bookmark_borderGenuine Inquiry vs. Partisan Advocacy: Philosophy of Religion vs. Apologetics

Yesterday I blogged about a “recommended apologetics reading” list created by Western Michigan University philosopher Tim McGrew. After several cordial exchanges with Tim, I’ve decided that, despite my best attempts to be charitable, I failed. Contrary to what I had suggested, Tim stated, “I certainly would not recommend that anyone with a serious interest in the truth of Christianity restrict himself to reading only the works I have listed.” I take him at his word, and so I have decided to delete the entire blog post, rather than try to repair it, and replace it with this one.
I want to make a distinction between genuine inquiry, on the one hand, and partisan advocacy, on the other. Consider a central (but far from the only) topic in the philosophy of religion: the existence or nonexistence of God. Consider, for a moment, what it would mean to engage in genuine inquiry regarding God’s existence. If the word “inquiry” means anything at all, surely it means more than “read stuff which confirms the point of view you already hold.” It should include, at a minimum, reading opposing viewpoints, not with the goal of preparing pithy one-liners for debates, but with the goal of actually trying to learn something or consider new ways of looking at old topics. For professional philosophers, I would imagine that inquiry would also include trying to “steel man” your opposition, i.e., trying to strengthen the arguments for your opponent’s position. It might even include publishing arguments for a position you do not hold and even reject.
In contrast, partisan advocacy is, well, exactly what it sounds like it is. Much like an attorney hired to vigorously defend her client in court, a partisan advocate isn’t interested in genuine inquiry. To the extent a partisan advocate reads the “other side” at all, she does so in the same way presidential candidates try to find out the “truth” about their opponent under the guise of “opposition research.” So, for example, if a partisan advocate were to create a reading list about God’s existence, they would compile a list of recommended resources which either exclusively or overwhelmingly promoted a certain point of view and without even a hint that a balanced inquiry should be taken.
As suggested by the subtitle of this post, if we apply the genuine inquiry vs. partisan advocacy distinction to religion, I think we get the distinction between (an ideal) philosophy of religion vs. apologetics.
Now, this raises an interesting question.  At what point is a person, especially a professional philosopher, entitled to say this: “Genuine inquiry is nice and all, but viewpoint X is such obvious nonsense that the time for inquiry is over. After all, no geologist engages in ‘genuine inquiry’ about whether the earth is flat. So why should we treat theism (or atheism) any differently?”
I am not sure about the ‘full’ answer to that question, but I think at least part of the answer has to consider two points.
First, I think the current state of professional opinion is relevant. Surely part of the reason no one engages in genuine inquiry about the flat earth hypothesis is the fact that there are no competent geologists who endorse it. In contrast, among philosophers generally and philosophers of religion specifically, there are equally qualified authorities on both sides.
Second, I think the concept of intrinsic probabilities can play an important role here. I’m a naturalistic atheist, but I’m fully convinced by Paul Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability, which shows that naturalism and supernaturalism have equal intrinsic probabilities. While theism is a specific version of supernaturalism (and so is less intrinsically probable than naturalism), its intrinsic probability is not infinitesimal. Furthermore, not only does theism have a non-negligible intrinsic probability, there is evidence in its favor. It seems to me that if a theory (1) has a non-negligible intrinsic probability; (2) has evidence in its favor; and (3) is held by significant percentage of philosophers, not to mention the general population, then that theory is worthy of genuine inquiry. And notice that these same points apply to atheism or naturalism, which is why theists should also engage in genuine inquiry.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 9: Analysis of Reason #9

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

IF P, THEN Q.

P

THEREFORE 

Q

Main Argument – Initial version:

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

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

THEREFORE 

Philosophy of religion must end.

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

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

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

3. Religion is based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE 

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

Premise (5) is a reason in support of premise (6), and premise (6) is a reason in support of premise (1d).  Premises (1d), (2a), and (3b) work together to form a valid deductive argument for the conclusion (4a).  Here is an argument diagram showing the logic of the main argument in Unapologetic with the conclusion of the argument at the top, and the supporting premises beneath the conclusion (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Reason #9 - Later Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the next post in this series I will evaluate this argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 4: More Effort Required

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

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 3: The Main Argument

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

IF X and Y, THEN Z.

X

 Y

THEREFORE:

Z

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

PoRME: Philosophy of Religion must end.

