Saturday, June 28, 2008

Leibniz' Cosmological Argument

William Lane Craig sets Leibniz' cosmological argument as follows (Cosmological Argument, 274):

1. Something exists
2. There must be a sufficient reason or rational basis for why something exists rather than nothing.
3. This sufficient reason cannot be found in any single thing or in the whole aggregate of things or in the efficient causes for all things.
a. Things in the world are contingent, that is determined in their being by other things such that if matter and motion were changed, they would not exist.
b. The world is simply the conglomeration of such things and is thus itself contingent
c. The efficient causes of all things are simply prior states of the world, and these successive states do not explain why there are any states, any world, at all.
4. Therefore, there must exist outside the world and the states of the world a sufficient reason for the existence of the world.
5. This sufficient reason will be a metaphysically necessary being, that is, a being whose sufficient reason for existence is self-contained.

Premise one is undeniable; for in order to deny the existence of something, one must first exist. Thus, such a denial would be self-defeating. Likewise, in order to affirm the existence of something one must exist. Leibniz is making an affirmation here. Thus something certainly exists.

Premise two is a bit ambiguous. What does Leibniz mean by rational basis? It seems to me that this premise can be taken in two ways. Either it means that there is a knowable explanation for why the "something" from premise one exists or it means that there is a purpose for its existence. I think that taking "rational basis" in the second way will explicitly beg the question for the existence of God. However, there is a sense in which taking the premise in the first way implicitly begs the question—since it assumes an order to the universe. And order is not a given in a materialistic world. Nonetheless, to be charitable, I will grant that the order of the universe is a brute fact and allow the second premise on the first understanding, that "rational basis" applies to our ability to know the efficient (material) cause of something, rather than the purpose.

But then we find that Leibniz, in premise three, tells us that the reason cannot be found in the order of efficient causes. Thus his "rational basis" is premise two must be an appeal to a purpose. But this seems to beg the question. You cannot have a purpose without having an intelligent agent. Thus the very assumption that a purpose is a necessary condition for existence implies a necessary intelligent agent, or God.

Thus the rest of the argument put forth by Leibniz is mute. The whole "proof," since it relies on this assumption, fails.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Kalam Argument for God's Existence

The Kalam Cosmolog-ical Argument is one of the most basic and effective proofs for the existence of God. It is also one of the most highly challenged proofs. It can be stated as follows:

Premise 1: Everything that began to exist had a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a cause.

This argument carries a logical form that guarantees the conclusion is true if the premises are true (modus ponens). Therefore, a successful defense of this argument need only prove the two premises to guarantee its soundness. My goal here will be to briefly mention some criticisms of each premise, then to defend each premise, and finally to draw some implications of this proof.

Premise 1: Everything that began to exist had a cause.

For the most part, this premise is a generally accepted one. However, some have challenged whether or not we can know this to be true. To defend it against such doubt, I would like to point out that—for things that began to exist—there are only three possible explanations:

1- It was uncaused
2- It was caused to exist by itself
3- It was caused to exist by another

Now to say that a thing that began to exist was uncaused seems to go against all reason. Indeed this explanation is one that must rely on pure faith and that goes against everything in our experience. Some may argue that research in Quantum Mechanics supports the idea that things can be uncaused, but this hypothesis is highly questionable and there has not been given a demonstrable proof of it to this point.

The second option is absurd, seeing as the thing would have to exist before it existed in order to cause itself. I have never heard of this option defended.

Thus, the third option is by far the most plausible. In all of our experience, we can say that of all things that have begun to exist that they have had a cause.

One final note that should be made here regards an objection that has been around since Kant. It is the claim that, if everything needs a cause, then so does God—thus the first premise is half of an antinomy. But this argument is based on a clear misreading of the claim. The first premise states that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. Not that everything needs a cause. Thus the objection is misplaced.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

This premise can be defended in two different ways. One by a priori reasoning (reasoning that comes in a way that is separate from experience) and one by a posteriori reasoning (reasoning that comes by way of experience). The a priori defense of this premise argues from the impossibility of an infinite number of moments. The main claim is that one cannot traverse an actual infinite. Consider this: if today is here, could it be possible that an infinite number of days were prior to today? If so, then how did we reach today? Wouldn't there always be at least one more day prior to this day? Some will argue that an infinite can be shown to exist in the fact that all measurements are infinitely divisible. Take for instance a line 3 inches long. Mathematically, there are an infinite number of points on this line—thus within an apparent finite measurement there are an infinite number of length-moments. Therefore there is no reason to believe that within an apparent finite amount of time there are an infinite number of time-moments.

So can this problem be solved? Yes. In response to the skeptic here, it needs to be pointed out that the example fails. It is treating the mathematical points as if they were units of measurement, when in fact they have no actual dimension in the space-time world. It is because they are dimensionless beings of reason that one can say that they total an infinite number of possibilities. If points were real beings of which can be equated with length, then the total number of them that would fit into a 3 inch line would be finite. The same thing can be said with regards to time. A moment cannot be considered as a timeless measurement, because each moment, as they are considered in this argument, actually spans time. In conclusion, the mental-existence of potential infinites is not sufficient to prove that it is possible for an actual infinite to exist, let alone to be traversed. Therefore, this premise is demonstrable on an a priori basis.

Now, for those who are earthier and lovers of the evidence from the senses—like me—there is the a posteriori evidence for this argument. Simply put- Big Bang cosmology and the Laws of Thermodynamics support that the universe had a beginning. A full defense and explanation of this right here is not possible, so if anyone desires the particulars of this evidence, please ask. Otherwise, I will move right into the objections. Some say that the First Law of Thermodynamics proves that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; thus implying that the universe is eternal. But this is a misreading of the Law, which states that in a closed system the amount of energy is a constant unchangeable value. Some will say that the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the amount of useable energy in a closed system is always decreasing, does not apply since the universe may be an open system. But this is ad hoc, since there is no reason to accept the hypothesis except to reject the implication that the universe was created. Likewise, appeals to other theories such as the ever expanding-contracting universe are also ad hoc. In the end, the most reasonable interpretation of the scientific evidence points to a beginning of the universe.


Hence, since the premises both appear to be true, the conclusion must also be true. The most rational belief is that the universe must have had a cause. It is often at this point that many theists stop and many atheists will admit a cause but reject that the cause is God. But I would like to show that the cause demonstrated can ultimately be shown to be a theistic God, fully compatible with the picture of God described by Christianity.


There are many conclusions that can be drawn from this argument. First, because the cause is the cause of time, it must be eternal. Second, if Einstein's Theory of General Relativity is correct—as is generally accepted by most scientists—then the cause must also be non-spatial and non-material as well since time, space and matter are correlative. In other words, the cause is unlimited omnipresent spirit. Third, since time is the measurement of befores and afters and since the cause is non-temporal then there can be no befores and afters for the cause. Thus the cause must be unchanging. And since the cause is unchanging, then all that it is is all that it could ever be. Thus the cause must be Pure Actuality, with no potentiality. Fourth, given the existence of this cause, it is apparent that it is a necessarily existing thing. This is not to say that it is logically necessary, as the Ontological Argument wrongly tries to prove, but that it is actually necessary. We can know this because it exists and could not not-exist since it could not change. Fifth, the cause must be super-powerful since it created space, time, and matter out of no space, no-time, and no matter—or nothing. Finally, since the being is unlimited, then it must be one—for if there were two unlimited spirits, they would have to differ by something. But to differ, one must be lacking in something had by the other. But a lack implies a limit, thus one would not be the cause, but an effect of some sorts.

In summary, the Kalam argument can be used to demonstrate that a single super-powerful eternal, unlimited, omnipresent, unchanging, actually necessary spirit being exists. And, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, this being we call God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Incompatibility of Materialism and Science

I have science on my mind this week, well more properly I have the philosophy of science on my mind. First I went and saw Expelled (which was pretty good and I recommend it to everyone . . . it is not so much a blast on evolution as much as a call for academic freedom). Then, I read John Loftus' Why I Rejected Christianity. For the most part, the book consisted of the same old arguments that have been answered. Not to say that the questions he raised aren't important--they are. But most had been answered ad infinitum. There were a couple of things that he has brought up that are in need of more dialogue though, especially regarding historical knowledge. Nonetheless, I am not here to rave about the movie or blast the book. I am here to talk about something the book got me thinking about.

On page 93, Loftus says "There are four assumptions of science: 1) The belief of an external world independent of the perceiving subject as the basis of all natural science . . . 2) The intelligibility of nature . . . 3) The uniformity of nature . . . 4) The adequacy of scientific language and math to adequately describe the world." Now, I agree with these claims. I am an empiricist (meaning I believe that all knowledge is derived from the physical world). But I think that it is my belief that all physical things are material/immaterial compositions that allows for all these beliefs. Let me explain.

You see, for the materialist, there are no immaterial objects. Only physical objects and physical processes. Now, it is because they believe this that I think that they cannot affirm these points. First, the assumption number one is fine. There is no reason that this cannot be assumed. But assumption number two is a problem. I'll explain.

First, a rational assumption is one where there seems no reason to deny the claim, but it remains difficult, if not impossible to prove. But I think that there is good reason to deny this claim, given a materialist metaphysic. You see, if all external reality is purely matter, then the object of one's knowledge is not at all identical to the object in reality. The object in one's knowledge would be identical to whatever chemicals, electric pulses, and whatnot are involved in the act of the thought. But the object in reality is not identical to those factors; it is identical to whatever elements, compounds, accidents, and characteristics of extension that it maintains. In fact, if one were to line up all the characteristics of either object next to one another, they would find that they share not a single one in common.

