Monday, February 24, 2014

Irrational atheism


I'm going to comment on this post by atheist Jeff Lowder:


While I agree that atheism (the belief that God does not exist version) does have a burden of proof, atheism doesn’t have nearly the same burden of proof as theism. Why? Because theism has a lower prior probability than naturalism and naturalism entails atheism.

He doesn't explain or defend his claim that theism has a lower prior probability than naturalism. Perhaps, though, he intends the reader to infer that his subsequent reasons in this post bear out the claim. 

His “two dozen or so” theistic arguments, philosophically speaking, consist of practically everything but the kitchen sink as evidence for theism. 

There's a grain of truth to that, but it's misleading. These are lecture notes. They don't profess to detail the arguments, but to give the audience an overview. Even in the text, Plantinga refers the reader to more detailed expositions. 

Plantinga knows very well that atheists have offered serious arguments for atheism, including the argument from nonculpable nonbelief (aka “divine hiddenness”),

And what's the argument? Schellenberg begins by claiming:

This claim is not hard to substantiate, and is not itself resisted by many. As support, consider those who have always believed in God and who would love to go on believing in God but who have found, as adults, that serious and honest examination of all the evidence of experience and argument they can lay their hands on has unexpectedly had the result of eroding their belief away. These are individuals who were happy and morally committed believers, and who remain morally committed but are no longer happy because of the emotional effects of an intellectual reorganization involving the removal of theistic belief. 
Perhaps even more convincing support for the existence of nonresistant nonbelief is provided by all those--both at the present time and throughout the past--for whom theistic belief has never been a live option. In some such individuals, quite other beliefs, supported by authority or tradition or experience, have held sway instead of theism.
Unfortunately, this interprets the motives of the atheist or apostate from the biased viewpoint of an atheist. A very charitable interpretation which credits the apostate or atheist with the best of intentions. But, of course, that begs the question. That's hardly how the Bible views unbelievers.  

Schellenberg goes onto claim:

In others, the basic conceptual conditions of so much as entertaining the idea of a being separate from the physical universe who created it, and who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good and loving in relation to it, have never been satisfied.
Once again, that claim takes for granted an atheistic view of the natural evidence (or lack thereof) for God.  

Schellenberg goes onto claim:

If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God are in a position to participate in such relationships--i.e., able to do so just by trying to.

Readers will notice, first of all, a link being forged between perfect divine love and the availability of relationship with God…A perfectly loving God--if those words mean anything--would, like the best human lover, ensure that meaningful contact with herself was always possible for those she loved.
That description is generally consistent with freewill theism. However, it lacks traction for Reformed theism, where God's redemptive love is confined to the elect. In Calvinism, not only does God not intend to make everyone have a positive relationship with him, but he intends that some (the reprobate) not have a positive relationship with him. He predestined them to be unbelievers. So, in Schellenberg's formulation, the divine hiddenness argument is, at best, an argument against freewill theism rather than Reformed theism. It doesn't even scratch the surface of Reformed theism. 

the evidential argument from biological evolution

And what's the argument? Jeff says:

Many conservative Christians and lay atheists alike claim that if biological evolution is true, then God does not exist. 

Really? The actual claim of many conservative Christians is that biological evolution (e.g. macroeverolution, universal common descent) is incompatible with biblical theism, not theism in general. So Jeff presents a false dichotomy. If his actual target is biblical theism, then he needs to reformulate his argument.

and the evidential argument from mind-brain dependence

And what's the argument? Jeff says:

All healthy human beings have minds, including rich conscious experiences and personalities.

What about Jerry Coyne's contention, shared by many many secularists, that our sense of self is a "neuronal illusion"? What about Alex Rosenberg's eliminative materialism?  

Scientific evidence shows that human consciousness and personality are highly dependent upon the brain. In this context, nothing mental happens without something physical happening. That strongly implies that the mind cannot exist independently of physical arrangements of matter. In other words, we do not have a soul.

i) That ignores evidence for mind/brain independence, viz. veridical NDEs, veridical OBEs, psi, postmortem apparitions, the hard problem of consciousness. 

ii) In addition, even if embodied minds are dependent on brains, it hardly follows that minds are still dependent on brains when they are separated from brains. 

And this is exactly what we would expect if naturalism is true.

What about Christian physicalists like Kevin Corcoran, Joel Green, Peter van Inwagen, Trenton Merricks, Nancey Murphy, Lynne Rudder Baker? 

