Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Religious Experience"


Chapter Six of 'Atheism' takes on the problem of religious experience as it relates to the problem of God's existence. This argument, unlike the others, is not syllogistic, i.e. moving from premises to a conclusion. For this reason it is a very difficult argument to either affirm or deny. Since propositions cannot be valid or invalid, the only way to test them is to see whether they are true or false. But how can you prove that someone had or has not had a particular experience? Thus, the stickiness of this problem is apparent. I would like to admit at the outset that I have been dreading this chapter. The reason I had been dreading it is because I thought that I would have been in full agreement with Dr. Martin and, thus, would have had very little to say. Surprisingly, I have come to find out that, while I agree with some major points put forth by Dr. Martin, I actually had a much higher proportion of disagreement. Unfortunately, though, I am now faced with the problem of having very little to agree with, since what I actually learned from him was that I am actually unconvinced as to either position being correct. Thus, I will proceed from here to follow my regular pattern though without holding a position on the outcome.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Dr. Martin begins this chapter by defining religious experience as: "an experience in which one senses the immediate presence of some supernatural entity." He further qualifies his definition by asserting that by 'senses' he is in no way admitting that such an entity as is sensed exists, only that the 'sensor' believes or is inclined to believe that such an entity exists. Thus a religious experience is a subjective experience of something that may or may not exist. After defining what a religious experience is, Martin goes on to give what he believes to be the five types of religious experience: 1) an ordinary object being perceived as a supernatural being; 2) a supernatural entity being perceived as it would appear publically; 3) a supernatural entity being perceived as it would normally appear, yet privately; 4) a non-describable sensation or feeling (mystical experience); and 5) a non-sensory consciousness of the presence of another.

After listing the types of 'religious experiences,' Martin notes how most experts admit that such arguments are not actually arguments but, rather, propositions. After doing so, he points out that, while one cannot make an argument for the experience, one must argue for the justifiability of trusting such experiences. Thus, Martin goes on to formulate what he believes to be an accurate representation of the argument for the justifiability of religious experience in logical form. It can be stated as follows:

P-1: Under certain conditions 'C', religious beliefs of type 'K'-that is, beliefs generated by religious experience- are likely to be true.
P-2: Condition 'C' obtains
P-3: My religious belief that God exists is a type of 'K'
C: Hence, my religious belief that God exists is likely to be true

Based on this formulation, Martin correctly notes that the first premise is the key to the argument. He asks what type of reasons we have for accepting this premise. He is correct in his estimation that most experiences are private, thus compounding the problem. He also points out that there is an alternate (psychological) hypothesis, namely that the mind is the cause of the experience rather than an external object. He cites the effect of drugs as evidence that the mind often causes delusion. Finally, he notes that such experiences tell no uniform or coherent story and claims that there is no plausible theory to account for discrepancies. In light of these problems, he rejects the argument. After this, Martin gives an account of some traditional approaches used to 'judge' the reliability of particular religious experiences. The two he cites are: 1) an experience is not reliable if in conflict with Scripture; and 2) an experience is not reliable if it produces bad effects. He notes that the first attempt begs the question for a particular God and gives us reasons to believe that such agreements with Scripture could be produced by the mind simply in virtue of one being reared in a Christian culture. Regarding the second attempt, he claims that it too has a major assumption—that one could a priori know that an experience with God could only result in morally good responses. He asks why one couldn't denigrate morally because of a particular experience of God, and thus claims to have ruled out these 'tests.'

After ruling out such private experiences, Martin assesses the claim that public experiences could count as evidence for God's existence. He begins by admitting that such a task is possible in principle, but claims that the necessary ingredients needed to prove such a claim are missing. Regarding the first type of religious experience (listed above) He notes that there is no way to discern between the natural object and the spiritual being since all who see the physical reality will agree on it while few will see the spiritual reality. Regarding the second type (above) he claims that there are no uncontroversial cases of such experiences, but admits that if there were, this evidence would be significant. He then, recognizing that many would point to the supposed public appearances of Jesus after the resurrection and gives three criticisms of it: 1) the accounts of Jesus' resurrection contradictory in Gospels; 2) the accounts are not supported by the earlier writings of Paul; and 3) the accounts are not supported by contemporary Jewish and Roman sources. Finally, he points out that even if it did occur, it would not prove the existence of the theistic God since there are many other possible explanations.

Next, Martin turns his attention to mystical experiences. He notes that some say that these experiences when evaluated are much more similar to each other and even all seem to describe some experience of a 'nonsensuous' unity. Martin, however, claims that this argument fails stating that: either the similarity is not really present and the argument fails or the similarity is present and, seeing as the recipients interpret such experiences as exclusive realities (pantheistically vs. theistically), such similarities are better explained as being psychological rather than supernatural. Finally, he makes the keen observation that comparing these experiences is actually useless anyway, for one would have to have a description of the ineffable to do so. And that is a contradiction.

Finally, Martin ends this chapter by evaluating the argument proposed by Richard Swinburne. As has been his mantra, Mantra claims that Swinburne's argument is the most sophisticated and extended defense and, if false, it is likely that any other defenses will have serious problems as well. After this complimentary opening, Dr. Martin lays out Swinburne's case which centers on 'The Principle of Credulity.' This principle can be stated: "If it seems (epistemically) to the subject 'S' that 'x' is present, then probably 'x' is present." He (Swinburne) goes on to note some limitations to such a principle and claims that they do not actually apply to the argument from religious experience. In response to this, Martin proposes many supposed defeaters including: 1) The Negative Credulity Principle (where he asks "Are not experiences of the absence of God good grounds for the non-existence of God?); and 2) a hypothetical situation involving a dead aunt. Finally he ends by stating that Swinburne's hypothesis doesn't account for 'contradictory experiences' nor does it demonstrate that 'lesser beings' could be the cause of such experiences (finite, but very powerful mini gods). In the end, Martin claims that arguments from religious experience are un-definable and accepting them is for the gullible.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

As I noted earlier, this chapter was extremely hard for me to go through. First, I have never had a strong 'mystical experience' as defined. At most, I would claim to have had the fifth type of experience, where there is a non-sensory consciousness of the presence of another. However, such an experience seems to have no objective power for proving the existence of God, and thus on the main argument of Dr. Martin, I have to agree. However, I do think that in principle such experiences can be more than sufficient as evidence for God's existence on a subjective level. But since these experiences are not testable, I don't know if they are even worth talking about on the issue at hand (which is building a rational argument for or against theism; by definition experiences are non-rational—though not necessarily irrational).

I also agree with Martin that Swinburne's system is in disarray as it has been set up. If Swinburne's entire argument relies on the credulity principle as Martin has portrayed it, then I do not think that it is strong enough to convince a reasoned person that God exists. However, I do think that such a principle, given the theistic worldview proved by the cosmological argument, can be useful for some things. Nonetheless, its purpose here seems to have failed.


Finally, we move to the critique. I actually am surprised at some of my own thoughts in critiquing this, mostly regarding the final portion where Martin proposes objections to the Credulity Principle. However, there were a few criticisms that I have from the preceding section. First, when Martin denies the effectiveness of experiential evidence because there is no plausible theory to account for discrepancies, I think he is getting ahead of himself. It is theoretically possible that such a unifying theory could be discovered, and thus the evidential discrepancies could be explained. Now if contradictories were somehow affirmed with perfect accuracy then he could disprove the evidential value. But, seeing as such evidence would be impossible to put forth since one is only working with interpretations of experiences, which could be false, rather than the experiences themselves, such a result is highly unlikely, if not impossible. Second, Martin postulated that it was possible that one could be moved to be immoral if they had an experience of God. However, given the system of Thomas Aquinas, which stands on his yet to be disproved cosmological synthesis, this would be impossible because God is identical to goodness. Thus, one who experienced God could never turn immoral as a result of it. Third, many times throughout the arguments, Martin affirms that making distinctions between the experiences and the interpretations of them could help the problems that arise. However, he never attempts to discredit such arguments that would use this distinction because Swinburne doesn't allow for it. But Swinburne's argument isn't the end all and it would be interesting to see how Martin would react to the position if held.

Finally, my major criticisms have to do with the so-called Negative Principle of Credulity. First, what is an experience of 'something' not there but an experience of 'nothing'? But an experience of 'nothing' cannot prove that 'something' is non-existent. Second, I do not think his chair example works. Our 'non-experience' of the chair is limited to a particular space; thus we cannot say that a chair doesn't exist but that there is no chair 'right there'. Now Martin may respond that since God is omnipresent, such an argument would seem to be valid. However, when one experiences God it is not a spatial relationship that is being conveyed but a spiritual relationship. To illustrate using the chair, even if one wants to see the chair really badly he will not experience it if he is not properly related to the chair, e.g. he has his back to it rather than his face. Likewise, if one is not in a correct spiritual relation with God, it is likely that he will not perceive Him. Thus this portion of Martin's claim is faulted. Third, I think that the 'Dead-Aunt' analogy is faulty. If we do know something of the exploits of the dead, we could judge whether or not the experience is valid. Hence, if Christianity is true and the general resurrection has not occurred and we knew that the aunt was dead, or if there was no religious significance such as a prediction of such a resurrection based in a theistic context, then there would be good reason to doubt the experience based on conditions. Of course this may seem to be begging the question, but I am not trying to make an argument, only give a counterexample to Martin. Thus, this portion of his argument fails as well. Lastly, Christianity has an answer for the fact of discrepancy between different religious experiences which actually invokes Martin's proposal of 'lesser beings.' Christianity claims that there are evil/deceiving spirits. Thus, these can account for misinformation. Again, this is a counterexample, not a proof. All in all, Martin's arguments, while they may be right about the worth of subjective religious experience as it relates to demonstrating God's existence to another, ultimately fail in trying to prove that such experiences are nothing but psychological manifestations. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone could ever make such an argument without begging the question.

