bookmark_borderRichard Dawkins and Moral Realism

Christian apologists who love to substitute quote-mining for actual argumentation are fond of quotations like the following, in order to conclude that atheism somehow undermines morality.

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1996), p. 133

For people whose search for truth involves more than selectively quoting ‘hostile’ authorities, however, this quotation raises more questions than answers. Let’s start with a basic question for apologists who like to use this quote. Why are you quoting Dawkins on this point? Is it because you think he is an expert on the implications of atheism for morality? Is it because you think Dawkins has given a good argument for the conclusion that in a godless universe there is “no evil and no good”? Is it both? Or is it something else?
(1) Does the Quotation Support a Correct Inductive Argument from Authority?
While some arguments from authority can be logically correct, this one is not. Let P be the statement “If naturalistic evolution is true, then there is no good and no evil,” and let S be metaethics. Using Wesley Salmon’s schema for inductive arguments from authority,[1] we can then formulate the argument from authority as follows.

(1) The vast majority of statements made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S are true.
(2) P is a statement made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S.
(3) [probably] P is true.

This argument does not satisfy Salmon’s conditions for an inductively correct argument from authority, in two ways. First, even if we treat Dawkins as an expert on metaethics, the argument would still be evidentially worthless. As Salmon observed, an appeal to one group of authorities has no evidential value when another group of authorities who are equally competent disagree.[2] And there are many qualified experts on metaethics who believe P is false.[3] Second, with all due respect to Dawkins, he is not a reliable authority on subject S. He is an evolutionary biologist with a D.Phil. in biology, not a philosopher who specializes in metaethics. Therefore, premise (1) is dubious. The upshot is that this argument from authority provides literally zero evidence for statement P.
Even if we cannot accept P on the basis of Dawkins’ authority, however, it is still possible that Dawkins has a good argument for believing it. I’ll consider that possibility in a moment. For now, I want to make one other point. Have you ever noticed that Christian apologists love to quote Dawkins as a hostile witness when it supports their desired conclusion but not when it doesn’t? If Dawkins’ opinion about morality (that it’s not objective) is supposed to be evidence for an apologist’s claims about the moral implications of atheism, then Dawkins’ opinion about God (He doesn’t exist) should also be evidence for atheism.  It seems rather one-sided to appeal to Dawkins’ authority when it helps theism (by lending support to a dubious moral argument for God’s existence), but to ignore Dawkins’ authority when it hurts theism (by lending support to a robust evidential argument from evil against God’s existence).
(2) Does the Quotation State an Inductively Correct Argument against Moral Realism?
Again, here is what Dawkins wrote:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.

What properties does Dawkins have in mind when he claims that the universe has the properties “we should expect” if there is no objective meaning or morality? And why would those properties be expected?
Let’s parse this quotation one step at a time. He writes: “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication…” This suggests he is talking about an explanatory hypothesis I’ll call “naturalism.”

naturalism (N) =df. causal reality is limited to physical reality, i.e., there is no such things as minds which can exist apart from arrangements of matter

Continuing on, he writes, “some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice.  …  Nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” This suggests that he is talking about the evidence to be explained (E).

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against theism seems to be this:

(1) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | N) >> Pr(E1 | T).

In the quotation, Dawkins also writes the words, “no evil and no good.” This suggests another explanatory hypothesis:

O: ontologically objective moral values (i.e., moral goodness or “good”) and disvalues (i.e., badness or “evil”) exist.

And, again, the evidence to be explained would seem to be the same as before:

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against O seems to be this:

(1’) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).

Dawkins’ argument against theism is much better than his argument against ontologically objective moral values. Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument from evil is consistent with the very powerful defense of an evidential argument from evil by Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper. But what about Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument against moral realism or objectivism? Not so much. It’s far from obvious why known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e.,
Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).
Dawkins writes, “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” The problem is that DNA and O have nothing to do with each other.  There are two possibilities:
(1) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is true.
(2) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is false.
For example, it could be the case that moral anti-reductionism is true (and so moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties) and the Good exists. Or it could be the case that naturalistic moral reductionism is true (and so moral properties are reducible to physical properties) and the Good is desirable; facts about universal human desires rooted in human biology help inform us about the Good.
In sum, Dawkins has overstated his conclusion. It’s far from obvious why DNA (or anything about the “universe we observe”) is just what we would expect on the assumption O is false.
Notes
[1] Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 100.
[2] Ibid.
[3] E.g., Adams; Hick; Moore; Morriston; Nielsen; Pojman; Post; Rottschaefer; Sagi and Statman; Shafer-Landau; Q. Smith; Swinburne; and Wielenberg.
More on Theistic Quote-Mining of Atheists on the Topic of Morality

More Posts by Lowder about Atheism and Morality

Posts by Other Secular Outpost Authors on Atheism and Morality

Wes Morriston’s Critiques of Attempts to Argue that Morality Needs God

Erik Wielenberg’s Critiques of Theistic Metaethics

Stephen Maitzen

John Danaher’s Critiques of Moral Arguments and Theistic Metaethics

Ex-Apologist’s Blog Posts

 

bookmark_borderWeighing Theistic Evidence Against Naturalistic Evidence

In the next-to-last paragraph of his book, C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, Victor Reppert makes a very interesting statement:

However, I contend that the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The “problem of reason” is a huge problem for reason, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. (emphasis mine)

I think this is a very interesting statement for two reasons. First, Reppert acknowledges that the so-called “problem of evil” — which is probably misnamed (see here) — is an evidential problem for theism. All by itself, that is a significant concession that is all too rare among theistic philosophers. But second (and more important), Reppert claims that naturalism’s ‘problem of reason’ is as big of a problem, if not a bigger problem, for naturalism as the ‘problem of evil’ is for theism. I want to focus on this second feature of interest about Reppert’s statement.
I recently asked, “Why Do So Many People Have a “Winner Takes All” Approach to Evidence about Gods?” Suppose you agree with my conclusion that there can be evidence for false propositions, so there can be evidence for atheism if God exists, and so there can be evidence for theism if God does not exist.
As soon as you admit that possibility, you have to be prepared to confront another possibility. How do you weigh competing items of evidence, especially when we don’t have numerical probability values (or likelihoods or Bayes’ factors) to work with? Here are two versions of this problem.
(1) Weighing Two Individual Items of Evidence
Suppose you have two items of evidence, E1 and E2, and two rival hypotheses, H1 and H2. E1 is evidence favoring H1 over H2, i.e., Pr(E1 | H1)  > Pr(E1 | H2). Let B1 the “Bayes’ factor” for E1 , i.e., the ratio of Pr(E1 | H1)  to Pr(E1 | H2). E2 is evidence favoring H2 over H1, i.e. Pr(E2 | H2) > Pr(E2 | H1). Let B2 be the Bayes’ factor for E2, i.e., the ratio of Pr(E2 | H1) to Pr(E2 | H2). If E1 is stronger evidence for H1 than E2 is evidence for H2, then B1 > 1/B2. Likewise, if E2 is stronger evidence for H2 than E1 is evidence for H1, then 1/B2 > B1. But how do you show that?
In some cases, it may be possible to show this is true by definition. For example, in my F-inductive argument from consciousness, I argue that Pr(consciousness | theism) =1 because theism entails the existence of consciousness. Now compare that result to a very weak argument against theism, the argument from scale. I have argued before that, as an argument against mere theism, the evidence of scale provides very weak evidence favoring naturalism over theism. So it seems obvious that if Pr(consciousness | theism) = 1, then consciousness is much stronger evidence for theism than scale is against it.
Or consider Paul Draper’s evidential argument from biological evolution. The key insight to understanding that argument is this. It is really an argument against special creationism, combined with a rigorous argument that special creationism is a viable auxiliary hypothesis to theism. In other words, theism provides a significant antecedent reason to expect that special creationism is true conditional upon the assumption that theism is true, where “antecedent” emphasizes the idea that we are abstracting away all of our evidence from biology. Draper’s evidential argument from biological evolution argues that Pr(special creationism | naturalism) = 0, whereas Pr(special creationism | theism) >= 1/2. Now suppose you have some extremely weak argument for theism, such as the argument from beauty. I don’t think beauty provides any evidence for theism, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend that it does. In that case, it would be obvious that the falsity of creationism is much stronger evidence against theism than beauty is evidence for it.
Not all comparisons of evidence will involve cases where at least one hypothesis entails neither the evidence to be explained nor the denial of the evidence to be explained. In those cases, it seems to me it will be more difficult, possibly impossible, to justify an objective comparison of evidential strength. (Whether it is impossible or merely difficult will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.)
(2) Weighing Cumulative Cases Against One Another
Suppose now you have two “real” cumulative cases done the right way. In favor of H1, you have items of evidence E1 through E5. In favor of H2, you have items of evidence E6-E10. For example, let H1 be theism and H2 be naturalism. Then let our items of evidence be:
E1: the contingency of the universe
E2: the beginning of the universe
E3: the life-permitting conditions of the universe
E4: consciousness
E5: intentionality
E6: the hostility of the universe to life
E7: biological role of pain and pleasure
E8: falsity of special creationism
E9: mind-brain dependence
E10: psychopathy
You believe that E1-E5 are individually and collectively evidence favoring theism over naturalism. Likewise, you believe that E6-E10 are individually and collectively evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
As before, we’ll use “B” to represent the Bayes’ factor. Let B1-5 represent the ratio of Pr(E1 & E2 & E3 & E4 & E5 |T) to Pr(E1 & E2 & E3 & E4 & E5 |N). Let B6-10 represent the ratio of Pr(E6 & E7 & E8 & E9 & E10 | T) to Pr(E6 & E7 & E8 & E9 & E10 | N).
How in the world are you supposed to show that B1-5 > 1/B6-10?
(3) Is Naturalism’s ‘Problem of Reason’ as Big or Bigger than Theism’s ‘Problem of Evil’?
Let us now return to Reppert’s statement I quoted at the beginning of this post:

However, I contend that the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The “problem of reason” is a huge problem for reason, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. (emphasis mine)

Reppert does not attempt to defend this claim in his book, but in fairness we should note the argument from reason is a neglected topic in the philosophy of religion. It seems reasonable to devote an entire book just to (re-?)introducing the argument and defending it. But it would be a major accomplishment in the philosophy of religion, I think, if Reppert were able to successfully defend this claim. Perhaps he can devote his considerable philosophical talents to this task in a future book.

bookmark_borderWLC Denies That Anyone Has Ever Died a Sincere Seeker Without Finding God

Can anyone sincerely lack belief in God? And even if they can, can anyone sincerely lack belief in God for the rest of their lives? Many people, including nontheists but not just nontheists, think the answer to both questions is plainly “yes.” But some (many?) theists, no doubt motivated by beliefs such as divine goodness, Biblical inerrancy, and Christian particularism, deny this for the second question and possibly the first.  We’ll call people who deny a “yes” answer to the second question “sincere lifelong nontheist deniers” or “sincerity deniers” for short.
To many nontheists this denial is not only false, but offensive, for it can come across as a not-so-veiled accusation that nontheists are lying when they claim they lack belief in God or that God’s existence isn’t obvious to them. In fairness to sincerity deniers, however, we should keep in mind that ‘sincerity denial’ doesn’t have to amount to a conscious denial of a belief in God. Instead, a sincerity denier may hold that a nontheist’s nonbelief is the result of self-deception. (This was, for example, the position of the notorious Christian presuppositionalist Greg Bahnsen, among others.) A sincerity denier may also hold that, at a given time, a nontheist’s nonbelief is genuine, not the result of self-deception, but temporary. This option may be less offensive since it doesn’t require that all nontheists are resistant to theism for the entire time they are a nontheist. The idea seems to be that if a nontheist is nonresistant to belief in God, then said nontheist will eventually come to believe in God before they die.
In any case, what’s important to notice is that, regardless of the flavor of sincerity denial, the one thing all sincerity deniers seem to have in common is this. No one dies a sincere, nonresistant nonbeliever. 
Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig is a well-known defender of Christian particularism, so it comes as no surprise that he is a sincerity denier. He reaffirmed his position in a recent answer to a question on the Q&A section of his website.  Craig not only denies that there could be a sincere, lifelong nontheist, but he also denies that there could be a sincere, lifelong theistic non-Christian (e.g., Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so forth). He writes:

Therefore, if a person ultimately fails to come to faith in Christ, it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties with the faith. At root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit on his heart. Now this convicting power and drawing of the Holy Spirit may take time. It may take years in order for the unbeliever to finally come to Christ. Nevertheless, no one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments or evidence; he fails to become a Christian because he rejects God. But anyone who does respond to the drawing of God’s Spirit with an open mind and an open heart can know with assurance that Christianity is true, because God’s Spirit will convict him that it is true.

Furthermore, he offers the following reasons for doubting the lifelong sincerity of non-Christians.

Now I don’t think we’re in a good position to say with any confidence that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable unbelief, Muhammad. First, as I say, God’s drawing of a person may take time, years even, so that we can’t say of someone who is moving away from God that that’s where he’ll end up. (Read the many testimonials we receive from ex-unbelievers who for many years were moving away from God.) It is particularly the case that many Muslims go through a phase of atheism after shedding Islam before they come to Christ.
Moreover, we’re not really in a position to read a person’s heart or deepest motivations. Sin is incredibly deceitful, and we have an amazing ability to rationalize things so as to justify our behavior. Read C. S. Lewis’ provocative The Great Divorce about the self-justifying rationalizations of people in hell. If we can convince ourselves that our obstacles to faith are intellectual rather than moral or emotional that makes our unbelief respectable in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. How do you know what lies in the heart of a person who resists the drawing and conviction of the Holy Spirit until the end of his life?
Furthermore, I do think that we have good reasons for supposing that Christianity is true. First, there is the witness of the Holy Spirit. It can be an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters brought against it. Second, there are good evidences for the truth of Christianity, particularly for the historicity of the radical personal claims and resurrection of Jesus, whereby God vindicated those claims.

There are many things which could be (and have been) said in response to this sort of position. Here I’ll summarize what I think are the three most important points.
First, notice that sincerity deniers are committed to a universal generalization: there has never been (and never will be) a single sincere, lifelong nontheist. If even just one sincere, lifelong nontheist existed, exists, or will exist, then this universal generalization is false. Thus, it does Craig little good to refer to former atheists who claim that they engaged in all sorts of insincere rationalizations when they claimed to be atheists. Even if that is an accurate description for those former atheists, it doesn’t follow that it applies to all atheists or, more broadly, all nontheists.
Second, we have strong inductive evidence that this generalization is false. There are several lines of evidence which combine to create a powerful cumulative case for the existence of sincere, lifelong nontheists. Following the outstanding work of the Canadian philosopher John Schellenberg (in his recent book The Wisdom to Doubt), we may summarize this evidence as follows.
(a) The prima facie evidence of nonresistant nonbelief. In Schellenberg’s words, “in the actual world persons who do not believe that there is a God, and that in at least some of these people the absence of theistic belief is not in any way the result of their own emotional or behavioral opposition towards God or relationship with God or any of the apparent implications of such a relationship.”
(b) The prima facie evidence of former believers. To paraphrase Schellenberg, such individuals, from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief in God. In other words, if theism is true, then such individuals already were in relationship with God and the loss of belief has terminated that.
(c) The prima facie evidence of lifelong seekers. Schellenberg describeres these individuals as people “who don’t start out in what they consider to be a relationship with God and may not even be explicitly searching for God, but who are trying to find out where they belong and, in their wanderings, are open to finding and being found by a Divine Parent–all without ever achieving their goal. These are individuals who seek but do not find.” (233)
(d) The prima facie evidence of converts to nontheistic religions. Paraphrasing Schellenberg, these are individuals who investigate other serious conceptions of the Ultimate and who turn up evidence that produces religious belief in the context of nontheistic religious communities and/or on account of nontheistic religious experiences–and the truth of atheistic claims may be seen to follow by implication. (236)
(e) The prima facie evidence of isolated nontheists. Schellenberg defines these individuals as “those who have never been in a position to resist God because they have never so much as had the idea of an all-knowing and all-powerful spiritual being who is separate from a created universe but related to it in love squarely before their minds–individuals who are entirely formed by, and unavoidably live their whole lives within, what must, if God exists, be a fundamentally misleading meaning system” (238).
Third, the fact that human beings have an “amazing ability to rationalize things” is a double-edged sword. Those of us who reject sincerity denialism — “sincerity denial” deniers? — could just as easily argue that sincerity denial itself is an example of the amazing ability to rationalize things, such as how to reconcile the existence of nontheists–not to mention the existence of theistic non-Christians–with the doctrines of God’s moral goodness and the exclusivity of salvation through Christ.
Craig concludes his answer with the website equivalent of an altar call, imploring his questioner to “Look at the work of Christian philosophers and biblical scholars, such as you will find at this [Craig’s] website.” This suggestion is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. If a seeker wants to determine the truth of Christianity, Islam, or anything else, then they need to do more than just read the writings which defend those beliefs. They also need to study the work of the best critics of those beliefs.
This is simple inductive logic. If you’re going to attempt make an uncertain inference from evidence, the premises of an inductively correct argument need to embody all of the available, relevant evidence. For example, suppose you read Craig’s website and decide that God is the best explanation for both the origin of the universe and cosmic fine-tuning. Does it follow that God probably exists? No!
First, as I’ve explained in detail before, many deductive theistic arguments mask uncertainty. Consider William Lane Craig’s version of the so-called ‘fine-tuning’ argument. As I’ve argued before, even the name ‘fine-tuning argument’ is prejudicial against atheism, since the expression ‘fine-tuning’ naturally suggests a ‘fine-tuner’ ( = designer). So instead I’ll refer to this argument as the ‘life-permitting’ argument and I’ll refer to the alleged ‘fine-tuning of the universe’s initial conditions” as “the life-permitting nature of the universe’s initial conditions.” With those clarifications out of the way, then, we get the following formulation of the life-permitting argument.

