bookmark_borderProblems With TASO – Part 2: My Favorite Objection

TASO
The third inductive argument in Swinburne’s case for God is TASO (the Teleological Argument from Spatial Order):
Teleological Argument from Spatial Order

(e3) There exists a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws, and in which the structure of the natural laws and of the initial conditions are such that they make the evolution of human bodies in that universe probable.

THEREFORE:

(g) God exists.

TASO is presented and defended by Swinburne in Chapter 8 (“Teleological Arguments”) of his book The Existence of God (hereafter: EOG), 2nd edition.
 
ARGUMENT FOR THE CORRECTNESS OF TASO
Here is Swinburne’s reasoning in support of the correctness of TASO as the third inductive argument in his case:
Critical Argument for the Correctness of TASO

1. An argument X is a correct C-inductive argument IF AND ONLY IF: (a) the premises of X are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion of X,  AND (b) the premises of X make the conclusion of X more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.

2. The premises of the argument TASO are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion of TASO.

3. The premises of the argument TASO make the conclusion of TASO more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.

THEREFORE:

4. The argument TASO is a correct C-inductive argument.

 
EVALUATION OF THE CRITICAL ARGUMENT SO FAR
The critical argument supporting TASO is deductively VALID.  It has the following valid deductive form:

1. P  IF AND ONLY IF: A AND B.

2. A

3. B

THEREFORE:

4. P

In Part 1 I raised an objection against premise (2) arguing that (2) is FALSE, and I raised an objection against premise (3), arguing that Swinburne’s argument for (3) was based on a false premise, thus leaving premise (3) in doubt.  So, the critical argument  for the correctness of TASO is UNSOUND and based on a dubious premise.
However, there is another objection, my favorite objection, which should also be considered, and which will put the nail in the coffin of the critical argument for TASO and which, I believe, will also throw a monkey wrench into Swinburne’s entire case for God.  My favorite objection, is an objection that challenges premise (1) of the critical argument for TASO.
 
OBJECTION TO PREMISE (1)
Premise (1) of Swinburne’s critical argument for TASO presents necessary and sufficient conditions for concluding that an argument is a “correct C-inductive argument”:
1. An argument X is a correct C-inductive argument IF AND ONLY IF: (a) the premises of X are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion of X,  AND (b) the premises of X make the conclusion of X more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.
In my objection to premise (2), I pointed out that it is difficult to KNOW that human bodies are the product of evolution, and that it is even more difficult (if not impossible) to KNOW that this universe was structured in such a way that made the evolution of human bodies in this universe probable.  In order to KNOW that the factual premise of TASO, namely (e3), is true, one must be aware of a great deal of scientific facts and information.
My primary objection to premise (1) is that in order to KNOW the premise of TASO to be true, one must know a good deal of information about a variety of subjects, and that information includes most or all of what is considered to be the problem of evil.  More precisely, in order to KNOW that human bodies are the product of evolution, one must be aware of a good deal of scientific and historical information that includes most or all of the various problems of evil, including information about pain, injury, disease, suffering, death, predators, fear, fight-or-flight response, poisonous plants and animals, sexual reproduction, respiration, digestion, asphyxiation, mutation, natural disasters, famines, starvation, floods, drowning, earthquakes, forest fires, violent storms, snow and ice, freezing to death, the struggle for survival, survival of the fittest, nature “red in tooth and claw”, etc., etc.
So, in order to KNOW that (e3) is true, one must be aware of a great deal of information, and that information includes facts that support some of the most powerful objections to belief in God: the many and pervasive problems of evil.  But then when one evaluates the probability of the hypothesis that God exists in relation to (e3), one cannot rationally and reasonably set aside and ignore the many and pervasive problems of evil.  So, in order to rationally evaluate the probability of the claim “God exists” in relation to (e3), one must take into consideration not just the meaning and implications of (e3), but also the large collection of facts and data that allow one to KNOW that (e3) is in fact true.
If one takes into account most or all of the various and pervasive problems of evil in evaluating the strength of TASO, then it is unclear and very doubtful that all of this additional information increases the probability that God exists.  Given most or all of the various and pervasive problems of evil, that information might very well outweigh whatever positive support the hypothesis of theism gets from the fact that the universe is structured in a way that makes the evolution of human bodies probable.  Thus, in excluding from consideration all of the information that is used to determine (e3) to be true, one excludes a great deal of relevant evidence, which was already used in evaluation of the truth of (e3).  This is illogical and unreasonable, and therefore, the necessary condition (b) in premise (1) must be rejected:
… (b) the premises of X make the conclusion of X more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.
The problem is that in order to KNOW a claim to be true sometimes requires that one be aware of a great deal of information about various subjects, but this information that supports KNOWLEDGE of the truth of a claim is different from the meaning and implications of the claim in question.  Condition (b) limits us to considering ONLY the meaning and implications of the premise(s) of an argument in evaluating the strength of the inference in the argument.  There is no consideration of the knowledge and information required in order to KNOW the truth of the premises.  So, condition (b) excludes consideration of relevant information that needs to be considered to arrive at a reasonable and rational evaluation of the strength of an inductive argument’s conclusion.
In limiting the scope of information to be used in judging the inference of an argument strictly to the PREMISES of that argument, one may exclude a great deal of information that is relevant to determining the probability of the conclusion of the argument, information that is already possessed by the person who is evaluating the argument, and that has already been used  by that person in the evaluation of the truth (or falsehood) of the premises of that very argument.
It is irrational and illogical to allow the person who evaluates an argument to use a large collection of data to evaluate the truth of a premise, and then to insist that the person disregard all of that data (even if it is clearly relevant) in determining the strength of the inference of that argument.  It is clearly unreasonable to allow a large body of information to be used in one part of evaluation of an argument (evaluating the truth of a premise) and to disallow any of that information to be used in another part of evaluation of the same argument (evaluating the strength of the inference).
 
A MONKEY WRENCH IN THE GEARS OF SWINBURNE’S CASE
There are at least two different ways in which this objection to premise (1) of the critical argument for the correctness of TASO negatively impacts Swinburne’s entire case.
First, whenever Swinburne claims that one of his inductive arguments is a “correct C-inductive” argument, he is relying on the analysis of “correct C-inductive” arguments that is stated in premise (1).  Since my objection is that this analysis is FALSE or INCORRECT, that means that there is a FALSE or INCORRECT premise in every critical argument that Swinburne gives (or implies) about his favored inductive arguments for the existence of God.
Second, Swinburne’s general approach or strategy in building his case for God is based on slowly adding one piece of information at a time, and slowly increasing the probability of the existence of God, with each added bit of evidence.  But this strategy completely falls apart with TASO, the third argument in his case (Swinburne ends up using nine significant inductive arguments in his case), because in order to KNOW the premise of TASO to be true, one must know or be aware of a great deal of scientific and historical information, including information that provides powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God (e.g. the various and pervasive problems of evil).  TASO opens the floodgates of information, and thus washes away the careful bit-by-bit addition of information that Swinburne intended as his basic epistemological strategy in building his case.
For example, Swinburne does not consider the problem of evil until after positively evaluating six inductive arguments for the existence of God.  But it is illogical for the problem of evil to be considered that late in the progression of adding six different pieces of evidence one at a time, because the problem of evil (or problems of evil) must be taken into account when evaluating TASO, the third argument in his case.  The information that constitutes the various problems of evil is information that one must be aware of and use in order to KNOW that the premise of TASO is true, so the problems of evil arise unavoidably when we try to evaluate the third argument in Swinburne’s case.

bookmark_borderProblems With TASO: Part 1

INTRO TO TASO
For several years, I have been working on an article about Richard Swinburne’s case for God. I’m currently revising the section of that article dealing with the third argument in Swinburne’s case: TASO (the Teleological Argument from Spatial Order).
In working on that section of the article, I noticed that my favorite objection to TASO was missing from that section. I have spelled out this objection a few times in posts and comments here at The Secular Outpost, but it never made it into my article, for some reason.
So, I began to work that objection into my article, and to do so, I needed to identify exactly which premise of Swinburne’s argument my objection was targeting. In identifying the specific premise that my objection was challenging, I discovered that the premise was fundamental to Swinburne’s entire case. Every one of Swinburne’s arguments for God in his book The Existence of God, 2nd edition (hereafter: EOG) relies on this same premise.  So, my favorite objection against TASO turns out to be an objection that applies to every argument that Swinburne presents in his case for God.
I will now lay out TASO, Swinburne’s critical argument about TASO, and my objections to Swinburne’s critical argument.  I will also explain why my favorite objection to TASO applies to every argument that Swinburne makes in support of the correctness of his various inductive arguments for the existence of God.  This will take two or three posts to accomplish.
TASO can be stated succinctly:
Teleological Argument from Spatial Order

(e3) There exists a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws, and in which the structure of the natural laws and of the initial conditions are such that they make the evolution of human bodies in that universe probable.

