bookmark_borderOne Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God – Part 2

In a previous post I pointed out three different problems related to the third argument in Richard Swinburne’s systematic case for the existence of God.  The third argument is the final argument of his arguments from the nature of the universe.  It is his Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (hereafter: TASO):
(e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.
Therefore:
(g) God exists.
The first problem is that the premise might well be false.  The fact that human bodies did evolve several billions of years after the Big Bang, does NOT imply that this event was probable or likely.  In fact, it seems rather improbable that HUMAN bodies would evolve just the way that they did.  However, Swinburne does not really mean “human bodies” literally here.  He means any sort of body that would be suitable for a ‘humanly free agent’, so that leaves open a wide variety of possibilities in addition to the kind of human bodies that actually exist.  Nevertheless, it is not clear to me that it was probable that bodies suitable for ‘humanly free agents’ would evolve in our universe;  the evolution of such bodies could be a lucky accident.
The second problem is that it seems IMPROBABLE that God would use the slow and (literally) painful process of evolution to bring about animals and human bodies, when God could have designed and created millions or billions of animals and humans in the blink of an eye.  God had no need to use the natural biological process of evolution, and no need to build such a process into the fabric of the universe.    Most importantly, instantaneous creation would have bypassed hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering and dying from disease and parasites and predation and injury.  A huge amount of animal suffering was involved in the natural process of evolution, so a perfectly morally good person clearly would NOT have used evolution to produce human bodies when there was a much better solution ready at hand.  So, it seems clear to me that contrary to Swinburne’s view, (e3) does not provide evidence in support of the existence of God, even assuming (e3) to be true; rather it provides evidence AGAINST the existence of God.
The third problem is the most serious, because it affects his whole systematic case for the existence of God. Unlike the premises of his first two arguments for God, the premise of TASO requires a great deal of background knowledge.  In order to know that (e3) is true, one must first know, at least, that the theory of evolution is the correct theory of human origins.
In order to know that the theory of evolution is true, one must know a significant number of scientific concepts, facts, and theories from a variety of scientific disciplines (chemistry, biology, physics, geology, paleontology, anthropology, and astronomy) plus one must have some awareness of philosophy of science and the history of science.  For all practical intents and purposes, Swinburne has sucked in most of modern scientific knowledge (at least at the level of high school biology, chemistry, etc.) into the background knowledge of TASO and thus into the background knowledge in all the remaining arguments in his case for God.
One big problem is that knowledge of evolution clearly involves knowledge of the problem of evil, at least knowledge of the problem of natural evil.  In order to know that evolution has occurred one must be aware of the fact of natural death, predation, disease, accidental injury, and natural disasters.  Thus, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO, one must deal with the problem of evil, at least with the problem of natural evil.
One option Swinburne has would be to simply dump TASO, to completely remove it from his sequence of arguments, and move on to the first argument in the next phase of arguments (that are based on human life).  That is probably his best option.  But if Swinburne insisted on retaining TASO as the third argument in his sequence of arguments for God, then he would have to deal with the problem of natural evil as part of the evaluation of TASO.
On the face of it, the problem of natural evil sinks TASO; that is to say, if we add (e3) and the required background knowledge to the previous information from his first two arguments, then TASO would REDUCE rather than increase the probability that God exists.  In order to avoid TASO reducing the probability of God, Swinburne would have to engage his theodicy for explaining natural evil, and he would have to do so as a part of his evaluation of TASO.
Swinburne explains natural evil or justifies the perfect goodness of God in view of natural evil by making a few basic points:

  • Natural death provides a limitation on the amount of suffering that one animal or human must endure.
  • The vulnerability of animals and humans to being killed provides many opportunities for humans to make significant choices between good and evil.
  • The existence of evil desires (that cannot be helped) in humans makes it possible for humans to have freedom of choice between good and evil.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to help and comfort animals and humans.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to investigate and learn about nature (or to choose lazy indifference and ignorance) and with choices in the use of such knowledge either to cause more suffering and need or to help reduce suffering and need or to simply not make use of the knowledge.