(I'm not endorsing physicalism. I'm just drawing attention to another one of Jeff's stimulative expectations.) 

But if nothing mental happens without something physical happening, that is evidence against both the existence of souls and the existence of any being who is supposed to have a disembodied mind, including God. 

Notice the blatant equivocation, where he fallaciously moves from nothing mental happens without something physical happening in reference to humans to God. Jeff's analogy might be valid for Mormonism, but it's hardly valid for Christian theism. 

Naturalism is logically incompatible with disembodied minds, e.g., souls, ghosts, spirits, demons, angels, gods, God, etc. 

Now he expands the candidates for discarnate minds to include angels and demons. But what if there's evidence for angels (e.g. angelical apparitions) and demons (e.g. possession)? 

If human minds were independent of the physical brain, then brain injuries should not have much, if any, impact on mental activity since, ex hypothesi, mental activity does not occur in the brain to begin with. 

If you damage a receiver (e.g. a television), you can't access the signal, even though the source of the signal is independent of the receiver. An outside observer has no way of knowing if mental activity is still occurring, inasmuch as the patient's brain/body is the medium by which he observes mental activity in the patient.

As Paul Draper has argued, “if theism does make it likely that some human beings have a properly functioning sensus divinitatis, then it makes it likely that everyone has one or at least that everyone who is not resistant to belief in God has one, which, pace John Calvin, is not what we observe.”

But in Calvin, the senses divinitatis is offset by the noetic effects of sin. 

Furthermore, as Draper goes on to point out,… the cognitive science of religion is not wholly supportive of Plantinga’s position. Human beings instinctively believe in all sorts of invisible agents, not just in gods and certainly not just in a single creator-God let alone the specific creator-God of metaphysical theism. So we seem to have a broad sensus actoris instead of a narrow sensus divinitatis.

Since the Christian worldview includes other invisible agents besides God (i.e. angels, demons, ghosts), how does that observation count against the senses divinitatis? 

As Keith Parsons has argued, the non-existence of the sensus divinitatis is evidence for the non-existence of God.My argument is simple. I think that Alvin Plantinga is right. If God exists, humans will very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a God-detecting faculty, which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, will present us with warrant-basic (both warranted and epistemologically basic) awareness of his existence. If this is so, and if God does exist, then humans, provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus, will have a warrant-basic awareness of God’s existence. On the other hand, if there is no God, it is extremely unlikely that humans would possess a cognitive faculty that would produce the warranted (but false) belief that God exists. In this case, evidence that belief in God is not caused by a warrant-conferring cognitive faculty, but rather is generated by a noncognitive process that does not confer warrant on that belief, will, ipso facto, constitute evidence against the existence of God. An atheological argument can therefore be set out semi-formally like this:1) If God exists, then humans very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a cognitive faculty which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, produces the warrant-basic belief that God exists.2) If there is no sensus divinitatis, then God probably does not exist, unless the background probability of his existence is very high.3) It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high.4) There is no sensus divinitatis.5) Therefore, God probably does not exist.

That argument is obviously vulnerable at two keys points:

provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus 

It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high

Persons needs to defend both assumptions. 

First, the only intelligent life we know of is human and it exists in this universe. As Paul Draper explains:“while it may be true that on single-universe naturalism the existence of anything as impressive as human beings is very unlikely, it is also true that on theism the existence of intelligent beings as unimpressive and flawed as humans is very unlikely. 

Draper needs to explain in what sense humans are unimpressive and flaws. According to Christian theology:

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[d] might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor 1:27-29). 
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Cor 4:7). 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor 12:9).
Continuing with Draper:

There are indefinitely many different kinds of creatures that an omnipotent being would have the power to create and that, other things being equal, would be more valuable to create than humans. 
Angels are more "impressive" than humans. 

Further, given that human beings do exist, it is certain on single-universe naturalism, but not on theism, that they exist in this universe (i.e., in the one universe that we know to exist).”

There are Christians (Don Page, Jeff Zweerink) who subscribe to a multiverse.

Second, intelligent life is the result of evolution. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that it developed as a result of biological evolution is more probable on naturalism than on it is on theism.

What about theistic evolutionists like Don Page, Rupert Sheldrake, Francis Collins, Alexander Pruss, Alister McGrath, Michael Behe, Michael Denton, Karl Rahner, Conway Morris, Alexander Pruss, Stephen Barr, Vincent Torley, B. B. Warfield, Nicholas Rescher, William Hasker, Richard Swinburne, and Peter van Inwagen–to name a few? 

