bookmark_borderFaith and the End of PoR – Part 2

John Loftus referred me to Chapters 7 and 10 of his book The Outsider Test for Faith (hereafter: OTF), so that I could get a better understanding of what he means by the word “faith” in his blog post arguing for the End of Philosophy of Religion (PoR).
Chapter 7 was of no help.  The only clear remarks about “faith” which might have provided a clue to Loftus’ use of the word were the quotations of Timothy Keller on the first page of the chapter (OTF, p.133).  But on the very next page Loftus declares, “…I do not accept Keller’s definition of faith.”  There ends the usefulness of Chapter 7,  as far as my concerns here go.   I found Chapter 7 to be very interesting and worthwhile reading, but it shed no light on what Loftus means by “faith”.
Chapter 10 is, however, a different story.  If anything there is TOO MUCH definition of “faith” going on in that chapter.  But since this is a recently published book, and since Chapter 10 is clearly focused on the meaning of the word “faith”, I have decided NOT to read the various blog posts on “faith” by Loftus, at least not for now.  Chapter 10 provides more than enough material about “faith” to chew on.
Loftus gives three different definitions of “faith” in the very first paragraph of Chapter 10 (OTF, p.207)!  He gives a fourth definition on page 209.  He returns to his very first definition on page 218, and again on page 221.
Loftus also quotes about a dozen different definitions of “faith” by various skeptical thinkers and philosophers (OTF, p.210-213).  The definitions of the skeptics that he gives are somewhat similar to each other and similar to his own definitions.   So, if one rejects the definitions of “faith” proposed by Loftus, one will probably also have to reject the definitions of most, or even all, of the skeptics whom Loftus quotes.  The list of skeptics who define “faith” in a manner similar to Loftus is impressive:  George H. Smith (p.210), Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Matt McCormick (p.212), Victor Stenger, A.C. Grayling, Bertrand Russell, and W.L. Reese (p.213).
In Chapter 10 we also see two of the main influences behind the thinking of Loftus about “faith”: George H. Smith and Anthropology professor David Eller.  Of Smith, Loftus says:
There was a time when I thought Smith was foolish, ignorant, and at best philosophically naive.  But not anymore.  Smith is right [about the opposition of reason and faith]. (OTF, p.210).  
Loftus has five different references to Smith on page 210, and appears to agree with each point made by Smith.  Loftus has six different references to writings by Eller, and makes the following comment about him:
David Eller, probably more than anyone else, has explained what religious believers do and why skeptics reject faith of any kind as fundamentally incompatible with scientifically based reasoning. (OTF, p.215)
Thus, to fully understand and evaluate Loftus’ understanding of “faith”, one needs to have some familiarity with the thinking of George Smith and David Eller concerning the relationship between faith and reason, since Smith and Eller appear to be significant influences on Loftus, at least for this topic.
Here are the four definitions of “faith” that Loftus proposes in Chapter 10:
Definition 1:

…faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities. (OTF, p.207)
Definition 2: 
Faith is an attitude or feeling whereby believers attribute a higher degree of probability to the evidence than what the evidence calls for. (OTF, p.207)
Definition 3:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the confirming evidence and underestimate  disconfirming evidence. (OTF, p.207)
Definition 4:
Faith is an irrational cognitive bias. (OTF, p.209)
Actually, we can quickly set aside Definition 4, because it appears to be only a partial definition– a statement about the general KIND of thing that “faith” is.  In terms of genus/species definitions, it gives us the genus but not the species.  Definition 4 appears to state a portion of Definition 3, but Definition 3 is more specific, and thus looks to be a more complete genus/species definition.  Also, the phrase “irrational cognitive bias” seems redundant.  Are there such things as RATIONAL cognitive biases?  The idea of a bias already implies irrationality.  So, let’s set Definition 4 aside, as an incomplete version of Definition 3.
It seems to me that Definitions 2 and 3 are logically incompatible with each other.  If we take both to be genus/species definitions, it looks like we are given one genus in Definition 2 (i.e. “an attitude or feeling”) and a different genus in Definition 3 (i.e “a cognitive bias”).  There might be a causal relationship between these two different KINDS of things.  A “cognitive bias” might on some particular occasion cause mental events that result in a particular “attitude or feeling”, but a cognitive bias is a different KIND of thing than an attitude, and a different KIND of thing than a feeling.
So,  in the very first paragraph of Chapter 10, we are given two different and logically incompatible definitions of “faith”, it seems to me.  There is no attempt in Chapter 10 to try to reconcile what appear to be logically incompatible definitions.  This is NOT a good start to clarifying the meaning of the word “faith”.  Loftus leaves the genus of “faith” unclear.  Is “faith” an attitude? a feeling? or a cognitive bias?
One could try to defend these definitions by saying that “faith” is an ambiguous word, and that it can be used to refer to different KINDS of things.  Sometimes it is used to refer to a feeling.  Sometimes it is used to refer to an attitude.  Sometimes it is used to refer to a cognitive bias.  Perhaps that is an accurate description of the different ways in which this word is actually used.  However, in a philosophical discussion about “faith”, I think it is important to try to be clear and to avoid ambiguity.  I think Loftus would agree with me on this:
Dictionaries only tell us how people currently use words; they do not weigh in on whether the definitions of words are sufficiently precise for nuanced arguments like the ones presented in this book. (OTF, p.216)
Here is an objection that I have to Definition 3.  If I take Definition 3 literally, then I think it follows that EVERYONE has FAITH.   We ALL have cognitive biases.  One cognitive bias that we ALL have is that we “overestimate the confirming evidence” for our beliefs, and we ALL “underestimate the disconfirming evidence” for our beliefs.  At any rate, nearly all human beings have these cognitive biases, including Loftus, Smith, Eller, Harris, Dawkins, McCormick, Bertrand Russell, A.C. Grayling, and yours truly.
Since nearly all of us have these cognitive biases, if “faith” IS the possession of such cognitive biases, then Loftus, Smith, Eller, Harris, Dawkins, McCormick, Bertrand Russell, A.C. Grayling, and yours truly ALL have faith.  But neither Loftus nor I would accept this conclusion, so that implies that the assumption upon which this conclusion is based must be false. If Loftus and I do NOT have “faith”, then “faith” does NOT mean what Definition 3 says it means.  Therefore, Definition 3, it seems to me, is false.
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NOTE/CORRECTION:
John Loftus has objected to my assertion that “neither Loftus nor I would accept this conclusion” i.e. the idea that EVERYONE has FAITH.  He claims it is, and has been for some time, his view that “we all have faith”.  He cites page 112 of the book God or Godless.  On that page Loftus makes this statement: “…I do agree that almost everybody has faith, but this isn’t a good thing.”  Although this statement does NOT say that we ALL have faith, it does come close to that universal quantification.  That is close enough to show that I was mistaken in thinking that Loftus would not accept the conclusion that EVERYONE has FAITH.
In my defense, I had attempted to understand what Loftus means by the word “faith” by reading chapters 7 and 10 of his book The Outsider Test for Faith.  Those were chapters that Loftus had pointed me to in a comment.  I did not notice anywhere in chapters 7 and 10 that Loftus held the view that EVERYONE has FAITH.  Furthermore, there is a passage in Chapter 10 in which it appears that Loftus holds the opposite view.  He raises an objection against a definition of “faith” by Rauser, saying:
Rauser thinks it’s easy to define faith. He defines it as “assent to a proposition that is conceivably false.”  By doing so he’s lowered the bar so far that everyone could be thought to have faith.
This is an OBJECTION to Rauser’s definition, so it seemed to me that Loftus was making the same general sort of objection to Rauser’s definition that I make above to Loftus’ definition.  It seemed to me that Loftus was implying that a definition of “faith” is DEFECTIVE if it “lowered the bar so far that everyone could be thought to have faith”.  This objection appears to assume that it is implausible to say that “everyone could be thought to have faith.”
Apparently that is NOT what Loftus intended to convey by this objection, but I think any reasonable person would agree that my initial interpretation of this objection by Loftus was a plausible one, and that at least part of the responsibility for my mistaken interpretation rests with the unclarity of the expressions and statements made by Loftus in this passage.
Furthermore, this problem of unclarity ALSO exists in the book God or Godless.  At the beginning of the section where Rauser and Loftus debate about the meaning of the word “faith”, we find the following headings (p.109):
EVERYBODY HAS FAITH
Arguing the Affirmative:  RANDAL THE CHRISTIAN
Arguing the Negative: JOHN THE ATHEIST 
Somebody besides me was ALSO confused as to Loftus’ position, because according to these headings, Loftus is NOT arguing FOR the proposition that “EVERYBODY HAS FAITH”.  Rather, Loftus was (according to the poor misguided soul who edited this book) arguing AGAINST the proposition that “EVERYBODY HAS FAITH”.
If the freaking EDITOR of Loftus’ book is confused about which side Loftus takes on this issue, then perhaps I deserve a bit of grace about my confusion concerning his view on this question.
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bookmark_borderTwo Thumbs Up for John Loftus’s Book, Why I Became an Atheist

