bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 10: Evaluation of Reason #9

REVIEW OF ANALYSIS OF REASON #9
In Part 9 of this series, I asserted that  the main argument in  Unapologetic is Reason #9, and I argued that Reason #9 invoved the following assumptions:

5. ANY claim that is based on faith cannot be reasonably defended.

6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.

Premise (5) is a reason in support of premise (6), and premise (6) is a reason in support of premise (1d) in the main argument.
Main Argument – Revision 5:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4a. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

 Premises (1d), (2a), and (3b) work together to form a valid deductive argument for the conclusion (4a).
Here is an argument diagram showing the logic of the main argument in Unapologetic with the conclusion of the argument at the top, and the supporting premises beneath the conclusion (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Reason #9 - Later Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
EVALUATION OF  THE ARGUMENT CONSTITUTING REASON #9
The argument constituting Reason #9 is UNSOUND, because each of the three premises of the argument is FALSE.
 
PREMISE (2a) IS FALSE
The second premise of the main argument in Unapologetic is this:
2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.
It is true that much of what philosophy of religion is concerned with is evaluating the truth (or probability or reasonableness) of “the claims of religion”.  However, it is NOT true that these are the ONLY issues about which philosophy of religion is concerned.
Philosophy of religion is also concerned with “theories of religion” which are often secular or naturalistic in nature.  Karl Marx asserted that “religion is the opium of the people”, and Sigmund Freud asserted that religion was the result of wishful thinking in response to fears about natural forces and death.  Evaluations of such general claims and theories about religion are part of the work of philosophy of religion, but these two secular theories about religion are obviously NOT “the claims of religion”.
Philosophy of religion is also concerned with evaluating views and claims that are opposed to religion and religious beliefs:

  • agnosticism
  • atheism
  • naturalism
  • religious skepticism
  • secular humanism

In examining and evaluating these non-religious or anti-religious ideas, philosophy of religion is NOT directly concerned with evaluating “the claims of religion”.
Also, philosophy of religion is concerned with the clarification of religious concepts:

  • What does the sentence “God exists” mean?
  • What does the word “faith” mean?
  • What does the word “miracle” mean?
  • What does the word “religion” mean?
  • What does the phrase “necessary being” mean?

These words and phrases are related to “the claims of religion”, because in order to understand some of “the claims of religion”, we need to understand the meanings of these words and phrases.  However, analyzing the meaning of a word or phrase related to a claim made by a religion is NOT the same thing as evaluating the truth of “the claims of religion”.
Thus, premise (2a) of the main argument constituting Reason #9 is FALSE, and therefore the main argument in Unapologetic is UNSOUND.
 
PREMISE (3b) IS FALSE
The third premise of the main argument in Unapologetic is this:
3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.
It is true that many of the claims of many religions are accepted by many people “based on faith”.  However, it is NOT true that ALL of the claims of ALL religions are accepted “based on faith”.
There is some unclarity in the concept “based on faith” that needs to be dealt with now.  Being “based on faith” is not an intrinsic or objective property of claims.   Claim X can be accepted by person A “based on faith” while at the same time claim X is accepted by person B based on reason, based on facts and evidence.  Thus, a claim being “based on faith” is RELATIVE TO specific persons (or to specific groups of people), and claims are not in-and-of-themselves “based on faith”.  Even if every human being who has ever lived accepted claim X “based on faith”, it would still be possible that in the future, one human being will one day come to accept claim X based on reasons and evidence.
Some of “the claims of religion” are historical claims.  Christianity claims that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in the first century.  This is an historical claim.  Perhaps it is the case that most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”.  However, because this is an historical claim, it is very likely that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and historical evidence.  In any case, because this is an historical claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are scientific claims.  Christianity claims that all human beings descended from a single pair of humans.  This is a scientific claim, so even if most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is a scientific claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are ethical or moral claims.  Christianity claims that one ought to treat others in the way that one wishes to be treated.  This is a moral claim or principle, and moral principles can be evaluated on the basis of reason, which is what philosophers do in the sub-discipline of ethics.  So, even if most Christians accept this moral principle “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this moral principle on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is an ethical or moral claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are metaphysical claims.   Christianity claims that “God exists”.  This is a metaphysical claim, so even if most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is a metaphysical claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  There is a sub-discipline of philosophy that is focused on evaluation of such claims; it is called  “metaphysics”.  The fact that many or most Christians accept the claim that “God exists” “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
The religion of Christianity, at least, makes historical claims, scientific claims, ethical claims, and metaphysical claims.  Such claims are subject to evaluation by reason, even if most Christians accept these claims “based on faith”. It is nearly certain that some Christians believe some of the claims of the Christian religion based on reason, based on consideration of relevant reasons and evidence.
Premise (3b) appears to be FALSE based strictly on consideration of the Christian religion.   However, this premise makes a generalization that is supposed to apply to ALL religions, not just to Christianity.  So, if we include dozens of other currently practiced religions in the scope of (3b), then it seems very unlikely that ALL of the claims by ALL of the religions are accepted “based on faith” by ALL of the adherents of a given religion.
Buddhism, for example, is very empirical in character.  Buddhism emphasizes careful observation of one’s own behavior and thoughts and feelings as the basis for confirming at least some of the teachings of Buddhism as well as the basis for learning about oneself and how to improve one’s life and one’s character.  Also, the concept of “faith” does not appear to play a central role in Buddhism in the way it does in Christianity.   Perhaps there are some Buddhists beliefs that most Buddhists accept “based on faith”, but it seems rather unlikely that ALL Buddhist beliefs are accepted “based on faith” by ALL adherents of Buddhism, in view of the empirical character of Buddhism and in view of the fact that the concept of “faith” does not appear to play a central role in Buddhist thinking.
Given that there are dozens of religions in the world right now, it seems very improbable that ALL of “the claims”  of ALL of these religions are accepted “based on faith” by ALL of the adherents to those religions (i.e. that all adherents to religion X accept all of the claims of religion X based on faith).  So, premise (3b) appears to be FALSE both in view of what we know about Christianity, and also in view of the fact that there are many different religions, including some that appear not to place much emphasis on belief that is “based on faith”.
I have argued that the two clear definitions of “faith” provided by Loftus are both wrong.  However, even if Loftus failed to correctly analyze the meaning of the word “faith” as it is used in ordinary language, we can reasonably take his proposed definitions as stipulative definitions, as clarifications of what Loftus means when he uses the word “faith”.   So, we should consider interpretations of premise (3b) that are based on the two clear defintions proposed by Loftus:  confirmation bias and irrational trust.
‘Confirmation Bias’ Interpretation:
3b-CB: ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on confirmation bias.
 