1. The life-permitting nature of the universe’s initial conditions is either the result of chance, necessity or design. (Premise)
2. It is not the result of chance or necessity. (Premise)
3. Therefore, it is the result of design. (From 1 and 2)

This argument is clearly valid, i.e., the conclusion follows from the premises. We want to know the probability of (3). The probability of (3) will depend upon the probability of (2). If we have a very weak degree of belief that (2) is true, say we think Pr(2)=0.25, then, by itself, this argument only warrants the belief Pr(3)=0.25. N.B. I’m not claiming that (2) has an exact numerical probability equal to 0.25; that value is simply an example to illustrate the point.
Second, such arguments fail to embody all of the relevant, available evidence. This is because their conclusions are stated without qualification. For example, suppose we decide to ‘inductify’ or ‘probabilify’ the conclusion of Craig’s fine-tuning argument, it becomes something like this:

3′. [probable] Therefore, it is the result of design.

The problem with this revised conclusion, however, is that it isn’t justified by the premises. It may well be the case that, by itself, the life-permitting nature of the universe’s initial conditions does make it more probable than not that the universe is designed. But that doesn’t entail that, all things considered, the total available, relevant evidence makes it more probable than not that the universe is designed. In order to defend that claim, you have to look at all of the evidence, including the evidence of evolution, biological role of pain and pleasure, nonresistant nonbelief, etc. And once you do that, it’s far from obvious that the total evidence favors theism, much less Christian theism.
So instead of 3′, what we need instead is something like:

3”. Other evidence held equal, it is probably the result of design.

The italicized words are key because the conclusion is no longer claims that the universe’s life-permitting conditions alone justifies the conclusion of design. Instead, it says, if we hold all other evidence equal–i.e., assume for the sake of argument that all other relevant evidence ‘cancels out’–then the life-permitting data justifies design inference.
As I say, 3” is a big improvement over 3′ and 3, but it comes at a cost. Craig now needs additional premises or arguments to show that the total evidence favors design. For example, he might argue:

4. Biological evolution is not more probable on no-design than on design; and
5. The problem of evil in general is some evidence against design,  but it is outweighed by the total evidence for no-design.
6. There is no other evidence against design.

But these kinds of premises are much more difficult to defend.
Third, as I’ve argued before, on the basis of Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper’s work, Craig’s appeal to cosmic fine-tuning is a textbook example of the fallacy of understated evidence. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the life-permitting conditions of our universe are more likely on design than on no-design. That fact–if it is a fact–hardly exhausts what we know about the habitability of our universe. We also know that so much of our universe is hostile to life due to things such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth. Given that our universe is life-permitting, the fact that so much of it is hostile to life is much more probable on no-design than on design. So once all  of the evidence about cosmic life-permitting conditions has been fully stated, however, it’s far from obvious that facts about cosmic “fine-tuning” favor design over non-design.
Contrary to Craig’s special pleading, I conclude that nontheists and theists alike are amply justified in concluding, with a high degree of confidence, that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable or nonresistant nonbelief. If that creates problems for historic Christian doctrines such as Christian particularism, then so much the worse for those doctrines.
Appendix
Whenever I blog about the cosmic life-permitting argument, I always get at least one comment suggesting that the multiverse hypothesis is a good way to defeat that argument. My replies: “Good luck with that” and “Not according to inductive logic or probability theory.” We have little or no reason on naturalism (alone) to expect multiple universes, and the ‘independent’ evidence for a multiverse is far from conclusive. See here.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 5

Here is a brief plot summary of the movie Harvey:
Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six-foot rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane – but he may be wiser than anyone knows.
James Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd, the “whimsical middle-aged man” who could apparently see and converse with Harvey, a six-foot rabbit who was invisible to others.  The obvious conclusion is that Elwood is mentally ill and that his experiences of the six-foot rabbit are hallucinations.  But the movie casts doubt on this obvious conclusion, suggesting that we consider questions like these:
Q1. Does Elwood actually perceive a six-foot tall talking rabbit (a “Pooka” – a mischievous spirit who takes the form of an animal and who can appear selectively to  certain people)?
Q2. Does Elwood have veridical Pooka experiences of the presence of Harvey?
Q3. Does Elwood know that Harvey is present?
These questions have an obvious similarity to the questions that we are thinking about concerning the presence of God, alleged experiences of the presence of God, the veridicality of TREs, and Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience (AFR).
Our next order of business is to look more closely at the key term “veridical” , especially in the phrases “veridical theistic religious experience” and “veridical generic theistic religious experience”.   Swinburne argues that there is a very strong relationship between the veridicality of one generic TRE and the veridicality of other generic TREs.  The correctness or incorrectness of his reasoning on this issue depend crucially, it seems to me, on what the term “veridicality” means.
It  stikes me that (Q3) might well shed significant light on (Q2), and also on our question about the meaning of the key term “veridical”. I believe that the concept of veridicality is similar to, and closely related to, the concept of knowledge.
The first thing that occurs to most people is the question of TRUTH.  Is it TRUE that Harvey is present when Elwood is having his Pooka experiences?  Elwood BELIEVES that Harvey is present, but we have doubts about this belief and are inclined to think Elwood is mistaken, and that there is no six-foot tall rabbit in the room, nor that there is a mischievous spirit who is taking the form of a six-foot tall rabbit.
We are strongly inclined to think Elwood’s BELIEF that Harvey is present is a FALSE belief.  Elwood, we might say, does NOT know that Harvey is present because although Elwood BELIEVES that Harvey is present, he is mistaken, and this is a FALSE belief. Not just any belief counts as knowledge; the belief in question must be TRUE to count as knowledge.  Elwood’s belief about Harvey being present is FALSE, so this belief does not count as knowledge.  We might further conclude that Elwood is having non-veridical Pooka experiences, because there is in fact no six-foot tall rabbit and no mischievous spirit present in the room  with Elwood.
Definition 1 of ‘knows that x is present’:
Person P knows that x is present IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes x is present,  and
(b) it is true that x is present.
Definition 1 of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’:
Person P has a veridical experience of the presence of x IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P has an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present, and
(b) it is true that x is present.
If you have any background in epistemology or some familiarity with Socrates, you know that the idea that knowledge amounts to “true belief” is an overly simple analysis of the concept of knowledge, and that this analysis is mistaken.  There is at least the need for one more necessary condition: justification.  One can have a true belief by accident or chance or dumb luck.  But if I have a belief that is true by accident or chance or dumb luck, such a belief, though true, does not constitute knowledge.
John says: “I am thinking of a number between one and ten; guess the number.”
I respond: “You are thinking of the number seven.”
John replies: “Yes, that was the number.  Wow, good guess!”
I say: “I knew that you were thinking of the number seven.”
John says, “No you didn’t.  You just made a lucky guess.”
If I continue to claim to have KNOWN the number that John was thinking of, then John will challenge me to explain HOW I could have known the number, and if I claim to be able to read his mind, John will probably demand further proof of this amazing ability, perhaps by thinking of a number between one and a thousand, and seeing if I can still correctly identify that number.  This disagreement about whether I KNOW the numbers that John is thinking about is predicated on the distinction between a “lucky guess” and knowledge.  For a belief to be knowledge it must have something more going for it than simply being true.  Traditionally, going back to Socrates, knowledge was understood to be Justified True Belief, a subset of true beliefs:
Definition 2 of ‘knows that x is present’:
Person P knows that x is present IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes x is present,  and
(b) it is true that x is present, and
(c) P’s belief that x is present is rationally justified.
Definition 2 of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’:
Person P has a veridical experience of the presence of x IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P has an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present, and
(b) it is true that x is present, and
(c) P’s experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present was caused by x’s being present.
Note how this second definition of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ is parallel to the second definition of ‘knows that x is present’.
Note also that this analysis of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ corresponds to Swinburne’s view of perception:
It seems to me, for reasons that others have given at length, that the causal theory of perception is correct–that S perceives x (believing that he is so doing) if and only if an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to S that x is present is caused by x‘s being present.  So S has an experience of God if and only if its seeming to him that God is present is in fact caused by God being present. (EOG, p.296)
I take it that Swinburne understands the phrase ‘S perceives x’ to be equivalent to the phrase ‘S has a veridical experience of x’ as contrasted with non-veridical experiences such as hallucinations.
If a ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ has the above three necessary conditions that when combined form a sufficient condition, then one would think that the logic of veridicality would NOT be symetrical with the logic of non-veridicality.  An experience can be veridical only by satisfying all three necessary conditions above.  But an experience could be non-veridical in a variety of ways: by failing to satisfy the conditions (a) and (c), or by failing to satisfy conditions (b) and (c), or by failing to satisfy (c), or by failing to satisfy all three conditions.  There are many different ways for an experience to be non-veridical, but only one way for an experience to be veridical.
In the case of an ordinary physical object, it could be that the object is in fact present, but that the object is NOT the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to the subject that the object is present.  For example, there might in fact be a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me, but my experience of it seeming (epistemically) to me that there is a cat sitting on the couch across the room is CAUSED BY a hypnotist planting a suggestion in my mind about a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me.  The cause of my experience is the hypnotist and the suggestion made by the hypnotist that I “see” a cat sitting on the couch.  The actual presence of the cat on the couch is NOT the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to me that there is a cat on the couch.  In this case, my experience is non-veridical, and yet there really is a cat sitting on the couch across the room from me.  Why couldn’t there be non-veridical generic TREs even if God was actually present in the room with the subject?
According to Swinburne, IF God exists, then ALL generic TREs are veridical:
And so, if there is a God, any experience which seems to be of God [of the presence of God] will be genuine…”                  (EOG, p.320).  
Swinburne apparently did not notice the skeptical implication of this conclusion, namely that IF there is just one non-veridical generic TRE, then God does NOT exist!  This means that an atheist or a skeptic need only show that there is one single instance of a generic TRE that is non-veridical and the existence of God would thus be disproved.  But this seems contrary to common sense.  With ordinary objects there are various different ways that an experience can fail to be veridical, and in some of those ways it can still be the case that the object that seemed (epistemically) to the subject to be present was in fact present, as in the above example of the cat being present in the room but it’s presence NOT being the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to the subject that a cat was present in the room.
God is different than a cat, according to Swinburne, because God, if God exists, is involved in every causal event that occurs in any time and any place (because God, by definition, is omnipotent and omniscient and eternal).  Thus, God is involved in the cause of every experience that ever occurs:
But, if there is a God, he is omnipresent and all causal processes operate only because he sustains them.  Hence any causal processes at all that bring about my experience will have God among their causes… (EOG, p.320)
But Swinburne, it seems to me, has made a hasty conclusion here, which may not hold up under closer examination.   From this premise…
(GAC) God is among the causes that bring about the experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that God is present.
Swinburne has drawn the following inference, related to one necessary condition of having a veridical experience:
(GPC) God’s being present with P is the cause of its seeming (epistemically) to P that God is present.
There are many different ways in which one person might cause another person to have a particular experience.  Being present in the same place and at the same time with the other person is just ONE of MANY different ways that one person could cause another person to have an experience.  For example, the hypnotist that causes it to seem (epistemically) to me that there is a cat present in the room with me could do this over the phone, and thus not be present with me.  Furthermore, even if the hypnotist were present, it is not the presence of the hypnotist that causes my non-veridical experience of the cat; rather, it is the action of hypnotizing and of saying certain things to me that causes my  non-veridical experience of the cat.
Since there are many different ways that one person can cause another person to have a particular experience, and since being present with the other person is just one such way, it seems to me that we cannot logically infer (GPC) from (GAC).  The claim made in (GAC) is too general and vague to logically imply the more specific claim made by (GPC).
Since God is always present to everyone, if God exists, there must be some additional factor that determines whether a particular person will experience the presence of God at a particular time and a particular place.  If generic TREs are sometimes caused by God, this presumably requires that God choose or will this experience to occur to that particular person at that time and that place.  But if this is so, then it is NOT the case that it is merely God’s presence that caused the generic TRE to occur, anymore than it is the hypnotist’s presence that caused me to have a non-veridical experience of the cat.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 4