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

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

Another very basic principle of critical thinking is this:

  • CLARITY is a gateway standard of thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 2: The Heart of the Book

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

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

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

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 1

John Loftus’ new book has just been released:
Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End
(Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2016)
My copy arrived from Amazon by UPS yesterday.
The text starts on page 7 (the Forward); the introduction starts on page 11, and the main body of the text ends on page 235.  There is a blank page just before the start of each chapter, and there are nine chapters, so there are 9 blank pages in the main body of the text. So, the main body of text runs about 216 pages (235 – 10 pages prior to main body = 225 pages in main body – 9 blank pages  = 216 pages) .  There are end notes at the end of each chapter.
There is also an Appendix A (“My Interview with Keith Parsons”) on page 237, Appendix B (“Robert Price’s Rebuttal to William Lane Craig”) on page 250, and Appendix C (“The Demon, Matrix, Material World, and Dream Possibilities”) on page 257.  Appendix C ends on page 271, and there is one page “About the Author” at the very end of the book, on page 272.
I have not started to read the book yet.   However, I do have some key questions that I will be attempting to answer as I read, analyze, and evaluate this book:
GENERAL CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

GCQ1. Does Loftus provide clear and significant evaluative conclusions about the philosophy of religion?

GCQ2. Does Loftus provide clear and significant prescriptive conclusions concerning how things ought  to change if we accept his evaluation of the philosophy of religion?

GCQ3. Does Loftus present a clear and solid argument (or arguments) for his evaluative conclusions about the philosophy of religion?

GCQ4. Does Loftus present a clear and solid argument (or arguments) for his prescriptive conclusions about the philosophy of religion (based on his evaluative conclusions)?

SPECIFIC CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

SCQ1. Does Loftus provide a clear analysis of these concepts: philosophy, religion, and the philosophy of religion?

SCQ2. Does Loftus provide a well-supported analysis of the concept of philosophy and the concept of religion?

SCQ3. Is the analysis that Loftus provides of the concept of the philosophy of religion a fair and well-supported analysis, or is it a Straw Man characterization that makes it too easy to criticize, condemn, and reject the philosophy of religion?

SCQ4. Does the argument that Loftus makes against the philosophy of religion apply to philosophy in general? or to other respected sub-disciplines of philosophy? or to other clearly legitimate disciplines (science, psychology, sociology, history)?  Does his argument prove too much?

SCQ5. Does the argument that Loftus provides for either his evaluative conclusions or for his prescriptive conclusions depend on a dubious or unclear or ambiguous concept of faith?