One more thing (and this is something I plan to do a blog on later, so I will keep it brief). Martin made some claims about the Resurrection accounts of Jesus in the Bible that I would like to say something about. 1) He asserts that the Gospel accounts are contradictory and never gives an example. This is poisoning the well. If they are, tell us how. If you can't give an example, don't claim it. Because he gives no example, I will have no recourse but to say "Nuh uh!" 2) He claims that the Resurrection experiences cannot be corroborated by Paul, who wrote earlier. But this is just false. 1 Corinthians 15 is as clear as any passage of Paul's that the Resurrection was experienced by many, including a group of 500. What's more is that this account, which takes the form of a creed, can and has actually been dated to within five years of the event itself, and thus is very reliable historically. Finally, 3) Martin claims that the events surrounding the resurrection are not supported by Jewish and Roman sources. Again, this is an unfair criticism. First, it is documented by these sources that the believers held the Resurrection to be true. Of course they may not comply, but if they did then they would be considered Christian sources rather than Jewish and Roman. It is a catch twenty-two! And if one were to say that this wouldn't be the case then fine, the Apostle Paul is my Jewish and Roman source. Thus the criticisms of Martin are unsubstantiated and the public experiences of the supernatural are indeed significant.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"The Teleological Argument"


Chapter Five is the third in a series of chapters critiquing the traditional arguments for the existence of God. To recap, the first of these chapters critiqued the Ontological Argument in a variety of forms. For the most part, I believe that Martin did a decent job in doing so. In the end, I agreed with him that the Ontological Argument is invalid. Next, he critiqued the Cosmological Argument in many forms. While I agreed with his criticisms of the inductive proofs (as presented; I cannot be sure of the accuracy since I am not as familiar with the inductive proofs), I pointed out that his criticisms of the deductive proofs of Craig and Aquinas were at best unfounded. Hence, those arguments, after his critiques, still seem to be valid. That brings us to the present argument, the Teleological Argument. The Teleological Argument is the argument from design. It is commonly quoted as:

P-1: Whatever is designed had a designer
P-2: The universe has the appearance of having been designed
C: Therefore, the universe has the appearance of having had a designer

This argument is a deductive argument based on premises known inductively. Therefore, the most that one could hope to receive from such an argument is probability. Nonetheless, a high probability would at least count against atheism. That being said, as will be brought out later, this argument, taken by itself, fails to be an adequate demonstration of theism. Of course, I do not think that it is entirely worthless. I do think that, when combined with the conclusion of the Cosmological Argument (which does prove theism); the Teleological Argument demonstrates that the Uncaused Cause of the Universe is intelligent and, thus, it is a person (if one follows Aquinas' Five Ways to the Fifth Way I think that one can more adequately understand this). However, this argument is not evaluated by Martin and, thus, I will just leave it here as a statement of my position and proceed to Dr. Martin's arguments.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Dr. Martin begins this chapter by pointing out that the Teleological Argument is an argument based on empirical facts, much like the Cosmological Argument. He then makes the interesting claim that these two arguments are really without distinction—more will be said of this later.

After his short introduction, Martin gives a very short background of the Teleological Argument. He points out that it is usually construed as an argument from analogy, and then gives an example of such a formulation, that of William Paley, as well as a criticism of such a formulation, that of David Hume. In short, Paley introduced what has been famously called the Watchmaker argument. Basically, it is an argument from analogy via contrivance: if one were to come across a watch in nature, the fact that its parts are arranged in such a way as to appear contrived is evidence that the watch had a watchmaker. Likewise, if an object in nature appeared to have such contrivance, that evidence would support the idea of a nature-maker. Before going into the criticisms of this argument given by Hume, which Martin seems to take as authoritative, he points out that the argument from analogy is not the only way to make a Teleological Argument. Thus, he informs us that the rest of this chapter will take on four arguments that will not suffer the same fate as that from analogy (supposedly). After this brief intro, he proceeds with David Hume's criticism of the analogical Teleological Argument found in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Hume's argument generally attacks the Teleological argument based on its analogical character. He points out that, if analogies were taken to the extreme, the conclusions would not actually be acceptable to theist. For instance, machines often have many makers, and thus the creative force would more closely resemble polytheism. Further, machine makers have bodies so God(s) would have one (each) as well. Finally, machines have imperfections so machine makers must too. Besides this argument by Hume, Martin presents an argument given by Wallace Matson who argues against the analogy of the universe with that of anthropological excavation. Matson maintains that artifacts are judged not according to purpose but according to 'marks' left by tools rather than weather and thus the analogy to anthropological study based on design is unfounded.

After critiquing the analogical argument, Martin proceeds to look at what he claims are the stronger Teleological Arguments, the inductive ones of F.R. Tennant (the chief proponent of theistic evolution), George Schlesinger, Richard Swinburne, and Richard Taylor. In a nutshell, Tennant's argument is one that doesn't rely on particular facts of nature but rather claims to be a sort of cumulative case argument based on probabilities for six kinds of adaption that naturally occur. He basically claims that theism is rationally justifiable, but not deductively proven by his argument. Martin makes many very strong criticisms of Tennant's argument including: 1) it is compatible with polytheism; 2) it comes to non-inductive conclusions; and 3) the evidence used is at times inconclusive. More will be said of these criticisms in the agreements section.

The next two arguments taken on by Martin are those of George Schlesinger and Richard Swinburne. Schlesinger's argument claims that, if one follows the inductive practice of the scientific method, theism is inductively supported. Martin's criticisms of this view included: 1) if the concept of God is inconsistent then the argument fails; 2) judging the credibility based on chosen factors is unjustified (all the evidence need be assessed); 3) the argument doesn't disclude the possibility of polytheism, deism, or another variety of theism; and 4) natural events would cause humans to respond to danger rather than God, but these are controlled by God, so there seems to be a conflict of purposes. Swinburne's argument claims to use considerations derived from induction and confirmation theory. When the evidence is combined, according to Swinburne, theism is more probable. What makes this argument unique is that it argues based on a temporal order, which is supposed to be easier to defend than a spatial order. Martin's critiques of this view include: 1) the argument is based on an assumption that does not fairly take into consideration the other possibilities; 2) this a priori argument is not supported by analogy (ex. Ford manufacturer; cabinet maker; music production); and 3) a world that is more conducive to moral development is easily imagined (even given Swinburne's theory of how morality is developed).

Finally, Dr. Martin critiques Richard Taylor's argument which states that when confronted with an entity of apparent design, if we accept the possibility that it was formed by chance then we should not trust any message that it conveys. Thus, if we accept the idea that our senses were formed by chance then we should not trust them. Taylor admits that this has no theological import, so he seems to be challenging the opponents of design with the fact that, if there is no design then there is no science. Martin critiques this view by stating that: 1) there seems to be a possible equivocation on "meaning"; and 2) a reformulation ultimately would result in profound epistemological skepticism.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

So far, I think that this has been the best chapter by Dr. Martin. Besides the introductory criticisms of the analogical argument I agreed with most of his criticisms. In his critique of Tennant, his section titled "Non-inductive Conclusions" had many great insights. For instance, he noticed that the argument, if true, only brings us to admit to a cosmic architect rather than a creator. In the next section of that chapter he rightly points out that Tennant simply rejects the chance hypothesis even though he maintains the possibility. He also comes to what I think is the correct conclusion regarding judgments about a priori probabilities, namely that they are based on arbitrary values. In his critique of Schlesinger's argument, Martin justly appeals for a cumulative approach to the evidence, rather than allowing him to pick and choose his relevant information. Against Swinburne his examples using analogy were brilliant (Ford manufacturer; cabinet maker; music production). Against Taylor, I think his assessments were fair, but I think he missed a great point, namely that the example given to support Taylor's can be answered by showing the distinction between the data received by the arranged rocks and that received by the eye, namely that one is informative and that the other natural. Thus there is no reason to reject the senses if there is no design. Overall, I think that, besides a couple of instances of lacking charity, Martin's arguments against the proponents he invoked are sound. Thus in my critique, I will primarily focus on the first argument, that against the analogical Teleological Argument.


My main critiques have to do with Martin's introductory section. First, the claim that there is no distinction between the cosmological and teleological arguments seems to be absurd. The cosmological arguments argue for a timeless, immaterial, non-extended cause whereas the teleological argues for an intelligent, i.e. personal, cause. That is a pretty major, and non-arbitrary I might add, distinction. Nonetheless, this is a minor semantical point that I don't need to dwell on, but it does show me that Martin may have a tendency to be uncharitable with the views that he is trying to critique.

Regarding the section on Paley's Watchmaker argument I have a few criticisms. The first is over the use of rhetoric. When introducing the arguments of Paley and Hume, Dr. Martin structures his remark in such a way as to make it sound as if David Hume's argument was a response to William Paley's. Now, this is not problematic for the person familiar with the history of philosophy, but for the average reader they would just accept the claim implied idea that Hume refuted Paley. But this didn't happen! Hume made his argument first (1776). Paley's didn't come until (1802). Thus, it is most likely that Paley was at least aware of Hume's criticisms and that his argument was free from the criticisms. The second criticism I have is with the application of Hume's critique to the argument. First, the fact that it is called an argument from analogy prohibits it from being subject to the "extreme conclusions" criticism. It was never intended to be a univocity. Second, the argument as formulated was not one meant to demonstrate some quantitative relation between the design and the designer, but rather a qualitative one. The argument says that what has the appearance of contrivance was in fact contrived. To ask that such an argument give an exact description of the monotheistic God is asking it to accomplish a task it had no intentions of doing. Finally, Hume argued that imperfections in the design imply an imperfect designer. Why? What principle is there in perfection that requires one who is perfect to only make things perfect? Is this even possible anyway? If a perfect being could only create perfection then it could only create itself, which is absurd. There is no reason that the designer could not have freedom to design as he wishes, as long as the result is good (not morally but ontologically). Thus, Hume's criticisms applied to the argument fail and Paley's Watchmaker does not end in the historical trash heap of bad ideas based on it.

Finally, I would like to make a quick comment about Matson's comment about anthropological excavation. He argued that relics are not judged as the products of intelligence because they have purpose but because they have markings indicating that they were made by tools. I think this only pushes the problem back one step. Why do the markings show intelligence? Because there is order to them that could only have been left behind by something made by an intelligent agent, rather than by natural phenomena. So the criteria are the same. Something is judged design based on some complexity attributed to the object that defies nature. In the end, Matson's argument paves the way for the I.D. folks.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"The Cosmological Argument"


Chapter Four is a continuation of Dr. Martin's section which contains his arguments against the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Whereas in the last chapter I agreed wholeheartedly in the conclusion arrived at by Dr. Martin (regarding the ontological argument), in this chapter I will be on the other end of the spectrum and wholeheartedly in disagreement with his supposition that his refutation of the arguments here should provide good grounds for discrediting all the cosmological arguments. In fact, I believe that the Cosmological Argument, when formulated correctly is the foundational argument for God's existence. Without it, I think that the other arguments are found wanting. For the sake of readers not familiar with the cosmological argument, I will give a generic example of one. However, there are many versions that have significant differences and, thus, this should not be assumed to be the extent of cosmological proofs. That being said, the generic form can be stated as:

P1- All things that begin to exist must have had a cause.
P2- The universe began to exist
Conclusion- Therefore, the universe must have had a cause

The Cosmological Argument is an argument based on causality. The many forms (which include both deductive and inductive forms) take into account different possibilities such as an infinite universe, a finite universe, a priori evidence, and a posteriori evidence. One should put further study into all these to grasp the nuances. That said; let us turn to the arguments.

Summary of Martin's Claims

In this chapter, Martin presents five versions of the cosmological argument by five very reputable scholars. The arguments presented by Martin include Thomas Aquinas' Second and Third Ways, William Lane Craig's Kalam Argument, Richard Swinburne's Inductive Argument, and Bruce Reichenbach's Cosmological Argument. However, before beginning with these, he presents a very simple version that is stated as:

Everything we know has a cause, but there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, so their must be a first cause. The cause is God.

