the T-Blog too.
Anyone could have read my original post and it would have made sense as it was written. Due to the constraints of the hidden message, of course, the previous post seemed (at least to me) to be a little stilted in places, but it still conveyed information so that it was a worthwhile piece in its first reading frame (the straightforward reading on the blog post). The first level of the post provided information, and it was of such complexity that I would argue the very existence of the post proves that there was an intelligence guiding the writing of the post. It was not randomly put together.
Suppose, however, that someone wished to argue that there must have been a naturalistic explanation for that surface level reading. If we stipulate that the rules of grammar must be followed, then we could say that words were randomly put together via mutations of the alphabet. Those words that most closely matched the grammatical rules in place were selected for. Over time, the post would have been written by purely naturalistic, non-intelligent processes. This is, in other words, the way that Darwinists claim DNA and RNA came about.
Even if we grant all this to the Darwinist (a huge concession, mind you, but let’s not worry about it right now), we are immediately confronted with the fact that reading the first letter of each sentences backwards provides information too. Thus, not only must there have been a rule in place governing the straightforward meaning of the text, but there must have been a Darwinian selection process governing information from the first letter of each sentence. Furthermore, there must have been another one governing how to read the last letter of each sentence too.
It should be obvious to everyone that this is too complicated to be explained by naturalistic, non-intelligent, random mutations. Yet this textual analogy occurs in the very viruses with RNA sequencing.
When it comes to information theory, typically the shorter something is the less information is contained. Thus, a book that has only 10,000 words contains less information than a book that contains 20,000 words. And DNA that is 5 million bases long has less information than DNA that has three billion bases.
This, however, does not take into account intentional compression of information. My previous post was 893 words long. Yet it provided information not only in those 893 words, but in two hidden messages that added another 25 words. In other words, another text that is 910 words long but that does not have these hidden messages contains less information than my 893 word long post did despite it being longer.
But the increase in the complexity is seen not just in the message itself. In order to glean the extra hidden messages one must know how to read it. Therefore, one must know three separate methods of reading to gain all 918 words of information in that post. This means it is not sufficient to know the basic rules of grammar: you must know what to look for and where to find it in what order for the hidden messages too.
The same thing is true for RNA that is used by viruses. If the virus must have three separate frameworks in order to reproduce, the RNA sequence can be much shorter—yet it hides such complexity that it is astronomically more intricate than a similar string of RNA nucleotides. Since it must be read in three frameworks, the code must be able to function not simply in a straightforward manner but in two completely different ways too. Furthermore, the cell that the virus uses to reproduce must somehow be able to decode this complexity and reproduce the virus.
While it was fairly simple for me to come up with a hidden code for my previous post, it is somewhat more difficult to come up with three-letter codons that will encode amino acids in multiple ways. Indeed, it would be analogous to condensing the alphabet into 20 characters (this can be done by discarding certain letters, like X (which can be represented as a “ks”) and C (either a “k” or an “s” depending on the sound you need). The 20 characters would represent the 20 amino acids. Using four bases (ACTG) you would need to construct an alphabet of 64 variations, where for instance AAA = A, AAC = B, AAT = D, AAG = E, ACA = F, etc. When that is done, you will find it easy enough to write a straightforward coded text with English rules, but it is vastly more difficult to write a text that is correct English both in the first and second reading frame, let alone adding on the third reading frame.
In short, as close as we can come to simulating the way RNA works for certain viruses we have a tremendous difficulty grasping how this can all fit together. Yet viruses are supposedly the simplest life-forms. And we haven’t even begun to deal with issues such as the exons and introns.
The existence of such viruses, and the methods by which information is conveyed via nucleotides, provides strong evidence for Intelligent Design simply because of the vast complexities hidden within even the simplest looking strands.
Welcome to the ancient city of
Paul’s goal in writing 1st Corinthians is twofold: (1) He wants to reassert his apostolic authority in a situation where it has been compromised and (2) since he is an apostle, he must convince them that their behavior and theology needs to be in line with his own apostolic teaching just as he had previously taught them (1 Cor. 4:16-17). In 1st Corinthians, there are no outside opponents such as with the Judaizers and proto-gnostics that plagued the other assemblies Paul wrote to. Rather, Paul says that the internal strife that riddled the Corinthian church and the disagreement with his own teaching had come from within (i.e., “some among you” 15:12 cf. 4:18). The rival factions in the Corinthian church probably developed when the wealthy patrons in the house churches that provided support for apostolic workers began disputing amongst themselves about the validity or lack thereof of different apostolic workers such as Apollos, Cephas, and Paul (cf. 1:10-12).
When the anti-Pauline factions and patrons in the church began to see a need to “examine” Paul because he refused to accept their financial support, this created even more suspicion of Paul’s ministry as a legitimate apostle of Christ. After all, would a man who possessed the message of divine wisdom [i.e., the Greek concept of sophia = Greek concept of “wisdom”] be performing manual labor with his own hands? (cf. 9:1-19; 4:12; Acts 18:3) The internal tensions amongst the various factions within the church and the anti-Pauline factions that were against Paul created a bad situation overall because the relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church as a whole was deteriorating. However, in spite of all of this, they were still communicating with Him by letter. Nevertheless, Paul has to contradict their position at almost every turn in this letter and he has to do so because they question his apostolic authority. They have been wondering if he’s really a prophet of God or if he’s truly a spiritual man sent by the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 14:37 and 2nd Corinthians). They were repelled by Paul’s supposed lack of oratorical skills and so, since some of them had already begun to question his authority, they therefore thought that they had the necessary wisdom to move on to more mature teachings from real prophets and real apostles who possessed true divine wisdom (cf. 2:6; 3:1; 1:17; 2:1-5).
Of course, for all their supposed superior “wisdom” and “knowledge”, they mixed pagan philosophies with biblical Christianity and so created a faulty view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; a view which led to a licentious church because they believed that the ordinances gave them some type of spiritual security blanket wherein one’s behavior in this life has little or no bearing upon one’s spiritual condition (10:1-5). This type of thinking, combined with abundant spiritual gifts created people who were boastful, prideful, and arrogant (4:6, 18; 5:2, 6). Their theological errors were rooted in a lifetime of immersion into Hellenistic dualism, which is the philosophical view of both the cosmos and the human person that says that salvation is seen as an escape or “getting away” from the world and the body. This explains why they were seeking “wisdom” and “knowledge”, it shows why they had an over-spiritualized view of the ordinances, and explains why “some” denied the physical, tomb-emptying resurrection of the dead at the end of history (1:22; 15:12). They believed they were experiencing a kind of ultimate, transcendent spirituality in which they lived on a higher spiritual plane above the merely material existence of the present age.
It is important that we understand the significant and weighty issues that Paul tackles in his first letter to the Corinthians because it provides many lessons for the modern church. Negatively, the mixture of the secular and pagan character of ancient Corinth, the lone-ranger individualism that rears its ugly head in the selfish display of the Corinthians’ spiritual gifts, the arrogance the underlies their motives for questioning Paul’s apostolic authority, the cultural accommodation of the gospel to their society followed with its subsequent compromise, and many other issues belabored in this letter are but mirrors of what occurs in evangelical churches today. Positively, the need for discipleship modeled after the weakness of Christ (4:9-13), the importance of love as the chief characteristic of the believer (13:1-13), the need to expose sexual immorality for what it is (5:1-13; 6:12-20), the importance and permanence of marriage (7:1-40), and the importance of edification being the goal of gathered, Christian worship are all things that have relevance for us today. With that in mind, let us look at verses 1-3 under the following two points.
I. A Salty Salutation (vv. 1-2).
II. A Savior-Mediated Grace and Peace (v. 3).
I. A Salty Salutation (vv. 1-2).
Paul’s letter begins in the typical Greco-Roman manner which always included a three-fold salutation including the name of the writer, the addressee, and the greeting. Following these three things there would generally be a thanksgiving and prayer to the gods. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians follows this standard form but he goes on to make the all important difference in that his letter is distinctively graced by a Christian salutation.
Verse 1: “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,” It is important to understand that Paul emphasizes from the beginning that he has been called as an apostle of Jesus Christ in accordance with God’s sovereign will. Many Corinthian Christians, being at odds with their founder, were judging Paul (4:1-5) and examining the validity of his apostleship (9:1-23). (1) Since the church is questioning his qualifications, he begins his letter by asserting that his apostleship is by a divine “call” and this vocation is God’s will for his life. (2) Paul then emphasizes that the readers can be confident that his call to be an apostle is of divine origin because it was based upon God’s prior choice of him which he indicates to the readers when he says “by the will of God”. The fact that Paul’s ministry as an apostle didn’t come from his own choice but by God’s sovereign will is a teaching that Paul applies not only to his own apostolic call (Gal. 1:4), but to the entire package of salvation itself (Eph. 1:3-11). (3) Paul affirms that he is not just an apostle, but that he is an “apostle of Jesus Christ”. Thus, he’s indicating that not only does he operate with a God-given authority, but also in a practical one, namely, that of being a church planter/missionary (cf. 1:17 “sent” and 15:5-7 where more than just the 12 were considered apostles). We are not exactly sure who “Sosthenes our brother” is. If he is the Sosthenes mentioned in Acts 18:7, the ruler of the synagogue who was beaten in the presence of Gallio, then he would have now become a believer and a fellow companion of Paul. Nevertheless, we just can’t be sure exactly who he was other than to know that he was a fellow Christian by which whose name being included in the introduction would have for some reason given more weight to Paul’s letter when the Corinthians read it the first time. That was all said to say that Paul begins immediately defending his apostleship right from the very first verse of this letter.
Verse 2: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: . .” It is important to notice that Paul does not address the parties, factions, or even the elders of the church (cf. Phil. 1:1; 4:3 to see how he does it differently). Instead, he addresses the whole church because the whole church is involved in creating the problems and the whole church should be involved in fixing the problems. Paul goes on to say that the Corinthians “have been sanctified in Christ Jesus” which speaks of them being set aside by God for holiness, a holiness that shows forth discernable behavioral differences which was particularly important for this church since their “higher wisdom” and “spirituality” had been divorced from an outward ethical purity and righteousness (cf. 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:23). So, Paul is getting after their behavior from the start. “[S]aints by calling” means that they were God’s holy people. And so, just as Paul was an apostle by divine calling, so the Corinthian believers were God’s holy people by divine calling, and as such they should have been reflecting His character and not the character of the city they were from. In too many ways they looked too much like
Questions for reflection: (1) Since elders/pastors/overseers and evangelists cannot claim apostleship today like Paul, how can they prove that the message they preach is authoritative and worthy of heeding? In other words, how do you judge the credibility of a person’s ministry? (2) How does Paul’s calling as an apostle relate to our calling unto salvation? (3) Since Paul appealed to the whole
II. A Savior-Mediated Grace and Peace (v. 3).
Verse 3: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul changes the standard secular Greco-Roman greeting from the general “Greetings” (Gk. chairein) to “Grace to you” and adds the traditional Jewish blessing of “peace.” (Heb. Shalom) Verse three sums up Paul’s rich theological teaching on how God saves people by summing it all up in one word: grace. In Paul’s teaching, nothing is deserved and nothing can be achieved because it’s all of grace. The sum total of those benefits as they are experienced by the recipients of God’s grace is found in the word peace, which means “well-being, wholeness, good welfare.” Both the grace and the peace come from God the Father and Jesus, the One who purchased the grace. In conclusion, it’s important to note that there is a Jesus-centered emphasis in this entire salutation. Notice that Paul is an apostle “of Jesus Christ”, the Corinthians “have been sanctified in Christ Jesus”, believers throughout the world were designated as those who “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” and grace and peace from God the Father is brought about through our mediator “the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Questions for reflection: (1) What one word captures Paul’s theological teaching on salvation? (2) How does Paul define grace in Romans 11:6 and how does that apply to the rebellious Corinthians in the context of verse 3? (3) Since Paul begins the introduction of his letter with a Savior-mediated blessing of grace and peace for the Corinthians, what can we learn from this about how we should go about handling the problems that arise in our own church? (4) How are grace and peace properly mixed together with necessary rebuke and confrontation [Gal. 6:1-2]? (5) Why do Christians have such a difficult time lovingly and gently confronting fellow believers who are in sin? (6) How is our understanding of what it means to be “loving and gentle” usually informed by our politically correct culture that seeks tolerance at all costs?
In this teaching, we have seen that though Paul’s divinely ordained apostolic credentials were called into question by the very church he founded, he was able to gracefully begin the process of defending himself and rebuking the individualism, pride, and arrogance of the Corinthians in the first three verses. In doing so, he lays the groundwork for dealing with their factiousness, rebellion, and worldliness, and gives us a great example of how to address these types of issues directly, yet gently and most of all gracefully.
 Acts 18:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:10-17; 16:15-17;
 1 Corinthians 16:15-17; 1:11.
 It is important to note that this is Paul’s third dealing with the Corinthians. The first was in Acts 18 (ca. A.D. 49-51); the second was a couple of years later when in
 Cf. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 4. Although I do not agree with everything Fee says, his commentary on 1st Corinthians is one of the best modern evangelical commentaries on this epistle and as a result I will be using it throughout our study.
Friday, February 15, 2008
In what follows I offer responses to a top-level post Brian Inspient has kept up as a "sticky" on his RRS forums. These posts are about the alleged irrationality of theism. Insapient asked "members of his community" to offer their reasons for why they think theism is irrational. I interact with almost all the posts, especially every one even remotely trying to be substantive. Of the few that I do not interact with, they are either non-interestingly repetititious of the comments I already dealt with, or they are ridiculous one-liners. The reader will note that I had a hard time categorizing what was ridiculous from what was not as they read down below. I had to invent a somewhat arbitrary standard, a standard that loses all relevance to putative cases of ridiculosity. I have lettered and numered all the different responders I deal with. I also post their words in red. I hope you enjoy...
“Theism is irrational. This thread is a compilation of views from our community on why theism is irrational.”
Hmmm levels of irrationality. In my opinion:
Satanism (I'm talking about actually worshipping the Biblical Satan, not the Levayan[sp?] version)
Scientology, various other Cults
Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism
This is far from a complete list, but it gives some idea of my opinion on how irrational each religion is. Atheism is, of course, completely rational and not a religion!