bookmark_borderAdamson’s Cru[de] Arguments for God – Part 3

Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored a website called EveryStudent.com, a site that targets college students as its primary audience.  The director of the website is Marilyn Adamson.   Adamson wrote a key article for the website called “Is There a God?” which provides six reasons in support of the claim that God exists.   Adamson completely destroys her own credibility in the opening paragraphs of the article where she presents an obviously bad argument that constitutes the first of the six reasons.
I had planned to address a possible reply to my objection in this post, a reply asserting that cosmic pluralism is a speculative theory which has not been established by scientific observations and evidence.  However, it is more important to clarify Adamson’s initial argument for the existence of God, so I will address this reply to my objection in another post later in this series.
A portion of Adamson’s first argument is presented in the opening paragraphs, and it can be summarized in two sentences:
(SJR) The size of the Earth is just right, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
(RDS) The Earth is the right distance from the Sun, so that the Earth can sustain plant, animal and human life.
In the previous post in this series, I have already presented a major objection to this argument.  But before I go any further, I think it would be helpful to clarify Adamson’s reasoning.
One serious problem with Adamson’s arguments is that they are very sketchy and thus are unclear. Most of her argument for this first point is left unstated, which means that it is the readers of her article who must do all the heavy lifting.   In order to thoughtfully and critically evaluate her reasoning, one must first read between the lines in order to guess at the missing premises and inferences that were left out of her presentation of this argument.
Although it would be possible to make use of the above two premises in a sophisticated version of a Fine Tuning argument, it is clear that this is NOT what Adamson had in mind.  The most obvious clue to her intentions comes in the following sentence from her presentation of the first argument (emphasis added by me):
Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.
This sentence implies that the Earth is a rare or unique planet in having properties that make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life.  Such a claim does not fit well with a Fine Tuning type of argument.
If this were a Fine Tuning argument, then Adamson would be arguing that the laws of nature and the configuration of matter and energy that were present in the initial moments of the big bang were such as to make it PROBABLE that natural processes would result in the development of planets (like the Earth) with properties that make them capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life.
But this sentence suggests the very opposite view.  It suggests that the existence of a planet with properties that make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life is IMPROBABLE, given what we know about the laws of nature and about the configuration of matter and energy in the universe and about the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, assuming that there was no God to guide or intervene in the natural processes that led to the formation of stars and planets.
Because of this clue, we can infer an important unstated premise of Adamson’s argument, which I will refer to as the Natural Improbability Thesis or NIT:
(NIT) Given our knowledge of the laws of nature, and of the general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and of the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, it is IMPROBABLE that natural processes would lead to the formation of at least one planet with the right size and at the right distance from a sun that would make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life (if there was no God to guide, or intervene in, those natural processes).
This assumption suggests a contrast with the alternative view that there exists a God who could, and who probably would, guide, or intervene in, natural processes in order to bring about the formation of a planet capable of sustaining life.  This second key unstated premise of Adamson’s argument I will call the Divine Guidance Thesis or DGT:
(DGT) If God exists, then given our knowledge of the laws of nature, and of the general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and of the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, it is PROBABLE that at least one planet would come to exist with the right size and at the right distance from a sun that would make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life, because if natural processes would not cause this to happen on their own, then God would probably guide, or intervene in, those natural processes to bring about the existence of such a planet.
In short, if there is no God, then (given what we know about natural laws and processes in the physical universe) a life-friendly planet like the Earth probably would NOT have developed, but if there is a God, then (given what we know about natural laws and processes in the physical universe and what we know about God’s purposes and inclinations) a life-friendly planet like the Earth probably would have developed.
The conjunction of (NIT) and (DGT) implies that the explicitly stated premises of Adamson’s argument provide evidence for the existence of God.   That is to say, if (NIT) and (DGT) are both true, then (SJR) and (RDS) would provide some evidence for the existence of God.  But if (NIT) is false (or dubious), then Adamson has failed to show that (SJR) and (RDS) constitute evidence for the existence of God.  And if (DGT) is false (or dubious), then Adamson has failed to show that (SJR) and (RDS) constitute evidence for the existence of God.
Both of these important unstated premises of Adamson’s argument are problematic and questionable.  That is the problem with CLARITY.   If you present an argument clearly, which involves explicitly stating your basic assumptions and inferences, then people who read your argument can rationally and critically evaluate your argument, and if your reasoning involves false or questionable assumptions, or illogical inferences, this will make it much easier for others to see that your argument is defective.
By leaving most of her argument unstated, Adamson hides the false or questionable assumptions of her argument, and makes it difficult for others to rationally and critically evaluate her argument.  Thus, even if this first argument was a solid argument (which it assuredly is not), Adamson’s sketchy presentation of this argument makes it difficult for readers of her article to rationally and critically evaluate this argument, and it makes it easier for college students to be taken in by an illogical or defective argument.
The main problem with (NIT) is that we know that the universe contains a fantastically huge number of stars and planets of various sizes and configurations, so it is a matter of common sense that some of the planets in the universe are bound to be of the right size and the right distance from a sun so that those planets would be suitable for sustaining plant, animal and human life.
There are additional factors required to make a planet capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life besides the size and location of the planet, but Adamson’s argument focuses on these two important factors, and given the focus on these two factors, (NIT) seems clearly to be false.
Given our knowledge of the laws of nature, and of the general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and of the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets, it is actually PROBABLE that natural processes would lead to the formation of at least one planet with the right size and at the right distance from a sun that would make it capable of sustaining plant, animal and human life; there is no need to assume the existence of a God to account for the existence of such a planet.  The laws of nature, general configuration of matter and energy in the universe, and the natural processes involved in the development of stars and planets are sufficient by themselves to make the existence of a planet with the right size and at the right distance from a sun extremely probable, virtually certain.
There are about 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe (we cannot observe the entire universe because some parts of the universe are more than 13.7 billion light years away, so there has not been enough time for light from stars that far away to reach the Earth) .  There are about 100 billion stars in a galaxy, on average.  So, the approximate number of stars in the observable universe is:
200,000,000,000 galaxies  x  100,000,000,000 stars/galaxy =
 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars
That is a lot of stars!
What about planets?  How many planets are there?  There are at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, and there might well be about 10 trillion planets in our galaxy.  If we use the lower estimate and assume this to be an average number for a galaxy, then the approximate number of planets in the observable universe is about the same as the number of stars:
200,000,000,000 galaxies  x  100,000,000,000 planets/galaxy =
 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets
That is a lot of planets!
Clearly, with this huge number of stars and planets of various sizes and distances from each other, it is virtually certain that at least one planet in the universe would be the right size and at the right distance from a sun in order to make the planet suitable for sustaining plant, animal and human life.  According to one estimate, based on recently gathered astronomical data, there are probably 15 to 30 billion planets in the observable universe which would be of the right size and at the right distance from a sun to be suitable for sustaining life.
Therefore (NIT) is clearly false, and Adamson has failed to show that her factual premises (SJR) and (RDS) provide any evidence for the existence of God.
 

