bookmark_borderIs It Completely Unfair for Dawkins to Equate “Faith” with “Blind Trust”?

While going through some old files, I discovered this passage at the end of a book review. The book being reviewed was Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life by Alister McGrath. The reviewer was Paul Pardi, a philosopher at Seattle Pacific University. Here is what Pardi wrote:

“I also have one technical contention to make with McGrath on the topic of faith as blind trust. In taking Dawkins to task on this point, McGrath does not seem to account for the fideist tradition and the impact it has had particularly on modem evangelicalism. Perhaps the reason is that the phenomenon is a North American one. However, I have been a part of evangelical churches in North America where the idea that faith not only is blind and irrational but should be is a view held by many lay evangelicals. In the view of this writer, Dawkins’ criticism on this front does have a target and is not without merit. Evangelical philosophy has its work cut out for it on this front; and until the life of the mind again is a priority, the Dawkinses of the world will have plenty to caricature.”

Paul Pardi, Philosophia Christi 8:2 (2006), 514-517 at 517
If what Pardi writes is true, however, then it seems to me that one cannot simply dismiss the notion of “faith as blind trust” as merely a “caricature.” It may be a caricature in the sense that a correct interpretation of the Bible does not support it. It may also be a caricature in the sense that so-called “mainline” churches do not hold to it. But it it is not a caricature in the sense that “many lay Evangelicals” hold the view. Or, to put the point another way, it may be the case that, in theory, faith does not mean blind trust but, in practice, for many Christians faith does mean blind trust.
If I were going to write anything about the relationship between faith and reason, then, I’d probably make a distinction between, on the one hand, what Christian intellectuals and the mainstream Christian tradition has held and, on the other hand, what many lay Christians believe.

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 9: Analysis of Reason #9

A KEY PASSAGE FROM PART 2 OF THIS SERIES:
It appears to me that just as Chapter 5 is the heart of the book, and that the 10 Reasons are the heart of Chapter 5, so also I believe that Reason #9 (which concerns opposition to “faith-based claims”) for ending philosophy of religion is at the heart of the 10 Reasons.
If I can shove a sharp dagger into Reason #9, then I believe that will kill the beast, and stop the beating of the heart of Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion.
Here is a diagram illustrating my high-level view of Unapologetic  (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Unapologetic - Venn Diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Conversely, if I cannot manage to demolish or seriously damage Reason #9, then that will be a good indication that Loftus has made a strong case for his conclusion, even if some of the other points (e.g. the theme about PoR being “parochial” in nature) are weak and inadequate reasons.
Christian apologists are fond of saying that “Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus”, and I think a similar kind of point applies here:
Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion stands or falls with Reason #9.
Thus, a very good place to start an evaluation of this book, is on page 135, where Loftus spells out Reason #9.
 
ANALYSIS OF THE ARGUMENT GIVEN AS REASON #9
The core argument at the heart of the book Unapologetic can be reconstructed from a single sentence:
If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.  (Unapologetic, p.135)
The basic logical structure of this argument is a modus ponens:

IF P, THEN Q.

P

THEREFORE 

Q

Main Argument – Initial version:

IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith.

THEREFORE 

Philosophy of religion must end.

For clarity of analysis, let’s separate the conjunction in the second premise into two separate claims.
Main Argument – Revision 1:

1..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

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

3. Religion is based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

The subject of premise (3) is a bit vague, but based on the content of premise (2) as well as other statements Loftus makes in presenting this argument, it is clear that it is “the claims of religion” that Loftus believes are “based on faith”:
Main Argument – Revision 2:

1a..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and the claims of religion are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

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

3a. The claims of religion are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

Premise (3a) is an improvement over the initial premise (3), but it still has a problem of unclarity, specifically in terms of QUANTIFICATION.  I am going to interpret (3a) as asserting a universal generalization to ensure that the logic of this argument is deductively valid.  If the universal generalization turns out to be false, then (at that point) we can consider weaker versions of this generalization.
Main Argument – Revision 3:

1b..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

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

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

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

A key point in Loftus’ reasoning is the idea that ALL of the claims examined in the philosophy of religion are based on faith.  If this universal generalization is false, then that would open the door to separating the non-faith-based issues in philosophy of religion from the faith-based issues, and thus potentially leave philosophy of religion standing, just with a smaller scope of relevant issues.  In order to ensure the universal generalization that ALL of the claims examined in the philosophy of religion are based on faith, the scope of philosophy of religion must be restricted to examination of ONLY “the claims of religion”.
Main Argument – Revision 4:

1c..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 philosophy of religion must end.

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 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

Some key bits of reasoning given in support of premise (1c) are these:
A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended. (Unapologetic, p.135)
There are some things philosophers should not take seriously to remain as serious intellectuals.  A faith-based claim is one of them. (Unapologetic, p.135)
From these comments by Loftus, I infer that one of his assumptions is this:
5. ANY claim that is based on faith cannot be reasonably defended.
I also infer that one of his conclusions that is based on (5) is this:
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.
If I am correct about (5) and (6) being important assumptions in Loftus’ reasoning here, then this indicates a way to further clarify premise (1c) as well as the conclusion of the 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).