Although I have been considering the implications of the idea that the veridicality of a Theistic Religious Experience (TRE) is independent of the veridicality of other TREs, this is NOT the view of Swinburne.  In fact, Swinburne clearly holds the opposite view, the view that the veridicality of a TRE is dependent on the veridicality of other TREs.  I will get into the details of this shortly.
First, let me back up for a moment and provide a key definition.  Swinburne defines “religious experience” in Chapter 13 of The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG, where he presents his Argument from Religious Experience, hereafter: AFR):
For our present purposes it will be useful to define it [a ‘religious experience’] as an experience of God (either of his just being there, or of his saying or bringing about something) or of some other supernatural thing. (EOG, p.295) 
Note the emphasis on TREs: “an experience of God”.  Swinburne does not limit religious experiences to experiences of God, since the definition also includes experiences “of some other supernatural thing”.  However, Swinburne immediately points out that his focus is on TREs, especially on one specific kind of TRE:
For most of the discussion I shall be concerned with experiences that seem to be simply of the presence of God and not with his seeming to tell the subject something specific or to do something specific. (EOG, p.296) 
So not only is Swinburne’s argument focused on TREs, but it is focused on a specific subset of TREs, what I have referred to as “generic” TREs.
Statements of key points in his argument also focus on TREs:
…a religious experience apparently of God ought to be taken as veridical unless it can be shown on other grounds significantly more probable than not that God does not exist. (EOG, p.321)
One who has had a religious experience apparently of God has, by the Principle of Credulity, good reason for believing that there is a God… (EOG, p.325)
Swinburne’s definition of ‘religious experience’ has a flaw, if taken as it stands.  It is not clear that one can have “an experience of God” if there is no God.  Swinburne does not intend to beg the question about the existence of God, and in the context of  the opening of Chapter 13, it is fairly clear that what he had in mind is an experience in which is seems (epistemically) to the subject that God is present (or that God is communicating a message to the subject, or that God is performing some action).
Swinburne leaves open the possibiilty that it might seem (epistemically) to a person that God is present when in fact there is no God, and thus God was NOT present to that person.  In other words, one can have a TRE that is non-veridical.  Having a theistic religious experience does NOT imply or entail that God was present or that God exists.  It might be the case that all TREs are non-veridical, that all TREs are misleading experiences.  Therefore, the occurrence of TREs does not in and of itself logically imply that God exists.
Back to the issue of dependency between the veridicality of generic TREs.  One obvious point is that if just one single generic TRE is veridical, then that means that God was present at least on that particular occasion.  But since God is omniscient and omnipotent and eternal (by definition), if God was present on one occaision, then it follows logically that God is present at any and every place at any and every time.  If God exists at one moment, then God exists in all moments, for any person who exists for only a finite duration of time cannot be ‘God’.  Any person who can only influence events in one particular part of the universe cannot be ‘God’.    Any person who is only aware of events in a particular place or at a particular time cannot be ‘God’.  In short, if God was present at one moment of time in one particular location, then God exists.  If God exists, then God is present at all times and at all places.
Recall that Swinburne saves his presentation of AFR until after all other major considerations for and and against the existence of God have been covered (in his view).  He believes that other relevant evidence shows that the existence of God is somewhat probable, that theism has a probability somewhere between .4 and .5:
g: God exists
.4 < P(g) < .5 
But Swinburne is clearly talking about a conditional probability, a probability that is based on the evidence in the premises of his previous arguments for and against God.  Let’s use a letter to represent this background evidence that was considered prior to examination of AFR:
k: [the background evidence of the premises of the inductive arguments for and against God previously presented by Swinburne]
Now we can represent the probability range more accurately:
.4 < P(g|k) < .5
Swinburne believes he has a bit of wiggle room here, because all that is required for the success of AFR, in his view, is that the prior probability of the existence of God be more than just ‘very improbable’.  I would interpret that to mean the following assumption is required for the success of AFR:
P(g|k) > .2
If AFR is as good as Swinburne thinks, then the evidence in the premises of this argument should bump up the probability significantly, to make the existence of God “more probable than not”:
e: Many people have had generic TREs which are not subject to special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality of those TREs. 
P(g| e & k) > .5
If we have before us a collection of clean (i.e. no special considerations apply) generic TREs, and if we could somehow determine that one TRE in this collection was in fact veridical, that would, by itself, make it certain that God exists.  From that point forward any further instances of TREs would need to be evaluated on the basis of a NEW prior probability of the existence of God.  This new information, that at least one TRE was veridical, would shift the prior probabililty of the existence of God from somwhere between .4 and .5, all the way up to the maximum probabilty: 1.0.  In other words, as soon as one single TRE has been determined to be veridical, we have good reason to be much less skeptical about the veridicality of other TREs.
This is kind of like the idea of a miracle.  As soon as one single miracle has been determined to be valid, that establishes both the existence of God and the fact that God is, at least on some occasions, willing to intervene in nature for the sake of some human (or some animal) and to cause a violation of a law of nature.  Once one single miracle has been determined to be valid, then we would have good reason to be much less skeptical about other miracles.
A similar sort of relationship appears to hold in the case that we determine a particular TRE to be non-veridical.  If someone claims to have had an experience of the presence of God, but we determine that God was NOT present on that occasion, then we have also determined that God does NOT exist.  For if God DID exist, then God would have been present in the time and place that the person who claims to have experienced God had this experience that seemed to him/her to be an experience of the presence of God.  If God exists, then God exists at all times and at all places.
Furthermore, according to Swinburne, if God exists, then God is involved in the causation of any religious experience that seems (to the subject) to be an experience of God:
But, if there is a God, he is omnipresent and all causal processes operate only because he sustains them.  Hence any causal processes at all that bring about my experience will have God among their causes; and any experience of him will be of him as present at a place where he is.  And so, if there is a God, any experience that seems to be of God, will be genuine–will be of God. (EOG, p.320)
It appears that if there is just one single TRE that we determine was non-veridical, then we have determined that God does NOT exist, and that all other TREs are also non-veridical.  If God exists, then all TREs are veridical.  Therefore, if just one TRE is non-veridical, then God does NOT exist.
So, at least at first blush, it appears that if one single generic TRE is determined to be veridical, that shows that God exists, and that other generic TREs are also veridical, and it appears that if one single generic TRE is determined to be non-veridical, that shows God does NOT exist, and that other generic TREs must also be non-veridical.  Given these two sorts of logical dependencies, the probability tree diagram for generic TREs would look like this:
3 TREs with Dependency
 