It appears to me that in explaining or justifying natural evil, Swinburne focuses in on human beings, and especially on the fact that human beings have freedom to make significant choices for good or evil.  In other words, in order to justify God in the face of natural evil, Swinburne must now pull the problem of moral evil into the picture.  That means, that in order to evaluate TASO and to avoid the conclusion that TASO actually REDUCES the probability that God exists, Swinburne must deal with the whole problem of evil, both natural evil and moral evil.
Furthermore, in order to deal with the problem of moral evil, Swinburne must assume that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  But the next two arguments in Swinburne’s sequence of arguments are based on the premises that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  Thus, in order to evaluate TASO, Swinburne must incorporate not only his response to the problem of evil (which was supposed to be argument number seven in his sequence) but also he must incorporate his argument from consciousness and his argument from moral awareness.  That means that at least three other arguments in his carefully constructed sequence of arguments must be dealt with all at once and summed up all together, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO.
Some of the points justifying natural evil (listed above) come from Swinburne’s argument from Providence, so it is hard to see how he could avoid pulling in that argument as well.  Thus, it appears that four out of five of Swinburne’s arguments from the nature of human life must be dealt with in order to evaluate TASO.
This makes a complete mess of his careful sequence of arguments, and destroys the logical neatness of his whole strategy, which is to add facts one at a time, and to analyze the impact of those facts one at a time.  But TASO requires that most of his remaining arguments must be examined all at once, or evaluated all together and not as separate bits of evidence added one bit at a time.
If I am correct in this analysis, then I think Swinburne really has no other option but to toss out TASO completely, and he must simply jump from his second argument from the nature of the universe to his first argument from the nature of human life (the argument from consciousness).  Otherwise, he is forced to abandon his basic strategy of adding facts one at a time, and to evaluate the significance of these facts one at at time.
 

bookmark_borderDid God Create Nuclear Weapons?

Christians and other believers in God often say, ‘God created everything.’  If we take this literally, as a young child would do, we might start thinking of some objections or possible counterexamples: ‘Did God create nuclear weapons?’ ‘Did God create the ebola virus?’ etc.  The doctrine of divine creation leads quickly to the problem of evil. Naive View
A common response to such an idea would be to say that ‘God created humans, and it was humans who created nuclear weapons–not God.’  So, God is one-step removed from the creation of nuclear weapons, and this supposedly relieves God of the moral responsibility for the creation of nuclear weapons. God created humans.   Richard Swinburne has done some thinking about the meaning of the view of theists that ‘God is the creator of all things.’  Here is his analysis of this basic aspect of theism:
 
God is the creator of all things in that for all logically contingent things that exist (apart from himself) he himself brings about, or makes or permits other beings to bring about, their existence.  He is, that is, the source of the being and power of all other substances.  (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.94)
 
Swinburne has a more sophisticated view of creation than fundamentalists and many evangelicals.  Swinburne accepts the theory of evolution as the correct explanation for the origin of the human species (although he also believes that human mental lives are best explained as the result of non-physical minds or ‘souls’ that have complicated causal connections with human brains).  Swinburne’s view is that God created the universe, and that the initial conditions and natural laws of the universe made the evolution of human beings (or at least human bodies) possible and even probable.  In a sense, the universe “created” or produced humans; the physical universe is viewed as an intermediary step between God and the origin of human beings.  His view is illustrated by the diagram below: God created the universe However, just as Swinburne’s analysis of the belief that God is the creator allows for God to bring about humans indirectly via the natural processes of the physical universe, so his analysis also allows for God to bring about the existence of the universe indirectly, by creating a powerful supernatural being, such as an angel, and allowing the angel to design and create a universe: God created an angel.
Once this possibility is admitted, then further intermediaries can also be postulated.  For example, God could have created a finite god (a powerful supernatural being that is less than omnipotent and omniscient), and the finite god could have had the power to create an angel, and the angel could have then created a physical universe: God created a finite god
Furthermore, if God can create one finite god, then God can create many finite gods: God created many gods.
There appears to be no contradiction in the idea of God being able to create many finite gods, in the way that there does appear to be a contradiction in the idea of there being more than one infinite God (there appears to be a contradiction in the idea of there being two omnipotent persons– If one wills an event E to happen, and the other wills for event E to NOT happen,. then one of them must fail to obtain what was willed to happen).  God is by definition omnipotent, so God has the power to create finite gods, as many finite gods as he wishes to make.   So, although we often think of polytheism as an alternative to theism, it is clear that polytheism is logically compatible with traditional theism; an infinite God can create many finite gods.
 