Premise (5) is a reason in support of premise (6), and premise (6) is a reason in support of premise (1d).  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
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the next post in this series I will evaluate this argument.

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 4: More Effort Required

“Communication is Hard”
My wife is a very intelligent woman.  I enjoy discussing religion, politics, and philosophy with her.  When I lay out an argument, either for my own viewpoint or (as the devil’s advocate) for some alternative viewpoint, she almost always raises one or two sharp objections to the argument.  She is also a person of good common sense and practical wisdom.   One of her bits of wisdom that comes up often is this:
“Communication is hard.” 
This little mantra has a couple of important implications.  First, even between people who know each other very well, miscommunications and misunderstandings are to be expected from time to time; they are inevitable.  Second, good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
So, when she is talking to me in the morning, in order to have a better chance of good communication,  I need to set the newspaper down for a moment, look her in the eyes, and actually focus my attention on the words coming out of her mouth.  Like most people, I’m not so good at multi-tasking.  Looking her in the eyes gives her some assurance that I’m listening, and setting the paper down helps me to focus my mind on what she is saying.  Good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate”
In Part 3 of this series, I harshly criticized Mr. Loftus for problems of UNCLARITY in his presentation of what I take to be the central argument of his book Unapologetic, namely Reason #9 in Chapter 5, an argument for the conclusion “Philosophy of religion must end.”  I stand by this criticism, at least the basic idea that Mr. Loftus’ presentation of this argument is seriously flawed because it is UNCLEAR.
However, in his responses to my criticisms,  Loftus has raised a point that stings a bit; he raises an objection to my critique which has some merit.  Although I don’t think he realized this, one of his comments basically turned my own critique around, and pointed it in my direction, with some justice:
“As to some working definitions of these words goes, with a little research you could find what I say of them.”
Mr. Loftus wants a big “mea culpa” apology from me, and he is not going to get that. However, I will admit to a degree of inaccuracy and unfairness in my criticism of Unapologetic in Part 3 of this series, and I will also admit to a bit of hypocrisy, but I will attempt to do better in this post.
In short, there is a failure of communication between Loftus and me concerning Reason #9 in support of his view that “Philosophy of Religion must end.”  That failure of communication is partly because Loftus FAILED to properly clarify the meanings of some key words and phrases in this central argument of his book.  However, the failure of communication is also partly because I FAILED to put in sufficient work, effort, attention, and care as a reader and interpreter of Unapologetic.
Work, Effort, Attention, Care, and Hypocrisy
Good communication requires work, effort, atention, and care.  Because Reason #9 consists of an argument involving the words “faith” and “reason” and “philosophy” and “religion”, as well as the phrases “philosophy of religion” and “faith in X”, and because these words and phrases are vague, ambiguous, and unclear,  Loftus ought to provide in this book: (a) clear definitions of each of these unclear words, and (b) some reasons and evidence in support of the proposed defintions.
Ideally, he ought to provide an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “faith” and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “religion”, and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of religion”.  He did not do this.
A less than ideal, but perhaps adequate, approach would be to provide one chapter clarifying all three of these terms, writing a subsection of about ten pages defining and clarifying each term.   Loftus did not do this.  So,  Loftus FAILED to provide adequate clarification of the key terms of his central argument,  terms that are OBVIOUSLY and NOTORIOUSLY unclear.   I justifiably pointed out in Part 3 of this series that there was a serious problem of UNCLARITY in Loftus’ presentation of Reason #9.
However,  my irritation with Loftus, as with Norman Geisler, and as with William Craig, is based on an expectation of a certain level of “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of a philosopher or intellectual in presenting an argument or a case for a point of view.  I tend to use words like “lazy” and “sloppy” and “careless” and “not a serious effort”.  Clearly, I don’t like intellectual sloth in philosophers and intellectuals.
But in that case,  I need to apply this same value and standard to my own thinking and writing, and I’m afraid that my critique of Loftus in Part 3 falls a bit short on this important standard.   Good communication also requires “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of readers and interpreters, not just on authors and writers, and I fell short on this requirement.  I threw in the towel too quickly, and I did not work hard enough to find clues that would clarify what Loftus was trying to say.
To be a good example of the intellectual values and standards that I use to criticize other thinkers, I need to make a greater effort to understand what Loftus is saying in Reason #9.   Loftus had a responsiblity to be provide more clarification of the key words and phrases in his central argument, but I also have a responsibility to make a greater effort to figure out what he means, especially to understand Reason #9, the key argument found on page 135 of Unapologetic.   I intend to get back into the ring, and make a more serious effort to arrive at a clear understanding of this argument.
Reason #9 is an interesting and significant argument about an important question.  So,  I should be willing to put in a significant degree of work, effort, attention, and care to try to understand that argument.
One critical comment that I made in Part 3 , I now regret:
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 criticism is not accurate and is unfair to Loftus.   I had no intention of deceiving anyone, or of making a false statement about Unapologetic, but this criticism is exaggerated and inaccurate, and I would not have made this criticism if I had made a greater effort to figure out what Loftus’ means, and to find clues in Unapologetic that would help to clarify Reason #9.
Although I am clearly unhappy with the amount and degree of clarification that Loftus provides about the key terms in his central argument,  he does provide some statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of “faith” and he does provide at least one statement that appears to be a defintion of “philosophy of religion”, and there are other clues in the book that should be considered in trying to understand what Loftus means when he talks about “faith” and “religion” and “philosophy of religion”.  I will now pay more attention to those statements and clues, to try to figure out the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.
“Philosophy of Religion” means…?
There is a discussion of “philosophy of religion” on page 114 of Unapologetic that sheds some light on what Loftus means by this phrase.  Here are are a couple of key statements from that discussion:
PoR is a discipline that has traditionally concerned itself with the claims and arguments of religion. 
…PoR seeks to understand the claims of religion (if possible) and examine the arguments put forth both pro and con by the canons of reason and evidence.  This is how PoR has historically been understood among Western philosophers.
I don’t think this is a great definition, nor do I think this is an appropriate level of clarification for the most important concept in the whole book, but it is something, and it might be enough to help me to figure out and understand Reason #9.
Loftus contrasts this understanding of “philosophy of religion” with how the discipline is actually carried out:
In practice, however, this is not the case.  Philosophers of religion are dealing with religion in religious, creedal, and confessional ways.  (Unapologetic, p.114)
This contrast between the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” and how the discipline is actually carried out in practice makes a legitimate point of criticism about the discipline.  It also introduces ambiguity into the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of relgion”.
However, it seems fairly clear to me that in Reason #9, Loftus makes use of the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”, at least in the premises of the argument:
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. 
This explicit premise suggests another unstated premise:
A. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
This is close to the statement about the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”.  So, I think we can expand and clarify this unstated premise by substituting the apparent defintion of “philosophy of religion” from page 114 in place of this unstated premise.  Loftus appears to be invoking the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” in Reason #9.
“Faith” means…?
Although I’m not happy with the degree of effort by Loftus to clarify the meaning of the word “faith”,  a more careful reading of Unapolgetic reveals some statements that appear to be brief definitions of this word, as well as a couple of other passages which shed some light on what Loftus means when he uses this word:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (p. 55)
…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… (p. 92)
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.  (p.125)
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. (p.152)
In addition to these brief definition-like statements about the meaning of “faith” Loftus has a couple of other passages that shed some light on how he understands this idea (on pages 57 and 160).
Although these definitions seem inadequate and problematic to me, they do provide some good clues as to what Loftus means by the word “faith”, and with a bit of effort on my part, this might well be enough information for me to figure out and understand the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.  So, I’m going to go back to work on that task, and when I have a clearer understanding and interpretation of Reason #9,  I will share that here in Part 5 of this series of posts.
 