He makes two criticisms of this argument. First, he points out that, even if this argument were true, the cause need not be an all good, all knowing God. Secondly, he says that it simply assumes that an infinite series is impossible. He points out that those who make such claims believe in infinite series in the field of mathematics and wonders why such series are not allowed in reality. After posing these questions, he moves on.

The first scholarly version of the cosmological argument that Martin takes on is Aquinas' Second Way, which is his argument from efficient causality. Martin presents this argument as Aquinas' attempt to show the impossibility of an infinite series of efficient causes. After further explaining the argument, Martin makes two criticisms. The first is that, even if Aquinas' argument were true, it does not necessarily prove that God is the cause. Secondly, Martin claims that there is no reason that there cannot be a non-temporal infinite regress of causes. He goes on to say that, unless a relevant difference is shown between temporal and non-temporal infinite series Aquinas seems to contradict his own claim, since his arguments presuppose (for the sake of argument) an eternally existing universe. In short, it seems that Martin is asking Aquinas why he allows for the logical possibility of an infinite regress of moments while rejecting the logical possibility for an infinite series of causes.

The next argument that Dr. Martin critiques is Thomas Aquinas' Third Way, the Argument from the need for a necessary being. Martin claims that Aquinas tries to show that, if everything has the potential not to exist, then at one time there was nothing. After attempting to reformulate Aquinas' argument, he makes several criticisms. First, like the other arguments, he points out that even if this argument is granted, it does not prove God, but only a necessary being. Second, he accuses it of committing the fallacy of composition. Third, he challenges the idea that something cannot come from nothing and states that Aquinas' own biblical worldview contradicts this since the universe is said to be caused from nothing. In light of these criticisms, Martin claims that Aquinas' argument has failed.

Next, Dr. Martin takes on a different form of the Cosmological Argument. Whereas Thomas Aquinas arguments allowed for an eternally existing universe, William Lane Craig's version, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, argues for the impossibility of an infinite universe. Craig's argument is formulated exactly as my generic one above. As support for the first premise, Craig offers the possibility of an a priori category a la Kant. Further, he claims that the first premise fits our everyday experience of the world. As support for premise two, Craig notes that denying that the universe began to exist presupposes the possibility of an actual infinite number of things. In argument against this, Craig gives examples to the contrary such as the absurdities that result from considering infinite collections by successive addition (such as time) as well as positive evidence from science (cosmology, entropy). Finally, Craig offers support for the idea that his argument also supports the idea that the cause is personal by what he calls the principle of determination. Martin makes many criticisms of this view including: 1) He claims that Craig's conclusion doesn't justify creation ex nihilo, 2) Craig never offers support for his principle of determination, 3) Craig's arguments against the possibility of an actual infinity are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties, 4) Craig fails to show how the idea of an actual infinity is impossible in reality and even fails to show a non-logical absurdity, 5) Craig's argument from successive addition begs the question for a beginning to the addition, 6) To say that the universe had an absolute beginning is not scientific, since science always leaves open the possibility of explaining an event, and 7) Craig doesn't consider the possibility that the beginning may be uncaused.

After critiquing Craig's Kalam argument, Martin takes on Swinburne's inductive argument. I have to admit that I have never seen Swinburne's argument before and don't understand it as Martin has reported it. Nonetheless, it seems to me that, granting the assumption that it has been represented correctly, Martin seems to have given a scathing and justified critique of it. Since I agree, I won't continue here with a summary. This was a very long and technical section, so if anyone wants to read it, go for it.

Finally, Dr. Martin considers Reichenbach's argument. This argument is an a priori argument from the idea of a necessary being. Again, I am not familiar with this argument, and many of the criticisms have been leveled against the other arguments, so I do not wish to rehash them. I think that I need to understand this view more before I can accept or deny Martin's critique. Therefore, I will pass over this one here.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

There are a few things that I have gained insight on regarding this chapter. First, I commend Dr. Martin for choosing what I think are the strongest cosmological arguments for the existence of God, particularly, the first three. Secondly, I was very impressed with some of his insights on the Thomistic arguments, and even came to realize that there are some aspects of Aquinas' proofs that I did not quite understand, and thus I had to do some extra study. I was also happy to see that Martin recognized that Thomas' arguments weren't arguing for an originating cause but, rather, a present cause. Third, I am so happy that he didn't ask the mindless question: "If everything needs a cause, then what caused God?" Typically, at least with the New Atheists, this question is one of the most common criticisms and does little more than show the lack of understanding on the part of the question askers. Such a question reminds me of a saying by one of my professors: "There are no stupid questions, only stupid people who ask them." However uncharitable that may sound, it seems to be true. Fourth, I appreciate that Martin points out that Craig never justifies his principle of determination. In fact, I propose that Craig's principle is incoherent since it supposes a time before time. Nonetheless, this is not a critique of Kalam's argument, only a critique of this supposed result. I still thin the cause is proven, though not necessarily a personal one (via this argument alone). Fifth, as I said before, I agree with most of what I understood regarding Martin's critique of Swinburne.


Now for my criticisms; primarily I will defend the first three arguments in light of Martin's critique. But before working with each individual one, I would like to address the criticism thrown at each argument. After each critique, Martin offered the criticism that none of these arguments prove God. Well, this is a vague claim and needs to be clarified. If by prove one means each argument doesn't, taken by itself, give a complete presentation of the entire nature of God then, yes, I agree. However, I do think that each argument, if correct, does tell us something about God. Namely, that he is a cause. Regarding the generic proof, I think that there are many implications such as the cause will be extremely powerful, unchanging, eternal, pure act, actually necessary, transcendent, omnipresent, spirit, and one (I will do a blog on this after I finish this series. If you are interested in how I arrive at this conclusion then please e-mail me and I would be happy to discuss it). Nonetheless, I agree that this argument is limited and has nothing to say about the personhood or intelligence of God. Still, I think that this argument presents a pattern of which all claims about God must be filtered through. If they don't fit then the God proposed does not correspond to reason and reality. That said; let us analyze Martin's particular criticisms of Aquinas and Craig.

Regarding the second way, Martin charged Aquinas' with being inconsistent. He basically said that unless a relevant difference is shown between temporal and non-temporal infinite series Aquinas seems to contradict his own claim regarding the potential of having an infinite number of events. Remember, Aquinas' proof accepts the logical possibility of an infinitely existing universe. But Martin asks why there can be an infinite number of moments but not an infinite series of efficient causes. Because of the academic nature of this question I consulted my philosophy professor and here was his reply (in my representation of his words): Martin is confusing the relation of proper causes to their effects versus the relation of accidental causes to their effects. A per se ordered series of causes is where the each cause depends upon the preceding cause in order to cause (such as a hand using a hammer). A per accidens ordered series is where each cause in the series has their causality independent from the preceding cause (such as the generation of children). Thus the per accidens series, for Aquinas, go back indefinitely while the per se series do not. Thus the criticism is misguided. The distinction need not be between a temporal and non-temporal series but rather between the different modes of causality. Thus Martin's criticism of the Second Way fails.

Regarding Martin's critique of the Third Way I have a couple of things to say. First, I think that Martin's reformulation does injustice to Aquinas' argument and thus some of the criticisms based on that formulation don't necessarily apply. Both are included in Martin's text, so I will let anyone who is willing to look for themselves be the judge. Secondly, Martin charges Aquinas with committing the fallacy of composition. But I would like for him, or anyone, to explain to me what the whole universe is without its parts. It would be nothing. Hence it had to receive its existence from something. Nothing in the universe is a thing which has an essence that guarantees its existence. Finally, Martin questions whether the claim that there could not be something brought into being by nothing is not self evident. In doing so he points out that Aquinas' own worldview has an occurrence of something coming from nothing, in the ex nihilo creation of Genesis. To answer this I would first like to point out that something did not come from nothing in Genesis, it came from God. It came 'out of' nothing, but not 'from' nothing. Secondly, I would like to argue that it is self-evident. As soon as we know what 'something' means and what 'nothing' means it is obvious that 'something' cannot come from 'nothing.' If one wants to reject such a concept I think that they would have the burden of proof since they are going against all intuition. So a simple assertion will not do.

Lastly, I would like to look at the seven criticisms leveled at Craig. 1) He claims that Craig's conclusion doesn't justify creation ex nihilo. Actually, it does. If there is a beginning to time then, according to Einstein's Theory of Relativity which has been proven to the 5th or 6th decimal place, there was also a beginning to space and matter. Thus there is no known substance out of which creation could have been derived. 2) Craig never offers support for his principle of determination. I agree with this criticism. 3) Craig's arguments against the possibility of an actual infinity are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties. Martin simply asserts this. I find it disheartening that Martin offers the idea that Craig's argument is unsound as one end of a disjunction. Take the claim alone. Either it is or it isn't. If it is, give proof. Otherwise, don't even bring it up. 4) Craig fails to show how the idea of an actual infinity is impossible in reality and even fails to show a non-logical absurdity. This is false. I don't see why an actual absurdity must be non-logical. Sure, it may be non-logical, but why must it be? That said, the library example, while working with logical argumentation also has an element that seems to relate to reality. That is the whole point. 5) Craig's argument from successive addition begs the question for a beginning to the addition. This is true only as Martin has formulated the claim. But I think that this seems to be a straw man formulation. It is not about a beginning point but an ending point. Craig is not concerned with where it started but how the moments are traversed. 6) To say that the universe had an absolute beginning is not scientific, since science always leaves open the possibility of explaining an event. Of course it is not 'scientific' if by 'scientific' one means 'measurable' or 'testable in a laboratory.' What would there be to measure since time, space, and matter do not exist? Further, who gives the monopoly on truth to the physical sciences? Why do away with metaphysics? 7) Craig doesn't consider the possibility that the beginning may be uncaused. As said earlier, I thing the onus is on Martin to explain why we should deny this intuition.

Therefore, Martin's criticisms do not effectually discredit the cosmological arguments, particularly those of Aquinas and those of Craig. Since this is the case, I will appeal back to them when defending against other criticisms if need be.

"The Ontological Argument"


Chapter Three is the first of eight chapters critiquing the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Dr. Martin has begun this portion of his book by challenging the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. While there are many different forms of this argument, I will give Anselm's so that anyone not familiar with it can understand what we are talking about. The argument can be framed as follows:

P-1: That than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the understanding.
P-2: But a greater conceived being would exist in reality as well.
Conclusion: Hence the greatest conceived being exists in reality.

The Ontological Argument is an argument based on the idea of a perfect being, and its originating point is said to be in the mind. Many famous scholars have supported Ontological Arguments including Anselm, Descartes, Hartshorne, and Plantinga. This Chapter is one of the shortest in the book, so this post will likewise be a bit short. I could have combined this chapter with the next, but I think that the Cosmological Argument deserves a week of its own.

*Note- I agree with Martin's conclusions in this chapter, yet I do have some disagreements regarding his arguments. I just wanted to make sure that anyone who decides not to read the rest of my post doesn't think I am going to defend this argument.