Swinburne’s view, however, is that human beings are an important part of God’s motivation for creating the physical universe, perhaps the most important reason why God created the physical universe.  But it is important to keep in mind that his concept of God as creator allows for intermediaries between God and humans, and while this allows Swinburne to avoid a fundamentalist anti-scientific view of the origin of human beings, it also opens the door to God being, potentially, quite remote from human beings.  His conception of God as creator leaves open the possibility of a Hindu-like view where there are hundreds  or thousands or millions of layers of deities and supernatural beings that exist between human beings and God: Finite gods created many gods.

bookmark_borderOne Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God

In The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG), Richard Swinburne lays out a systematic cumulative case for the claim that it is more likely than not that God exists.
I have a specific objection to the third argument in this case, but I believe this objection throws a monkey wrench into the works, and creates a serious problem for the case as a whole.
To understand my objection, it is important to understand the general logical structure of Swinburne’s case for the existence of God. It is always natural and tempting to immediately focus in on the question of the truth of the premises of an argument for God, so in order to get a clear grasp on the logical structure of Swinburne’s case, it may be best to FIRST consider that structure apart from the specific content of the premises of the arguments in his case. The content of the premises will be important to make my objection, so we will get to the specific content at a later point.
One key idea in Swinburne’s logic is that we begin from a state of ignorance in which we are to imagine that we know ZERO empirical claims (both facts and theories). Swinburne thus controls the flow of empirical data, introducing one fact at a time, and arguing that in each case (with the exception of the problem of evil)  that the added fact increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists.
The basic strategy is to (1) put forward an empirical fact, (2) show that the empirical fact is more likely to be the case if God were to exist than if there were no God, (3) conclude that the fact increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists above the a priori probability that God exists (i.e. the probability based on ZERO empirical facts), then (4) introduce a second fact, (5) show that the second fact is more likely to be the case if God exists (and the first fact is the case) than if God does not exist (and the first fact is the case), (6) conclude that the second fact in conjunction with the first fact increases the probability that God exists above the probability based on the first fact by itself, (7) put forward a third fact, (8) show that the third fact is more likely to be the case if God exists (and the first two facts are the case) than if God does not exist (and the first two facts are the case), (9) conclude that the third fact in conjunction with the previous two facts increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists above the probability based on just the previous two facts, and so on…slowly increasing the probability of God’s existence with each new fact.
Swinburne changes the strategy a bit when he gets to the argument from religious experience (in Chapter 13 of EOG), but the above pattern of reasoning is supposed to hold up until that point, and the above pattern of reasoning, filled in with the empirical facts that Swinburne has selected, is supposed to get us to the point where the probability of the existence of God is about .5 (meaning there is about a 50/50 chance that God exists).
Swinburne uses Bayes’ theorem to justify key inferences in his reasoning, so I will reformulate the above description of the logical structure of Swinburne’s case in terms of conditional probability statements.  Let’s use the letter e for evidence, plus a number to indicate which empirical claim we are talking about in the sequence of empirical claims introduced by Swinburne.  Thus, e1 represents the first empirical  claim in Swinburne’s case, and e2 the second empirical claim, and so on.
g: God exists.
k: [tautological background knowledge – analytic truths, truths of logic, math, and conceptual truths]
The probability of e1 being the case given that God exists is written this way:
P(e1|g & k) 
Here is how we represent the idea that the first factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists (and we have only tautological truths as background knowledge) than if God does not exist (and we have only tautological truths as background knowledge):
P(e1|g & k) > P(e1|~g & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that e1 provides evidence that increases the probability that God exists, over the a priori probability that God exists (the probability based on ZERO empirical facts):
P(g| e1 & k) > P(g| k)
Then Swinburne introduces a second factual claim e2. Again Swinburne argues that this factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist (now assuming e1 as part of our background knowledge, for after consideration of the first argument we are no longer completely ignorant of all empirical facts):
P(e2|g & e1 & k) > P(e2|~g & e1 & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that the addition of this second empirical fact to the first empirical fact has again increased the probability of the existence of God, over what it was based on just the first fact by itself:
P(g| e2 & e1 & k) > P(g| e1 & k)
Then Swinburne introduces a third factual claim: e3. Again Swinburne argues that this factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist (now assuming both e1 and e2 as part of our background knowledge):
P(e3|g & e2 & e1 & k) > P(e3|~g & e2 & e1 & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that the addition of this third empirical fact to the first empirical fact has yet again increased the probability of the existence of God, over what it was based on just the first two facts:
P(g| e3 & e2 & e1 & k) > P(g| e2 & e1 & k)