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_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 2: The Heart of the Book

A couple of the comments on my previous post (see Unapologetic Review – Part 1) were critical about my provision of details about the general physical characteristics of John Loftus’ new book Unapologetic.  The commenters did not explain WHY this was objectionable, but I suspect it is a matter of childish impatience on the part of the commenters.  I think if they had been more honest and straightforward their objections would have gone something like this:
 What about the key ideas and the main arguments? Hurry up and get to the good stuff!  Don’t waste time on trivial and insignificant details about the layout of the book.
I don’t accept this objection to Part 1 of my review, but I understand the sentiment.  For others who also feel a bit impatient about getting to the good stuff, I promise that in this post I will not only get to some of the good stuff, but will quickly go from zero-to-sixty, and I will, in just a moment, go right to the heart of the matter.
First, I have just a little bit more to say about the layout of the book.  I previously stated that each of the nine chapters was preceeded by a blank page.  That is not accurate.  Chapters 4 and 6 are preceeded by pages with end notes from the previous chapter, and there is a bit of end notes from the previous chapter just prior to Chapters 2 and 8.  So, instead of nine blank pages, there are actually 6.5 blank pages in the main body of the text.
Here are the titles of the chapters in Unapologetic:

  1. My Intellectual Journey
  2. Anselm and Philosophy of Religion
  3. Case Studies in Theistic Philosophy of Religion
  4. Case Studies in Atheistic Philosophy of Religion
  5. Why Philosophy of Religion Must End
  6. How to Effectively Deal with Faith-Based Claims
  7. Answering Objections and Other Practical Concerns
  8. It’s Enough to Be Right!
  9. On Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire

Note the title of Chapter 5: “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”.  This Chapter title is the same as the subtitle of the book:  Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End.   So, it is reasonable to infer that Chapter 5 is the heart of this book.
Furthermore, in flipping through Chapter 5, I see that Loftus has titled a sub-section of this chapter as “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”, and in that sub-section of Chapter 5, he has provided a summary of his reasons for believing that philosophy of religion must end (on pages 131-135).   So, those five pages appear to be the heart of Chapter 5.
I plan to start my critique of the case presented by Loftus by analyzing and evaluating the reasons that Loftus presents in those five pages.  My evaluation will, of course, be somewhat tentative, because to be fair to Loftus I need to read the rest of Chapter 5, as well as the other eight Chapters of the book, before I can be confident that my initial responses and criticisms to the reasons given in those five pages are fair, and to be confident that Loftus has not anticipated some or all of my initial criticisms and objections, in other chapters of the book.
In the five pages where Loftus summarizes his reasons for believing that philosophy of religion must end, he numbers sub-sections 1 through 10, so he apparently has ten different reasons to give in support of his main conclusion.  In reading through these ten points, I see that there is a degree of redundance and overlap between the points.  There are clearly some themes here that come up repeatedly.
The two main themes are: (a) his opposition to “faith-based claims” and (b) his opposition to a “parochial” approach to religion.  I have some sympathy to both of these ideas or themes, but I am not convinced that any of the points relating to those two themes provides an adequate justification for the conclusion that philosophy of religion must come to an end.
I agree, to some extent, that philosophy of religion is often taught in a parochial manner and that this is a legitimate criticsm of how philosophy of religion is generally taught.  However, putting an end to philosophy of religion as a discipline amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  An obviously better approach would be to work at reforming philosophy of religion so that it was generally taught in a non-parochial (or less parochial) manner.  So, the “parochial” objections are based on fact and reality, and represent legitimate criticism of the field of philosophy of religion, but the prescription of ending the discipline is not adequately justified by those reasons.
The other main theme in Loftus’ list of reasons is his opposition to “faith-based claims”.  This theme appears in Reasons #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #9, and #10.  So, if there is a problem with one of these objections that is based on opposition to “faith-based claims”, then that problem might well infect his whole case and undermine most of his 10 Reasons for ending philosophy of religion.
It appears to me that just as Chapter 5 is the heart of the book, and that the 10 Reasons are the heart of Chapter 5, so also I believe that Reason #9 (which concerns opposition to “faith-based claims”) for ending philosophy of religion is at the heart of the 10 Reasons.
If I can shove a sharp dagger into Reason #9, then I believe that will kill the beast, and stop the beating of the heart of Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion.
Here is a diagram illustrating my high-level view of Unapologetic:
Unapologetic - Venn Diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Conversely, if I cannot manage to demolish or seriously damage Reason #9, then that will be a good indication that Loftus has made a strong case for his conclusion, even if some of the other points (e.g. the theme about PoR being “parochial” in nature) are weak and inadequate reasons.
Christian apologists are fond of saying that “Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus”, and I think a similar kind of point applies here:
Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion stands or falls with Reason #9.
Thus, a very good place to start an evaluation of this book, is on page 135, where Loftus spells out Reason #9.
I have a suspiscion that every one of the ten points in the list of reasons for ending PoR involves DOING philosophy of religion.  If so, then it seems to me that the whole case is SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING.  But, I do not plan to try to show that all ten points involve Loftus in DOING philosophy of religion.
However, there are three points in the list where it seems fairly obvious that Loftus is DOING philosophy of religion: Reason #1, Reason #8, and Reason #9.  Because Reason #9 appears to be the central and most important of the ten reasons, I will focus in on that reason first, objecting that it is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING reason.  Later, I will raise this sort of objection against Reason #1 and Reason #8.
It seems, at the very least, HYPOCRITICAL to DO philosophy of religion in order to argue for ending philosophy of religion.  But the problem might be more serious than that.  If DOING philosophy of religion is necessary to make the case against philosophy of religion, then the very act of building a case AGAINST the philosophy of religion demonstrates the VALUE of philosophy of religion.
The question of whether the philosophy of religion ought to be continued as a discipline or taught in courses at secular colleges and universities is clearly an important question, so if the philosophy of religion is needed to answer this question, then it follows that the philosophy of religion is needed in order to answer at least ONE important question.   This casts doubt on the conclusion that we ought to end the discipline of philosophy of religion.  Furthermore, if DOING the philosophy of religion is required in order to answer ONE important question, then how can we be sure it is not useful to answer OTHER important questions?
OK.  So, one potential problem with Reason #9, is that it is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING objection to the philosophy of religion.  Let’s take a closer look at Reason #9, to see if it does indeed involve Loftus in DOING philosophy of religion:
9. Because faith-based reasoning must end.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.  For faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.  A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended. … (Unapologetic, p.135)
There are only two paragraphs in Reason #9.  The above quote represents about 2/3 of the first paragraph.  Loftus makes several assertions in the above passage, but the main premise appears to be the very first statement, so in it’s simplest form, his argument is this:
1.Faith-based reasoning must end.
THEREFORE:
2. Philosophy of religion must end.
But to understand Loftus’ reasoning we need to figure out how the other assertions are being used to support premise (1) or to form a logical connection between premise (1) and the conclusion (2).
It is not clear how to reconstruct the logic of this argument.  Here are the other key premises:
3. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
4. Religion is based on faith.
5. Faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.
6. Faith cannot be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
7. A reasonable faith does not exist.
8. The claims of religious faith cannot be reasonably defended.
Premise (5) appears to be the most basic reason for Loftus’ opposition to “faith-based claims”.  Premise (6) is also a reason for opposing “faith-based claims”, but seems less basic than (5), so I take premise (5) to be a reason supporting premise (6), and (6) appears to be a reason supporting premise (1) which is a prescriptive assertion that is based on a negative evaluation of faith.
(5)–>(6)–>(1)
Premise (4) asserts a logical or conceptual connection between “religion” and “faith”; this means that the negative evaluation of faith is transferred to religion, or at least this appears to be how Loftus justifies a negative evaluation of religion.  Premises (7) and (8) appear to be negative conclusions about religion that are based on a combination of (4) and (6),  based on both the connection between religion and faith in premise (4), and the negative evaluation of faith in premise (6).  Premises (7) and (8) are closely related in meaning, but (8) seems a bit clearer, so I think we can drop (7) and just use premise (8) in the analysis of Loftus’ argument:
(4) + (6)–>(8)
Given the above analysis, we can do an initial reconstruction the logic of this argument constituting Reason #9 (click on image below for a clearer view of the diagram):
Reason #9 - Initial Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Consider some of the basic premises of this argument:
4. Religion is based on faith.
5. Faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.
6. Faith cannot be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
In order to know that premise (4) is true, one must first know what “religion” means, and what “faith” means.
Loftus could simply stipulate definitions of these words, but then the question arises:  Are Loftus’ definitions unclear or idiosyncratic or do they reflect the ordinary meanings of these words?  If his definitions are unclear or idiosyncratic, then this argument might well be irrelevant to the real world, irrelevant to “religion” and “faith” as these words are understood by educated speakers of the English language.
