bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 26: The Unclarity of Argument #7

WHERE WE ARE AT
There are only two more arguments in Kreeft’s case that we need to evaluate:  Argument #7 (the Argument from Contingency) and Argument #6 (the Kalam Cosmological Argument).  In Part 24, I did an initial analysis of Argument #7, and I pointed out some significant problems with that argument, based only on the conclusion of the argument.
At best, the argument shows the existence of a bodiless being (i.e. a bodiless thing, not necessarily a person) that is the cause of the current existence of the universe. Furthermore, the conclusion of Argument #7 asserts that the cause of the current existence of the universe is OUTSIDE OF TIME, which means that this being is absolutely UNCHANGING, which means it cannot be the creator of the universe,  which means it cannot be God.  Thus, even if Argument #7 was a sound argument, it would prove the existence of a being that was NOT God.
 
ARGUMENT #7: THE ARGUMENT FROM CONTINGENCY

1c. IF something exists at time t1, THEN: if that thing depends on something else for its existence at time t1, then there must exist something else at time t1 that  is what it takes for that thing to exist at time t1.

2a. The universe–the collection of beings in space and time–exists at time t1.

A. The universe–the collection of beings in space and time–depends on something else for its existence at time t1.

THEREFORE:

3c. There must exist something else at time t1 that is what it takes for the universe to exist at time t1.

4a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

THEREFORE:

5a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 must exist at time t1 and must transcend both space and time.

THEREFORE:

6. There is EXACTLY ONE being that is the cause of the current existence of the universe, and this being exists right now and is OUTSIDE of both space and time, and this being is NOT finite or material.

 
THE LOGICAL STRUCTURE OF ARGUMENT #7
Click on the image below for a clearer view of the argument diagram:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
THE BASIC PROBLEM WITH ARGUMENT #7
Usually it only takes ten or fifteen minutes for me to examine a “proof” of the existence of God in order to find two or three major problems with the argument.  Often there are one or two premises that are false or dubious.  Often there are one or two inferences that are logically invalid.  I have previously pointed out some serious deficiencies with Argument #7, but I have been struggling for about three or four weeks trying to identify one or two specific objections that would clearly show this argument to be unsound.  A couple of days ago I realized the reason why I was struggling so much with this argument, why it was taking so long to evaluate it.  In short, the argument is so unclear and ambiguous that there are at least 33 million different possible interpretations of this argument.
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EXPONENTIAL INCREASE IN UNCLARITY
Unclear words and phrases usually allow for two or more interpretations (ambiguity).  Every instance of an ambiguous word or phrase can double or triple (or even quadruple) the number of possible interpretations of a statement or argument.  There are 25 instances of unclear words or phrases in the premises supporting (6a), not including the instances of unclear words or phrases in (6a) itself.  If each of these unclear words or phrases has at least two different possible meanings, then the number of possible interpretations of the premises of this argument are at least 2 to the 25th power:
2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2
= 2 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4
= 2 x 16 x 16 x 16 x 16 x 16 x 16
= 2 x 256 x 256 x 256
= 2 x 16,777,216
= 33,554,432  different possible interpretations of Argument #7 (ignoring any ambiguities in the conclusion)
The problem with ambiguous words and phrases in an argument, is that every instance of such a word or phrase can double or triple the number of possible interpretations of the argument.  Ambiguity increases the the number of possible interpretations exponentially.
If I spent just one-half an hour evaluating each of the 33 million interpretations of Argument #7, it would take 16.5 million hours to evaluate all of the possible interpretations.   There are about 8,760 hours in a year  (24 hours/day  x 365 days = 8,760 hours), so in order to evaluate all of the 33 million interpretations of Argument #7 would take me over 1,883 years, working day and night, seven days a week (16,500,000 hours x  1 year/8,760 hours = 1883.56 years).  So, it is not humanly possible to evaluate every one of the millions of different possible interpretations of this argument.
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Clarity is a gateway standard of critical thinking.  A statement that is unclear cannot be evaluated, at least not as it stands.  I attempted to clarify Argument #7 so that it would be possible to evaluate this argument.  But the above revised and clarified version of Peter Kreeft’s Argument from Contingency still contains more than a dozen unclear words and phrases.  Furthermore, those unclear words and phrases appear multiple times in the argument, multiplying the ambiguity and unclarity, resulting in millions of possible meanings of this argument.
I have put the problematic words and phrases in bold red font below, to show how frequently such unclear words and phrases occur in this argument:

1c. IF something exists at time t1, THEN: if that thing depends on something else for its existence at time t1, then there must exist something else at time t1 that  is what it takes for that thing to exist at time t1.

2a. The universethe collection of beings in space and time–exists at time t1.

A. The universethe collection of beings in space and timedepends on something else for its existence at time t1.

THEREFORE:

3c. There must exist something else at time t1 that is what it takes for the universe to exist at time t1.

4a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

THEREFORE:

5a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 must exist at time t1 and must transcend both space and time.

THEREFORE:

6. There is EXACTLY ONE being that is the cause of the current existence of the universe, and this being exists right now and is OUTSIDE of both space and time, and this being is NOT finite or material.

 
UNCLEAR WORDS AND PHRASES IN ARGUMENT #7

  1. something  (1 instance): Is time “something”?  Is space “something”? Is a law of physics “something”? Is an idea or a feeling “something”? Is the number 3 “something”?  Why or why not? If X is something, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is a being?  If X is a being, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is something?  
  2. depends on (2 instances): Does this refer to logical dependency or causal dependency or to both kinds of dependency?  Does this refer to necessary conditions or sufficient conditions or to both kinds of conditions (or to criterial conditions)?
  3. something else (4 instances):  “something” is ambiguous, and so is “else”. Does a part of a whole thing count as “something else” in addition to the whole?  Does a whole containing parts of two other things count as “something else” besides those two other things?
  4. what it takes for  (4 instances):  If the existence of X at a particular moment depends on Y does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that Y is what it takes for X to exist at that particular moment?  What if Y is only ONE of MANY different things that could have caused the existence of X at that moment?  Does what it takes for X to exist at a particular moment refer to logical dependencies of the existence of X or to causal dependencies or to both kinds of dependency?  Does what it takes for X to exist consist of necessary conditions or sufficient conditions or to both kinds of conditions (or to criterial conditions)?
  5. The universe (7 instances): although this word is defined in premise (2a), the definition is itself very unclear and has many possible meanings. The highly ambiguous definition makes the term “universe” highly ambiguous as well.
  6. the collection (2 instances): the universe contains a different set of things at different times, so “the collection” is ambiguous between the set of all the things that have existed in the entire history of the universe and the set of all things that exist at a particular moment in time.
  7. beings (4 instances): If X is something, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is a being?  If X is a being, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is something?  Is time a “being”?  Is space a “being”? Is a law of physics a “being”? Is an idea or a feeling a “being”? Is the number 3 a “being”?  Why or why not?
  8. in space and time (2 instances): Is the requirement that the thing in question be BOTH in space AND in time? or just that the thing in question be EITHER in space OR in time?  The word “and” is ambiguous in this phrase.
  9. within the universe (1 instance): If X is within the universe, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is a being in space and time?  If X is a being in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is within the universe?  If so, then the ambiguity of “being” and the ambiguity of “in space and time” apply to this expression.  For example, is time within the universe?  Is space within the universe?  Are laws of physics within the universe?
  10. bounded by space and time (1 instance):  If X is bounded by space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is in space and time?  If X is in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is bounded by space and time?  If so, then the ambiguity of “in space and time” applies to this expression.  Does being bounded by space and time mean being BOTH in space AND in time? or just that the thing in question be EITHER in space OR in time?
  11. transcend both space and time (1 instance): If X is not in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X transcends both space and time?  If X transcends both space and time does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is not in space and time?  If so, then the ambiguity of “in space and time” applies to this expression.
  12. OUTSIDE of both space and time (1 instance):  I don’t think this was part of Kreeft’s wording, so this is a phrase that I added.  This should probably be revised to “transcend both space and time” which was Kreeft’s own wording.  In that case this would be a second instance of the unclear expression “transcend both space and time”.
  13. finite (1 instance):  Does this mean finite in EVERY respect, or finite in AT LEAST ONE respect?
  14. material (1 instance): If X is in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is material?  If X is material, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is in space and time?  If so, then the ambiguity of the expression “in space and time” applies to this word.

 
REDUCING THE NUMBER OF POSSIBLE INTERPRETATIONS
Not only are there numerous unclear words and phrases in Argument #7, but many of them occur multiple times in the argument.  Each instance of an ambiguous word or phrase multiplies the number of possible interpretations of the argument. Thus the premises of this argument have at least 33 million different possible interpretations.
There is a simple way to dramatically reduce the number of possible interpretations of this argument: we can simply assume that ALL instances of an expression have the SAME meaning.  If the meaning of an expression changes in the course of an argument, then that usually breaks the logic of the argument and results in an invalid inference or a false conditional premise, making the argument UNSOUND.  So, if we assume that all instances of an expression have the same meaning, that eliminates many versions of the argument that are, in all likelihood, UNSOUND because of the fallacy of equivocation.  So, in making this assumption we are eliminating obviously bad versions of the argument and focusing on a small subset of possible interpretations, which at least have the potential to be good, sound arguments.
So, rather than looking at how many instances there are of unclear words and phrases, we can focus on how many unique words and phrases are unclear.  There are eleven unique words and phrases that are unclear in the premises supporting (6a), not including (6a) itself.  The phrases “depends on”, “something else”, and “the universe” each have four possible meanings, and the eight other unclear words and phrases each have at least two possible meanings.  So, if we assume that ALL instances of each of these eleven unique words and phrases have the same meaning, that none of these words or phrases shifts in meaning in the course of this argument, then the number of possible interpretations would be 4 to the 3rd power times 2 to the 8th power:
(4 x 4 x 4) x (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2)
(4 x 4 x 4) x (4 x 4 x 4 x 4)
= 64 x 256
= 16, 384 different possible interpretations of Argument #7 (ignoring any ambiguities in the conclusion and assuming all of the expressions are used unequivocally)
If we spend just one-half hour on evaluating each of these possible interpretations, that would require 8,192 hours of work.
If we work on this 40 hours per week, then it would take about 205 weeks or nearly four years to finish evaluating all of those different possible interpretations (8,192 hours x 1 week/40 hours = 204.8 weeks).
I don’t know about you, but this argument does not seem promising enough to want to spend four years of my life evaluating all of the 16,384 different possible versions of it (on the assumption that all expressions in the argument are used unequivocally).
I do think it is worth spending some time thinking about the various possible meanings of the unclear words and phrases in this argument, but this argument is much too UNCLEAR to be worth any more of my time.

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 19: The Whole Enchilada

In part 11 of this series of posts I reviewed the overall structure of Norman Geisler’s case for the existence of God, the case that he presented, along with coauthor Ronald Brooks, in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).  In this present post, I will once again review the overall structure of Geisler’s case, and will summarize a number of key problems with Geisler’s case.
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For a more detailed analysis and critique of Geisler’s case, or of a specific argument in his case, see previous posts in this series:

INDEX: Geisler’s Five Ways

https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2017/05/25/index-geislers-five-ways/
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PHASE 1: GEISLER’s FIVE WAYS
On pages 15 through 26, Geisler presents five arguments for five conclusions.  I call this Phase  1 of this case.  Here are the five conclusions of the five initial arguments:

  • Something other than the universe caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • Something is a first uncaused cause of the present existence of the universe.
  • There is a Great Designer of the universe.
  • There is a supreme moral Lawgiver.
  • If God exists, then God exists and God is a necessary being.

PROBLEM 1:  Geisler FAILS to provide a clear definition of the word “God”, thus making his whole argument unclear and confusing.
Note that the word “God” is being misused by Geisler in the statement of the fifth conclusion.  The purpose of his case is to prove that “God exists”, so a premise that begins, “If God exists, then…” is of no use in his case.
What he really means by the word “God” here is “the creator of the universe” or, more precisely: “the being that caused the universe to begin to exist and that causes the universe to continue to exist now.”  That this is what the word “God” means in his fifth argument can be seen in his comment about the significance of the fifth argument:
The argument from being may not prove that God exists, but it sure does tell us a lot about God once we know that He does exist (by the argument from Creation).  (WSA, p.27)
The “argument from creation” is actually two cosmological arguments: the Kalam cosmological argument, and the Thomistic cosmological argument (to a sustaining cause of the current existence of the universe).  Thus, the antecedent of the fifth argument “If God exists…” really means: “If there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist and that is also causing the universe to continue to exist now…”
As with MANY of the arguments that I have examined in Geisler’s case, he is using the word “God” in an idiosyncratic sense, which he does not bother to clarify or to define.  So, we have to examine the context of each such claim in his case to figure out what the hell he means each time he misuses the word “God”.  This is part of why I say that this case is a steaming pile of dog shit; Geisler does not bother to clarify or define the meaning of the most important word in his argument, and he continually shifts the meaning of this word at will, with no warning that he is doing so.
PROBLEM 2:  Geisler has only ONE argument for the existence of God, but he mistakenly believes he has FIVE different and independent arguments for the existence of God.
ALL FIVE of Geisler’s arguments for the above five conclusions must be sound in order for his case for the existence of God to be successful.  If just one of those five arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS.  Furthermore, the soundness of all five of those arguments is NOT sufficient to prove that God exists; further arguments are needed.  None of the five basic arguments is sound, and none of the additional arguments that Geisler makes in order to get to the ultimate conclusion that “God exists” is sound, so his case for God is pure unadulterated crap from start to finish.
The basic reason why Geisler needs all five arguments to be sound, is that the concept of God is complex.  God, as understood in Christian theology, has several divine attributes, and so Geisler must show that there is one and only one being that has all of the main divine attributes.
There is no universally agreed upon list of the “main” divine attributes, but we can see what Geisler considers to be the main divine attributes in relation to his lists of God’s characteristics, and in relation to his five basic arguments.  Here is a key comment by Geisler listing several divine attributes:
…God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent. (WSA, p.28)
A key attribute that Geisler left out of this list is “unlimited” (see WSA, p.27 & 28).
In view of his five basic arguments, Geisler implies that God also has the following key attributes or characteristics:

  • God caused the universe to begin to exist.
  • God causes the universe to continue to exist now.
  • God designed the universe.
  • God produced the laws of morality.
  • God is a necessary being.