bookmark_borderAdamson’s Cru[de] Arguments for God – Part 1

I was bored one night a few weeks ago and did a Google search on “Does God exist”. One of the top hits that came back was for this webpage:
http://www.everystudent.com/features/isthere.html
This webpage contains an article written by Marilyn Adamson, called “Is There a God?”, which according to the sub-title presents “six straightforward reasons to believe that God is really there.”  
According to the “About” page the EveryStudent.com website is sponsored by “an interdenominational Christian organization: Cru.”.  I did not recognize the name “Cru”, so I poked around a bit, and clicked on a link to a sister website called StartingwithGod.com, which is also sponsored by “Cru”.  The “About” page for this sister site has a link to a statement of faith for “Cru” and that link took me to a website for “Cru”.  The “About” page for the “Cru” website unlocked the mystery of the name of the sponsoring organization:
Cru is the name of Campus Crusade for Christ International in the U.S.
Marilyn Adamson is the director for the EveryStudent.com website, and that website was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ International.
So, the webpage where Adamson presenst six reasons for the existence of God is not just a personal webpage where Adamson is expressing and justifying her faith, it is a publication sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ.  So, the crudeness and ignorance of Adamson’s arguments are not simply due to the ignorance and foibles of Adamson; they represent the ignorance and foibles of an International Christian organization, an organization that targets it’s messages to college students:
If you are uncertain about your relationship with God, or would like to pursue spiritual questions, we recommend visiting EveryStudent.com. The site helps explain who God is and what it might be like to know God. The site was built for college students (hence the name EveryStudent), but many adults have found it to be extremely helpful. (from the “About” page for StartingwithGod.com, emphasis added)
Since “Cru” wants to communicate with and persuade college students to become Christian believers, or to remain Christian believers, one would expect that a website sponsored by “Cru” and called EveryStudent.com and specifically targeted to college students would use the best available arguments for the existence of God, and would avoid the use of arguments for God that are clearly and obviously illogical or defective, especially if those illogical and defective arguments are generally recognized to be illogical or defective by philosophers of religion.
To use obviously illogical or defective arguments for God that are generally recognized to be illogical or defective by philosophers of religion is bad form no matter who the intended audience might be, but it is especially shameful to use such arguments when your target audience is college students, students who should be encouraged to study philosophy, to think carefully and logically about philosophical issues, and to learn about philosophy from experts in that field.
Some of the arguments presented by Adamson are worthy of consideration (e.g.  the First Cause argument is a classic argument and is still defended by some philosophers, and the Fine Tuning argument is a modern argument that has been widely discussed by philosophers in recent decades), but others are obviously illogical or defective and generally recognized to be so, particularly the first set of arguments presented in Adamson’s article.
Furthermore, the arguments that are worthy of consideration are presented poorly, and in a way that encourages illogical thinking, thinking that philosophers of religion would generally recognize as being illogical.  So, Cru provides college students crappy arguments that are unworthy of serious consideration (other than to show them to be illogical or defective) plus Cru also provides college students with a couple of arguments that are worthy of consideration but that are presented in a crappy way that encourages illogical thinking about the existence of God.
The EveryStudent.com website is promoted as “A Safe Place to Explore Questions About Life and God” but this website is NOT “A Safe Place” in terms of intellectual integrity and the central educational goal of promoting critical thinking.  This website promotes, at least in the key web article written by Adamson, illogical and uncritical thinking as well as ignorance concerning the philosophy of religion.  This website might be “A Safe Place” if someone is fearful of logical and critical thinking, and is afraid that knowledge and scholarship might challenge their Christian beliefs,  but it is NOT “A Safe Place” for college students who want to become educated, well-informed, critical thinkers.
Since Cru, through the prominent publication of the article “Is There a God?” by Marilyn Adamson, has failed to model critical thinking and thinking about God that is well-informed by knowledge and understanding of philosophy (especially philosophy of religion), and thus provided an UNSAFE website for students who desire to become educated, well-informed critical thinkers, I plan to point out the various failings of Adamson’s article in detail in future posts.