This means that, of everything we know about the two objects, they are wholly different from one another. So is it even rational to assume that the objects are even similar? No. There is too much of a reason to doubt it. Thus there is good reason to deny the intelligibility of nature. But then assumptions three and four are worthless. Therefore, the materialist is left with assumption number one, which now is nothing but an article of blind faith. So science, if it is considered to be knowledge of all physical reality, is incompatible with materialism, since no physical reality may really be known.

So how do I avoid this? Well, it is my position that the only way to explain sameness through change (which includes the sameness of an object in reality to a changed state in my mind) is to postulate an immaterial aspect to all reality. Now this is not a mere assumption, since sameness through change is demonstrable (for instance, I am the same person that I was 20 years ago, and that is rationally undeniable--but none of the physical elements of me are the same). Therefore, belief in a material/immaterial composition is necessary for science and is such a belief is demonstrable and thus not ad hoc.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Some Minor Theodicies," "Conclusion," and "Appendix"


In this final section of Dr. Martin’s book he critiques some lesser advocated theodicies, concludes his entire argument, and offers an appendix. I really enjoyed this final section and gleaned a lot of good insights from it. Overall, I have been satisfied with the way that this endeavor has turned out and I am confident that I have shown Martin’s case, while he has made some strong points that should be addressed by theists, is not sufficient to destroy the rational foundations for theism. I hope those of you who have had the patience to bear with me through this long series have been edified.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

Martin’s final chapter of his argument for positive atheism continues and completes his section based on the problem of evil. Since he has already evaluated the strongest theistic positions, he chooses to at least make mention and critique of some lesser known theodicies. He states that these are less compelling and usually used by those who are not theologians or philosophers of religion.

He begins with the "Finite God Theodicy." As an example of this, Martin presents Rabbi Kushner’s position that God is not all powerful and, thus, cannot prevent all evil. Kushner believes that some evil is the result of chaos that God has been trying to get in order; other evils are the result of natural law. Martin critiques Kushner’s finite view by pointing out that: (1) Kushner has given no examples of evils resulting from uncaused events; (2) there is no evidence that some natural laws are newer than others, which would be the case if God was getting the chaos in order; (3) Kushner doesn’t explain why a god powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil; and (4) Kushner doesn’t explain why God doesn’t help some people. In response to four, Martin notes, some argue that God is preoccupied with preventing greater evils. But he answers that, if God could create the entire universe simultaneously, then why can’t he attend to all parts of it simultaneously.

Next, Martin assesses "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." This attempt to answer the problem of evil claims that the evil in this world is necessary since this is the best of all possible worlds. Martin offers two primary challenges to this answer. First, he says, it is improbable that this world could not be made better. Second, the notion of the best of all possible worlds is incoherent. In support of this second criticism, Martin offers arguments from Alvin Plantinga and Patrick Grim. Alvin Plantinga relates such a concept as "the best of all possible worlds" to "the greatest number." It seems to him that whatever object you conceive of can be upped one. Thus the concept is incoherent. Grim, on the other hand, claims that all possible worlds are equally good. He says that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. Now, if Grim is right, then there are many difficult implications—e.g., (1) this world would be as perfect as God Himself; (2) ethical fatalism; (3) counterfactual problems. Thus this theodicy also fails.

The next theodicy that Martin looks at is the "Original Sin Theodicy." This is the Judeo-Christian answer regarding the fall from grace (Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden). Martin objects to it saying that: (1) science shows that death and disaster came before human sin; (2) it is unjust, since to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins is unjust; and (3) it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin. This amounts to creating evil ex nihilo.

The fourth theodicy offered by Martin is the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." This answer claims that what seems like evil is not really evil from God’s perspective; or it is evil but has good consequences and, thus, it is justified. Martin offers four criticisms of this view: (1) if evil is an illusion, then moral fatalism results; (2) It seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. Then how can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us? (3) If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price? And (4) Heaven as a compensation for suffering cannot solve the problem since compensation doesn’t make the action right.

Finally, Martin offers four lesser known theodicies. The first is "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy." This is a complex theodicy that I will not explain here. The second is the "Reincarnation Theodicy. He offers four criticisms to this view: (1) the implications are absurd and morally appalling; (2) it is morally empty; (3) it contradicts the scientific discovery that life began a finite time ago; and (4) it still doesn’t explain why God allowed the evil in the first place. Next Martin presents the "Contrast Theodicy," which claims that evil is allowed to make the good more appreciable. Martin offers two criticisms: (1) why then is it experienced rather than simply seen? And (2) this doesn’t explain the extent of evil. Finally, Martin offers the "Warning Theodicy," which is a proposed solution to the problem of natural evil that views pain and disaster as warnings. To this solution, he asks "couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?"

Next, Martin moves on to his Conclusion. Here, he gives a short summary of what he has claimed and then proceeds to expound what he believes would happen if disbelief in God became prevalent. He says that if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. He also says that people would still join religious groups for the social benefit or aesthetic value. Further, it is conceivable that religious freedom could still reign. He then gives a list of things that would change, including: (1) the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change; (2) there would be fewer wars; and (3) the birthrate would drop. He concludes with his belief that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental.

Lastly, Martin gives us an Appendix where he makes distinctions between positive and negative, broad and narrow, and atheism and alienated theism. Then he gives the differences between atheism and agnosticism, skepticism, naturalism, rationalism, positivism, humanism, communism, the Freethought Movement, and the Ethical Culture Movement.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

I had many agreements and appreciations for this section of Martin’s book. First, I agree with Martin’s overall assessment of the "Finite God Theodicy," though there are a couple points of disagreement that I will note in my critique. Second, I agree with Martin’s rejection of the "Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy," and I have only one disagreement which I will mention later. Third, I will grant Martin’s critique of "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy," and will add that I reject the idea that God is obligated to any creatures. I don’t think this is so regardless of their degree of desirability. Fourth, I agree with each point of the "Reincarnation Theodicy." Fifth, regarding the "Contrast Theodicy," I agree with Martin. I will add that a contrast is not needed if one realizes that evil is not a thing to be compared but a privation. On this understanding, the "Contrast Theodicy" would seem to be saying that it is easier to appreciate an imperfect thing than a perfect thing, which seems silly. Sixth, I think that Martin’s Appendix was extremely helpful and should be read by all theists and atheists alike.


Now for my final critique. First, I have two criticisms from Martin’s critique of Kushner. (1) Martin complains that Kushner doesn’t explain why a God powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil. But I would like to ask Martin: "Why should God be obligated to do this?" If He wouldn’t be, then there is no problem. If He would be, then Martin needs to show how. (2) Martin then faults Kushner’s God for not helping some people. But how does Martin know that He doesn’t? Second, I have a single critique from the section on "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." Martin quotes Patrick Grim who claims that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. But this assumes that God is a moral being. Further, it seems to be ambiguous as to what is meant by "possible." A distinction between "logically possible" and "actually possible" needs to be made to clarify what he is saying.

My most extensive critique relates to Martin’s criticism of the "Original Sin Theodicy," which I wholly disagreed with. First, Martin claims that science shows that death and disaster came before human sin. But I ask, "Death and disaster of what?" There is no science that says that human death came before human sin. And since humans are the only known moral creatures, then there is no problem with the kind of death that occurred beforehand. Further, there is no evidence that disaster had any affect on humans who did not sin. Thus this argument fails. Second, Martin claims that it is unjust to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins. But this is implying that God is actively punishing His creation. This is false. What He has done is allow the human race to choose to live outside of His grace. The blame is not on God in any way, but on humanity. Furthermore, He has not been content to just let things be, but He has made a way back into His grace, through Jesus Christ. So not only is God not responsible for the effects of humanity’s choice to separate itself from Him, but He has gracefully given us a way back if we admit our fault. Third, Martin claims that it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin since this amounts to evil being created ex nihilo. But this is a confused concept of evil. Evil is not a thing to be created. It is a privation in a good thing. Thus evil can exist only in virtue of a good thing existing.

Next, I have a few criticisms of the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." First, one of Martin’s criticisms was that it seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. So he asks, "How can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us?" I answer that God doesn’t have a morality. He is worshipped in virtue of His ontology, i.e., what He is. Finally, He is not a moral guidance for us. He is the lawmaker, not its greatest keeper. Second, Martin asks "If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price?" But these arguments presume that the accuser knows more than God. If God is all knowing and all powerful, He has taken all possibilities into account and there is nothing to question here. Third, Martin critiques the picture of Heaven as a compensation for suffering since compensation doesn’t make the affliction right. But Heaven is not compensation, it is a gift. Further, God doesn’t inflict the evils, He allows them.

Next, I have a couple of criticisms regarding Martin’s handling of the "Warning Theodicy." Martin asks, "Couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?" Maybe this would not be effective. Pain makes the warning existentially relevant. Other messages, due to our limitations, may not appear as relevant. Overall, the other criticisms offered in this section by Martin are unfounded because they assume that God has an obligation to warn people in a better way. In fact, God has no obligation to warn us in the first place. It is an act of grace when He does.

Finally, I have a few criticisms of Martin’s conclusion. First, Martin claims that, if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. But they would if people lived consistently with their beliefs. I know that I would act way differently if I believed that God did not exist. I would act as I did before I became a Christian, if not worse. Second, Martin claims that the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change. I say that if people were consistent, moral education and legislation would end. Third, Martin claims that there would be fewer wars. But contrary to the popular assumption, most wars have no religious significance. They are political and economic in nature. Further, this assumes that religious beliefs are not active deterrents to war. This assumption needs to be demonstrated. Finally, Martin says that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental. I would add to this that they are likely due to the fact that the arguments of this book are insufficient for demonstrating that God does not exist. In fact, in light of the criticisms raised here, I think that it is safe to say that theism remains the most rationally defensible position.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Natural Evil" and "The Soul-Making Theodicy"

CHAPTERS 16 and 17

In Chapters 16 and 17, Dr. Martin continues with his considerations about the fact of evil and its relation to the viability of belief in God. In the last chapter he began his appraisal of the common theistic attempts to explain the existence of evil by evaluating the Free Will Defense. In Chapter 16, Martin looks at the existence of natural evils and in Chapter 17 he evaluates the "soul Making Theodicy," or the attempt to explain natural evils as being necessary for developing certain desirable character traits.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

In Chapter 16, Martin assesses natural evil, or evil not associated with the free choice and intentions of human beings. He notes that most of the evil of the world is of this kind. It is Martin’s belief that theism cannot account for such evils and, thus, their existence counts as evidence for atheism. To defend this position, he looks at three contemporary theists’ attempts to solve the dilemma.