THEREFORE:

(g) God exists.

This is not a deductively valid argument for the existence of God.  But it is not supposed to be.  Swinburne argues that there are NO sound deductive arguments for the existence of God, and that the question of the existence of God must be determined on the basis of inductive arguments, on the basis of factual evidences that either tend to confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis that “God exists”.  According to Swinburne, the above argument is a good inductive argument for the existence of God; it does not prove that God exists, but it does provide some confirmation of the existence of God.
More specifically, this argument adds to, or increases the probability of the hypothesis that “God exists” relative to the factual evidence presented in the first two inductive arguments in Swinburne’s case for God.  Swinburne’s method is to add one piece of factual evidence at a time, and slowly increase the probability of the hypothesis that “God exists” until he reaches the tipping point, until he can conclude that the existence of God is more probable than not,  until he shows that the claim “God exists” has a probability that is greater than .50.
Although Swinburne rejects the traditional approach of using deductive arguments to try to PROVE the existence of God, his reasoning ABOUT various inductive arguments for God consists almost exclusively of deductive reasoning.  That is, the arguments that Swinburne presents at length in EOG are critical arguments,  arguments that are about other arguments.  Swinburne’s critical arguments, which are about various inductive arguments for God, are themselves deductive arguments, and this is definitely the case with his critical argument concerning TASO.  Swinburne’s critical argument in support of the correctness of TASO is more complex than TASO, and it is a deductive argument:
Critical Argument for the Correctness of TASO

1. An argument X is a correct C-inductive argument IF AND ONLY IF: (a) the premises of X are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion of X,  AND (b) the premises of X make the conclusion of X more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.

2. The premises of the argument TASO are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion of TASO.

3. The premises of the argument TASO make the conclusion of TASO more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be.

THEREFORE:

4. The argument TASO is a correct C-inductive argument.

Swinburne lays out his analysis of what constitutes a “correct C-inductive argument” in the very first chapter of The Existence of God, called “Inductive Arguments” (see EOG, p.6 & 7).  Although Swinburne does not generally spell out a critical argument like this for all of his inductive arguments for God, reasoning of this form is implied whenever Swinburne asserts that one of his inductive arguments for God is a correct inductive argument.
Each of the three premises of the above critical argument is questionable.  I have at least one objection against each premise.
 
OBJECTION TO PREMISE (2)
TASO is the third argument in Swinburne’s case for God.  The first argument in his case is an inductive cosmological argument that is based on this premise:
(e1) There is a complex physical universe.
Although the term “complex” is a bit vague, this premise seems undeniably true, so it makes sense to say of (e1) that it is “known to be true by those who dispute about” the existence of God.  This is a solid factual claim to use in an argument for God.
The second argument in Swinburne’s case is also based on a premise that seems to be clearly and obviously true:
(e2) There is a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws.
Again, the word “simple” is a bit vague, but this is a solid factual claim to use in an argument for God, so it makes sense to say that (e2) is “known to be true by those who dispute about” the existence of God.
But when we come to the third argument, TASO, the factual claim is not at all obviously true:
(e3) There exists a complex physical universe which is governed by simple natural laws, and in which the structure of the natural laws and of the initial conditions are such that they make the evolution of human bodies in that universe probable.
First of all, it is not obviously true that human bodies evolved in our universe.  I firmly believe that human bodies evolved in this universe, and there is a great deal of evidence that supports the this hypothesis, leaving little room for doubt, but one needs to be exposed to a fair amount of scientific data and information and knowledge to be in a position to come to KNOW that human bodies evolved in this universe.  One needs to learn about sexual reproduction, and genetics, geology and fossils, and about different kinds of plant and animal life (bacteria, plants, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, primates, etc.).
People are not born with modern scientific knowledge about plants, animals, chemistry, genetics, geology, etc.  We have to be educated over a period of many years, and even then, many (most?) people in the USA don’t learn enough scientific information and concepts to be in a position to know that human bodies evolved.  Certainly, many educated Christians in the USA have doubts about the claim that human bodies evolved in this universe.
Second, assuming it to be a fact that human bodies evolved in this universe, this still does NOT imply that the structure of the universe (the initial conditions at the time of the Big Bang plus the specific laws of nature in this universe) made this outcome PROBABLE.  For all we know, the evolution of human bodies might have been an extremely improbable event.  Many events that have occurred are improbable events.  The fact that event X actually occurred does NOT show that the universe was so structured that it was probable that X would occur.
The inference from “X actually occurred” to the conclusion that “the universe was structured in such a way that made it probable that X would occur” would only make sense if one assumed the truth of determinism, only if one assumes that given the initial conditions of our universe and given the specific laws of nature in our universe, that every event in the history of the universe from the point of the Big Bang onward, was completely determined or fated to happen exactly the way it does happen.  On that view, every event (after the Big Bang) that occurs MUST have occurred, and that the initial conditions and laws of the universe made it CERTAIN that every event (after the Big Bang) would happen exactly the way they do in fact happen.  But this sort of rigid and extreme determinism is no longer in vogue.  Few scientists (if any) hold this sort of view these days.
The fact that human bodies have evolved in this universe is clearly NOT sufficient evidence to conclude that the structure of this universe made this event probable.  Furthermore, there does not appear to be any other easy and obvious way to arrive at this conclusion; there is no easy and obvious way to come to KNOW that (e3) is true.
Perhaps (e3) is true, but coming to know that (e3) is true would require not only learning most of the relevant scientific information and concepts that support the claim that human bodies evolved in this universe, but also a good deal of additional information and reasoning that would be needed to show that the initial conditions and laws of this universe were such as to make it probable that human bodies would evolve.
The Fine Tuning argument illustrates the complex sort of evidence and reasoning required here, but the argument from Fine Tuning aims only to show that the universe is structured in such a way as to make evolution of living creatures PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE.  It is a much taller order to argue that the structure of the universe is such that it made the evolution of human bodies PROBABLE.
Clearly, (e3) is NOT something that is “known by those who dispute about” the existence of God.  I doubt that anyone knows (e3) to be true, but even if there are a few such people, they are a tiny portion of the large population of those who “dispute about” the existence of God.   Therefore, premise (2) is FALSE.
 