The word “religion” is a problematic and unclear, but very important, word.  Trying to get clear about the meaning of the word “religion” is a basic task of the philosophy of religion, so in order for Loftus to properly justify premise (4), he must provide a clear and well-supported analysis of the word “religion”, and that means that he must DO philosophy of religion in order to rationally justify premise (4).
The same is true of the word “faith”.  The word “faith” is a problematic and unclear, but very important, word. Trying to get clear about the meaning of the word “faith” is a basic task of the philosophy of religion, so in order for Loftus to properly justify premise (4), premise (5), and premise (6), he must provide a clear and well-supported analysis of the meaning of the word “faith”, and that means that he must DO philosophy of religion in order to rationally justify premises (4), (5), and (6).
Premise (6) is a normative epistemological claim involving the concept of “faith”.  So, arguments for and against (6) fall within the scope of the philosophy of religion.  To provide a rational justification for (6), one must analyze and evaluate various philosophical arguments for and against (6),  so one must DO some philosophy of religion, namely epistemology of religious belief, in order to rationally justify or rationally evaluate claim (6).
The sub-argument that Loftus provides in support of premise (8) is clearly an argument in the philosophy of religion.  In order to rationally justify premise (8), Loftus provides us with a philosophical argument, an argument that falls in the scope of philosophy of religion.  Once again, Reason #9 requires that Loftus DO some philosophy of religion, and rational evaluation of Reason #9 requires that we DO some philosophy of religion.
If  this sub-argument by Loftus is successful, then that means that Loftus has established a very important philosophical claim by DOING some philosophy of religion.  But if he can establish ONE important philosophical claim by DOING philosophy of religion, then why should we believe that philosophy of religion has no chance of revealing OTHER important philosophical truths?
It seems clear to me that in order to rationally justify Reason #9, Loftus MUST DO some philosophy of religion.  He must provide clear and well-supported analyses of the meanings of the words “religion” and “faith” and of the phrase “philosophy of religion”.  He must also provide solid philosophical arguments that fall within the scope of philosophy of religion.
Furthermore, those of us who wish to rationally evaluate the analyses and arguments presented by Loftus in supporting Reason #9 MUST DO some philosophy of religion ourselves.  So, in presenting his case against philosophy of religion Loftus assumes the value of philosophy of religion, and in rationally evaluating his case, we must also assume the value of philosophy of religion.  
There is no purely scientific or mathematical way to defend these claims and arguments, nor to test and evaluate these claims and arguments.  This is philosophy, and rational justification of these philosophical claims and arguments about “faith” and “religion” constitutes a paradigm case of DOING philosophy of religion.  Thus, Reason #9 is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING argument.
The next thing that occurs to me in reading this paragraph, is that Loftus fails to recognize the distinction between the logic of discovery and the logic of proof.  The short version of this distinction is that there is no such thing as “the logic of discovery”, because how ideas and theories arise or originate is largely irrelevant to the testing and evaluation of ideas and theories.  Good ideas can come from “bad” or irrational  or unreliable sources.
That is a bit of an overstatement, because we do need to have some ways to filter out bad or stupid ideas prior to investing time and energy in testing and evaluating ideas and theories.  But there can be levels and degrees here.  We have some quick-and-dirty high-level ways to filter out obviously bad ideas, but those filters allow a lot of crap through,  so there are some quick and simple tests and evaluations that we can use on the crap that gets through the intial intellectual filters, in order to quickly assess the potential truth or falsehood of the flood of ideas and theories that make it through the initial filtering, and then, perhaps, we have narrowed the candidates down enough to make it reasonable to invest more time and energy on testing and evaluation of the ideas and theories that made it past the initial filters and the initial testing.
It does not matter how the ideas of “God” or “eternal life” or “the soul” or “divine judgment” or “faith” arose or originated.  What matters is how these ideas and theories do when we critically and objectively assess and evaluate them.  If all of the key ideas and theories produced by the religions of the world turn out to be FALSE or UNREASONABLE, then we will have good reason to doubt future ideas and theories that come from religions.  But surely Loftus would not make the extreme claim that ALL of the key ideas and theories produced by the religions of the world are FALSE or UNREASONBLE.  I doubt that Loftus has written about ALL of the key ideas and theories of Christianity, let alone of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, and Confucianism.
If a religion can produce SOME ideas or theories that are TRUE or REASONABLE, then it makes sense to attempt to make an effort to objectively and critically evaluate key ideas and theories that originate from the religions of the world.
As an atheist and a skeptic I would be inclined to agree that MOST of the key ideas and theories of Christianity are FALSE or UNREASONABLE, so perhaps I would agree that the Christian religion is an unreliable source of ideas and theories.  But this conclusion is based, in large part, on my thinking in the area of philosophy of religion.  I have attempted to critically and objectively evaluate various ideas and theories that come from the Christian religion, and as a result of the time and energy that I put into such testing and evaluation, I have a rational basis for drawing the conclusion that much of Christianity is BS.
I suppose that if I were to teach a course in Philosophy of Religion, I could start the course with the following bit of skeptical advice:
I have spent several years attempting to objectively and critically evaluate the key ideas and theories of the Christian religion, and I have concluded that MOST of these ideas and theories are bullshit.  So, if you are looking for truth, then my advice would be to ignore the Christian religion and look elsewhere, because the Christian religion is an UNRELIABLE source of ideas and theories.
But, it seems to me, if I were to give such advice to college students, this advice would be BASED ON work I had done in the philosophy of religion, so I think it would be both hypocritical and illogical to go on to advise these students to drop the course on philosophy of religion, and to never take a course on philosophy or religion, and to never read a book on philosophy of religion.  That would be undermining the very basis for my negative assessment of the reliability of the Christian religion.
It is important to avoid FALSE beliefs, but as William James pointed out, it is also important to obtain TRUE beliefs.  The absence of false beliefs is not sufficient to lead a good life.  We also need to have some TRUE beliefs, or at least some well-founded, rationally-justified beliefs.  So, even if MOST of the ideas and theories of religions were false or unreasonable, it might still be worth looking for some of the TRUE or REASONABLE beliefs put forward by religions, the good ideas that are scattered among the bad ones.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that EVERY key idea and theory of EVERY religion is either FALSE or UNREASONABLE.  If that was so, wouldn’t that be an important generalization for people to learn about?  If all religions were large piles of false and unreasonable beliefs, then getting most people to recognize this important aspect of reality could be a great benefit for the human species.  But how could we bring about this awareness?  We could simply indoctrinate all students into the belief that religions were just large piles of false and unreasonable beliefs, but then brainwashing students into some atheistic or secular ideology seems just as irrational and opposed to critical thinking as indoctrinating students into some particular religion or religious ideology.
If it were the case that EVERY key idea and theory of EVERY religion was either FALSE or UNREASONABLE, then that would be an excellent reason for promoting the philosophy of religion, because that would, it seems to me, be the best way to help lots of people to begin to objectively and critically evaluate the key ideas and theories of various religions.  Then they could learn for themselves that religions were a highly unreliable source of ideas and theories.
This discussion of whether ALL or MOST religious beliefs are false or unreasonable reminds me that unclear quantification is a common problem with arguments in the philosophy of religion, and it seems to me that the argument presented in Reason #9 suffers from this problem, so in the next post of this series I will take a closer look at the argument constituting Reason #9, and I will pay close attention to any unclarity in it concerning quantification.
 