As soon as the status of the first TRE is determined, so is the status for any other TREs.  If the first TRE was veridical, then God exists, and all other TREs must then also be veridical, based on Swinburne’s views about the implications of the veridicality of a TRE.  If the first TRE is non-veridical, then all other TREs must then also be non-veridical.  Assuming that the prior probability of God’s existence is .4, we must either determine that the first TRE is veridical and raise that probabilty to 1.0, or determine that the first TRE is non-veridical and lower that probability to 0.
I don’t think Swinburne was aware of this implication of his view of the implications of determining a TRE to be veridical:
There are large numbers of people both today and in the past who have had religious experiences apparently of the presence of God and that must make it significantly more probable that any one person’s experience is veridical. (EOG, p.323-324)
It seems to me that the occurrence of large numbers of “religious experiences apparently of the presence of God” does NOT help the case for God.  The probability of the veridicality  of the first TRE that we consider will depend on the prior probability of the existence of God, but once the veridicality of that TRE is determined, the question of the existence of God will be answered, and no further TREs need be considered, because the veridicality of the remaining TREs will be determined by whether the first TRE was veridical or not, given Swinburne’s assumption that IF God exists, then ALL  generic TREs must be veridical.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 1: Introduction

The book’s introduction divides into six parts: (i) the crucial role that beliefs about God play in worldviews; (ii) an overview of three major “religious” worldviews; (iii) a discussion of the role of faith and facts in religion; (iv) three categories of problems with Christianity; (v) the faith of an atheist; and (vi) a high-level summary of their 12-point case for Christianity.
(i) The Role of (A)theology in Worldviews: Geisler and Turek (G&T) state that the answers to life’s “five most consequential questions… depend on the existence of God” (20). I take this to be a typo. As I’m sure G&T agree, if God does not exist, it does not follow that those questions have no answers. In fact, G&T themselves summarize what they think the atheistic answers to those questions must be! So I assume that what G&T meant is that such answers “will be informed by one’s beliefs about the existence of God.” And I take it that this claim is clearly right.
(ii) Three Major “Religious” Worldviews: G&T assert that “Most of the world’s major religions fall into one of these three religious world-views: theism, pantheism, and atheism” (22), which they then define as follows:
Theist: someone who believes in a personal God who created the universe but is not part of the universe
Pantheist: someone who believes in an impersonal God that literally is the universe.
Atheist: someone who does not believe in any type of God.
Additionally, they define an “agnostic” as someone who is unsure about the question of God.
For the most part, I think these definitions are fine. The one concern I have is with G&T’s definition of agnosticism. Since theism, pantheism, and atheism are defined in terms of beliefs, I think it would have been better to define agnosticism as “the lack of beliefs about God’s existence.” Not only does this keep the symmetry going, but, more important, it keeps beliefs separate from a person’s degree of belief, i.e., how much certainty or uncertainty they attach to their beliefs.
(iii) Faith and Facts in Religion: G&T argue that religion is not “simply a matter of faith” because “religion is not only about faith.” Rather, religion also makes truth claims and so “facts” play  a central role as well. This invites the obvious question: what do G&T mean by “faith”? The answer is found in a later section, where they write:
We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge. (26)
Elsewhere, they claim that “every religious worldview requires faith” (25).
There are times where two people speak the same language, use the same words, and mean very different things by the same words. In conversations between Christians and atheists, “faith” is one such word. For many atheists, the word “faith” means, by default, belief without evidence or even belief against the evidence. Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell probably summed up the views of most atheists when he wrote this.

We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups, substitute different emotions.[1]

In contrast, I doubt many Christians would accept that definition. For example, Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) states, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In other words, faith is a belief that (a) is about something a person hopes is true; and (b) goes beyond the evidence.
Regarding (a), many atheists hope that God exists and that atheism is false. Indeed, for those of us who are former believers, in many cases their loss of belief in God was depressing. In the Hebrews sense of “faith,” then, such atheists do not have faith in atheism, even if they are uncertain about their atheism.
As for (b), I agree with both Christians and atheists on this point. I agree with those Christians who point out that the Biblical concept of faith doesn’t seem to support belief against the evidence. “Going beyond the evidence,” does not mean “going against the evidence.” I also think that “going beyond the evidence” doesn’t entail “there is no evidence at all.” (For example, the conclusions of logically correct inductive arguments go beyond the content of their premises, but their premises are nevertheless evidence for their conclusions.) But I also agree with Russell that, in everyday language, the word “faith” is often used just as he says it is.
In light of this difference in language, then, it’s always puzzled me why Christian apologists like G&T insist on using a word like “faith” in their exchanges with atheists and agnostics. There are other ways to make the same point; there’s no apparent “upside,” and there is a clear “downside.” Christian philosopher Victor Reppert seems to agree. He writes:

Every time you use the word “faith” in a discussion with an atheist, they are going to declare victory. They will presume that you are believing for no reason, and that you are admitting that the evidence is against you.[2]

I think Reppert is probably right. The word “faith” simply has too much baggage and is too off-putting to nontheists. The expressions “uncertain belief” or “probable belief” are two much less contentious ways to make the same point.
(iv) Three Categories of Problems with Christianity: G&T describe three types of obstacles to Christian belief: (1) intellectual (such as the argument from evil); (2) emotional (such as hypocrisy); and (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to sin).
I take it that this list of categories is clearly right, but incomplete. I would add a fourth category: (4) biological (such as mindblindness associated with severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders).[3]
Furthermore, as I’m sure G&T would agree, we can use these same four categories to describe Christian obstacles to becoming atheists. For example: (1) intellectual (such as the kalām cosmological argument); (2) emotional (such as the prospect of no afterlife); (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to fit into a religious community); and (4) biological (i.e., the natural tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents).[4]
But G&T do more than just list the different categories of obstacles to Christian belief. They also summarize their assessment of the evidence against Christianity and against God’s existence.

That is, once one looks at the evidence, we think it takes more faith to be a non-Christian than it does to be a Christian. (24)

In fact, they put the point this way.

Indeed, we think our conclusions are true beyond a reasonable doubt. (This type of certainty, say, 95-plus percent certain, is the best that fallible and finite human beings can attain for most questions, and it is more than sufficient for even the biggest decisions in life.) (25, italics mine)

This remarkable degree of probability is supposed to follow from their 12-point case for Christianity. In fact, as I will show in this review, their biased and incomplete summary of the evidence comes nowhere close to justifying a 95% or greater probability that Christianity is true.
(v) The Faith of an Atheist: Consistent with their definition of faith, G&T argue that since atheists are dealing “in the realm of probability rather than absolute certainty,” they have to “have a certain amount of faith to believe that God does not exist” (26). It seems to me that G&T are clearly right that atheists, like theists, can have beliefs about God that are, at best, highly probable, not absolutely certain.
(vi) High-Level Summary of Case for Christianity: In this section G&T offer a preview of their “twelve points that show Christianity is true.” The most important of these points may be summarized as follows.
(a) Arguments for theism: these include versions of the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments
(b) Evidence for Christianity: evidence that Jesus is God, such as his fulfillment of prophecy, miracles, and his resurrection from the dead.
Having outlined G&T’s case for Christian theism, I shall now analyze its logical structure. The good news for G&T is that I have only one comment. The bad news is that I think it is fatal to their project.  The comment is this: G&T’s evidence for Christianity, even if accurate, doesn’t make it probable that Christianity is true. Although G&T explicitly recognize that they are dealing with probabilities, the logical structure of their argument is defective because it fails to satisfy the rules of mathematical probability known as the axioms of the probability calculus.
This is best shown with a concrete example. Let’s suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that the following evidence favors theism over atheism, i.e., is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true: the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe, the design of life, and the existence of the moral law. Even so, it still doesn’t follow that, all things considered, God’s existence is more likely than not. For example, it may be the case—and I think is the case—that there is other evidence which favors atheism over theism. But, if true, that entails that G&T’s case violates the Total Evidence Requirement and so G&T’s case accordingly fails to show that Christianity is probably true.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] Bertrand Russell, Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954, New York: Routledge, 2013), 215.
[2] Victor Reppert, “Matt McCormick on the Meaning of Faith,” Dangerous Idea (July 29, 2012), http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2012/07/matt-mccormick-on-meaning-of-faith.html.
[3] Simon Baron-Cohen, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995).
[4] Justin Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2004).

bookmark_borderIndex: Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Review of Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004). 
Like all apologetics books, both Christian and non-Christian, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist book takes a partisan approach to the philosophy of religion. Of course, by itself, the fact that it is a partisan book isn’t a problem. The existence or non-existence of God is an important topic; it’s appropriate for people who’ve reached a conclusion to try to persuade others of their position.
The fundamental problem with this book is the particular way it takes a partisan approach: there are partisan books and then there are obnoxiously partisan books.  Like many (but not all) of those other books in the apologetics genre, the basic approach seems to be the following.