OBJECTION TO PREMISE (3)
Swinburne’s primary emphasis is on presenting a line of reasoning in support of premise (3).  One key premise in his argument supporting (3) is the following premise (see EOG, p.189):
8. It is quite probable that (e3) is the case given that there is a God and a complex physical universe governed by simple natural laws.
If premise (8) is false or questionable, then Swinburne has failed to show (3) to be true, thus leaving the truth of (3) in doubt.
Premise (8) seems to me to be FALSE.  From my point of view, it is UNLIKELY that God would structure the universe in such a way that human bodies would probably evolve (naturally, apart from any divine intervention).
God is, on Swinburne’s own definition, an eternally omnipotent person, and an eternally omniscient person (with omniscience being limited in relation to knowledge of the future, because God’s free will and human free will make it logically impossible to know every detail of the future).  Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, God would be able to create all existing plants, animals, and human beings in the blink of an eye, along the lines of the Genesis creation myth.  It is very implausible to suppose that God would use the long, random, and uncertain process of evolution to produce plants, animals, and human bodies when God could have instantly created billions of earth-like planets all filled to the brim with thousands of kinds of plants, and animals, and creatures with human-like bodies.
Furthermore, God is also supposed to be a perfectly morally good person, and all of the pain, disease, suffering, and death involved in a billion years of the evolutionary struggle for survival could have been avoided by God creating all of the desired plants, animals, and human-like creatures in an instant.  God, if God exists, had a very powerful moral reason to prefer instant creation of living creatures over the slow, random, uncertain, and suffering-filled natural process of evolution.
There seems to be no strong reason for God to prefer the natural process of evolution over instantaneous creation of all living creatures, including the creation of human bodies, and there is an obvious powerful moral reason for God to prefer instantaneous creation over the natural process of evolution.  So, it seems to me that premise (8) has it completely backwards.  It is highly IMPROBABLE that (e3) would be the case, if God existed.  Premise (8) is FALSE, and so Swinburne has failed to provide us with a good reason to believe (3) to be true.  Therefore, premise (3) remains doubtful.
 
OBJECTION TO PREMISE (1)
I have recently learned that my favorite objection to TASO is an objection to premise (1).  I will present my favorite objection to TASO in Part 2 of this series of posts on TASO.

bookmark_borderDoes “Science” Make Theism Likelier than Atheism?

Victor Reppert recently linked to an article on the blog Saints and Sceptics (S&S), Why Science Makes Theism Likelier than Atheism.” In this blog post, I’m going to critically assess that article.
1. What is the Evidence to be Explained?
S&S begin their article as follows:

Should we view the order of the universe, and our ability to comprehend that order, as evidence of God?

This question suggests two related but independent items of evidence to be explained:

E1. The universe is orderly.
E2. The universe contains intelligent beings able to comprehend that order.

Regarding E1, S&S don’t clarify or explain what they mean by phrases like “the order of the universe” or, elsewhere, “the high degree of order” of the universe. In order to be charitable, I’m going to “steel man” their argument by assuming they are appealing to something similar to what Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne calls the “arguments from spatial and temporal order” in his book, The Existence of God.  The argument from temporal order appeals to the fact that “there are regular successions of events, codified in laws of nature.”[1] The phrase “regular succession of events” is key; this is why, I suppose, Swinburne calls it the argument from temporal order. In contrast, the argument from spatial order appeals to the fact that, given our universe conforms to simple, formulable, scientific natural laws, “our bodies are suitable vehicles to provide us with an enormous amount of knowledge of the world and to execute an enormous variety of purposes in it.”[2] This “steel man” interpretation seems highly charitable, since E1 seems to correspond with Swinburne’s argument from temporal order, whereas E2 is very similar to Swinburne’s argument from spatial order.[3]
Accordingly, we may clarify E1 as follows.

E1′. The universe conforms to simple, formulable, scientific laws.

With the evidence to be explained sufficiently clarified, let’s unpack their argument.
2. What, Precisely, Is the Argument?
Before I can turn to the logical structure of S&S’s argument, let’s first review some notations which will make it easier to summarize the argument in a concise form.

Pr(x): the epistemic probability of any proposition x
Pr(x | y): the epistemic probability of any proposition x conditional upon y
“>!”: “is much more probable than”
“>!!”: “is much, much more probable than”
T: theism
A: atheism. A is logically equivalent to ~T.

The first premise of the argument is a simple statement of E1′:

(1) E1′ is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E1′) is close to 1.

Let’s now return to S&S:

Let’s start with atheism. From an atheistic perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for the order in the universe; it would just be a brute fact or a ‘happy accident’ as Polkinghorne puts it.
But that doesn’t seem good enough. In the absence of an explanation, we would have no reason to expect the high degree of order that we find. But does theism fare any better? To many it seems very likely that if the universe is the product of an intelligent mind, it would exhibit order.  …

So the second premise of the argument seems to be:

(2) An orderly universe is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true, i.e., Pr(E1′ | T) > Pr(E1′ | A).

The third premise is a simple statement of the evidence E2.

(3) E2 is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E2) is close to 1.

Returning to S&S:

But does theism make an intelligible universe – especially one which is governed by comprehensible laws and which can described by mathematics – any more likely? …
If our minds are the result of design we could rely on them to discover the truth. Rational rulers used laws to govern – and God was the ruler of the universe. And it would not be surprising to discover that mathematics could describe the universe if the divine mind and human minds were analogous in at least some respects. Finally if the universe is created by a good God, he would not systematically deceive us. In light of these considerations, Kepler and his fellow scientists were surely right to think that there is much more reason to expect an intelligible universe if there is a God than if there is not.

So the next premise seems to be:

(4) An intelligible universe is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that theism is true and an orderly exists than on the assumption that atheism is true and an orderly universe exists, i.e., Pr(E2 | T & E1′) > Pr(E2 | A & E1′).

Finally, S&S concludes:

So it is obvious that any complex, valuable, beautiful and intelligible state of affairs – including our universe – is much, much more likely given theism than chance.

And so the conclusion of their argument is:

(5) Therefore, theism is a much, much more likely explanation for the order and intelligibility of the universe than chance, i.e., Pr(T | E1′ & E2)  >!! Pr(chance | E1′ & E2).

We are now in a position to concisely state the argument in its logical form.

(1) Pr(E1′) is close to 1.
(2) Pr(E1′ | T) > Pr(E1′ | A).
(3) Pr(E2) is close to 1.
(4) Pr(E2 | T & E1′) > Pr(E2 | A & E1′).
(C) Therefore, Pr(T | E1′ & E2)  >!! Pr(chance | E1′ & E2).

Let us now turn to evaluating the strength of this argument. While I have many objections to this argument, let me present just four.
3. First Objection: The Argument Ignores Intrinsic Probabilities
This argument is a deductive argument about inductive probabilities. As stated, however, the argument is incomplete. It does not contain any premises regarding the prior probabilities of theism and atheism. But Bayes’ Theorem shows that posterior or final probabilities are a function of two things: prior probability and explanatory power. S&S write much about the latter, whereas they are completely silent about the former. This invalidates their argument. It’s possible that (1) – (4) could all be true and yet the conclusion, (C), still might not follow if the prior probability is extremely low.
In order to repair the argument, S&S would need to add a premise to their argument which explicitly addresses the prior probabilities of theism and atheism. Now, applying the concept of a “prior probability” to a metaphysical hypothesis like theism is tricky. It isn’t clear from S&S’s article which propositions they would include in their background information for the purpose of assessing a prior probability, and I do not know of a non-controversial way to choose such propositions. Fortunately we don’t have to solve that problem; another option is to replace “prior probability” with “intrinsic probability.” As the name implies, an intrinsic probability is the probability of a hypothesis based solely on intrinsic factors relating to its content (i.e., what it says); it has nothing to do with extrinsic factors, such as the relationship between a hypothesis and the evidence to be explained.
In an attempt to “steel man” S&S’s argument, I propose that we adopt Paul Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability, which says that the intrinsic probability of a hypothesis is determined by its scope, its modesty, and nothing else. Draper explains modesty and scope as follows.

a. Modesty: The modesty of a hypothesis is inversely proportional to its “content”—to how much it says. Hypotheses that say less—for example, because they make fewer claims or less specific claims or claims that are narrower in scope—are, other things being equal, more likely to be true than hypotheses that say more.
b. Coherence: The coherence of a hypothesis depends on how well its components fit together.
c. If we abstract from all factors extrinsic to a hypothesis, then the only thing that could affect the epistemic probability of that hypothesis is how much it says and how well what it says fits together. No other factors affecting probability could be intrinsic to the hypothesis.