‘Irrational Trust’ Interpretation:
3b-IT: ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on irrational trust.
All of the previous objections apply to both of these interpretations of premise (3b).   The Christian religion makes historical claims, scientific claims, ethical claims, and metaphysical claims, and such claims are subject to evaluation by reason.  Since such claims are subject to evaluation by reason, it seems extremely unlikely that ALL Christians accept ALL such claims of Christianity “based on confirmation bias” or “based on irrational trust”.
Since confirmation bias is a widespread human tendency, and since irrational trust is a fairly common human failing, it is likely that many Christians accept many claims of Christianity based on either confirmation bias or irrational trust, but it is almost certain that SOME Christians accept SOME claims of Christianity based on the consideration of relevant reasons and evidence, and not based on confirmation bias or irrational trust.
If we understand the scope of (3b) to include ALL religions, then the claim becomes extremely improbable, based on these interpretations of the phrase “based on faith”, even ignoring the counterexamples from the Christian religion.  So, I conclude that premise (3b) of the main argument in Unapologetic is FALSE, and therefore that the main argument in Unapologetic  is UNSOUND.
Premise (2a) is FALSE because of a mistaken understanding of philosophy of religion, which wrongly narrows the scope of issues in that field to ONLY the evaluation of “the claims of religion”.
Premise (3b) is FALSE because of a failure to understand that being “based on faith” is not an intrinsic or objective property of claims, and because of a HASTY GENERALIZATION from the fact that many or most Christian believers accept most Christian beliefs “based on faith” to the universal generalization that ALL believers of ALL religions accept ALL of the claims made by their respective religions “based on faith”.
Thus, at least two of the premises of the main argument of Unapologetic are FALSE, making this argument UNSOUND.
 
THE REASON GIVEN FOR PREMISE (1d) IS FALSE
Loftus does not just assert premise (1d); he gives a reason in support of this premise:

6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.

THEREFORE:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

Premise (6) is FALSE, and thus it fails to provide support for premise (1d).  The reason why premise (6) is false is because, as I have explained above, being “based on faith” is NOT an intrinsic or objecctive property of claims; a claim can only be “based on faith” for a particular person or group of persons.  Thus, even if every Christian accepted a particular claim X “based on faith”, it might well be possible for claim X to be accepted (or rejected) on the basis of reasons and evidence; it might well be possible to confirm or disconfirm claim X on the basis of reasons and evidence.

If it is possible for a claim to be confirmed or disconfirmed on the basis of reasons and evidence, then it would obviously be REASONABLE to use reason to evaluate that claim.  Therefore, even if a particular claim was accepted by every Christian believer “based on faith”, that claim might well be one that it is reasonable to evaluate based on reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence for and against that claim.

For example, even if every Christian believer accepted the claim “God exists” on the basis of faith, this is still a metaphysical claim which can be evaluated on the basis of reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence for and against this claim.  The fact that some people accept a claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim that is so accepted is beyond hope of being evaluated on the basis of a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence.

Thus, a sub-discipline of philosophy that focused on ONLY claims that SOME PEOPLE have accepted “based on faith” would include in it’s scope many claims that it would be reasonable to evaluate on the basis of reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence.  Therefore, premise (6) is false, and Loftus has failed to provide us with a good reason to believe premise (1d).

Furthermore, given this insight about what it means for a claim to be “based on faith”, it seems fairly clear that (1d) is also FALSE, and therefore we have a third reason for concluding that the main argument of Unapologetic is UNSOUND.

====================

UPDATE  on 01/18/17:

One more example of an important issue in philosophy of religion that goes beyond evaluating “the claims of religion” is this question:

What is the relationship between FAITH and REASON?

Although Christianity presents faith as something that is good and admirable, there is no generally agreed upon view among Christian believers or Christian theologians about the relationship between faith and reason.  Thus, when a Christian believer asserts a specific claim about the relationship between faith and reason, this claim is NOT a claim of the Christian religion, nor is it a claim of any other non-Christian religion.  Therefore, when philosophers of religion use reason to evaluate a particular view of the relationship between faith and reason, they are NOT evaluating one of “the claims of religion”.

Note also that since the issue of the relationship of faith and reason is central to Reason #9, when Loftus supports and defends Reason #9, and when I raise objections to Reason #9, we are both engaging in philosophy of religion.  In fact, the arguments of Loftus and my objections generally concern the relationship of reason and faith, and thus our arguments, both pro and con, are generally concerned with an issue that is a paradigm case of an issue in the philosophy of religion.

Therefore,  the central argument by Loftus in Unapologetic is an argument dealing with a paradigm case of an issue in philosophy of religion.  In addition to being an UNSOUND argument, this argument is self-undermining.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 7: Two Definitions of “Faith”

The Two Main Definitions of “Faith” in Unapologetic
There are seven short statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of the word “faith”.  The definition given in Chapter 1 (p.37) is an incomplete version of the definition given in Chapter 2.  The definition given in Chapter 2 is clear and worthy of serious consideration:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (Unapologetic, Chapter 2, p. 55)
There is no definition of “faith” given in Chapter 3.  The definition in Chapter 4 is unclear because of metaphorical language (“gives believers permission to…”) and it is problematic because of a difficult-to-discern condition (“to pretend what they believe is true”).  The defintion in Chapter 5 is unclear because of use of a metaphorical expression (“an irrational leap over the probabilities”).  The definition given in Chapter 6 is clear (and it is repeated verbatum in Chapter 8, on page 194):
Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, Chapter 6, p.152)
The definition in Chapter 7 is similar to the definition in Chapter 2, but is less detailed, and the key element of this definition can be added to the definition given in Chapter 2 to enhance that definition.
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claim in question.
The two clearest definitions of “faith” given in Unapologetic are the definitions in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 6.
These two definitions can each be summed up in just two words.  The definition in Chapter 2 (and the modified version of it) are clearly definitions of CONFIRMATION BIAS.  So, the Chapter 2 definition can be summarized like this:
FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS
Three different categories of trust are referenced by the definition in Chapter 6:

  • unevidenced trust
  • misplaced trust
  • irrational trust

I have argued that “unividenced trust” is insignificant because it is rare, and I have argued that “misplaced trust” is sometimes unavoidable, because the evidence available to a specific person is sometimes misleading, and because some people are skilled at deceiving others, so that even a serious effort to trust others based on objective evaluation of evidence will sometimes fail to uncover an untrustworthy person.
What matters in terms of “misplaced trust” is when such bad trusting is the result of “irrational trust”, when one ignores or downplays significant evidence indicating that a person (or thing) is unworthy of trust.  So, in the end, the key element of the definition in Chapter 6 is just ONE of the three kinds of bad trusting:
FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST
 
At Least One of These Two Definitions is WRONG
Clearly  CONFIRMATION BIAS is something different from IRRATIONAL TRUST.  So, at least one of these two definitions of “faith” must be wrong.  CONFIRMATION BIAS is a type of cognitive bias, but IRRATIONAL TRUST is not a type of cognitive bias.  IRRATIONAL TRUST is an attitude of a person towards another person or thing, but CONFIRMATION BIAS is not an attitude of a person towards another person or thing.  Therefore CONFIRMATION BIAS is something different than IRRATIONAL TRUST.  These two definitions disagree about the genus of faith; they disagree about what kind of thing “faith” is:

  • If  FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS, then it is NOT the case that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
  • If FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST, then it is NOT the case that FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS.

Since the two clearest definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic disagree about the genus of faith, and because they equate “faith” with two differnt and distinct phenomena,  at least one of these two definitions must be wrong, mistaken, incorrect.  So, the meaning of the most important concept in Unapologetic is unclear, because the two clearest definitions of “faith” provided in Unapologetic disagree with each other.
 
Both of These Two Definitions are WRONG
 
Faith is Not CONFIRMATION BIAS
I have previously indicated two reasons why FAITH does not mean CONFIRMATION BIAS.
First, the term CONFIRMATION BIAS was invented in the second half of the 20th century, and it is a term of scientific psychology. But the word FAITH has been a part of the English language for over six centuries, so it is unlikely that the word FAITH would just happen to have the same meaning as a recently invented scientific term.
Second, the word FAITH is closely associated with religion and religious belief.  Paradigm cases of FAITH are “faith in God”, “faith in Jesus”, and “faith in the Bible”.  The scientific term CONFIRMATION BIAS has no such association with religion or religious belief. CONFIRMATION BIAS infects the thinking of humans about nearly every subject imaginable:  history, politics, ethics, biology, medicine, finances, economics, government, law, personal relationships, child rearing, problem solving, planning, policy making, elections, decision making, etc.  Furthermore, CONFIRMATION BIAS has widspread and frequent influence on the thinking of non-religious people, just as it also has widespread and frequent influence on the thinking of religious people.
Third, the word FAITH is a word in the English language, and the English language has been significantly influenced by the Christian religion, and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are a central and important aspect of the Christian religion, and Jesus uses the word “faith” (in English translations of the Gospels) in a way that does NOT correspond to the term CONFIRMATION BIAS:
Matthew 16:5-12 New Revised Standard Version
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.
6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
7 They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.”
8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread?
9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”
12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jesus is scolding his disciples for not having a proper amount of FAITH, for not trusting that God would provide them with enough food to carry out their divine mission.  Jesus points out that they have personally witnessed at least two different miracles on different occassions where God provided them and thousands of other people with plenty of food.  In other words, Jesus is saying that they ought to have greater trust in God being willing and able to provide them with food, based on the powerful evidence of directly observing at least two different miracles where God had provided food for thousands of people.
Clearly,  Jesus is NOT advocating that his disciples believe that God is willing and able to provide them with food in the face of powerful evidence against this assumption; rather Jesus is advocating that he disciples ought to have a firm belief that God is willing and able to provide them with food, given that they have personally experienced at least two miracles where God provided food for them and thousands of other people. Jesus was clearly NOT advocating CONFIRMATION BIAS to his disciples, but was, rather, advocating that they have firm belief or trust in God on the basis of strong evidence for this belief.
Of course,  I don’t believe that any such miracles of feeding actually took place, and I’m not entirely convinced that Jesus is more than just a fictional character in a mostly fictional story told by the authors of the Gospels.  However, such skeptical views about the historicity of the Gospels and about Jesus, are irrelevant to understanding the meaning of the word FAITH as it is used in this particular Gospel story.  Clearly,  the Jesus who is speaking (whether fictional or historical) believes that his disciples have witnessed at least two miracles where God provided food for thousands of people.  Clearly, this Jesus believes that this powerful empirical evidence can be the basis or ground for FAITH or firm trust in God, particularly trust that God is willing and able to provide Jesus and his disciples with enough food to eat.
When Jesus speaks of FAITH in the above passage it is clear that Jesus does NOT mean CONFIRMATION BIAS.
 