First, Martin looks at Alvin Plantinga’s claim that natural evil could be the result of the acts of evil beings such as Satan. Note that Dr. Plantinga does not argue that Satan exists, but that it is not improbable that Satan exists and that, because of this, it is a real possibility that he is the reason for natural evil. Martin begins his criticism by pointing out that, while it may not be impossible that Satan exists, that it is not obvious how probable such a claim really is. He answers his apparently rhetorical question by asserting that it is unlikely that consciousness could actually exist in a non-bodily form. Next, he claims that there is no reason to even believe that demons or angels could affect the physical world. After this, he grants the claim and then asks "if Satan is responsible for this evil, why isn’t there more of it?" After this momentary granting of the argument, he returns to his position and notes that even theists, such as Swinburne, believe that such an argument is ad hoc. He proceeds by pointing out that those who believe in Satan tend to be less educated than those who do not believe in him and that science has been more accurate about religious things than the religions have (i.e. age of earth and evolution). Finally, he asks, "if Satan is responsible, why wouldn’t God help the innocent victims?"

Next, Dr. Martin looks at an argument proposed by Richard Swinburne. Swinburne proposes that the amount of evil is the real problem. But this, he says, can be explained by claiming that the amount of evil in the world is necessary to bring about the knowledge (since data is required for knowledge) needed to cause or prevent future evils. And, this would add to the moral freedom and potential for responsibility in people, which are both goods. Martin answers that, if this is His purpose, God has not done a good job. He supports this by pointing to: (1) the existence of rare diseases; (2) the fact that, for some diseases, we have all the necessary information about and, yet, they continue to affect us; (3) the fact that God could have created us with innate knowledge rather than leaving us as suffering tabula rasas; and (4) the notion that inflicting evil without the innocent victim’s consent is repugnant.

Next, Dr. Martin looks at Bruce Reichenbach’s proposed solution. Reichenbach claims that natural evil is the outworking of the natural laws of God’s creation. And these natural laws help humans to be truly free in their choices since, without such order, rational choice would be impossible. Martin answers by proposing that there is no reason to believe that a world that operated by means of constant miracles rather than natural laws wouldn’t be orderly and, thus, the out-workings of these natural laws are not necessary to preserve rationality. Nonetheless, even if He did set the world up in this way, He could have performed miracles to prevent the natural evils from harming people. Further, God could have created the world to operate by statistical laws instead.

In Chapter 17, Martin assesses the theistic answer that naturalistic evil exists in order to develop the character of human beings. He begins by noting that theists often claim that second order goods such as kindness and courage could only be actuated give some first order evils. However, Dr, Martin claims that it is possible to have kindness, generosity, sympathy, or bravery in a world without evils.

He then proceeds to critique what he believes to be the strongest presentation of the "Soul-Making" theodicy, that of John Hick. Hick claims that God has created the world in such a way as to hide His appearance. The result of this is that men live self-centered lives. This also, however, makes available the opportunity for a man to freely worship God. Hick does not have an explanation for the amount of evil but he does offer the idea of an intermediate state that makes right those wrongs that seemed to occur without any possibility for character growth (such as a person being murdered).

Martin begins his critique of Hick by pointing out that excessive evil remains a problem. He continues how some organisms have the desire for avoidance of danger "built in," with no need for pain. Next, he points out that Hick’s idea of epistemic distance is ambiguous and that it can not give a reason for change of belief regarding God, hence it ultimately results in fideism. Next, Martin says that Hick does not justify his claim that man, if in God’s presence, could not sin. He supports this by showing that, if this were true, then all religious believers who had "experienced God" would stop sinning. But they don’t. After this, he shows how the purpose for epistemic distance, freedom to believe as one wishes, is compromised by Hick’s intermediate state. Then he critiques Hick’s notion of freedom since there is a logically possible world where creatures are free and yet do not sin. Finally, he claims that Hick, by writing this book, seems to be working against the distance desired by God.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As with the other chapters in this second part of Atheism, there were not many opportunities for agreement with Martin. However, I do think that he brought up a few very good points. First, overall, I agree that blaming Satan for natural evil is not the best way to approach the problem of natural evil. But I say this because there are other ways to attack it, not because I have a prior assumption against the existence of such beings. Second, I agree with most of the criticisms leveled at Swinburne, except for the innocent victim one. (Swinburne offers three reasons to doubt it, the second of which—that God as creator has rights over us—being the strongest. Martin’s counter to this is rather weak.) Third, I agree that Hick’s notion of epistemic distance seems to be ambiguous and leads to fideism, that is, as far as it has been accurately presented. Fourth, regarding the criticism of the intermediate state, I believe that Dr. Martin has made a great point. I really appreciate this criticism’s strength. Finally, regarding the compatibility of Hick’s writing this book with his beliefs, I think Martin’s criticism is interesting, but I have a feeling that it may not be charitable.


Chapter 16

First, I have many criticisms regarding the section critiquing Dr. Plantinga. First, Martin challenges Plantinga regarding "how probable" Satan’s existence really is. I think that he is asking a question that cannot be answered by a finite mind since it would require applying probability values to events without knowing all the relevant data. Thus, this is no defeater of Plantinga. Second, he claimed that it is unlikely that consciousness could exist in a non-bodily form. Well, this was a nice assertion, but he has not supported it. Beware of such moves by any philosopher or theologian. Third, Martin asks why Satan hasn’t produced more evil if he is the reason for it. But why should there be more? If Satan is free, why can’t he choose where to stop? Need he be as evil as can be? These questions all demonstrate that these responses by Martin do not actually prove anything except that he is inquisitive. Fourth, his claim that theists are less intelligent than naturalists is irrelevant at best and an ad hominen or a grouping fallacy at worst. Further, claiming that people like Plantinga, Swinburne, Bill Craig, J.P. Moreland, Etienne Gilson, Eleonore Stump, etc. are uneducated is a very brave, yet naïve claim. Fifth, the idea that science has been more accurate about religious things confuses the teachings of a religion with the teachings of the religious people. Regarding the age of the earth, there is no clear scriptural claim for young or old—only interpretations by people. Second, evolution has not been proven by any stretch; though it has been made an axiom by many. Sixth, and finally, Martin’s question as to why God hasn’t helped the innocent victims assumes that God doesn’t have reasons unknown to us. We are finite minds, He is not. There is nothing about God that requires that He helps all victims of particular tragedies.

Next, regarding Martin’s criticisms of Reichenbach, I have a couple criticisms of my own. First Martin claimed that there is no reason to believe that a world that operated by means of constant miracles rather than natural laws wouldn’t be orderly. But this doesn’t help us to know things, unless the miracles appear to be results of natural processes and, thus, they deceive us. But this wouldn’t be real knowledge. In the end, we could only have hindsight knowledge, not the power to judge potential outcomes required for free choice. So Martin doesn’t answer the original problem. Second, God has no obligation to always do miracles to prevent evil. Further, it may better for us that he doesn’t. Third, regarding the appeal for statistical laws, there is no reason to suppose that this would be better. God, being omniscient, is perfectly capable of judging which world suits his purposes, we are not.

Overall, I would say that the biggest problem with the critiques submitted in this chapter is that they assume that there are no good reasons for allowing natural calamities. We know that there are natural advantages brought by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and the like. Thus, these events, taken of themselves, are good events. The fact that they sometimes result in human loss does not make the event evil as much as it highlights a bad relationship between two events—the human’s current state and nature’s current state. There is no reason to suppose that allowing the convergence of such states is necessarily an evil act. Thus, the ’evilness’ of the act must be derived from some other factor other than the simple occurrence of the convergence of events. Furthermore, I think that the language used to describe these events is unjustified for the naturalist. What is an evil? For them, such an event can only be an observed fact. There is no room for moral outrage or a claim that the event ’ought’ to have been other than it was. ’Ought’ implies design or order, which implies a designer or orderer. Thus the atheistic argument can never really get off the ground. So, while we theists may not be able to give a surefire answer to the question "why this evil?" the atheist cannot even ask the question in the first place without presupposing God.

Chapter 17

I only have a few criticisms of this chapter, but they seem to undermine Martin’s whole argument. First, Martin asserted that it is possible to have kindness, generosity, sympathy, or bravery in a world without evils. How? First, it would be impossible to be unkind if there were no evil possible, so kindness loses its value. Generosity can only be had where need is present. But wouldn’t a need be considered a privation, i.e. an evil? Sympathy likewise implies loss, which would also be considered as an evil. Finally, bravery would require a true danger, i.e. an evil. Otherwise, it is not bravery but confidence. He attempts to give numerous examples of how he can have these goods without evil, but they all fail. Second, the problems stated in the section on Hick’s theodicy are similar to those addressed elsewhere. Martin’s main problems here are that he presumes to know what God could actually (beyond logically) accomplish and what he should have allowed. Martin needs to face the fact that he is limited as to the information available to him and that such judgments may in fact be unfounded. Third, regarding Martin’s claim that those who have experienced God would have stopped sinning, I believe that Hick sufficiently answers him. I think that Hick’s distinction between a continuous experience and a momentary one solves this problem. By our nature as humans, we know things in a temporal fashion. Thus, when something is not on our mind, it is not going to have its full effect on us. With God, since He is the ultimate good, if we had Him, we would seek nothing else. To willingly go after a lesser good at the expense of a greater good is impossible. Finally, regarding Dr. Martin’s claim that a world where everyone is free and yet no one sins is logically possible, I agree. This world is called heaven. But it may not have been actually possible to achieve such a world without a world such as this

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Free-Will Defense"


Chapter Fifteen builds off of the argument from evil against the existence of God that Dr. Martin began in the previous chapter. Theists have made many attempts to counter the Argument from Evil, and Martin, aware of this, will devote his final section of his book to answering them. In this Chapter, he attempts to combat the most popular defense, that evil is the result of human free will.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

Martin starts this chapter by noting that the Free Will Defense is an explanation of moral evils, not natural evils. He correctly states the theist’s argument as "God gave humans free choice and a world with free choice is more desirable than a world without free choice." He then proceeds to give some background information to this debate. This information included distinctions between First, Second, and Third Order Goods as well as First and Second Order Evils. After this preliminary info, Martin began his explanation and critique of the theistic position.

