Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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

CHAPTERS 11 and 12

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

Summary of Martin's Claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agreements and What I Have Learned

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Faith and Foundationalism"


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

A Summary of Martin's Claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agreements and What I Have Learned

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"The Beneficial Arguments for God"


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

Summary of Martin's Claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agreements and What I Have Learned

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

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


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

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

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"The Argument from Miracles" and "Some Minor Evidential Arguments for God"


This week I chose to do both Chapters Seven and Eight since they were both a little shorter than most chapters. I will start here with Chapter Seven and do Chapter Eight after my critique of Chapter Seven.

Chapter Seven of 'Atheism' is Dr. Martin's critique of the argument for the existence of God from the occurrence of miracles. The argument from miracles is a historical/ empirical argument and is therefore different from the traditional arguments. As with the previous article, I am split with my evaluation of this Chapter. There were many strong points made by Dr. Martin, but there were also many misunderstandings and mistakes. Overall, I believe that Martin is correct that 'miracles' themselves may not be sufficient to prove theism, but given a theistic worldview (as proven by the Cosmological Argument which was left standing after Martin's criticisms) miracles could be very informative.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin begins this chapter by presenting what he believes to be the generic argument for God by way of miracles. Simply stated:

P-1: There have been many miracle claims (in the Bible, church history, and in other traditions)
P-2: Given that such accounts cannot be explained naturalistically, the best explanation is God
Conclusion: God's exists

After briefly noting that some theists do not use this argument for God's existence but rather for the affirmation of a particular theological scheme, Martin goes on to define what he means by 'miracle.' For Martin, a 'miracle' is not simply an unusual or unexplainable (or unrepeatable) event nor is it necessarily a violation of a natural law. Instead, a 'miracle' is considered to be an event brought about by the exercise of a supernatural power. Before going forward, Martin clarifies that, by 'supernatural,' he means going beyond 'nature,' i.e. those beings or powers that are measurable in the material world.

After this introduction, Martin makes the claim that even if miracles actually occurred, they aren't necessarily the acts of God, but could be brought on by other supernatural beings besides God. After this brief assertion he goes on to critique Swinburne's claims as well as some claims of the Bible. Regarding Swinburne, Martin faults him for not taking into consideration other possibilities besides theism and naturalism in his handling of the 'miraculous.' Regarding the biblical claims, Martin says that some are contrary to specific Christian doctrines. He adds that others are impediments, cause confusion, or mislead, which contradicts God's omnipotence. Still others, he claims, are capricious or trivial which contradicts God's justice. More will be said of these assertions in the Critique section.

Next, Dr. Martin takes on an argument presented by famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. Martin frames C.S. Lewis' argument as follows:

P-1: If naturalism is true then miracles are a priori impossible
P-2: But if miracles are held to be a priori possible, then supernaturalism must be assumed
Conclusion: Therefore, one must determine between naturalism and supernaturalism before he can truly investigate the possibility of miracles.

Martin rejects that one needs to prove naturalism or supernaturalism before evaluating miracle claims. He then goes on to say that Lewis' attempt to prove supernaturalism fails anyway (Lewis attempted to do so by arguing that naturalism leaves no room for logical inference and no room for justifying morality). He claims that the first part fails because it assumes that naturalists need to explain things in terms of cause and effect. Then he claims that the second part fails because naturalists do have a justification for morality.

In the next section, Martin attempts to show the difficulty in even recognizing a miracle. He begins by presenting David Hume's a priori argument against miracles and then critiquing it at many points, concluding that there are no a priori reasons to reject the miraculous. He then defends the idea that there are a posteriori reasons to reject the miraculous. He offers three reasons in defense of this cl.. 1) Not all natural laws have been discovered; hence it cannot be shown that the event wasn't naturally occurring. 2) Not all miracles can be shown to conflict with natural laws (some mysterious events can actually be the result of trickery, deceit, or magic; he offers two examples of this regarding Christianity: a) Jesus' purported miracles may have been fraudulent and b) the witnesses of Jesus may have seen what they wanted to see). And 3) the scientific laws may be statistical rather than deterministic. Thus the events may be uncaused—not naturally or supernaturally determined.