Why I Became an AtheistI just read John Loftus’s book, Why I Became an Atheist. I hope to write something a bit more substantial later on, but for now wanted to mention my initial thoughts.
I give this book two thumbs way up. In addition to courageously sharing his personal story, Loftus applies his considerable training and expertise into developing a cumulative case against Christianity and for atheism. I cannot think of another book like it on the market. Loftus is clearly familiar with the work of evangelical apologists like Copan, Craig, Geisler, and Moreland, as his book is filled with references to their work and objections to their arguments. In fact, his book might best be described as a “counter-apologetics” textbook.
Anyone who reads this blog but has not yet read Why I Became an Atheist should do so.
LINK to book on Amazon

bookmark_borderWorst Atheist Debate Performances (revised 22-May-15)

In the past, I posted a list of the “Worst Atheist Debaters.” I now think that title was a mistake, since it’s possible that a single debate performance may not be representative of a person’s overall skill in debate. So I am republishing that list now as a list of the “Worst Atheist Debate Performances.”
Like my list of “Best Atheist Debaters,” I don’t know of any way to be fully objective about this sort of thing. Also, like the other list, I fully recognize that others may disagree. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, here is my list of worst atheist debate performances, organized by topic.

Topic: God’s Existence

Topic: Morality Without God
  • Craig-Kurtz Debate (for an example, see here)
  • Craig-Taylor Debate

Topic: Resurrection of Jesus

  • Habermas-Flew Debate
  • Wood-Loftus Debate (2015)
Note: as with the other list, nothing should be read into the fact that someone’s name does not appear on this list. I haven’t listened to all atheist debate performances; additionally, I am undecided about some of the ones I have listened to.

bookmark_borderJohn Loftus’s New Book, Outsider Test for Faith, is Now Out!

John Loftus recently announced the publication of his latest book, The Outsider Test for Faith.

I am massively behind on my list of books to read, so I haven’t read it yet. But I have no doubt it’s a book everyone—theists, agnostics, atheists—interested in the “big questions” should read.

So, if you haven’t yet read it, I encourage you to check it out!

bookmark_borderThe Argument from Scale (AS) Revisited, Part 6

In Part 1 of this series, I critically reviewed Nicholas Everitt’s formulation of the argument from scale (AS). In Part 5, I critically reviewed John Loftus’s defense of AS on his blog. In this post, I want to review Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s formulation of AS in his (Loftus’s) book, Why I Became an Atheist: Personal Reflections and Additional Arguments (Bloomington: Trafford, 2008). It’s important to note that in his book Loftus also defends a version of AS against evangelical Christianity; I will not evaluate that argument here.

Everitt’s Argument from Scale (AS)

Here is Everitt’s formulation:

(1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale, i.e. one that is not unimaginably large, unimaginably old, and in which human beings form an unimaginably tiny part of it, temporally and spatially.
(2) The world does not display a human scale.
(3) Therefore, there is evidence against the hypothesis that the God of classical theism exists with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him.[1]

Let us now turn to Loftus’s comments.