  1. Present and defend the author’s preferred view as favorably as possible.
  2. Represent opposing views as unfavorably as possible.
  3. Reach the remarkable conclusion that–surprise, surprise–the author’s view is true.
  4. Suggest that anyone who disagrees is ignorant, irrational, or has ulterior (non-rational) motives.

The problem with obnoxious apologetics, which seems to afflict as many atheist apologists as theist apologists, is that it’s a fatally flawed way to search for truth. If our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth–and it should be–then the above approach is what not to do. Rather, if our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth, then our basic approach should be to represent opposing views fairly, in the best possible light, and interact with the best arguments both for and against the different viewpoints.
The philosopher George H. Smith once wrote, “We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from the honest pursuit of truth.”[1] Along the same lines, obnoxious apologetics is in no one’s self-interest. First, it clearly is not in the best interest of the community who feels their position has been slandered by the straw men created (and then torn down) by apologists.
Second, it’s not in the self-interest of the obnoxious apologist, since in the long-run it can backfire.  Think of the last time you read or listened to something which you felt misrepresented one of your beliefs (or your arguments for your beliefs). Did you change your mind and drop the belief? Of course not! Did you start thinking of objections and rebuttals as you were reading or listening? Probably!  Indeed, if the misrepresentation was made by someone in the public eye, such as a well-known author, it runs the real risk of inviting corrective reviews (like this one) and damaging the author’s credibility.
Third, it’s not in the self-interest of undecided, sincere seekers who truly want to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Following the evidence wherever it leads requires that all of the available relevant evidence be presented and presented fairly. As we shall see later in this review, Geisler and Turek (hereafter, G&T) fail to do this—over and over again.
This failure not only has a practical cost, but a logical cost as well. As G&T admit, their goal is to show that Christianity is highly probable through the use of inductive arguments based upon empirical evidence. But inductive arguments succeed only when they satisfy the Total Evidence Requirement, viz., that their premises embody all of the available relevant evidence.  As I show below, however, G&T’s inductive arguments fail to do this–both individually and collectively. Accordingly, even if all of G&T’s evidence were accurate, which it isn’t, G&T’s case still wouldn’t succeed in showing that Christianity is probably true.
In order to support this verdict on the book’s approach, I’m going to provide a fairly detailed review of the book’s contents, divided into sections according to the table of contents.
Here is the table of contents for the book:
Foreword by David Limbaugh
Preface: How Much Faith Do You Need to Believe This Book?
Acknowledgements
Introduction: Finding the Box Top to the Puzzle of Life
1 Can We Handle the Truth?
2 Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?
3 In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE
4 Divine Design
5 The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?
6 New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?
7 Mother Theresa vs. Hitler
8 Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility
9 Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus? (Part 1, Part 2)
10 Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?
11 The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth
12 Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
13 Who is Jesus: God? Or Just a Great Moral Teacher?
14 What Did Jesus Teach about the Bible?
15 Conclusion: The Judge, The Servant, and the Box Top
Appendix 1: If God, Why Evil?
Appendix 2: Isn’t That Just Your Interpretation?
Appendix 3: Why the Jesus Seminar Doesn’t Speak for Jesus
Notes
 
[1] George H. Smith, “Atheism: The Case Against God,” speech delivered to the Society of Separationists, 1976. Transcript published as “How to Defend Atheism,” The Secular Web (1976), http://infidels.org/library/modern/george_smith/defending.html.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 3

Previously, I have only considered the very simple case where one person has a memory of having previously had a theistic religious experience (hereafter: TRE) of a generic sort–an experience in which it seemed (epistemically) to him/her that God was present.  There were a couple of basic points made about probable inferences in contrast to necessary or deductive inferences, but there are even more interesting points of logic and probability ahead as we consider more complex and more realistic scenarios.
For most skeptics, we don’t have religous experiences, and if and when we do have something that might be called a religious experience, we are not inclined to believe that the experience was caused by God or by any sort of supernatural person or being.  This might also be true for many Christians and Jews and Muslims.  In any case, there is a significant portion of the population for whom the evidence of religious experience must be second-hand and based on the testimony of others.
Recall that Swinburne proposes a principle concerning testimony which is similar to his principles about experience and memory:

TESTIMONY

…(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them. (EOG, p.322) 

So for many of us, especially for us skeptics, doubters, and atheists, there is a longer chain of probable inferences requried to come to a conclusion about the existence of God.  Furthermore, since testimony about TREs is not a constant feature of our experiences, once such a testimony is given and heard, the force of that testimony remains only by means of memories of having heard (or read) that testimony.  Thus, for many people, and probably for most skeptics, there are number of steps of probable inferences in reasoning to  a conclusion about the probability of God on the basis of an alleged TRE:

1. It seems (epistemically) to me that I heard John testify last Sunday to having had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

2. There are no special considerations casting doubt on my apparent memory about John testifying about having had a TRE.

3. If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something  or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. [Swinburne’s principle concerning memory]

Therefore:

4. It is probably the case that John testified last Sunday to having had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

5. There are no special considerations casting doubt on John’s honesty and integrity.

6. If someone testifies to having had a certain experience on a certain occasion in the past, and if there are no special considerations casting doubt on that person’s honesty and integrity, then it is probably the case that it seemed (epistemically) to that person during his/her testimony that he/she had that experience on that occasion in the past. [This is an additional principle in the spirit of Swinburne’s other principles]

Therefore:

7.  It is somewhat probable (it is probable that it is probable) that at the time John was giving his testimony it seemed (epistemically) to John that he had had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

8.  There are no special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality or reliability of John’s apparent memory about a religious experience while he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

9. If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something  or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. [Swinburne’s principle concerning memory]

Therefore:

10.  It is probable that it is probable that it is probable that John had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

11. There are no special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this generic TRE had by John.

12. In the absence of special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality or reliabilty  of the experience, if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic). [Swinburne’s principle of experience]

Therefore:

13. It is probable that it is probable that it is probable that it is probable that God was present with John during his generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

Because a chain consisting of a number of probable inferences is required to get from that actual data (my apparent memory of John giving testimony) to the conclusion (about God being present with John during a religious experience), the probability is somewhat diminished.  Suppose that we interpret “probable” to mean having a probability of about .6.   In that case the chain of four probable inferences requires that we multiply this probability four times:

.6 x .6 x .6 x .6

= .36 x .36

= .1296

If we round this to a single significant figure, then the probability of God’s existence, based on this specific evidence and Swinburne’s principles, would be: .1  or one chance in ten.  Not a very impressive conclusion.

Furthermore, we are assuming that the premises that state there are no special considerations casting doubt (on the testimony, or memory, or experience) are certain.  But we are finite and fallible human beings, so those premises might add more uncertainty into the equation, and reduce the probability further.  And we also may be less than certain about the various epistemological principles, so that could further reduce the probability of the conclusion.

However, if we make the simplifying assumption that the veridicality of each generic theistic religious experience is independent of the veridicality of other generic theistic religious experiences, then because there is a great deal of testimony about a great many alleged generic theistic religious experiences, even a very modest probability of veridicality will be sufficient to show that it is virtually certain that God exists.  If you roll two dice a hundred times, you are very likely to come up with a pair of sixes on one of the rolls, even though it is unlikely that you will get a pair of sixes on any specific given roll.  Similarly, if each and every generic theistic religious experience has some small but significant chance of being veridical, then if a hundred such experiences occur, it is virtually certain that at least one would be veridical (i.e. God would in fact be present with the experiencer).