Faith is Not IRRATIONAL TRUST
First, the word FAITH is closely associated with religion and religious belief.  Paradigm cases of FAITH are “faith in God”, “faith in Jesus”, and “faith in the Bible”.  The phrase IRRATIONAL TRUST has no such association with religion or religious belief. IRRATIONAL TRUST infects the thinking of humans about people, animals, machines, foods, medicines, etc.  It is not limited to trust in God or trust in Jesus, or trust in spirits or angels.  Furthermore, IRRATIONAL TRUST has widspread and frequent influence on the thinking and behavior of non-religious people, just as it also has widespread and frequent influence on the thinking and behavior of religious people.
Second, the expression “blind faith” would be redundant, if FAITH meant IRRATIONAL TRUST.  “Blind” faith implies belief or trust that ignores relevant evidence, especially evidence that the object of trust is unworthy of trust.  So, the word “blind” implies IRRATIONAL, when it is used as a modifier of the word FAITH. Thus “blind faith” means IRRATIONAL FAITH.  So, if FAITH means IRRATIONAL TRUST, then “blind faith” means IRRATIONAL TRUST that is IRRATIONAL.  But in that case the word “blind” is completely redundant and adds nothing to what was already contained in the concept of FAITH.  This is a good reason to doubt the view that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
Third, although FAITH is closely associated with religion, we can also speak of “faith in science”, and “faith in reason”, and “faith in democracy”.   Although such FAITH could in some cases be IRRATIONAL TRUST, it is generally reasonable and rational to have “faith in science”, “faith in reason”, and “faith in democracy”,  so in these non-religious uses of the word “faith”  it is wrong to assume that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
Fourth, the word FAITH is a word in the English language, and the English language has been significantly influenced by the Christian religion, and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are a central and important aspect of the Christian religion, and Jesus uses the word “faith” (in English translations of the Gospels) in a way that does NOT correspond to the phrase  IRRATIONAL TRUST. (see the discussion of the Gospel passage above).  When Jesus speaks of FAITH in Matthew 16:5-12,  it is clear that Jesus does NOT mean IRRATIONAL TRUST.
 
Could Each of These Definitions be Partially True?
We could make use of the distinction between product and process to combine the two definitions:
FAITH =
IRRATIONAL TRUST that was produced by CONFIRMATION BIAS
Although this is an interesting concept, it is highly problematic as a definition of “faith”, because most, if not all, of the above objections to the two clear definitions of “faith” provided by Loftus apply to this definition.  Furthermore, this definition increases the problem of the significance of “faith” by reducing the scope of phenomena included under the concept of “faith”.
I agree that CONFIRMATION BIAS is a bad thing.   I agree that IRRATIONAL TRUST is a bad thing.  But in each case, it seems to me that to make a crusade that is worth joining, these targets seem a bit too small.  Why not fight against ALL forms of cognitive bias?  Why only focus on CONFIRMATION BIAS?  Why not fight against ALL forms of irrationality?  Why only focus on IRRATIONAL TRUST?  The target of Mr. Loftus’ crusade seems a bit skimpy already, but if we combine the two definitions, then the dragon to be slayed shrinks down to the size of a small dog or large rodent (perhaps a ROUS – Rodent Of Unusual Size). Not only are we to focus narrowly on IRRATIONAL TRUST, but we are to ignore all instances of IRRATIONAL TRUST that are not produced by the specific mechanisms of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
If the scope of the crusade is pared down to a fight against only a modest slice of instances of IRRATIONAL TRUST, then I’m not willing to join this crusade.  It might be realistic to tackle this fairly narrow slice of human IRRATIONALITY, but I think more than this is needed to justify a crusade.  Furthermore, the combined definition, like the two original definitions, has no close relationship to religion or religious belief.  This slice of IRRATIONAL TRUST is one that infects and impacts the thinking and actions of non-religious people and thinking about non-religious issues about as much as it infects and impacts the thinking and actions of religious people and thinking about religious issues.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 5: The Meaning of “Faith”