Finally Martin assesses what he claims are the best documented reports of miracles, a collection of claims from a town called Lourdes. If these are suspect—he claims—then there is good reason to believe that all others are suspect. After review, he believes that these "miracles" are naturally explainable in some cases and that others have been shown to have been questionably recorded. To conclude the chapter, he assesses those that believe that indirect miracles occur (those that are miraculous because of their timing). He claims that there is no reason to assume that these are not merely coincidental and, nevertheless, if one were to accept these as genuine he must do so at the expense of free will.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

First, I would like to point out that I appreciate Dr. Martin mentioning that some theists believe that miracles are better suited for demonstrating the proof of a particular religion rather than demonstrating the existence of God. I hold this position, and I would like to view his arguments against the Christian claims someday. Second, I love that he took time to define miracles in such a way as to allow for the timing of events to be considered miraculous. I also think that his rejection of Hume's a priori argument is correct in its conclusion and I appreciate his a posteriori reasons, though I do not believe that they successfully undermine any Christian claims. Finally, I think that he has fairly treated the accounts at Lourdes, though I disagree that disproving those claims has any relevance to all other claims.


There are a few areas that I think are well-deserving of a critique in Chapter Seven. First, he criticizes Christian miracles in three ways. Regarding the first criticism, that some are contrary to specific Christian doctrines, he cites that Jesus is not merciful because He allowed demons to enter a group of pigs when they were going to run of a cliff and because He caused the fig tree to whither. Now, I am not sure why either of these criticisms should be taken seriously. However, granted that Martin does take them seriously I will answer simply, God is also just (regarding the fig tree) and God has created free creatures that have the ability to choose to harm others (regarding the pigs). The second criticism of Christian miracle claims is that some are impediments, cause confusion, or mislead, which contradicts God's omnipotence. But this misunderstands the source of the confusion, since it is the deficiency in the hearer that causes this rather than the miracle itself. This can be shown by pointing out that some understand the significance of the events. Further, the idea that miracles 'impede' science falsely assumes that physical science is the Holy Grail of wisdom. This is false; theology is queen of the sciences (used loosely here). Finally, Martin criticizes Christian miracles as being capricious or trivial which contradicts God's justice. However, the 'capricious' claim assumes that the own seeing the miracle knows more about the situation than does the one doing the miracle and the 'trivial' claim assumes that the events classified as such are true miracles. I would reject both.

Next, I would like to critique Martin's criticism of Lewis' arguments against atheism. First, Martin has misunderstood Lewis' claim regarding the ability to make inferences in a materialistic world. Lewis is pointing out that if all reality is natural, i.e. governed by nature, then all inferences are governed by nature, and thus they are not actually inferred from the data but determined by prior conditions. Secondly, he has also misunderstood Lewis' claim about there being a justification for moral judgments in a materialistic world. Following the prior point, if there is nothing beyond nature, then all is determined. If all is determined then one cannot choose between moral alternatives and, thus, there is not actual moral choice since there is no choice. But where there is no choice there is no condemnation. Thus Lewis' arguments still stand.

Next, I would like to comment on his a priori reasons for rejecting miracles. His first criticism can be countered by noting that miracles are not events in a vacuum, they may be scientifically explainable but miraculous insofar as their timing. The second criticism assumes that a miracle must conflict with natural laws, something he supposedly ruled out earlier in his definition. In his first example of theological trickery he asserts that Jesus' purported miracles may have been fraudulent, but this is unbelievable based on what we know of His character. In his second example of deception, he claims that the disciples fooled themselves into believing what they wanted to, and he cites the instance of the calming of the storm as such an example. Now, this is a terrible example for Martin to use since the disciples were frightened when they saw it—who wants to be scared? Further, we have evidence that Jesus' followers were constantly rebuked for not seeing what they should have been seeing. Finally, such examples do not account for the signs that converted James and Paul.

Though I have some other criticisms throughout the chapter, I will skip over them and end with my criticism of Martin's handling of indirect miracle claims. First, he asks why we shouldn't just chalk such events up to coincidence. But if this is a theistic (proven by the Cosmological Argument) world and the event accompanies a religious message, then is it more rational to believe it is a coincidence or accept the truth claim in accompaniment? Second, he claims that such occurrences would negate free will. But this is just false. God is not in time, thus an event can be determined (in that it will surely happen, not that God is causing it) to occur based on free choices.


In Chapter Eight, Martin takes on a collection of what he believes are some of the more 'minor' arguments for God's existence. I will try to be very brief on this section seeing as I have already created such a large post. Off the bat, I would like to note again that I agree with Martin that these arguments aren't demonstrative, but I do believe that, given the fact that the Cosmological Argument succeeds, these arguments all have some value.