Summary of Martin's Claims

As I said a moment ago, this chapter was very short. In addition to its total brevity, it also contains many repetitions in its critiques. Therefore it will be easy to summarize. Dr. Martin has taken five different versions of the ontological argument in this chapter and critiqued them. He began with Anselm's argument listed above. He points out that this argument makes two major assumptions. The first is that "a being is greater if it exists in reality than it would be if it existed only in the understanding." He invokes Kant's criticism that questioned whether existence can be a property of an object. If it could not, then existence would not make a thing greater. Hence, if defenders of this argument want to support it, they would have to demonstrate that existence is a property. Anselm did not accomplish this. The second assumption is that "even if existence is a property, this argument assumes that existence adds greatness to a being." Martin postulates that existence could actually detract from a being's greatness. He also points out that the existence of a being may not have any relation to its ontological greatness but rather to its value to other beings. He then goes on to point out how the existence of a being such as this may actually be of negative value for individuals by bringing loss of freedom and guilt into the world. He then parodies this argument by replacing the idea of a perfect being with a perfect island and then with a most evil being.

Next, Martin critiques Norman Malcolm's Ontological Argument. Malcolm accepts the premise that existence does not add to the greatness of an entity. In short, Malcolm argues that God's existence is either impossible or necessary. Since it is not impossible, it is necessary. Martin asserts that this proves nothing since God's existence may actually be logically impossible. He follows his argument with another island parody and another evil being parody.

Martin then critiques Charles Hartshorne's Ontological Argument. Hartshorne's is similar to the one above but is represented in a very strict, though logically valid argument. Unfortunately, premises one and seven are at best unjustified and at worst false. Martin again parodies this argument with the perfect island and most evil being.

Then Martin critiques Carl Kordig's Ontological Argument. This argument is a two step argument that claims that since God's existence is possible then it actually is necessary. After critiquing this argument, Martin continues with his parodies.

Finally, Martin critiques Alvin Plantinga's version of the Ontological Argument. Plantinga's is based on possible world semantics and is admittedly not a proof for God but rather it is a proof for the logical possibility of God. Martin criticizes the use of possible world semantics and points out that it is possible that such an idea of a perfect being that exists may be illogical. He then gives examples of possible entities that could work against his argument such as unicorns and fairies. He finishes with the same parodies that he used on the others, though adapted to Plantinga's argument.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

For starters, I unequivocally agree with Martin's conclusion here. The Ontological arguments fail to demonstrate the existence of God. In fact, I am convinced that arguments for anything that begin in the mind rather than from empirical data usually end up begging the question. That's right, I am an empiricist (but so was Aristotle and Aquinas, so don't get too excited). Throughout his criticisms, I found many points of agreement with Dr. Martin. There was one reoccurring problem that I picked up on that I think is the heart of this issue. Though Martin did not clearly mention this problem, he made many allusions to it. This problem is the idea of attaching the property of necessity to an idea (*Note- I don't think that it is impossible for a thing to have necessary existence, however, I think it must be demonstrated, not simply asserted). Every time that one of these proponents did this they seemed to do so without justification. Then, when someone would parody their arguments with a "perfect and necessary island" they would get upset and assert that such a move was unjustified and absurd. I recognize that there are some weaknesses with the island parody, but I do think it helps to illuminate the fact that necessity is just being asserted in the arguments that rely on it, it is not being proven.


Finally, I would like to point out some areas of disagreement that I have with Dr. Martin's critique. First, regarding his invocation of Kant against the idea that a being is greater if it exists in reality than it would be if it existed only in the understanding, I want to point out that Kant's criticism is only valid if his system is valid. You see, it is obvious that Kant would reject the idea that existence can be predicated as a property of an entity because for Kant the entity is actually only a formulation of qualities filtered through the categories of one's mind. What we perceive is not what is. Hence it is not surprising that Kant would reject the existence of our idea in the real world. Since Kant's system is suspect this criticism is not necessarily strong. I imagine that Martin recognized this and guess that that is why he allowed for the assumption that existence could be a property.

Second, and still in his section on Anselm, Martin postulates that existence could detract from an entity's greatness. But what does this even mean? I think that this is a category mistake. When comparing an existing entity to "something" that doesn't exist you are really not comparing it to anything, and hence you lack a comparison.

Third, regarding Malcolm's argument, I think that there is something missing in the critique. Malcolm stated that "God's existence is either impossible or necessary. Since it is not impossible, it is necessary." I think that this is actually true but logically false. If God, who is said to be the cause of the world, does not now exist, then it would be impossible for Him to come into existence as God, the cause of the world, after the world has already been. However, if God does exist then He must exist necessarily (of course I do not mean that the idea of God must be necessary but that given the fact that all contingent things need a cause something must necessarily exist. This is a Cosmological proof and I am sure it will come up next week. Remember, there is a distinction to be made between necessity as it applies in Ontological Arguments and necessity as it applies in Cosmological Arguments). However, since Malcolm is trying to make an Ontological Argument, I agree with the conclusion offered by Martin.

Finally, I want to point out that Martin's evil being parody is a complete failure. In the theistic framework evil is not a thing but a privation in things. Hence an absolutely evil thing is a contradiction, since it would be an absolutely privated thing or, in other words, a nothing thing. Therefore, existence would not make a completely evil thing more evil.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"The Meaningfulness of Religious Language"


In Chapter Two of 'Atheism' Dr. Martin discusses the topic of 'God Talk' and whether it is defensible that human language can even discuss God—whether it be regarding His attributes or His actions. It seems to me that this is a great starting point for discussing the warrant of agnosticism vs. revelational theism; however I do not see that such a discussion could, of itself, support atheism at all. In fairness, it seems that Dr. Martin does recognize this—as indicated by his conclusion that losing 'God talk' diminishes the positive argument for atheism as much as it diminishes the positive argument for theism. I commend him for this honesty. Nonetheless, he felt it necessary to discuss in his philosophical justification of atheism, so I will evaluate it here.

Martin begins this chapter by giving an overview of the problem of using language to describe God (which I will flush out in the next section). He continues by giving a description of logical positivism, the philosophical system by which he intends to derive his answer for the problem. Then he makes a distinction between meaninglessness (no syntactical structure or express a true or false idea) and incoherence (expressed statements that entail a contradiction). He correctly notes that a statement cannot be both incoherent and meaningless at the same time. He then proceeds to give an account of what he believes to be a strong critique of 'God Talk,' that of Kai Nielson. Next, he outlines and critiques the defense made by theist Richard Swinburne. Next he briefly discusses two theories of observation, a physicalist theory and a phenomenological theory. After that he gives an account of several 'theistic' attempts to show the confirmability of theological statements, followed by his critique of each position. Finally he concludes his chapter by admitting that the court is still out regarding the possibility for God talk and because of this he vows to write the rest of this book as if it were potentially feasible. However, he does believe that, in light of current evidence, the only position that is currently justifiable is negative atheism (which seems to be a form of agnosticism). Though he does not mention so, I believe that his position—if it were correct—would also allow for an existentialistic fideistic theism to be considered justifiable as well. Of course, I don't think he is correct.

*Note: I will assume that his assessments of other people's theories are correct and I will evaluate on this assumption. If there are mistakes, I do not wish to be held responsible.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin begins this chapter by asking "Is God talk meaningful?" He correctly notes that language, when used of God, seems to have an entirely different application than it does when applied to temporal entities. Things predicated of God are essential, unchangeable, and non-retractable; whereas the same things predicated of temporal entities are not so. He seems to argue that since we do not know things in such a way that we cannot correctly say such things of God. What is more, according to Martin, is that the very notion of God itself is ambiguous because of its "varied and inconsistent uses." He then argues that the classical understanding of God as a non-spatio-temporal being negates the meaningfulness of 'God Talk' since referring to something requires a spatio-
temporal scheme.

After these preliminary criticisms of 'God Talk,' Martin makes his case against it. He cites as a jumping off point David Hume's argument that "only synthetic a posteriori (matters of fact) and analytic a priori (relation of ideas) statements are legitimate propositions." He then defers to the more detailed working out of this formula presented by logical positivism which is (albeit briefly):

A statement has factual meaning if and only if it is empirically verifiable
A statement has formal meaning if it is analytic or self-contradictory
A statement has cognitive or literal meaning if and only if it has either formal meaning or factual meaning.
A statement has cognitive or factual meaning if and only if it is either true or false

Martin admits his belief that disavowing the meaningfulness of 'God Talk' based on positivism is defensible since statements about God are not verifiable, analytic, or self contradictory and hence meaningless. He then critiques some common theistic attempts to defend itself against positivism including: 1) arguments for the empirical verifiability of the faith, 2) arguments for a non-cognitive interpretation of belief, and 3) arguments against the verifiability theory of meaning.

Next, Martin presents Nielson's argument. Nielson holds that all God talk is not meaningless, since some is just factually false. However, he does hold that 'God Talk' about the classical theistic God is meaningless, since the idea of a transcendent being acting in time is nonsensical. He continues to argue that we should count such statements as meaningless since they are not confirmable or infirmable. He cites as evidence the facts that believers often have doubts. He claims that since we can support the verifiability theory with some statements then we can use it to judge other more controversial ones. He then proceeds to argue that a statement can only be considered meaningful if it can be proven wrong.

After this, he begins critiquing different theistic positions. He begins by assessing the analytic arguments of Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, which I will not summarize here since they are not relevant to my position. He then goes on to critique several confirmability theories, which are also irrelevant to my position (though I think that Crombie's position may be defensible as far as it is portrayed).

Agreements and What I Have Learned

To begin, I couldn't agree more with Dr. Martin that talk about God has an entirely different way of being predicated to its object than the same language would have of a temporal entity. I think that this fact would be very useful to modern theologians who tend to look over it so non-chalantly. I actually think that flushing this out a bit more is a stronger argument against God Talk than that of logical positivism, though I believe that it is so on a false presupposition, which I will address in my critique. I definitely appreciate his distinction between meaninglessness and incoherence, and I will try to remember it forever. I agree that Nielson's formulation of positivism is more sophisticated than other forms, though I still think it is unsubstantiated. I appreciate that Nielson rejects Wittgensteinian fideism, but I think that this rejection logically results in a difficulty for the atheist position as it relates to teleology. Finally, I agree with his final assessment that IF his conclusion were true that it only eliminates positive theism and positive atheism. I also appreciate that he has admitted that there is still a jury out.


First, I don't see how it is an epistemological problem that things are predicated of God in a unique way. All that such a fact tells me is that I don't understand exactly how the subject and the predicate are related; but I see no reason why I couldn't correctly tell that they are related. Second, I think that he begs the question when he states that "referring to something requires a spatio-temporal scheme." He never explains why, but I would be interested in hearing an explanation. Third (and I think this is the greatest criticism of this whole section), it seems that Hume and the logical positivists are working from self-defeating arguments. Hume states that "only synthetic a posteriori (matters of fact) and analytic a priori (relation of ideas) statements are legitimate propositions." But this statement doesn't pass its own test since it is neither scientifically demonstrable (synthetic a posteriori) nor logically necessary (analytic a priori). Likewise the positivist claims are not: 1) factually meaningful since they are not empirically verifiable, 2) formally meaningful since they are not analytic or self-contradictory, or 3) cognitively or literally meaningful since they are not formally or factually meaningful.