Commenting on (1), Loftus writes:

He’s [Everitt’s] asking us what we would expect to find before we had any scientific knowledge about the universe, given the fact that mankind is the pinnacle of creation in that universe. It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

What does Loftus mean by “pinnacle of creation”? It appears that he is using "that phrase as a substitute for Everitt’s expression “jewel of creation,” which Everitt defines as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe.[2]

Now what about (3)? Let’s look again at the second sentence in the above quotation:

It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

Like Everitt, Loftus is not claiming that the scale of the universe is a proof of the falsity of theism or even that it makes theism probably false. Rather, like Everitt, Loftus claims that the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism. So what I want to do is evaluate whether the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism, for the reasons given by Loftus.

Does Theism “Predict” That Humans are the Pinnacle of Creation?

Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation, we may treat the hypothesis that humans are the jewel of creation as an auxiliary hypothesis. Let us first define the “Jewel of creation” hypothesis (J) as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe. Then, according to the theorem of total probability,

Pr(E | T & B) = Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B) + Pr(~J | T) x Pr(E | ~J & T & B)

Now since the whole point of conjoining J with T is to try to increase the value of Pr(E | T & B), we may effectively ignore the second half of the right-hand side of that equation and focus on the first half: Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B). What reason is there to think Pr(J | T) is greater than Pr(~J | T)? In Part 2 (revised) of this series, I criticized Everitt’s three reasons for thinking that Pr(J | T) > Pr(~J | T). What reasons does Loftus give? As I read him, he provides three reasons of his own: (i) it confirms his expectations; (ii) the scale of the universe is wasteful; and (iii) there is no understandable reason why God would have created a universe with the scale that ours has. Let’s consider these in detail.

First Reason: Confirms Expectations

First, Loftus says that the argument confirms his expectations.

There is just something about Everitt’s argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God doesn’t exist. I think the argument is a good one even if theists and skeptics themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .(98)

Loftus is correct that just because others disagree, that’s no reason not to make a particular argument one thinks is correct. But that’s not the question. The question is whether the argument is either a valid deductive argument or a correct inductive argument. As Loftus himself knows, subjective feelings of approval do not make an argument (deductively) valid or (inductively) correct.

Indeed, imagine if a Christian apologist defended William Lane Craig’s moral argument along the same lines as Loftus.

There is just something about Craig’s moral argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God exists. I think the argument is a good one even if atheists and theists themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .

Atheists (and probably many theists) would rightly blast such a weak defense of the moral argument. I see no relevant difference between such a hypothetical defense of Craig’s moral argument and Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s argument from scale.

Second Reason: The Scale of the Universe is Wasteful

Second, Loftus quotes Richard Carrier, who writes:

For the Christian theory does not predict what we observe, while the natural theory does predict what we observe. After all, what need does an intelligent engineer have of billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars each? That tremendous waste is only needed if life had to arise by natural accident. It would have no plausible purpose in the Christian God’s plan. You cannot predict from “the Christian God created the world” that “the world” would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life. But we can predict exactly that from “no God created this world.” Therefore, the facts confirm atheism rather than theism.[3]

Now Loftus quotes Carrier while discussing Everitt’s argument against classical theism, not an argument against the “Christian theory.” But let’s put that worry to the side. Does Carrier’s argument work against classical theism? I suspect that Carrier is correct that CT does not predict E, but the fact that CT does not predict E is evidence against CT if and only if CT predicts not-E (~E). So does CT predict ~E? According to Carrier, CT predicts ~E because E would be wasteful. But Carrier overlooks the fact that the concept of waste only applies to situations where there are limited resources. God, if He exists, is an omnipotent being with unlimited time and unlimited creative resources, so it’s a category error to say that the concept of waste applies to God.

Third Reason: No Purpose for the Scale of the Universe

Even so, we may still wonder, if CT is true, what would be the pu
rpose of creating a universe on such a massive scale? For all we know antecedently, when creating the universe, God could have had other goals in mind besides humans (such as artistic beauty, the creation of sentient life throughout the universe, and so forth). As Loftus himself writes:

This argument depends to some degree on whether or not God might have other purposes for creating such a universe even granting mankind as the jewel of his creation, and whether or not, given the existence of an infinitely creative mind, he would’ve made the universe on such a scale as we find it. (99)

Carrier provides no reason to think that if CT is true, God probably would not have had other purposes.