Using these criteria, we’re now in a position to compare the intrinsic probabilities of theism and atheism. Before we do that, however, we need to start with the intrinsic probabilities of naturalism and supernaturalism. Here’s Draper:

4. The intrinsic probabilities of naturalism and supernaturalism
a. Naturalism is the statement that the physical world existed prior to any mental world and caused any mental world to come into existence.
b. Supernaturalism is the statement that the mental world existed prior to any physical world and caused any physical world to come into existence.
c. Otherism is the statement that both naturalism and supernaturalism are false.
d. Naturalism and supernaturalism are equally probable intrinsically because they are equally modest and coherent. Since the intrinsic epistemic probability of otherism is greater than zero, naturalism and supernaturalism are each less probable intrinsically than their denials. (So both naturalists and supernaturalists bear a burden of proof and that burden is equal.)
5. The intrinsic probabilities of theism and atheism
a. Theism is a very specific version of supernaturalism and so is many times (i.e. at least 10 times) less probable intrinsically than supernaturalism.
b. Naturalism is a specific version of atheism and so is many times less probable than atheism.
c. Thus, since naturalism and supernaturalism are equally probable intrinsically, it follows that atheism is many times more probable intrinsically than theism, which entails that atheism has a high intrinsic probability (certainly higher than .9) while theism has a very low intrinsic probability (certainly lower than .1)….

Let me introduce a bit more notation:

Pr(|x|): the intrinsic probability of any proposition x

Using that notation, we are now in a position to add the missing premise to S&S’s argument:

(5) Atheism is many times more probable intrinsically than theism, i.e., Pr(|A|) > .9 >!! Pr(|T|) < .1.

Unfortunately for S&S, however, it is far from obvious that the evidence to be explained, E1′ and E2, outweigh the very low intrinsic probability of theism. Accordingly, it’s far from obvious that the conclusion, (C), follows from premises (1)-(5).
4. Second Objection: Pr(E1′ | A) May Be Inscrutable
My second objection to S&S’s argument is that Pr(E1′ | A) may be inscrutable. If it’s inscrutable, then they can’t compare Pr(E1′ | T) to Pr(E1′ | A). Accordingly, the truth of (2) would be unknown. While I’m open to the possibility that (2) is true, I cannot figure out a way to defend it.
Why think Pr(E1′ | A) is inscrutable? In the context of E1′, A is a catch-all hypothesis. A is logically equivalent to A conjoined with all possible explanations for temporal order in the universe apart from theism.[4] For example:

A1: A is true, and the explanation for temporal order in the universe is naturalistic explanation #1.
A2: A is true, and the explanation for temporal order in the universe is naturalistic explanation #2.

An: A is true, and the explanation for temporal order in the universe is naturalistic explanation #n.

That’s a lot of potential explanations. Accordingly, this constitutes a prima facie reason to be skeptical of the claim that Pr(E1′ | A) can be known well enough to support a comparative claim such as (2). The only way to reject this prima facie reason would be to identify some intrinsic feature of A which either ruled out a naturalistic explanation for E1′ or which made such an explanation antecedently less likely than it would be on T. Is there such a reason?
Let’s reconsider part of what S&S write in support of (2):

From an atheistic perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for the order in the universe; it would just be a brute fact or a ‘happy accident’ as Polkinghorne puts it.

By “brute fact,” I assume that S&S mean “a fact which has no explanation.” By “happy accident,” I assume that Polkinghorne means due to chance. But “brute fact” and “happy accident” hardly constitute an exhaustive set of the possibilities. Let me add just one more to the list: factual necessity. Metaphysical naturalism (as defined in the Draper quote, above) is antecedently very probable on the assumption that atheism is true. If metaphysical naturalism is true, then it seems highly plausible that physical reality — whether that consists of just our universe or a multiverse — is factually necessary.  If physical reality is factually necessary, it seems highly plausible that temporal order could also be factually necessary. But if temporal order is factually necessary, then it is just factually necessary and there is nothing for atheism to explain.
Admittedly, the hypothesis, “our universe and its laws are factually necessary,” is highly speculative and not known to be true. But, to paraphrase a point once made by CalTech physicist Sean Carroll, theists like S&S are the ones proposing bizarre thought experiments involving the fundamental laws of nature. So we have to consider such speculative possibilities due to the very nature of the topic and the argument. In any case, this much is clear: S&S give no evidence of having even considered, much less addressed, such a possibility.
5. Third Objection: The Conclusion Confuses Atheism with Chance
My third objection is closely related to my point about factual necessity.

So it is obvious that any complex, valuable, beautiful and intelligible state of affairs – including our universe – is much, much more likely given theism than chance.

The conclusion of the argument does not follow from the premises because the conclusion compares theism to chance, not theism to atheism. But, as we’ve just seen, atheism functions as a catch-all hypothesis. Atheism is compatible with the proposition, “The universe and its temporal order are factually necessary.” N.B. That proposition denies that the order of the universe is due to chance. And S&S provide no reason to think that chance is antecedently much more probable on atheism than factual necessity.
6. Fourth Objection: The Argument Commits the Fallacy of Understated Evidence
As is the case with E1′, I’m open to the possibility that E2, either by itself or when conjoined with E1′, is evidence favoring theism over atheism.[5] In other words, I’m open to the idea that (4) is true. I don’t think S&S have successfully shown this, however. Rather than pursue that objection here, however, I’ll leave that as an exercise for interested readers. Instead, I want to pursue a different objection: even if (4) were true, it would commit the fallacy of understated evidence.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the intelligibility of the universe really is evidence favoring theism over atheism. Given that the universe is intelligible, the fact that so much of it is intelligible without appealing to supernatural agency is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. (I’ve defended this argument at length elsewhere, so I will refer interested readers to that defense.) Since naturalism entails atheism, it follows that this evidence favoring atheism over theism.
The upshot is this: even if the intelligibility of the universe is evidence favoring theism, there is other, more specific evidence relating to its intelligibility which favors naturalism (and hence atheism) over theism. It’s far from obvious that the former outweighs the latter.
7. Conclusion
As we’ve seen, there are four good objections to S&S’s claim that science makes theism more likely than atheism. I conclude, then, that S&S’s argument is not successful.
Notes
[1] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (second ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 153.
[2] Swinburne 2004, p. 154.
[3] The main or only difference between Swinburne’s argument from spatial order and S&S’s E2 is that the former also appeals to our ability “to execute an enormous variety of purposes” in the world, whereas the latter does not.
[4] Herman Phillipse, God in the Age of Science? A Critique of Religious Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 258.
[5] For what it’s worth, I think E2 is much more promising than E1′ as a potential source of theistic evidence.

bookmark_borderCases for God

I’m thinking about which cases for the existence of God to focus in on, for my evaluation of Christianity.  Right now, I’m thinking about examining the cases of four well-known Christian apologists:

  • Norman Geisler
  • William Craig
  • Peter Kreeft
  • Richard Swinburne

I just realized that two of these philosophers are Thomists, and two are not Thomists.
Geisler is a conservative Evangelical Christian, but his favorite argument for God is a Thomist cosmological argument, and his concept of God is clearly shaped by the thinking of Aquinas (see his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics entry “God, Nature of”, especially the sections on “Simplicity” and on “Immutability”).
Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher of religion, and his favorite arguments for God are the “Five Ways” of Aquinas (which reflects a complete misunderstaning of Aquinas, since the “Five Ways” are NOT arguments for the existence of God), and Kreeft has written a commentary on selected sections of Summa Theologica by Aquinas (called Summa of the Summa).  The commentary is an attempt to make the thinking of Aquinas about God and theology more accessible to the general public, because Kreeft admires Aquinas and believes most of what Aquinas has to say about God.  So, Geisler and Kreeft are both Thomists.
Craig, however, rejects the key Thomist notion of God’s “simplicity”:
According to the doctrine of divine simplicity God has no distinct attributes, he stands in no real relations, his essence is not distinct from his existence, he just is the pure act of being subsisting.  All such distinctions exist only in our minds, since we can form no conception of the absolutely simple divine being.  While we can say what God is not like, we cannot say what he is like, except in an analogical sense.  But these predications must in the end fail, since there is no univocal element we assign to God, leaving us in a state of genuine agnosticism about the nature of God.  Indeed on this view, God really has no nature; he is simply the inconceivable act of being.
[…]
The doctine [of divine simplicity] is open, moreover, to powerful objections.  For example, to say that God does not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same property as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other. … (Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Craig, p.524)
It’s wonderful to have Craig’s help to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, since Craig provides some powerful reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God as incoherent and as logically implying “agnosticism about the nature of God”.  I’m starting to like Craig a bit more now.
Swinburne clearly rejects the immutability and timelessness of God, which are key aspects of the Thomist concept of God, so Swinburne also provides some very good reasons for rejecting the Thomist concept of God, and thus one of the brightest and best modern Christian philosophers will also help me to destroy the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft.
My work is already half done, and I have not even begun!
====================
UPDATE on 10/12/16
====================
William Craig made a podcast earlier this year in which he criticized the Thomist concept of God:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-it-possible-god-is-not-personal
“Is it Possible God is Not Personal?”
Dr. Craig takes on two interesting questions on the personhood and nature of God.
[Transcript of a podcast with Kevin Harris and William Craig. Date: 04-09-2016]
Edward Feser replied to Craig’s criticisms (in the above podcast) of the Thomist concept of God :
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/04/craig-on-divine-simplicity-and-theistic.html
FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2016
“Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism”
[blog post by Edward Feser]
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 12

Sire’s First Two Objections
Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist James Sire revised his understanding of the concept of a “worldview” and wrote a book advocating this revised understanding: Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE).  Some of the the key changes that Sire makes to his conception of a “worldview” are defended in Chapter 5 of NTE.  In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE:
Is a worldview primarily an intellectual system, a way of life, or a story? (NTE, p.22)
One of his key conclusions from Chapter 5 is clearly stated in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions or a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
In a previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The second objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview (covered in the previous post), is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE:
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Based on the comparisons Sire makes between his seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, this objection can be re-stated in terms of practical concerns:
Sire’s seven worldview questions lack a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
If this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.  Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so:
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  Here is my suggested alternative:
(6A)  How should I live my life?  (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?)
If we revise his question (6) to (6A), and if we understand that there are ethical aspects to questions (3) and (7), then Sire’s set of worldview questions would provide a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.  Thus, the second objection represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.
Worldview as a Way of Life?
The third objection that Sire raises against his older conception of worldviews, is that it makes more sense to understand a worldview as being “a way of life” (NTE, p.97) rather than to understand a worldview as being “a system of thought” (NTE, p.98) because of “the practical, lived reality of worldviews…” (NTE, p.100).
The sub-section of Chapter 5 where Sire presents this third objection is called “Worldview as a Way of Life” (NTE, p.98-100).  The first sentence in this sub-section is worth careful examination:
While worldviews have been overwhelmingly detected and expounded using intellectual categories, from the first there has been a recognition that they are inextricably tied to lived experience and behavior.   (NTE, p.98, emphasis added)
Recall a key conclusion of Chapter 5, which Sire states in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions of a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
So, clearly Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions”.  This is a mistake, according to Sire, because worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”
Sire appears to believe that there is a conflict between understanding worldviews in terms of “intellectual categories” and recognizing that worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”  Let’s consider a strong version of this view, namely the view that these are mutually exclusive claims:
(MEC) If X is best understood in terms of “intellectual categories” (such as “beliefs” or “propositions”), then X cannot be tied to lived experience and behavior.
It seems fairly obvious that (MEC) is false.  Consider the following belief:
(AIM)  Having an abortion is an instance of murdering an innocent child.
Some people hold this belief.  If someone holds this belief, they are likely to be reluctant to have an abortion, and are unlikely to encourage someone else to have an abortion, and will be reluctant to vote for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice.
If someone frequently has abortions (and has no regrets about having them) or frequently encourages others to have abortions (and has no regrets about doing this) and has no reluctance about voting for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice, then we would rightly doubt the claim that this person believed (AIM) to be true.  That is because beliefs have implications for choices and actions, and beliefs have an influence on a person’s choices and actions.
This is especially the case with ethical beliefs, and it is clearly the case with beliefs that people have concerning the most basic questions of ethics:
(6A)  How should I live my life?  (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?)
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a sane adult person to have no beliefs about these questions. If a person has some beliefs about these basic questions of ethics, then those beliefs will influence the choices that person makes and the behavior of that person.
In Sire’s older book The Universe Next Door, he describes the view of morality that is part of the worldview of Christian Theism:
7. Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good (holy and loving).
This proposition has already been considered as an implication of proposition 1 [i.e. 1. God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.] .  God is the source of the moral world as well as the physical world.  God is the good and expresses this in the laws and moral principles he has revealed in Scripture.  (TUND, p.35)
Theism…teaches that not only is there a moral universe, but there is an absolute standard by which all moral judgments are measured.  God himself–his character of goodness (holiness and love)–is the standard.  Furthermore, Christians and Jews hold that God has revealed his standard in the various laws and principles expressed in the Bible.  The Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the apostle Paul’s ethical teaching–in these and many other ways God has expressed his character to us.  There is thus a standard of right and wrong, and people who want to know it can know it.  (TUND, p. 36)
If someone holds these various beliefs about right and wrong, then such a person is likely to consult the Bible when they are struggling with a moral issue or question, and such a person is likely to take seriously arguments based on the Bible concerning that and other moral issues.  If some person has no interest or concern about what the Bible teaches about various moral issues, and if that person never takes seriously any arguments about moral issues that are based on the Bible, then it would be perfectly reasonable to doubt the claim that this person holds the above beliefs about right and wrong.
Furthermore, if a person is firmly convinced that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X, and if that person holds the above BELIEFS about right and wrong, then we would expect that person to be reluctant to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing X), and we would expect that person to be reluctant to encourage others to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing so).
If some person has no reluctance about doing X and never appears to feel bad about doing X, and if that person often encourages others to do X and never appears to feel bad about encouraging others to do X, then it is quite reasonable to doubt the claim that this person firmly BELIEVES that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X and that this person holds the worldview-related BELIEFS about right and wrong found in Sire’s description of Christian theism.
Beliefs have implications, and a person’s beliefs influence how that person thinks and how that person feels, and how that person acts.  That is why worldview-related beliefs are important and significant, because they influence our thinking, our feelings, the choices we make, and the actions we take.
Richard Swinburne, one of the world’s leading defenders of the Christian faith, argues that there is a logical or conceptual tie between beliefs and actions:
Belief has consequences for action, for it is in part a matter of the way in which one seeks to achieve one’s purposes, the goals or ends one seeks to achieve.
Suppose that I seek to get to London, and I come to a junction in the road.  Then clearly if I believe that it is more probable that the road on my right leads to London than that the road on the left does, I shall take the road on the right.  (Faith and Reason, 2nd edition, p.9)
Clearly, the choices and actions that a person makes or takes are indications of the beliefs held by that person, and Sire appears to acknowledge this point:
…we can assess whether we ourselves (or anyone else) hold a particular worldview by observing how we or others act.  (NTE, p.98)
How we view life affects the life we live; it governs both the unconscious actions we engage in and the actions we ponder before acting.  (NTE, p.99)
In Chapter 6 of NTE, Sire explicitly ties worldview-related assumptions to actions and behavior:
Everyone has a worldview.  Whether we know it or not, we all operate from a set of assumptions about the world that remain to a large measure hidden in the unconscious recesses of our mind. …
I wake up in the morning, not asking myself who I am or where I am.  I am immediately aware of a whole host of perceptions that my mind orders into the recognition that it’s morning:  I’m home, I’m crawling out of bed.  In this immediate awareness I do not consciously ask or answer, What is the really real?  How do I know I am home?  or, How can I tell the difference between right and wrong?  Rather, my unconscious mind is using a network of presumptions about how to interpret for the conscious mind what is going on.  In some way all of the basic worldview questions are being answered by the way I am acting and behaving.  (NTE, p.107-108)
The “assumptions about the world”  and the “network of presumptions” that Sire speaks of here are BELIEFS held by the person in question.  So, in this passage Sire clearly implies that a person’s worldview-related BELIEFS guide their choices and actions.  Therefore, Sire agrees with Swinburne’s view that our beliefs are closely connected to, and influence, our choices and actions.
Therefore, since beliefs are an “intellectual category” and since our beliefs–especially our worldview-related beliefs–clearly impact and influence our choices and actions, it is clear that (MEC) is false.  Worldviews can be understood in terms of “intellectual categories” such as “beliefs” and “assumptions” and “propositions” and “presuppositions”, and this does NOT imply that worldviews are disconnected from “lived experience and behavior”.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 2