Now, I do not discredit the usefulness of verifiability theories, I think that verification is a tremendous tool. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to be able to verify something for it to be meaningful. Thus the statement "God loves us," while not directly verifiable can still be meaningful and, in fact, true. Finally, I would like to say something about testability. I think that I would agree with anyone who claimed that we should not accept a non-testable system as true. This would be tantamount to blindly jumping into an open elevator shaft hoping that the elevator is at your floor. However, there seems to be nothing wrong with accepting non-testable facts as true within the context of a rationally defendable system. For instance, I am not rationally justified in believing that God loves me because I feel good about that idea. The ground for my belief is not testable since my feelings can not be tested. However, if I believe that God loves me because Jesus said that He does and proved that what He said was true by predicting His death and resurrection and then accomplishing that feat then I have believed something based on information that can be tested. The grounds are the historically verifiable events of the life of Christ.

"Introduction" and "The Justification of Negative Atheism"


Dr. Martin begins his philosophical justification of atheism by making an appeal to atheism as being a much more prominently held belief than is often admitted. He also notes that atheists are often looked down on while its proponents are nearly invisible in America. He offers these as reasons for writing this book. Of course the climate has changed a bit since 1990 when this book was published, and today atheism is much more "in," but I think that his claims still hold some truth, and I think that it is a noble cause on his part to attempt to make this justification. In the Introduction Martin attempts to defend atheism against some common criticisms leveled against it—that atheism is false, that atheists are immoral, and that atheism leads to meaninglessness. The first of these he passes on discussing here since this is the purpose of this book. The second and third he makes his arguments against here since he will not address them further in the rest of this work. In concluding the introduction, Martin spells out his overall purpose for the book. He wishes to: 1) provide good reasons for being an atheist; 2) show that atheism is justifiable and belief in God is not; and 3) make counterarguments to the new analytical arguments for God. I will come back to these three purposes when I conclude my series. In Chapter 1, Martin sets forth some preliminary considerations prior to making his case for negative atheism—the argument for atheism from the failure of the reasons for theism. In the second part of his book he will try to make a positive case for atheism.

*Note: Because of the introductory nature of this section of the book the presentation was quite choppy and incomplete. I do not find fault with the author, I realize that he was probably just bringing attention to the fact that he recognizes that such problems are present and wanted to swiftly address them. Whole volumes could be written on these topics. Therefore, I will do my best to summarize, but in doing so I must leave some information out. For those of you reading with me, if you think that I have erred in my analysis, please let me know where and in what way. My hope is that the rest of the book and my appraisal will be able to be clearer.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin's first defense of atheism in the Introduction is the defense against the claim that "atheists are immoral." He points out how people who were atheists were automatically considered to be criminals in past times and that such unwarranted beliefs are often held by believers today. He proceeds to ask the question: "Is there any reason to suppose that religious belief and morality are intimately related?" According to Martin, some theists say that belief in God is necessary for having a high moral character. Other theists weaken the claim a bit and claim that belief in God makes it more probable that one will have a high moral character. In light of these claims, Martin offers as counterexamples: 1) that there are moral atheists; and 2) that there is evidence that seems to show that religious belief has little effect on criminal record. In doing so Martin claims to show that religious belief and morality are not intimately related. Martin next attempts to answer the objection that "atheists do not have any justification for being moral." He proposes that an act for an atheist can be considered moral according to one of many different, though possible, methods. Some of these are the "no-egocentric-term-analysis," the "unique justification analysis," and "methodological ethical absolutism." Of course, Martin is sure to point out that these methods don't necessarily result in absolute agreement since human beings have limited factual knowledge. After explaining the systems by which an atheist is supposed to be able to justify objective moral statements, Martin proceeds to critique a theistic position regarding morality, Divine Command Theory. He points out that there are "modal problems" regarding this theory where God may command one moral act in one possible world and the opposite in another. He also acknowledges many epistemological problems such as: 1) how to determine which commands are from God considering the fact that there are many conflicting "sources" of commands (Bible, Koran, etc…); 2) how to determine the meaning of conflicting interpretations of commands (thou shall not kill or murder?); and 3) how to deal with questionable commands (divorce). Finally, Martin notes some conceptual problems such as the dilemma of a non-spatial, non-temporal being being involved in a speech act. Thus, at the conclusion of this section on morality and atheism, Martin concludes that a theist will have to explain how the theories that he puts forward for ethical absolutism fail as well as answer the problems with their system.

The next "misconception" that Martin attempts to clear up is that atheism leads to meaninglessness. He begins by pointing out that terms such as "purpose" and "meaning" are ambiguous, and hence it is difficult to even understand what is mean by "meaningless." If meaning relates to duration, Martin points out that atheism doesn't necessarily count out the immortality of the soul or a "cosmic plan of salvation." Nonetheless, even if these conclusions are rejected by a naturalistic atheist, Martin says that undesirable conclusions don't determine that the premise of atheism is false. After pointing this out, Martin goes back to the ambiguity of the word "purpose." He admits that if this is taken to signify some "creative purpose" then it is true that life according to atheism is purposeless. However, if "purpose" signifies "having a reason" then atheism can allow for many purposes in life. In fact, these purposes may actually be somewhat objective since they can be compared and evaluated regarding which may be more justifiable. Next, Martin critiques arguments from prominent atheists Camus and Nagel asserting that life is absurd. Finally, he attempts to defend the idea that atheism can allow for "value" in life by asserting that "value" is based on desire. He then points out the flaw in the idea that value be evaluated according to duration. Finally, he critiques Bertrand Russell's transitory argument.

In Chapter One, Dr. Martin proceeds to lay down some preliminary considerations before entering his critique of theistic arguments. First, he points out how he does not begin with the "presumption of atheism or agnosticism" as some atheists believe is the correct way of treating the issue of God's existence. He then continues to discuss the "epistemic duty" of all truth seekers. He claims that a person should not believe anything without a sufficient reason. Then, he orders "reasons," claiming that "epistemic reasons" are supreme whereas "beneficial reasons" are supplementary. He does this after pointing out how belief based on "beneficial reasons" often tends to be problematic. Finally, he critiques any Cartesian-like view of epistemology invoking "deceiving spirits" since such views lead to total skepticism and are unfalsifiable.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

I agree with much of what Martin puts forth in the Introduction and Chapter One. First, atheists should be treated with as much respect socially as anyone else. Second, atheists can be as moral as or even more moral than many, or maybe even most, believers in God. Of course, there may be other aspects to this where I may disagree, but regarding the blanket statement made by Dr. Martin I am in agreement. Third, I believe that atheists can have a high moral character if by "moral" one limits the application to earthly matters. Fourth, I agree with Martin that atheism does not directly lead to moral anarchy and that atheists can make objective moral statements. Further, I appreciate that he has offered methods for determining which statements are in fact morally true. Fifth, I think that he is right to critique divine command theory. Sixth, I agree that "purpose" and "meaning" are very ambiguous, and I also agree with his assessment of "purpose" when used to describe either a creative plan or a specific reason. Seventh, I agree that value should be determined by quality, rather than duration. Eighth, I commend him for not working from the assumption that atheism should be presumed. Ninth, I agree with his assessment of belief—it should be based on epistemic reasons first and supported with beneficial reasons since being based on beneficial reasons alone would be problematic. And finally, tenth, I agree that Cartesian doubt is misplaced and that unfalsifiable views should not be invoked as counterarguments.


Finally, I will critique this section where I think it falls short of proving its claims. I want to be sure to note that this is a critique of his arguments, not a justification for mine. If there are any places where I think he has attacked a view that is not representative of the theistic position I will merely mention so and define the stronger theistic position. First, I think that Martin is correct in noting that atheists can make absolute statements about morality and is also correct in claiming that it is at least possible to have a methodology that correctly interprets all facts in such a way as to determine what the best moral decision may be. However, these assertions are completely overlooking the actual issue that theists bring up. He never actually defines what morality is and gives a reason that one should act in a way in accordance with it. He seems to treat it as a transcendent standard without justifying this. Second, his critique of the theistic position of morality left as it is is nothing more than a straw man. Surely Dr. Martin doesn't believe that Divine Command Theory is the only theistic position regarding the justification for morality. A stronger theistic position is that which grounds morality in the nature of God, rather than in an arbitrary command or in an object that transcends God (i.e. Euthephro's dilemma). Third, the supposed epistemological problems aren't unanswerable. We can determine which commands are from God negatively by rational appraisal and positively by miraculous confirmation. We can determine which source may be from God negatively by its full correspondence to reality and positively by miraculous confirmation. Conflicting interpretations can be judged according to the evidence available. Any important disagreement that I have ever seen, such as the kill/ murder disagreement, seems to have a preferable understanding. Finally, questionable commands, such as those against divorce, are not questionable if God is all knowing and sovereign. Fourth, the conceptual problem offered by Martin doesn't consider the theory that God acts from eternity with effects in time. Fifth, and finally, at the end of the Introduction, Dr. Martin seems to be implying that he is taking some kind of high ground by not subscribing to a particular epistemological system (Correspondence, Coherence, etc.) but in doing this he just leaves us in ambiguity as to what he means when he claims that something is "true" or "false."

Of course there may be some other disagreements that I have had throughout this section of the book, but these are the most important criticisms. Again, because of the introductory nature here it is hard to fully critique his position since I don't fully have it made available to me. I look forward to the weeks to come where I will have a greater presentation of his position.

"There is a God" by Antony Flew

I just finished reading "There is a God" by Antony Flew, the most renowned atheistic philosopher in the second half of the twentieth century, and have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Not long ago, I had watched his debate with William Lane Craig from the mid-80s, and had misguidedly come to the conclusion that he was over the proverbial hill, both physically and intellectually. When I picked up the book, I did so with this mindset expecting a train wreck. I am happy to admit my blunder. It never occurred to me that Flew could simply be a terrible public speaker/debater while still being articulate and extremely intelligent.

He dispels the mythical tales told by the atheistic fringe regarding his conversion here (to theism, not Christianity; he is not currently a Christian though he does not count out the possibility of being convinced anymore). For the most part, the book is biographical, tracing his descent into atheism and his subsequent change of mind. It is a very readable, yet still presents challenging ideas. Overall, I think that he has presented a good counter argument to the "new atheists" and should be taken seriously.

I am interested to hear what some of you who have read this book think. If you haven't read it, please do not bother commenting here. If so, I am interested in any rebuttals.