Fourth Reason: Theists Believed the Universe Was Small Until the Rise of Modern Science

On his blog, Loftus suggests a fourth reason for thinking that theism leads us to expect that humans would be the jewel of creation: theists throughout history thought the universe was on a human scale. In his words:

The best way to know what people would expect to find prior to the rise of modern science is to investigate what people thought of the universe before its rise. …

Western believers used to claim God (or Zeus) lived on Mt. Olympus. But then someone climbed up there and he wasn’t to be found. Then they claimed God lived just beyond the sky dome that supported the water, called the firmament. But we flew planes and space ships up into the air and found he wasn’t there either. Believers now claim God exists in a spiritual sense everywhere. What best explains this continual retreat? Doesn’t it sound more like the attempt to defend one’s faith as science progresses, rather than progressively understanding what God is like? Lowder’s argument falls to the ground unless he can show historically that there were a majority of Christians who concluded the universe could be as vast as it ended up being. Philosophy won’t solve this problem. Historical evidence will. Dante’s Divine Comedy says otherwise, most emphatically. Just look at how he described the heavens. Do some research on how popular his work was. Hint: it was so popular he is even called the "Father of the Italian language," more influential than Shakespeare was on the English language, and we know his influence was immense.

I have no objection to any of Loftus’s historical claims about what people thought of the universe before the rise of modern science. But Loftus is simply repeating one of Everitt’s supporting arguments, which I already addressed. I wrote that even if it’s historically accurate that theists throughout history believed the universe was on a human scale,

it is evidentially irrelevant. What matters is whether classical theists had any good antecedent reason on classical theism to believe J [that humans are the Jewel of creation]. Furthermore, it seems to me that classical theism provides an antecedent reason to deny J. In a discussion of the multiverse objection to an argument from evil, Paul Draper provides a fascinating argument for the conclusion that a multiverse is highly probable on theism. Here is Draper:

God, if she existed, would be very likely to create vast numbers of good worlds. Indeed, we can transcend our anthropomorphism just for a moment, the idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect being would create just our world and no others borders on the absurd. What a colossal waste of omnipotence and omniscience that would be! Surely a perfectly good God of limitless creative resources would create vastly many worlds, including magnificent worlds of great perfection as well as good but essentially flawed worlds that are more in need of special providence.[15]

To be sure, Draper himself acknowledges that this argument makes “some very controversial axiological assumptions,” which he defends.[16] While a discussion of those assumptions is beyond the scope of this paper, I think it is safe to say that Draper’s argument provides a prima facie reason, at least, to deny J. In short, on the assumption that theism is true, God probably did create creatures which are more impressive than humans, in other parts of our universe and in other universes.

Conclusion

I conclude, then, that neither Loftus nor Carrier have provided a good reason for thinking that humans would probably be the jewel of creation on the assumption that classical theism is true. Accordingly, I don’t think Loftus has successfully defended Everitt’s AS as an argument against classical theism.

Notes

[1] Everitt, The Non-Existence of God, p. 225.

[2] Cf. Everitt 2004, 221: “theism is committed to saying that humans are the most valuable things in creation.”

[3] Richard Carrier, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” The Secular Web (2006), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/whynotchristian.html. Quoted in Loftus 2008, 99.

ETA: Added the text between  the paragraph which begins,“Now what about (3)?”, and the paragraph which begins, “Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation…”

ETA (8-Feb-12): Added the section on the fourth supporting argument.

bookmark_borderMore on Bad Reasons to Reject the Christian Faith

John Loftus has written a reply to my last post. As we’ve seen recently, John seems determined to make a genuine philosophical disagreement into some sort of personal attack, which, of course, it isn’t.

In spite of himself, he actually comes close to getting my motivation right. Because John is a prominent critic of Christianity, if I see him using an argument I think is weak, I think it’s valuable to point that out, for two reasons. First, it will help other critics of Christianity avoid embarrassing themselves by using weak arguments. Second, it will prevent Christian apologists from appealing to an argument from silence: “Well, John Loftus used argument X; his fellow atheists don’t seem to object; argument X is awful; therefore, look how silly you have to be to reject Christianity!”