(I'm not endorsing theistic evolution. I'm just pointing out that what's obvious to Jeff isn't obvious to many very intelligent theists.)

This argument assumes the truth of biological evolution; for a defense of that assumption, see the Talk.Origins archive. To be sure, biological evolution is logically compatible with theism; God could have used evolution to create life. But if theism were true, God could have also used many other methods to create life, methods which are impossible if naturalism is true. 

Which is precisely what young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists argue for: fiat creation, special creation. 

In contrast, if naturalism is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. 

In the contingent sense that given naturalism, then naturalistic evolution is the only game in town. That, however, isn't evidence for either naturalism or naturalistic evolution. 

Definitions 
supernatural person: a person that is neither a part nor a product of the physical universeperfect person: perfect in power (omnipotent), perfect in knowledge (omniscient), and perfect in moral goodness (morally perfect). God: a perfect supernatural person

That's not a definition of theism, per se. Rather, that's a definition of classical theism or perfect being theology.  

Logical Form
(1) Evolution is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.(2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.(3) Therefore, evolution conjoined with this statement about pain and pleasure is antecedently very much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true. [From 1 and 2](4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism.(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, naturalism is very much more probable than theism. [From 3 and 4](6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is highly probable that theism is false. [From 5 and 6]

How is premise #2 much more probable on the assumption of naturalistic evolution rather than theistic evolution–much less fiat creation or special creation? If God designed the human race to sustain its existence through sexual reproduction, then making sex enjoyable will incentivize reproductive success. 

Third, so much of the universe is hostile to life. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that so much of our universe is highly hostile to life–such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth–is more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.

Unfortunately, Jeff fails to explain how his conclusion follows from his premise. It's like saying that because Antarctica or Death Valley is inhospitable to human life, therefore, naturalism is more probably than theism. 

What is lame is Plantinga’s rather uncharitable representation of the evidential argument from the history of science

Here Jeff falls back on his old discredited post, which he had to patch up several times in the face of trenchant criticism. 

This ignores the evidence from the testimony of other atheists, including myself, who say that they wish that theism were true.

What's the evidence that Jeff wishes theism were true? He spends all his time attacking theism. 

This is Plantinga’s well-known “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (EAAN).1. The basic problem with the argument is that it’s false that “Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.” Rather, as Draper pointed out in his debate with Plantinga, “More generally, the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable, and that entails that the long term survival of our species is strong evidence for R.”2. Furthermore, “In addition, it is very unlikely that belief-producing mechanisms that do not track the truth would systematically promote survival in a very diverse and often rapidly changing environment.”

i) Why does Jeff think most organisms even have beliefs or cognitive faculties? If they can survive without beliefs or cognitive faculties, then they can survive without true beliefs or reliable cognitive faculties.

ii) What about Darwinian philosophers (e.g. Daniel Dennett, Alex Rosenberg, Paul and Patricia Churchland) and evolutionary biologists (e.g. Jerry Coyne) who deny that humans have beliefs or cognitive faculties? 

iii) Don't Darwinians like David Raup believe species have an extremely poor survival rate?

11 comments:

  1. ii) In addition, even if embodied minds are dependent on brains, it hardly follows that minds are still dependent on brains when they are separated from brains.

    As an analogy take two computers (say computer A represents the soul & computer B represents the physical brain). Both computers might be dependent on each other to function properly so long as they are connected via a network. But while computer B CANNOT function properly apart from a connection to computer A, it might be the case that computer A CAN function apart from computer B when disconnected.

    Or say, consciousness is analogous to printing. While A and B are connected, they can print. But if there's damage to B, even if A isn't damaged, A might not be able to print until or unless B is repaired or A is disconnected from B.

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    1. In times past there have been gadgets which wouldn't function even on the power of its internal battery if it was connected to a power cord which for some reason wasn't relaying electrical current (either because of a blackout or because it's not plugged into an electrical outlet). But once the power cord is disconnected from the gadget, the gadget would then be able to function on the power of its battery.

      On the basis of testimonial evidence of NDE or OBE, it might be that the soul's (or spirit's) connection to a brain limits its abilities. Since, some OBE or NDE testimonies claim that once one's spirit is disconnected from the body, sometimes one's spirit can see 360 degrees and not just in front of them. Also, there are claims that one's sensations are enhanced where sights and sounds are detectable at distances that wouldn't be able to be sensed while in the body. Or there are claims of enhanced recall of one's memories and past.