The Beating Heart of Unapologetic
The heart of the book Unapologetic is Chapter 5:  “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”, and the heart of Chapter 5 is the Ten Reasons that Loftus gives for this conclusion (in the subsection of Chapter 5  titled “Why Philosophy of Relgion Must End,” on pages 131-135), and the heart of the Ten Reasons is in Reason #9 (on page 135).  And at the heart of the argument given as Reason #9 is this premise:
…faith-based reasoning must end.  (Unapologetic, p.135)
It is not an overstatement to say that Mr. Loftus is a crusader against faith, and that this book is a part of his crusade against faith.  This is made clear from the start of the book, beginning with the Introduction:
Philosophy of religion must end because there is no truth to religion.  Religion must end because it isn’t based on evidence, but rather on faith.  Faith must end because it is the antithesis of an intellectual virtue.  Faith has no objective method and solves no problems.  Faith-based belief processes are unreliable.  Faith cannot tell us anything about matters of fact like the nature of nature, its workings, or even its origins.  If faith is trust then there is no reason to trust faith.  (Unapologetic, p.13, emphasis added)
The dividing line is between atheist philosophers who think faith has some epistemic warrant and those who don’t.  I don’t.  Faith has no method, solves no problems, and is an utterly unreliable guide for knowing anything objective about the nature of nature.  (Unapologetic, p.14-15, emphasis added)
There is further confirmation in Chapter 1 (“My Intellectual Journey”) that the dragon Mr. Loftus wants to slay is “faith”.  In Chapter 1 we learn that Loftus did not invent this crusade himself, but joined in an already existing crusade against faith led by Peter Boghossian:
Boghossian first got my attention a year before I read his provocatively titled book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.  I first heard of him when a talk he gave titled “Faith Based Belief Processes are Unreliable” hit the web in April 2012.  He began by critically examining several paranormal beliefs where faith was shown to be unreliable for gaining knowledge. …he said, “We are forced to conclude that a tremendous number of people are delusional.  There is no other conclusion that one can draw.”  …[and] he said, “The most charitable thing we can say about faith is that it’s likely to be false.”  He had a way of putting things that resonated with me.  Faith itself is the problem.  (Unapologetic, p.32, emphasis added)
Before I, or any person who is a critical thinker (i.e. who “sits at the adult table”) chooses to join Loftus in his crusade against “faith”, we need to have a very clear understanding of what Loftus means by the word “faith”.
Rush Limbaugh’s Crusade Against “Liberalism” 
Rush Limbaugh is undeniably on a crusade against “liberalism”.  But before I, or any person who is a critical thinker (i.e. who “sits at the adult table”) chooses to join Limbaugh in this crusade, we need to understand what Limbaugh means by “liberalism”.
I think that Limbaugh has no clue what the word “liberalism” means.  This word is just an unclear insult that Limbaugh casts upon any person or any law or any policy or any program that Rush Limbaugh happens to dislike.
If Limbaugh dislikes X this week, then X becomes a “liberal” policy or program or person.  If Limbaugh changes his mind, and decides that he likes X next week, then X will cease to be a “liberal” policy or program or person, and it will magically and instananeously become a “conservative” policy or program or person.  So, one ought NOT to join Limbaugh in his crusade against “liberalism” because that would simply mean joining a crusade against whatever it is that Limbaugh happens to dislike this week.
One ought NOT to join a crusade against “liberalism” unless and until one has a reasonable and clear idea of what the word “liberalism” actually means.  Similarly, one ought NOT to join a crusade against “faith” unless and until one has a reasonable and clear idea of what the word “faith” means.  Otherwise, we might well end up on a crusade against whatever it is that Loftus or Boghossian happen to dislike this week.
There is nothing wrong or unreasonable about joining a crusade against something, but there is something highly unreasonable about joining a crusade against “X” when we have no clear idea of what “X” means.  Those of us who “sit at the adult table” do NOT join crusades without first being very clear about the purpose of the crusade.
I Was Wrong
In Part 4 of this series I admitted that I was wrong in making the following criticism (in Part 3 of this series) of Loftus’ book Unapologetic:
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.
This statement is incorrect and unfair to Loftus, especially in relation to the meaning of the key word “faith”.  On closer examination, Loftus makes several statements in Unapologetic which appear to be brief definitions of the word “faith”, and some, though not all, of those definitions are fairly clear.
I have now read the Introduction, and Chapters 1 though 8 of Unapologetic.  I don’t plan on reading Chapter 9, because the title of that Chapter (“On Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire”) indicates that it is not relevant to the main question at issue (and that it assumes one has accepted Loftus’ point of view about faith and is willing to join his anti-faith crusade).
I have found statements that appear to be brief definitions of “faith” in each of the eight chapters that I read, except for Chapter 3.  There is some redundance and overlap between these statements, so the seven definition-like statements do not represent seven different definitions.  My view is that there are two main definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic that are worthy of serious consideration, and these two defintions are both stated more than once in the book.
Loftus NEVER says “Here is my definition of ‘faith’…” or “Here is how I define ‘faith’…” or “This is a good definition of ‘faith’…” or anything that clearly identifies a statement about faith as being a definition of faith.  The closest he ever comes to being clear about the nature of these statements is in Chapter 4, where he begins a statement about faith with these words:
 I consider faith to be…  (Unapologetic, p.92).
So, Loftus has given himself a degree of “plausible deniability” by failing to label any of his statements about faith as recommended definitions of “faith”.
But because it is so obviously idiotic to lead a crusade against “faith” without providing a clear definition of what the word “faith” means (that would be something that an idiot like Rush Limbaugh would do), I think it is fair to assume that the definition-like statements that Loftus makes about “faith” in his book Unapologetic are in fact recommended defintions of the word.  I am going to assume (for now at least) that Loftus belongs “at the adult table” with the rest of us critical thinkers, and thus that he did in fact provide at least one or two recommended defintions of “faith” in his book Unapologetic.
Definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic
Below are the seven passages that appear to contain brief definitions of the word “faith”.  The statements in red font are what I take to be the primary defintions, the definitions worthy of serious consideration.  The phrase “cognitive bias” appears in blue font to show how often it appears in (or near) these apparent definitions:
Chapter 1:  
Faith adds nothing to the probabilities.  It has no method and solves no problems.  If faith is trust we should not trust faith.  It’s a cognitive bias keeping believers away from objectively understanding the truth.  (Unapologetic, p.37, emphasis added)
Chapter 2:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (Unapologetic, p. 55, emphasis added)
Chapter 4:
…faith is always about that which lacks sufficient evidence or even no evidence at all.  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, emphasis added)
Chapter 5:
Just consider what’s wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses….  Faith.  The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.  If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities by proportioning their belief to the evidence (per David Hume), they would not believe at all.  (Unapologetic, p.125, emphasis added)
Chapter 6:
Faith should one day be labeled a cognitive bias.  It keeps one’s cognitive faculties from functioning properly.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.152, emphasis added)
Chapter 7:
 Because faith requires special pleading and so many other informal fallacies, I can say faith itself is a fallacy.  It’s certainly a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the probabilities on behalf of faith. (Unapologetic, p.169, emphasis added)
Chapter 8:
 I take David Hume’s principle as axiomatic, that the wise person should proportion his or her conclusions to the available evidence.  Going beyond the probabilities of the evidence is unreasonable.  That’s what faith does when we embrace it.  Faith takes believers beyond the probabilities.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.194, emphasis added)
The definition of “faith” from Chapter 1 is defective because it is a genus/species defintion, that is incomplete, because it fails to spell out the species part of the definition.  The genus of “faith” is “a cognitive bias”, according to this definition, while the species portion of this defintion states that this particular cognitive bias keeps people “away from objectively understanding the truth”.  Both parts of the definition are fairly clear, but the species part is redundant and adds nothing to the definition.
ALL cognitive biases keep people “away from objectively understanding the truth”–that is simply an implication of what it means to be a “cognitive bias”.  The second part of the definition is true or correct, but uninformative; it fails to specify a particular TYPE of cognitive bias, because it states something that is true of any and every cognitive bias.  So, this definition is not worthy of any further serious consideration.
The defintion of “faith” given in Chapter 2 is also a genus/species defintion, and both genus and species parts of the definition appear to be fairly clear.  Furthermore, the species part of the definition properly distinguishes one TYPE of cognitive bias from other cognitive biases.  So, this definition, unlike the one in Chapter 1, is worthy of further serious consideration.  Furthermore, although Loftus does not repeat this definition verbatum, he does provide a definition in Chapter 7 that is very similar:
It’s certainly a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the probabilities on behalf of faith. (Unapologetic, p.169)
This partial repitition of the definition in Chapter 2 indicates that this is an important definition to Loftus.  The definition in Chapter 7, however, is not as good as the one in Chapter 2, because the defintion in Chapter two  (a) is more specific about HOW “the probabilities” get overestimated, and (b) does not use the word “faith” as part of the definition of the word “faith” (which is a violation of a basic principle of Critical Thinking, and is thus unworthy of consideration by those who are sitting at the adult table).  So, I will focus my attention on the definition in Chapter 2, and ignore the similar definition given in Chapter 7.
The definition in Chapter 4 reinforces the idea that the genus of faith is, for Loftus, a “cognitive bias”, but the rest of this defintion is problematic:
…that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true…
The phrase “giving permission” is metaphorical, and is thus a problematic expression to use in a definition statement, and the whole idea of “pretending what they believe is true” is unclear and problematic.  It might well be the case that people sometimes  “pretend what they believe is true”  but this is, in most cases, a difficult sort of thing to identify and verify, so this seems like a bad criterion to use in a definition of a key concept.  Other definitions provided by Loftus do not involve such tricky and difficult to identify and verify characteristics.  So, I’m going to ignore this definition in Chapter 4.
The definition in Chapter 5 is also problematic because it makes use of metaphorical language: “leap over the probabilities”.  Also, the definition in Chapter 7 already links “faith” to “probabilities” in a clearer way.
Since the definition in Chapter 7 is very similar to the definition in Chapter 2, I can borrow the concept of “overestimates the probabilities” from the definition in Chapter 7, and use it to modify the definition in Chapter 2, so that one definition that I seriously examine will explicitly relate “faith” to estimation of “probabilities”:
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claim in question.
This modified version of the Chapter 2  definition of “faith” combines key elements of that definition with a key element of the definition in Chapter 7, and it also gets at the intention behind the definition of “faith” in Chapter 5, while avoiding the unclear and problematic language used in the Chapter 5 definition.
The definition in Chapter 6 seems to be a significant departure from the definition in Chapter 2, and it seems to be a fairly clear defintion which does not make use of metaphorical or problematic language.  Furthermore,  Loftus repeats this definition verbatim in Chapter 8, so it is clearly an important defintion to Loftus.  For these reasons, I plan to give some serious consideration to the definition of “faith” from Chapter 6:
Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.152)
I have already indicated some problems with the defintion of “faith” given in Chapter 7, and I have already incorporated a key idea from the definition in Chapter 7 into the definition given in Chapter 2, so I will not be giving separate consideration to the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 7.
The brief one-sentence definition of “faith” given in Chapter 8 is identical to the definition given in Chapter 6, so I will only use the passage containing this definition in Chapter 8 for background or context, in order to further clarify the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 6, if there is a need to clarify that definition further.
The Modified Definition of “faith” from Chapter 2
The definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 is fairly clear, as is my modified verion of this definition, which borrows a key element from the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 7.  There are no metaphorical expressions in the Chapter 2 definition, nor in the modified version of that definition:
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claims in question.
Metaphorical language is NOT appropriate for definitions of key words and phrases that are used in philosophical arguments.  Metaphorical language is fine if one is writing a poem, or a song, or a novel, or a speech, but metaphorical language tends to be “rich” and thus vague and/or ambiguous, so one should avoid using metaphorical expressions in definitions of key words and phrases whenever possible. Those of us who sit at the adult table try to avoid using metaphorical expressions when we define key words and phrases that are used in philosophical arguments.
I understand that Loftus did not write Unapologetic only for professional philosophers, so the use of metaphorical expressions here and there can be justified as useful for purposes of persuasion and style, but the use of metaphorical expressions in definitions of key words also provides a good reason for rejecting those defintions, or at least a good reason for preferring other defintions that avoid the use of metaphorical expressions.
The definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 and the modified version of that definition are, in a way, too clear.  I say that because, they are clear enough to make it easy to identify these as being definitions of ANOTHER concept, a very important concept in the theory of critical thinking and in the field of informal logic, namely:  CONFIRMATION BIAS.
CONFIRMATION BIAS is a cognitive bias that causes PEOPLE to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence [for claims that they believe], which in turn results in PEOPLE overestimating the probability of the claims in question.
If we take Loftus definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 seriously (and assume that he belongs at the adult table), or if we take the modified version of that definition (which incorporates a key element from the defintion in Chapter 7) seriously, then a very imporant implication follows:
FAITH simply IS the same thing as CONFIRMATION BIAS
This implication has both positive and negative aspects, from Loftus’ point of view.  Here are some of the positive aspects of this implication:

  • The definition of “faith” proposed in Chapter 2 is not only clear, but it can be made even clearer in view of the scientific study of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • I and many other atheists and skeptics would gladly join a crusade to fight against the evil of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • There is a good deal of existing scientific data, research, and theory that already exists about CONFIRMATION BIAS, so our understanding of this evil can be significantly enhanced by lots of empirical data, scientific studies, and scientific theories.

But from Loftus’ point of view, this implication also has some negative aspects:

  • How is it that a word that has been used for many centuries (i.e. “faith”)* happens to have the very same meaning as a term that was invented by a modern scientific psychologist in the second half of the 20th century  (in about 1960)? This casts doubt on the correctness of Loftus’ definition of “faith” in Chapter 2):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Cathcart_Wason#Early_studies
  • Given that the dragon that Loftus wants to slay is CONFIRMATION BIAS, isn’t it foolish to drag the unclear and controversial word “faith” into the fray?  The use of the word “faith” as the target of attack creates all kinds of political and social and psychological resistance and backlash, which is completely unnecessary if what we are fighting against is simply CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • CONFIRMATION BIAS is a universal human problem;  it is not a problem isolated to Christians, nor to religious believers.  Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, marxists, communists, and your run-of-the-mill “nones” (non-religious people who may not identify themselves as atheists or agnostics or skeptics) ALL suffer from this cognitive bias.  If all of the religious people in the world vanished into thin air tonight at midnight, then tomorrow morning the world would still be populated by people who have serious intellectual deficiencies due to CONFIRMATION BIAS.  Religion is (at most) a symptom of the evil of CONFIRMATION BIAS,  not the primary cause of it.  The problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS is a universal human problem.