With that clarified, let’s turn to John’s argument. John feels I was uncharitable in my interpretation of his argument. While my intent was (and always is) to be charitable, I can see in retrospect why John would feel that I was uncharitable. It’s now clear to me I misunderstood his argument. So please bear with me as I try to charitably discuss John’s argument again.

Again, here is the doctrinal statement (DS) which is the target of John’s argument:

There is an omniscient, omnibenelovent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him. This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost (See 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

Although the title of John’s post suggests an objection against Christianity per se, DS clarifies that John’s intent is to argue against just that subset of Christianity which affirms DS (hereafter, “Christianity-DS”). As John explicitly states, he is not attempting to provide an argument against other sects of Christianity, such as Calvinism. (With that clarification in mind, I do have one nitpick: I think the title of John’s original post was and is misleading. But let’s move on.)

John is concerned with “whether private, subjective, ignorant, irrational, rebellious and self-deceptive reasons to reject Christianity are good ones given DS above.” Note: my green cheese moon example was irrelevant to such private reasons; I was wrong to use that example and John is correct to point that out.

So let’s turn to the argument. According to John, “all personal reasons are good ones when it comes to rejecting the particular doctrinal beliefs represented in DS.” Why? Here is his “money quote”:

If God desires Pat to be saved, and if God knows Pat will be convinced by his dream because his God-given cognitive faculties are such that he would accept its message as true, then God should not have allowed Pat to have had such a dream in the first place. Allowing a vulnerable ignorant person like Pat to have had such a dream, knowing it would lead him to reject Christianity, makes that God just as culpable as if he himself caused Pat to reject Christianity.

On the assumption that DS is true, I cannot think of a non-ad hoc reason why the God of Christianity-DS would allow Pat to reject Christianity-DS on the basis of such a dream. So far, so good.

Where I disagree with John is the idea that examples such as this somehow show that all “personal reasons are good ones when it comes to rejecting the doctrinal beliefs represented in DS.” Here I am going to quote Matt DeStefano:

"I know Christianity is true, but I reject it because I don’t want to live my life like that. I want to live selfishly, focus on the accumulation of material possessions without worrying about the implications this sort of life will have on others or on my relationship with God. Frankly, I just don’t WANT Christianity to be true, therefore I reject it."

This does seem to be a good counterexample. While DS does entail that “God desires that everyone be saved and no one be lost,” it does not entail that God has no competing desires. As John himself knows, many Christians who affirm DS also believe that God values human freedom such that God allows people to freely choose to reject Him. So, on the assumption that DS is true, it’s not obvious why the person in Matt’s example (call him “Joe”) would have a good personal reason for rejecting Christianity-DS.

We need an argument which shows that Joe’s reason for rejecting Christianity-DS is a good one; I don’t find such an argument in John’s posts. (Hopefully, I haven’t missed it!) That doesn’t mean there is no such argument, of course. In fact, John may well have an argument he considers too obvious to have stated! So, rather than risk again being accused of reading him uncharitably, I’ll turn it over to John and let him take it from here.

Appendix: A Special Version of ANB?

I don’t know if John would endorse this argument or not, but it was inspired by him. It seems to me that that there is a special version of Ted Drange’s Argument from Nonbelief (ANB) lurking here.

Set DS = the following two propositions:

  • (a) There exists an omniscient, omnibenelovent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him.
  • (b) This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost.

Situation S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans coming to believe both propositions of set DS by the time of their physical death.

(A) If the God of Christianity-DS were to exist, then he would possess all of the following four properties (among others):

(1) being able to bring about situation S, all things considered;

(2) wanting to bring about situation S, i.e., having it among his desires;

(3) not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S as strongly as it;

(4) being rational (which implies always acting in accord with his own highest purposes).

(B) If a being who has all four properties listed above were to exist, then situation S would have to obtain.

(C) But situation S does not obtain. It is not the case that all, or almost all, humans have come to believe both propositions of set DS by the time of their physical death.

(D) Therefore [from (B) & (C)], there does not exist a being who has all four properties listed in premise (A).

(E) Hence [from (A) & (D)], the God of Christianity-DS does not exist.

Two brief comments about this argument.

First, I put (A)(3) in red font to emphasize what I think is a crucial, unstated premise in John’s argument. His argument would be strengthened, I think, by putting something like that in his argument.