Not really a “view” on “why theism is irrational.” But hey, thanks for trying.
B. Natural (part 1):
"Theism is irrational because it relies on theistic faith, belief without evidence. Belief without evidence is irrational because it has no use, it is not able to help us make reliable predictions, which is the basis of all reason. When something is believed more on faith than evidence, the reliability of predictions goes way down. For example, if you pray for someone to get healthy from a sickness, the prediction would be that people should get better more often than those who are not prayed for. And yet the prediction turns out false and is thus unreliable. When medicines are used, the predictions of better health actually come true. Thus believing in something with no evidence is irrational, and believing something with evidence is rational. Thus theism is irrational."
i) On this objection it is presupposed that for a belief B to be rational one must have evidence for B. No one knows what is meant by “evidence.“ I’m assuming propositional evidence in favor of B? But, what about this belief itself? That is, is the belief that beliefs must have propositional evidence in their favor in order to grant said belief the honorable title of “rational,” itself rational? Perhaps the answer will be that the evidence is that beliefs without evidence don’t allow us to make predictions about the world. We will discuss this in more depth below, but for now it suffices to respond by asking: What is the evidence for this new belief? For the belief that beliefs without evidence are irrational because they do not allow us to make predictions to itself be rational, it would need evidence in its favor? What would that look like? And, assuming one provides some new evidence, we can turn around and ask if our opponent believes this new evidence? If so, then for this new belief to be rational, we would have to see the evidence for it. Obviously, we’re trapped in an infinite regress. Since it is fairly obvious that one cannot provide evidence ad infinitum for their original claim about what it means for a belief to be rational, then this particular belief itself (that is, for beliefs to be rational they need propositional evidence in their favor) appears to be irrational. And therefore this objection to theistic beliefs appears to defeat itself.
ii) What “reliable predictions” does the above belief allow us to make? Again it seems that this belief itself is irrational (on our opponents own terms, that is).
iii) This objection implies that beliefs without evidence are irrational because “they have no use,” that is, they “do not help us make predictions.” As noted in (ii), this belief itself is then of no use. But furthermore, not all beliefs, theories, etc., are such that we make predictions by them. For example, some beliefs or theories help us explain something. Some beliefs about the extinction of dinosaurs do not necessarily help us predict new results, but they still seem to be rational.
iv) It should be admitted that this is a pragmatic theory of “rationality.” This is a debated issue in and of itself. Simply asserting a debatable opinion, with no defense, doesn’t seem to be something that should bother a theist - or any one else, for that matter. But the more pressing problem is that it is well known that beliefs can “be useful” or “make predictions” while being utterly false. The history of science is littered with such examples. A small sampling of beliefs that were “useful” but false are: Ptolemaic astronomy, chemical affinity theory, subtle fluids chemistry and physics, various aether theories (electrical, caloric, optical, gravitational, etc.,)Newtonian Mechanics, classical thermodynamics, wave optics, humoral theory of medicine, phlogiston theory of chemistry, caloric theories of heat, vibratory theories of heat, vital force theories of physiology, the theory of circular inertia, theories of spontaneous generation, all geological theories prior to the 1960s (which denied lateral motion to the cotenants), and chemical theories in the 1920s that assumed a structurally homogeneous nucleus (list complied by Larry Lauden, Science and Values, cited in Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation). And, most people would admit that theism is at least pragmatically useful.
v) The above is clearly question begging. Theistic beliefs make predictions. For example, if a believer partakes in the means of grace, he will grow in his sanctification. That was a prediction.
vi) The illustration of prayer as a kind of put the quarter in, twist the knob and get the prize, has been rejected by theists for quite some time. But note the interesting comment made that “since what it predicts is false,” thus the belief itself is irrational. Thus we must believe that all those atheistic scientists who proposed the above false but useful theories (and believed them) were irrational. It would seem that any theory of rationality that consigned everyone who held to Newtonian physics as “irrational” is offering some strict criteria that hardly anyone, let alone theists, could live up to! In fact, there’s a new theory in evolutionary circles which argues that apes descended from humans. If correct, would this “rational responder” be comfortable claiming that all those who held to the popular theory of descent (e.g., Richard Dawkins) were “irrational” in their beliefs? This is the price the objector must pay all in the name is showing that those nasty little theists are “irrational” in their beliefs.
vii) Notice all the other beliefs that are “irrational” on this above schema: belief in other minds, belief in a past, belief in the reliability of sense perception, belief in knowledge by personal testimony, belief in the reliability of your cognitive faculties, laws of logic, etc. All of these are notoriously resistant to have “evidence” which can be given in their favor, and on which the rationality of is based.
viii) Non-propositional evidence seems to be excluded. What if faith is like trusting in the word of another person, in the theist’s case, an all-knowing personal God? Surely a belief gained on this model would be “rational,” it’s just that the atheist doesn’t believe that there is a God. But surely he doesn’t think theism is irrational based on a presumption of the falsity of theism, does he? In that case, atheistic beliefs are irrational given the world is a theistic one. But if I reasoned like this, I’d be drug out and shot by the “rational squad.”
ix) There is a serious argument offered against non-theists who hold to the conjunction of naturalism and evolution to the effect that since unguided evolution is assumed to construct things with the aim of the organism’s (or entity’s) survival as the goal. Thus the probability that our cognitive faculties are aimed at truth, rather than at just surviving, is low or inscrutable. Surely it is possible that we could have adaptive beliefs that are utterly false, yet they possess survival value. And, given most types of physicalism, it appears that the truth or falsity of the propositional content of a belief is totally invisible to “Mother Nature.” And therefore the evolutionary naturalist has an alethic-rationality defeater, of the Humean variety, for all his beliefs. That he continues to believe in the reliability of his cognitive faculties is a result of the “optimistic-over rider” feature of his cognitive faculties. This would allow us to avoid being paralyzed with fear due to our recognition of our dire epistemic situation, and thus continue to “play backgammon.” (For a more developed version of the argument, see Plantinga in Warrant and Proper Function, Warranted Christian Belief, Naturalism Defeated, and Troy Nunely’s dissertation on “EAAN.”)
B.1. Natural, (part 2):
“Theism is irrational because it depends on theistic faith, belief with no evidence. Belief with no evidence is irrational because it leads to disagreement rather than agreement, and rational discussion cannot progress without agreement. If 100 people base a belief on faith, you will get 100 disagreeing answers to a question. But if the same people base a belief on evidence, given sufficient evidence, they will all arrive at agreement with the same answer. Thus theistic faith is irrational.”
i) I’ve already addressed the “belief without evidence” song and dance above.
ii) Why would disagreement imply irrationality? Atheistic philosophers disagree amongst themselves on all sorts of things. For example, some are property dualists about the mind, and others are physicalists. Are David Chalmers and Paul Churchland “irrational?” I assume the both know about the “evidence” for and against both sides.
iii) The above is simply ignorant. It assumes that “evidence” speaks for itself. People can have the “same” evidence, yet come to different conclusions. Take the old story about Apollo, for example. If S and S* believes that (a) Apollo is a god, and that (b)all gods are immortal, but then S and S* are presented with the empirical fact that (c) Apollo died in battle, which belief does S and S* give up? It could be either. Their more basic beliefs determine how the evidence will affect their noetic structure. (c) could cause S to drop belief (b), thus believing that some gods are mortal. Or, (c) could cause S* to reject (a), thus disbelieving that Apollo is a god. And so (b) was more basic for S* than (a) was, and (a) was more fundamental to S’s noetic structure than was (b). Therefore we can see that access to the “same evidence” and a basing of your belief “on the evidence” does not necessarily rule out disagreement. Indeed, look at the debates between Dawkins and Gould. They both agree in scientific procedures for forming rational beliefs, they both were familiar with the same evidence, yet they disagreed with each other of crucial issues. Is “scientific belief” therefore, “irrational?” Or, look at those who debate the Kennedy assassination. Here is a synopsis of the debate by Christian apologist, Greg Bahnsen:
“Movie director, Oliver Stone, unleashed a Pandora's Box at the box-office a few months ago with the release of his controversial film, JFK. The movie, which is a technological marvel and stars Kevin Costner along with a host of well-known actors, explores the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Warren Commission Report regarding the tragedy, and a complex conspiracy theory which seeks to "get to the real truth" behind an alleged cover-up.
The Stone movie has provoked phenomenal response. Some people are outraged at its ugly implications - or at its own distortion of testimony - or at its white-wash of questionable sources - or even at its amazing editing and weaving of sound bites, visual images, changing angles, flashbacks and anticipations, documentary coverage and interpretive re-creations.
Other people are equally outraged at finding out how poorly the subsequent investigation into the assassination was handled - and how many disturbing pieces of evidence or testimony were squashed or ignored - and how outlandish the explanations of the single-assassin theory had to become - and how our own government agencies may have been entangled or willing to look the other way.
Newsweek magazine was so egged on by the movie that it decided to throw rotten eggs in return, giving it prime attention on its front cover with the heading: "The Twisted Truth of 'JFK' - Why Oliver Stone's New Movie Can't Be Trusted" (Dec.23, 1991).
On the other hand, the local bookstores have been doing a rousing business in selling books which are relevant to rebutting the Warren Commission conclusions and exploring theories which, despite their conspiratorial character, pay compelling attention to details. Among the most important are the two books by lawyer Mark Lane: Rush to Judgment (a 1966 cross-examination of the Warren Commission, both thorough and sober) and Plausible Denial (a recent book purporting to show C.I.A. involvement to some degree in the assassination). The massive analysis of Jim Marris (who teaches a college course on the subject) runs over 600 pages in length, and is entitled Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. Also worthy of mention is On the Trail of the Assassins, written by former New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, whose investigation and eventual trial of Clay Shaw for alleged participation in a scheme to kill the president was the organizing plot of the Oliver Stone movie.
On the downside of credibility for the conspiracy theorists is the large number of such theories which have been advanced. Granted, some are more plausible and well-reasoned than others, but the fact that there are so many of them is disturbing, each offering somewhat convincing evidence. Who should be fingered for the crime? The C.I.A.? Military intelligence? The mafia? The F.B.I.? The Vice-President? Anti-Castro Cubans? Pro-Castro communists? Right-wing extremists? Pro-Soviet communists? All of the above? None of the above?
For years the thesis that Lee Harvey Oswald was the man who shot President Kennedy, and that he acted alone, has seemed relatively easy to accept. The public was told that an eye-witness saw Oswald in the book depository building window. A rifle was discovered there which not only had Oswald's palm-print, but had been purchased by mail order under an assumed name, identification for which Oswald was carrying on him. His own wife said she believed he was the killer. The FBI found incriminating photos at Oswald's home, later published by Life magazine. The man had previously renounced the United States and lived in the Soviet Union! No, the case against Oswald was not hard to believe.
Yet there always had been disturbing elements in the story. Why was Oswald deprived of legal counsel, and why was no record made of police interviews with him? How did a man (Jack Ruby) simply walk in off the street, stride right up to Oswald in the presence of dozens of officers, and shoot him point blank? What do we make of eyewitnesses who said they previously saw Oswald and Ruby together in Ruby's nightclub?
Why did the people who were present in Deleay Plaza when Kennedy was shot run forward toward the fence on the grassy knoll, seeking the shooter, instead of running back toward the depository building? Fifty-one witnesses claim to have heard shots from the direction of the grassy knoll! Why did the medical doctors initially report an entry wound to Kennedy's throat, if he had been shot (only) from behind? Why do films show his head recoiling from a frontal (and from the right) shot? The Oswald theory would require that no more than three shots were fired - although ballistics experts were unable to replicate even that feat within the relevant time restraint (5.6 seconds) with a bolt-action rifle like Oswald's. However, acoustics evidence now proves there were at least four shots. On the Oswald hypothesis, one of the assassin's three bullets needed to inflict seven wounds in two bodies (Kennedy's and Governor Connally's) - some at nearly right angles - and emerge in almost pristine condition!
Photographic experts have discredited the Life magazine pictures of Oswald as edited composites. Marina Oswald's opinion of her husband's involvement actually changed (following virtual house-arrest for weeks with the FBI) from an initial disputing of it. Paraffin tests performed on Oswald's cheeks the day of the assassination demonstrated that he had not fired a rifle that day. When the FBI turned over the alleged murder weapon, it reported that there were no prints (where the palm print later appeared). Initial autopsy reports on Kennedy were destroyed....
The case against Oswald looked strong for a time (and still does for many people), but now that case begins to appear rather weak (if not being fully refuted according to some people).”
Are these people “irrational?” It would hardly seem so. Yet that is precisely the conclusion required by our atheist friend. In his haste to show theism as “irrational,” he’s included almost everyone else, probably even his own mother too!
iv) It seems to me that disagreements can be a very good thing. Disagreements call for debate. Debates bring about clarification. Sometimes both sides have grasped on to a truth or a different perspective, thus debate and disagreement can broaden and strengthen the total outlook both sides previously had without giving a proper place to that truth or perspective. And so “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).
v) One can look at, say, Philosophy Of Science: The Central Issues edited by Curd & Cover, and read about the various debates non-Christian philosophers of Science have. Is the “Philosophy of Science” an “irrational” project? In fact, pages 409-548 discuss disagreements over the role predictions vs. explanations play in what counts as a rational scientific theory. Thus by siding with a predictive approach to rationality in his above argument, our atheist has involved himself in a disagreement many non-theist scientists and philosophers of science have over this issue. It thus appears that if his second objection to the rationality of theism is correct, he makes his first objection “irrational.”