To be continued…
===========================================
* The word “faith” (spelled as “feith”) appears in the first English translation of the New Testament, which was a hand-written manuscript created by John Wycliffe in about 1378, more than six centuries ago…
1378 Wycliffe New Testament: First Printed Edition (1731) Facsimile Reproduction
“The very first translation of the scriptures into the English Language was done in the 1380’s by John Wycliffe, who is called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”. Because he lived nearly a century before the 1455 invention of the printing press, his New Testaments and Bibles were of course, hand-written manuscripts. Wycliffe is also credited with being the inventor of bifocal eyeglasses (necessity being the mother of invention), though history tends to more frequently credit Ben Franklin with improving upon Wycliffe’s invention of bifocals.”
“Wycliffe’s hand-written manuscripts of the English scriptures are very challenging to read, but being the very first English scripture translation (albeit a translation from the Latin, and not the original Biblical languages), the Wycliffe translation is extremely historically important. For this reason, in the 1731, a reprint of Wycliffe’s circa 1378 manuscript was produced in modern easier-to-read type. It preserves the original Middle-English spellings and wordings 100% faithfully, but it simply makes the text easier to read by rendering the text as typeface, rather than being hand-written.”
http://greatsite.com/facsimile-reproductions/wycliffe-1731.html
Here is the Wycliffe’s translation of  the opening verses of 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, which includes the word “feith” in verse 9 (click on image below for a clearer view of the text):
The word FAITH in 1 Cor 12
 
 
 
 
 

bookmark_borderTheists Can Always Deny the Evidence

One of the cool tricks you can use to check yourself for confirmation bias is to try swapping roles with someone who holds a contrary opinion.
For example, suppose I wrote the following:

One of the things that an atheist must never forget when speaking with a theist, and especially when speaking with a theist who intones the ridiculous meme that “There are no honest atheists”, is that the theist can always deny, quite literally, any evidence against God’s His existence, for the theist, if he is willing to do so, can embrace credulity which is so indiscriminate and/or embrace any sectarian doctrine no matter how preposterous that even if we somehow had, say, DNA evidence that bones belonging to Jesus Christ Himself had been found in a grave, the theist could claim that he had just gone mad, or that it was just Satan playing a trick, or that non-Christians had fabricated the evidence, and so on (not to mention that the theist would also likely claim that the physical evidence of Jesus’ non-resurrection can’t compete with his experience of the ‘inner witness of the Holy Spirit’), all of which simply goes to show that the determined theist can freely choose to believe that God exists (or that God resurrected Jesus from the dead) no matter how much empirical evidence there is against it; now all of this is not to say that all theists are like this, or that such theists who are like the aforementioned ones are reasonable (for they are not), but noting the above fact 1) does help to explain why theists continue to believe what they believe in spite of the evidence against it, and 2) the above fact also shows that the so-called “Rebellion Thesis” — the idea that there are no honest atheists, just people who profess to be atheists because they are in rebellion against God — is at least partially overblown given the fact that even if such evidence is made apparent to them (and a good case can be made that it is), theists would nevertheless still claim that “There are no honest atheists,” so either way, no quantity of evidence could convince such pig-headedness freely…and as a side-note, and in keeping with the theme articulated in this particular thought, I have often wondered whether, at death, and at the judgement that follows, if God exists but Christianity is false, certain Christians will still be claiming that everything their inner witness of the Holy Spirit tells them that what is happening must not be real, or the work of Satan, and it would not be surprising if some did.

One could easily ‘invert’ this into something a Christian could write:

One of the things that a believer must never forget when speaking with an atheist, and especially when speaking with an atheist who intones the ridiculous meme that “There is no evidence for God”, is that the atheist can always deny, quite literally, any evidence that God could provide for His existence, for the atheist, if he is willing to do so, can embrace a skepticism which is so hyper-selective and/or embrace any other naturalistic explanation no matter how preposterous that even if Jesus Christ Himself returned tomorrow riding on clouds of lightening, the atheist could claim that he had just gone mad, or that it was just an advanced alien playing a trick, or that it was a mass hallucination, or that strange things happen in a multiverse, and so on (not to mention that the atheist would also likely claim that the miracle was not big enough to base his belief off of), all of which simply goes to show that even an omnipotent God, by definition, could not cause someone to freely come to believe in His existence no matter how much empirical evidence He provided for it; now all of this is not to say that all atheists are like this, or that such atheists who are like the aforementioned ones are reasonable (for they are not), but noting the above fact 1) does help to explain why God does not perform the various circus-tricks that atheists ask Him to perform before they claim they will “believe” in Him, for there is little point to do so given that God knows that even if He did so, many atheists would continue denying His existence, and 2) the above fact also shows that the so-called problem of divine hiddenness is at least partially overblown given the fact that even if God were not hidden and readily apparent (and a good case can be made that He is), atheists would nevertheless still claim that God was somehow hidden, so either way, God could not convince such pig-headedness freely…and as a side-note, and in keeping with the theme articulated in this particular thought, I have often wondered whether, at death, and at the judgement that follows, certain atheists will still be claiming that everything they see and hear is a hallucination, or dream, or strange multiverse occurrence, and it would not be surprising if some did.

For the avoidance of doubt, I reject both polemics. It seems to me that one can sincerely believe that God exists, that God does not exist, or be unsure.
More important, while one can always find ways to avoid the conclusions of an argument, doing so may come at a cost for some arguments. The key question is whether there any knock-down arguments (or experiences) which settle the matter so decisively that it is fair to paint one’s opponents as uncharitably as these polemics do. I think neither the best atheists nor the best theists can be so easily dismissed.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 1