Here is a third option for breaking down the question “Does God exist?” (click on the image below to get a clearer view of the chart):
Does God Exist - 3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is a variation on Option 2 (see the previous post in this series).
In this analysis I stick with the process of simply adding on divine attributes to the creator in order to build up to the full traditional concept of God, or something close to the full traditional concept.*
This is roughly parallel to the step-by-step building up to the full traditional concept of God that Richard Swinburne does in his book The Coherence of Theism.  I have just left out a few of the divine attributes that Swinburne uses in his analysis of the concept of ‘God’, namely: perfect freedom, a source of moral obligation, immutable, and a necessary being.  While these are part of the full traditional concept of God, they don’t seem as central and important as the divine attributes used in the above chart, and I prefer to work with a simpler and more bare-bones concept of God.
Perfect freedom is probably implied by perfect goodness, since if God was like a robot that was programmed to always do what is best, then God’s goodness would be less than perfect.  If, on the other hand, being like a robot that was programmed to always do what is best does NOT make God’s goodness less than perfect, then there would be no big motivation for including this divine attribute in the analysis of the concept of God.  Swinburne argues that God’s being a source of moral obligation is implied by God being the creator of the universe, so Swinburne (at least) should not complain about dropping the attribute of being a source of moral obligation out of the analysis of the concept of God.
Immutability in the strong sense (the idea that God is absolutely unchanging and unchangable) is logically incompatible with God being a person, so I’m doing theists a favor by leaving that divine attribute out.  Immutability in the weaker sense of God’s moral character being unchanging would seem to be implied by the omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness of God, since a perfectly good person would resist becoming an evil person (or even a slightly bad person), and being omnipotent and omniscient would guarantee the success of this effort.  So, there seems to be no need to include immutability in the weaker sense in the analysis of the concept of God.
The divine attribute of necessary being is something philosophers and philosophically-inclined theologians enjoy discussing, but I don’t think this is of much importance to the typical religious believer.  The clearest and most obvious interpretation of ‘necessary being’ is that God’s existence is logically necessary, but this is clearly false, according to Swinburne, and I’m inclined to agree with him on that point.  So, we ought to leave ‘necessary being’ in that sense out of the analysis of the concept of God.
Swinburne discusses various other possible meanings of ‘necessary being’ in The Coherence of Theism, and settles on one interpretation, but on that interpretation it becomes impossible to prove that the claim that “God exists” is logically coherent, at least in the ordinary way of showing logical coherence.  Swinburne’s interpretation of ‘necessary being’ is difficult to understand, and appears to be somewhat arbitrary and ad hoc.  Given Swinburne’s understanding of ‘necessary being’, I don’t think the average believer would care much about whether God has or doesn’t have this attribute, and most people simply would not understand Swinburne’s concept of ‘necessary being’ anyway.
If we simply drop the divine attribute of necessary being from the definition of “God”, we are still left with a being that is very similar to the full traditional concept of God, but without the philosophical/logical issues that come along with this perplexing divine attribute.  One less problematic divine attribute means that it will be easier to make a case for the existence of God, so no Christian apologist or defender of theism should complain about my suggestion to focus on this simpler, more bare-bones conception of God.
 
* I have a somewhat robust notion of the divine attribute of being eternal.  What I mean by this attribute is that the being in question has always had the other divine attributes and will continue to have all of those other attributes forever.  So, the third question in the chart can be stated more clearly this way:
Did an eternally perfectly morally good, and eternally omnipotent, and eternally omniscient, eternally bodiless person create the universe?
Since perfect moral goodness and omniscience are characteristics that only a person can have, a being who was eternally perfectly morally good and eternally omniscient would of necessity also eternally be a person.
 