“I was sitting in my living room with my born-again Christian niece one night when we got into a conversation about "mother nature". She informed me that the concept of "mother nature" was satanic because it meant ignoring Jesus's role in creating the natural universe (we'll ignore the interchangeability of Jesus and God in the Christian mind for now). We discussed this for a little bit before she finally informed me that I couldn't understand the concept because I wasn't "saved" and therefore would go to hell. I asked her about the people that existed for thousands of years before biblical accounts purported to begin. She informed me that anyone who wasn't saved went to hell, including those who were unfortunate enough to live before the savior even existed! So I asked her, if Charles Manson were to accept Jesus Christ as his savior would he gain entrance into heaven? "Yes", she answered. I was floored! So I said, "Let me get this straight. If I brokered world peace but didn't accept Christ as my savior, then I would go to hell. But if Charles Manson accepts Christ into his heart, then he'll go to heaven?" Again she answered, "Yes". This is why theism is irrational. It may be worth noting that she later became the leader of a female gang in Texas and is now a recovering drug addict. My sister's other daughter had two children out of wedlock and her son is a meth addict.”
i) As in many of these, the term ‘rationality’ is never bothered to be defined. This is important because for all I know ‘irrational’ simply means “not being a member of the Rational Response Squad’s discussion forum, not engaging in Dawkinsian rhetoric, e.g., “Theism is a mind virus!,” and not going to the local toy store in order to purchase a plastic badge that I can hold up on “You Tube” and claim that I’m an official member of “The Rational Response Squad” because I was bad ‘nuff to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.”
ii) This appears to be the argument that “theism is irrational because I don’t like some of the implications, and my likes and dislikes are the standard for rationality.”
iii) This kind of “argument” is reversible. Like in this story: I met an atheist at the last Earth Day Fair here in San Diego. While we were talking he told me that there was no such thing as objective morality. I said, “So what Charlie Manson did wasn’t objectively wrong!?” He said, “No.” I couldn’t believe it! So I asked, “Well is it objectively good for me to broker world peace?” Again, he said, “No.” So I said, “Let me get this straight, when someone says that what Manson did was ‘evil’ and what I did when I brokered world peace was ‘good,’ they’re just sharing their opinion? Kind of like when I say that chocolate ice cream is good and vanilla is gross?” He said, “Yep, you got it.” “Not only that,” he added, “when you say that you ‘believe’ that Manson is evil you’re evidencing a non-scientific mind-set. There are no such things as beliefs, as we’ve learned from maw and paw Churchland. That kind of talk is a hold over to folk psychology.” And so I asked him if he believed that. He said, “I don’t like to talk or think in those categories.” This is why atheism is irrational. (Sad thing is, my story is more consistent with the facts than the above story is.)
iv) The above argument leaves a whole lot out of Christian theology. Like, for example, people who lived before Jesus don’t go to hell for “not accepting Jesus,” they go to hell for violating the King’s law. And, Manson’s sins would still be punished if he trusted in Christ. They would be punished in that Jesus was punished for them, as a substitute. So, there’s still justice. Furthermore, to think you can go to heaven if you “broker world peace” is simply to give an autobiographical expression of just how much you don’t know about Christian theology. To hold Christianity accountable to a works-based soteriology is like holding the atheist accountable to a supernaturalistic metaphysic. I doubt any atheist thinks it’s problematic for his worldview that he doesn’t make room for, say, miracles or angels. In other words, the objector isn’t critiquing Christian theology. His amazement that he would not be saved by works isn’t so much a reason for unbelief, but rather an expression of that very unbelieving attitude.
v) Oh, and it may be worth noting that when I was a drug dealer and a meth addict, I didn’t believe in God, and neither did my dealer, or our roommate who sat in his closet 23 hours out of the day petting his 45 and talking to himself. Guess that means atheism is false, huh? Next.
“An essay? I can sum it up in one word. One word: Leviticus.
It just seems so ridiculous to me that some omnipotent god, with infinite power and knowledge, would care about whether or not I eat something with a cloven hoof. And some of the information in the Bible is just wrong. Leviticus 11:6: 'Regard the rabbit as unclean, for though it chews the cud, it does not have a cloven hoof.' Rabbits don't chew cud. You would think an omnipotent deity, which created aforementioned animal, would know that.”
i) Again, notice the style of argument: “Theism is irrational because it just seems so ridiculous to me.” But of course, atheism “seems ridiculous to me too.”
ii) Perhaps I can argue against the rationality of atheism by citing one word: Dawkins. Or, perhaps I can argue it by citing on acronym: R.R.S.
iii) If Leviticus 11:6 is viewed phenomenologically, then there’s no problem. Are nightly newscasters “irrational” when they talk about “sunrise” and “sunset?” In any case, the hare appears to be chewing the cud (even being classified as a ruminant by pagan biologists), and for all intents and purposes is doing the same things. The hare eats it fecal material though. And thus it is unclean. The distinction is practical, rather than scientifically technical.
iv) Our “rational responder” has apparently never bothered to study the book of Leviticus or commentaries on Leviticus. Apparently there is no knowledge of why God required the Israelites to observe the laws that he did. Dillard and Longman express the idea this way: “Gordon Wenham is most helpful in his discussion of these laws. He bases his insights on the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas who insists that ‘holy means more than separation to divine service. It means wholeness and completeness’ (Wehnham, 23). Thus those animals that are in conformity with the natural order of creation are clean, whereas those animals that seem to confuse kinds are considered unclean. In Douglas’s words, ‘Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the class which they belong’ (Douglas, 53)” (An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 81).
Furthermore, God expresses how impossible it is to be holy as he is holy. Setting up what seems to be an impossibly ridiculous amount of commands to obey in order to have a right standing before God, shows us just how far of a gap between the creature and the Creator there is. As atheist Christopher Hitchens unknowingly points out about one of the purposes of God’s laws: “it demands the impossible….One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions, or barred from committing them, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much” (Hitchens, “god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” p.100). Exactly, Hitchens. Following God’s law is impossible. That’s why Christianity teaches that man needs a savior. These laws are just a taste of how far our ethical character is from God’s. This is why after the savior comes, the Levitical dietary laws (among other things) are done away with. Christ is our holiness. Our righteousness.
E. Chaoslord2004 (part 1):
“Theism is irrational because it is logically impossible for theism to be rational. When I say it is logically impossible for theism to be rational, I am talking about more than mere inductive probability. Assuming theism is rational leads to inconsistencies. What, however, causes theism to be irrational? The concept of theism has built into its very meaning, the notion that it must be irrationality by nature. Even if the concept of theism wasn’t inherently irrational, it would still be irrational based on the lack of evidence. Immanuel Kant once said ‘You cannot prove the existence of God,’ and I wholeheartedly concur.”
i) David Cross is a “philosophy student” and so we would expect to find better argumentation here, but as we will see below, this will not be the case.
ii) As you will see below, no attempt is made to define “rationality.”
iii) Much of the underlying sub-structure of our “rational responder’s” argument is ‘evidentialism.’ I addressed this in (B) and (B.1) above. Those observations should be consulted as also answering this “rational responder’s” arguments.
iv) No attempt is made to define “prove.” How is this term being used? If he means a valid deductive syllogism made up of premises that all rational people must accept, are indubitable, etc., then he’s not saying much. In this sense, no one can “prove” the existence of a past, other minds, the reliability of sense perception, the rationality of inductive generalizations, etc. And so assuming that our “rational responder” believes in the existence of, say, the past, is he “irrational” for doing so? But, he’s flat out kidding himself if he thinks that theists simply believe for no reason at all. Anyone with a computer can find that theists have published hundreds of respectable books containing plenty of arguments and reasons for the truth of their worldview. It is simply blind allegiance to Dawkinsism that dismisses all theists as non-thinking, irrational hacks that have never bothered to look at the arguments against their faith and produce defeaters for those arguments coupled with positive arguments for their faith. With that, let’s look at the rest of Chaoslord2004’s post.
E. 1. Chaoslord2004 (part 2):
“What does theism mean? Theism means the belief in God. This is obvious, so I hope this doesn’t sound condescending. However, within the very concept of theism is the additional concept of faith. As a philosopher, I hate to play petty semantic games, and I will therefore go to great lengths to define something properly. Faith is defined as the belief in something, with flagrant disregard of evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, faith persists even if there is no evidence for what the person believes. If there could be a cardinal sin of rationality, it would be faith; this should be ubiquitous to anyone of rationality. People of reason use evidence, science and cogent argumentation to persuade people to their beliefs. Moreover, people of rationality hold their beliefs based on rigorous investigation using the scientific method, and, the rules of deductive reasoning.”
E. 1. Response:
i) Attacking “theism” in general is problematic. There are thousands of differences between the different versions of theism out there. And, his claim that “faith” is essential to all forms of “theism” is simply ignorant. Desists, for example, usually don’t attribute “faith” to their theistic beliefs. Take Flew, for example. He is a deist. He thinks his belief in a “god” is based on philosophical and scientific arguments; none on faith.
ii) Notice that he plays up his “being a tough-minded philosopher.” He gets us ready to read some detailed and precise definition of ‘faith’ - which is utterly crucial to his argument - where he will then derive some necessary contradictions After the build up comes the let down. Like Geraldo Rivera breaking into Al Capone’s safe on live Television, our “rational responder’s” argument fails to live up to the hype. All the good reporting in the world can’t cover up a bunch of old and dusty objections that should be in the trash can rather than the front page of a major newspaper. His definition of faith: “Faith is defined as the belief in something, with flagrant disregard of evidence to the contrary.”
a) Well, I deny that definition of faith (and so does almost every one in the long and distinguished tradition of Christian theism I stand on the shoulders of). And so down goes his entire argument. And for a philosophically sophisticated definition, this one is pretty bad. Notice the use of emotive terms and question begging epithets: “utter disregard for evidence to the contrary.” This is what’s known as a “persuasive” definition. We find these mostly in the arguments of lawyers and politicians. This particular “rational responder” should know better, especially since he frequently makes a lot of noise regarding his knowledge of logic and philosophy. When all is said and done, though, he tries to give an argument that rests upon manipulation and emotion. He may protest that he is trying to be objective, but this is hard to swallow given that it is at odds with the most respectable and defensible traditions of Christian theism. In actuality, the pretense of objectivity is a cover for his subtle emotive coloring of the situation. Indeed, seeing this kind of tactic one can surely understand why Copi and Cohen wrote in their introduction to logic textbook that, “As we seek to distinguish good reasoning from bad, we must be on our guard against persuasive definitions” (p.177).
b) Even in traditions where faith is conceived of as that which makes up for lack of evidence (e.g., Swinburne, “Faith and Reason”), faith is not held to be a belief “with flagrant disregard of evidence to the contrary.”
c) A simple perusal of, say, Paul Helm’s book “Faith With Reason” would show that there are many conceptions of faith out there, and some are far from Chaoslord2004’s definition (see Helm, pp. 1-20). Hence I don’t see how his definition, which he needs for his argument to work, is essential to theism? Is Chaoslord2004 correct and every theist wrong? Do we let the unfaithful define faith and set the rules of the game? I mean, I know that Mark Twain defined faith similar to the way Chaoslord2004 has, but since when is Twain the authority on religious definitions? Why would our “rational responder” take Twain as his source for a definition of faith rather than, say, interacting with Plantinga in pages 241-289? Or, why hasn’t our “lil’ responder” interacted with one of the mainstays of the Christian definition of faith - the tripartite understanding? The three components: notitia, fiducia, and assensus seem to radically rebut our “responder’s” claims. If further evidence is needed, one can cite such contemporary standard as Moreland and Craig’s “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview” pages 5-7, 17-18, etc). Indeed, in a standard college textbook for introductory epistemology classes, Routledge’s “Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge” we find that faith can certainly be “rational” (Robert Audi, pp. 285-286). I therefore looks like scholarship across the board is in disagreement with our “rational responder.” In fact, even the Bible claims that faith is “evidence” (cf. Heb. 11).
iii) If “People of reason use evidence, science and cogent argumentation to persuade people to their beliefs,” then how does our “responder” explain what Christians have done for millennia? What I am doing now? Thus Helm explains that, “the claims made by theists are, if they are true, true for anyone and everyone. They are not simply true for the theist, or for those who join him in his belief, nor are they true because the theist wants them to be true, or because they have decided that they are true. …Thus religious belief, like any other belief about anything, has a stake in the truth; it occupies, in that sense, an exposed position. Defenses of the intelligibility or reasonableness of religious belief ought not to have recourse to any version of subjectivism or relativism or communitarianism to limit or remove that exposure…” (Helm, Faith With Reason, p. 12). And see we see that again Chaoslord2004 is completely out of touch with those he critiques. He lives in his own world, talks to his own people, uses his own ghetto language, and simply ignores evidence to the contrary. Quite ironic.
iv). His last sentence seems to rest on what is known as “scientism.” That is, only those beliefs obtained by using the scientific method (as if there was any such thing as the scientific method) are rational. Unfortunately, this belief itself was not obtained by using the scientific method.
E. 2 Chaoslord2004 (Part 3):
“Theism, therefore, has a latent component which needs to be made manifest. Theism is not simply ‘belief in God’ but it is belief in God, based on faith. Without faith, theism would crumble from a lack of foundation. For this reason, if one holds one set of theistic propositions and also holds another set of propositions which demand rationality, they will be inconsistent. Theists cannot have it both ways. Theists can be rational, and therefore abandon theism or they can be irrational and cling to theism. Theists cannot have their cake and eat it too.”
E. 2. Response:
i) We can see how this argument has crumbled.
ii) Furthermore, note the non-sequiturs. Our “rational responder” says that “theism” is “belief in God by faith.” Now, he claims that this belief is irrational. But then he notes that other theistic beliefs (apparently not the previous ones) are irrational too, and so cannot demand rationality. But, there are other “theistic beliefs” that are not “belief in God” and so why would those beliefs have to be dropped? Chaoslord2004 has went beyond his premises.
iii) Remember that he is trying to prove that theism is impossible in the broadly logical sense. But since it is surely possible that “faith” (in a doxastic sense) can be understood as something like knowledge by personal testimony, then we have buried his argument. My model doesn’t even need to be true, just possible. He chose to cast the debate in such strong terms, he must therefore pay the price that almost every one in the history of philosophy has paid when exhibiting overreaching dogmatism.
E. 3. Chaoslord2004 (part 4):
“However, what if the concept of faith was disjoined from the concept of theism? Would it then be rational? It is possible. However, as of now, it is inductively improbable. One of the principles of critical thinking is that one must have good reasons (i.e, good justification) for holding to their set of beliefs. Without a good justification, their set of beliefs must be deemed irrational.”