Martin claims that there are three assumptions to the theistic position that are challengeable and that he believes he will show to be false. These are: (1) that free will is a very important good; (2) that free will is worth the price that it comes with; and (3) that the evils that result from free will cannot be blamed on God.

First, Martin claims that the assumption of the importance of freedom is false. He begins by assessing Alvin Plantinga’s claim that, all other things being equal, a world with ’significantly free creatures’ is more valuable than a world with no free creatures. Martin asserts that this argument is irrelevant since "all things are not equal." Thus, he offers a reformulation of the argument that he believes captures Plantinga’s desire. He then goes on to reject these because they seem to assume that the value of freedom is nearly infinite. He notes that it is true that freedom seems very valuable initially. But, we sometimes think that it can be sacrificed for other values and thus Plantinga’s assumption is unfounded. Next, Martin looks at Plantinga’s rejection of compatibilist and causal determination views and calls his (Plantinga’s) position Contracausal Freedom. Then Martin critiques this position claiming that: (1) there is no practical use for Contracausal Freedom; and (2) that a Contracausal world is not the best that God could have created.

After this, Martin considers what he believes to be defeaters for a Contracausal view of freedom. First, he offers the fact that social scientists predict behavior, presents a rebuttal by Plantinga, and critiques it. Second, he claims that the difference in the choices of apes, mentally retarded people, and otherwise healthy human beings is a difference in degree, not in kind. Third, he claims that a distinction, that free acts are caused, but not coerced, will help to support his position. Fourth, he claims that if Contracausal Freedom is correct, then there are uncaused causes. He notes that this led to many great theologians accepting a compatibilist position. Finally, he claims that Plantinga has offered no solution to the claim that uncaused events are random. In support of his position, that free acts are caused but not coerced, Martin offers a possibility. He says that it is logically possible that there could be a world where human choices are controlled by statistical laws and yet not causally necessitated. After presenting his argument, He critiques a potential defeater from Reichenbach.

In the next section, Martin presents reasons he thinks that we should doubt that freedom was "worth the risk." First, he claims that it is logically possible to create a free world where nothing wrong is done. In support of this, he critiques a counter offered by some who maintain that a world with no wrong done (though it is possible) may not be better than this one. Second, he claims that if God were omnipotent, he could have actualized a free world where no evil was done. In support of this he critiques an argument of Plantinga’s the argument of Trans-World Depravity. Then, Martin points out that some, such as Bruce Reichenbach have said that God does not know if counterfactuals would be true or false. This, according to Martin, would result in the impossibility that God could know any future free act, including any of His own acts. He points out that it would also undermine morality, unless one accepts an extreme deontological view.

In the final section, Martin attempts to show that God would ultimately be responsible for the evil acts of creatures under any possible view. In defense of this he offers Frederic Fitch’s theorem along with an amendment by J.L. Mackie. He then presents a legal case and a moral case against God. Finally, he argues that God is no Good Samaritan.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As with the other chapters in this section, there was not a lot for me to agree with. However, I did appreciate a few things that Martin mentioned. First, I love the opening section and the explanation of the ordered goods and evils. I have never heard the theistic position broke down that way (I have not read much on the problem of evil, I am primarily interested in the proofs). I thought that the introduction to this chapter was his best yet. Second, I am glad that he noted that the great theologians were compatibilists, but he is equivocating on Compatibilism, which I will explain in my critique. Third, I totally agree with Martin that the idea that "a world with no wrong done (though where it is possible) may not be better than this one" is a highly unlikely idea. Fourth, I will grant Martin’s critique of Plantinga, though I admit that I am doing so because I do not know Plantinga’s full position. Sixth, I agree with Martin’s critique of Reichenbach’s answer to the critique of Plantinga, but I think that a middle ground exists between Plantinga and Reichenbach that sufficiently answers the criticism. I will discuss this briefly in the next section. Finally, I agree with Martin that God is responsible for the fact of evil, but I do not see this as a problem. Again, this will be elaborated in the next section.


I have many criticisms regarding Martin’s assessment that freedom is not important. First, he claims that Contracausal Freedom has no practical benefits. But this is just false. Ethical living is only possible with true freedom. Without true freedom, there becomes no justification for incarceration, condemnation, or any other related actions. Second, all the ’better’ talk used by Martin when comparing worlds assumes some standard of goodness. But this cannot be appealed to by the naturalist. At best, the naturalist can only describe reality; he cannot prescribe how it ’ought to be.’ Martin is borrowing from theism to make his critique.

In the next section Martin gives a few reasons to reject Contracausal Freedom. The first reason is that social scientists can predict behavior. However, this does not prove natural causation. It only demonstrates that certain conditions increase the likelihood of certain choices. It is still the case that many times the social scientists will predict wrongly. It seems that Martin’s critique assumes an identity between an increase in tendency and causality. However, it seems that causality is more appropriately equated with natural necessity for the naturalist. I don’t think tendency helps his argument. Second, Martin claimed that the difference between ape and human freedom is one of degree, not kind. But this is just false. There is no evidence that apes or any other animals are really free. They have to be trained to make choices that are contrary to their natural tendencies. Third, regarding his claim that ’free acts are caused, but not coerced,’ I don’t think that he has such an option. I would like to see a further explanation. Fourth, he criticizes Contracausal Freedom claiming that it results in the admission of uncaused causes, and explains that this is why the great theologians were compatibilists. But the free acts are caused - by created efficient causes. He is correct that the great theologians were compatibilists, but they are in a theological sense referring to God’s causality, not according to the order of the natural world. It seems to me that Compatibilism only makes sense when two minds are involved, not when nature is on one end of the equation. Finally, Martin claims that it is logically possible that there could be a world where human choice is controlled by statistical laws and yet not causally necessitated. But this does not even make sense. First of all, statistics are not laws; they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Second, if any series of events were always seen in the same relation to one another, we would have reason to believe that the consequent event was causally determined.

In the next section, Martin discusses whether or not free will was "worth the risk." As with the previous section I have many criticisms here. First, Martin claims that it is possible to create a free world where nothing wrong is done. But how does he know this? If one makes the distinction between something being logically possible and something being actually possible, I think that the burden shifts to Martin to demonstrate this claim, which he doesn’t do. Second, Martin claims that if God was omnipotent, he could have actualized a free world where no evil was done. Omnipotence is being able to do whatever can be done. But to presume that God could have created a world where all the free creatures always acted rightly begs the whole question. Hence, we do not necessarily have any problem. Again, the atheist would have to demonstrate that such a world is actually, not merely logically, achievable in order for theists to defend their position against this claim. All that being said, Christianity does claim that the result of this world will be such a world where free creatures always do the good anyway. That world is heaven. It may just be the case that this kind of world is the only way to achieve that kind of world. Third, regarding the critique Martin has of Plantinga, I avoid this criticism by rejecting as meaningful such modal criticisms since they are based on pure speculation. I am interested in the world as it is, not as I suppose it could be. I am a finite mind and, thus, I do not have access to all the information necessary to have in order to know what could be and what couldn’t be. As far as I can tell, neither Plantinga nor Martin is omniscient either, thus disqualifying them from such considerations too. Fourth, regarding the criticism of Reichenbach, remember that I agreed with Martin’s conclusion. I think that Reichenbach went too far. However, I think that such an issue is solved by admitting the truth values for counterfactuals to those beings that have all knowledge. Doing so preserves God’s omniscience and the truth values of counterfactuals while at the same time pointing out that it is not profitable for finite minds to make arbitrary guesses about important issues via ’counterfactual knowledge.’

Finally, I have a few criticisms of Martin’s case that God is responsible for evil. First, regarding Fitch’s Theorem, I think it is unfounded to attribute that which is logically possible for creatures, i.e. to do evil, to God. It does not follow that God can do everything that creatures can do since they are efficient causes. Regarding Mackie’s addition, it is not clear why these distinctions disappear. More needs to be said. Second, in response to the legal case against God, I agreed that God is clearly responsible for the fact of evil. But so what? He doesn’t have an authority or a moral law over Him. Further, He is free to act in accordance with His nature. Since we know God to be the all-knowing, ultimate Good, then we can trust that the results of His actions will be ultimately good. However, the responsibility for the acts of evil need not be attributed to God since they are committed by created efficient causes. Third, in response to the moral case against God, this argument doesn’t consider the good that results from evil. Finally, in response to the charge that God is not a Good Samaritan, this assumes that we have all the information that God has and are in a position to judge Him. We are not.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

'Teleological Atheism' and 'Arguments from Evil'

CHAPTERS 13 and 14

In Chapter Thirteen, Dr. Martin gives what he believes to be positive teleological evidence for the non-existence of God. In Chapter Fourteen, Martin offers what he believes is positive evidence for the non-existence of God based on an induction from the existence of evil. Because of the nature of these arguments, my agreements section will be very short and my criticisms will be quite extensive. Please believe me when I say that I made a strong effort to find more to agree with, but it just wasn't happening. One more thing to note, the argument from evil will basically carry over into the last three weeks of my critique of 'Atheism,' as Martin has devoted the last four chapters to assessing the popular theodicies argued by theists. Therefore, if my critique seems to be lacking some important points, don't worry. I am addressing the issues as they come. I am sure that all the relevant arguments that are needed to critique Martin will be utilized.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin begins Chapter Thirteen by reminding the readers that the teleological arguments for God's existence have all been shown to be unsound. I would like to remind my readers that I have demonstrated this to be false in my critique of Chapter Five. While Martin did a good job of critiquing most of the arguments, his argument against Paley did not sufficiently succeed. Normally, I would leave such a criticism to my critique section, but I wanted to point this out up front.