      Analogously, computer A might be able to print color photos when disconnected from computer B, but only black and white photos when connected to computer B.

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    2. I wrote:
      Since, some OBE or NDE testimonies claim that once one's spirit is disconnected from the body, sometimes one's spirit can see 360 degrees and not just in front of them.

      This might explain Rupert Sheldrake Starring Experiment.

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  2. If you damage a receiver (e.g. a television), you can't access the signal, even though the source of the signal is independent of the receiver. An outside observer has no way of knowing if mental activity is still occurring, inasmuch as the patient's brain/body is the medium by which he observes mental activity in the patient.

    While this is a popular analogy that Christians employ, I have never liked it because it seems that consciousness would be analogous to the signal. Damage to the receiver would have no effect on the signal. Therefore, the signal should continue to be just as strong. Yet, when under anesthesia consciousness ceases, as patients can testify. I remember as a teenager waking up from anesthesia and feeling as if time disappeared. I was conscious up until anesthesia was given, then (from my perspective) all of a sudden I was conscious of nurses waking me up telling me that my broken foot was set and placed in a cast. Yet I had no sense of the passage of time. It seemed instantaneous. Also, people with damaged brains can testify to how their mental faculties have been diminished.

    The analogies I gave above can explain these things while the receiver analogy doesn't seem to.

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    1. That's not essentially different from sleep. God gives the mind a rest as well as the body and brain. If the mind were still active, it would activate the brain. Indeed, that's what happens when we dream.

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    2. I don't see how that addresses the naturalist's objection. If the signal is consciousness itself, then regardless of the damage to the receiver consciousness itself shouldn't be affected. The brain damaged person may have difficulty moving his arm because the signal of his consciousness can't get to his arm. But that brain damaged person shouldn't have difficulty thinking normally if the brain is only an interface with the physical world and not, in some way, involved in the thinking process itself. Yet we know that consciousness, conscious experience, rational thinking, mental calculations, emotional feelings & sensations, desires and even the exercise of the will are affected by things like drugs, lack of sleep, brain injury, sicknesses (like the flu etc.), neurotransmitters and other chemicals and hormones produced by the brain.

      It still seems to me that the receiver analogy can't make sense of those things. While the analogies I gave above potentially can.

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    3. You keep missing the point the same way Lowder misses the point. The only way an observer can judge someone else' s mental function is from the outside. If the receiver is impaired, the mind can't get through unaffected. The output will be the same whether the mind is distinct from the brain or identical with the brain.

      Likewise, if the brain is impaired, and the mind is filtered through the brain in the soul's embodied state, impaired brain function will impede cognitive function.

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    4. To continue with the metaphor, if the music you hear from a radio is distorted, you can't tell if the source of the distortion is the radio or the radio station. Since a listener lacks direct access to the station, he can't tell if the radio originates the signal or transmits the signal.

      Likewise, as long as the soul is embodied, the mind is not independent of the brain. If the brain dies, then the soul is released.

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  3. ....it is also true that on theism the existence of intelligent beings as unimpressive and flawed as humans is very unlikely.

    That assumes that this is the final state of man. That's like saying caterpillars are unimpressive. Yet, when they transform into butterflies, they are VERY impressive. I highly doubt it's accidental that in Greek the word for butterfly, "psyche", is the same word for "soul." Greek mythology often alludes to that connection. I wonder if the NT does too. It would be all the more true in light of NT understanding of glorification.

    Besides, human beings are very impressive, as well as the humble catterpillar. Within the catterpillar is the potential for something magnificent. Same thing with the human soul made in God's image.

    As C.S. Lewis wrote, "...It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations."

    Once glorified, only the superior glory of God could disabuse a fellow creature of the thought that the human soul was itself divine. cf. Edward D. Griffin's sermons Heaven and When I was a Child I Thought as a Child

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  4. (2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.

    If I'm not mistaken, according to macro-evolution sexual reproduction first developed in lower very "primitive" species before the development of cephalization and therefore before there was any pleasure incentive.

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  5. Regarding EAAN, I find these two articles interesting.

    The Circularity of Evolutionary Reliabilism http://alturl.com/4fvrd

    Two Senses of ‘Reliability’ in Evolutionary Epistemology http://alturl.com/4fvrd

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