E. 3. Response:
i) Apropos (E.2. Response: iii). Notice that our “responder” has said that it is “possible” that the theist has an out (even though we don’t need this). Therefore, not only have I dismantled Chaoslord2004’s argument, he has dismantled it himself! If he’s shooting for logical impossibility then he cannot admit the possibility of an out. This would be like saying, “It seems possible that a triangle could not have three sides.”
ii) Notice his reliance on internalism and deontologism. The constraint that “one must have” good reasons or good justification for all of their beliefs, if those beliefs are to be rational, is called “the internalist constraint.” This constraint has fallen on hard times as of late. For example, Michael Bergmann thinks that the internalist has a dilemma which forces him to give up internalism. Before I state the argument, let me define some terms. Probably the main reason for embracing internalism is what’s called ‘The Subject’s Perspective Objection’ (SOP).
SOP: If the subject holding a belief isn’t aware of what that belief has going for it, then she isn’t aware of how its status is any different from a stray hunch or an arbitrary conviction. From that we may conclude that from her perspective it is an accident that her belief is true. And that implies that it isn’t a justified belief.
Furthermore, ‘internalism’ should be taken as the requirement that for a belief to be justified the person holding that belief “has some sort of actual or potential awareness of something contributing to that belief’s justification. All such awareness will either involve conceiving of the justification-contributor that is the object of awareness as being in some way relevant to the justification or truth of the belief or it won’t. Let’s say that if it does involve such conceiving, it is strong awareness and that if it doesn’t, it is weak awareness” (Bergman, Justification Without Awareness, p.13, emphasis original). From here we can offer the dilemma:
P1. An essential feature of internalism is that it makes a subject’s actual or potential awareness of some justification-contributor a necessary condition for the justification of any belief held by that subject.
P2. The awareness required by internalism is either strong awareness or weak awareness.
P3. If the awareness required by internalism is strong awareness, then the awareness has a vicious regress problem leading to radical skepticism.
P4. If the awareness required by internalism is weak awareness, then internalism is vulnerable to the SPO, in which case internalism loses its main motivation for imposing the awareness requirement.
P5. If internalism either leads to radical skepticism or loses its main motivation for imposing the awareness requirement (I.e., avoiding the SPO), then we should not endorse internalism.
C1. Therefore, we should not endorse internalism.
(Bergmann, pp. 13-14)
iii) Deontologism is also problematic. Doing your epistemic duty is neither necessary nor sufficient for knowledge, as Gettier type counterexamples are fond of showing.
E. 4. Chaoslord2004 (part 5):
“Many theists claim they have good reasons to believe that their God exists. I do not doubt their sincerity, but I explicitly deny the fact that they have good reasons. As of right now, every single argument for the existence of God has been shown to be fallacious. I will not delve into the arguments for God’s existence, because we are all familiar with them (on some level or another).”
E. 4. Response:
i) Well, I just deny our “rational responders’ assessment of the state of the debate. I also happen to know for a fact that not “every single argument for the existence of God has been shown to be fallacious.” But this doesn’t mean that one must accept every theistic argument. Perhaps you think the premises are false, or improbable. But, surely even the most militant atheist isn’t so logically ignorant as to say that “every single argument for theism” has been shown to be fallacious.
E. 5. Chaoslord2004 (part 6):
“The theist not only has no evidence in his or her favor, but the theist must deal with various arguments against the existence of God; this is where the theist’s metaphorical goose is cooked. For instance, given that the theist agrees that there is evil in the world, how can he or she claim God is all good? My favorite argument against the existence of god has as its conclusion that the concept of God is incoherent, and therefore, meaningless. Soren Kierkegaard, a famous 19th century theologian said that rationality carries the theist only so far; after that, one must take a ‘leap of faith.’ Kierkegaard confirms what we already know: Theism is inherently irrational.”
E. 5. Response:
i) All of this is the sounds of a dying argument. There’s not much to say anymore.
ii) of course theists, like myself, are aware of plenty of the arguments against God’s existence. I have read them. I have even debated them. I have debated popular atheists like Dan Barker. I responded to his arguments, which shows that I understood his arguments. So, I am familiar with the state of the debate. And yet I’m still a theist. This makes Chaoslord2004 angry. “How dare someone claim to be familiar with the arguments against Christianity! Can’t he see he’s been beaten fair and square? The only answer to how he could still be a theist is that he suffers from a delusion! Yes, that’s it! He’s delusional. Muhahahaha.”
iii) He should know that atheists like Graham Oppy do not share his triumphalistic assessment of the state of affairs. And, indeed, many atheists themselves have conceded that the argument from evil, at least the deductive one, has not succeeded. Says Michael Martin, "However, [the deductive argument from evil] has generally been regarded as unsuccessful. [...] Because of the failure of deductive arguments from evil, atheologians have developed inductive or probabilistic arguments from evil for the non-existence of God." - Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, p.335, 1990.
I also happen to think the inductive/evidentialist argument suffers the same fate. I’m actually quite intellectually content in my theism. And, I’d wager to say that I’ve studied more of what the opposition has to say than has Chaoslord2004. Of course he thinks theism is irrational, all he reads are militant atheists like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens.
iv) Even though I’m no Kierkegaardian, they would have something to say about his characterization of Kierkegaard. For example, see the “Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard.”
E. 6. Chaoslord2004 (part 7):
“I would like to end this essay with a quote by Daniel Dennett: ‘The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight -- that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether (Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, p. 18).’”
E. 6. Response:
i) Of course no adults have been known to start believing in Santa Clause when they are in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, or even your 80’s after being a staunch defender of a-Santa Calusianism, like Antony Flew was of atheism.
ii) Of course it’s a little on the delusional side to call men like William Alston, William Dembski, William Lane Craig, Alister McGrath, Alvin Plantinga, Victor Reppert, and Peter van Inwagen (just to give a few popular names!) “delusional.” It seems to stretch the limits of credulity to say that universities like Notre Dame hand out professorships consisting of large salaries to delusional individuals. It’s a little ludicrous to say that institutions like the University of Chicago hand out not one, but two Ph.D.s to men like William Dembski. It’s a little less that strange to say that top-notch institutions like Oxford employ the delusional (in cases of McGrath and Swinburne, and many others). Thus making comments like Dennett’s, or supporting them, makes you look, to most ordinary people, like the delusional one. And, pretending to be a “man of science” while assuming Dawkins’ concept of the “mind virus” for the basis of calling theists delusional is laughable considering that many, many non-Christian, indeed atheistic, scientists find that notion un-scientific and embarrassing. Michael Ruse is one such example.
“hmm. let me think. c'mon drunky....i think the rationality of theism for me has mainly been a question of mechanism. the idea of a god who controls or guides our lives is still lacking insofar as a definite mechanism with which he controls same. there is no such "invisible hand" as i see it, and as so far as good things happen to bad people, or vice versa no understandable way exists of control. as for the deists... wouldn’t this negate the idea of a god who cares about us at all? there are no religious writings i know about that talk about a god who simply created us and left us to fend for ourselves, seeming all nonchalant about the whole thing.
also when people talk to me about karma and reincarnation and spiritual while not theistic beliefs like that i always find myself asking... what is the mechanism? i mean, what makes life balance out all the time? who is keeping a running tab on our actions, and why do so many oppressors get away with their humanitarian atrocities? i even had a soft spot for Buddhism (calling it a philosophy, a system of meditation instead of what it really is, a highly organized and caustic religion) in line with my white suburban upbringing of reverence for eastern religions until i spoke to a man in Phnom Phen, Cambodia who explained to me that although he had no legs below his knees (either because of Nixon’s unexploded ordinance or the Khmer Rouge's terrorism against their own people) and his entire family had been killed, karma would balance it all out, and in the next life things would generally be better. that s**t really pi***d me off. i mean, im used to that sort of suffering-as-redemption [BS] from Catholics, but i had no idea this poison was so wide spread.
and every Buddhist or Christian or Muslim or Hindu i have ever talked to had drawn a blank when it came to mechanism... the way things have to work, every time, the same way. i know that’s what i trust about science. not that it will work every time, but that when it doesn’t, i have a reasonable chance to find out why... not just blame it on a thing i must accept i can never understand. F*** that. we were made for better things. ‘I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.’ - Galileo Galileiits. cheesy but apt. i think.”
i) This is pretty incoherent. I figured I’d post the entire thing so as not to force people to continue to read chunks of this rambling while I analyze it. And, in fact, there’s not much to analyze. I’m tempted to let it stand all by itself as a testimony against itself. Interesting that this post was allowed to stand as one of the reasons “the community of rational responders” felt was adequate to show why “the community” feels that theism is irrational. This post then gives us a two-for-one deal. That this post was included as “one of the really good reasons why theistic belief is irrational” also undermines Brain Insapient and his “rational response battalion.”
ii) Who the heck is Galileo Galileiits??? Probably only the “rational” people have heard of him. Mind virus sufferers need not apply.
iii) Why is Buddhism included in a list of entries as to why theism is “irrational?” Most philosophers of religion, including Buddhists themselves(!), don’t classify Buddhism as a theistic religion
iv) I don’t know what the ability to point to “a definite mechanism” has to do with rationality? Are people considered “irrational” if they don’t know the “mechanism” by which such and such happens? Surely our children and saintly grandmothers are rational in their beliefs about, say, the color of a red apple, right? Can they describe or point out the “mechanism” by which they have a red perception? So as not to get bogged down into unnecessary side debates, let’s assume a naturalist understanding of the above. So when one of the above types of people believes the proposition “the apple is red,” can they explain that when they see “red” the mechanism by which this happened was that a wavelength of about 650 nm hit their optic nerve, sent signals into the brain, causing c-fibers to fire, etc., etc., etc? And, if they can’t, are they “irrational” in their belief about the color of the apple? I’d say not.
v) Notice that he says “we were made for better things.” Oh really? If there is a purpose for our existence, then why is the purpose for our suffering? Why does Momma Nature allow us to suffer? What is the “mechanism?”
vi) Apparently theists are “irrational” because “they can’t answer why God would allow suffering.” I don’t see how this follows, at all. What does “not being able to answer why X is the case” mean that “S is irrational to believe that P?” At any rate, theists have given many answers, Our “rational responder” doesn’t interact with any of the standard answers, viz., for God’s glory, for the sake of the elect, for our sanctification, etc.
vii) This “responder” thinks that theists must be able explain why God allows suffering via a “mechanism” that shows “the way things have to work, every time, the same way.” But this is a false assumption. There are various reasons for why God allows suffering. Various ends that are met. There is no cookie cutter method that will allow you to box this problem out. The same could be said as to why we would allow our own children to suffer. It could be because they need a medical procedure. Because they need to be punished. Taught a lesson, etc. One could say, “it’s because we love them.” That’s not really a “method,” but what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If this response works, then God allows it because he loves the elect, or because it manifests his glory in a maximal way, etc.
ix) Needless to say, there’s not much here a theist needs to worry about. (F) doesn’t provide any warrant for the claim that theists are irrational. It is a temper tantrum. List of assertions with no careful analysis applied to supporting the assertion: “Theism is Irrational.”
“Theism is a school of religious philosophy which recognizes that most existing religious thought is based on outdated myths and superstitions. More needs to be said about theism as a philosophy, especially about certain questions traditionally attached to the philosophy of theism. For example, in speculating on theism, one of the questions that arises is about the relation of human language to God, i.e., How is human language (with its reference to finite beings) predicable of an infinite being? Another question deals with whether it is possible to demonstrate rationally, or at least to justify rationally, belief in God's existence. Philosophers of religion also ask whether a particular mode of experience is specifically religious. Likewise, they ask about the relation of the providence and sovereignty of God to the freedom and responsibility of man. Finally, there is the question about the internal consistency of theological systems that hold to the existence of an all powerful, all loving God along with the presence of evil in the world.”
i) The opening sentence is an odd definition of ‘theism.’ For one thing, it’s false. The Bahá'í faith believes that all religions are true, as well as do many pluralists and universalists. Second, on this idea how would one define or characterize “atheism?” If “atheism” is the lack or disbelief in a God or gods, why is “theism” not the opposite? I also think many non-existent religions are based on myths and superstitions. But, one could also argue that they are ultimately “based” on a perversion of belief in the one true religion. That, as C.S. Lewis observed, in Christianity myth became fact. At any rate, the first sentence is confused and departs with most contemporary philosophers of religion in that it doesn’t define “theism” as “belief in God (or gods).” Furthermore, “theism” isn’t “a school.” It is much too diverse an outlook to put into one box.
ii) Most of the above is not so much of a reason why theism is irrational than it is a re-cap of some current debates in the philosophy of religion. Besides the first sentence, a theist could have written the rest! Therefore, since there are no arguments or reasons given as to why theism is irrational, I’ll resist the temptation to offer my answers to the above topics philosophers of religion discuss. Needless to say, we haven’t seen in this post anything like an argument against the rationality of theism.
iii) If the above is, for some odd reason, purporting to actually represent a case against the rationality of theism, its style can be mimicked. Atheists will surely reject the counter, thus they should also reject the above poster’s “case.” Here is a counter: “Atheism is a school of anti-religious philosophy which recognizes that one has to be able to explain away the pervasive belief in God found in almost every culture in order to soothe one’s conscience about his rejection of God. More needs to be said about atheism as a philosophy, especially about certain questions traditionally attached to the philosophy of atheism. For example, if ‘beliefs’ cannot be reduced to the physical, then they are a hold over from a primitive time of folk psychology. Thus we should eliminate ‘beliefs,’ including the ‘belief’ that God does not exist, hence atheists should eliminate their program. There’s the problem of how we got here in the first place. Also, why should we think our beliefs “hook up” to the world given evolution and naturalism? How did consciousness evolve? How is the empty tomb explained? And what about the problem of objective “good and evil” in the world?
“Faith is belief based on desire. Period. Theistic faith is not an epistemological position, it's a rejection of epistemology itself... it's the claim that one can hold to a belief without any reason.