bookmark_borderA Nasty Christian Apologist Defends the Indefensible

There are many nice Christian apologists out there. To cite just four of several examples, (1) Glenn Miller; (2) Randal Rauser; (3) Trent Horn; and (4) Sean McDowell have both been extremely gracious as dialogue partner (1 & 2) or host (3&4). But there are also some nasty ones who apparently didn’t get the memo about 1 Peter 3:15. About a month ago, I had a run-in on Twitter with one of the nasty ones: Anna Maria Perez (@A_M_Perez). She has roughly 100,000 followers and won’t hesitate to use that fact to put down critics who don’t command an equally large following. Perez describes herself as a “constitutional conservative” who is “Pro 2nd Amendment.” She runs a website devoted to the defense of the (U.S.) Second Amendment right to bear arms, but she also posts on a variety of other topics of interest to conservatives. Her modus operandi is verbal abuse (e.g., name calling, insults, put downs, chronic forgetting, blaming, etc.) and, like any narcissist, she does not handle criticism well–at all. Accordingly, she has zero interest in genuine dialogue with anyone who disagrees with her. People who have the audacity to challenge her statements–the horror!–will find themselves on the receiving end of a spew of insults before being blocked.
I learned all of this the hard way, when I dared to respond to a tweet promoting her October 12, 2015 post, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist!” Having already written a comprehensive rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s book by the same name, I was already very familiar with the kinds of arguments Geisler and Turek use in their book. So I was disappointed (but not surprised) to find Perez using the same, refuted arguments. When I pointed out the various fallacies in their (and her) arguments, I was called:

  • idiot
  • loon
  • retarded
  • moron
  • stupid
  • ill
  • buffoon

I’m surprised she left out “Village Atheist.”
Each of the tweets containing these insults were “liked” by many of her followers, some of whom piled on with insults of their own. My personal favorite was when one of her followers asked me, “Are you deliberately stupid, or can I sell you a bridge?”
The insults were so over-the-top that I actually found the entire experience rather funny. They were also validating, but not in the way Perez intended. In my experience, when an opponent relies so heavily on personal insults, it is often done to mask some deep feeling of inadequacy, such as not having the evidence or arguments to back up their claims. So when I find myself in the debate equivalent of a “street fight,” I just smile and think to myself, “I just won the debate.” But enough about her insults. Let’s move onto her fallacious arguments, which I will refute over the course of multiple posts.