Let’s set aside that issue of the chain of probable inferences involved in a memory of a testimony about a religious experience.  Let’s assume that we have some way to be confident that a number of generic theistic relgious experiences have occurred.  Let’s assume that with the examples we have collected there are no special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality of the experiences, and that the veridicality of each generic theistic religious experience was independent of the veridicality of other such experiences. Let’s assume, therefore, that each generic theistic religious experience has a probability of .6 of being veridical (meaning that God was actually present and being experienced by the believer).

[It is important to note here that Swinburne thinks that the veridicality of a generic TRE is NOT independent of the veridicality of other generic TREs.  Furthermore, I agree that the veridicality of a generic TRE is NOT independent of the veridicality of other generic TREs.  However, it is still worth considering the idea of them being independent, partly because this is a simplifying assumption making probability calculations simpler, but also just to be a bit clearer about the importance and implications of dependence relationships between TREs by means of contrast with the idea of TREs being independent of each other (in terms of veridicality).]

Consider the paralell scenario of fair tosses of a coin, where the probability of getting heads is .5 and the probability of tails is also .5.  If you do three fair tosses, what is the probability that at least one toss would come up heads?  We know that EITHER at least one toss will come up heads OR no toss will come up heads.  Those are the only two possibilities.  So, it is certain that one or the other of those possibilities will be realized if we toss the coin three times:

O: At least one toss comes up heads.

N: No toss comes up heads.

E: Every toss comes up tails.

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

15. Either O or N.    [This is an analytic truth; we know with certainty that this statement is true.]

16. A statement that is known with certainty to be true has a probability of 1.0.

Therefore:

17. P(O or N) =  1.0   [The probability that either O or N will occur EQUALS 1.0, i.e. this is certain.]

 18. The probability of a disjunction is equal to the sum of the probabilities of each disjunct minus the probability of both disjuncts being true.

Therefore:  

19. P(O) + P(N) – P(O and N) = 1.0    [The probability that O occurs PLUS the probability that N occurs MINUS the probability that both O and N occur EQUALS 1.0.]

20. If O occurs, then N does not occur, AND if N occurs, then O does not occur.  [O and N are mutually exclusive outcomes.]

Therefore:

21. ~(O and N)   [O and N are mutually exclusive outcomes, so we know with certainty that they cannot both occur.]

22. If we know with certainty that a statement is NOT the case, then the probability of that statement is zero.

Therefore:   

23. P(O and N) = 0   [The probability that both O occurs and N occurs EQUALS zero.]

24.  If  two expressions are equivalent, then we can replace one expression with the other in any equation. 

Therefore:

25. P(O) + P(N) – 0 = 1.0   [The probabilty that O occurs PLUS the probability that N occurs MINUS 0 EQUALS 1.0.]

26. x – 0 = x   [Any number minus zero equals that number.]

Therefore:

27:  P(N) – 0 = P(N)

Therefore:

28.  P(N) can be substituted in any equation for the expression P(N) – 0.

Therefore:

29. P(O) + P(N) = 1.0   

30.  We can subtract the same thing from both sides of a true equation to produce a true equation.

Therefore:

31. P(O) = 1.0 –  P(N)   [The probability that O occurs EQUALS  1.0 MINUS the probability that N occurs.]

32. P(N) = P(E)   [The probability that no toss comes up heads is the same as the probability that every toss comes up tails.]

33. If they are equal, then we can substitute P(E) for P(N) in any true equation to produce another true equation.

Therefore:

34. P(O) = 1.0 – P(E)    [The probability that O occurs EQUALS 1.0 MINUS the probabilty that E occurs.]

That is a lot of work for this meager conclusion:

The probability that at least one toss comes up heads EQUALS 1.0 MINUS the probability that every toss comes up tails.

But it is easy to figure out the probability that every toss comes up tails.  Let’s start with the scenario where we do three (fair) coin tosses:

3 Fair Coin Tosses

In order to come up with tails on all three tosses, one must come up with tails on the first toss (probability = .5) and then come up with tails on the second toss (probability = .5) and then come up with tails on the third toss (probability = .5).  So, the probability of coming up with tails on all three tosses is:

.5 x .5 x .5

= .25 x .5

= .125

P(E) = .125   (or .1 rounded to one significant figure).

We have determined that the probability of coming up with heads at least once is equal to 1.0 MINUS the probability of coming up tails on all three tosses:

P(O) =  1.0 – P(E)

Therefore:

P(O) = 1.0 – .125

Therefore:

P(O) = .875  (or .9 rounded to one significant figure)

So, it is very probable that in three (fair) tosses of a coin, that heads will come up at least one time.

What if we do six (fair) tosses of a coin?  What is the probability that heads will come up at least once?  The same logic applies.  The probability that heads will come up at least once EQUALS 1.0 MINUS the probability that tails will come up on every toss:

P(O) = 1.0 – P(E)

The only significant difference is that it is much less likely for tails to come up six times in a row, as compared with tails coming up three times in a row.  In order to come up with tails on all six tosses, the first toss must come up tails (probability = .5), the second toss must also come up tails (probability = .5), etc.  Thus the probability that tails will come up every time in six (fair) tosses of a coin is:

.5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5

=  .25 x .25 x .25

= .015625  [I will round off when calculation is completed.]

Therefore (in the case of six fair tosses):

P(O) = 1.0 – .015625

P(O) = .984375  (rounded to two significant figures: .98 , and rounded to one significant figure: 1)

We can see that with just six tosses of a coin it become highly probable, nearly certain, that at least one toss will come up heads.  We can reasonably conclude that the probability of heads coming up at least once in six fair tosses of a coin is greater than .9 but  less than 1.0:

.9 < P(O) < 1.0

The same logic and similar math applies to analogous scenarios with TREs, where we consider having evidence consisting of a set of three TREs and then consider having evidence consisting of a set of six TREs, given the simplifying assumption that the veridicality of a TRE is independent of the veridicality of other TREs.

Let’s re-define the basic statements abbreviated by the letters used in reasoning about coin tosses:

O:  At least one of the TREs is veridical (i.e. is the result of God actually being present).

N: None of the TREs is veridical.

E:  Every one of the TREs is non-veridical.

Suppose we have accepted three generic TREs as having no special considerations casting doubt on their reliability or veridicality.  Suppose that we take each one of the TREs to be probably veridical, meaning that there is a probability of .6 that the TRE is veridical.  Suppose we assume that the veridicality of any one TRE is independent of the veridicality of the other TREs.  We can represent this with a probability tree diagram that is very similar to the above tree diagram for coin tosses:

3 TREs

In this case we can apply the previous formula:

P(O) =  1.0 – P(E)

First, let’s determine the value of P(E), the probability that every one of the three TREs is non-veridical.  In order for all three of a series of three TREs to be non-verdical, the first TRE must be non-veridical (probability = .4, because the probabiliy of it being veridical is .6), and then the second TRE must also be non-veridical (probability = .4), and the third TRE must be non-veridical (probability = .4).  Thus, the probability that all three TREs in the series will be non-veridical is:

.4 x .4 x .4

= .16 x .4

= .064  [I will round after calculation is completed]

Therefore:

P(E) = .064

Therefore:

P(O) =  1.0 – .064

P(O) = .936  (or rounded to one signigicant figure: .9)

Thus, with just three “clean” (having no special considerations casting doubt on them)  generic TREs as evidence, the probability that at least one of them is veridical (i.e. is the result of God actually being present) is high, about .9.

What if we had six clean generic TREs as our evidence?  The probability that EVERY one of the six TREs was non-veridical would be this:

.4 x .4 x .4 x .4 x .4 x .4

= .16 x .16 x .16

= .004096  [I will round number when calculation is completed.]

Therefore:

P(E) = .004096

P(O) = 1.0 – P(E)

Therefore:

P(O) = 1.0 – .004096

P(O) = .995904  ( or approximately: 1.0)

With just six clean generic TREs, the probability (based on the various assumptions above) that at least one of these TREs was veridical (i.e. the result of God actually being present during the experience) would be about .99, nearly 1.0,  nearly certain.