Geisler’s description of God includes more than a dozen different divine attributes.  The existence of such a being cannot be established on the basis of just one simple argument.  That is why Geisler needs ALL FIVE of his basic arguments to be sound, plus a number of other additional arguments, in order for his case for the existence of God to be successful.  If any one of his five arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS. If one of his additional arguments is unsound, then his case FAILS.  Geisler’s case depends on the soundness of MANY (about a dozen) different arguments.  If one of those MANY arguments is unsound, then Geisler’s case for God FAILS. As far as I can tell, none of his arguments are sound.
PROBLEM 3: Geisler makes a confused and mistaken distinction between proving the existence of God and proving the existence of a being with various divine attributes.
Geisler represents his case as consisting of two main phases: first he proves that “God exists”, and next he proves that God has various divine attributes:
The first question that must be addressed in pre-evangelism is, “Does God exist?”  The second question is very closely related to the first: “If God exists, what kind of God is He?”  (WSA, p.15)
This argument [his Thomistic cosmological argument] shows why there must be a present, conserving cause of the world, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what kind of God exists.  (WSA, p.19)
But what if we can combine all of these arguments into a cohesive whole that proves what kind of being God is as well as His existence? (WSA, p.26)
The argument from being may not prove that God exists, but it sure does tell us a lot about God once we know that He does exist (by the argument from Creation).  (WSA, p.27)
This is completely idiotic and ass-backwards.  In order to prove that “God exists”, one must prove that there exists a being who has various divine attributes (e.g. all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal, etc.).
Proving that there is a thing or being that caused the universe to begin to exist is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  Proving that there is a thing or being that is causing the universe to continue to exist now is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  Proving that there is a being who designed the universe (or some aspect of the universe) is NOT sufficient to prove that “God exists”.  The concept of God in Christian theology is a complex concept that implies a unique being who possesses MANY different divine attributes.  Thus proving that “God exists” in the context of a discussion about the truth of the Christian religion requires that one prove the existence of a being who possesses MANY different divine attributes.
Geisler is free to reject the Christian religion if he wishes, and  he is free to reject the traditional Christian concept of God as well.  He is free to invent his own personal concept of God, and to argue for the existence of that particular idiosyncratic God.  But if he wants to dump Christian theology and create his own new religion, then he needs to be very clear that this is what he is doing, and he would also need to provide a clear alternative definition or analysis of what he means by the word “God”, so that nobody would confuse Geisler’s new idiosyncratic concept of God with the traditional Christian concept of God.
Geisler, however, presents himself as a defender of the traditional Christian faith, so he clearly has no interest in inventing a new concept of God.  In the context of presenting apologetic arguments in support of the Christian faith, when Geisler asserts that “God exists”, he implies that there exists a being who has MANY (or most) of the divine attributes that Christian theologians have traditionally ascribed to God.  Therefore, in order for Geisler to prove that “God exists”, he must prove that there exists exactly ONE being who possesses MANY (or most) of the divine attributes that Christian theologians have traditionally ascribed to God.  He cannot prove that “God exists” without proving the existence of a being who, for example, is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal, the creator of the universe, etc.
PROBLEM 4: The conclusions of Geisler’s five basic arguments are UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS, leading to multiple fallacies of EQUIVOCATION by Geisler.
The first order of business is to clarify the conclusions of Geisler’s five basic arguments.  Here are the conclusions in Geisler’s own words:

1. Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, and this cause was God. (WSA, p.16)

2. Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists. (WSA, p.19)

3. Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe. (WSA, p. 20)

4. Therefore, there must be a supreme moral Lawgiver.  (WSA, p.22)

5. Therefore, if God exists, then He must exist and cannot not exist. (WSA, p.25)

These conclusions need to be cleaned up and clarified, so that we have a clear and accurate understanding of what they imply:

1a. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the past) by at least one thing or being other than the universe (or some part or aspect of the universe) that existed prior to when the universe began to exist.

2a. There currently exists at least one uncaused cause for each finite, changing thing that currently exists.

3a. There existed (in the past) at least one Great Designer who designed some part or aspect of the universe. 

4a. There existed (in the past) at least one supreme Lawgiver who produced  at least some of the laws of morality.

5a. If there is (or ever was) a being that is (or was) the most perfect Being possible, then that being must always exist and cannot not exist.

Geisler provides dubious or unsound arguments for these five conclusions.  Furthermore, Geisler is very sloppy and unclear in his thinking, and so he infers significantly stronger conclusions that clearly do NOT follow logically from his five basic arguments:

1b. The entire universe was caused to begin to exist by EXACTLY ONE being (other than the universe and the beings that are part of the universe).

2b. The current existence of the entire universe is caused by EXACTLY ONE currently existing being (other than the universe and the beings that are part of the universe).

3b. There is EXACTLY ONE Great Designer who designed every part and aspect of the universe.

4b. There is EXACTLY ONE supreme lawgiver who produced all of the laws of morality.

5b. IF there is a being who caused the universe to begin to exist and who also causes the universe to continue to exist now, THEN that being must always exist and cannot not exist.

PROBLEM 5:  Because Geisler consistently FAILS to show that there is EXACTLY ONE being of such-and-such kind, he cannot prove that  “the cause of the beginning of the universe” is the same being as “the cause of the current existence of the universe” or as “the designer of the universe” or as “the moral lawgiver”.  
Geisler’s five arguments leave open the possibility that there were MANY beings involved in causing the beginning of the universe, and MANY beings involved in causing the continuing existence of the universe, and MANY beings who designed different parts and aspects of the universe, and MANY moral lawgivers who produced different moral laws.
Because the “divine attributes” are distributed differently among these different kinds of beings, Geisler cannot show that there is just ONE being who possesses ALL of the various divine attributes.  Furthermore, since the function of a particular kind of being could be spread out among MANY beings, we cannot infer that the required power or ability exists to a high or unlimited degree in any one such being.  If, for example, a team of one thousand beings worked together to design the human brain, then there might well have been no being who had enough knowledge or intelligence to design the human brain by itself.
PHASE 2: THE CREATOR’S PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES
On pages 26 and 27,  Geisler presents Phase 2 of his case.  He argues for three claims related to personal attributes of “God”:

  • God is very powerful.
  • God is very intelligent.
  • God is [morally] good.

Once again, Geisler misuses the word “God” here.  But he gives us a good clue as to what he means by “God” in his Phase 2 arguments:
The argument from design shows us that whatever caused the universe not only had great power, but also great intelligence.  (WSA, p.26, emphasis added)
Geisler had argued in the previous paragraph that based on his two cosmological arguments “God” had great power.  Then Geisler uses his argument from design to try to show that “God” had great intelligence.  The above quoted statement implies that the word “God” is being used in the narrow sense of “whatever caused the universe”.  Roughly speaking, the conclusions that Geisler argues for in Phase 2 are more clearly stated as follows:

  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is very powerful.
  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is very intelligent.
  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is [morally] good.

So, Geisler is arguing that there exists a cause of the universe, and that this cause has various personal attributes that are part of the ordinary meaning of the word “God”.
PROBLEM 6:  Geisler simply ASSUMES without providing any reason or argument that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that designed the universe, and that the (alleged) being that caused the beginning of the universe is the same being as the (alleged) being that produced moral laws.
A being that causes a universe to begin to exist is NOT necessarily the being that designed the universe; design and manufacturing are two separate functions in most companies that make products.  Making something is NOT the same as designing something.
The laws of nature could have been created by one being, while the laws of morality could have been created by a different being. There is no reason to believe that the cause of the existence of the universe is the same as the designer of the universe or the same as the moral lawgiver.
Because Geisler has NOT proven that these beings are all the same being, he cannot ascribe these various personal attributes (powerful, intelligent, and good) to just one being.  But in order to prove that God exists, he must show that there is ONE being who possesses all three of these personal attributes in an unlimited way, a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good.
 
PHASE 3: THE EXISTENCE OF A NECESSARY BEING
Yet again, Geisler abuses the word “God” in Phase 3 of his case for the existence of God.  The argument in Phase 3 is on page 27.  It makes use of the conclusion from “The Argument from Being” in Phase 1 (pages 24-26). Here is how Geisler states the conclusion of this part of his case:

  • God is a necessary being.

Clearly, he is NOT using the word “God” in its ordinary sense here.  As I argued above, what he actually means something like this:

  • If there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist (in the past) and that also causes the universe to continue to exist (right now), then that being is a necessary being.

PROBLEM 7:  Geisler illogically shifts from the claim that a perfect being must be a necessary being to the assumption that a being that caused the universe to begin to exist must be a necessary being.  This is an INVALID inference.
There is no reason to believe that a cause of the beginning of the universe must be a “perfect being”.  Let’s grant for the sake of argument that a “perfect being” must be a necessary being.  The question then becomes, “Does a perfect being exist?”
Geisler believes he has proven that there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, but that tells us nothing about whether a perfect being exists.  The fact that the universe is finite and imperfect suggests the opposite conclusion, namely that the being that caused the beginning of the universe (if there were such a being) is something less than a perfect being.   In any case, Geisler has provided no reason to think that the cause of the beginning of the universe was a perfect being, so he has provided no reason to believe that there exists a perfect being, and thus Geisler has provided no reason to believe that there is a necessary being.
 
PHASE 4: THE IMPLICATIONS OF “A NECESSARY BEING”
On pages 27-28, Geisler presents Phase 4 of his case.  There are two different sets of alleged implications that Geisler argues follow from the existence of a necessary being.  First there are implications related to God’s “metaphysical” attributes (as contrasted with God’s personal attributes above):

  • A necessary being is unchanging.
  • A necessary being is infinite.
  • A necessary being is eternal.
  • A necessary being is omnipresent.

Second, there are alleged conditional implications of the concept of a necessary being:

  • If a necessary being is powerful, then it is all-powerful.
  • If a necessary being is intelligent, then it is all-knowing.
  • If a necessary being is [morally] good, then it is perfectly [morally] good.

PROBLEM 8: In his reasoning about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”, Geisler confuses different senses of the verb “to be” leading to INVALID inferences about the implications of the concept of a “necessary being”.
We see this confusion in Geisler’s reasoning in support of the conclusion that a necessary being must be unchanging:
We said already that necessary existence means that He [God] cannot not exist–so He has no beginning and no end.  But it also means that He cannot ‘come to be’ in any other way.  He must be as He is necessarily.  He can’t become something new.  That removes all change from His being–He is unchanging.  (WSA, p.27)
The expression “come to be” is clearly AMBIGUOUS.  It can refer to something coming into existence, or it can refer to something undergoing a change in an attribute or characteristic.  The concept of a “necessary being” implies that the thing or being in question did not come into existence, will not cease to exist, and cannot cease to exist.  This concept does NOT imply that ALL of the characteristics or attributes of such a thing or being must remain unchanged.
An apple can change from being green to being red; this does NOT involve the apple coming into existence or ceasing to exist.  The apple continues to exist through the change in its color.  An apple can “come to be red” even though the apple previously existed and continues to exist.  Thus, the apple itself does NOT “come to be” when it changes color from green to red.
Geisler confuses and conflates two different meanings of the expression “come to be”.   The claim that an apple “came to be red” implies NOTHING about the apple coming to exist.  An apple can “come to be red” even if the apple has always existed, and will always exist.  The fact that some of the attributes of an apple can change, does NOT imply that the apple began to exist, nor that the apple will cease to exist.  Geisler draws an INVALID inference based on the AMBIGUITY of the expression “come to be”; he commits yet another fallacy of EQUIVOCATION in this crappy bit of reasoning.
The same sort of confusion occurs again in Geisler’s reasoning in support of the view that a necessary being must have unlimited attributes:
Because of His [God’s] necessity, He can only have whatever He has in a necessary way.  That means, as we have seen, without beginning, without change, and without limitation. (WSA, p.28)
If something is a “necessary being”, that just means that it has existence in a necessary way; it does NOT mean that it has all of its attributes or characteristics in a necessary way.  Geisler again confuses the existence of something being necessary with its possession of its attributes being necessary.  The necessity of attributes does NOT logically follow from the necessity of a thing’s existence.
Geisler contradicts himself a few pages later, by implying that God’s attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is NOT a necessary attribute or characteristic:
…He [God] must be all that He is.  All that is in God’s nature is necessary, but anything that He does extends beyond His nature and is done by His free will.  One cannot even say that it was necessary for Him to create.  (WSA, p.31)
But if it was NOT necessary that God create the universe, then the divine attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is merely a contingent attribute, not a necessary attribute, and therefore God does NOT possess this particular attribute (of being the creator of the universe) “in a necessary way”.   Geisler clearly contradicts his earlier assertion that God “can only have whatever He has in a necessary way.”
Geisler then uses the conclusions from Phase 2 (the cause of the universe is very powerful, very intelligent, and morally good) along with the conclusion of Phase 3 (the cause of the universe is a necessary being) in combination with the conclusions from Phase 4 (a necessary being is unchanging, infinite, eternal, omnipresent, and if a necessary being is powerful, intelligent, and good then it must be all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good) in order to infer this conclusion:

  • Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist is an unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent necessary being, that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good.

 
PHASE 5: ONLY ONE INFINITE BEING
In a short paragraph on page 28, Geisler argues that there cannot be multiple beings of the sort that he thinks he has shown to exist:

  • There can be only one infinite Being.

Geisler’s argument for this conclusion is based on the following premise:

  • If being A is an unlimited being and being B is an unlimited being, then we cannot tell being A apart from being B.