 

Refutation of Anna Marie Perez

Index | Next

bookmark_borderIt Takes More Faith to Be an Atheist Than to Believe in God?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Taylor Carr republished on The Secular Outpost with permission. The original post may be found on his blog, The Godless Skeptic.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you’ve probably heard someone, somewhere, say at some point: “I think it takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in god.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. I’ve seen this amusing little remark bandied about in too many contexts to recount here, but most recently it’s been said to me on my last YouTube video, and said in person by my girlfriend’s sister. What does it mean?There’s an image that’s drifted around the internet for quite some time now that seems to sum up exactly what people intend when they say that it takes more faith to disbelieve than it does to believe. It describes atheism as, “The belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs.” This is not just a gross over-simplification of the views of many atheists, it’s also riddled with strawman fallacies and confuses abiogenesis with atheism. One can easily, without inconsistency, reject the idea of a god and yet assent to the fact that we don’t know how everything came into being. Sometimes having no explanation is indeed better than clinging to a wrong one.
The general point behind the ‘more-faith-to-be-an-atheist’ remark is that atheists believe more fantastical things on less evidence than theists do; we make more and bigger assumptions. Is this true, though? To really address the issue, one would have to unpack the particular assumptions each believer thinks atheists rely upon, but we’ve already seen some indication that not all of these assumptions are fairly derived from the atheist position. Atheists of the ancient world knew nothing of the Big Bang or evolution by natural selection, yet still counted themselves non-believers for other reasons like suffering, divine hiddenness, and the various objections to the so-called arguments for god. By itself, atheism says nothing about the origin of the universe, the nature of morality, and so forth. To be an atheist is simply to not believe in gods.
Now, you might ask, ‘If you don’t know how the universe began, why are you an atheist instead of an agnostic?’ It seems to me that there is a long-running misunderstanding about these two terms. A theist is one who believes god exists. An agnostic is one who doesn’t know if god exists. An atheist is one who does not believe god exists. Here the agnostic might seem like a middle ground, but it becomes clear that this is not the case when we recognize the difference between belief and knowledge. For centuries, philosophers have understood knowledge as justified true belief, which would make knowledge a very special kind of belief. Although there are some problems with the justified true belief definition, they do not impact this distinction between knowledge and belief. You can believe something and not be justified in believing it, and you can also believe something which is not actually true. Thus, agnostic is more like a subset of theism and atheism, where an agnostic theist is someone who doesn’t know if god exists, but believes anyway, and an agnostic atheist is someone who doesn’t know if god exists, and so does not believe. Hence, I’d technically call myself an agnostic atheist.
‘But,’ you say, ‘god explains how the universe began. It takes less faith to believe that then it does to believe we came from nothing without a god.’ Recall what has just been said about belief and knowledge, though. I don’t know how the universe came about, but I do believe the god explanation is not a good explanation, largely because the concept of god has its own share of philosophical challenges and problems. This is no more an inconsistency than it is to believe in god even when you don’t know for sure if he exists. This is where the ‘more-faith-to-be-an-atheist’ charge is really stretched thin to the point of breaking, too.
Theists may see god, the Big Bang, moral values, and similar things as inextricably bound together, but these are assumptions which the atheist has no reason to grant. History has seen plenty of gods that are not creators or moral law-givers, so why assume that things like origins and moral values are even in the same ball park with theism and atheism? I make no assumptions about how the universe began, or about the nature of morality, nor do I need to in order to consistently be an atheist. My atheism is not directed at some abstract cause of the cosmos, or some vague ground of moral value; it’s directed at the concept of god, which is so much more, and has been understood as much more by many theists throughout the centuries. Who has faith in just a cause of the cosmos, or just the ground of morality?
The charge that atheism takes more faith than theism rests on a fallacy of equivocation. The faith that the Christian has in his god – faith that impels him to repent, to forgive, to love, to praise, to worship – is by no means the same as the faith that atheists are accused of having with respect to a creatorless origin, eternal matter, life from non-life, or moral value. If faith is belief based on evidence, then saying the atheist has more of it should mean the atheist has more evidence! If faith is belief in spite of evidence, is that really all that Christians mean when they say their faith gives them strength – believing in spite of the evidence gives you strength? If faith by itself is a virtue, then those who decry atheism for requiring too much faith are quite confused. If faith is only virtuous insofar as it is focused in the right direction (and god presumably lies at the end of that direction), then the equivocation is made readily apparent.
Individual atheists may have faith in many things. A scientist may take it on faith that our universe is just one among many. A philosopher may take it on faith that Leibniz’s theory of the monads accurately describes the fundamental constitution of the universe. But in what sense are these uses of “faith” at all like the theistic use of faith? I would say there is very little, if any, commonality. Multiverses and monads (according to some conceptions) would not be a new kind of thing to our experience in the way that god is a new kind of thing, existing eternally and outside of our space-time universe. If all our beliefs rest on faith, if everything is faith, as Greg Boyd suggested in a recent episode of the Unbelievable podcast, we reduce the religious concept of faith to a mere act of inference, and we muddle the concept of inference with a term that defies clarity and fecundity. This I take to be a lose-lose scenario.
On the one hand it’s tempting to respond to the more-faith-to-be-an-atheist remark with a ‘who cares’. Atheism is a claim about belief in god(s), not the beginning of the cosmos, the source of moral value, or anything else, and so the accusation of faith playing a part in other areas seems inconsequential and hardly relevant. Just because the theist endows his god with responsibility for such things does not mean they arede facto the domain of deity. On the other hand, it’s not difficult to tell that there are often ulterior motives behind the remark. It is sometimes said with a smug and mocking tone, suggesting hypocrisy and short-sightedness on the side of the non-theist. Any concession to faith, even noting the equivocation, sounds like an admission of guilt to many who simply want to pigeon-hole others and confirm their own biases.
It takes no faith to doubt the invisible, to question the intangible, to challenge the ineffable. I’m not even sure how one could begin to make sense of an argument aiming to show something so backwards. As I see it, these debates over who is burdened with the most faith in their worldview are as fruitless and conceited as debates over who is the more rational human being. If we can manage to get past such petty and unhelpful gesturing, we will find it easier to understand one another, to consider evidence and arguments in a less partial manner, and to learn a greater appreciation for our world as the complex, nuanced, and multi-layered world that it is. And this is the real sin of the more-faith-to-be-an-atheist remark: it masks its lack of substance by perpetuating the age-old us vs. them mindset. As beckoning as that may seem to our reptile brains, isn’t it about time we start to recognize that it’s only us?