The desires to hold to such beliefs are inculcated into us before we are even capable of going to the bathroom on our own. To learn to question what we have been told, is to step into adulthood.”
i) This particular “responder” is, allegedly, going for his Ph.D. in psychology at Rutgers University (allegedly). A few atheists have told me that they think he might be the janitor there. But, who am I to involve myself in that family squabble.
ii) Faith is not based on desire. Period.
iii) Some versions of theism, like mine for instance, are quite undesirable. Man is worthless, can do nothing on his own, and has the shadow of an omnipotent and omnipresent God standing over and watching his every move. In fact, Sartre hated the idea of an omnipresent God that he said he “collared the Holy Spirit and threw him out.” Theists of my persuasion, have noted that putting their faith in a Holy God was not something they “desired” to do. In “Surprised by Joy,” C.S. Lewis described himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”
iv) This answer begs the question against some forms of theism, like mine for instance. All men hate God, and desire to be away from him. Desire to reject him. In fact, atheism is man’s desire! According to the reformed tradition, man is on a path far away from God, he must change their hearts and cause them to put their faith in him. We don't desire God. God has to change our desires.
v) Does this particular “rational responder” have “a reason” for his belief that “it is a rejection of epistemology to not base all your beliefs on reason?” If so, what is the reason? Then, for this new belief (i.e., belief that the reason supporting the original claim is a good reason), is there a reason in support of that? Without continuing, I addressed this type of strategy above, and will address it again below as I come to a more substance filled “responder.”
vi) Notice he says that theistic is “based on the testimony or witness of our parents.” He says the “desires” were underwritten by these beliefs. So, why didn’t he say that “the testimony of others” was “the basis for theistic belief?” Perhaps then because he’d wind up throwing multiply beliefs under the heading of “irrational beliefs,” viz., elementary math, colors, cleaning chemicals not to be ingested, etc. I learned what a “ball” was before I could “go to the bathroom on my own.” Does this make my belief in “balls” irrational? Perhaps not, he would say, because I have since verified the testimony. But, it is far from clear that we have to verify all testimony before it is considered rational to base beliefs off testimony. Furthermore, notice that this tactic expels virtually every belief that children have into the land of irrationality. My 2 year old believing that the family dog is, say, brown in color, is “irrational.” We should also note that many parents do not raise their children to believe in God. So, is “atheism” irrational? This is winding up to look like anything other than a “critique” of theistic belief. Indeed, many adults, who have been atheists for many years, and are well educated, wind up believing in (a) God at some point in their mature stages, viz., Flew, Lewis, McGrath. On the other hand, look at what many atheists have claimed:
“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper - namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.” - Thomas Nagel
This could be multiplied. Look at Michael Martin’s brief autobiography in APJ. He claims that his step-Grandfather had a serious role in Martin’s early childhood by helping him to think critically about religion. Martin claims to have been an atheist from his early years (xi-xii).
So, it appears that one can find young people who have been “inculcated” towards atheism, and older people who have strong emotional “desires” to remain atheists. It thus hardly looks like “todangst” has pointed out anything damaging to “theism” qua belief that couldn’t be pointed out in “atheism” qua belief (or even the belief that you “lack a belief”).
vii) Lastly, did “todangst” question his parents rule that “drinking bleach isn’t good for you” when he became an “adult?” Did he withhold the belief that 1+1=2 as he got older? Question it and test it? Become agnostic towards 1+1=2 for a while until he re-confirmed it? I don’t think so. Rather than a case against the rationality of theism, then, what we have here is more like the hypocritical rantings of an irreligious fanatic.
I. Gravity The Asshat:
“Theism is irrational because I am not a god. We should not work to end theistic belief because the very beauty of freethinking is that there will always be a diverse community of people believing different things. Instead, time and effort should be put into ending dogma, and the effects of dogma on a democratic civilization (Creationism in schools, Religiosity, Breakdown of Sep. of Church and State) to uphold an entirely non-biased secular view, theist and atheist alike.”
i) The only thing here that has the form of an “argument” is the enthymeme that “theism is irrational because I am not a god.” Well, atheism is irrational because I am not an atheist. Anyway, this is pretty ridiculous. The only good it serves is to turn Brian Insapient’s above claims about “how good the cases against the rationality of theism are in this thread” into pure intellectual mush. I would be embarrassed if someone put forth a list of reasons from people in the Christian tradition and something like (I) was included. Atheists should be embarrassed to be atheists when they see people like “the rational response squad” representing them.
ii) The “argument” is subjective, not objective. Surely the “responder” would have to say that from God’s perspective, theism is rational because “He is God.” But, I feel dirty for even responding this much….I think I’ll stop now….
“Theism is irrational because it originated in an attempt to provide an explanation for natural events, whether it be earth/wind/fire or social organization [sic]. Its few remaining pretences of rationality are in those areas in which there are competing scientific claims to validity. The advance of science has deprived it of much of human fears upon which it provided assurance/comfort, whilst post-traditional forms of social organization [sic] - concepts such as citizenship etc - have deprived it of the role of social glue for human societal reproduction. Theism is irrational because it objectifies idealizations [sic] of human existence and posits them beyond human experience, and leads to delusions of deferred gratification, a tolerance of the status quo, whether it be a caste system or class system. Modern society has sufficent [sic] rational capabilities in terms of moral/practical knowledge to check those aspects of scientific knowledge that operate on what can be done over that which should be done and if anything moral reasoning is inhibited by theism, as it detaches it from human authorship of the world. 100 words yet?”
i) Where is the argument for this claim that “theism originated in an attempt to find an explanation for natural events?”
ii) Didn’t “science” originate as “an attempt to provide an explanation for natural events?” So did (and does) much of philosophy too.
iii) Isn’t this “rational responder” trying to “find an explanation” for the natural event called “religion?” His/her argument against the rationality of theism is thus irrational on his/her own terms!
iv) Other atheists have different answers. Such as “theism is a mind virus.” Or, “theism came about because power hungry men wanted a way to control the masses.”
v) This assumes that “theism” can be identified by looking at its earliest examples, and that we know what the religious beliefs of the earliest humans were like. Does our responder have a magical way of accessing the minds of humans who lived, on evolutionary assumptions, hundreds of thousands of years ago? That they really thought there were people moving the clouds and throwing thunder bolts to earth? Can this claim be verified or falsified? Is it scientific, at all?
vi) Many theistic conceptions of gods didn’t explain anything - because we don’t know what the gods would do next. The “rational responder” simply seems ignorant of the findings of anthropologists who are early religion specialists. In fact, many people became theists because theistic belief inspires, motivates, or consoles them. Indeed, there are probably a multitude of causes for theistic belief (and the bible’s cannot be discounted in a question begging way).
vii) A case can be made that “morals” and “a scientific outlook” are incompatible. "If their were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we are aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty or moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing anything else" (J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977, p.38).
viii) There’s about 7 non sequiturs in the above.
ix) Heaven is pictured as “deferred gratification.” This is an odd view of heaven, like a giant Disneyland in the sky. The gratification is in enjoying God, heaven is a by-product of that Christian hedonism. A place where we can do that forever. Heaven serves as a means to an end that will not end.
x) If humans are the “authors” of morals then, as Dostoyevsky said, “Without God, anything is possible.”
xi) To claim that theism pushes ideas of human existence outside human experience is question begging.
xii) Scientific knowledge is rejected by many atheistic scientific anti-realists. Thus the opposition (granted for arguments sake) between “theistic belief” and “scientific knowledge” holds in similar ways for anti-realists who deny scientific knowledge of the theory-independent world. Was Quine, Rorty, Kuhn, etc., “irrational?”
xiii) Most theists think they hold true beliefs about God, man, ethics, etc. That the world really is that way. To hold that theism is “irrational” for not being the only system of beliefs that allow for social cohesion seems downright stupid. Neither is communistic views of society the only way a society can run. Does this mean communists are “irrational?” And, does this mean that what they believe is “false” because others govern via a democratic policy?
K. Robyn (part 1):
Essay written by: Robyn Hanson
“Who are we dying for? What justifies death? Which God? Which moral, ethic, or value? One is good for a certain person but isn't for another. If Christians believe their beloved is in heaven why don't they celebrate? Instead they mourn.”
i) What makes responding to (K) so painful isn’t just that the arguments are poor, question begging, and choir-preaching rhetoric, it’s that this is one of the longer of the posts by our “lil’ responders.” Thus it’s akin to watching paint dry for one hour vs. 10 hours.
ii) When Christians answer the above questions, we are not saying that the answers are “good” for one person and “bad” for another. In one sense, the answer can be “bad” for someone who chooses to take the losing side of the equation. In another sense, though, the answers we give we take to be true, and hence they are good for everyone since knowing the truth is good for people. At any rate, I don’t see how piling a bunch of random and vague and ambiguous questions one after the other shows that theism is irrational.
iii) The last sentence is a false, either-or dichotomy, as if we cannot both mourn and rejoice. Of course the emotions are shown in different senses, so there’s no contradiction. I might rejoice that my son received a scholarship to play football at a university 1,000 miles away, but I would also mourn his departure from home. Indeed, the questioner acts as if no sense can be made of the metaphor, “bitter sweet.”
iv) Even if the last sentence represented a contradiction, at best it would show that theists, and not theism, are irrational.
v) Of course the above type of argument can be countered: if all we are is bags of matter who act based on certain chemical reactions, why do we say we “love” our children? Isn’t that something like a hiccup? Why are we sad when friends die. Are we sad when the milk expires? Do our friends have inherent value and worth? This line of argument, though, is admitted by many atheists who are all too happy to call out their fellows for not having the nerve to live according to their presuppositions.
K. 1. Robyn (part 2):
“It's because they're not sure. Lack of faith is a sin. Yet they feel they are free of sin because someone died for them. They can do what they will because Jesus took the fault. Each God from each country throughout the world has crippled it's people. Each one is man made to make what we do easier. You all need a scapegoat so you invent god after god to do that. You have invented gods from Zeus to Jesus to take the blame and you think you're washed clean of all the evil you do.”
K. 1. Response:
i) I’ve removed the teeth from the “yet the mourn” argument. So, it’s not “because they’re not sure,” that they mourn.
ii) Robyn equivocates between the second and third sentences. The biblical teaching that we are “free from sin” does not imply that we do not commit actual sins. This just shows an ignorance of Christian theology, probably rooted in a general antipathy for tough-minded thinking in general.
iii) Notice the internal tension. On the one had we invoke a God so that we can “get away” with things, on the other we have invented a God that calls those things sins.
iv) I’ve already dismissed the faulty premise her entire rant is based on, but it is true that some people use God as a fire insurance policy. This attacks not theism but rather some of its adherents.
v) We are simply treated to a list of accusations about what “they” do while not statistics or footnoted research is given. We simply have a jumble of accusations, not arguments.
K. 2. (Robyn Part 3):
“You have no proof of any gods but yet you are brain washed to think any diety is real from birth. Mankind has weakened itself from the parents to the pulpit throughout life.”
K 2. Response:
i) On the one hand the “you” invented the gods to make them feel better for what they do, on the other the “you” are brainwashed into believing. Which is it?
ii) Above I showed that atheists have been raised atheistically too. So Robyn commits a self-excepting fallacy.
iii) Graham Oppy, who is a recognized agnostic, and friend to the atheist side (mostly), not to mention one of the brightest stars in the (broadly) atheological community, has this to say in response to claims like the above:
“Apart from identifying failings in some theistic arguments, Russell also makes some observations about the true wellsprings of belief in God. On his view, the main reason why people believe in God is simply because this belief is inculcated in them from early infancy. Furthermore, according to Russell, the other important motives for belief in God are fear of the unknown (including, in particular, fear of death), and a desire for safety (including, especially, a desire for a big brother who will look after your interests and guarantee the satisfaction of your most deeply held wants). While I agree with Russell that nonbelievers are committed to merely causal stories about the prevalence and strength of belief in God, I think that any such story will be much more complicated than Russell (or Freud, Marx, Engels, or Durkheim) allows. There has been some interesting recent work in this area--see, for example, Lawson and McCauley (1990), and Atran (2002)--but I do not think that we are yet close to a fully satisfying account.”
K. 3. (Robyn Part 4):
“Destractions [sic] are put up like road blocks so we won't look into what's true. From movies, to star's lives, to cellphones, [sic] and our own needs to pull us away from looking into the big picture. You are sheep like your Christ said. Blind and stupid. As long as someone [sic] other than yourselves was nailed to that cross you don't care. You just care it wasn't you.”
K. 3. Response:
I know I said her post was long, but I refuse to subject the readers of this post to her nonsense any longer. Theists are not only rational, we’re compassionate. At any rate, I find her statement in (K3) odd coming from someone “destracted” enough to have a computer, along with the internet. Surfing the web all day. Are we to believe that she isn’t “destracted?” That she has looked into the truth? By virtue of her arguments, and the level of intellectual sophistication they operate at, it would be incredulous of us to think so.
“Theism is irrational because it doesn't get me laid. And anything that doesn't serve the higher purpose of getting a piece of a** is completely irrational.”
“what we call logic has its roots and it became constructed into mathematics, and it was strengthened through observation, experiment and reason. if you accept it, you know that 1 plus 1 makes 2, and building on that, you start to see, feel and understand a little, of how this universe works. you have at some point to make a rapid insane leap over mathematics, logic and reason if you want to involve god in all these, and we have no reason to believe that some equations will ever lead us to god."
Aren’t these people embarrassed? There’s nothing resembling an argument for why theism is irrational here. I see an assertion with no corroborating premises. I could just as easily assert: “You have at some point to make a rapid insane leap over mathematics, logic and reason if you want to involve not-god in all these, and we have no reason to believe that some equations will ever lead us to not-god.”
N. Otter pop (Part 1):
“Theism promotes the loss of personal responsibilty, [sic] decision-making and reasoning ability. Individuals involved in a religious organization lose more of their personal strengths the longer they stay affiliated."
i) Assertion, not argument.
ii) Does he know how many medical doctors are theists? How many financial analysts? University professors? Military leaders? Logicians? Scientists? Seems his claims are easily empirically falsifiable. Seems to me that if he doesn’t ask his doctor whether s/he is a theist before an operation, he undercuts his own argument. A simple question to ask, especially when your life very probably could be in the hands of someone who is losing their decision-making abilities.
iii) Seems to me some of the most virtuous people I know are long-time Christians.
iv) Wouldn’t an atheist, the longer he was affiliated with atheism, start to lose some rational abilities? Seems that’s what happens the longer you stay alive, no matter what you do.
v) Why did Antony Flew denounce atheism after he had been in it for so long? Either he was losing more of his personal strengths, in which case our ‘lil responder defeats his argument, or he wasn’t, and so our ‘lil responder has allowed us to say that someone who had his full faculties in tact saw the futility of atheism.