Summary of Martin's Claims

Martin begins this chapter by critiquing the argument from consent for the existence of God in three forms: 1) that God is demonstrated based on innate ideas, 2) that God is demonstrated based on an innate yearning, and 3) that God is demonstrable based on sound reasoning. On the first two he points out that there is no such evidence to support these claims and even counterevidence when one notices that atheists don't believe and don't yearn for God. On the third point, Martin answers that most believers don't believe by reason but by indoctrination and that those who are most reasonable, the scientists, are more likely to be unbelievers.

Next, Martin critiques four forms of the moral argument for God's existence. The main arguments he challenges are: 1) disbelief in a theistic God would result in a drop in morality; 2) no one has shown that morality can be objective without God; 3) conscious can not be explained naturalistically; and 4) Kant's deontological argument. For time's sake, I will further address these in my critique.

Next, Martin critiques the argument from reward which claims that believers are happier than unbelievers. Hoe points out that this argument is not demonstrable, does not prove theism, and can be explained naturalistically. Then he critiques the argument from justice which claims that our sense of justice tells us that all evil should be repaid or balanced out. But it isn't here. Thus there must be a place/time where that occurs. He likewise points out that this argument also is not demonstrable nor does it prove theism. After this he critiques arguments from scripture, which appeal to reliability of a historic document and then to miracles and self-claims at divine authority. He notes that some Holy Books do not make such claims, others contradict one another, and some such as the Bible, are internally inconsistent and not confirmed by independent sources. Next, he critiques the argument from consciousness which claims that the interaction between the mind and brain demands a theistic explanation. He answers this by claiming that this interaction can be explained naturalistically and, nonetheless it doesn't prove theism. After this, he critiques the argument from providence which states that after an analysis of possible worlds, it can be seen that this world has an extremely friendly environment that is best explained by appeal to a heavenly organizer. In response he points out that there are many unfriendly elements and also appeals to the Problem of Evil, which will be dealt with in a later chapter. Finally, Martin critiques the argument from cumulative evidence, which states that theism is supremely explanatory among all hypotheses. He responds that Kuhn's approach has problems, points out that there is no agreed upon paradigm for comparison, and appeals to the second half of his book for evidence that atheism would have better explanatory power.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

Again, I would like to note that I see a lot in this chapter that is very true. Particularly regarding the facts that these arguments, taken by themselves, do not prove that theism is true. Nor are most of them demonstrable outside of a theistic context. This agreement applies to almost all of the arguments offered by Martin in this chapter.


I would like to focus my critique on just a few points. As noted earlier, I think that each of these arguments has value, but I agree with Martin that the value is not in demonstrating theism. That said, I think that the first two criticisms of the argument from common consent are valid, but the third I think is not. I do believe that God can be demonstrated by reason. Though most people today believe because of 'indoctrination,' Martin neglects to point out that the Christian faith was founded on evidential appeals and rational inference. So when the chain is traced back it ends with reason. Second, the fact that most scientists disbelieve (which I doubt seriously but will grant for the argument) proves nothing. If anything, these are not the champions of reason but observation. Philosophers are the champions of reason per se and most of these believe that there is some ultimate reality behind the physical world.

Next, regarding the moral argument, I think each criticism is flawed in some way. First, the claim that many believe that disbelief in a theistic God would result in a drop in morality may be true, but that is not by any means the intellectual argument offered by theists. We claim that disbelief in a theistic God results in a lack of justification for moral standards. Second, the claim that no one has shown that morality cannot be objective without God is just false. I did earlier by pointing out that naturalism entails determinism thus negating morality. Third, the claim that conscious can be explained naturalistically is also false. It cannot be explained unless without invoking free choice, which is unavailable for the naturalist. Finally, Martin's critique of Kant's deontological argument still doesn't explain why the good is to be considered good.

Next, in Martin's critique of the argument from consciousness he claimed that the 'apparent' interaction between the mind and the brain could actually be explained naturalistically. But this is only true up to a certain point. Eventually, there must be a first originating cause for every act/choice.

Finally, in his criticism of the argument for God based on cumulative evidence, Martin asserts that there is no agreed upon paradigm by which we could judge the value of the evidence. But this assumes that all evidence is merely scientific (in the strict physicalistic sense). The truth is that there is a paradigm by which we can judge the evidence, logic. And there has never been a paradigm shift regarding the acceptance of the laws of logic rational inference. They are universally used and undeniable.