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 9

Here are some key points from the first section (Relation of Faith to Reason) of Geisler’s article “Faith and Reason” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 239; hereafter: BECA):

  • The contents of faith “are above reason.” and so must be revealed to humans by God.
  • Faith “involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will”.
  • Some theological truths “have been proved demonstratively” and can be based on reason, such as the existence of God.

If we take the second point in a straightforward manner, then there appears to be no conflict between faith and reason, at least in terms of the requirement that the assent of faith be a free choice.  If reason doesn’t compel a person to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine (or against any such claim or doctrine), then reason doesn’t preclude a person from freely choosing to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine.
The question I’m not clear how to answer is this:  Can a demonstrative proof compel a person to assent to the conclusion of the proof?  always? sometimes? never?  What is Aquinas’ view on this question?  I’m not sure.
The second section of the article is about Three Uses of Reason:  1. Reason can be used to prove the “preambles of faith”, such as the existence of God.  2. Reason can be used to explain or clarify a theological concept or doctrine.  3. Reason can be used to defend a theological belief by refuting an objection or an argument against that belief. (BECA, p.239).
Although the “preambles of faith” can be “proved demonstratively”(Summa Theologica, 1a.3.2), “such arguments are not available for the second kind of divine truth…” (Gentiles, 1.9, quoted in BECA, p.239).  An example of the second kind of divine truth would be the doctrine of the Trinity.  Aquinas believed that reason alone was insufficient to discover or to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, and that humans can possess this truth only because God has revealed this to us.
The passage quoted from Gentiles 1.9 also includes the following comments about divine revelation:
The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture–an authority divinely confirmed by miracles.  For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.  Nevertheless, there are certainly likely [probable] arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth known.
Apparently when Aquinas speaks of “divine truth” here, he is speaking of the second kind of divine truth (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity) and not the first kind of divine truth (e.g.  the existence of God), for the first kind of divine truth can be “proved demonstratively” and based on reason alone.
When Aquinas speaks of using “likely [probable] arguments” to support the second kind of divine truth I think he means showing the divine authority of the scriptures (or of Jesus or of the apostles) by making an appeal to the occurence of miracles that allegedly confirm the messages or teachings from those sources.  The authority of the scriptures or revelation is also supported by the belief that God is completely truthful:
…it was necessary for divine truth to be delivered by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie…(Summa Theologica, 2a2ae.1, 5.4).
So, Aquinas suggests the basic apologetic argument for the authority of scripture:  Miracles confirm that a book or a messenger are bringing a message that truly comes from God, and God is completely truthful, so we can have complete confidence in the truth and accuracy of books or messengers that have been confirmed by miracles.
Apparently, Aquinas does not see this as a demonstrative proof, but rather as a “likely [probable]” argument. Nevertheless, it is still an argument, a bit of reasoning.  Thus, it seems to me that even the second kind of “divine truth”, such as the doctine of the Trinity, ultimately rests on reason, in that it rests on an argument, a bit of reasoning, about the alleged divine inspiration of the scriptures.  The appeal to confirming miracles requires empirical evidence and the evaluation of that evidence, and the important premise that God is completely truthful, is, presumably, based on a “demonstrative” proof about God being a perfectly good person.