There are problems and objections that can be raised against each of the particular arguments that Swinburne uses to get up to the point where the probability of the existence of God supposedly reaches the halfway mark, but this post will focus on the third argument in the systematic cumulative case that Swinburne presents: The Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (hereafter: TASO).
TASO can be stated fairly briefly:
(e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.
Therefore:
(g) God exists.
Remember, this is NOT a deductive proof for the existence of God.  (e3) is put forward NOT as a conclusive reason for (g), but merely as evidence for (g); (e3) is an empirical claim that is supposed to increase the probability of (g) relative to the probability of (g) based on just the two previous empirical claims:
(e1) There is a complex physical universe.
(e2) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws.
One problem is that it is not clear to me that (e3) is in fact true.  The fact that human bodies evolved once in this universe does NOT imply (by itself) that it was probable that human bodies would evolve in this universe.  I think a good deal of argumentation and evidence would be required to establish the truth of (e3).
Another more important problem with (e3) is one that Swinburne himself mentions and briefly discusses: “What reason would God have for taking an evolutionary route?” (EOG, p.188).  Swinburne goes on to talk about the beauty of the long cosmological “evolution” of the universe, and the beauty of plants and animals that resulted from the long history of biological evolution.  But this is all beside the point. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, could have brought about all of the beautiful plants and animals on earth including human beings in the blink of an eye.
God had no need to use the natural biological process of evolution, and no need to build such a process into the fabric of the universe.  The story in Genesis makes much more sense than evolution as the way that God would create animals and humans.  If there really was an omnipotent and omniscient person, then that person could have brought about all life on earth in an instant.  Most importantly, doing so would have bypassed hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering and dying from disease and parasites and predation and injury.  A huge amount of animal suffering was involved in the natural process of evolution, so a perfectly morally good person clearly would NOT have used evolution to produce human bodies when there was a much better solution ready at hand: create plants, animals, and humans instantly, as in the book of Genesis. So, it seems clear to me that contrary to Swinburne’s view, (e3) does not provide evidence in support of the existence of God, even assuming (e3) to be true.
But there is a deeper problem here than just the inductive inference from (e3) to (g).  What do we need to know in order to determine that (e3) is true?  I think we have to know, or have good reasons to believe, that the theory of evolution is true, and I think we have to know, or have good reasons to believe that the Big Bang theory of the universe is true.  What do we need to know in order to determine that the theory of evolution is true and that the Big Bang theory is true?  I think we need to know at least a little about: chemistry, biology, physics, paleontology, geology, cosmology, and astronomy.  We might not need to be experts in any of these scientific fields, but we need to have some grasp of some key facts, concepts, and theories in these areas of knowledge.
Furthermore, since the theory of evolution has been generally opposed by many Christian and Muslim religious believers, we need to have given some consideration to the problem of the apparent conflict between science and religion.  For example, if the Pope were to declare that evolution is a false theory, would that be a sufficient reason to reject this theory, even given all of the scientific evidence we have supports the theory?  What if the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world 6,000 years ago, is that sufficient reason to reject the theories and findings of geology and astronomy that indicate the age of the earth to be billions of years?  Unless one has done some thinking about science vs. religion, I don’t see how one can be fully justified in believing the theory of evolution. In sum, to have a justified belief in the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory, one must have a bit of knowledge about the history and philosophy of science, in addition to knowing a good deal of scientific facts, concepts, and theories from several scientific disciplines.
OK.  Here is the big problem.  In order to know that (e3) is true, one must have a good deal of knowledge about science and about a number of important scientific disciplines, including a good deal of basic facts, concepts, and theories from a variety of scientific disciplines.  This means that the background knowledge that is in play in evaluating this third argument has grown exponentially.  A large portion of human knowledge has been pulled back into the picture, and Swinbure has completely lost control of the flow of data.  Because of the significant amount of empirical facts, concepts, and theories that are required to determine whether (e3) is true,  it is difficult to distinguish between such a sizable collection of information and knowledge and our normal everyday background knowledge.
One very important implication of this is that the problem of evil has itself been pulled back into the picture.  Knowing that the theory of evolution is true involves knowing that there has been hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering from disease, injury, parasites, and predation.  Swinburne’s strategy was to put off the problem of evil until after several empirical facts that favor the existence of God had been put forward one at a time, and the probability of the existence of God had been bumped upward several times.  But since the problem of evil has come rushing back in with just the third argument, it is no longer clear whether his logical strategy can work.  At any rate, the problem of evil cannot be dealt with after three or four more factual claims have been put forward in support of God’s existence.  The problem of evil must be faced as part of the consideration of the significance of (e3).
 