To be continued…

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 2

Richard Swinburne’s argument from religious experience (AFR) as given in The Existence of God (2nd ed.- hereafter: EOG) is based on three key epistemological  principles:

EXPERIENCE

…(in the absence of special considerations), if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic)… (EOG, p. 303)

MEMORY

If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something  or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. (EOG, p.303)

TESTIMONY

…(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them. (EOG, p.322) 


There are some interesting issues and complexities involving probability calculations that I have run into recently in thinking about this argument.  Let’s start simple, and then work towards more complicated and realistic scenarios. The simple scenario  I have in mind is this:

Just one person has just one religious experience of a generic theistic sort (i.e. this person has an experience which seems (epistemicallly) to him or her to be an experience of the presence of God).  
What is the evidential force of this experience for that person who has the experience, given Swinburne’s principles?
If the person in question is having this religious exprience right now, then he or she does not need to make any assumptions about the reliability of his or her memory, nor is there a need to make use of testimony about the religious experiences of others, since we are assuming that there is just one religious experience on just this one occasion.  The reasoning of this person would go like this, based on Swinburne’s principle concerning experiences:
1. I am now having an experience in which it seems (epistemically) to me that God is present here and now.
2. There are no special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this experience.
3. In the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this experience, if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic).
Therefore:
4. It is probably the case that God is present here and now.
One obvious “special consideration” against the veridicality of this religious experience is evidence against the existence of God.  Swinburne recognizes that this is relevant, and he has saved the argument from religious experience for the end of his case for God.  So, he thinks that he has already dealt with various reasons and arguments against the existence of God, including the problem of evil, and thinks he has shown that there is at least a significant probability that God exists, even taking negative evidence into account.   I interpret him to claim that the probability for the existence of God is between about .4 and .5 prior to consideration of AFR.
But Swinburne thinks that he only needs to show that the probability of God’s existence is something greater than “very low” prior to consideration of religious experience.  I interpret that to mean that he only needs to show that there is a probability of at least .2 (two chances in ten) that God exists, prior to consideration of AFR.
I’m not going to directly challenge the above reasoning that is based on a single instance of a theistic religious experience.  I’m more interested in looking at the issues that arise in more complicated scenarios.
One obvious complication is that religious experiences usually only last for a few seconds or a few minutes.  This means that the above reasoning will only be of temporary relevance to the person who had the religious experience.  Once the experience is gone, the person who had the experience must rely on a MEMORY of the experience to justify his or her current belief in God:
5. It seems (epistemically) to me that last Friday night, I had an experience which (at that time) seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.
 6. There are no special considerations that cast doubt on the  veridicality or reliability of my apparent memory of having had this experience last Friday night.
7. If it seems (epistemically) to a subject that he or she had a certain experience at a particular time in the past, then (in the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of that apparent memory) he or she probably did have that experience at that particular time in the past.
Therefore:
8.  It is probably the case that last Friday night I had an experience which (at that time) seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.
The apparent memory does NOT absolutely guarantee that the experience really happened as one thinks it happened.  An apparent memory can only make it very probable that the experience happened and was of a certain character.  Furthermore, even at the very moment that the religious experience was occurring, the experience did not absolutely guarantee that God was in fact present; it only made the presence of God probable.  In remembering a religious experience, one makes two probable inferences.  The first probable inference is from the apparent memory to the occurrence of the religious experience, and the second probable inference is from the occurrence of the religious experience to the existence of God.  Each probable inference in a chain of inferences lowers the probability of the conclusion.
At the time I was having the religious experience, I could be very confident that I was having an experience which seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.  So, at that time we could say that I was justifiably certain that I was having such an experience.  The probability that I was having such an experience could be said to be 1.0 for me at that time.  But that time has come and gone, and I can no longer be certain that I had that religious experience and that it was of the described character.
Suppose that given the apparent memory of having had a religious experience (of the sort described above), and given the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the reliability of the apparent memory, the probable inference to the conclusion that the religious experience really occurred gives that conclusion a probability of .8.   That I am right now having an apparent memory of this event is something I can know with a very high degree of certainty, so let’s just say that the occurrence of the apparent memory is certain, that it has a probability of 1.0.  In this case, the conclusion that I had the religious experience (as described) last Friday night would be .8, based on the apparent memory of having had that experience.
If it were certain that I had an experience that seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God, this would NOT make it certain that God exists, but if there are no special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of that expereince, then, according to Swinburne, I can justifiably infer that it is probable that the experience was veridical and thus that God probably exists.  Let’s suppose that given that it was certain that I had a religious experience of the sort described, this would make the probability of the  existence of God .8.  It is tempting at this point to reason along the lines of a hypothetical syllogism:
9. If someone has an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on the memory), then that person probably did have a religious experience of the presence of God.
10.  If someone had a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on that experience), then that person  probably was in fact in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
Therefore:
11.  If someone has an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on that memory, and there are no special considerations casting doubt on the experience), then that person probably was in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
From (11) we can form an argument for the probability that God exists, by adding a few premises:
12.  I have an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God.
13.  There are no special considerations casting doubt on that apparent memory.
14. There are no special considerations casting doubt on that religious experience.
Therefore:
15.  I probably was in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
 
However, there are a couple of problems with the logic of the argument for (11).  First of all, the following is NOT a valid deductive argument:
16. If P, then probably Q.
17. If Q, then probably R.
Therefore:
18. If P, then probably R.
The concusion does not follow logically, because in a chain of probable inferences, the probability is reduced at each step.  Suppose that the truth of P made the probability of Q  equal to .6.  In that case, premise (16) would be true (if we interpret “probably” to mean having a probability greater than .5).  Suppose that the truth of Q makes the probability of R equal to .6.  In that case, premise (17) would be true. The truth of P would thus only make Q somewhat probable (.6), so we would not be certain that Q was true, and thus we would not be certain that premise (17) applies. There is only a probability of .6 that Q is the case, so only a probability of .6 that premise (17) applies.  Only if Q turns out to be true will the logic of premise (17) be activated.  Thus, we must multiply the probabilities of the two probable inferences:  .6  x .6 =  .36.    So, if P is the case, then this argument only supports the conclusion that the probability of R would be .36 , or rounding to one digit: .4.  But a probability of .4 is too low to justify the conclusion that R is “probably” true.  In order to conclude that R is “probably” true, one would need to show that the probability of R was greater than .5 (at the least).
Another way to put this point, is to note that this relationship (If X, then probably Y) is NOT transitive, as opposed to the similar sounding relationship If X, then Y, which is transitive.  In a chain of many implications or entailments, the strength of the logical connection does not weaken:
19. If P, then Q.
20. If Q, then R.
21. If R, then S.
22. If S, then T.
Therefore:
23. If P, then T.
The above reasoning is deductively valid.  The logical connection between P and T in the conclusion is just as strong as the logical connection between P and Q in premise (19).   Swinburne is very much aware of this basic logical point that distinguishes probable inferences from implications or entailments.
There is another problem or complexity involved in this argument form:
16. If P, then probably Q.
17. If Q, then probably R.
Therefore:
18. If P, then probably R.
With inductive reasoning, the probability of a claim or belief can change with new or additional evidence.  Thus, although P might well make Q probale in most circumstances, there are possible circumstances in which although P is the case, Q would definitely be false.  For example, suppose that you see that I frequently drive a late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan.  You might reasonably infer that I am probably NOT poor. But if you learn that I have a part-time job as a driver for a wealthy business man, then your previous inference is cast into doubt.  I might well be poor, even though I frequently drive a late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan.  That is how inductive reasoning works.  New information can alter the probability of a claim or belief.
This means that in order for premises like (16) or (17) to be true, we must understand them to involve an unstated qualification: other things being equal.
16a. If P, then probably Q (other things being equal).
17a. If Q,then probably R (other things being equal).
Therefore:
18a. If P, then probably R (other things being equal).
In other words, probable inferences and inductive reasoning are always to be thought of as contextual, as referring to a certain collection of information or assumptions, and so there is always the possibility that new or additional information could alter the probabilities.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderF-Inductive Arguments: A New Type of Inductive Argument

In his extensive writings, the prestigious philosopher Richard Swinburne makes a useful distinction between two types of inductive arguments. Let B be our background information or evidence; E be the evidence to be explained; and H be an explanatory hypothesis.
“C-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses confirm  or add to the probability of the conclusion, i.e., P(H | E & B) > P(H | B).
“P-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses make the conclusion probable, i.e., P(H | E & B) > 1/2.
It seems to me that there is a third type of inductive argument which should go between C-inductive and P-inductive arguments. I’m going to dub it the “F-inductive argument.”
“F-inductive argument”: an argument in which the evidence to be explained favors one explanatory hypothesis over one or more of its rivals, i.e., P(E | H1 & B) > P(E | H2 & B). Explanatory arguments are F-inductive arguments and have the following structure.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. H1 is not intrinsically much more probable than H2, i.e., Pr(|H1|) is not much greater than Pr(|H2|).
3. Pr(E | H2 & B) > Pr(E | H1 & B).
4. Other evidence held equal, H1 is probably false, i.e., Pr(H1 | B & E) < 0.5.
Good F-inductive arguments show that E is prima facie evidence — that is why (4) begins with the phrase, “Other evidence held equal.” They leave open the possibility that there may be other evidence which favors H1 over H2; indeed, they are compatible with the situation where the total evidence favors H1 over H2.
F-inductive arguments are “stronger” than C-inductive arguments insofar as they show E not only adds to the probability of H2, but that E is more probable on the assumption that H2 is true than on the assumption that H1 is true. They are weaker than P-inductive arguments, however, because they don’t show that E is ultima facie evidence — they don’t show that E makes H2 probable.
One final point. Although I believe I am the first to give F-inductive argument a name and place within Swinburne’s taxonomy of inductive arguments, the structure for such arguments is not mine. Paul Draper deserves the credit for that.