He proceeds to offer an argument by Salmon that he calls the 'Calculated Improbability of Design.' This argument basically asserts that since most of the things that we know of in the universe (planets, galaxies, atoms, and molecules) are not the result of intelligence, then it follows that it is more likely that there was not an intelligent designer. Martin offers an interlocutor for Salmon in Cartwright who says that Salmon begs the question in stating that planets, galaxies, atoms, and molecules are not the result of intelligence. In reply, Salmon appeals to scientific findings including thermodynamics and quantum mechanics as justification for such a premise. Martin agreed that Salmon did not beg the question and claims that, at worst, Salmon used unjustified premises. But since he supported these with science, the criticism doesn't work.

After this, Martin expands on the argument by stating that: given the nature of the universe and the supposed nature of God, we must reject that the two go together based on the non-relation of our experience to the claim. He offers many examples of such incompatibility. First, he appeals to The Argument from Embodiedness. This argument states that all created entities of our experience were created by beings with bodies, so we should infer that the universe, if created, would have been created by an embodied being. Martin claims that it does not beg the question and can be supported by scientific evidence. Next, he appeals to The Argument from Multiple Creators. This argument states that all large and complex entities that we know were created by a multitude, and thus infers that the universe would be no different, if created. Martin claims that the criticisms to this argument and the answers to them are similar to those above. Third, Martin offers The Argument from Apparent Fallibility. This argument states that there are mistakes and errors in the universe, and based on our experience, mistakes and errors in a creation always result from the fallibility of the creator. Thus we should infer that the universe, if created, was created by a fallible creator. As evidence for this claim, he points to functionless organs and genetic deficiencies. Fourth, Martin offers The Argument from Finiteness. This argument states that all created things that we know of were created by a finite power; therefore we should infer that the universe, if created, was also created by a finite power. He follows with the claim that the same objections can be raised and dismissed as in the previous arguments. Fifth, Martin offers The Argument from Pre-Existing Material. This argument states that all created things that we know were created out of pre-existing material; thus if the universe were created, we should infer that it was created out of preexisting material. Again, he claims that the same objections can be raised and dismissed as in the previous arguments. Finally, Martin offers his argument that the universe is not a created object. His argument can be stated as:

P-1: All created things have noticeable markings left from the machines that make them.
P-2: The universe does not have the markings necessary.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe was not created.

In Chapter Fourteen, Martin presents his argument for atheism from the existence of evil. He begins by noting that the most popular deductive form of this argument (stated below) is unsuccessful:

P-1: If God is all powerful, He could prevent evil.
P-2: If God is all knowing, He would know how to prevent evil.
P-3: If God is all good, He would prevent evil.
P-4: But evil was not prevented.
Conclusion: Therefore, God cannot exist.

However, Martin believes that inductive arguments against God from evil are possible and offers two of them. First, he offers a direct inductive argument. This argument offers no refutations of theodicies but rather works simply from the fact of human and animal suffering. It can be stated as follows:

P-1: There exist evils that, if they had been prevented, the world would have been a better place.
P-2: An all good being would have prevented any preventable thing that would result in a worse world.
Conclusion: Therefore, such a being does not exist.

Next, Martin offers an indirect argument for the same purpose. This argument states that no theodicy has successfully given a sufficient moral reason for God to allow gratuitous evils. He will defend this assertion in the following chapters apparently, so here he just offers the implications. He offers and critiques one counterargument, namely that evil exists necessarily. He then states that Naturalism can answer the problem of evil by appealing to natural laws. Finally, Martin addresses some popular criticisms of these inductive-style arguments. In this section, Martin critiques Alvin Plantinga's and Bruce Reichenbach's criticisms of the Probabilistic Arguments from Evil.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As I noted earlier, there was very little for me to agree with in these two chapters. But I will try to give a few things. First, I have learned from Dr. Martin to be very careful of which fallacy that you are attributing to an author. I think he was correct where he noted that some counterarguments were wrong in claiming that a claim begged the question and that a better criticism would be that he lacked sufficient warrant for a premise. He helped me to catch myself doing this. So thank you Dr. Martin. Second, I agree with Martin that the deductive argument from evil for atheism is unsound. Third, I agree with Martin that demonstrating that the world would have been a better place granted some change is a difficult task to say the least. However, he thinks that the difficulty is surmountable where I reject that it is short of being omniscient. Fourth, I think that Martin correctly notes that the indirect argument from evil would not cancel out any positive argument for God. Of course I disagree with his conclusion that there is no such argument, and have demonstrated that his criticisms of the traditional cosmological and teleological arguments fail. Fifth, I agree that the argument claiming that evil exists necessarily is indefensible. Finally, I will accept the rejections of Plantinga and Reichenbach since I reject the whole process of assigning arbitrary probabilities to Bayes Theorem expecting to get objective conclusions.


Chapter 13

First, regarding Salmon's argument, while he may not be 'begging the question,' he definitely is unjustified in holding the premises that planets, galaxies, atoms, and molecules are not the result of intelligence, that the order found in mechanical causation and biological generation is not the result of intelligence, and that disembodied intelligence has not produced order in our experience. His appeal to thermodynamics and quantum physics does not help. Thermodynamics demonstrates a need for the beginning of time, and thus space and matter if Einstein was correct. Quantum mechanics is highly speculative and remains unproven. Even if particles in quantum experiments seem to 'come into existence' spontaneously, there is no reason to suppose that they could do so if there were no 'vacuum' present. Thermodynamics has the epistemic authority until quantum mechanics can be better supported.

Regarding the expansion of the argument I will critique each point. First, the Argument from Embodiedness can be disproven if we can show that matter had a beginning, as we have with the laws of Thermodynamics, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and the Cosmological Argument. Once these are proved, then a true experience of reality is an experience of an entity created by a disembodied being. Furthermore, there is nothing about being a created entity that requires being made by a being with a body. That the beings that we see make things have bodies is due to a limitation of their being, not due to necessity with regards to being in general. Second, the Argument from Multiple Creators is also disproven. Since time, space and matter had a beginning, there is no individuating principle that we know of by which multiple creators could even be possible. Therefore, our experience of reality actually supports a monotheistic view. Furthermore, there is nothing about being large and complex that demands multiple agents. The demand for multiple agents lies in the finitude of the creators. Third, the Argument from Apparent Fallibility fails since this critique presupposes omniscience. In order to recognize a flaw, you have to know what the creation would look like if it were ideal. But if they are rejecting the current one as real, then they would have to point to another one from their experience that was better. However, there is only one universe. Thus, the example would have to be a product of their mind. But in order for them to make such a judgment, they would have to know all factors involved in the universe so as to know that the thing that they considered to be a mistake really wasn't a good result of something else. Thus, they would be claiming omniscience. What is more, even if there were an imperfection, that fact would not prove that something was a mistake. The creator could have intended for something to be ontologically imperfect without any fault. So this argument as presented seems to be an utter failure. That being said, I think that the 'mistakes' offered are inconclusive anyway. Regarding functionless organs, at one time in the modern period, scientists thought that well over 100 organs (in humans) were vestigial. Today the number stands at six. And there is no reason to suppose that we will not find explanations for those someday. Regarding genetic deficiencies, the theistic account has an explanation for this. It is called sin. The creator did not create man deficient. Man inflicted it on himself. Fourth, the Argument from Finiteness fails as well. The first cause of the universe can not have any potential, since potential can only be put into (metaphysical, not physical) motion by act. Thus there is no power in the first cause that could be unactualized. Whatever is not true of this cause is not ever possible for it. Also, whatever power that it passes down must pre-exist in it. Therefore, there is no power known to man that is not owned by the first cause. Now, one may think that this means that the first cause could lie, cheat, etc. since these are powers. However, these are not powers but limitations in power. Fully actualized power to know things and relate to others necessarily leads to honesty and fairness. A deficiency leads to lies and cheating. Fifth, the Argument from Pre-Existing Material fails since it does not account for the actual evidence from our experience. We know, based on scientific and philosophical proof, that time, space, and matter began to exist. Thus there was no matter existing from which to form the universe. Finally, the argument that the universe was created assumes that the created markings are a necessary condition for being created. The fact that physical objects are used by finite creators is due to their finiteness (i.e. their physicality), not due to the objects having been created. An infinite non-corporeal being would not need such tools. And I have already pointed out that the evidence shows that such a being exists.

Chapter 14

First, regarding the direct inductive argument from evil, I would like to again point out that the author admits the difficulty in being able to know that premise one is true. We would say that it is not and that one would have to be omniscient to make such judgments. Therefore, any claim to this effect is presumptuous. Further, there seems to be no moral obligation on God to make sure that His creatures understand His ways. Neither does there seem to be a moral obligation on His part to create the best possible world. Even more, there does not seem to be any reason that He should not allow suffering. This whole argument is built on faulty presuppositions. Finally, for the Christian, this problem is addressed in the Book of Job. (A professor of mine had a profound insight by noticing that God's answer to Job was basically, 'You are being inconsistent. Why don't you question my motives where I bless you and the whole creation?')