PROBLEM 9: Geisler’s assumption that two unlimited beings would be indistinguishable from each other is FALSE and it also contradicts a basic Christian dogma.
Unlimited beings share many unlimited attributes, but one unlimited being can have an attribute that differs from another unlimited being, thus making it possible to distinguish the two beings as different and separate beings.
For example, since the attribute of being “the creator of the universe” is, according to Geisler (WSA, p.31), a logically contingent attribute of God, it is possible for there to exist both an unlimited being that is “the creator of the universe” and also an unlimited being that is NOT “the creator of the universe”.  Since these two beings would have at least one attribute that they don’t share, it would be possible to distinguish between these two unlimited beings.
Furthermore, according to traditional Christian doctrine, God consists of three different persons, but each of those persons is an unlimited person.  Although these three persons are unlimited, according to traditional Christian belief, it is possible to distinguish between these three persons: one is “the Father”, another “the Son”, and the third is “the Holy Spirit”.   It is logically inconsistent to allow that there can be three distinguishable unlimited persons, but at the same time to insist that there cannot possibly be two or more distinguishable unlimited beings.
In the case of the Trinity,  Christians believe that there are specific unique attributes possessed by each of the persons of the Trinity that make it possible to distinguish one from another.  But this implies that one unlimited person can possess an attribute that differs from another unlimited person.  If so, then this implies that one unlimited being can possess an attribute that differs from another unlimited being.  Clearly, the attribute of being “unlimited” does NOT dictate every attribute possessed by such a person or being.
 
PHASE 6: GOD EXISTS
Although Geisler never provides a definition of the word “God”, it is fairly clear that his concept of God is something like this:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:

  • X caused the universe to begin to exist, and
  • X causes the universe to continue to exist, and
  • X is the great designer of the universe, and
  • X is the supreme moral lawgiver, and
  • X is a necessary being, and
  • X is the only unchanging, infinite, eternal, and omnipresent being, and
  • X is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good being.

So, the ultimate conclusion of Geisler’s case is this:

  • God exists.

Here, finally, the word “God” is being used in something like it’s ordinary sense.
PROBLEM 10:  Geisler has adopted a Thomistic concept of God, but this Thomistic concept of God is INCOHERENT, making it a necessary truth that “It is NOT the case that God exists.”
On the above Thomistic definition of “God”, God is both a person and an absolutely unchanging being.  But a person can make choices and decisions and perform actions and a person can communicate with other persons.  Something that is absolutely unchanging cannot make choices and decisions and perform actions, nor can such a thing communicate with other persons.  The idea of a person who is an absolutely unchanging being is INCOHERENT, it contains a logical self-contradiction.  Therefore, on this definition of “God” it is logically impossible for it to be the case that “God exists”.  The claim “God exists” would be a logically necessary falsehood, given Geisler’s concept of God.

bookmark_borderHinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 3: More Objections

ABEAN Contains Twelve Statements
Although I cannot provide a comprehensive critique of Hinman’s ABEAN argument in just two blog posts (of reasonable length),  I can at least briefly touch on each of the dozen statements in that argument.
[NOTE: ABEAN is an acronym that refers to the claim that “some Aspect of Being is Eternal And Necessary”.]
The statements in ABEAN are numbered (1) through (11), but there is an additional statement that Hinman should have made, but that he did not make clearly and explicitly.  There is a little bit of text in brackets following premise (4):
[=GOB]
There is a similar notation following premise (6):
[=SON]
The notation following premise (6) merely indicates an acronym that will be used as shorthand for the phrase “a Sense Of the Numinous”, a term that was already being used in premise (6).  So, the notation following (6) does not assert anything or add anything to (6).
However, the notation following premise (4) asserts a substantive claim, which Hinman ought to have spelled out as a separate premise:
(A) The Ground of Being is identical with any aspect of being that is eternal and necessary.
The notation “[=GOB]” does NOT merely specify an acronym for a term already present in the argument; rather, it introduces a new and additional concept into the argument, a concept that is very unclear.  Since premise (A) includes at least three unclear terms (“The Ground of Being”, “any aspect of being that is…”, and  “eternal”), I judge this premise to be VERY unclear.
 
The ABEAN Argument is VERY UNCLEAR
The main problem with the ABEAN argument is that it is UNCLEAR.  This is the same problem that I encountered repeatedly in my analysis and evaluation of Norman Geisler’s case for God in his book When Skeptics Ask.  The problem is not so much that ABEAN uses false premises or invalid inferences.  The problem is that nearly every claim in the argument is unclear, making it nearly impossible to rationally evaluate the argument.
In my view, ten out of the twelve statements that make up ABEAN are VERY UNCLEAR.  Only one statement in ABEAN is clear, and there is one statement that is somewhat unclear (but less than very unclear).  So, in my view, more than 80% of the statements in ABEAN are VERY UNCLEAR, and less than 10% of the statements in ABEAN are clear (only 1 statement out of 12).  Given the prevalence of VERY UNCLEAR statements, it is reasonable to characterize the whole argument as being VERY UNCLEAR, and thus for all practical intents and purposes it is impossible to rationally evaluate ABEAN.  As it stands, ABEAN is little more than a heap of words without much intellectual or philosophical significance.
If Mr. Hinman were to provide clear definitions for the many problematic words and phrases in his ABEAN argument, then it would be possible to rationally evaluate this argument, but I suspect that if he could have provided such definitions then he would have done so already.  So, I’m doubtful that he will be providing clear definitions for all of the many problematic words and phrases in ABEAN.
Here is my view of the general unclarity of Hinman’s ABEAN argument (click on image below for a better view of the chart):
ABEAN CLARITY TABLE
 
 
 
 
 
The unclarity that I based this chart on is the unclarity of the meaning of several problematic words and phrases:

  • naturalistic phenomena
  • temporal
  • some aspect of being
  • eternal
  • the Ground of Being
  • being itself
  • a sense of the numinous
  • God (Hinman has an idiosyncratic understanding of this word)
  • the transcendental signified
  • universal truth at the top of the metaphysical hierarchy
  • believing in… (Hinman has an idiosyncratic understanding of this phrase)

The terms “necessary” and “contingent” are also problematic words, but Hinman provides fairly clear definitions of these two words, which in turn made it possible for me to evaluate the inference from premises (1) and (4) to premise (5) as being an INVALID inference (see Part 2 of this series).  The one time that Hinman provides clear definitions, makes it clear that ABEAN is a bad argument.  This is why, I suspect, that Geisler and Hinman are so unclear and fuzzy-headed when they argue for God.  When they think and reason clearly, their arguments for God fall apart.
I judged premises (1), (2), (4), (A), (5), (7), (8), (9), (10), and (11) to be VERY UNCLEAR because they each contain at least two different unclear words or phrases, which Hinman failed to adequately define or explain.
I judged premise (6) to be UNCLEAR, but not to be VERY UNCLEAR, because of the use of the phrase “a sense of the numinous” in that premise.  Given the subjective nature of that concept, it would be difficult for anyone to provide a clear definition of that phrase, and Hinman did make a brief attempt to provide some clarification of this term, but his attempt was inadequate in my judgment.  As it stands, this phrase is too vague to allow one to make a rational evaluation of the truth or falsehood of premises (7) or (8) with any degree of confidence.
 
How Many Possible Interpretations are there of ABEAN?
The easiest sort of unclarity to fix is ambiguity.  There are eight different unclear words or phrases used in ABEAN. (NOTE: some of the unclear words and phrases in the list above are not used in the ABEAN argument, but are used in definitions of terms.)  Most of these unclear words or phrases have MANY different possible meanings, not just two.  So, most of these unclear words or phrases have a more serious problem than that of being ambiguous between two alternative meanings.
But, for the sake of illustration, let’s assume that all eight unclear words or phrases each have only two alternative meanings.  Let’s also assume that these words or phrases are consistently used with the same meaning in all premises where they occur.  How many different possible interpretations of ABEAN would there be, based on those assumptions?  There would be 2 to the 8th power different interpretations of ABEAN:
2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 =  4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 16 x 16 = 256 Different Possible Interpretations
There are well over two hundred different possible interpretations of ABEAN if the unclear words and phrases in the argument each have only two possible meanings.  But most of the unclear words and phrases have a more serious problem of unclarity than this, so it would not be unreasonable to estimate that there is an average of three different possible meanings for each of the unclear words and phrases.  How many possible interpretations of ABEAN would there be on that assumption?  There would be 3 to the 8th power different interpretations of ABEAN:
3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 =  9 x 9 x 9 x 9 =  81 x 81 = 6,561 Different Possible Interpretations
Given these two estimates of the number of different possible interpretations of ABEAN, it is reasonable to conclude that it is very likely that there are more than 200 but less than 7,000 different possible interpretations of ABEAN.   So, I would need at least 200 blog posts to adequately evaluate all of the various possible interpretations of ABEAN.  Not gonna happen.  Wouldn’t be prudent.  I have better things to do with my time.
 
One Premise in ABEAN is OK
I’m OK with premise (3):
3. Something did not come from nothing.
The wording and clarity could be slightly improved:
3a. It is NOT the case that something came from nothing.
I accept this premise as true, although I’m not entirely certain that it is true.  I think it is based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and I’m inclined to accept that principle (i.e. “Every event has an explanation.”)
 
A Couple of Other Problems with ABEAN
I have many objections and concerns about ABEAN in addition to the basic problem of unclear words and phrases.   But I will just mention two of those problems here.  One objection concerns the statement that Hinman failed to make clearly and explicitly:
(A) The Ground of Being is identical with any aspect of being that is eternal and necessary.
Premise (4) asserts that “Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.”  The word “some” is ambiguous here, just like the word “something” as used by Aquinas and by Geisler in their arguments for God.  What premise (4) actually means is this:
4a.  Some aspect or aspects of being are eternal and necessary.
There is no reason or justification given for limiting the relevant aspects to just ONE aspect.  So, we have, yet again, an ambiguity in quantification that leads to confusion and illogical inferences.  If there are many aspects of being, and if more than one aspect of being is eternal and necessary, then that casts doubt on premise (A).  If there are multiple aspects of being that are eternal and necessary, then it is doubtful that we ought to identify “the Ground of Being” with that collection of aspects.
This is particularly the case if an “aspect” of being is an individual thing or event.  The concept of an “aspect of being” is VERY UNCLEAR, so it is not at all obvious that we can rule out the possibility that individual things or events could count as aspects of being.  Clearly, Mr. Hinman would NOT accept the idea that “the Ground of Being” is composed of various individual things or events (that would lead us in the direction of Polytheism or Pantheism), so the identification of “the Ground of Being” with “some aspect or aspects of being” might well turn out to be an incoherent claim, a claim that contradicts the implications of Hinman’s concept of “the Ground of Being”.
This is one more example that illustrates the need for clear definitions of problematic words and phrases such as “an aspect of being” and “the Ground of Being”.  Without such definitions, we may well be stumbling over various logical errors and incoherent claims.
I also have a problem with premise (9):
9. GOB = God.
First of all, this premise needs to be spelled out in a clear sentence of English:
9a. The Ground of Being is identical with God.
Although Hinman fails to provide a clear definition of “the Ground of Being” or of the word “eternal”, I strongly suspect that by “eternal” he means “outside of time”, and it is clear that Hinman believes “the Ground of Being” to be “eternal”.  Given these assumptions, it follows that “the Ground of Being” cannot change.
But God is a person, or at least a being with personal characteristics like “can think”, “can communicate”, “can make choices”, and “can perform actions”.  But only a being that can change can have such personal characteristics.  Therefore, given the assumption that “the Ground of Being” is something that is “outside of time” it follows that “the Ground of Being” is NOT identical with God.  Premise (9) appears to be false.
So, premise (A) might well, for all we know, be an incoherent statement, and premise (9) appears to be false.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 3: The Main Argument