bookmark_borderWhat is Philosophy – Part 2

Some people (who are sadly mistaken) think that the question “What is philosophy?” can be answered simply by picking up a dictionary and reading the definition (or definitions) of the word “philosophy”.  Although it is delusional to look to a dictionary to resolve this issue, it is not a bad idea to start out this investigation by taking a look at some dictionary definitions, on the assumption that this is only a first step of an inquiry, not the last step.
Some basic clarification and disambiguation can be accomplished by dictionary definitions, and by carefully examining and critiquing dictionary definitions, one can at least come up with some hints and criteria for development of a definition or analysis that is better than available dictionary definitions.
When you work on constructing your own definition or analysis of “philosophy” you want to produce something that is AT LEAST as good as a dictionary definition, and that, hopefully, is AN IMPROVEMENT over available dictionary definitions.  One way to determine whether a proposed definition or analysis of “philosophy” is better than a dictionary definition is by first establishing some specific problems or defects contained in some dictionary definitions of “philosophy”.  If the new proposed definition avoids those specific problems or defects, then that would be evidence that the new definition is an improvement over the dictionary definitions.
Before we begin looking at dictionary definitions, there are a couple of points concerning conceptual analysis that we can borrow from modern philosophy.  First, there might be no essence of philosophy.  There might be no specific characteristic that ALL instances or examples of philosophy have in common.  There might only be a “family resemblance” among a fairly diverse range of examples of things that count as “philosophy”.
If that is so, then a necessary-and-sufficient condition definition will not fully and accurately capture the meaning of the word “philosophy”.  Instead, we might need to construct a criterial definition, which specifies various relevant criteria or characteristics that tend to make something an instance of “philosophy”, where no particular criterion must be satisfied by ALL instances of philosophy, and where the more criteria are satisfied by a particular example, the more clearly and definitely the word “philosophy” would properly apply to that example.  With criterial definitions, there can be significant ‘gray areas” and “borderline cases” where a word is somewhat applicable, and somewhat not applicable.
Closely related to “family resemblance” and criterial definitions, is the idea of a paradigm case.  If there are borderline cases of a concept, then there can also be central or paradigm cases of a concept.  So, if “philosophy” is a family resemblance concept, or if it needs to be defined in terms of a criterial definition, then we will need to think about paradigm cases and clear-cut cases, and contrast those with borderline cases, where the word “philosophy” partially fits, but also partially does not fit.
So, keeping in mind these points about conceptual analysis, lets take a look at some dictionary definitions, and note both positive features of some definitions, as well as any apparent problems or defects with those definitions.  Based on identification of both positive and negative aspects of dictionary definitions of “philosophy”, we might be able to establish some hints and/or criteria that would be useful for evaluation of any new proposed definitions of “philosophy”.
Jesus H Christ.  There are twelve different definitions of “philosophy” in The American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Edition).  
The first defintion is also divided into three different related senses of the word.  Since the three related senses in the first definition don’t look very similar to me, this dictionary in effect provides FOURTEEN different definitions for the word “philosophy”.  I will, however, stick with the numbering scheme provided by the dictionary.  Hopefully, we can eliminate several of these definitions as irrelevant to our inquiry:
1a. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
1b. The investigation of causes and laws underlying reality.
1c. A system of philosophical inquiry or demonstration.
2. Inquiry into the nature of things based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
3. The critique and analysis of fundamental beliefs as they come to be conceptualized and formulated.
4. The synthesis of all learning.
5. The investigation of natural phenomena and its systematization in theory and experiment, as in alchemy, astrology, or astronomy: hermetic philosophy, natural philosophy.
6. All learning except technical precepts and practical arts.
7. All the disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology:  Doctor of Philosophy.
8.  The science comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
9.  A system of motivating concepts or principles: the philosophy of a culture.
10. A basic theory; viewpoint: an original philosophy of advertising.
11. The system of values by which one lives: his philosophy of life.
12. The calmness, equanimity, and detachment thought to benefit a philosopher.
I put definitions 2, 3, and 8 in red font, because those three definitions seemed to be the best of the bunch. I definitiely want to take a closer look at these three definitions to see what insights they contain and what we might be able to borrow from them in constructing a new and better definition of “philosophy”.
Definitions 4, 6, and 7  are in gray font because they are obviously too broad and can be immediately set aside.  We are interested in the idea of philosophy as a particular academic discipline (or as a possible academic discipline), so uses of the word “philosophy” that encompass diverse acadmic disciplines are irrelevant to our current investigation.
Definitions 1b and 5 are in purple font because they seem to be definitions of “science” or attempts at definitions of “science”.  It might be useful to try to compare and contrast philosophy with science, and these two definitions might help one to make this comparison and contrast.
The remaining defintions in black font seem off target, but they touch on aspects of philosophy and so it would probably be useful to do some thinking about these definitions and how they relate to the idea of philosophy as an academic discipline.
We have already stumbled upon a couple of basic criteria for evaluation of a definition of “philosophy”:
C1.  The definition should be such that it excludes other established academic disciplines (e.g. history, psychology, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics).
C2. The definition should be such that it excludes scientific investigation, and sheds light on the difference between philosophy and scientific investigation.
To be continued…