Thursday, March 14, 2019

Is there no evidence for God's existence?

Recently, there was a dialogue between Christian philosopher Josh Rasmussen and atheist Tom Jump:

It's a long slog. For the philosophically-inclined. It illustrates the ultimately presuppositional nature of debate between naturalism and Christian theism:

1. Jump often defaults to a kind of linguistic positivism (a la Carnap, Quine, protocol sentences) in which logic and reason are reducible to language and linguistic tokens.

2. It's ironic how Jump dismisses Josh's position as ad hoc while, in the same breath, he demotes value, mind, and logic to emergent properties or projections. It doesn't occur to him that his own position is ad hoc because it forces him to relegate things like value, mind, and logic to the realm of secondary effects or imaginary things we project onto the world. 

3. He defines simplicity, or a parsimonious explanation, as a finite thing causing another finite thing. He thinks inferring God is a more complicated explanation because God is more complex. He fails to appreciate how God can be a unifying principle. 

To take a comparison, consider the explanatory power of abstract objects like the Mandelbrot set. Even thought it's infinitely internally complex, yet just one abstract object (Mandelbrot set) can ground an indefinite number of finite simulations of the Mandelbrot set. That's simpler than an atomistic explanation where every simulation of the Mandelbrot set is caused by another concrete particular (whatever that would be). It's more economical to explain how one complex thing grounds many individual instances rather than requiring a separate explanation for each and every particular. 

4. On a related note, he fails to distinguish between a one-to-one explanation and a one-to-many explanation. The indefinite multiplication of one-to-one explanations is far more cumbersome and inefficient than a one-to-many explanation. If one thing can be the ultimate source of many things, even if the source is complex, that's a more elegant explanation than individual things causing other individual things at infinitum. 

5. In the same vein, he defines simplicity as the least thing required to account for the result ("most simple…exactly what is required"). But that's very nearsighted. Take artistic creativity. Take da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi (or Handel's Messiah). Not doubt a painting requires a painter at least as complex as the painting. But the Adoration of the Magi is just a sample of da Vinci's creative abilities. It's not a one-to-one match where that's all da Vinci is capable of doing. Da Vinci had a lot more in reserve. In general, a creator is greater than what he creates. He can't be less that what he creates. He must have enough imagination and skill to do it. But a creator brings more to the task than the task requires. That's typically the case even for human agents. 

6. To take another example: suppose a guy plays roulette once a month at the local casino. Nothing flashy, yet he consistently performs just a little better than the odds. As a result, he wins more often than he loses. Coincidentally, he makes enough each time to cover his monthly living expenses. 

By Jump's criterion, the gambler got lucky. We assess each dice throw in isolation, since that's the simplest explanation, if by simple we mean "exactly what is required" to explain each throw of the dice. 

The other explanation is that he has a subtle way of cheating. Although there's no direct evidence of cheating, the fact that he consistently beats the odds, albeit by a small margin, is indirect evidence. We're not restricting ourselves to "exactly what is required" to explain each individual throw of the dice, but how to explain the overall pattern. 

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