The overarching question for my ten-year plan is:
Is Christianity true or false?
After I clarify this overarching question, the first major question to investigate is this:
Does God exist?
I will, of course, at some point need to address the traditional arguments for the existence of God (ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments).  But I want my investigation to be systematic, and to avoid the problem of BIAS in the selection of arguments and evidence to be considered, especially to avoid the problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS (which is a common problem with Christian apologetics, including Richard Swinburne’s otherwise very careful case for God).
Here are some thoughts on how to approach this investigation:
FIRST, I will need to analyze the meaning of the sentence “God exists”.  I will probably follow Swinburne and analyze this sentence in terms of criteria, but then advocate, as Swinburne did, using a necessary and sufficient conditions definition instead of the criterial definition.
SECOND, following Swinburne, I will determine whether the sentence “God exists” is used to make a coherent statement.
If I determine that the statement “God exists” is incoherent, then that settles the issue:
One should reject the assertion that “God exists” because this sentence does NOT make a coherent statement.
Coherence is connected to logical possibility, so one way of analyzing the question “Does God exist?” is in terms of logical possibility and logical necessity and certainty and probability (click on image below for a clearer view of the diagram) :
Does God Exist - 1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I believe, however, that the sentence “God exists” can be used to assert a coherent statement, if one makes a few significant revisions to the concept of “God”, along the lines that Swinburne has suggested, with a couple of other revisions.  So, I expect that I will determine that some traditional conceptions of God make the sentence “God exists” incoherent, while with a few significant changes, a concept of God that is similar to the traditional conceptions will allow the investigation to continue beyond this initial question of coherence.
THIRD, there are various alleged ways of knowing or having a justified belief that “God exists”, which need to be considered:
1. Innate Knowledge
2. Religious Experience/Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit
3. Deductive Arguments for (and against) the existence of God
4. Non-Deductive Arguments for (and against) the existence of God
In terms of deductive arguments, I initially thought that it is possible that the issue could potentially be settled at that stage, if there were sound deductive arguments for the existence of God or against the existence of God.  But on reflection, I don’t think that is correct.
First of all, it is possible that there will SEEM to be sound arguments for the existence of God AND sound arguments against the existence of God.  If I identify any such arguments, then I would, obviously, focus some time and effort on trying to weed out one or more of these arguments as merely SEEMING to be sound, but not actually being sound.  But it is possible that I will end up with what SEEM to be sound arguments on both sides, in which case deductive arguments will NOT resolve the question at issue.
Furthermore, even if I find sound deductive arguments only for one position, say for the existence of God, and do not find sound arguments for the opposite position (say, for the non-existence of God), this still probably will NOT settle the issue.  The problem is that one or more premises in the sound argument(s) is likely to be less than absolutely certain.
Philosophical arguments for and against God usually involve some abstract principles, like the Principle of Sufficient Reason.  While some such premise might seem to be true, it is unlikley that a reasonable and objective thinker will arrive at the conclusion that such a premise is certain.  Because there is likely to be a degree of uncertainty about the truth of one or more premises in any deductive argument for or against the existence of God, the identification of one or more apparently sound deductive arguments will probably not settle the issue, even if all of the sound arguments support one side (theism or atheism).
So, it seems very unlikely that one can avoid examining evidence for and against the existence of God, evidence which only makes the existence of God probable to some degree or improbable to some degreee.  Furthermore, non-deductive arguments or cases can be quite strong.  If you have enough evidence of the right kinds, you can persuade a jury to send a person to his or her death for the crime of murder.  Sometimes, if the evidence is plentiful and the case is strong, a jury will return a verdict of “guilty” for first-degree murder in short order, without any significant wrangling or hesitation by the jurors.  Evidence can sometimes justify certainty or something very close to certainty.
If sound deductive arguments can fall short of making their conclusions certain, and if non-deductive reasoning from evidence can sometimes make a conclusion certain or nearly certain, then it would be foolish to fail to consider both sorts of arguments for and against the existence of God, even if we find some sound deductive arguments only for one side of this issue, and no sound deductive arguments for the other side.  Evidence and relevant non-deductive arguments/cases would still need to be considered.
Another possible way to analyze the question “Does God exist?” is in terms of the traditional roles that God plays:
Q1.  Is there a creator of the universe?
Q2.  Is there a ruler of the universe?
Q3. Assuming there is a creator of the universe and a ruler of the universe, are these the same person?
Q4. Has this person revealed himself/herself to humans through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings?
The first three questions are sufficient to determine whether “God exists” is true, so the fourth question is a bonus question that allows for a distinction between what I call “religious theism” and “philosophical theism”.
It seems to me that a very basic and important question to ask about God’s character is whether God has attempted to reveal himself/herself to humans.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all agree that God has attempted to reveal himself through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings, and this is a very basic and important belief in these western theistic religions.  So, this traditional view of God can be called “religious theism”.  But one could believe in the existence of God without buying into the idea that God has revealed himself through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings.  I call such a stripped-down version of theism”philosophical theism”.
Here is a diagram that spells out this way of approaching the question “Does God exist?” (click on the image to see a clearer version of the chart):
Does God Exist - 2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I have in mind, by the way,  time frames for each of the above questions:
Q1*.  Did a bodiless person create the universe about 14 billion years ago?
Q2*.  Has an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good person been in control of every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more)?
Q3*.  Did a bodiless person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, create the universe about 14 billion years ago, and then procede to control every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more)?
Q4*.  Did a bodiless person who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, create the universe about 14 billion years ago, and then procede to control every event in the universe for the past 10 billion years (or more), and then in the past 10,000 years reveal himself/herself to humans through miracles, prophets, and inspired writings?
I believe that Jeff Lowder’s approach to the question “Does God exist?” involves general categories of evidence, which he then examines for both evidence that supports the existence of God and evidence that goes against the existence of God.  This is somewhat similar to Swinburne’s approach, which starts out looking at evidence concerning the physical universe, then looks at evidence concerning evolution of human bodies, then evidence concerning human minds and morality, then evidence concerning human history, then religious experience.  But Jeff is more systematic in covering broad categories of evidence and more objective in looking for evidence supporting either side of the issue.
If you have another systematic approach to answering the question “Does God exist?”  I would be interested to hear about it.

bookmark_borderOn Atheism and Brightness

I’m often told that atheists are really smart when it comes to religion. Then I read their replies to moral arguments for God’s existence and cry out, “WTF?”
Take this argument:

If no G, then no O.
But O.
Therefore, G.

Why the f&*^ would anyone think it’s even relevant to bring up X, Y, or Z?!?!?
Unlike some religious apologists, I don’t believe the explanation is either (1) atheists are willfully repressing the truth of God’s existence, or (2) atheists are stupid. Rather, my hypothesis is this: many atheists are so confident in their atheism that they have an extreme case of confirmation bias & don’t even take the argument seriously enough to use their brains and bother understanding it.
I could post numerous examples, but it’s really too depressing to go find them.