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 1

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

bookmark_borderIn Defense of Dwindling Probability – Part 2

I see that Plantinga’s skeptical argument refers to “Dwindling Probabilities” rather than “Dwindling Probability”.  Sorry about my failure to get the name of this topic quite right.
I should mention that I did not learn about this sort of skeptical argument from the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  I learned about the Multiplication Rule of probablity in high school math, and then again in one of many courses on logic and critical thinking that I took in college and as a graduate student of philosophy.
Although I enjoyed learning about basic probability calculations in a Critical Thinking class at UCSB (esp. from The Elements of Logic by Stephen Barker, Chapter 7, 5th edition), the significance of the Multiplication Rule did not fully register with me until (I think) I read a skeptical argument by a Christian bible scholar: Robert Stein.
In his book Jesus the Messiah, Stein makes a skeptical argument about scholarly attempts to reconstruct the historical development of Q, a hypothetical source that most N.T. scholars believe was used by the authors of the Gospel of Luke and of the Gospel of Matthew.  Stein notes eight different hypotheses required in order to arrive at such a reconstruction of the history of Q.  Then Stein suggests estimated probabilities for each of the first five of the eight hypotheses, and argues that the probability that all five of those hypotheses is true is equal to the multiplication of the probabilities of those five hypotheses:
In other words, if the probability of the first five hypotheses were (1) 90 percent, (2) 80 percent, (3) 60 percent, (4) 50 percent, (5) 40 percent, the possibility of the fifth being true is .90 x .80 x .60 x .50 x .40, or a little more than 8 percent!  (Jesus the Messiah, p. 40)
Stein is a little sloppy here, and he appears to contradict himself.  He seems to be saying that the probability of the fifth hypothesis being true is 40 percent and also saying that the probability of this hypothesis being true is a little more than 8 percent.  But I think what he means is that the probabilty of the fifth hypothesis being true GIVEN the relevant facts AND the truth of the previous four hypotheses is 40 percent, and I think what he means is that the probability of the fifth hypothesis being true GIVEN only the relevant factual data is a little more than 8 percent (because the truth of the conjunction of the previous four hypotheses is NOT certain, but is actually somewhat improbable).
In any case, this skeptical argument presented by Stein inspired me to make use of the Multiplication Rule of probability in constructing skeptical arguments.
Richard Swinburne has raised some objections to Plantinga’s “Dwindling Probabilities” argument, and I am going to state and clarify those objections, and respond to each objection in relation to my example of “Dwindling Probabilities” presented in Part 1 of this series of posts.
Swinburne presents one primary objection, and then presents two more objections.  Swinburne’s primary objection is stated early in his essay on this issue:
Now, strictly speaking – as Plantinga acknowledges, but takes no further – P(G/K) is the sum of the probabilities of the different routes to it.   G might be true without some of these intermediate propositions being true.  
First, let me explain the meaning of P(G/K).   Read this as “The probability of G given K.”
G means:
The central elements of  Christian doctrine are true.
(e.g. God exists; Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus’ death on the cross atoned for our sins; etc.).
K refers to:
The totality of what we know apart from theism.
So P(G/K) means:
The probability that the central elements of Christian doctrine are true GIVEN the totality of what we know apart from theism.
One “route” to G is to establish the authority of the teachings of Jesus, and the reliability of the Gospel accounts of the teachings of Jesus.  If one could show that the teachings of Jesus are a reliable source of theological truths, and that  the Gospel accounts of the teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable, then one could establish the probable truth of many or most Christian doctrines on the basis of the teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.
So, one could break this line of reasoning down into various components, assign probabilities to each of the components, and then multiply the probabilities to arrive at a probability for G, for it being the case that the central elements of Christian doctrine are true:
1.  God exists.
2. Jesus existed.
3. Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem about 30 CE, assuming that Jesus existed.
4. Jesus rose from the dead, assuming that God exists, and that Jesus existed, and that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem about 30 CE.
5.  God showed approval for Jesus’ claims about himself by raising Jesus from the dead, assuming that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead.
6.  The Gospel accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable accounts, assuming that Jesus existed.
7.  Jesus claimed to be a prophet who was a reliable source of truth about God and theological matters, assuming that Jesus existed and assuming that the Gospel accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable accounts.
8.  Jesus’ teachings about God and theological matters are a reliable source of truth, assuming that God showed approval for Jesus’ claims about himself by raising Jesus from the dead and assuming that Jesus claimed to be a prophet who was a reliable source of truth about God and theological matters.
9.  The central elements of Christian doctrine are true, assuming that Jesus’ teachings about God and theological matters are a reliable source of truth and assuming that the Gospel accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable accounts.
None of these claims is certain.
A careful and rational evaluation of this line of reasoning would require assigning probabilities to each of these claims.  There is some probability that God exists, and some probability that Jesus existed, and some probability that Jesus was crucified (given that he existed), and some probability that Jesus rose from the dead (given that he existed and was crucified), etc.
Even if we assign a high probability to each of these claims (such as .8 or .9), when we use the Multiplication Rule of probability to determine the probability of G, the claim that the central elements of Christian doctrine are true, the probability will be fairly low.  For example, suppose that we assign a probability of .9 to each of the first four claims.  In that case the probability of the conjunction of these four claims would be: .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 =  .81 x .81 = .6561  or about .7  which is not exactly a high probability.
If we assigned a probability of .8 to each of the first four claims, then the probability of the conjunction of those claims would be:
.8 x .8 x .8 x .8 =  .64 x .64 = .4096 or about .4 which is clearly NOT a high probability.
Swinburne’s objection is that there may be other “routes” to the ultimate conclusion that G is the case, and if this is so, then we have to add the probability of arriving at G from other routes to the probabilty of G based on the particular route described above.
Let’s consider a simpler example to make Swinburne’s point more clearly:
1.  It will (probably) rain this afternoon.
2. If it rains this afternoon, then your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
Therefore:
3.  Your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
Neither premise of this argument is certain.  We coud assign a probability to each premise and use that to calculate the probability of the conclusion.  Supose that there is an 80% chance of rain this afternoon, and if it rains this afternoon, there is a 90% chance that your lawn will be wet this evening.  We could calculate the probability of the conclusion (3) by multiplying .8 x .9  to get:  .72.  Thus, the probability of (3) appears to be about .7 based on these assumptions about the probability of the premises.
However, there could be other “routes” or ways that your lawn could become wet:
4. Your lawn sprinkler system will (probably) turn on and water the lawn for an hour this afternoon.
5. If your lawn sprinkler system turns on and waters the lawn for an hour this afternoon, then your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
Therefore:
3.  Your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
We could assign probabilities to each of the premises in this argument to arrive at a probability for the conclusion.  Suppose that the sprinkler system is fairly reliable, and has been set to water the lawn for an hour each afternoon.  In that case, we might assign a high probabililty of .9 to premise (4), and a probability of .9 to premise (5).  We could calculate the probability of conclusion (3) by multiplying .9 x .9 to get:  .81.  Thus, the probabilty of (3) appears to be about .8 based on these assumptions.  But this is a different probability than what we arrived at based on the previous argument.  Which probability is correct?  .7 or .8?
If both arguments apply on the same day to the same lawn, then NEITHER estimate is correct, because the probabilty that (3) will be true would be higher than either estimate, since there are TWO DIFFERENT WAYS, each of which has a significant probability, that your lawn could become wet this afternoon.
Presumably the operation of the sprinkler system would NOT affect the weather, and thus NOT affect the chance of rain.  However, if it rains, that could affect the operation of the sprinkler system.  Some sprinkler systems can detect rain or detect moisture in the soil and adjust the watering schedule based on that data.  A sprinkler system might be designed to cancel the scheduled watering for the afternoon if it starts to rain early in the afternoon.   So, with some sprinkler systems, rain in the early afternoon would reduce the probability of the scheduled afternoon watering to nearly ZERO.  But if the scheduled watering begins early in the afternoon, that would have no impact on whether it would rain later that afternoon.
But suppose the sprinkler system has a simple timer and no mechanism for detecting rain.  In this case the sprinkler system which is set to water the lawn each afternoon, will turn the sprinklers on whether it rains that afternoon or not.  In that case, we could reasonably assume that these two different ways of making your lawn wet, operate INDEPENDENTLY of each other, and thus both of the above calculations of the probability of (3) would be too low, because each calculation assumes that there is only ONE WAY for your lawn to become wet, when there are actually (at least) TWO WAYS for this to occur.  Rain is one ROUTE for making your lawn wet, but a sprinkler system is another different ROUTE for making your lawn wet.
One ROUTE for showing central Christian doctrines to be true, is through the resurrection of Jesus as evidence for the authority (reliability) of the teachings of Jesus about God and theological matters.  But other ROUTES are possible,  as Swinburne points out, so the probability of the truth of central Christian doctrines does NOT rest exclusively on the ROUTE through the resurrection of Jesus as evidence for the authority (reliability) of the teachings of Jesus.  In order to arrive at an accurate probabilty of G, one must take into account any and every ROUTE that contributes some degree of probability to G.
My response to this objection in relation to my example of dwindling probabilities in the previous post is that there is ONLY ONE ROUTE (that has a probability higher than ZERO) to the claim “Jesus died on the same day he was crucified” in my probability tree diagram.  So, although I agree with Swinburne’s point and his logic, this point has NO RELEVANCE in relation to my particular example of dwindling probabilities.
There is some relevance to Swinburne’s point, however, if one uses my example probability tree diagram as part of one’s thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. The claim “Jesus died on the same day he was crucified” reflects the standard Christian view or scenario about the death of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified (which is somewhat unusual – crucifixion was intended to be a slow, long, drawn-out, and painful death).  But it is possible that Jesus rose from the dead, even if he did not die on the day that he was crucified.
Jesus might have been barely alive when removed from the cross, the soldiers mistakenly believing that he was already dead, and Jesus might have been placed in a nearby tomb, again by someone who mistakenly believed he was already dead, and then Jesus might have survived that Friday night and died in the cold, dark tomb early on Saturday morning, but came back to life on Sunday morning about 24 hours later.
This would still count as rising from the dead, and would still be more-or-less in line with Christian belief and doctrine. Therefore, it is not absolutely required that “Jesus died on the same day he was crucified” in order for it to be the case that “Jesus rose from the dead”. So, there is this alternative ROUTE or WAY that the resurrection could have occured, and in order to accurately assess the probability of the resurrection of Jesus, the probability of this alternative ROUTE must be added to the probability of the standard ROUTE, where Jesus dies on the same day that he was crucified.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderIn Defense of Dwindling Probability