New Series! Evaluating Michael Martin’s ’Atheism’

Over the last six months my blogs have been primarily directed at making a case for the existence of God and making a case against atheism. In doing this I have, for the most part, primarily taken on the popular level arguments. I have done this with little rhyme or reason . . . being driven basically by what I would like to talk about at any given time (hence being true to the general nature of blogging). However, in making my arguments I have not really spent much time evaluating the primary texts of atheistic scholars. Therefore, I am beginning a new series of blogs where I will evaluate Michael Martin's "Atheism: A Philosophical Justification" chapter by chapter. I will be doing this weekly (and I hope not weakly!) for the next 15 weeks. I would like to invite anyone who is interested to join me in my quest to come to a better understanding of the atheistic mindset and to charitably consider the arguments given by Dr. Martin.

In introduction I would like to note that I fully recognize that I am hardly qualified to intellectually look down on someone like Dr. Martin—who has an earned PhD from Harvard. Nonetheless, even the most brilliant scholars are prone to mistakes—even some mistakes recognizable to the normal reader. So if and when I attempt to point out these mistakes I am not doing so with a turned up nose but rather with an eagerness to discover the truth.

That said I earnestly hope that many of you will join me in my pursuit. The primary format that I intend to follow with each chapter will be:

(1) To accurately summarize what seem to be Martin's arguments.

(2) To give an account of what I agree with and of what I have learned from Dr. Martin (I have been told that a good philosopher will always try to learn something from others before critiquing them. Of course, I hardly consider myself a philosopher—let alone a good one!—though I hope to become one someday.)

(3) To critique Dr. Martin's arguments where it seems to fail in its intended purpose.


Hopefully, we will all learn something from this series! My tentative schedule will be:

December 19, 2007: Announcement and Schedule
December 26, 2007: 'Introduction' and 'The Justification of Negative Atheism'
pp. 3-39
January 2, 2008: 'The Meaningfulness of Religious Language' pp. 40-78
January 9, 2008: 'The Ontological Argument' pp. 79-95
January 16, 2008: 'The Cosmological Argument' pp. 96-124
January 23, 2008: 'The Teleological Argument' pp. 125-153
January 30, 2008: 'The Argument from Religious Experience' pp. 154-187
February 6, 2008: 'The Argument from Miracles' and 'Some Minor Evidential
Arguments for God' pp. 188-228
February 13, 2008: 'Beneficial Arguments for God' pp. 229-248
February 20, 2008: 'Faith and Foundationalism' pp. 249-280
February 27, 2008: 'The Justification of Positive Atheism: Some Preliminaries'
and 'Divine Attributes and Incoherence' pp. 281-316
March 5, 2008: 'Atheistic Teleological Arguments' and 'The Argument from
Evil' pp. 317-362
March 12, 2008: 'The Free Will Defense' pp. 363-392
March 19, 2008: 'Natural Evil' and 'Soul Making Theodicy' pp. 393-435
March 26, 2008: 'Some Minor Theodicies' and 'Conclusion' and 'Appendix'
pp. 436-478

Irony, Oh Irony!

This blog is a step away from the norm. I am not making an argument and I am not going to respond to comments. I just want to make an observation.

As a Christian I have submitted my life to the study of God. I have made a conscious effort to dedicate my life to him. I gladly admit to the idea that God has control over my life.

But my point here is not really about my life. I am only using it as a lead in. It seems to me that most Christians, including myself, are totally outdone in the ammount of control we allow God to have over our lives. Thats right. I have observed that the more millitant of the MySpace atheists seem to have allowed the concept of God to have ultimate control in their lives, at least in their Myspace lives. They seem to be controlled both intellectually and emotionally. So Christians out there, what do we have to say for ourselves. LOL.

Don't believe me, spend some time viewing the pages of the people in the atheistic MySpace groups.

Pretty ironic.

Atheism and Morality

OK, this blog will be a bit shorter and more casual than the others. I have been really busy with school lately, but I want to keep writing, and this is the first opportunity I have had for quite some time. So sorry if it isn't really developed.

That being said, I am learning that every blog probably needs to begin with a disclaimer. So here it is. **DISCLAIMER**: First, please read what I am writing and please do not put words in my mouth. I am not claiming that atheists are bad people. I am not claiming that they cannot be generally moral. In fact, I am not even claiming that they cannot be at least as moral, or even more moral, than most Christians. Secondly, I am not here to defend the actions of the Crusaders nor am I here to assert that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were the epitome of atheism. No, this blog is about the foundations of morality. I am confident that someone will bring these issues, or others like them, up anyway. If they do, I will not answer them.

OK, now that I have explained what this blog is not, I guess its time to make my claim. My point here will be to attempt to show that atheism is insufficient when it comes to explaining morality. I will try my best to support my argument with neutral language and appeal to intuition.

Can an act be right or wrong? Based on my experience, I would have to say that there seems to be at least some things that appear to be wrong. For instance, torturing babies would seem to be a terrible act for anyone to commit, something worthy of some form of punishment (or removal from society). On the contrary, it seems that there are other actions that seem to be worthy of praise, such as rescuing an elderly widow from a burning building. Now, what is it that makes actions such as these right or wrong? It seems like a simple question, but is really much more profound than it at first appears. Most people would simply say that the torture of the baby is wrong because it hurts a human and the rescue is right because it helps a human. But have you ever wondered why this is so. Why is it that I can dismember a live tree without (justified) feelings of guilt or a fear of punishment but cannot do the same with an infant? Why am I a hero if I save the old woman but a fool if I go in only for my chia pet? What is it about a human life that makes it worthy of such respect? As a Christian (and an Aristotelian), I would answer that humans are higher order beings than vegetation and worthy of such honor. Now, I think most people, including atheists, would agree to this point.

The question I would like to ask is "what justifies such a belief?" Why should humans be considered greater than vegetation? Obviously, I would answer that it has something to do with being created in the image of God. But how would the atheist justify such a position? I don't think that they can do so objectively. You see, atheism works from a materialistic view of the universe. There are no such immaterial entities as souls (or forms or what have you) available to differentiate one thing from another thing. All is simply matter. But if all is matter, what makes one chunk of matter any more valuable than another chunk? Is there even a difference between the chunks, other than location and possibly chemical makeup? Is a difference by location actually even a difference? What about an objects chemical makeup could make it worthy and deserving of respect? I am interested to see how the atheist would handle these questions. I don't think that they could give any justification for morality because of their materialistic limitations.

Again, sorry if this is not as well put together as previous posts. However, I am kind of expecting the conversations that follow from it to be much more interesting this time.

The Irrationality of Atheism and Agnosticism?

These days it seems to be en vogue to consider one's self an atheist or an agnostic. Many of those who latch on to one of these two titles claim that they do so because belief in God is irrational. I have already written defending the rationality for theism (see Aquinas' Five Proofs blog), so that is not my intent here. Rather, there is a looming question that I have for these folks regarding their chosen worldviews. Are atheism or agnosticism even rational positions to hold?

Before it can be evaluated whether or not either of these is itself rational, it is necessary to define what I mean when I use these terms. When I refer to an atheist, I am referring to one who believes that God does not exist. Regarding agnostics, I am going to make a distinction at the onset. Some agnostics claim that we can't know anything about God, including whether or not He exists. I will hereafter refer to these as "hard agnostics." Others claim that there is not enough evidence to come to a conclusion on the question of God's existence. These I will hereafter refer to as "soft agnostics." Now that I have defined my terms, it's time to evaluate each of these positions.

Is it logical to call one's self an atheist? I actually think that this is the most unreasonable worldview that any person can hold. In fact, I will jump out on a limb and assert that most people who call themselves atheists actually mean that they believe one of the forms of agnosticism. Why? In order to say that God does not exist, a person would basically have to be omniscient. First, they would have to have searched "every corner" of the universe and found that "God was not there." Now, if that were not enough, they would not only have to search every place, but before they left each place they would have to set up surveillance, just in case that wily God was pulling a fast one them and following behind the whole time. Now, even if this were done, and the cameras were all monitored and God was not anywhere found at any moment, even this would not be enough to prove that God does not exist. All it would prove is that a corporeal God does not exist. And even that couldn't really be proved because you would have to assume that none of the corporeal things that are seen could be God being discreet. Of course this borders on the ridiculous, but that is exactly the point. An atheist has to beg the question and "know" that a non-corporeal God does not exist while searching/monitoring every inch of the universe in order to prove such a thing. Though I believe that this insight absolutely destroys an atheistic position, I would like to make two other points here that really have no additional weight but are issues that I constantly see brought up. (1) Evolution: Even if macro-evolutionary theory as presented in Darwin's Descent of Man were true, it does not prove that God does not exist, it only invalidates the biblical creation story (of course, I do reject that Darwin was correct, but that is a separate debate altogether that I do not wish to engage here). (2) Even if one could show that the traditional proofs for God were invalid (again a conclusion I reject, but I have another blog where they can be challenged), this would not prove that God does not exist; only that the proofs were inconclusive. That about covers atheism. Will there be any atheists left?

Next, I would like to cover hard-agnosticism. Remember that hard-agnosticism claims that one cannot know anything about God, including whether he exists. Is this a reasonable position to hold? Again, I think this suffers a death similar to that of atheism. However, before I address why I would like to make a disclaimer. The reason that I made the distinction between hard and soft agnosticism was so as to avoid setting up a straw man. Most agnostics probably won't toe a line this hard, but some do so I saw it reasonable to mention it. That being said let me show why this position dies a quick death. Like atheism, it proves too much. Just look at the claim. "We can't know anything about God..." This is what we call a self-defeating statement. It is a claim to know something about God, namely that you can't know anything about God. Again, if you knew that you couldn't know anything about God you would have to know something about what he is like to realize that your knowledge couldn't even approach Him. It is completely irrational, much like if I typed: "I cannot type a word in English." The hard agnostic stultifies himself.

Finally, I would like to look at soft-agnosticism. Now, it is probably the case that most people who lack a belief in God are of this variety in regards to their worldview. I admit that of all the positions, it would clearly be the most reasonable to hold. But is it really rational? I was one of these until I was twenty-one. I would bet that most people who hold this position were much like me too. They would make the claim that there is not enough evidence without ever really having looked at the evidence that has been offered. It was not until I was offered evidence (I first was shown evidence of fulfilled prophecy) that I actually took to evaluate any. Now, here I am five years later after reviewing all of the evidence that I could get my hands on and have been completely convinced that the Judeo-Christian God does exist. I would like to make it clear that I am not convinced simply because of a personal encounter, a good feeling, or desired results. No, the evidence that convinced me is philosophical, historical, and scientific. That is enough about me, this post wasn't purposed to be a life story, only to show that I understand the claims made by each position.

I would like to hear any rebuttals (if there even are any) to my claim that atheism and hard agnosticism are completely ridiculous beliefs to hold. For those of you who may be soft-agnostics, I have a question for each of you. What kind of evidence would you require in order to believe in God?

Common Errors in Debating

I have noticed that many people, both non-theists and theists, make some serious errors when debating the existence of God. In light of this, I will just mention a few that seem to be the most common, point out why they are wrong, and offer advice for correction.