N. 1. Otter pop (Part 2):
“Furthermore, the Christian knock-off religions currently flourishing in the US are often using individually printed texts pawned off as newer versions of the bible. Sometimes these texts are 'dumbed down' so much they lose their meaning all together.”
N. 1. Response:
I struggle to see how this implies that “theism is irrational.”
I also require proof that all of these versions have lost “their meaning all together". Seems a bit grand of a statement.
N. 2. Otter pop (Part 3):
“When you mix the poor education performance in today's institutions with high levels of poverty, these charlatans calling themselves ministers are the people holding all the power. Without the benefit of knowledge, members of these churchs [sic] do not have the tools to seek historical documentation, literary opinions and preserved texts.”
N. 2. Response:
Again, I struggle to see how this implies that theism is irrational. Seems, at best, to show that some theists are irrational. Though I don’t think it even shows that much.
Also, if/when they do seek the evidence, they find it’s squarely on the side of historic Christianity.
The rest of Otter pop’s post is more off the same. Attacking ignorant theists.
“I'm really amazed at the response so far. I never expected this. Really some great responses, and I'm privy to the fact that a bunch more are coming. Really great job everyone! When this is over, I'll make sure this thread remains as a testament to the views of this community as to why theism is irrational. In the future if anyone asks about our claim that theism is irrational, this thread should and will be referred to.
Keep em coming everyone.”
Given the nature of 99.9% of everything I’m replying to, this post from Sapient has got to be the most ludicrous. How utterly embarrassing.
P. Ellechero (Part 1):
“The primary symptom of this universal irrationality in Theism is that there is simply no verifiable evidence for the core claim of any theistic belief--specifically, that there is a deity. Looking deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the universe, the open-minded seekers of the world have discovered no evidence that proclaiming a 2000 years-dead Jewish messiah-figure as one's personal savior, nor praying to Mecca thrice daily, nor refraining from eating pork changes the state of being human or of the universe in any regard.”
i) Who cares if there is no “verifiable evidence” of God’s existence? There’s no “verifiable evidence” of the belief that all beliefs must have verifiable evidence in their favor. This isn’t an argument for the irrationality of theism, it’s an expression of anti-supernatural (or metaphysical) bias. Furthermore, if Christianity is true, and if Jesus is God incarnate, and if his empirically confirmable resurrection of the dead is the case, and if this was a vindication of his claims, then there is empirical evidence of a deity. Jesus is God, and he could be seen. Thus not only is the claim an expression of presuppositional bias, it’s also a petitio principii.
ii) Notice that those thinkers who have seen evidence for theism in the world are not “open0minded seekers.” Thus we are getting to places by the work done in using emotive language and question begging epithets.
iii) Why would looking into the universe “change the state of being human or of the universe?” If theistic claims were confirmed this wouldn’t change the state of either, it would confirm previous revelation or intuitions.
P. 1. Ellechero (Part 2):
“The only "evidence" offered by theists are references to their holy books or to their personal experiences or feelings. Neither of which is evidence of anything other than what their books say and what their hearts feel. There is no rationality there, only assertions that conflict with essential reality.”
P. 1. Response:
i) This is odd. First, if God exists, and his revelation is his testimony to man, then theists can know based on his say-so just as we can know many things based on testimony.
ii) The only evidence is revelation? Really?
a) Here’s two dozen, or so:
b) Here’s over 50:
c) I find it odd that it is simply asserted that experience is not evidence. Does he interact with Alston’s book, Perceiving God? No. That book is the culmination of 30 years of hard thinking by one of the most respected philosophers of the 20th century, theist or otherwise. I doubt our ‘lil responder has even bothered to look into these arguments.
e) No definition of ‘rationality’ is proffered. Certainly appeal to testimony isn’t irrational.
P. 2. Ellechero (Part 3):
“Held to any honest test of reason, the beliefs of theists quite quickly fall to nothing. Hence, theists constantly find themselves repeating the same defeated arguments--perhaps in the hope that God will make them true--and becoming angered and afraid as their tower of babel [sic] is laid to ruin and their desire to be correct by fiat is exposed for the folly it is.”
P. 2. Response:
i) Assertion, not argument.
ii) I’d love to know what constitutes an “honest test of reason.” Indeed, is this “test” verifiable? If so, he refutes his initial claim. If not, he refutes his claim here.
iii) Same defeated arguments? But our ‘lil responder said we only had two. Remember, the “only” evidence put forth by theists?
iv) Notice the employment of emotionally laden words, coupled with claims about the internal mental states of believers (in general) that our rational responder has not “verified,” and so he engages in self-excepting reasoning.
Q. Evolve beyond god (Part 1):
“Theism is irrational because humans are notorious for inventing gods for things we don't understand. The farther back in human history goes, the easier religion is to disprove. While planets, stars and moons were once gods to men, science has given clarity and shattered any remnants of a belief in "sky gods" we can call them.”
i) Since not all theists (or theistic religions) either “invent God to explain things they don’t understand” or “worship the planets” his argument is invalid since the conclusion goes beyond the premises. His argument is, basically: [P1] some versions of theism are irrational (I grant that he’s shown this, though he really didn’t since the above are assertions and not arguments); [C1] therefore, theism is irrational.
ii) Where is his evidence for the above accusation? He’s also assuming an evolutionary origin for religions. That their claims are to be taken literally. But how could he know any of this? What access does he have to the cognitive state of humans from days of yore?
iii) Why the need to reference God, my God at least, as a “sky God?” We’re not treated to arguments here but to a form of argument from club. Using pejoratives to describe someone’s theistic belief usually is used in order to embarrass your opponent.
iv) What’s the difference between a theist who believed in a “sky god” and an atheist who believes in “mammy nature?” To the extent that he gets to get away with this kind of nonsense, so do I.
Q. 1. Evolve beyond god (Part 2):
“As the human mind progresses and science unfolds our universe, religion has receded down to something intangible that exists only in minds.”
Q. 1. Response:
i) This assumes he has a mind. Paul and Pat Churchland, among others, would disagree.
ii) This assumes that ‘science’ can deal with all the theistic arguments. In fact (see links above), there are many arguments for theism, many theistic reasons for belief, that are not affected, in the slightest, by the findings of science. And, to go one further, I know of no theistic belief, especially any essential one, affected by any findings of science.
iii) Whether it’s right or wrong, he’s assuming scientific realism. Anti-realists, some of whom are atheists, would not agree with the above.
iv) Neither my religious tradition, myself, any one I know, or anyone I have read, invoked theism to “explain the mysteries that they can’t explain.” In fact, given my more robust view of providence, I don’t think there are any features of our world which God does not have his fingerprints all over. So, it’s not as if I have two baskets. In one goes those things I can explain without God, in the other goes the things I need God for. I need God for everything. In his light I see light.
Q. 2. Evolve beyond god (Part 3):
“This is the last stand for religion, because it has collapsed to a point where family tradition is the only way to guarantee religious indoctrination, and every day a believer questions faith to the point of nonbelief, as I have done and so many of you have also done.”
Q. 2. Response:
Every day non-believers become believers. And, unfortunately, many students of philosophy, in respected universities, are taught about the viability and rationality of theistic belief. Most educated people don’t hold your fundamentalist notions.
And, haven’t we heard rumor about the end of religion for quite some time?
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
- John Lennon
“Robert Owen - who rejected all formal religious systems - was greatly influenced by millennial ideas. He famously (or notoriously) tried to set up a planned utopia in the New World. At times, Owen took on the mantle of Messiah himself, writing of being compelled ‘to proceed onward to complete a mission’ whereby ‘the earth will gradually be made a fit abode for superior men and women, under a New Dispensation, which will make the earth a paradise and its inhabitants angels.’”
- cited in Michael Ruse, The Evolution Creation Struggle, Harvard, 2005, p.124.
"In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this word to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours.”
- Ayn Rand as “John Galt” in Atlas Shrugged
Indeed, Rousseau, and many others, have been claiming the end of religion for quite some time. Why Don’t you get in the back of the bus with all the other failed religious prophets. Voltaire is reputed to have proclaimed about the Bible, "In 100 years this book will be forgotten and eliminated..." Though this claim as not been substantiated, we can find substantiated claims as well:
"As an unbeliever, I ask leave to plead that humanity has been a real gainer from skepticism, and that the gradual and growing rejection of Christianity - like the rejection of faiths which preceded it - has in fact , added, and will add, to man’s happiness and well being." Charles Bradlaugh, Humanity’s Gain From Unbelief, 1889, cited in S.T. Joshi, Atheism: A Reader, p. 171, 2000.
And so Bertrand Russell likewise claimed, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence; it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.”
Indeed, we’re living in the last days (though we’ve been living in the last days for hundreds of years, apparently!):
"I do not believe that Christianity holds anything more of importance for the world. It is finished, played out. The only trouble lies in how to get rid of the body before it begins to smell too much..." - John Beevers, World Without Faith, 1935, cited in S.T. Joshi, Atheism: A Reader, 311, 2,000.
"The evolutionary future of religion is extinction. Belief in supernatural beings and in supernatural forces that affect nature without obeying nature’s laws will erode and become only an interesting historical memory. …[A]s a cultural trait, belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge … the process is inevitable." -Anthony F.C. Wallace, Religion: An Anthropological View (New York: Random House, 1966), cited in Warranted Christian Belief, Alvin Plantinga, p. 193, 2000
But modern day unbelievers continue to preach the return of Reason, that impersonal being in whom the three separate but equal non-persons, Free thought, Science, and Skepticism, reside. Thus Farrell Til,
“Information is religion's greatest enemy, and in an age when information is just a few keyboard strokes away from anyone with a computer, this is going to pose a greater threat to Christianity than anything it has yet 'survived.'"
The same claims made by their ancestors are made today,
"As humans get smarter, the old religions will fade. What will replace these religions is yet to be seen however it is reasonable to conclude that as people get smarter, that reality itself will become more prominent [sic]. One can't help but believe that smarter people will be interested in looking at the world the way it really is."- Church of Reality
And fantastic tales of a great future life are told:
So, been there done that. We’re still waiting. Religion is still here. Palm and tea leaf reading is so unscientific, you know.
Q. 3. Evolve beyond god (Part 4):
“We should work to end theistic belief because reason and logic are not vital factors in natural selection, which means believers can reproduce at the same rate as nonbelievers. Also, humans are violent and hostile when put in social groups, and unfortunately religions have become social (and political, for that matter) groups that have, naturally, become violent and hostile."
Q. 3. Response:
i) He walks into Plantinga’s trap. Why think your beliefs are aimed at truth rather than simply survival. It can’t be because survival is most likely to occur on the assumption that beliefs are aimed at truth, since those things “are not vital” to natural selection. It doesn’t care about that.
ii) Also, humans are violent, but maybe “The Good” rather than “The God” is to blame? See my argument by parody here:
iii) I should also add that Christians, and religious people in general, our produce atheists in bringing forth children. Atheists are such prudes.
iv) Why isn’t the atheistic community dubbed a “social group?” The Rational Response Squad had a community discussion board and merchandise with atheistic slogans on them, for example. They frequently ask for tithes from their followers. They are hostile towards those who don’t share their utopic vision for atheism. Atheists are frequently on the NYT best seller lists. Their fans come out in droves. there is atheist lingo, and some even ask that they be called “Brights.” Seems to me that you should stop yourself given that social groups inevitably become hostile ‘n all.
Q. 4 Evolve beyond god (Part 5):
“Though, instead of attacking religion, we need to work from the inside and dismantle its structure.”
Q. 4. Response:
Given the level of your attacks, as well as your cohorts, it seems like you’re trying to dismantle a skyscraper with a feather. Trying to “tickle” it to death.
R. Samuel (Part 1):
“Here is a short version of my ‘The Irrationality of Theism’ essay. To put it simply; theism is irrational because it is belief in something that you do not know to be true.”
Guess me and almost every Christian theist is off the hook, then. I mean, I was under the impression that I knew Christian theism to be the case. Also, this seems odd. Do many theists think this way? Some might say that they don’t ‘know’ it to be true with certainty, but then precious little fits this bill, even many beliefs atheists hold, like evolution, for example. So, despite this caveat, Samuel has our theist saying that they believe theism to be true and yet they know that it isn’t true. Who thinks in such a blatantly contradictory manner? Usually charity demands we don’t attribute blatant and obvious contradictions to people without very good reason. Since one must believe what they know, then Samuel thinks that theists are saying that they believe theism to be true but that they do not believe theism to be true. I admit I don’t know what to say to this kind of argument, other than it is a prime example in self-serving argumentation.
R. 1. Samuel (Part 2):
“It is often preached with blind faith and pushes reason aside to any area of life the cold hand of the church reaches."
R. 1. Response:
This hasn’t been my experience. And also note the fallacious form of reasoning: [P1] some theists put reason aside, therefore theism is irrational. Not only is the form fallacious, it also confuses epistemology and ontology. This thread should be re-named: Why TheistS are Irrational, given the nature of most of the arguments.
S. Ricky Roma:
 “Philosophically theism is irrational as it prizes faith as the superior means of knowledge acquisition.
 Psychologically theism can be a rational choice in day-to-day pragmatic terms if it has real benefits in getting you through the day or avoiding persecution.
 Morally theism is irrational because it ascribes to moral absolutes handed down on a plate (e.g. a piece of fruit, stone tablets and then a book in Christianity).
 Politically [sic] theism may or may not be rational. A popular religious uprising in North Korea might be rational if it has real pragamtic [sic] benefits.” (Numbering supplied)
i)  assumes a false notion of faith. And, the Bible itself doesn’t say that faith is always the superior way of gaining knowledge.
ii)  means “subscribes,” I think. And, this doesn’t attempt to show that theism is “irrational,” and it’s not even accurate. Moral absolutes can be rooted in God’s character, and he could write them down for us, for epistemological purposes. There’s nothing irrational about this notion.
iii)  seems to be employing  in a specific domain. It’s not unique.
T. Skepdick (Part 1):
“On the Irrationality of Theism, by Richard Spencer”
Richard is actually one of the more respectable guys who have posted. He tries to make a serious attempt at answering Brian Insapient’s original question. I remember one time I was on Richard’s internet radio show. I was invited to come on as The Discomfiter. We did a little parody on John Loftus. Get that? The atheists wanted me to come on because they thought Loftus was such a joke. Anyway, the funniest part was when Brian Insapient called in and tried to “warn” Spencer. He told Richard that he was getting duped. He then “told on me.” Tried to be a hero. He then said that he “PWNED Manata.” Thought he “caught me” and saved the respect and dignity of the show. Well, joke was on you, Brian. Richard knew who I was and played along with you. Made fun of you. Insapient = PWNED. At any rate, it’s time to move along and address the rest of “Skepdick’s” post.