I cannot recommend the book Unapologetic by John Loftus, because I have not carefully read the whole book yet.  But I have read Chapter 5, which I take to be the heart of the book, and I can recommend reading Chapter 5 of Unapologetic.  It is an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking chapter about the philosophy of religion.  I disagree with the main conclusion for which Loftus argues, but there are plenty of interesting ideas to ponder in Chapter 5, including the summary of ten reasons for his view that the discipline of philosophy of religion should be discontinued.
Chapter 5 is flawed and imperfect, but it is well worth reading, if one is interested in the philosophy of religion.  Loftus presents the views of various contemporary philosophers of religion about the present state of the philosophy of religion, and then Loftus comments on the points made by these philosophers.  This is a good approach to clarifying his own views, plus it provides the reader with ideas and alternative ways of looking at this subject, which is interesting and informative.
Loftus tries to cover points and ideas from too many different philosophers in just one chapter, so his comments are generally too skimpy and superficial.  He should have either written multiple chapters covering the material in Chapter 5, or else focused in on just two or three philosophers and put more effort into explaining and clarifying his own views in contrast to those two or three philosophers.
However, he does cover three philosophers in moderate depth: Graham Oppy (p.117-118), Paul Draper (p.121-125), and Kevin Schilbrak (p.126-129). There is also about a full page devoted to Timothy Knepper’s views of philosophy of religion (p.129-130). Gregory Dawes gets nearly about 2/3 of a page for a long quotation (p.120-121).   Linda Zagzebski gets about 1/2 of a page, as does Nick Trakakis (p.115-116).  There are a couple of quotations from our own Keith Parsons (p.117, 118-119), and one quote from Jeff Lowder, who is referred to as “One other Secular Outpost author”, and who gets identified by name only in the end note (quoted on p.117, end note on p.136).
[/RANT ON]  
I often criticize Christian philosophers and apologists for their UNCLARITY and lack of sufficient argumentation, which is usually due to the fact that they are too skimpy in their writing.  For example, William Craig tries to prove that Jesus really died on the cross in just three and one-half pages in The Son Rises (p.36-40).  Craig fails to offer even one bit of actual legitimate historical evidence, and so his case is complete crap.  I am currently critically examining Norman Geisler’s case for God in When Skeptics Ask.   His entire case for God is given in just 18 pages, and 2.5 pages of that are taken up with historical side notes and a diagram.  So, his actual writing is only about 15 pages.
I have covered most of the arguments in those 15 pages and concluded that they were a “hot steaming pile of dog shit.”  I’m not sure that Geisler could do any better if he used 150 pages to present his case for God, but if he presented a more lengthy case, he would certainly need to provide more details and would have more opportunity to clarify his key concepts and claims and inferences.  Geisler’s arguments are filled with vagueness and ambiguities.  He fails to define the word “God” and repeatedly misuses this word, even though the conclusion for which he is arguing is that “God exists.”
The main problem with Chapter 5 is primarily that it is UNCLEAR because it is TOO SKIMPY; it has the same problem that I see in the writing of most Christian apologists.  It is a problem that one expects in the writing of undergraduate students of philosophy, but which should not be nearly so common in the writing of philosophers and intellectuals.  It is to be expected that an undergraduate student of philosophy would try to make a case for the existence of God in a short five or ten page essay.  But no professional philosopher should be so stupid as to think that it is possible to make a clear and persuasive case for God in just five or ten pages.
Richard Swinburne’s case for God is presented in three books: (1) The Coherence of Theism (308 pages), (2) The Existence of God (342 pages), and (3) The Resurrection of God Incarnate (203 pages).  Swinburne’s case for the existence of God is thus 853 pages long.   There are lots of philosophical details and arguments in these books that are not essential to his case, so 853 pages is a bit of overkill.
But even Swinburne’s popular case for God for general audiences (Is There a God?) is 137 pages, and this does not include his capstone argument for God, which concerns the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  So, even a popular presentation of Swinburne’s case for God would run over 200 pages, if it included his argument based on the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  Geisler’s feeble attempt to make a case for God in just 15 pages is nothing more than a pathetic joke.
[/RANT OFF]
OK.  Back to Reason #9, which I take to be the central argument for the view that we ought to put an end to the discipline of philosophy of religion.  Chapter 5 opens with some clarifications of the conclusion for which Loftus is arguing, so before I get into any further analysis of his main argument, let’s review some points of clarification and qualification from the opening of Chapter 5:
…I’m not saying philosophy proper is stupid or dead or unnecessary… (p. 111)
…I’m not saying that atheist philosophers…should dismiss religions out of hand or ridicule them.  (p.111)
…I’m not even saying that atheist philosophers should cease writing books on philosophy of religion (PoR) or that they should cease all lectures or classes on such topics in secular universities.   (p.112)
He adds this point at the end of his comments about “what I’m not proposing”:
Keep in mind, however, that if they [“atheist philosophers and intellectuals”] do PoR correctly it will no longer be considered the philosophy of religion as defined today, but something else. (p.112)
In the section called “What I am Proposing” (on pages 112 through 115), Loftus provides clarification about what he IS proposing:
It [Loftus’ proposal] follows the same pattern as Hector Avalos’ call to end biblical studies as we know it… (p.112)
It’s also something Peter Boghossian proposed in his provocative book, A Manual for Creating Atheists (p.112)
[Boghossian’s advice to educators]: “…Do not take faith claims seriously.  Let the utterer know that faith is not an acceptable basis from which to draw a conclusion that can be relied upon.”  (p.112)
The fourth paragraph is probably the most important one in this section, so I will quote the entire paragraph here:
I am primarily calling for the end of PoR as a separate subdiscipline under philosophy in secular universities.  Further, whenever there is a PoR class, it should be taught correctly, if it’s to be done at all.  Like all other subjects in secular universities, PoR classes must be taught in a secular way by treating all faith-based claims equally and privileging none, if they are taught at all.  If PoR is successfully taught in this bold and honest manner, the instructors themselves will help end the PoR and religion along with it.  Philosophers of religion should go about the task of putting themselves out of a job by telling their students the truth–that faith is an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about matters of fact such as the nature of nature, its workings, and its origins.  It is also an unreliable way to decide which religion is true, if there is one. (Unapologetic, p.112-113)
Loftus provides another two pages or so of comments explaining what he is proposing, but this paragraph is sufficient clarification of his conclusion for now.
I want to return now to Reason #9, and to a careful analysis of the reasoning present in the two paragraphs in which Loftus presents Reason #9 (on page 135).  I am going to re-number the main claims made in those two paragraphs as follows:
Key Claims from 1st Paragraph
1.  …faith-based reasoning must end.
2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.
3.  …faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant. 
4.  A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
5.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended.
 
Key Claims from 2nd Paragraph
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
7. Faith is indeed an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about the world.
8. …faith-based reasoning cannot justify any claim concerning matters of fact…
9. …philosophy of religion is reasoning about that which is unreasonable.
10.  It [philosophy of religion] takes the utterly unwarranted conclusions of faith seriously.
11. …the very first principle of religion is faith.
 
The logic of the core argument is clearer than I previously thought.  Premise (2) indicates the basic logical structure of the argument:

IF X and Y, THEN Z.

X

 Y

THEREFORE:

Z

Premise (2) is the conditional statement, and premise (6) asserts one of the conjuncts in the antecedent of (2), so to complete the argument, we only need the other conjunct in the antecedent of (2), and the conclusion is the consequent of (2):
Core Argument in Reason #9

2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.

6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.

A.  PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

THEREFORE:

PoRME: Philosophy of Religion must end.

Given this basic logical structure, the other statements are presumably either support for one of the three premises, or clarification of one of the three premises, or clarification of the conclusion.
Before I make an attempt to reconstruct further details of Loftus’ argument constituting Reason #9, I must confess that I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument, or to stab a sharp dagger into the heart of the beast (i.e. Reason #9).   But my failure to “demolish” this argument is NOT because the argument is a good and solid argument.  The reason I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument is because it is very UNCLEAR, and there is little hope that Loftus will be willing and able to make it CLEAR.
Consider premise (6), for example.
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
The subject of this statement is “religion”.  This word is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “religion” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “faith” is also notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “faith” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The phrase “X is based on faith in Y” is perhaps a bit less unclear than the word “faith” considered by itself.  But this phrase does inherit some unclarity from the problematic word “faith” and it has the additional issue of the unclarity of the phrase “X is based on…”  This phrase is vague and unclear.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the phrase “X is based on faith in Y”, any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “supernatural” is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” and “philosophy” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the word “supernatural” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The key argument at the heart of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR.  This key argument makes use of words and phrases that are notoriously unclear, so this argument should be rejected by any person who is a critical thinker unless and until Loftus provides clear definitions of the key terms and phrases in this argument.
Here are some of the key words and phrases that are in need of clarification or definition:
“religion”
“faith” 
“X is based on faith”
“faith in Y”
“X is based on faith in Y”
“using reason”
“philosophy” 
“philosophy of religion”
“supernatural”
“supernatural forces and entities”
Loftus fails to define ANY of these UNCLEAR and problematic words and phrases in Chapter 5.  I have also scanned through Chapters 1 through 4 looking for clear definitions of these words and phrases and have come up empty handed.  I have no idea whether this central argument of Loftus’ book Unapologetic is a GOOD argument or a BAD argument, and I suspect that I never will know, because I don’t believe that Loftus has a clear idea of what “religion” means, nor of what “faith” means, nor of what “reason” means.  If he had a clear idea of what these words mean, then he would have no problem defining what they mean or providing significant clarification about what these words mean, but he never does this.
Loftus does make a very brief attempt at defining “faith”, but the definition is unclear, and he makes no effort to explain or defend his definition, and he never uses or refers to the definition when presenting his central arguments in Chapter 5.  The definition is found in Chapter 4:
I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all … (Unapologetic, p.92)
Because Loftus provides no additional explanation or defense of this definition, and does not refer to or make use of this definition in presenting his key arguments in Chapter 5, I am not going to waste my time analyzing and evaluating this definition.  It appears to be tossed off the top of his head with little thought behind it.
As it stands, the central argument of Unapologetic reminds me of Geisler’s arguments for God in When Skeptics Ask.  Geisler never bothers to define the key word “God”, and he clearly misuses the word “God”, and commits the fallacy of equivocation more than once because of his sloppy and ambiguous use of the word “God”.  In general, Geisler’s case for God is a steaming pile of dog shit, and it is so mainly because it is filled with UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS words and phrases that Geisler never bothers to clarify or define.  The central argument in Unapologetic is also a steaming pile of dog shit, just like Geisler’s case for God, because it uses several UNCLEAR words and phrases and because Loftus makes no serious intellectual effort to define or clarify the meanings of those words and phrases.
Because there is no serious effort to provide definitions of key words and phrases in the central argument of Unapologetic, I doubt that Loftus has a clear idea of what those key words and phrases mean.
Furthermore, there are indications in a couple of passages in the book, that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to defining key words and phrases.  In my view, that means that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to thinking critically, because the first and most fundamental principle of critical thinking is this:

  • Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.

Another very basic principle of critical thinking is this:

  • CLARITY is a gateway standard of thinking.

If a statement or argument is UNCLEAR, then we cannot rationally and objectively evaluate that statement or argument.
The first passage that indicates Loftus has a problem with definitions is in Chapter 1:
Which brings me to the value of philosophy.  Over the last decade I have found that one bastion for Christian apologists has been philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion.  The scholars have honed their definitional apologetics in such a fine-tuned manner that when engaging them in this discipline, it’s like trying to catch a greased pig.  Or, to switch metaphors, trying to chase them down the rabbit’s hole in an endless and ultimately fruitless quest for definitions.  What’s an extraordinary claim?  What constitutes evidence?  What’s the definition of supernatural?  What’s the scientific method?  What’s a miracle?  What’s a basic belief?  What’s a veridical religious experience?  What’s evil? …  (Unapologetic, p.28, emphasis added)
This strikes me as a fundamentally anti-intellectual statement by Loftus.  Definitions are an important tool of philosophy, critical thinking, of science, and of scholarship in general.  But Loftus appears to be taking an anti-definition stance here.  That, in my view, is a position against critical thinking and rationality.
But perhaps that was just a bit of overblown whining by Loftus about Christian apologists, and it does not represent a general antipathy towards definitions and conceptual analysis.  However, when we read the exchange between Peter Boghossian and Keith Parsons in Chapter 4, it becomes clear that Bogghosian, who is a leading light for Loftus’ view of religion and philosophy of religion, has a very negative view of definitions and conceptual analysis.
Parsons’ initial critique of Boghossian indicates a concern about the clarity of a key claim made by Boghossian:

  1. Evolution occurred.
  2. Faith is a malaise.

(1) is an established scientific fact.  (2) is Professor Boghossian’s  opinion.  It may be an informed opinion, but it is an opinion.  For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that (2) is true in whatever sense Prof. Boghossian intends.(Unapologetic, p.89)
Parsons’ is being a bit too subtle here, but he is hinting at the fact that the key statement (2) is UNCLEAR, and it’s meaning is in need of clarification by Boghossian.  Boghossian appears to have missed the subtle hint, because his response does not provide any clarification or definition of “faith” (at least in what Loftus quotes of his response).
In Keith Parsons’ reply to Boghossian’s response, he points out the problem of the need for clarity and definition more firmly and straightforwardly:
Of course, if one interprets “faith” to mean only “wishful thinking” then certainly it is an unreliable belief-forming process.  However, I think we need to be clear that in attacking “faith” we are attacking it only in this rather trivialized sense, and not in a more sophisticated and nuanced sense.  (Unapologetic, p.90)
The only reasonable response to this objection by Parsons would be for Boghossian to clarify and define what he means by the word “faith”.  If Boghossian has a clear understanding of the meaning of the word “faith” (or even just of his own use of the word “faith” in this context), then he ought to have no trouble providing a definition or analysis of the meaning of this word, but that is NOT what Boghossian does.  Instead, he seems to attack the idea of trying to define or clarify the meaning of this word:
Second, the histories of philosophy and theology are replete with people trying to define faith.  Anselm’s definition is floral mumbo-jumbo.
[…]
One can talk about “a more sophisticated or nuanced sense” of the word “faith”, but this does not change the fact that faith claims are knowledge claims.  It also does not change the fact that certain processes of reasoning are unreliable.  Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning. … (Unapologetic, p.91)
So, Boghossian appears to think that the efforts of philosophers and theologians to clarify the meaning of the word “faith” is a hopeless task, and he offers no definition or clarification of the word “faith” and then he just plows ahead and continues making UNCLEAR claims about faith: “Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning.”
He does this after Parsons has directly and plainly challenged him to clarify what he means by the word “faith”.  Given Boghossian’s FAILURE to provide a definition or clarification of the meaning of “faith”, and given his derogatory comments about the efforts of philosophers and theologians to CLARIFY the meaning of this word, it appears fairly certain that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to providing definitions or analyses of the meanings of key words or phrases.
Parsons makes one final effort to drive the point about CLARITY home to Boghossian:
(2) Faith is not a reliable belief-forming process.
[…]
…I would assert (2) to a class but would be very careful to say just what I meant by “faith.”  I would make it abundantly clear that what I was attacking was something like “faith” in the sense defined by Ambrose Bierce: “Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.”  “Faith” is a vague term, and to attack it without proper and careful qualification would be perceived  as an attack on religious belief per se…  (Unapologetic, p.92)
It is not clear whether Boghossian finally got the OBVIOUS point that Keith Parsons repeatedly attempted to communicate to him. Loftus does not provide us with further comments by Boghossian in response to this point by Parsons.
But I seriously doubt that Boghossian responded to Parsons with a definition or analysis of what he meant by the word “faith”.  First, there is good reason to believe that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological opposition to providing definitions of key concepts, which I take to be an intellectual or ideological opposition to some basic principles of critical thinking.  Second,  if Boghossian had provided a definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” I would expect Loftus to pass that on to readers here, because Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.  Loftus’ failure to provide us with a definition of “faith” from Boghossian in this passage is evidence that no such definition was offered by Boghossian (in this exchange between Boghossian and Parsons).
So, for three reasons I doubt that Loftus will ever provide us with a clear argument against the philosophy of religion:

  1. His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
  2. The passage on page 28 indicates that Loftus has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology).
  3. The exchange between Boghossian and Parsons (on pages 88 to 92) indicates that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology), and Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.

Thus, the central argument of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR, and I have little hope that Loftus will ever provide definitions or analyses of the meanings of the key words and phrases in that argument, so I have little hope that I will ever be able to rationally and objectively evaluate that argument.
I could, of course, provide my own definitions of the key words and phrases, but then Loftus would very likely reply to any objections that I raise to the clarified argument, that I had misunderstood or misinterpreted his meaning, and was committing a Straw Man fallacy against the argument that constitutes Reason #9, the most central and important reason that he has given in support of the conclusion that “Philosophy of religion must end.”  This is the same sort of BS that Christian apologists like to pull.  They put forward CRAPPY and UNCLEAR arguments (such as those of Norman Geisler) and then complain about being misinterpreted when skeptics attempt to clarify their argument enough to make the arguments subject to rational and objective evaluation.
In 2014, Boghossian took a swipe at philosophy of religion that impressed Loftus:
“Being published in the philosophy of religion should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.” (Unapologetic, p. 33)
Here is my own swipe back at Boghossian and Loftus:
Being published in a book or article that attacks “faith” or “religion” without providing a clear definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” or “religion” should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.
Any person who does this sort of anti-intellectual and anti-critical-thinking bullshit does NOT deserve to be treated seriously as a philosopher or intellectual.