1) It seems to me that each time I discuss theism, somehow arguments come up regarding the difficult passages in the Scriptures. You know the ones that I am talking about: those regarding slavery, God commanding war, etc... Now, I am not writing to say that these are trivial matters. I believe that they are difficult questions that require an honest hearing. However, they are irrelevant and have no place in the debate over the existence of God. When an atheist/agnostic/skeptic brings these issues up, they are only introducing a Red Herring and trying to win an argument with an emotional appeal. This is an intellectually dishonest approach. Now, don't think I am trying to say that only non-theists do this, many theists try to use the arguments from Hitler and Hell in their debates. This is just as dishonest.

2) Another common mistake is related to this one, it is going off topic. I have just allowed this to happen in my most recent blog conversation. We were debating the existence of a first cause, and before I knew it, I was defending the design argument. I don't know how this shift occurred, but it did. Again, I do believe that, as theists, we must be able to answer the questions leveled against our view, but we only have to take one at a time. By answering one at a time, this allows you to close the door on successive issues and to avoid having to give multiple simplistic and unacceptable answers to good questions. This often happens in debates between theists as well. Stay on target and the truth will weed itself out when good questions are brought forth.

3) Next, and this is the one that most annoys me; make an attempt to understand the other sides position before you criticize it. Don't build a straw man. I wish I had a dollar for every time that a non-theist criticized the cosmological argument because it doesn't account for a cause of God. It does not have to. The arguments first premise says that all things that begin to exist must have a cause. God did not have a beginning and therefore is not subject to this argument. Another straw man I have often seen is when someone confuses an infinite being with an infinite number of things. These are two different concepts, stop equivocating. Now, I know it seems I am picking on non-theists here, so I want to be clear that theists do this as well. I am not as familiar with the common (and annoying) straw men put forth by them, so if anyone wants to post some, I would be glad to see them.

4) Finally, know the arguments that you are presenting before you present them. Some people use weak arguments to try to prove their point. One is the argument from experience. I am sorry people, but your experiences are irrelevant to me. You cannot transfer them to me, so I cannot participate in them. Give me reasons. Another type of weak argument is one that has been shown invalid (for its purpose), such as the ontological argument, David Hume's argument against the miraculous, and Pascal's Wager. Let's take Pascal's Wager as an example. Pascal's Wager says:

"God either exists or He doesn't. Based on the testimony, both general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scriptures/Bible), it is safe to assume that God does in fact exist. It is abundantly fair to conceive, that there is at least 50% chance that the Christian Creator God does in fact exist. Therefore, since we stand to gain eternity, and thus infinity, the wise and safe choice is to live as though God does exist. If we are right, we gain everything, and lose nothing. If we are wrong, we lose nothing and gain nothing. Therefore, based on simple mathematics, only the fool would choose to live a Godless life." Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have nothing to lose. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

Many theists like to use a version of this, but is it valid? No. First, it equivocates on God. What is meant by God in this argument? According to Christianity, it is not a safer bet to believe in Allah or Buddha. Furthermore, what does he mean by believing "we lose nothing" if God doesn't exist? I say that we lose everything by believing in a non-existent being; especially Christians. Christians often dismantle their entire lives (at least if they are living consistently with their belief system) and forsake many worldly pleasures based on their beliefs. Now, if they are doing this for a God that doesn't exist, then they are throwing away everything, they literally lose it all. I have been on the proverbial "other side of the tracks" and admit that it is often more fun. I would not believe what I do for the sake of believing in something, I believe it because it is the most rational option and is historically verifiable. Know your arguments and their flaws and be prepared to defend them, though only one at a time, of course.

Feel free to add common errors that you think deserve a mention. By no means do I think this list is exhaustive.

"The Dawkins Delusion" by Alvin Plantinga

Here is one theistic response to Dawkin's latest book. I haven't had the chance to read "The God Delusion" yet (that is the downfall of being a full-time student, I can't always read what I want to), so I am relying on a reliable source for this. Enjoy.

The Dawkins Confusion
Naturalism ad absurdum.
by Alvin Plantinga

Richard Dawkins is not pleased with God:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal….

Well, no need to finish the quotation; you get the idea. Dawkins seems to have chosen God as his sworn enemy. (Let's hope for Dawkins' sake God doesn't return the compliment.)

The God Delusion is an extended diatribe against religion in general and belief in God in particular; Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (whose recent Breaking the Spell is his contribution to this genre) are the touchdown twins of current academic atheism.1 Dawkins has written his book, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet. He and Dennett both appear to think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days; says Dennett, "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Apparently atheism has its own heroes of the faith—at any rate its own self-styled heroes. Here it's not easy to take them seriously; religion-bashing in the current Western academy is about as dangerous as endorsing the party's candidate at a Republican rally.

Dawkins is perhaps the world's most popular science writer; he is also an extremely gifted science writer. (For example, his account of bats and their ways in his earlier book The Blind Watchmaker is a brilliant and fascinating tour de force.) The God Delusion, however, contains little science; it is mainly philosophy and theology (perhaps "atheology" would be a better term) and evolutionary psychology, along with a substantial dash of social commentary decrying religion and its allegedly baneful effects. As the above quotation suggests, one shouldn't look to this book for evenhanded and thoughtful commentary. In fact the proportion of insult, ridicule, mockery, spleen, and vitriol is astounding. (Could it be that his mother, while carrying him, was frightened by an Anglican clergyman on the rampage?) If Dawkins ever gets tired of his day job, a promising future awaits him as a writer of political attack ads.

Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying. I shall put irritation aside, however and do my best to take Dawkins' main argument seriously.

Chapter 3, "Why There Almost Certainly is No God," is the heart of the book. Well, why does Dawkins think there almost certainly isn't any such person as God? It's because, he says, the existence of God is monumentally improbable. How improbable? The astronomer Fred Hoyle famously claimed that the probability of life arising on earth (by purely natural means, without special divine aid) is less than the probability that a flight-worthy Boeing 747 should be assembled by a hurricane roaring through a junkyard. Dawkins appears to think the probability of the existence of God is in that same neighborhood—so small as to be negligible for all practical (and most impractical) purposes. Why does he think so?

Here Dawkins doesn't appeal to the usual anti-theistic arguments—the argument from evil, for example, or the claim that it's impossible that there be a being with the attributes believers ascribe to God.2 So why does he think theism is enormously improbable? The answer: if there were such a person as God, he would have to be enormously complex, and the more complex something is, the less probable it is: "However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747." The basic idea is that anything that knows and can do what God knows and can do would have to be incredibly complex. In particular, anything that can create or design something must be at least as complex as the thing it can design or create. Putting it another way, Dawkins says a designer must contain at least as much information as what it creates or designs, and information is inversely related to probability. Therefore, he thinks, God would have to be monumentally complex, hence astronomically improbable; thus it is almost certain that God does not exist.

But why does Dawkins think God is complex? And why does he think that the more complex something is, the less probable it is? Before looking more closely into his reasoning, I'd like to digress for a moment; this claim of improbability can help us understand something otherwise very perplexing about Dawkins' argument in his earlier and influential book, The Blind Watchmaker. There he argues that the scientific theory of evolution shows that our world has not been designed—by God or anyone else. This thought is trumpeted by the subtitle of the book: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design.

How so? Suppose the evidence of evolution suggests that all living creatures have evolved from some elementary form of life: how does that show that the universe is without design? Well, if the universe has not been designed, then the process of evolution is unguided, unorchestrated, by any intelligent being; it is, as Dawkins suggests, blind. So his claim is that the evidence of evolution reveals that evolution is unplanned, unguided, unorchestrated by any intelligent being.

But how could the evidence of evolution reveal a thing like that? After all, couldn't it be that God has directed and overseen the process of evolution? What makes Dawkins think evolution is unguided? What he does in The Blind Watchmaker, fundamentally, is three things. First, he recounts in vivid and arresting detail some of the fascinating anatomical details of certain living creatures and their incredibly complex and ingenious ways of making a living; this is the sort of thing Dawkins does best. Second, he tries to refute arguments for the conclusion that blind, unguided evolution could not have produced certain of these wonders of the living world—the mammalian eye, for example, or the wing. Third, he makes suggestions as to how these and other organic systems could have developed by unguided evolution.

Suppose he's successful with these three things: how would that show that the universe is without design? How does the main argument go from there? His detailed arguments are all for the conclusion that it is biologically possible that these various organs and systems should have come to be by unguided Darwinian mechanisms (and some of what he says here is of considerable interest). What is truly remarkable, however, is the form of what seems to be the main argument. The premise he argues for is something like this:

1. We know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes;
and Dawkins supports that premise by trying to refute objections to its being biologically possible that life has come to be that way. His conclusion, however, is

2. All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.

It's worth meditating, if only for a moment, on the striking distance, here, between premise and conclusion. The premise tells us, substantially, that there are no irrefutable objections to its being possible that unguided evolution has produced all of the wonders of the living world; the conclusion is that it is true that unguided evolution has indeed produced all of those wonders. The argument form seems to be something like

We know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that p;
p is true.

Philosophers sometimes propound invalid arguments (I've propounded a few myself); few of those arguments display the truly colossal distance between premise and conclusion sported by this one. I come into the departmental office and announce to the chairman that the dean has just authorized a $50,000 raise for me; naturally he wants to know why I think so. I tell him that we know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that the dean has done that. My guess is he'd gently suggest that it is high time for me to retire.

Here is where that alleged massive improbability of theism is relevant. If theism is false, then (apart from certain weird suggestions we can safely ignore) evolution is unguided. But it is extremely likely, Dawkins thinks, that theism is false. Hence it is extremely likely that evolution is unguided—in which case to establish it as true, he seems to think, all that is needed is to refute those claims that it is impossible. So perhaps we can think about his Blind Watchmaker argument as follows: he is really employing as an additional if unexpressed premise his idea that the existence of God is enormously unlikely. If so, then the argument doesn't seem quite so magnificently invalid. (It is still invalid, however, even if not quite so magnificently—you can't establish something as a fact by showing that objections to its possibility fail, and adding that it is very probable.)

Now suppose we return to Dawkins' argument for the claim that theism is monumentally improbable. As you recall, the reason Dawkins gives is that God would have to be enormously complex, and hence enormously improbable ("God, or any intelligent, decision-making calculating agent, is complex, which is another way of saying improbable"). What can be said for this argument?

Not much. First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.3 (It isn't only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is "a single and simple spiritual being.") So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.4 More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins' own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone." But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.5 A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn't have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.

So first, it is far from obvious that God is complex. But second, suppose we concede, at least for purposes of argument, that God is complex. Perhaps we think the more a being knows, the more complex it is; God, being omniscient, would then be highly complex. Perhaps so; still, why does Dawkins think it follows that God would be improbable? Given materialism and the idea that the ultimate objects in our universe are the elementary particles of physics, perhaps a being that knew a great deal would be improbable—how could those particles get arranged in such a way as to constitute a being with all that knowledge? Of course we aren't given materialism. Dawkins is arguing that theism is improbable; it would be dialectically deficient in excelsis to argue this by appealing to materialism as a premise. Of course it is unlikely that there is such a person as God if materialism is true; in fact materialism logically entails that there is no such person as God; but it would be obviously question-begging to argue that theism is improbable because materialism is true.