T. 1. Skepdick (Part 2):
“Theism is irrational because it fails to meet the standards of evidence required of rational beliefs. In order for a belief to be considered rational, the probability that the belief is true must be above fifty percent; unfortunately, however, beliefs do not come with neatly quantified probabilities. Consequently, for beliefs like theism, it is our task to examine all of the evidence available to us both for and against the belief and then determine which direction the evidence points. Then, to be a rational person, we should choose to accept beliefs supported by the evidence available to us and reject beliefs unsupported by the evidence. In the case of theism, my experience thus far has convinced me that not only are there no good arguments for theism, there are many good arguments against it.”
T. 1. Response:
i) Note the evidentialist constrain I have already addressed numerous times here.
ii) Would Skepdick say that fellow materialist, and atheist, and top-notch philosopher, William Lycan, is “irrational?” I don’t know many who would say so. In Giving Dualism Its Due, we read:
“Being a philosopher, of course I would like to think that my [materialist] stance is rational, held not just instinctively and scientistically and in the mainstream but because the arguments do indeed favor materialism over dualism. But I do not think that, though I used to. My position may be rational, broadly speaking, but not because the arguments favor it: Though the arguments for dualism do (indeed) fail, so do the arguments for materialism. And the standard objections to dualism are not very convincing; if one really manages to be a dualist in the first place, one should not be much impressed by them. My purpose in this paper is to hold my own feet to the fire and admit that I do not proportion my belief to the evidence.” (Emphasis supplied)
But Richard Spencer’s position would entail that “materialism is irrational!” At least if Lycan is correct. Does Richard know more than Dr. Lycan?
iii) Does Skepdick admit that there are “beliefs?” Seems so. But fellow materialists, eliminitivists, would disagree.
iv) I will look more at this evidentialist constraint below (see T 3) as Skepdick attempts to interact with one of my answers to the evidentialist constraint.
T. 2. Skepdick (Part 3):
“There are at least three potential responses to the line of reasoning above. First, it may be claimed that one is entitled to believe in God irrationally. Strictly speaking, one is entitled to believe any irrational thing he or she wants, but this is no way implies that we should desire to possess irrational beliefs. Without some kind of standard for determining which beliefs we should hold and which we should reject, one's beliefs will become hopelessly arbitrary and self-serving. Although such a person may be happy in some trivial sense, we simply have no cause for supposing anything he or she believes is true.”
T. 2. Response:
i) I take issue with Skepdick’s knowledge of the situation here. First, as an evidentialist, he may lean towards internalism. As such, one is not “entitled” to believe irrational things. And, even on externalist approaches, even hard-line ones such as reliabilism, one is not entitled to believe “any” irrational thing he wants, let alone “some” irrational things. For arguments to this effect see, for one example, Dretske on Epistemic Entitlement, Michael Williams, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 60, No. 3 (May, 2000), pp. 607-612. This response assumes that Skepdick is being relevant and referring to epistemic entitlement. If not, he equivocates.
ii) I wonder how Skepdick can justify the epistemic normativity inherent in his claim. That is, that one “should“ do such and such. As James Anderson notes,
“Careful reflection on the concept of knowledge in general, and on paradigm cases of knowledge, make it clear that this notion of ‘epistemic rightness’ or ‘epistemic appropriateness’ is an essential feature of knowledge. But observe that this notion is clearly a normative one: it pertains to how beliefs ought to be formed or held (in order to count as knowledge), rather than how beliefs are formed or held. It is not a descriptive notion, but a prescriptive one. It implies that there are epistemic norms which determine (in part) whether or not one’s belief that p is actually knowledge that p.” (Anderson, The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge: A Thumbnail Sketch).
Many thinkers, atheists included, deny that naturalists, of which I believe Richard is a card carrying member, can make sense of normativity. For one such example, see Shafer-Landau’s, Moral Realism: A Defense. Shafer-Landau is an atheist, as well as a physicalist.
iii) One wonders about this “standard.” Can belief in the standard be supported by propositional evidence in its favor? If so, is this evidence the standard itself? If so, how is the charge of circularity avoided. If not, then how is this belief’s rationality assessed?
iv) I critique some details in Skepdick’s sketch, I am not trying to intimate that I am defending the notion that theists (or anyone!) are entitled to believe any irrationality.
T. 3. Skepdick (Part 4):
“Second, one may make the following claim of Reformed Epistemologists:
(1) Belief in God is properly basic and therefore can be held rationally without evidence or arguments in its favor.
However, I find this position to be deeply flawed and question-begging. Before we accept (1), we should be given some rational grounds for believing that (1) is true. However, upon defending (1), it has become an argument that attempts to rationally justify belief in God. Thus the defender of (1) cannot argue for this position without falling into contradiction. Furthermore, even the leading Reformed Epistemologists admittedly can provide no sufficient criteria for proper basicality when theism is accepted as properly basic. Consequently, (1) appears to be a self-defeating position.”
T. 3. Response:
i) (1) isn’t belief in God, it is a belief about the status of belief in God. Thus it is a non-sequitur to claim that if (1) needs evidence then “belief in God,” as such, needs propositional evidence in its favor in order to be rational.
ii) Plantinga has argued for (1) in many places, for his most extended discussion, see Warranted Christian Belief.
iii) Can Richard Spencer provide propositional evidence for belief in other minds, the reliability of sense perception, etc.? A survey of the literature doesn’t offer good inductive grounds that he can. Seems that belief in other minds is properly basic (James Lazarus, Richard‘s friend, holds this for sense perception. In his “Answers to Theists” he says the reliability of the senses is properly basic, following Alston). To state this is not to wind up in contradiction.
iv) Laws of logic exist. Now, can this be argued for without using logic? No. Belief in them appears to be basic. Yet we wouldn’t say that an argument to this effect is contradictory.
v) Apropos (iii) - (iv), Skepdick would have to hold the counter-intuitive, and I think downright false, belief that no beliefs are properly basic. I don’t know many epistemologists who would deny that there are. If he so grants, then his arguments against (1) wouldn’t work, by parity of argument. If he does not grant, he has a massive burden I don’t see him overcoming.
vi) (1) is the case for metaphysical reasons. Skepdick then confuses epistemology and metaphysics.
vii) Notice Spencer’s odd form of logic. The argument is that: [P1] If belief in God B is properly basic, then it is rational to hold B, even in the absence of propositional evidence E in favor of B; [P2] B is properly basic; [C1] therefore, it is not rational to hold B, even in the absence of E in favor of B! Formally: P --> Q; P; :. ~Q!
viii) The proper basicality of belief in God simply means that the belief is not inferred from, or grounded in, other beliefs. Given that, why does Skepdick think that if we show that belief in God is properly basic this constitutes an inference to God? That is, belief in God isn’t grounded in a demonstration of theism’s proper basicality. The theist doesn’t reason: Since my theistic beliefs are properly basic I therefore have a reason to believe in God. Saying that it is rational to believe in God isn’t the same thing as saying you have offered a reason, or evidence to believe in God. Skepdick’s reasoning is simply faulty on numerous levels.
ix) Epistemologists also recognize that one cannot give criteria for what constitutes a “heap” of sand. Do heaps not exist, then?
x) The criteria objection presupposes a dubious assumption, or so I’ve found. That assumption is: “If belief in God can be properly basic, so can any old belief.” But Plantinga claims that even though we may not be able to fully articulate the criteria for proper basicality, we may assert that ... "certain propositions are not properly basic in certain conditions." (Plantinga, 1981, p.49) He gives Russell's paradoxes as an example of statements that seem to be properly basic, but when looked at closely fail to meet prima facie conditions for basicality.
xi) The picture is not as hopeless as Skepdick contends. Plantinga does say there is a criteria. He says we can proceed inductively, starting with paradigm cases of properly basic beliefs.
xii) For the above reasons, I conclude that Skepdick’s arguments against properly basic theistic beliefs fail. As such he has not shown that a theist cannot be rational in accepting many of his theistic beliefs even in the absence of propositional evidence in its favor. I have also shown that he must view fellow atheist, and top-notch philosopher, William Lycan, as “irrational,” which seems prima facie absurd.
T. 4. Skepdick (Part 5):
“Quite obviously, the third response to my opening paragraph would be that theism is rational--that I have either improperly evaluated the evidence for and against theism or that I have not examined enough of the evidence before reaching my conclusion. This may well be the case. I will therefore take it as my duty for the remainder of this essay to explain why I believe various theistic arguments fail and atheistic arguments succeed.”
T. 5. Response:
Based upon what I demonstrated above, it technically does not matter if I continue on and interact with his interaction with putative arguments for God’s existence, and some putative arguments against his existence. I should note that Skepdick doesn’t take on all, or even most of the arguments for theism in this section. His conclusion looks hasty. I should also point out that with respect to his atheological arguments, agnostic, and top-notch philosopher of religion, Graham Oppy, doesn’t share Skepdick’s assessment of the debate. In his book Arguing About Gods, Oppy shows that none of these atheological arguments is powerful enough to change the minds of reasonable participants in debates on the question of the existence of God. Oppy also concludes that theists can be rational in believing I God. He does not suppose them irrational for believing on the evidence they have. And, he doesn’t think the defeaters are sufficient defeater-defeater such that the theist is rationally bound to give up his beliefs. Having said that, I’ll briefly loook at some of Skepdick’s arguments, pro and con.
T. 6. Skepdick (Part 7):
“Anselm's, Descartes's, and those of modern theists, reduces to unfounded assumptions or question-begging. While proponents of OA attempt to define God into existence, they appear to forget that existence is not a property--it is that which without no properties could be held.”
T. 6. Response:
i) It is debatable about whether existence is a predicate. Not all theists or atheists agree that it isn’t. Also, Skepdick doesn’t take on the best representatives of OAs in his throw away comment. Take Plantinga’s:
Here's the version from Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom, and Evil:
a) Key assumption: "There is a possible world in which maximal
greatness is instantiated"
(1) That is, possibly, maximal greatness is exemplified.
(2) Maximal excellence: depends on the properties it has in a given
world. Entails omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.
(3) Maximal greatness: depends on what the being is like in other worlds.
(4) Maximal greatness entails maximum excellence in every world.
(5) Thus, "a being has the maximal degree of greatness in a given
world W only if it has maximal excellence in every possible world".
b) The argument:
(1) Possibly, maximal greatness is exemplified (say, in W').
(2) Thus, "had W' been actual, there would have been a being with
(3) Thus, "if W' had been actual, there would have existed a being who was omniscient and omnipotent and morally perfect and who would have had these properties in every possible world."
(4) Thus, "if W' had been actual, it would have been impossible that there be no omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being."
(5) "But… while contingent truths vary from world to world, what is logically impossible does not."
(6) "Therefore, in every possible world W it is impossible that there be no such being."
(7) Therefore, "it is impossible in the actual world (which is one of
the possible worlds) that there be no omniscient, omnipotent, and
morally perfect being."
(8) Thus, "there really does exist a being who is omniscient,
omnipotent, and morally perfect and who exists and has these
properties in every possible world."
iii) And possible response are that maximally perfect lions or maximally perfect unicorns can just be substituted in. But there are easy responses even here. "For as a necessary being such a beast would have to exist in every possible world we can conceive. But any animal that could exist in a possible world in which the universe is comprised wholly of a singularity of infinite density just is not a lion [or a unicorn]. In contrast, a maximally excellent being could transcend such physical limitations and so be conceived as necessarily existent" (J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, p. 497).
iv) And in Plantinga’s entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, under "God, arguments for the existence of, " in sec. 4 he outlines the argument and defends its central premise. But note well his claim: “So stated, the ontological argument breaches no laws of logic, commits no confusions and is entirely immune to Kant's criticism. The only remaining question of interest is whether its premise, that maximal greatness is possibly exemplified, is indeed true. That certainly seems to be a rational claim; but it is not one that cannot rationally be denied.”
v) And professionally train philosopher, who for our purposes will be called Aquascum, has this to say on the “you can’t define God into existence” retort:
“You say that "it still appears invalid to 'create' something by definitional fiat, rather than provide for its possibility." But this isn't what's going on in the ontological argument (whether Anselm's original version or Plantinga's modal version). If either author were 'creating' God by definitional fiat, the presentation would most likely go something like this: "I define 'God' as an existing being. Therefore, God exists." Clearly, this *isn't* what's going on in the ontological argument. For starters, although the argument employs definitions, it doesn't employ them like *that*! Rather, an *argument* is being given. One starts with a definition of ‘maximal greatness’ (which definition does *not* involve the claim that God actually exists), and then one *argues*, by way of the relevant modal principles of S5 logic, that if we grant that maximal greatness is possibly exemplified, we get the actual exemplification of maximal greatness; i.e., the existence of God. This isn't "creating something by definitional fiat." It's arguing to a conclusion on the basis of premises. One can dispute the premises, or dispute the inferences, but one can't deny that the premises and inferences are there to be disputed. That's because what we have here is an actual argument, and not a ‘definitional fiat.’”
T. 7. Skepdick (Part 8):
“Third, and finally, proponents of the teleological argument (TA) claim that the "orderliness" of the universe, or apparent "design in nature," proves the existence of a God. Richard Carrier easily exposed the flaws of this position in a debate when he pointed out that not knowing what causes certain things to happen does not justify one to conclude that an intelligent being is the cause. He further pointed out that unexplained order in the universe can never count as evidence for theism because we cannot know that a natural explanation is not forthcoming. We must be careful to note that we are not appealing to ignorance by claiming that a natural explanation could exist. To the contrary, because the hypothesis that supernatural agency is the cause of anything has consistently been replaced successfully by natural explanations, there is no reason to suppose that this trend will not continue.”