bookmark_borderWhy I am Not Concerned about Christian Theist Philosophers of Religion

One reason I am not concerned about the prevalence of Christian theists in the field of philosophy of religion is that they do a nice job of arguing against each other.
William Lane Craig’s favorite argument for the existence of God is the Kalam cosmological argument. I’m happy that there are some atheist philosophers who challenge this argument, but there are good objections raised against this argument by Christian theist philosophers.
For example, Richard Swinburne rejects this argument (as well as all other deductive proofs of the existence of God), and has put forward some significant objections to the argument in The Existence of God (2nd edition, footnote 10 on p.138-139). Swinburne objects that Craig’s argument for the premise “a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist” is based on a false assumption, and further that IF the assumption were true this would imply that the inference from that assumption to the premise was an invalid inference.
Another favorite argument of Craig’s for the existence of God is the Moral Argument, which goes something like this:
1. There are objectively true fundamental moral principles.
2. There are objectively true fundamental moral principles ONLY IF God exists.
Therefore:
3. God exists.

Swinburne rejects all such deductive proofs for the existence of God and argues that there are no sound deductive proofs of God. Furthermore, Swinburne raises a specific objection to this argument. He agrees with premise (1), but firmly rejects premise (2), on the grounds that God is a logically contingent being, while objectively true fundamental moral principles are necessary truths, truths that hold in all possible worlds. The existence of a logically contingent being cannot explain or cause the existence of a logically necessary truth. Thus, premise (2) is false.
Craig’s favorite argument for the truth of the Christian faith is the argument from the resurrection of Jesus to the conclusion that Jesus is the divine Son of God. One of the best and most neglected objections to Craig’s case for the resurrection comes from Norman Geisler, a fellow Evangelical Christian theist philosopher.
Geisler clearly asserts that in order to establish the claim that “Jesus rose from the dead”, one must first prove that “Jesus actually died on the cross.” I call this requirement “Geisler’s Criterion”. Since Craig has utterly failed in his attempt to prove the latter claim, Geisler’s Criterion will lead any truth seeker to reject Craig’s case for the resurrection.
Swinburne’s case for God and also his case for the resurrection are both dependent upon a key insight about miracles: in order to show that a miracle has occurred, one must show that God has certain specific purposes that would be satisfied by performing the miracle in question. I believe that Swinburne is absolutely correct on this point, and also that this opens the door to a potentially powerful skeptical argument: How do we know what are the specific purposes of God?
Sure we can all agree that “God is a perfectly morally good person” by definition. But it is far from clear that this very general and abstract notion can be used to rationally justify claims like “In such-and-such circumstances, God would be likely to…” In any case, I think Swinburne’s attempt to make that sort of move fails, and it remains an open question whether anyone else can succeed where he has failed.
So, I’m not concerned about the prevalence of Christian theists in the philosophy of religion, because they do a pretty good job of pointing out the flaws and errors in each other’s arguments. I have learned about many skeptical arguments and objections from Richard Swinburne, including many such arguments and objections that he puts forward and supports.