Regarding the indirect inductive argument from evil, I will just remind you that Martin admits that a positive proof for God's existence cancels out this claim. Since I have defended such proofs, the argument is null.

Regarding the claim that naturalism can account for evil, I would like to note that Martin's argument is tantamount to taking our argument, 'God knows what He is doing and has an unknown (to us) reason for it,' and applying it to nature, 'Nature knows what it is doing and has an unknown (to us) reason for it.' His doing this demonstrates that the problem is not limited to the theist. In fact, the problem is greater for the atheist. How can the atheist even call something evil or deficient? Atheism does not have available to it a category for 'oughtness.' It only has a category for 'is-ness.' They only have room for descriptions, not prescriptions. C.S. Lewis was right in noting that arguing from evil presupposes an ultimate standard and prescriber of moral goodness.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"The Justification of Positive Atheism" and "Divine Attributes and Incoherence"

CHAPTERS 11 and 12

In Chapters Eleven and Twelve, Dr. Martin begins presenting his "Positive Case" for atheism. In Chapter Eleven, he addresses some preliminary issues and recaps his purpose for the format that he has used. In Chapter Twelve, he takes a look at some supposed inconsistencies in the traditional concept of God and attempts to show how these work as a demonstration for atheism.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Chapter Eleven is a very short chapter in which Martin makes three short arguments. First, based on an amended argument of Michael Scriven, he claims that the justification of negative atheism is in itself a premise in the justification for positive atheism. His argument is:

P-1: It seems that if an all knowing, all powerful, all good being existed, He would provide adequate evidence for believing in Him.
P-2: There is no such evidence
Conclusion: Therefore, such a being does not exist

Next, Martin argues that refuting the case for God results in the arguments for atheism not needing to be as strong as they would have if the theistic proofs succeeded. Finally, he makes a disclaimer regarding the ensuing chapter, that even if such a priori arguments fail the a posteriori arguments are still sufficient.

After these preliminary remarks, Martin proceeds (in Chapter Twelve) to make his case that the traditional attributes of God are incompatible with one another. He begins with the attribute of omniscience (all-knowing-ness). Martin begins this section by noting that knowledge can be classified in three ways: the speculative, the practical, and the relational (these are my terms, not his, but they correspond exactly to his terms). He then goes on to say that it would be inconsistent for God to have all knowledge possible in all three categories. As support for this claim he offers three examples: (1) God does not have all knowledge if he is spirit, since He would need a body to know how to do gymnastics; (2) God could not be said to have all knowledge of all actions, since He would have to be morally imperfect in order to know how it feels to lust; and (3) God cannot be said to have knowledge of all feelings, since He would have to know the experience of fear, frustration, and despair. After stating his examples, Martin notes some possible counterclaims and answers them saying: (1) these cannot be countered by appealing to logical impossibility, since it seems absurd to think that it would be impossible for God to have knowledge that humans can have; (2) to claim that God could know these things if He chose to (i.e. via an incarnation) is likewise absurd and does not solve the moral problem; and (3) Christianity does not allow for a distinction between lust of the heart and lust as acted out anyway, thus prohibiting such a counter.

After this, Martin attempts to show how a "weaker" omniscience (the view that omniscience only consists of all propositional knowledge) is also incompatible by critiquing the view held by his favorite target, Richard Swinburne. This view would allow for people to have knowledge that God does not. Martin offers three criticisms of this view: (1) God could not have any knowledge of any propositions beginning with "I" made by another being; (2) it is impossible for God to know all things since it would be impossible to know an infinite in space and time—and even if space and time were not infinite, then there would still be a problem with knowing mathematics, since they too include an infinite number of facts; and (3) it is impossible for there to be a set of all truths.

Next, Martin assesses what he believes to be irreconcilable incompatibilities relating to God's freedom. He claims that God's freedom would be incompatible with his omniscience and states the problem as: Because creatures are free, God cannot know His or their future acts (unless they are necessarily causally related to an event that has already happened or is presently happening). He then adds: since He does not know His own future acts, He does not really even know any event since He may choose to do a miracle, thus overcoming the natural necessity. Thus, he concludes, God cannot be both free and omniscient. Martin goes on further to point out that God's morality seems to also be incompatible with this previous conclusion. He notes that God, if He can not know the future, then He can not know the moral-value of His past acts since He does not know the ultimate effects. Thus, God cannot be considered to be essentially morally perfect, since being so would only be accidental if it were true.

Finally, Martin attempts to show how the classical attribute of omnipotence (all-powerful-ness) is incompatible with His other attributes. He notes that the biggest problem with arguing against omnipotence is pinning down how it is being defined. Thus, he critiques four different positions. After stating Swinburne's definition, Martin gives many criticisms including: (1) it is defined as what God can bring about, rather than what He can do; (2) the omnipotence is temporally limited; (3) the omnipotence is limited by contingency; (4) the omnipotence is limited to non-accidents; (5) the omnipotence is limited by potential overriding reasons for any act; and (6) he being is not worthy of worship. Obviously, based on these criticisms, the "omniscience" invoked is too limited to be truly considered as omniscience. Next, he states Mavrodes' definition and notes that, according to this view, omnipotence is still incompatible with many other attributes. Then Martin states Taliaferro's definition and, again, asserts that it does not solve the problem of incompatibility. Finally, he offers Gellman's definition and gives four main criticisms: (1) some features considered true by religious believers would not be considered as perfections; (2) Gellman does not explain how it is determined that a thing is worthy of worship; (3) people do not agree on what constitutes worth; and (4) different attributes constitute perfection for different beings. Regarding this forth criticism, he gives four examples: (a) immateriality would be an imperfection in a body sculpting contest; (b) Sinlessness would be an imperfection for a role-model, since modeling them would be unachievable and thus not worth attempting; (c) omniscience would be an imperfection for an explorer; and (d) omnipotence would be an imperfection since gain is had through struggle.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

There was not much to agree with in this section, but I will try to highlight as much as I think is relevant. First, I agree with Martin's threefold division of knowledge. I think that one would be correct to assert that if God did not possess all knowledge in all three areas, then he could not rightfully be called omniscient (and thus, I agree with his criticisms of all the "weaker" view of Swinburne). I will explain further how my view allows for this in the critique section. Second, I agree with Martin's critique of Swinburne's defense of God's freedom, though I think that he did not take on the strongest theistic position at all. Finally, I agreed with Martin's critique of Swinburne's definition of omnipotence. I also will grant him the criticisms of Mavrodes and Taliaferro, though I am really doing this because I think that the fourth definition is the only one worthy of fighting for.


My first criticisms are of the brief introductory chapter. First, his section on negative atheism has not accomplished what he said it would. Thus the first syllogism fails. Second, the a posteriori arguments are irrelevant since the Cosmological Argument has not been refuted. Nonetheless, I will have fun assessing them beginning next week. Third, I do not see how he considers Chapter Twelve to be an a priori argument for atheism. At best, it is an a priori argument against traditional theism as interpreted by the contemporary analytic philosophers of the theistic persuasion. This is still "negative atheism," not "positive atheism."

Next, I would like to assess Martin's examples regarding God's lacking of certain kinds of knowledge. He claimed that: (1) God does not have all knowledge if he is spirit, since He would need a body to know how to do gymnastics; (2) God could not be said to have all knowledge of all actions, since He would have to be morally imperfect in order to know how it feels to lust; and (3) God cannot be said to have knowledge of all feelings, since He would have to know the experience of fear, frustration, and despair. Regarding (1), there is nothing about lacking a body that keeps one from having knowledge of how to do gymnastics. An engineer does not have a carburetor yet he knows how a car works. Regarding (2), it is true that God does not know what it is like for God to lust, since such an event has never occurred and never could. However, it does not follow that God does not know what it is like for 'person 'x'' to lust. Every relation has a subject and an object. These do not change for God's knowledge of them. Therefore, since it is impossible for God to lust, no person could have such knowledge. So we are not stuck with a position allowing people to have knowledge that God does not have. Regarding (3), experience in itself is a manner of existence, not knowledge. Thus, while God may not have the actual experience of being fearful, He exhaustively knows what it is for any person in any situation to be in fear. Thus, these criticisms regarding God's omniscience fail.

Next, regarding Martin's attempt to prove that God does not have all propositional knowledge, I think that it can be shown that all three criticisms fail. The first criticism was that God could not have any knowledge of any statement beginning with "I" made by another being. But this is silly. Every "I" in every such statement is replaceable with a nominative. Like relations, every proposition has a subject, and every pronoun refers to that subject. The second criticism was that it is impossible for God to know all things since it would be impossible to know all things in space and time. But this begs the question. First, space and time are correlative, finite realities. God knows them completely in virtue of knowing Himself perfectly (since they virtually exist in Him as an effect does in its cause). Second, to hold such a position as Martin invokes is to assume that God exists in space and time, thus leaving the possibility open for other beings to be somewhere. But all of these principles of differentiation began to exist so there would not be a "somewhere" at all. Appealing to mathematics will not help either. Doing so as Martin does assumes that numbers and their relations are actually existing entities that exist separate from the being of God. We would reject this. Thus this criticism also fails. The third criticism regarding sets also fails. God does not know all truths as existing in sets. He simply knows all truths.

Next, Martin discusses the incompatibility of freedom with the moral nature of God. I reject this whole question by denying that God is subject to any moral categories. Overall, however, I agree with Martin's critique of Swinburne in this section. However, the fact that Martin spends the whole section critiquing him (Swinburne) without even a mention of the classical concept of God as transcendent over time tells me that he (Martin) is really not interested in taking on the strongest theistic positions. All Martin has done here is to show that process theology, finite Godism, and any other form of Neotheism, are weak metaphysical options. This does my side a favor. Further, by demonstrating that God is beyond time (scientifically via Big Bang Cosmology and Einstein's Theory of Relativity and philosophically via the Kalam argument and the nature of change) we have completely evaded any problem here. God is free, we are free, and God knows the results of all future free acts since they are not future to Him. Obviously, much more can be said of this view, and it is very dependable. See Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.