One claim involved in the case for the resurrection of Jesus is this:
D.  Jesus died on the same day he was crucified.
The truth of this claim depends on the truth of some prior claims:
E.  Jesus existed.
C. Jesus was crucified.
A probability tree diagram can illustrate how claim (D) involves dwindling probability (for a better view, click on the image):
Dwindling Probability                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               There is ONLY ONE PATH that results in a probability greater than ZERO for claim (D).  I will not argue for the correctness or accuracy of the probability estimates used in the diagram.  These numbers are for the purpose of illustration, to show the way dwindling probabilty works.
Let’s say that our basic stock of historical facts is f.  These facts would include the contents of the canonical Gospels, plus “outsider” sources, plus “insider” non-narrative sources, plus non-canonical Gospels/narrative sources related to Jesus.
The first green branch indicates that the probability that Jesus existed, given our basic stock of historical facts is .8 :
P(E/f) = .8
The second green branch indicates that the probability that Jesus was crucified, given our basic stock of historical facts PLUS the existence of Jesus is .8:
P(C/f & E) = .8
The third green branch indicates that the probability that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified, given our basic stock of historical facts PLUS the existence of Jesus PLUS the crucifixion of Jesus is .8:
P(D/f & E & C) = .8
The probability that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified given our stock of historical facts is equal to:
the probability of Jesus existing given our historical facts TIMES the probability of Jesus being crucified given our historical facts and the existence of Jesus TIMES the probability of Jesus dying on the same day he was crucified given our historical facts and the existence of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus.
P(D/f)P(E/f) x P(C/f & E) x P(D/f & E & C)
Based on the probability estimates in the above diagram, we can fill in the numbers:
P(D/f) = .8 x .8 x .8 = .512  or approximately .5
Although at each branch the probability was high (.8), multiplying the three probabilities together reduces the probability of claim (D) to about .5 which is NOT a high probability.

bookmark_borderHow Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’ – Part 7

My last post on this subject (How Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’ – Part 6) was from way back in February of 2011.
In that post I claimed that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘divine person’ from a set of just four attributes:
1. power
2. knowledge
3. freedom
4. goodness 
Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, this means that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘God’.
Recently in looking over my previous analysis of how many definitions one can generate from a set of just four divine attributes, I noticed that my possible specifications concerning the degrees of strength of these attributes, were missing one possible specification, and that my possible specifications concerning degrees of  duration were also missing a few possible specifications. By recognizing these additional possible specifications of degrees of strength and duration, one can actually generate over 2 billion defintions of ‘divine person’ from just four attributes.

The word ‘God’ is a proper name, and, as Richard Swinburne suggests, the meaning of this name should be analyzed in terms of a definite description, a description which can be used to pick out a single individual person who is ‘God’, if theism is true. 
The definite description to be used for this purpose can in turn be based upon a definition of the phrase ‘divine person’. In Swinburne’s view, the definite description and the associated definition of ‘divine person’ are criterial in nature. That is to say, it is not required that each and every condition be satisfied in order for a being to count as a ‘divine person’ or as the divine person; the requirement, in terms of the ordinary use of the word ‘God’ is that “many” of the specified conditions be satisfied, and that no other being satisfy as many or more of the conditions as the candidate for being ‘God’.
Swinburne goes on to propose a tightening or narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ for purposes of philosophical investigation. His narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ amounts to taking the conditions that define the phrase ‘divine person’ as being necessary conditions, as opposed to being criteria. In other words, each and every one of the conditions in the definition of ‘divine person’ must be satisfied in order for something to count as a ‘divine person’ and to be picked out as the individual who is ‘God’.
One of the necessary conditions specified by Swinburne is that the being be ‘eternally omnipotent’. It is important to notice that this necessary condition, although put in terms of two words, actually represents three different components. The word ‘eternally’ specifies a duration of time through which the omnipotence must be possessed by the being in question. In Swinburne’s view, one can be queen for a day, but not God for a day. In order to be a ‘divine person’ one must be omnipotent not just for a day or a year or a decade, but one must have always been omnipotent and must always continue to be omnipotent. If there was ever a period of time when a person was not omnipotent (or will not be omnipotent), then that person is not a ‘divine person’, and thus is not ‘God’, according to Swinburne.
The concept of being ‘omnipotent’ actually contains two different types of specification: a general attribute (in this case: power – represented by the root word ‘potent’), and a degree of strength of that attribute (in this case: unlimited – represented by the prefix ‘omni-‘). So, the necessary condition of being ‘eternally omnipotent’ means possessing (1) an unlimited degree of strength of (2) the attribute of power for (3) an unlimited degree of duration.

There are three degrees of strength for the four attributes:
1. human
2. superhuman
3. unlimited
These three degrees of strength can be combined into seven different specifications of degrees of strength:
1. human
2. superhuman
3. unlimited
4. human or superhuman
5. human or unlimited
6. superhuman or unlimited
7. human or superhuman or unlimited
Swinburne’s view, for example, is that it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. More specifically, it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power eternally in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. Possessing unlimited power for a day or a year does not satisfy this requirement. So, we need to take into consideration the additional specification of the duration that the attribute (of a specified strength) is possessed by the being in question.
In the context of attempts to define the concept of a ‘divine person’ we must include the possibility of infinite durations of time, not just finite durations. In addition to finite durations there are three different types of infinite duration, for a total of four degrees of duration:
1. finite
2. infinite past 
3. infinite future 
4. eternal 
Considering various possible combinations of degrees of duration, we can generate fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration:
1. finite
2. infinite past
3. infinite future
4. eternal
5. finite or infinite past
6. finite or infinite future
7. finite or eternal
8. infinite past or infinite future
9. infinite past or eternal
10. inifinite future or eternal
11. finite or infinite past or infinite future
12. finite or infinite past or eternal
13. finite or infinite future or eternal
14. infinite past or infinite future or eternal
15. finite or infinite past or infinite future or eternal
So, the basic components of a condition in a definition of ‘divine person’ are  (a) an attribute (4 possibilities), (b) a specification of degrees of strength (7 possibilities), and (c) a specification of degrees of duration (15 possibilities).
If we assume that power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness are relevant attributes for defining ‘divine person’ and that these are the only relevant attributes (a simplifying assumption), then definitions of ‘divine person’ will include four conditions containing a specification relating to each of the four attributes. For each attribute there are seven different specifications of degrees of strength and  fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration, which means there are 105 different possible specifications of strength and duration for each attribute (7 x 15 = 105).
So, if we focus in on just definitions composed of four necessary conditions (one condition for each of the four attributes), there will be 105 x 105 x 105 x 105 different such definitions that can be generated. That means, from just four divine attributes, we can generate 121,550,625 definitions composed of four necessary conditions.
If we start looking at criterial definitions and definitions involving a mixture of criteria and necessary conditions, then the numbers expand significantly:
A. Definitions composed of 4 necessary conditions: 121,550,625 (= 105 x 105 x 105 x 105).
B. Definitions composed of 4 criteria: 364,651,875  (= 3 x 121,550,625)
(3 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 2 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 1 condition out of 4 satisfied)
C. Definitions composed of 3 criteria and 1 necessary condition: 972,405,000 (= 8 x 121,550,625).
(4 basic definitions, because 4 options for selection of the necessary condition, and 2 variations of each basic definition, because can either require 2 of 3 criteria to be satisfied or 1 of 3 criteria to be satisfied.  So, a total of 8 definitions can be generated from each of the 121,550,625 combinations of specifications)
D. Definitions composed of 2 criteria and 2 necessary conditions: 729,303,750  (= 6 x 121,550,625)
(6 basic definitions – because 6 options for selection of 2 necessary conditions, and no variations on those basic definitions – because with just 2 criteria you can only require satisfaction of 1 out of the 2 criterial conditions).
E. Definitions composed of 1 criterion and 3 necessary conditions0 (You cannot have just one criterion in a definition; otherwise the “criterion” simply becomes a necessary condition, since you cannot require a lower number than one condition, because requiring 0 criteria to be satisfied would make that one criterion irrelevant, and requiring one criterion to be satisfied would mean that the one-and-only criterion would HAVE TO BE satisfied, in which case it would be a necessary condition, not a criterion.
Total: 2,187,911,250 definitions of ‘divine person’ can be generated from just four basic attributes (power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness), specified in relation to three degrees of strength (human, superhuman, unlimited) in relation to four degrees of duration (finite, infinite past, infinite future, eternal), in the case where all four attributes are treated as being relevant, and where we consider four different types of definitions (purely necessary conditions, purely criteria, three criteria plus one necessary condition, two criteria plus two necessary conditions).
Hundreds of millions more definitions can be created by using only a subset of the four attributes to construct definitions (e.g. creating definitions using only three of the four attributes).  Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed or defined in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, we can see that over two billion definitions of ‘God’ can be constructed from just four basic attributes.