So why think God must be improbable? According to classical theism, God is a necessary being; it is not so much as possible that there should be no such person as God; he exists in all possible worlds. But if God is a necessary being, if he exists in all possible worlds, then the probability that he exists, of course, is 1, and the probability that he does not exist is 0. Far from its being improbable that he exists, his existence is maximally probable. So if Dawkins proposes that God's existence is improbable, he owes us an argument for the conclusion that there is no necessary being with the attributes of God—an argument that doesn't just start from the premise that materialism is true. Neither he nor anyone else has provided even a decent argument along these lines; Dawkins doesn't even seem to be aware that he needs an argument of that sort.

A second example of Dawkinsian-style argument. Recently a number of thinkers have proposed a new version of the argument from design, the so-called "Fine-Tuning Argument." Starting in the late Sixties and early Seventies, astrophysicists and others noted that several of the basic physical constants must fall within very narrow limits if there is to be the development of intelligent life—at any rate in a way anything like the way in which we think it actually happened. For example, if the force of gravity were even slightly stronger, all stars would be blue giants; if even slightly weaker, all would be red dwarfs; in neither case could life have developed. The same goes for the weak and strong nuclear forces; if either had been even slightly different, life, at any rate life of the sort we have, could probably not have developed. Equally interesting in this connection is the so-called flatness problem: the existence of life also seems to depend very delicately upon the rate at which the universe is expanding. Thus Stephen Hawking:

reduction of the rate of expansion by one part in 1012 at the time when the temperature of the Universe was 1010 K would have resulted in the Universe's starting to recollapse when its radius was only 1/3000 of the present value and the temperature was still 10,000 K.6

That would be much too warm for comfort. Hawking concludes that life is possible only because the universe is expanding at just the rate required to avoid recollapse. At an earlier time, he observes, the fine-tuning had to be even more remarkable:

we know that there has to have been a very close balance between the competing effect of explosive expansion and gravitational contraction which, at the very earliest epoch about which we can even pretend to speak (called the Planck time, 10-43 sec. after the big bang), would have corresponded to the incredible degree of accuracy represented by a deviation in their ratio from unity by only one part in 10 to the sixtieth.7

One reaction to these apparent enormous coincidences is to see them as substantiating the theistic claim that the universe has been created by a personal God and as offering the material for a properly restrained theistic argument—hence the fine-tuning argument.8 It's as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our universe. It is extremely unlikely that this should happen by chance, but much more likely that this should happen if there is such a person as God.

Now in response to this kind of theistic argument, Dawkins, along with others, proposes that possibly there are very many (perhaps even infinitely many) universes, with very many different distributions of values over the physical constants. Given that there are so many, it is likely that some of them would display values that are life-friendly. So if there are an enormous number of universes displaying different sets of values of the fundamental constants, it's not at all improbable that some of them should be "fine-tuned." We might wonder how likely it is that there are all these other universes, and whether there is any real reason (apart from wanting to blunt the fine-tuning arguments) for supposing there are any such things.9 But concede for the moment that indeed there are many universes and that it is likely that some are fine-tuned and life-friendly. That still leaves Dawkins with the following problem: even if it's likely that some universes should be fine-tuned, it is still improbable that this universe should be fine-tuned. Name our universe alpha: the odds that alpha should be fine-tuned are exceedingly, astronomically low, even if it's likely that some universe or other is fine-tuned.

What is Dawkins' reply? He appeals to "the anthropic principle," the thought that the only sort of universe in which we could be discussing this question is one which is fine-tuned for life:

the anthropic answer, in its most general form, is that we could only be discussing the question in the kind of universe that was capable of producing us. Our existence therefore determines that the fundamental constants of physics had to be in their respective Goldilocks [life-friendly] zones.

Well, of course our universe would have to be fine-tuned, given that we live in it. But how does that so much as begin to explain why it is that alpha is fine-tuned? One can't explain this by pointing out that we are indeed here—anymore than I can "explain" the fact that God decided to create me (instead of passing me over in favor of someone else) by pointing out that if God had not thus decided, I wouldn't be here to raise that question. It still seems striking that these constants should have just the values they do have; it is still monumentally improbable, given chance, that they should have just those values; and it is still much less improbable that they should have those values, if there is a God who wanted a life-friendly universe.

One more example of Dawkinsian thought. In The Blind Watchmaker, he considers the claim that since the self-replicating machinery of life is required for natural selection to work, God must have jumpstarted the whole evolutionary process by specially creating life in the first place—by specially creating the original replicating machinery of DNA and protein that makes natural selection possible. Dawkins retorts as follows:

This is a transparently feeble argument, indeed it is obviously self-defeating. Organized complexity is the thing that we are having difficulty in explaining. Once we are allowed simply to postulate organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating machine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of yet more organized complexity… . But of course any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself… . To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer.

In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett approvingly quotes this passage from Dawkins and declares it an "unrebuttable refutation, as devastating today as when Philo used it to trounce Cleanthes in Hume's Dialogues two centuries earlier." Now here in The God Delusion Dawkins approvingly quotes Dennett approvingly quoting Dawkins, and adds that Dennett (i.e., Dawkins) is entirely correct.

Here there is much to say, but I'll say only a bit of it. First, suppose we land on an alien planet orbiting a distant star and discover machine-like objects that look and work just like tractors; our leader says "there must be intelligent beings on this planet who built those tractors." A first-year philosophy student on our expedition objects: "Hey, hold on a minute! You have explained nothing at all! Any intelligent life that designed those tractors would have to be at least as complex as they are." No doubt we'd tell him that a little learning is a dangerous thing and advise him to take the next rocket ship home and enroll in another philosophy course or two. For of course it is perfectly sensible, in that context, to explain the existence of those tractors in terms of intelligent life, even though (as we can concede for the moment) that intelligent life would have to be at least as complex as the tractors. The point is we aren't trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity, and we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general; we are only trying to explain one particular manifestation of it (those tractors). And (unless you are trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity) it is perfectly proper to explain one manifestation of organized complexity in terms of another. Similarly, in invoking God as the original creator of life, we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general, but only a particular kind of it, i.e., terrestrial life. So even if (contrary to fact, as I see it) God himself displays organized complexity, we would be perfectly sensible in explaining the existence of terrestrial life in terms of divine activity.

A second point: Dawkins (and again Dennett echoes him) argues that "the main thing we want to explain" is "organized complexity." He goes on to say that "The one thing that makes evolution such a neat theory is that it explains how organized complexity can arise out of primeval simplicity," and he faults theism for being unable to explain organized complexity. Now mind would be an outstanding example of organized complexity, according to Dawkins, and of course (unlike with organized complexity) it is uncontroversial that God is a being who thinks and knows; so suppose we take Dawkins to be complaining that theism doesn't offer an explanation of mind. It is obvious that theists won't be able to give an ultimate explanation of mind, because, naturally enough, there isn't any explanation of the existence of God. Still, how is that a point against theism? Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God. Of course the same goes for any other view; on any view explanations come to an end. The materialist or physicalist, for example, doesn't have an explanation for the existence of elementary particles: they just are. So to claim that what we want or what we need is an ultimate explanation of mind is, once more, just to beg the question against theism; the theist neither wants nor needs an ultimate explanation of personhood, or thinking, or mind.

Toward the end of the book, Dawkins endorses a certain limited skepticism. Since we have been cobbled together by (unguided) evolution, it is unlikely, he thinks, that our view of the world is overall accurate; natural selection is interested in adaptive behavior, not in true belief. But Dawkins fails to plumb the real depths of the skeptical implications of the view that we have come to be by way of unguided evolution. We can see this as follows. Like most naturalists, Dawkins is a materialist about human beings: human persons are material objects; they are not immaterial selves or souls or substances joined to a body, and they don't contain any immaterial substance as a part. From this point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?

From a theistic point of view, we'd expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable. God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge. But from a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naïve hope. The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology. In fact he'd have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It's as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.

If this is so, the naturalist has a defeater for the natural assumption that his cognitive faculties are reliable—a reason for rejecting that belief, for no longer holding it. (Example of a defeater: suppose someone once told me that you were born in Michigan and I believed her; but now I ask you, and you tell me you were born in Brazil. That gives me a defeater for my belief that you were born in Michigan.) And if he has a defeater for that belief, he also has a defeater for any belief that is a product of his cognitive faculties. But of course that would be all of his beliefs—including naturalism itself. So the naturalist has a defeater for naturalism; natural- ism, therefore, is self-defeating and cannot be rationally believed.

The real problem here, obviously, is Dawkins' naturalism, his belief that there is no such person as God or anyone like God. That is because naturalism implies that evolution is unguided. So a broader conclusion is that one can't rationally accept both naturalism and evolution; naturalism, therefore, is in conflict with a premier doctrine of contemporary science. People like Dawkins hold that there is a conflict between science and religion because they think there is a conflict between evolution and theism; the truth of the matter, however, is that the conflict is between science and naturalism, not between science and belief in God.

The God Delusion is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn't give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a "delusion."

The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it.

Alvin Plantinga is John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

1. A third book along these lines, The End of Faith, has recently been written by Sam Harris, and more recently still a sequel, Letter to a Christian Nation, so perhaps we should speak of the touchdown triplets—or, given that Harris is very much the junior partner in this enterprise (he's a grad student) maybe the "Three Bears of Atheism"?

2. Although Dawkins does bring up (p. 54), apparently approvingly, the argument that God can't be both omniscient and omnipotent: if he is omniscient, then he can't change his mind, in which case there is something he can't do, so that he isn't omnipotent(!).

3. See my Does God Have a Nature? Aquinas Lecture 44 (Marquette Univ. Press, 1980).

4. The distinguished Oxford philosopher (Dawkins calls him a theologian) Richard Swinburne has proposed some sophisticated arguments for the claim that God is simple. Dawkins mentions Swinburne's argument, but doesn't deign to come to grips with it; instead he resorts to ridicule (pp. 110-111).

5. What about the Trinity? Just how we are to think of the Trinity is of course not wholly clear; it is clear, however, that it is false that in addition to each of the three persons of the Trinity, there is also another being of which each of those persons is a part.

6. "The Anisotropy of the Universe at Large Times," in M. S. Longair, ed., Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data (Springer, 2002), p. 285.

7. John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding (Random House,
1989), p. 22.

8. One of the best versions of the fine-tuning argument is proposed by Robin Collins in "A Scientific Argument for the Existence of God: The Fine-Tuning Design Argument," in Michael J. Murray, ed., Reason for the Hope Within (Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 47-75.

9. See my review of Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea in Books & Culture, May/June 1996.

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