Finally, I would like to make an assessment of Martin's handling of Gellman. First, I would like to say that I like the definition of omnipotence attributed to Gellman and think it is worthy of defense. Martin's first criticism was that some features considered true by religious believers would not be considered as perfections. But this could either be the result of ignorance or the believers may simply be wrong. Now, if an attribute were to be shown to be imperfect, then there would be a real problem (such as the Mormon God being a changing being). The second criticism was that Gellman does not explain how it is determined that a thing is worthy of worship. I think that this worth is clearly related to the being's absolute perfection. The third criticism was that people do not agree on what is worthy. Likewise, this can be attributed to the people's ignorance, rather than a deficiency in the perfect being. The fourth criticism was that different attributes constitute perfection for different beings. He gave four examples that all die the same death. An attribute is perfect when it is wholly good, and it is good when it is desirable for its own sake. None of those activities offered as counters are good for their own sake. Body sculpting is sought for the beauty and order of the result, but these are made perfect in the simplicity of God. A role model's end is to be a good example, thus a sinless role model would be much better example than a sinful one. The end of exploring is to gain knowledge, but this end is fulfilled already in an omniscient being. It is better to rest in a good than to seek it. Finally, struggling is good insofar as it results in strengthening. But an omnipotent being needs no strengthening and, thus, he already owns the end.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Faith and Foundationalism"


In Chapter Ten, Dr. Martin evaluates the different theistic positions regarding the relationship of faith and reason. In doing so, he successfully critiques those that hold to a form of fideism. He also looks at foundationalism, the epistemic system that holds that beliefs ultimately can be shown to rest on improvable foundations. This will be elaborated as we proceed. This is the last chapter in his negative case for atheism.

A Summary of Martin's Claims

Dr. Martin begins this chapter by asserting: "We have seen from the previous chapters that the epistemic and beneficial arguments for the existence of God fail." I would like to remind the readers here that, while Martin has done much to show that (1) many of the arguments fail altogether and (2) most of them are insufficient to demonstrate a particular deity, he has not adequately shown that these arguments all fail. For instance, I have pointed out that his criticisms of Aquinas' and Craig's Cosmological Arguments were unsuccessful. Therefore, the conclusion that God exists has been demonstrated unless a different criticism can be developed and shown to be successful. To this point, I have seen none.

Martin then moves in to describe and critique a handful of positions regarding this topic. He begins by looking at Aquinas' traditional concept of faith and reason. Aquinas believed that things can be rationally believed on faith when they are founded on principles of reason. For instance, the existence of God, miracles, prophecies, and the church are rational evidences for the reliability of Scripture. Thus we can trust, by faith, the indemonstrable propositions of Scripture such as the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the compatibility of freedom and God's sovereignty. Belief in God and other propositions are seen as preconditions for faith. Martin notes that this position has decided advantages over more recent ones (to be elaborated later). Nonetheless, Martin believes that it fails and gives four reasons. (1) He claims to have shown in Chapter Four that the argument for God's existence fails. (2) He claims to have shown in Chapter Seven that the argument regarding miracles is lacking in necessary proof. (3) Other religious traditions have grown in the same way as Christianity. And (4) though some historical evidence can be know with certainty, the New Testament miracle accounts can not be known with any degree of certainty. These reasons will be examined in the Critique section.

Next, Martin looks at Kierkegaardian existential faith. He first notes how some believed that faith goes beyond, and sometimes against, the evidence. Soren Kierkegaard held that religious faith was more important than reason. As evidence for this, Kierkegaard pointed out that objective certainty leads to stagnation whereas faith is virtuous and that it is commitment to God that is necessary for salvation, not commitment to propositions. Martin, however, points out that Kierkegaard's faith can be condemned for three reasons. (1) It can be condemned on ethical grounds—why would faith despite negative evidence be virtuous? (2) It leads to fanaticism, which is a vice. And (3) it is inconsistent. His particular God wouldn't want this kind of faith since (a) an all good God wouldn't be all good if he required belief in the face of the actual evidence, and (b) if one should have faith in absurdities, as Kierkegaard claims, there are beliefs that should be more championed than Christianity since they are more absurd. After supporting his critique with a theist's critique (R.M. Adams), Martin concludes this section by claiming that Adams' Critique is strong, but doesn't account for the rationality of belief, especially considering the Christian faith, which is based on revelation that contradicts itself. More will be said on this in the Critique section.

Next, Martin takes a look at Wittgensteinian Fideism. Wittgenstein believed that religious belief has its own rules and logic. After a thorough explanation of Wittgenstein's theory, Martin notes that Wittgenstein is correct that it is good to get into the religious system to understand it, but his system still fails. He gives three reasons. (1) The basis for distinguishing between "language games" is unclear. If one were to take it to its extreme, where it seems it must go, then it results in absurdity. (2) This system demolishes the possibility for external criticism, thus resulting in impossibility of distinguishing between truth and falsity. And (3) real discrepancies are called illusions without justification. After presenting this critique, Martin highlights a particular Wittgensteinian fideist's (Norman Malcolm) argument and points out that his correlation between material entities and God fails.

After this, Martin critiques J.S. Clegg's argument that religious avowals are neither true nor false and Louis Pojman's argument that faith can be built on hope rather than belief. He makes quick work of these, so I will leave these criticisms unexplained. He then proceeds to evaluate Alvin Plantinga's theory of properly basic beliefs. Plantinga's system is developed as an answer to what he believes are the failures of classical foundationalism. He claims that (1) many of the statements we know to be true cannot be justified on foundationalist terms, and (2) that Foundationalism itself is not justified by senses, nor is it incorrigible, nor is it self evident. Hence, he developed a new kind of foundationalism that allowed for belief in God to be held as a properly basic belief. He claims that it is not universally recognized because sin is responsible for clouding this (but we may realize it while pondering sensory data). He claims that a belief can only be considered to be properly basic if it is arrived at in the right circumstances, though he doesn't give criteria for such situations since he doesn't believe that doing so is necessary. Martin gives three strong criticisms of Plantinga's system. (1) Plantinga has not proved that Classical Foundationalism fails to be self-evident. (2) He has not proved that the Classical Foundationalist model is not an inference or deduction from properly basic beliefs. And (3) He has not provided a defeater of Contemporary Foundationalism. After this, Martin points out five more problems specifically related to Plantinga's proposed model. (1) Plantinga's proposal would ultimately allow any belief to be considered as basic. (2) Plantinga's proposal assumes the truth Reformed theology. (3) Belief in God is a particularly unlikely candidate for a properly basic belief. (4) What one considers to be basic differs between Reformed and Contemporary epistemologists. And (5) Plantinga's foundationalism is radically relativistic and thus undermines the reason for foundationalism in the first place.

Martin concludes this chapter by presenting a brief version of BonJour's Position against Foundationalism, but it is underdeveloped to the point that I cannot actually explain or critique it, so I will have to make it a personal project for a later time. It will be important for me to do since I consider myself a Classical Foundationalist.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

I was more split on agreement/disagreement in this chapter than in any chapter up to this point. As for agreements, I agree with Martin's criticisms of Kierkegaard, insofar as Kierkegaard has been represented correctly. However, I do not think that Martin has the luxury of faulting him in these ways, since he is invoking objective ethics and virtues, which are inaccessible for the atheist (if he were to be consistent). Thus, at best, his criticism that Kierkegaard is inconsistent is the strongest objection he can use (though, being a theist, the other two criticisms are acceptable and useful for me).

Furthermore, I agreed wholeheartedly with Martin's critique of Wittgensteinian fideism, insofar as it was presented accurately. The idea of "language game theory" seems to presuppose that it has objective explanatory power. I also think that the criticisms of Malcolm, Clegg, and Pojman were all fair based on their views as expounded by Martin. Lastly, I think that Martin brought some excellent points forward regarding Plantinga's Reformed view of properly basic beliefs; in fact I think that his views are devastating to Plantinga's position. I am grateful for reading this section.

Most importantly, I agree with Martin's early disclosure that Aquinas' position has decided advantages over more recent ones. However, I think that his rejection of it is wrong, and that should take up a major point of my critique.


The most important criticism of Martin to this point was already stated at the beginning my summary of his arguments for this chapter: he has not sufficiently made the case against theism. Therefore, his "positive evidence" for atheism will have to have more explanatory power than the cumulative case offered by the cumulative cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments offered by theists.

Next in line for my critique is the criticism of Aquinas' concept of faith as based on reason. As earlier stated, he believes that Aquinas' view did not hold up four reasons. (1) He claims to have shown in Chapter Four that the argument for God's existence fails. (2) He claims to have shown in Chapter Seven that the argument regarding miracles is lacking in necessary proof. (3) Other religious traditions have grown in the same way as Christianity. And (4) though some historical evidence can be know with certainty, the New Testament miracle accounts can not be known with any degree of certainty. Regarding (1), I have shown this to be false already, and one could return to my critique on this chapter to see why. The same can be said regarding (2). In response to (3), I find it disturbing that he claims that other religions have grown in the same way as Christianity did. What religions? He doesn't even give an example. This is an instance of well-poisoning. I would love to see Martin give one actual example of a religion growing because of the persecution that it received. The cultural climate at the onset of Christianity was extremely hostile for the first three centuries, and grew exponentially in spite of that. Thus the third criticism is at best unsubstantiated and at worst, deceitfully wrong. Regarding the fourth criticism, I have to ask "why?" The only reason I can think of that would lead one to such a position is a presupposition against the miraculous. But can he substantiate such a presupposition? He hasn't yet. Since Martin doesn't explain his criteria this point can be seen as null and void. Furthermore, as counterevidence to his assertion, the fact that early Christianity was known to have treated the miraculous resurrection as the central tenet of the faith can be demonstrated by even hostile, yet contemporary witnesses. Thus, Martin's criticisms of Aquinas' system altogether fail.