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 7: Argument #2 of Phase 2

Here is the second argument in Phase 2 of Geisler’s case for the existence of God:
ARGUMENT #2 of PHASE 2
21. “…the design of the universe is far beyond anything that man could devise.” (WSA, p.26)
22. IF the design of the universe is far beyond anything that man could devise, THEN the designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the universe was being designed).
THUS:
23. The designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the universe was being designed).
24. Whatever being caused the universe to begin to exist is also the designer of the universe.
THEREFORE:
25. Whatever being “caused the universe” to begin to exist “had great intelligence” (when the universe was being designed).  (WSA, p.26)
Here is a diagram of this argument (with the conclusion at the top, and the premises below it):   

Argument 2 of Phase 2
 
 
 
 
 
 
This argument is also clearly a FAILURE.    Let’s begin with an examination of premise (24):
24. Whatever being caused the universe to begin to exist is also the designer of the universe.
Geisler does not explicitly state this premise, but he clearly NEEDS this premise in order to get to the conclusion, which talks about a being that “caused the universe”.   The other premises of this argument appear to be focused on the “designer of the universe”, so those premises are irrelevant to the conclusion apart from the assumption that the being that caused the universe to begin to exist and the designer of the universe are the same being.
But not only does Geisler FAIL to make this assumption explicit,  he also FAILS to provide any reason whatsover to believe that this assumption is true.  It is certainly NOT a necessary truth, because it is conceivable and logically possible that one being designed the universe and another different being caused the universe to begin to exist.  
One way this could happen is if one being were to create the basic matter of the universe, and then a second being came along and organized that matter into planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies.  The first being would have caused the universe to begin to exist, but the second being would be the designer of the universe, at least of the major astronomical features of the universe.
Another way this could happen is if one being were to design both the structure of matter of the universe and also the basic astronomical features of the universe, and then a second being came along and brought a universe into existence based on the design that had been developed by the first being.  
Clearly (24) is NOT a logically necessary truth.  It is possible for a cause of the universe and a designer of the universe to be two different beings. Since it is possible that (24) is false, and since there is no obvious reason to believe that (24) is true, Geisler’s argument is unacceptable unless and until he provides a good reason or argument showing that premise (24) is true.  Since Geisler makes no attempt to provide a reason or argument in support of (24), this argument is clearly a FAILURE, as it stands, because it is based on a questionable premise that we have no good reason to believe to be true.
The other key premise in this argument is (23):
23. The designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the universe was being designed).
This is obviously a questionable and controversial claim.  It would be question-begging to simply assume this premise to be true. Accordingly, Geisler provides us with an argument in support of premise (23):

21. “…the design of the universe is far beyond anything that man could devise.” (WSA, p.26)
22. IF the design of the universe is far beyond anything that man could devise, THEN the designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the universe was being designed).
THUS:
23. The designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the universe was being designed).

Is this a sound argument?  The logic is fine (a standard modus ponens inference), so we only need to be concerned about whether the premises are true.  If both premise (21) and (22) are true, then we ought to accept (23).  
Let’s begin by examining premise (21).  Is this premise true?
In order to evaluate whether (21) is true, we must first understand what (21) means. As with most of Geisler’s premises, this statement is UNCLEAR, so we cannot evaluate the truth of this premise as it stands.  The sentence asserted in (21) has a subject and a predicate.  The subject of (21) is unclear, and the predicate of (21) is unclear.  
Let’s start with the subject:
(S21) The design of the universe…  
As it stands, this premise begs an important question.  It ASSUMES that there is such a thing as “the design” of the universe.  But this is hardly an obvious or self-evident truth.  This is a controversial claim which Geisler needs to support with reasons or arguments.  
Furthermore, the use of the definite article “the” implies that there is EXACTLY ONE design that is a design of the universe.  Thus, even if we assume that the universe has a design (i.e. at least one design), the expression “the design of the universe” might not refer to anything at all, because there might be MANY designs of the universe.  
If there are MANY cars in the parking lot of the Safeway grocery store near my house, then the claim that
The car in the parking lot of the Safeway grocery store near my house is a Volkswagen
is NOT a true claim, because the subject “the car in the parking lot…” does not refer to any specific car.  
Because there are many cars in the parking lot, the expression “the car in the parking lot” has no clear referent.  Similarly, if there are MANY designs incorporated into various parts or aspects of the universe, then the expression “the design of the universe” has no clear referent, and thus premise (21) could not, under such circumstances, assert a true claim.  If there are MANY designs of the universe, then premise (21) is literally not talking about anything, because (21) would have no actual subject. Let’s rephrase the subject of (21) to make this point clear:
(S21a) There is EXACTLY ONE design that is a design of the universe…
One logical possiblity is that the universe incorporates several designs. For example, one being might have designed the electron, while another being designed the proton, and a third being designed neutrons.  Each sub-atomic particle might have been individually designed.  Each planet and each star could have been designed by a different being, or each solar system designed by a different being, or each galaxy designed by a different being.  The laws of gravity might have been designed by one being, while other laws of physics were designed by another being.  If different parts or aspects of the universe were designed by different beings, then although there would be MANY designs incorporated into the universe, it might well be the case that there is no such thing as “the design” of the universe, no single overarching plan that was devised for all of the major parts and aspects of the universe.
What this means is that in order to show that (21) is true, Geisler needs to prove not only that there is “a design” incorporated into some aspect of the universe, but that there is EXACTLY ONE design of the universe as a whole.  It appears to me that Geisler has made no attempt to show this to be the case.  If he has made no attempt to show that there is EXACTLY ONE design of the universe, then he has FAILED to show that premise (21) is true.
Before we move on to clarify the predicate of (21), it is important to note that there is a distinction between “a design IN the universe” and “a design OF the universe”.  Geisler, as usual, is sloppy in his writing and thinking, and he quickly slides over this distinction without any comment or clarification. Note that in his argument from design, Geisler uses the expression “design in the universe” in one of his premises:
All designs imply a designer.
There is a great design in the universe.
Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe. (WSA, p.20, emphasis added)  
The second premise asserts that there is a great “design in the universe”.  Even if that were true, it does NOT imply that there is such a thing as “the design of the universe”. There may be parts or aspects of the universe that have “a design” even if the universe as a whole does not have a design.  For example, my car, my bicycle, and my cell phone are all objects in the universe.  Each of these things is a part of the universe, and each of these things has a design.  So, clearly there are parts or aspects of the universe that have a design, but the fact that my car was designed does NOT imply that the universe as a whole was designed.  It is a logical fallacy to infer from the fact that some parts or aspects of the universe have a design that the universe as a whole has a design.  
In the conclusion of his argument from design, Geisler talks about “a Great Designer of the universe”.  If the existence of such a being logically implies that there is such a thing as “the design of the universe”, then the inference in Geisler’s argument from design is logically invalid, because the premise only talks about there being “design in the universe”, and that could be the case if just one part or aspect of the universe had a design while the universe as a whole lacked a design.  The second premise of this argument from design appears to be too weak to prove the conclusion, because it leaves open the possibility that there is no such thing as “the design” of the universe.  
On the other hand, if the conclusion that there is “a Great Designer of the universe” only implies that there is AT LEAST ONE designer who designed AT LEAST ONE part or aspect of the universe, then this weaker conclusion might logically follow from the second premise, but this weaker conclusion is inadequate for Geisler to build upon in Phase 2.  If the possibility of there being MANY designers and MANY designs in the universe is left open, then Geisler cannot make inferences from the design of one specific part or aspect of the universe to the intelligence of “the designer” of the universe as a whole.  In order for Geisler’s Phase 2 to work, he needs to show that there is EXACTLY ONE designer of the universe, but he has not provided any reason whatsoever to believe this to be the case.  
So, it seems that the UNCLARITY in Geisler’s writing and thinking in relation to the difference between “design IN the universe” and “design OF the universe” hides a serious problem in his case for the existence of God.  By becoming clearer about the distinction between these two different ideas, we can then see yet another way in which Geisler’s case for God FAILS.  
Now let’s consider the predicate of premise (21):
(P21) …is far beyond anything that man could devise.
As it stands, the wording here is vague.  However, in context it is clear that what Geisler has in mind here is complexity of structure and function, especially in the design of a machine.  It is helpful to consider the full sentence that Geisler wrote:
Even Carl Sagan admits that the design of the universe is far beyond anything that man could devise.  (WSA, p.26)
Here Geisler refers back to his presentation of the argument from design and to a quotation that he gave from Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos:
The information content of the human brain expressed in bits is probably comparable to the total number of connections among neurons–about a hundred trillion….  If written out in English, say, that information would fill some twenty million volumes, as many as in the world’s largest libraries.  The equivalent of twenty million books is inside the heads of every one of us.  The brain is a very big place in a very small space. … The neurochemistry of the brain is astonishingly busy, the circuitry of a machine more wonderful than any devised by humans.    (WSA, p.21. Geisler is quoting from Cosmos, p.278)
[Note that Sagan was talking about the human brain, not about the universe as a whole.  So, even if it were true that the human brain has a design that was produced by some being who existed prior to the human species, it does not follow that there is such a thing as “the design of the universe,” nor that there is such a thing as “the designer of the universe,” nor that “the designer of the universe” must be as intelligent as the designer of the human brain.  Sagan also does NOT claim that the complexity of the structure and function of the human brain is something that “is far beyond” what humans “could devise”, but rather that it is beyond the complexity of any machine that has been devised by humans (so far). That leaves open the possibility that humans might in the future create a machine that was as complex in structure and function as the human brain.]
The paragraph in which this quote of Sagan is given begins this way:
That’s where the next premise comes in [i.e. “There is a great design in the universe.”]. The design we see in the universe is complex. (WSA, p.21)
What is the relevance of the design in the universe being “complex”?  The relevance is indicated at the end of the paragraph prior to the one just quoted:
…the more complex that design is, the greater the intelligence required to produce it.  (WSA, p.21)
The more complex a design is, the more intelligent the being that produced that design must be.  Given the context of the quote from Sagan and the context of the relevance of the concept of “complexity” of a design, we can clarify the meaning of the predicate of (21):  
(P21a) …is more complex in structure and function than that of any design (of a machine) that human beings could ever (with their limited intelligence) devise.  
We can now re-state premise (21) so that it’s meaning is significantly more clear:
(21a) There is EXACTLY ONE design that is a design of the universe, and that design is more complex in structure and function than that of any design (of a machine) that human beings could ever (with their limited intelligence) devise.  
A reasonably full-fledged “design of the universe” would presumably include the following: (a) a specification of the laws of physics,  (b) a specification of the sub-atomic structure of atoms, (c) a specification of the amounts of various kinds of matter and energy in the universe at the beginning of the universe, (d) other initial physical conditions of the universe, and (e) a specification of the astronomical structure of the universe (e.g. billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars and planets) that would result from the other design specifications.  
But a desgn of the universe might only be a partial design.  For example, suppose that the laws of physics and the sub-atomic structure of atoms has always existed and is undesigned.  Some intelligent being (or beings) could have taken this already existing material and created our universe according to a plan or design that was aimed at producing billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars and planets.  In this case, it would make sense to speak of “the design of the universe”, but that design would be focused on the astronomical structure of the universe and it would NOT include the sub-atomic structure of atoms, nor would it specify the laws of physics, because those other elements of the universe would already be in existence, and there would be no need to design or create those aspects of the universe.  
At the other extreme, “the design of the universe” could include every little fact about the universe, and every event that would ever occur in the universe, including what I would eat for breakfast this morning.  Geisler believes in a creator being who is omniscient and omnipotent, and such a being would have the knowledge and power to determine in advance every little fact and event in the history of the universe, including what I would eat for breakfast this morning.  
Given the wide diversity of possible contents of “the design of the universe”–ranging from a specification of only the astronomical structure of the universe, to a full-fledge design that includes laws of physics, sub-atomic structure, various initial conditions, and astronomical structure, to the extreme concept of a design that includes every fact and event in the entire history of the universe–the concept of “a design of the universe” is still a rather broad and vague concept in need of careful examination and treatment.
Finally, as mentioned previously, there could be some things in the universe that were designed, even if the universe as a whole was NOT designed.  Geisler in presenting his argument from design quoted Carl Sagan’s comments about the amazingly complex structure and function of the human brain.  This does not appear to help Geisler’s case though, because even if the human brain was designed, this does NOT imply that the universe as a whole was designed.  Furthermore, even if we granted the assumption that the human brain was designed and that the universe as a whole was designed, this does NOT imply that the designer of the universe is the same being as the designer of the human brain.  So, the intelligence of the being that designed the human brain might well be greatly superior to the intelligence of the being that designed the universe as a whole.  
To be clear about the concept of “a design of the universe”, we should keep in mind some various logical possibilities:
POSSIBILITY 1  
There is such a thing as “the design of the universe” but there is no particular being that is “the designer of the universe”, because there are MANY designers who produced the design of the universe, not just one.  
POSSIBILITY 2  
There is such a thing as “the design of the universe”, but there are no beings who are designers of the universe, because the design of the universe is the product of random or unintelligent forces and is NOT the product of a person or an intelligent being.
POSSIBILITY 3   
There are specific things in the universe or specific aspects of the universe that were designed (e.g. DNA, or the human brain), and thus there is “design IN the universe”, but there is no such thing as “the design OF the universe” because there is no overarching plan or design of the universe as a whole.  
POSSIBILITY 4
There is such a thing as “the design of the universe” and there is also a being who is “the designer of the universe”, but this being did not design some of the natural phenomena that have complex structures and functions because those natural phenomena are not the product of an intelligent designer (e.g. the human brain is the product of evolution and random variations and genetic changes and mutations, not the product of an intelligent designer).  
POSSIBILITY 5  
There is such a thing as “the design of the universe” and there is also a being who is “the designer of the universe”, but this being did not design some of the natural phenomena that have complex structures and functions (e.g. the human brain), but some OTHER intelligent being(s) produced the design of the other complex natural phenomena (thus the designer of the human brain might be very intelligent, while the designer of the universe might be much less intelligent, perhaps less intelligent than human beings).  
These scenarios all appear to be logical possibilities, so in order for Geisler’s case to be successful, he needs to show that either these are NOT logically possible, or that there is good reason to believe that these scenarios are highly improbable (or that some of these scenarios are logically impossible and that the others are highly improbable).  
POSSIBILITY 2 appears to be ruled out by the first premise of Geisler’s argument from design.  Here is his argument from design:
All designs imply a designer.
There is a great design in the universe.
Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe. (WSA, p.20, emphasis added)  
If it is true that “All designs imply a designer”, then doesn’t that eliminate the possibility that there could be such a thing as “the design of the universe” without there also being at least one “designer of the universe”?  That depends on how we interpret the word “imply” in the first premise.  One straightforward interpretation is that “imply” means “logically entail”:  
All designs LOGICALLY ENTAIL the existence of at least one designer (who produced the design in question).  
However, if we interpret the first premise of Geisler’s argument from design this way, then his argument FAILS for two good reasons:  (1) the first premise would be FALSE, and (2) the second premise would beg the question at issue.
On this interpretation the first premise of Geisler’s argument from design would be FALSE, because it is logically possible for a design to happen by random chance.  Geisler admits this to be a logical possibility, because he argues that it is IMPROBABLE that something like the complex structures and functions found in a living cell would occur as the result of random, unintelligent forces and processes.  Claiming that this is IMPROBABLE, implies that it is logically possible, for if there was a logical contradiction in the idea of a design produced by random, unthinking forces and processes, then Geisler would simply point out that logical contradiction and that would be sufficient to eliminate the possibility of a design existing apart from a designer.   But Geisler does not do this; instead, he argues that the it would be IMPROBABLE that all of the various structures and functions of a cell would just happen to occur as the result of random, unthinking forces and processes.  But even if it is highly improbable that X will happen, that still leaves open that possibility that X will happen.  Even if it is highly improbable that I will win the state lottery tomorrow, that still leaves open the possibility that I will win the state lottery tomorrow.
On this interpretation, the second premise of Geisler’s argument from design would beg the question at issue.  If we assume that the first premise of his argument was true, if we assume that the very concept of “a design” logically entails the existence of “a designer”, then the second premise would presuppose what the argument is trying to establish:  
There is a great design in the universe.
This premise would, on this interpretation, presuppose the existence of a designer.  In order to KNOW that this premise was in fact true, one would have to first KNOW that there exists a designer of the universe.  But that is what the argument is trying to establish!  So, this is not merely the weak sort of question begging where a premise that is controversial is asserted without reasons or evidence; this is the strong form of question begging that we call circular reasoning.  On this interpretation of the first premise, the second premise presupposes the truth of the concusion of the argument, and thus the argument would commit the fallacy of circular reasoning.
In order for Geisler’s argument from design to have any chance of being successful, we must interpret the first premise to be making a weaker claim, a claim that does not assert a logical entailment between “design” and “designers, a claim such as this:
All designs PROVIDE EVIDENCE that increases the PROBABILITY of the existence of at least one designer (who produced the design in question).   
This revised version is probably too weak to provide adequate support for Geisler’s case for God, but however one modifies and clarifies the first premise of his argument from design, that premise wil have to leave open the logical possibility of a design existing without it having been produced by a designer.  
So, let’s return to the key question: Is premise (21a) true or false?
(21a) There is EXACTLY ONE design that is a design of the universe, and that design is more complex in structure and function than that of any design (of a machine) that human beings could ever (with their limited intelligence) devise.  
Is there exactly one design that is a design of the universe?  Is there an overarching design of the universe as a whole?  I don’t think so.  As far as I can see, Geisler has not even attempted to show this to be the case.  He talks mainly about the complexity of the structure and function of DNA, living cells, living organisms, and the human brain.  But these are just things IN the universe or aspects of the universe.  So, even if these things or aspects were designed, that does not imply that the universe as a whole was designed, nor that there is a design of the universe as a whole.  
Furthermore, if we think about the universe as a whole, the analogy with a machine (like a watch) is not a very good analogy.  A watch has a clear and obvious function (keeping track of the passing of time), and all of the structures and functions of parts and aspects of a watch can be related to the function of the watch as a whole.  But there is no similarly clear and obvious function of the universe as a whole.  
The main function that is often suggested is the production of living creatures or the production of intelligent creatures (like human beings).  But, why is there a need for billions of galaxies each filled with billions of stars and planets?  One little solar system with a few planets orbiting one sun would do the trick.  But the chance of a living simple organism forming out of non-living chemicals on a planet seems highly unlikely, especially in a period of only thousands or millions of years.  So, one might argue that in order to ensure that a simple living organism is produced by random natural processes, the universe had to be terrifically large, with a fantastic number of stars and planets and solar systems, and the universe had to be designed to last for billions of years to allow enough time for random natural processes to produce simple living creatures somewhere in the universe.
But then, if an intelligent being wanted to produce living creatures, why do so using random physical processes that would take billions of billions of solar systems billions of years to produce one living creature? and then another billion years or more for that creature’s offspring to (possibly) produce intelligent creatures (if the planet and solar system continued to exist for that long)?  Why not produce living creatures or even intelligent creatures DIRECTLY, as in the creation myth in the book of Genesis?  
Using slow and random physical processes to produce a living creature, and using the slow and random process of evolution to produce an intelligent creature from a simple single-celled organism, seems like a terrifically stupid and inefficient way of producing living creatures and intelligent creatures. If the purpose of the universe is to produce living creatures, it is a fairly lousy mechanism for accomplishing this purpose.  The universe does not appear to be a carefully designed mechanism for producing living creatures, or anything else.  
Suppose I am wrong, and there is exactly one design that is a design of the universe as a whole, and suppose that the purpose of the universe is to bring about living creatures or intelligent living creatures.  In this case, would the design of the universe be so complex in structure and function that it would be “far beyond” the limited intelligence of human beings to produce that design or the design of a machine in which the complexity of the structure and content of the machine was of a similar degree as the complexity and structure of the design of this universe?  I don’t think so.  Geisler has given us no good reason to believe this to be so.  His discussion of DNA, cells, and the human brain is irrelevant, because he has given us no reason to believe that the design of these things (DNA, cells, and the human brain) was produced by the being who produced the design of the universe as a whole.  
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that there was exactly one design that was a design of the universe as a whole, this design need not have included the structure and function of DNA, cells, or the human brain.  In fact, it is highly implausible that a design formulated billions of years ago concering the initial conditions of our universe, would have any relevance to the specific structures and functions of human brains, which evolved as the result of the random, unthinking process of evolution.  The initial physical conditions of the universe only, at best, allowed for the coming into existence of solar systems where living organisms might form by random, unthinking physical processes, and thus allow for random, unthinking process of evolution to start up.  But creating the conditions to make it possible for the evolution of life and of intelligent creatures, is not the same thing as determining the specific path that the evolution of intelligent creatures would follow over the course of a billion years or more.  
So, if “the design” of the universe did not include DNA, cells, or the human brain, then what would it have included? Presumably, it would include the sub-atomic structure of matter, the laws of physics,  the initial conditions of the universe, and the general astronomical structure of the universe that was intended to result from those other aspects of the design.  Is such a design “far beyond” the complexity of any design that human beings will ever be able to produce?  I don’t think so.  We human beings seem to have a pretty good handle on the sub-atomic structure of matter, the laws of physics, the initial conditions of the universe, and the general astronomical structure of the universe.  So, the content of this alleged design of the universe appears to be something about which human beings, at least smart and well-educated human beings,  have a pretty good understanding.  So, it does not seem at all unlikely that human beings would one day be able to produce a design for a machine that has the same level of complexity of structure and function as the universe.  
There is good reason to doubt that there is exaclty one design that is a design of the universe and Geisler has FAILED to provide a good reason to think otherwise. There is also good reason to doubt the degree of complexity in the design of the universe is far beyond the intellectual capability of human beings, and Geisler has FAILED to provide a good reason to think otherwise.  So, we ought to reject premise (21a) as being probably false.  This is a second reason for rejecting Argument #2 of Phase 2 of Geisler’s case for the existence of God.
================================
UPATED on 11/14/16
I have added comments on premise (22).
================================
There is one more premise to examine in this argument:
22. IF the design of the universe is far beyond anything that man could devise, THEN the designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the universe was being designed).  
First, before we try to determine whether this premise is true or false, it needs to be revised in keeping with the clarification of premise (21):  
22a. IF there is EXACTLY ONE design that is a design of the universe, and that design is more complex in structure and function than that of any design (of a machine) that human beings could ever (with their limited intelligence) devise, THEN there is EXACTLY ONE designer of the universe, and that designer had greater intelligence than any human being (when the universe was being designed). 
Is premise (22a) true or false?  The points I have made previously in this discussion of Geisler’s argument from design point to some significant problems with this premise.
Strictly speaking, this premise is FALSE, because no matter how complex a design might be, it is always logically possible for that design to have been produced by random, unthinking forces and processes.  However, since we are supposed to assume here that the complexity of the design of the universe is so great that humans could not ever produce a design of that degree of complexity, one could argue that it is highly improbable that random, unthinking forces and processes would produce such a highly complex design.  So, although the conditional statement above is false, interpreting the IF/THEN as one of logical entailment or logical necessity, it could be argued that the connection between the antecedent and the consequent is quite a strong one.  The antecedent, it might be argued, provides a very powerful piece of evidence for the truth of the consequent, even though it falls short of being a necessary logical connection or implication.
Mr. Geisler’s own example of the complexity of the structure and function of the human brain, however, works as a counterexample here.  We have very good reason to believe that the complex structure and function of the human brain was produced by random, unthinking forces and processes.  Thus, if the human brain has a design (as Geisler insists), and if the human brain has a design that is so complex that it would not be possible for human beings to produce a design with that degree of complexity (as Geisler insists), then one of the most complex designs in the universe is a design that was produced by random, unthinking processes, and was NOT produced by an intelligent designer, nor by a group or team of intelligent designers.
Furthermore, as we have previously seen, even assuming that there is EXACTLY ONE design of the universe, that design might have been produced by MANY designers, so the existence of EXACTLY ONE design of the universe does NOT show that there is EXACTLY ONE designer of the universe who produced that design.
Finally, since for all we know it might be the case that the ONE design of the universe was produced by a group or team of designers, we cannot infer the degree of intelligence of individual designers on the basis of the degree of complexity of that design.  The degree of complexity of a design that was produced by a group or team of designers can exceed the level of knowledge and intelligence of any individual designer in the group or team of designers that produced the design.  
So, we cannot legitimately infer from the existence of a complex design that there are any intelligent beings who produced that design, nor that the design was produced by EXACTLY ONE designer, nor can we infer from a highly complex design the existence of a designer of great intelligence, since the design may have been produced by a group or team of designers. For these reasons, we ought to reject premise (22a) as being probably false.
CONCLUSION
We ought to reject Argument #2 of Phase 2, because it rests on a questionable and controversial premise, premise (24) and Geisler provides no reason whatsoever why we ought to believe that premise is true, and because there are good reasons to doubt the other basic premises of this argument, premises (22a) and (21a), and Geisler has FAILED to provide good reasons to believe those premises to be true.