Second, it’s important to notice that, with this argument, what constitutes the evidence against the God of Christianity-DS is not the bad private, subjective reasons some people have for rejecting DS per se. Rather, it’s the fact of nonbelief in DS.

bookmark_borderCan There Be Bad Reasons to Reject a False Belief? A Reply to John Loftus

According to John  Loftus, “There isn’t a bad reason to reject the Christian faith.” Now such a claim seems to me not only false, but obviously false. Anyone who has taken an introductory course in logic knows that you can have invalid deductive arguments and logically incorrect (or weak) inductive arguments for a true conclusion. So why does Loftus claim that there isn’t a bad reason to reject the Christian faith? I want to quote Loftus at length.

Keep in mind I’m also speaking of the reasons people personally have for rejecting Christianity rather than the arguments constructed to convince others. I don’t think people must be able produce an argument that will convince others of something before it can be said they have good reasons for what they think. A farmer may have good reasons to think aliens have abducted him even though he cannot convince anyone else. A lawyer may have good reasons to think someone is a con-artist even though she cannot produce an argument that will convince anyone else. People who have been victimized by someone may not be able to see that criminal in a good light. They are emotionally engaged. They have good reasons for what they think even if others don’t agree. Counter-intuitively, people may have bad reasons for conclusions that end up being true. This raises the thorny issue of Gettier Problems.

Is there a legitimate distinction then between someone’s having good personal reasons and having bad reasons for believing something? Again we’re not talking about arguments constructed to convince others, for the rules of logic dictate which arguments are good ones from bad ones. We’re talking instead about the personal reasons people have for accepting or not accepting something as true. How do we really know that what we think is justified? Do we really understand how many cognitive biases affect most all of us most of the time? Do we have a clue at how many arguments are constructed to defend what we have come to believe based on personal idiosyncratic irrational reasons? Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, the three master’s of suspicion, taught us to be suspicious of all arguments because the ones constructing them most likely have ulterior self-serving agendas.

This seems to be confusing the distinction between an epistemic situation and what can reasonably be believed by a person in an epistemic situation. For example, consider the following epistemic situation (ES1).

ES1: Suppose, like what happened to Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, you were somehow transported through a wormhole; had a conversation with an extraterrestrial intelligence; were brought back to Earth; and had zero objective evidence that that experience actually happened.  (Note: in order to eliminate any potential ambiguities, we will assume that, unlike what happened in the movie, there is no videotape with 18 hours of recorded silence.)

If you were in ES1, it would (arguably) be rational for you to believe that experience happened while at the same time it would be rational for everyone else to reject your claims. This is because everyone else was not in ES1. They did not have that experience, so the belief that the experience happened would not be rational for them.

It doesn’t follow, however, that ES1 makes it rational to believe literally anything. For example, if you were in ES1, it would not be rational for you to believe that the moon is made out of green cheese, since ES1 provides no reasons to have such a belief.

By the same logic, there can be bad reasons to reject Christianity or any other false belief.

bookmark_borderLoftus’s Outsider Test for Faith viewed in HD with Bayes’s Theorem

In a recent post, I mentioned that anyone interested in the discussion regarding “atheism versus faith” should be reading John Loftus. Particularly, I noted an argument from his excellent Why I Became an Atheist,
the “Outsider’s Test for Faith” (OTF), which he is elaborating upon in a
new book of that title to be published by Prometheus Books next spring.
Subsequently, I made a comment that piqued his interest by saying that
“[the OTF could be] greatly strengthened by appropriately applying
Bayes’s theorem.” Since my background is in mathematics, this caught
John’s attention.

To quickly clarify what I mean by that, I do not mean to imply that I
can improve upon the OTF itself but rather that a clear understanding of
Bayes’s theorem, which is a mathematical result that underlies
essentially all hypothesis-test reasoning, will greatly enhance the
rigor with which someone might view what the OTF is telling them–and
perhaps get them to take it much more seriously than they might have
otherwise. That’s one thing about mathematics–it’s nearly impossible to
argue with it, try as some ideologues might (maybe they should call
Nate Silver about that?).

LINK (HT: Richard Carrier)