Later, Martin makes a quick comment regarding the "contradictory nature" of the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. It is interesting, however, that he fails to give a specific instance of contradiction, but rather simply asserts that the different Resurrection accounts are incompatible. This is a textbook case of either poisoning the well. If you are going to make a claim, support it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"The Beneficial Arguments for God"


Chapter 9 is the last in a series of chapters analyzing and criticizing the popular arguments for the existence of God. Unlike the previous chapters which dealt with evidential arguments, or better, arguments based on some kind of potential knowledge, this chapter is focused at analyzing arguments based on the practical benefits of belief regardless of the truth-status of the particular claims. As with some of the other non-empirically motivated arguments, I tend towards agreement with Martin on his assessments here, perhaps more than in any other chapter that I have read thus far. So, once again, I fear that I will have very little substantial criticism to offer and will have to resort to some smaller matters. Nonetheless, I will proceed.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Dr. Martin begins Chapter Nine by defining "beneficial arguments" as "arguments based on the so called practical benefits of belief rather than on evidence." After defining them this way, he tells us that he will focus primarily on the two most popular such arguments, those of Blaise Pascal (Pascal's Wager) and William James (from Will to Believe). He begins with Pascal's Wager.

Blaise Pascal was the antithesis of Rene Descartes who believed that all certain knowledge, including that of God's existence, was found by way of reason. Pascal believed that the existence of God was indemonstrable and that only by acceptance of revelation and submission to God can we achieve any true knowledge of God. However, as a result of this Pascal recognized that it was necessary to give a reason that one should place such faith in the existence of God. Therefore, he developed what is now known as Pascal's Wager (*Note: This argument actually purports to provide beneficial reasons to act in religious ways that would indirectly result in religious belief. Pascal recognized that to turn the will apart from habit would require intellectual assent. But since intellectual assent was not available then habit was the proper route.). Briefly stated it says:

P-1: If one believes in God and God exists, then one gains infinite bliss after life
P-2: If one believes in God and God does not exist, one has lost little
P-3: If one does not believe in God and God exists, one suffers infinite torment in hell after death
P-4: But if He does not exist and one has not believed in Him, he has gained little
Conclusion: If one has little to lose and infinity to gain by believing or little to gain and infinity to lose by not believing, then one should believe that God exists

Martin offers one specific criticism of this argument and then takes on objections to that criticism. His criticism is that the Wager doesn't take into account the other possibilities regarding a possible transcendent being. He offers four alternatives: 1) a being exists that punishes believers and rewards unbelievers; 2) a being that rewards only for belief in a being that rewards unbelievers and punishes believers; 3) a being that punishes everyone regardless of belief; and 4) A being that rewards everyone regardless of belief. Martin proposes that, in logically possible situations such as these, unbelief may be more beneficial than belief.

Next, Martin offers some possible objections to his view and answers them. The first objection is that these views presuppose that people would even believe in such beings, which is a dubious assumption. They argue that the Wager presupposes only "real possibilities," such as the Christian God. Martin answers that the claim that the Christian God is a better logical option is an arbitrary and culturally motivated assumption at best and an irrational one at worst. He adds that, only by demonstrating that such beings have inconsistent properties could one rule them out a priori. The next possible objection formulated by Martin is that this criticism assumes that it would be better to believe that no supernatural being exists even if one did, in fact, not exist. Supporting this, the objector may offer the idea that hope, even if misplaced, may be beneficial. Martin answers this critique by postulating that the negative value of religious worship (tithing, asceticism, and time consummation) must be weighed against the moment of hope—at which point the hope may have cost too much. Furthermore, there could be great practical value in not believing such as: 1) non-belief gives reason to take responsibility for own problems; 2) there are psychological benefits such as not being naïve; 3) there is epistemic value in not believing a falsehood; and 4) the comfort of believers is actually short lived and ultimately leads to despair. After these criticisms he offers one more that deals with probabilities and succinctly answers it. He then concludes the discussion if Pascal's Wager by stating: "Beneficial arguments should only be used when there are inadequate epistemic arguments to believe one ay or the other, and should be allowed to override epistemic arguments only in very special circumstances."

Next, Pascal takes on a beneficial argument offered by William James. James begins his argument by making distinctions between live options and dead options as well as between genuine options and forced options. He then claims that, when a decision is real, forced, and momentous and not decidable on intellectual grounds then we should resort to our passionate nature (the will). From here, he points out that sometimes the possible gain of a belief being true outweighs the risk of it being an error. Therefore, he concludes teaching skepticism to someone who would benefit from belief is to ask them to be unwise, even if the belief is actually misplaced (since the better things are the more eternal things). In addition, James claims that we would be better able with this belief in a God than without it to confirm epistemically whether or not God exists.

Dr. Martin offers five main arguments against James. 1) James' "live option" is subjective and relativistic and doesn't take into account all facts. Martin asserts that James should change the definition of "live option" to one that is non improbable. Doing so would make the "religious" question incapable of receiving an intellectual resolution, making it a real "live option." 2) James' language is at best ambiguous and at worst nonsense. Martin points out that there is no reason to believe that eternal things (numbers for Platonists) are better than non-eternal things. Nonetheless, even if one were to admit this, it says nothing of the actual existence of a perfect and eternal being. 3) There is no reason to suppose that theists live healthier happier lives than non-theists as a result of believing in such a being. In fact, religious belief is tied to poverty, sickness, and lack of education according to Martin. Further, even if a religious believer could experience more tranquility and serenity, there is no reason to suppose that these are better than the job, health, and education benefits received by the unbeliever (especially considering the fact that drugs can cause tranquility and serenity and are not considered more valuable than a job, health, and education). 4) The undifferentiated theism supposed by James' is not really a regular option ("live"). Bringing in these other options (Islam vs. Roman Catholicism) complicates James' formulations. And, 5) the supposition that being theistic provides better opportunities to weigh the epistemic evidence is unfounded. Differing beliefs may result in the "confirmation" of incompatible options. Further, James' doesn't consider the possibility that religious belief may block one from accepting dis-confirmatory evidence.

Finally, Martin claims that James' argument is even weaker than Pascal's, since it deals with the here and now advantages only, as opposed to Pascal's dealing with the advantages of the afterlife. Also, James does not consider the probabilities as Pascal does. However, if James were to fix these problems then his view would be reducible to Pascal's and subject to the same criticisms as the Wager.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

Well, overall I agree with Martin. Beneficial arguments, in my opinion either beg the question in favor of a particular God or are completely unfounded. In fact, I think that Martin was charitable regarding the criticism of Pascal. Granting that the God Pascal speaks of is the Christian God; I think that one loses more by believing in God if He doesn't exist than in disbelieving in Him if He does exist. Think about it, if I disbelieve God and He does exist, I lose out on an eternal communion with Him, but I still have my existence as I chose to have it. However, if I believe in Him and He doesn't exist, I have offered to a non-existent being the only existence that I had, and thus lost the chance to truly live as I desired (of course one may say that I desired to live believing in this God, but I say that no one knowingly desires to falsely believe in any God). This, to me, is a more devastating criticism of Pascal. Nonetheless, Martin did the job without being overly simplistic or mocking Pascal. He was correct to point out that the open-ended 'God' of Pascal's argument left it too ambiguous. I think that his proposed objections and answers were fair and especially appreciated his claim that only by demonstrating that such beings have inconsistent properties could one rule them out a priori. I wholeheartedly agree here. Finally, I loved his final comments on this section where he stated "beneficial arguments should only be used when there are inadequate epistemic arguments to believe one ay or the other, and should be allowed to override epistemic arguments only in very special circumstances."

I also agreed with his conclusion regarding the section on James' argument.


As for the critique, I will offer three minor criticisms based on the text and one more major criticism regarding Martin's assumptions. All three of my minor criticisms come from Martin's critique of William James. First, when Martin was discussing whether or not theism or unbelief leads one to a happier life I think that he was heading down a meaningless path. Such claims are not testable by comparing groups as he does. Only by evaluating individuals who have experienced both states of affairs can anything be concluded. And even then the claims are not really testable. Such evidence is really only subjectively relevant. Second, Martin talked for a while about happiness being related to having a good job. But I challenge this. A job may or may not be fulfilling, and to the degree that it is fulfilling, to that degree it makes one happy. Thus it is not the job but the fulfillment that can be linked with happiness. Different people may have identical jobs and not experience the same level of happiness, so there must be something more. I propose that happiness isn't found in specific things or actions, but in progressing towards some desired goal. It is in approaching this goal that results in a greater happiness. The fact that non-religious people may seem to have more happiness can be attributed to the fact that their goals are lower and, thus, they are closer to it. Third, Martin suggests that, if one were to start with their belief in God while evaluating the evidence, then incompatible belief systems, in light of the "evidence," would seem to both be true. But this is plainly false. It would only result in the confirmation of the characteristics in which they were similar. Where they differed, the Law of Non-Contradiction would still apply.

Finally, I would like to challenge one large assumption made by Martin in this chapter. He assumes that speaking of "better" or "valuable" is even meaningful in an atheistic universe. But is this so? How does one decide these things? Why is it better to take responsibility for one's own problems? Why is it better not to be naive? Why shouldn't we believe falsehoods? By what standard of goodness (ontological, not moral) is he comparing these things to? I am convinced that the atheist cannot sufficiently answer these questions.