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 5: The Gap Between Phase 1 and Phase 2

Here is my version of Geisler’s first argument in Phase 2 of his case for God:
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 2
 

10a. Only a being with great power could create the whole universe by itself, and only a being with great power could sustain the existence of the whole universe by itself  (for even just one moment).
 
11a. There is a being that both (a) created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past), and that (b) sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).
 
THEREFORE:
 
12a. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past), and that being both (a) had great power (in the distant past) and (b) has great power (right now).

Premise (10a) has some initial plausibility, so I can understand why Geisler does not provide an argument in support of that premise.  
Premise (11a), however, is clearly a controversial and questionable claim, so he needs to provide reasosns or arguments to support (11a).  But NONE of Geisler’s five initial arguments proves that (11a) is true.  However, premise (11a) presupposes the following two claims:
 

13. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past).
 
14. There is a being that sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).
 
Geisler would presumably claim that his first argument from Phase 1 can be used to prove (13) and that his second argument from Phase 1 can be used to prove (14).  But if we take a closer look at those two arguments, it will become clear that they do not show that (13) is true, nor that (14) is true.
 

Let’s take a look at the first argument that Geisler presents in Phase 1 of his case (WSA, p.16) :
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 1
 

16. The universe had a beginning (in the distant past).

17. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by something else.
 

THEREFORE:

1. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the distant past) by something else.
 

Premise (17) is ambiguous in terms of the quantification implied by the phrase “caused by something else”. Here are two different interpretations of premise (17):

17a.  Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by exactly one other thing or being.
 

17b. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by at least one other thing or being.
 

I am something that had a beginning, and my beginning was caused by TWO other beings: my mother and my father.  So, it appears that (17a) is a FALSE generalization.  If Geisler had intended premise (17) to refer to “exactly one” being, as spelled out in (17a), then the second premise of his first argument is FALSE, and that argument is thus UNSOUND.

However, we can be charitable and assume that what Geisler had in mind was (17b), which is not subject to the counterexample that I just gave.  If we interpret premise (17) to mean what is stated in (17b), then we need to also revise the conclusion, so that it follows logically from the combination of (16) and (17b):
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 1 – Revised
 

16. The universe had a beginning (in the distant past).
 
17b. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by at least one other thing or being.
 
THEREFORE:
 
1a. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the distant past) by at least one thing or being other than the universe. 
 

This conclusion, however, falls short of showing the truth of the assumption that Geisler needed to prove:
 

13. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past).
 

The conclusion (1a) does not imply claim (13),  because (1a) does NOT say that the universe was caused to begin to exist by exactly one thing or being, so (1b) leaves open the possibility that many beings caused the universe to begin to exist.  If many beings caused the universe to begin to exist, then it would be false to say that some particular being created the whole universe by itself.  Thus,  Geisler’s first argument in Phase 1 FAILS to provide needed support for premise (13), so it also FAILS to provide needed support for premise (11a) in the first argument of Phase 2.
 

Furthermore, (1b) talks about the cause of the universe; it does not talk about what created the universe.  If a being “created” the universe by itself, then that being also caused the universe to come into existence, but the reverse is not necessarily the case.  If a thing or  being “caused” the universe to come into existence, that thing or being might not be the creator of the universe.
 