T. 7. Response:
i) Again, Skepdick doesn’t interact with the best teleological arguments, e.g., Collins’ fine tuning arguments.
ii) he seems to confuse I.D. with “the design argument.” This is rebutted in Dembski’s The Design Revolution, pp. 64-71.
iii) His citing of Carrier is vague. For example, I may see that someone was murdered, though I may not yet know what caused the death. I can still conclude that an intelligent being is the cause.
iv) Design theorists don’t say that the order is unexplainable. They say it is best explained by a designer. Anyway, Skepdick’s argument is at this level: Say I find a dead person with a knife stuck in his heart and footprints in blood going the opposite direction. Say the victim is a reputed mob boss. Could I hold out for am unintelligent explanation?
v) Saying that natural explanations have shown that God didn’t cause X or Y is a bit self-serving. Indeed, they can’t. The evidence doesn’t speak that way. At best we might be able to see how God brought X or Y about, by means of ordinary providence, for example.
T. 8. Skepdick (Part 9):
“Another popular form of theistic argument is the appeal to our sense of right and wrong. The claim is often made that without God morality must be subjective, and since there are certain things that we wish to label absolutely wrong, subjective morality cannot suffice. Instead, we must acknowledge the existence of a moral law provided by a moral law giver, i.e., God. This form of argument fails to provide any evidence for theism for a multitude of reasons. First, it confutes absolute morality with objective morality; it is not necessary for something to be absolutely wrong in order for it to be objectively wrong.”
T. 9. Response:
Where does he get this? I have no allusions that absolute morality is objective morality. I don’t even think all moral laws are absolute. So, he begins by misstating the theists position, or at least most of those I’ve read.
T. 10. Skepdick (Part 11):
“Furthermore, it is entirely possible to construct a theory of objective morality that does not require any appeal to a god. Instead, it needs to appeal only to the fact that we are temporal, mortal beings who desire one state of affairs over another.”
T. 10. Response:
i) Construct the theory. I’ve read quite a few books on ethics. The situation looks pretty bleak. I don’t even need to invoke God. I’ll invoke other atheists’ arguments against his position. As easy as it is to “construct” an objective ethics, it’s just as easy to “deconstruct” it.
ii) A non-cognitive would have a field day with Skepdick’s admission of desire based ethics.
T. 11. Skepdick (Part 12):
“More problems arise for the theist when we pry beneath the surface of his or her argument and ask exactly how the existence of God provides us with objective morality. We must wonder whether God is a tyrant enforcing the moral rules he made up or whether he is himself subject to some eternal moral law.”
T. 11. Response:
God’s nature is the truth-maker for objective (or absolute) truths. He is subject to his own nature, yes. Since he is a maximally good, and just being, then no, he is not a tyrant enforcing rules he made him; not in the least because he didn’t “make them up.”
T. 12. Skepdick (Part 13):
The Evidential Argument from Evil”
T. 12. Response:
I quote no more than this because in this section Skepdick does no more than essentially say that the evidential argument from evil has not been answered. He lists some names of atheists who, he thinks, have presented compelling versions of this argument. And then closes by saying Jeff Lowder has argued that this world with pain and pleasure, evils, and God’s silence is not what we would expect if theism were the case.
I too could point out many theists who have responded to the evidential argument. Such as Bergmann, Wykstra, Helm, Frame, and Welty, to name just a few. Welty can be read here:
I should also add that Steve Hays has posted a considerable amount of arguments against evidentialist objections on Triablogue. An easy search should recover much relevant material.
I should add that I find the evidential argument from evil uncompelling. Indeed, as a Christian I think that the greatest evil man kind could empirically point to, the murder of the Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ, had a good reason for it. So, why, a fortiori, should I think that vastly lesser evils do not have good reasons for their existence? I also don’t find too compelling arguments based on what humans find plausible or implausible given theism. Would we think the Trinity more or less probable of theism? How about an incarnation? How about God dying for man’s sins? I think I agree with C.S. Lewis when he says, “Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.” How is fallen man privy to what God would or wouldn’t do? How can they make this claim, at all? They are not going off of revelation. They go off speculation. These kinds of arguments I find easily reversible. For example, this world, with all its order, moral laws, beauty, purpose, cognitive faculties aimed at producing true beliefs, etc., is not what I would expect given naturalistic evolution.
I point out lastly that I find claims such as the above about pain (or pleasure) to become ridiculous upon analysis. I think it is good God gave us the ability to experience pain (I leave out the thorny problem of how first person, subjective mental experiences can be made intelligible on Skepdick’s admitted physicalism about the brain). Would the atheologian have us bleed to death internally because we did not feel pain and so did not go to the doctor? Well perhaps, the atheist will retort, God shouldn’t have made us able to bleed (forget all the benefits this function provides and thus the other changes that would have to happen for this to work). Perhaps he should have made us out of indestructible metal. No more swimming! Or, since he’s all powerful, he could have made us indestructible and supper light and buoyant so that we could swim. Or, I guess he could have made no oceans so there would be no desire to swim. On this account we wouldn’t need to eat either. And, we would have an ever flowing lubricant so that we didn’t get stiff like Dorothy’s Tin Man. At the end of the day, atheists require an absurd situation which, if it obtained, would no doubt be something the atheologian wouldn’t have expected!
T. 13. Skepdick (Part 14):
“The Physical Dependence of Minds on the Brain
Another argument that powerfully demonstrates the improbability of theism is that if minds require physical brains, then the implication is that disembodied minds do not exist. Because all of the evidence available to us strongly suggests that minds do require physical brains, and since God is supposed to be or possess a disembodied mind, it is unlikely that God exists.”
T. 14. Response:
This is nothing more than an expression of physicalist bias. It’s not an argument. And, it is invalid as the conclusion goes beyond the premises. Even if all that he says is correct, which I disagree that it is, all he can say has been shown is that human minds require brains. This says nothing of the divine. I also think he’s overreaching quite a bit to say that all of the evidence points to physicalism. Indeed, I just cited a well know materialist philosopher who disagrees (Lycan)! Also, the majority of the “evidence” confuses correlation with causation. And, almost all philosophers, physicalists included, admit that the “hard problem” has not been solved. Skepdick referenced pain above. But no one has conclusively and uncontroversially shown that this can be had given physicalism. This is admitted by many physicalists. I don’t find anything compelling about Skepdick’s atheological argument here.
T. 15. Skepdick (Part 16):
“The Argument from Religious Confusion
The religious landscape is invariably muddied by competing and contradictory opinions about the nature of God. Since we would expect that any theistic God would want his nature and expectations clearly revealed to his beloved creation, the lack of such clarity in the religious landscape is evidence against theism.”
T. 15. Response:
Skepdick confuses metaphysics and epistemology. The revelation is clear. Debate doesn’t necessarily presuppose unclear data, it just as easily presupposes unclear thinking by the parties involved. Thus theistic accounts of disagreement are totally consistent with the empirical fact of disagreement. Moreover, many non-cognitivists have made exactly the same arguments for the non-existence of objective moral facts! Moral disagreement doesn’t disprove objectivism, even if some say we wouldn’t expect disagreement given the truth of objectivism, and so I don’t see how Skepdick’s argument rules out theism in any non-question begging way. Furthermore, given the fall and human creativity, religious disagreement is exactly what I expect to find when I look at the world. So, not only is this argument a non-defeater, not only is the empirical evidence consistent with theism, I would argue that the empirical evidence is confirmatory of theism! This is all a matter of presupposition and worldview, though. Thus I find Skepdick’s argument here, like many others he offers, to simply beg important questions.
T. 16. Skepdick (Part 17):
“The Arguments from Nonbelief, the Reasonableness of Nonbelief, and Divine Hiddenness.
Quite simply, there is no apparent reason that God could have for not providing clear knowledge of himself to those he desires to believe in him. Furthermore, there seems to be no morally justificatory reason that God could have for concealing his existence. Moreover, the existence of widespread nonbelief in the theistic God is evidence against theism; the lack of clear knowledge of God is evidence against the existence of a God who could provide such knowledge; and, since we would expect nonbelief in God to be unreasonable if theism were true given the nature of the theistic God, the reasonableness of nonbelief is evidence against theism.”
T. 16. Response:
i) On the reformed view, God has provided clear knowledge of himself to those he desires to believe in Him. Not only that, he has provided that clear knowledge to all men. Skepdick doesn’t take into account self deception.
ii) Given sin, I would expect professed nonbelief to be found. Again, this is confirmatory of my worldview.
iii) (T. 16) is inconsistent with (T. 7). Skepdick can’t have it both ways. On (T. 7) one would “find a naturalistic explanation” for God’s acts in the world. Indeed, many atheistic arguments try to show that God cannot act in the world. Thus atheists cannot employ all of these arguments. Indeed, in the next section Skepdick employs an argument were supernatural occurrences are precluded! So, on the one had, Skedick wants God to act in the world, on the other hand God is precluded from acting in the world.
T. 17. Skepdick (Part 18):
“Atheistic Cosmological Arguments
Although we examined theistic cosmological arguments above, we may now observe some ways in which arguments from the universe may be fired back against theism. As both Carrier and Everitt have argued, the scale of the universe speaks against the truth of theism. Given only the hypothesis that God exists and what the universe looks like from this planet without the aid of technology, ancient cultures produced visions of the cosmos that differ dramatically from what science has revealed. If God created the universe for the purpose of placing humans in it, then it would make sense for the universe to be on a human scale. However, the universe is not on a human scale. Instead, we find a universe that displays no concern for us at all and in which we occupy only a tiny part. There is no obvious reason that the God of theism could have had for creating such an unimaginably huge universe, thus it seems more probable that theism is false--that God didn't create it at all. Furthermore, if arguments like those of Victor Stenger and Quentin Smith are correct, then the universe not only has no need for supernatural explanations, it precludes them.”
T. 17. Response:
i) His argument is based upon an odd conception of man being the apex of God's creation. An overly literal, Appalachian mountain fundamentalist understanding.
His argument is based upon the acceptance of a subjective premise, namely, I wouldn't have expected this kind of universe if God really made it. Well, I would. Or, I didn't/don't have an expectation either way.
It also doesn't take into account the fall. Why think unfallen humans wouldn't have had easy access to the entire universe? better technology. Or, why think the universe is only for us now. What about glorified saints?
And, his argument is subject to a devastating tu quoque: This universe, earth, creation, isn't what I'd expect given naturalistic evolution did it.
The only difference is that my side has an actual pedigree of arguments to that effect. He bases his on questionable exegesis and faulty hermeneutics. Skepdick can't exegete his premises from the Bible. I believe I can, and others have, given arguments against the probability of the type of world we line in on naturalistic evolutionary assumptions. In fact, the arguments on my side (whether you agree with them or not) are just as good, probably better, than the arguments Skepdick has from his understanding of Christian theism and the text of Scripture. Therefore, if he is consistent, he must think my tu quoque provides him reasons for being agnostic about naturalistic evolution.
Since he must be agnostic about this, he must be agnostic about the purpose and origin of our cognitive faculties. He then walks into Plantinga's EAAN. he would have a defeater for all his beliefs, including his Scope of the Universe belief.
Thus if Skepdick’s scope of the universe is persuasive to him, then my tu quoque must be, and then he has a defeater for his Scope argument. In other words, if his Scope argument is cogent for him, then he should reject it.
ii) What’s next, the depth of the ocean argument? Too many people on planet earth argument? The Bible is too large in scope given theism argument? God should have just posted one sentence in the sky. “I exist. I God.” But, there may be a natural explanation for this. Perhaps aliens did it. After all, if God existed there wouldn’t be evil. So the sign isn’t indicative of his existence.
T. 18. Skepdick (Part 19):
“The Problem of Coherence
The task of producing a meaningful and consistent definition of the theistic God is difficult enough in the eyes of many philosophers that the concept is often considered vacuous. Determining what is even meant by the various attributes commonly given to God is complicated (for example, what it means to be all-loving or all-knowing is not entirely clear) and the problems created by attempting to reconcile these attributes with each other are vast. Carrier has presented an argument along these lines by demonstrating the difficulty attached to the doctrine of omnipresence. Since omnipresence cannot mean that God exists in every spatial location (as we can clearly see by looking in front of us), then it follows that God must have no spatial location. However, if God has no spatial location then God exists nowhere; if God exists nowhere, then God does not exist. Problems arise in the same way with the doctrine of immateriality. Since it is claimed that God is not composed of matter, then it follows that God is made of nothing. However, if God is made of nothing then he is nothing, i.e., he does not exist. The theist may reply that God's existence is some other type than spatial and material, but because we have no idea what such existence would be, we begin to see why the concept of God is often considered vacuous. ”
T. 18. Response:
i) The above assumes that the only things that have spatial location exist. Laws of logic do not have spatial location. Therefore, laws of logic do not exist.
ii) The second assumes that if something exists it must be material. Laws of logic are not material. Therefore they do not exist.
iii) This argument is only persuasive to crass materialists.
iv) There are also illicit logical moves. It doesn’t follow that if God is made of nothing that he is nothing. There’s an equivocation on nothing. And, paradoxically, one can say that God has a body in Christ Jesus. Thus argument is also false. (For a defense of paradox in Christian theology see James Anderson’s, Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status.)
And so in conclusion, Skepdick has not shown how (a) theism can be rationally believed in the absence of propositional evidence in its favor, and (b) that the arguments for belief in God fail, and (c) that the arguments against God’s existence succeed.
Skepdick’s presentation represents the very best of the lot examined here. It doesn’t come close to succeeding, and so the “Irrationality of Theism: Views of our Community,” does not come close to showing that it is rational to believe theism is irrational, or that theism is irrational. Indeed, quite the opposite conclusion has been drawn. It looks like those who reject theism (with the exception of one, maybe two) are irrational on their own terms. Given the nature of their poor arguments, they should reject belief in the irrationality of theism. They either are internally inconsistent, or don’t apply the same standards to themselves as they hold others to. Both of these are irrational activities. The above represents what the Christian will find on high school and college campuses. The above views are really representative of the level of argumentation and thinking most young, laymen Christian boys and girls (men and women) will be subject to. With this in mind, you should be all the more confident as you go to public schools, or off to college. This survey of arguments against our faith should cause you to thank God that he saved you from the above kind of foolishness. When you meet atheologians on campus, you should be prepared to deal with them in short and quick fashion. Not only have you received a great salvation, you have been graciously called to be a member of the most rational, most defensible, and most attractive off all competing worldviews in the market place of ideas.