We can, for example, imagine one being causing the basic matter of the universe to come into existence, and another being orgainzing that matter into stars and planets, and solar systems and galaxies.  The being who caused the matter of the univese to come into existence would not be the creator of our universe, in that the major astronomical components of our universe were not brought into existence by that being.  The being who took the raw materials provided by the frst being and organized that matter into stars, planets, solar systems, and galaxies, might, however, be justifiably called the “creator” of our universe.  

Or, possibly, neither of these beings would be accurately described by the term “the creator of the universe”, because they might both be considered “partially responsible” for the origin of our universe, in which case it seems misleading to call either being “the creator”.  In any case, the cause of the beginning of the universe need not be “the creator” of the universe, so we cannot legitimately infer (13) from (1b).

The first argument from Geisler’s Phase 1 fails to support premise (11b) in the first argument of Phase 2 of his case for God. There is clearly a logical gap between the conclusion of the first argument of Phase 1 and the premise (11b) of the first argument of Phase 2. The former argument FAILS to establish the truth of claim (13), and thus FAILS to provide support for premise (11b). What about claim (14)?  Does the second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case show that claim (14) is true?  Let’s take a closer look at the second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case (WSA, p.18-19):


ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1

18. Finite, changing things exist.
19. Every finite, changing thing must be caused by something else.
20. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes.
THEREFORE:
2. There is a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.
 
Here is my (partially) clarified version of this argument:
ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1 – Rev. A
18a. Finite, changing things exist (right now).
19a. The current existence of every finite, changing thing that exists (right now) must be caused by something else that exists (right now).
20a. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes (of current existence).
THEREFORE:
2a. There is a first uncaused cause that exists (right now) of the current existence of every finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
I have previously stated that the conclusion of this second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case is ambiguous and has two different meanings.  But in fact, it has at least four different meanings, because there are two different ambiguities in the conclusion (2a).  
Here are the four different interpretations of the conclusion (2a):
2b. There is exactly one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
2c. There is exactly one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now).
2d. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
2e. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now).
The interpretations that speak of “exactly one” uncaused cause, should be rejected, because the argument cannot plausibly support such strong conclusions.  For premise (19a) to be plausible, it must leave open the possibility that two or more things could work together to cause the current existence of a finite, changing thing.  If one were to interpret (19a) as implying that there can only be exactly one being that is the uncaused cause of a particular finite, changing being that exists (right now), then (19a) should be rejected as an implausible claim, and thus this second argument should be rejected as well.  
The Argument #2 of Phase 1 only has a hope of being acceptable if we interpret (19a) as leaving open the possibility that two or more things or beings could work together to cause the current existence of a finite, changing thing.  Therefore, since the conclusions (2b) and (2c) do NOT logically follow from this argument, given that interpretation of (19a), we should reject interpretations (2b) and (2c).  
That leaves us with interpretations (2d) and (2e).   Interpretation (2e) should be rejected for the same sort of reason that we rejected interpretations (2b) and (2c), namely, that this would require an understanding of the meaning of (19a) that would make that premise implausible:
19b. The current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now) must be caused by at least one other thing or being that exists (right now).
This premise asserts that ALL of the trillions of trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by at least one thing or being.  But it is clearly conceivable and logically possible that SOME  of the trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by one thing, let’s call it “Thing 1” and that OTHER bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by some different thing, let’s call it “Thing 2”.  Geisler has given us no reason whatsoever to reject this scenario as logically impossible, and there is no obvious reason to think it is logically impossible, so we should reject (19b) as a dubious and probably false claim, and thus reject Argument #2 of Phase 1, if premise (19) is interpreted as meaning what is stated in (19b).  Thus, Argument #2 of Phase 1 cannot be used to provide solid support for conclusion (2e).  
That leaves us with just one possible interpretation of the conclusion: (2d).  Here is my best and final clarification of this argument:
ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1 – Rev. B
18a. Finite, changing things exist (right now).
19c. The current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now) must be caused by at least one other thing or being that exists (right now).
20a. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes (of current existence).
THEREFORE:
2d. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).  
One could still object to (19c) as being in need of a supporting reason or argument, but it is at least a bit more plausible than the other interpretations of premise (19) that we have considered.  Given this interpretation of premise (19), the conclusion that is logically entailed by Argument #2 of Phase 1 leaves open the possibility that there are MANY (perhaps even trillions) of first uncaused causes of the current existence of the trillions of trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now).  Becuase conclusion (2d) FAILS to rule out this possibility, it also FAILS to provide proof of claim (14):
14. There is a being that sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).  
In conclusion, ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 1 FAILS to prove (13), and ARGUMENT #2 of Phase 1 FAILS to prove (14), so neither of these arguments help to prove premise (11a) of ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 2.  Therefore, there is a serious logical GAP between Geisler’s arguments in Phase 1, and a key controversial premise of a key argument in Phase 2 of Geisler’s case for the existence of God.  
Geisler believes that the first two arguments of Phase 1 support this key premise of the first argument of Phase 2, but he is wrong. Once we clarify the meanings of the premises and conclusions of these various arguments, it becomes obvious that Geisler’s case for the existence of God is logically invalid.  (2d) does NOT imply (14), and (1a) does NOT imply (13).  Geisler’s case for God thus rests on a questionable premise for which he has FAILED to provide a good reason or sound argument, namely premise (11a) in ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 2.
Part of Geislers Case for God
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NOTE:
Premise (15) is a placeholder for one or more claims that when taken together show that a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past) and a being that sustains the current existence of the whole universe by itself (right now) must be the same being.  Geisler does not give us any reason to believe these beings are the same being.  
Later on, he does argue that there can be only ONE being of infinite power and infinite knowledge, but that argument presupposes the truth of (11a) and (12a) and thus is of no help in proving the truth of (11a) at this earlier stage of his case.
 

bookmark_borderDebate: External Evidence for Jesus – Part 5A: Five Principles

Joe Hinman’s fifth argument for the existence of Jesus is presented in three sections:
5A. Historical Methods
5B. Big Web of Historicity
5C. Jesus Myth Theory Cannot Account for the Web
I will comment on, and raise objections to, points in each of these three sections, but this post will only cover part of the section on “Historical Methods”.  Specifically, I will cover the five high-level principles of historical investigation proposed by Hinman in his discussion of “Historical Methods”.
5A. Hinman on Historical Methods: Five General Principles
Hinman advocates the following five general principles of historical investigation:
P1. The document, not the people, is the point.
P2. Supernatural content does not negate historic aspects.
P3. What people believed tells us things, even if we don’t believe it.
P4. Everyone is biased.
P5. The historicity of a single persona cannot be examined apart from the framework.
 
Hinman’s first principle of historical investigation is this:
P1. The document, not the people, is the point.
I don’t know what (P1) means, and Hinman’s discussion of this idea does not make it any clearer.  Hinman’s discussion of (P1) makes a number of assertions that are interesting and worth thinking about, but I will comment on those more specific points in my next post on “Historical Methods”.  I won’t criticize what I don’t understand, so Hinman needs to clarify this principle before I will attempt to evaluate it.
The second principle put forward by Hinman is a bit clearer:
P2. Supernatural content does not negate historic aspects.
A comment by Hinman provides further clarification of (P2):
Historians do not discount sources merely for supernatural contents.  Even when they don’t believe the supernatural details, they don’t just deny everything the source says.
This is certainly a true point about how historians work, and I have no problem with the basic point.  However, there are some qualifications that I would add to this principle.
First, the Gospels don’t just have a few “supernatural details”.  They are filled with supernatural beings and events, from start to finish.  Here are a few supernatural elements from the beginnings of two Gospels (Matthew and Luke):

  • An angel visits Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant by the power of God, not by the usual biological process of sexual reproduction (Luke 1:26-38).
  • Mary miraculously becomes pregnant without first having sex with a man (Matthew 1:18-25).
  • An angel appears to some shepherds near Bethlehem to announce the birth of the Messiah, when Jesus is born there (Luke 2:1-20).
  • A multitude of angels appear to the shepherds and praise God (Luke 2:1-20).
  • A star indicates to some wise men from the East that a great king has been born in Palestine (Matthew 2:1-12).
  • The same star miraculously guides the wise men to the specific house where Mary and the baby Jesus were staying (Matthew 2:1-12).
  • Joseph, the husband of Mary, has a dream in which an angel warns him to take Mary and the baby Jesus away from Palestine, and Joseph follows this warning thus saving the baby Jesus from being killed in a mass slaughter of infants in Bethlehem by king Herod. (Matthew 2:13-23).

We have at least seven supernatural events surrounding the birth of Jesus in just the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke.  After that the miracles and supernatural events just keep on coming:  Jesus turns water into wine, Jesus heals the blind, the lame, and the deaf.  Jesus raises dead people back to life.  Jesus walks on water, calms a huge storm with a command, and feeds thousands of people with a few fishes and a few loaves of bread.  Jesus is levitated to the top of the temple by the devil and argues with the devil.  Jesus is transfigured and has a conversation with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus reads people’s minds.   Jesus miraculously causes huge collections of fish to congregate in the nets of his disciples.  Jesus dies and then comes back to life less than 48 hours later.  He then walks through a locked door, instantly vanishes from sight at will, and is able to levitate himself up into the sky.
The Gospels do not just contain a few “supernatural details”.  They are filled with supernatural beings (angels and demons and spirits) and supernatural events (miraculous healings, resurrections, mind reading, and nature miracles like levitation, walking on water, and controlling the weather).
Second, the supernatural elements in the Gospels are often essential to the stories related in the Gospels.  If we strip out all of the supernatural beings and events from the birth narratives, for example, there is not much left over.  If 75% of the assertions in the birth narratives are fictional, then why believe the 25% that remains?
It is possible that the very minimal historical claim “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” could be true, but given the general unreliability of the birth narratives (due in part to their being filled with supernatural beings and events), this also casts doubt on the tiny bit of historical “information” that remains after stripping out all of the clearly fictional B.S.  Given that Christians believed that the Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and given that most of the other assertions in the birth narratives are historically dubious, we ought to be very skeptical about the claim “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” even though this claim does not, by itself, involve any supernatural elements.  It might represent prophecy that was used to formulate “history”.
What remains of the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana if we delete his miracle of turning water into wine? Not much: Jesus went to a wedding in Cana. What remains of the story of Jesus walking on water on the sea of Galilee if we remove the walking on water part?  Not much: Jesus went in a boat with some of his disciples on the sea of Galilee. What remains of the transfiguration story if we remove the part about how Jesus began to shine like a bright light and if we remove the appearance of Moses and Elijah?  Not much: Jesus prayed with some of his disciples on a mountain top.  In a few stories the supernatural beings or events might be a detail that can be ignored, but in many cases the supernatural being or event plays an important role in the story, so that removing the supernatural element guts the story or seriously changes the meaning of the story or makes the story illogical and incoherent.
As David Friedrich Strauss argued long ago in The Life of Jesus, the attempt of skeptics to strip out all of the supernatural elements of the Gospels while still maintaining the basic historicity of the Gospel accounts makes no sense.  It makes far more sense to admit that Gospels are filled with legends and myths and fictional stories, and that only a few bits and pieces here and there, at best, are factual and historical.
Third, the assertion of this principle borders on a STRAW MAN fallacy.  There is the suggestion here that Jesus skeptics doubt the historicity of the Gospels ONLY because the Gospel stories contain supernatural elements.  Skeptics do NOT doubt the historicity of the Gospels ONLY because of there are a few supernatural details in them, nor do skeptics doubt the historicity of the Gospels ONLY because the Gospels are filled with supernatural beings and events.
Take the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke for example.  They include many supernatural elements, both supernatural beings (angels), and supernatural events (virgin birth, a star that guides people to a specific location).  These supernatural elements are one reason for doubting the historicity of these stories, but there are other reasons as well.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke use Mark as a primary source of information about Jesus, but there is no birth story in Mark.  When Matthew and Luke follow the narrative framework in Mark, they generally agree with each other, but when they provide birth stories, their stories contradict each other, indicating that when they depart from the information in Mark, at least one of the two Gospels provides a fictional birth story, and perhaps both birth stories are fictional.
There are also some historically improbable details in both accounts beyond the supernatural elements.  The census in Luke is historically improbable for various reasons.  The slaughter of the innocents story in Matthew is historically improbable.  The relocation of the holy family to Egypt is historically improbable.  The fact that both Matthew and Luke place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in accordance with an alleged messianic prophecy, casts doubt on the historicity of that key shared claim between the two birth stories.
So, the rejection of the birth stories as legends or myths is not based ONLY on the fact that these stories are filled with supernatural elements.  There are other good reasons that point to the same conclusion.  Similar reasoning applies to skepticism about other parts of the Gospels.
Hinman’s third principle of historical investigation is a bit vague:
P3. What people believed tells us things, even if we don’t believe it.
I’m not sure what Hinman is getting at here, but taken straightforwardly, this principle seems obviously correct.  Using an historical document to determine what early Christians believed about God or Jesus “tells us things”, even if the historian rejects some or all of those beliefs.  At the very least, this tells us what early Christians believed about God or Jesus!  
This information about the beliefs of early Christians can also help historians to better analyze and evaluate particular Gospel stories and passages.  If early Christians believed that Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life, then historians could anticipate and look for places where the Gospels of Matthew and Luke modify some story or passage from Mark in order to make Jesus appear to be sinless, and to the extent that historians do find such modifications of Mark by Matthew and Luke, this provides further evidence that early Christians believed Jesus was sinless and also provides evidence that Matthew and Luke alter information from their sources to make the story or quotation fit better with their theological beliefs or the theological beliefs of their early Christian readers.
One of the things that the Gospels tell us is that early Christians were gullible and superstitious, at least if we assume that early Christian believers read the Gospels literally.  They believed in astrological signs, in angels, in demons, in demon possession, in the devil, in faith healing, in prophetic dreams, in levitation, in mind reading, in spirits of the dead, in raising the dead, in prophecy.  They believed all of these things without demanding strong evidence for claims of such events; they believed such things on the basis of hearsay and testimonial evidence,  on the basis of contradictory reports in the canonical Gospels, and without conducting serious skeptical investigations into the facts.  This is an important fact about early Christians that we can learn from reading the Gospels.  We can learn of the gullibility of early Christian believers even if we reject some or all of the beliefs that they formed in gullible and uncritical ways.
We can also learn that the early Christians were either not particularly good at logical and critical thinking or else were generally ignorant about the contents of the OT, because they were not skeptical about Jesus being a true prophet and the divine Son of God in spite of the various contradictions between Christian doctrines and the teachings of the Old Testament (e.g. OT: God rewards those who obey his commandments with wealth, health, peace and happiness in this life, but provides only a dark and miserable afterlife for good and evil people alike.  NT: God allows people who have faith in him and Jesus to suffer poverty, disease, hunger, and persecution in this life, but will provide a life of eternal bliss to those people in the next life.)
That early Christians were not particularly good at logical and critical thinking is also supported by their acceptance of various logical contradictions within Christian theology (e.g. For God so loved the world that God planned to send most humans to suffer torture in hell for all eternity).  Of course it is possible that a few early Christians were bothered by such contradictions, but not enough were bothered so that there would be apologetic points on these issues built into the Gospels (or the letters of Paul).
That early Christians were not particularly good at logical and critical thinking is also supported by their apparent acceptance of unclarity of Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of Paul on central issues (e.g.  “What must I do to be saved?”  Protestants disagree with Catholics on the answer to this fundamental question, and Protestants disagree with each other on the answer to this fundamental question.  These disagreements between various Christian denominations are the result of the unclarity and inconsistencies in the teachings of Jesus, in the teachings of Paul, and inconsistencies between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul.).
We can, however, also learn things that help the case for an historical Jesus.  If the Gospels and other early Christian writings show that Christians viewed the crucifixion of Jesus as something that was very shameful, then that could provide evidence in support of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Why invent a story about the death of Jesus that is so shameful?  I don’t necessarily accept this argument from embarassment, but it is an example of how knowledge about the beliefs of early Christians can be used in support of the historicity of Jesus or of a particular event in the life (or death) of Jesus.
The fourth principle that Hinman advocates is quite brief:
P4. Everyone is biased.
Based on Hinman’s discussion of (P4) and (P5) it appears that this principle is given in part as a reply to an objection about an alleged bias of scholars on the issue of the historicity of Jesus.  Here are two plausible claims about NT scholars along such lines:

  • The vast majority of NT scholars have a significant bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus.
  • Most NT scholars have a strong bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus. 

So, one question to keep in mind is whether (P4) provides a strong reply to such criticisms about NT scholars.
The principle (P4) is a bit vague and ambiguous.  Here are a couple of different possible interpretations of (P4):
P4a. Everyone has a bias on some issue or other.
P4b. For any given theory, everyone is either biased in favor of the theory or biased against the theory.
Principle (P4a) is no doubt true, but it is insignificant and unhelpful in this context, because it leaves open the possibility that some people have a bias when it comes to the issue of the historicity of Jesus and other people do NOT have a bias on this issue.  Because (P4a) leaves this possibility open, it does not help us any in dealing with this particular issue; it fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticisms about NT scholars.
Principle (P4b) on the other hand, would certainly be of some significance to the issue of the historicity of Jesus, but, alas, (P4b) is a very broad generalization that is clearly false.  So, principle (P4b) is of no use, and fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticisms of NT scholars, because (P4b) is false.
We could try to rescue (P4b) by narrowing the scope to focus exclusively on the issue of the historicity of Jesus:
P4c. Everyone is either biased in favor of the historicity of Jesus or is biased against the historicity of Jesus.
But (P4c) is still somewhat dubious.  The issue of the historicity of Jesus is more controversial than many other issues, but controversiality is based on the feelings and attitudes of people in general, and there are almost always exceptions to such general psychological phenomena.  In other words, although most people have strong feelings about this issue, it seems fairly certain that there are at least a few people who don’t have strong feelings or opinions about the historicity of Jesus.  So, in order to rescue the (P4c) in terms of truth, we would need to either qualify the degree of bias that is being asserted or revise the quantification in terms of the proportion of people in scope:
P4d.  Everyone is either biased at least a tiny bit in favor of the historicity of Jesus or biased at least a tiny bit against the historicity of Jesus.
P4e.  Most people are either significantly biased in favor of the historicity of Jesus or significantly biased against the historicity of Jesus.
These generalizations are at least plausible.  However, (P4d) leaves open the possibility that some people (e.g. NT scholars) have a strong bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus, while other people (e.g. Jesus skeptics) have only a tiny bit of bias against the historicity of Jesus.  This would clearly not help Hinman’s case for the existence of Jesus, and fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticsims about NT scholars.
Also, (P4e) leaves open the possibility that some people (e.g. NT scholars) have a strong bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus, while a few people (e.g. Jesus skeptics) have no significant bias on this issue.  Again, this would not be of help for Hinman’s case, and fails to provide a strong reply to the criticisms of NT scholars.
I have considered a number of different possible interpretations of principle (P4).  The principle is false or dubious on some of those interpretations, and on the interpretations where the principle is true or plausible, it is either insignificant and unhelpful or appears to be of no help to Hinman’s case, and fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticisms of NT scholars.
If Hinman wants to continue to advocate this principle, he needs to clarify it in terms of the quantification of the portion of people who are being characterized and he needs to clarify it in terms of the scope of issues to which it applies, and he needs to clarify it in terms of the degree of bias that is being alleged (because there is a big difference between a strong bias and a very tiny bit of bias).  Principle (P4) cannot be rationally evaluated unless and until it is re-stated in a much clearer and more specific form.
As with (P4), the final principle is in need of clarification:
P5. The historicity of a single persona cannot be examined apart from the framework.
What matters in this context is whether this principle applies to (or is correct in terms of) the issue of the historicity of Jesus, so we can focus on this instantiation of (P5): ”
IP5. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from the framework.
The term “the framework” is unclear and vague.  However, based on Hinman’s discussion of this principle, this phrase appears to refer to the view or theory that Jesus existed, that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood historical person.  Given this understanding of “the framework”, the principle is still ambiguous.  Here are two different possible interpretations:
IP5a. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from assuming that Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
IP5b. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from examining the issue of  whether Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
Principle (IP5a) clearly involves circular reasoning.  If one simply assumes that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood historical person, then one begs the question of the historicity of Jesus.  So, we must reject (IP5a) because it is an unreasonable and illogical principle.
Principle (IP5b), on the other hand, is completely and undeniably true.  But it is true because it is a trivial and uninformative tautology.  The question of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth just is the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.  So, this principle is of no significant help or use (other than to clarify the question at issue for those who are ignorant or confused).
There is one other interpretation, which seems both plausible and significant:
IP5c. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from treating this question as a question about which framework or theory among available alternatives best accounts for all of the available evidence (e.g. the theory that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood historical person vs. the theory that Jesus was just a myth).
Because this interpretation is both plausible and significant, the Principle of Charity indicates that this is the best interpretation, at least of the possible interpretations considered so far.
I have no objection to (IP5c).  However, it is obvious to any intelligent and informed Jesus skeptic that (IP5c) is true, and intelligent and informed Jesus skeptics usually think and argue in keeping with (IP5c).  G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty,  Robert Price, and Richard Carrier all accept this principle and they all think and argue in keeping with this principle, at least most of the time.  So, emphasis on this principle appears to me to be bordering on a STRAW MAN fallacy.
Jesus skeptics do NOT argue that because this or that Gospel story is historically problematic, therefore Jesus is just a myth.  The case against the historicity of Jesus is much broader than that and deals with a wide range of evidence both from the NT and from external (non-biblical) historical sources. Emphasis of this principle is a way of suggesting that Jesus skeptics and Jesus mythicists are idiots who don’t think and argue in keeping with this principle, but that suggestion is false and slanderous.  There are some stupid and unreasonable Jesus skeptics, but the major published Jesus skeptics accept (IP5c) and generally conform their thinking to this principle.

bookmark_borderWilliam Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation – Part 4

Craig’s presentation of KCA in 1979 (in The Existence of God and The Beginning of the Universe) has the following structure:
I. The intermediate conclusion (the conclusion of his syllogistic argument) is stated in ambiguous language, ambiguous concerning whether there is AT LEAST ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe or EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe.
II. Only the WEAK interpretation of this intermediate conclusion can be validly inferred from the premises (i.e. the premises only imply that there is AT LEAST ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe).
III. Craig then shifts to using unambiguous language which assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe.
IV. Finally, Craig urges the identification of the ONE UNCAUSED CAUSE of the universe with God.
We find this same structure in Craig’s presentation of KCA in 1994 (in Reasonable Faith, the revised edition), and the  same structure occurs in Craig’s most recent presentation of KCA in 2015 (in Craig’s 2015  lecture on KCA at the University of Birmingham).  Thus, Craig has been commiting the fallacy of equivocation for nearly four decades (for 36 years to be precise).

Reasonable Faith (revised edition, 1994)

 I. The Intermediate conclusion is stated in ambiguous language.
In Reasonable Faith, Craig continues to state the conclusion of the syllogistic argument in ambiguous language:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2.The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
(Reasonable Faith, p.92)
The intermediate conclusion (3) has at least two possible meanings:
3a. The universe has AT LEAST ONE cause.
3b. The universe has EXACTLY ONE cause.
Craig runs through the second phase of the argument in six paragraphs later in the book (p.116-117).  He initially re-iterates his ambiguous intermediate conclusion, and then infers another equally amgiguous intermediate conclusion (emphasis in CAPS added by me):
From the first premiss–that whatever begins to exist has a cause–and the second premiss–that the universe began to exist–it follows logically that THE UNIVERSE HAS A CAUSE.  This conclusion ought to stagger us, to fill us with awe, for it means that THE UNIVERSE WAS BROUGHT INTO EXISTENCE BY SOMETHING which is greater than and beyond it.
(Reasonable Faith, p.116)
II. Only the WEAK interpretation of this intermediate conclusion can be validly inferred from the premises (i.e. the premises only imply that there is AT LEAST ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe).
Nothing has changed in the 1994 version of KCA that would make Craig’s syllogism a valid argument for the intermediate conclusion that there is EXACTLY ONE cause of the universe.  It is clear that only the weaker conclusion follows validly (i.e that there is AT LEAST ONE cause of the universe).
III. Craig then shifts to using unambiguous language which assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe.
In the second paragraph of Craig’s wrap up of KCA, he immediately slides into unambiguous language about the quantity of causes of the universe (emphasis added by me):
But what is the nature of THIS FIRST CAUSE? It seems to me quite plausible that IT is a personal being WHO created the universe.   (Reasonable Faith, p.116)
Paragraph 3 starts off with an ambiguous statement of the intermediate conclusion, but then slides into unambigious language assuming that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that is the cause of the universe (emphasis added by me):
Consider the following puzzle: we’ve concluded that the beginning of the universe was the effect of A FIRST CAUSE.  By the nature of the case THAT COSMIC CAUSE cannot have any beginning of ITS existence nor any prior cause.  Nor can there have been any changes in THIS CAUSE, either in ITS nature or operations, prior to the beginning of the universe.  IT just exists changelessly without any beginning, and a finite time ago IT brought the universe into existence.  Now this is exceedingly odd.  THE CAUSE is in some sense eternal and yet the effect which is produced is not eternal… How can THE CAUSE exist without the effect?
(Reasonable Faith, p.116-117)
Craig continues to use the unambigious expression “the cause” in Paragraph 4 (emphasis added by me):
But this seems to imply that if THE CAUSE of the universe existed eternally, the universe would also have existed eternally.  And this we know to be false. (Reasonable Faith, p. 117)
Craig continues to use the unambigious expression “the cause” in Paragraph 5 (emphasis added by me):
One might say that THE CAUSE came to exist or changed in some way just prior to the first event.  But then THE CAUSE’S beginning or changing would be the first event, and we must ask all over again for ITS cause. … The question is: How can a first event come to exist if THE CAUSE of that event exists changelessly and eternally?  Why isn’t the effect as co-eternal as THE CAUSE?  (Reasonable Faith, p. 117)
At the beginning of Paragraph 6, Craig re-iterates the unambigious expression “the cause” (emphasis added by me):
It seems that there is only one way out of this dilemma, and that is to infer that THE CAUSE of the universe is a personal agent WHO chooses to create a universe in time. (Reasonable Faith, p.117)
IV. Finally, Craig urges the identification of the ONE UNCAUSED CAUSE of the universe with God.
In the middle of Paragraph 6, Craig introduces the terms “Creator” and “God” and relates them to the phrase “the cause” (emphasis added by me):
…a finite time ago A CREATOR endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment.  In this way, GOD could exist changelessly and eternally but choose to create the world in time.  By “choose” one need not mean that THE CREATOR changes HIS mind about the decision to create, but that HE freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning.  By exercising HIS causal power, HE therefore brings it about that a world with a beginning comes to exist.  So THE CAUSE is eternal, but the effect is not.  (p.117)
In Paragraph 6, Craig starts out claiming that THE CAUSE of the universe is a personal agent.  He then talks about A CREATOR, then slides into speaking of THE CREATOR, and he refers to THE CREATOR with the singular masculine pronoun HE, and masculine possessive HIS.  Craig also drops the word GOD along the way, but does not explicitly claim that THE CREATOR or THE CAUSE of the universe ought to be identified with GOD.
However, when Craig initially introduces KCA, he implies that the conclusion of KCA is that God exists:
…I find the kalam cosmological argument for a temporal cause of the universe to be one of the most plausible arguments for God’s existence.  (p.92)
So, the reader already knows what the ultimate conclusion of KCA is supposed to be: God exists.
In the next section of Reasonable Faith, Craig goes on to discuss the Fine Tuning argument, but in the very first sentence of that section, Craig refers back to what was supposedly shown by KCA:
The purely philosophical argument for the personhood of THE CAUSE of the origin of the universe receives powerful scientific confirmation from the observed fine-tuning of the universe, which bespeaks intelligent design.
(Reasonable Faith, p.118)
This is very similar to the wording of a conclusion Craig states on p. 117:  “the cause of the universe is a personal agent…”. And it is clear that Craig is suggesting that this ONE cause, this ONE personal agent,  be identified as THE CREATOR of the universe and as GOD.
Thus we see that in 1994, Craig was still commiting the fallacy of equivocation in his presentation of KCA, just as he did in his 1979 presentation of KCA, just as Aquinas did in his presentation of cosmological arguments for God nearly 800 years ago.