bookmark_borderGod and Massive Deception about the Resurrection – Part2

The key question at issue is whether (S2) is true or false:
(S2) But God would neither perpetrate nor permit grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection.
I have raised two objections against one reason that Cavin and Colombetti give for their conclusion that “(S2) is patently false”. One reason they gave was a passage from the gospel of Mark which they think shows that the author of Mark, and probably Jesus too, had a concept of God which was such that God could (and would) permit a “grand deception” in which many people would be led to believe in or follow false prophets or false messiahs on the basis of “signs and wonders” performed by those prophets/messiahs.
My first objection was simply that the author of Mark may have made a philosophical error in failing to realize that God, who is by definition a perfectly morally good person, could not possibly permit such a “grand deception”.
My second objection was that we should interpret this passage, which is allegedly a quotation from Jesus, in terms of O.T. teachings about false prophets and how to determine whether an alleged prophet is a true prophet or a false prophet.
By placing the passage from Mark in that context, we see that the passage can be reasonably interpreted as being compatible with (S2), because it appears that God could be morally justified in permitting many people to be “deceived” by false prophets or false messiahs who perform “signs and wonders” so long as those people are morally culpable for their own deception in view of their ignoring O.T. teachings (presumably guidance from God) about how to determine whether a prophet was a true prophet or a false prophet.
I suggested that from the point of view of the author of Mark, and probably also Jesus, such deception, though widespread, might not count as a “grand deception” precisely because God would be morally justified in allowing this kind of widespread deception to occur.
Now, there is no need to get into a debate over the meaning of the term “grand deception” (at this point). Suppose that Cavin and Colombetti enhance their argument by providing a clear definition or analysis of the key term “grand deception”. And suppose that under the proposed definition, the kind of case that I have put forward here fits under that definition. In that case, I would accept their proposed definition, but revise my objection to be making an important distinction between different sorts of cases of “grand deception”. I would argue that there are some cases of “grand deception” that God cannot allow, and other cases of “grand deception” that God appears to be morally justified to allow, from the point of view of the author of Mark.
Cavin and Colombetti give a second reason in support of the conclusion that “(S2) is patently false”, and they claim that this reason “establishes…conclusively” that (S2) is false (SOR, p.32). But it seems to me that the argument they give is based on an unstated assumption, and that the unstated assumption is itself “patently false”. So, I will argue that their second argument is unsound.
They point to widespread disagreement about the alleged incarnation of God in Jesus and the alleged resurrection of Jesus:
There is an incontestable item of our background evidence overlooked by Swinburne that shows that his premise that God would neither perpetuate nor permit others to perpetuate a grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection is false. For it is an undeniable fact that massive religious deception exists in the world regarding, specifically, the Incarnation and the Resurrection. There are, currently, some 2.1 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Jews and Muslims, and 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics, and secularists living today. And, while Christians hold tenaciously to the Incarnation and Resurrection as central tenets of their faith, Jews and Muslims with equal vehemence deny these, as do atheists, agnostics, and secularists.(SOR, p.32)
On the basis of the fact of widespread disagreement about the Incarnation and the Resurrection, Cavin and Colombetti infer that “grand deception” already exists concerning these beliefs:
Yet, the opposing beliefs of each of these groups regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection are either true or false. And, thus, accordingly, it is either the 2.1 billion Christians who are the ones who have the truth or it is the 1.5 billion Jews and Muslims and 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics, and secularists who do. But, either way, the adherents of at least one of these groups are deceived and hold their false beliefs on the basis of deceptive reasoning. In some cases this deception is intentional, although in most it is probably unwitting and self-inflicted. And the problem for Swinburne is that the extent of this deception, unwitting or otherwise, is global–indeed, truly grand.(SOR, p.32)
The reasoning above can be summarized as follows:
1. The adherents of at least one of these groups (each containing over a billion people) hold false beliefs about the Incarnation and Resurrection.
Thus:
2. The adherents of at least one of these groups (each containing over a billion people) are deceived concerning the Incarnation and Resurrection and hold false beliefs about the Incarnation and Resurrection on the basis of deceptive reasons.
As it stands the above inference is a non sequitur. In order to properly infer (2) from (1), we need to make an unstated assumption explicit:
(D) IF a person P believes a proposition X, and X is false, THEN
P has been deceived concerning X and P believes X on the basis of a deceptive reason.

As far as I can tell, this is an assumption being made by Cavin and Colombetti in order to correctly infer (2) from the true factual premise (1). But (D) is “patently false”, so the argument for (2) is unsound.
It is not difficult to come up with a counterexample which disproves (D). Suppose that on Tuesday morning I watch a weather forecast on T.V. and the person giving the weather predicts that it very likely to rain in the early afternoon. Based on this forecast, I form the belief that it will rain sometime in the afternoon. But on this particular day, the forecast was wrong, and it does not in fact rain. Thus, the belief I formed, namely that it would rain in the afternoon, is false. Based on (D), we can conclude that I had been “deceived concerning” whether it would rain in the afternoon, and that my belief that it would rain that afternoon was formed “on the basis of a deceptive reason”.
But this is clearly NOT the case. The weather person did NOT deceive me either wittingly or unwittingly. Nor did I deceive myself. Furthermore, my belief that it would rain that afternoon was NOT formed on the basis of a deceptive reason. I had a perfectly good reason for forming the belief that it would rain that afternoon. My belief was a justified belief, a rational belief, and the reason was in no way a deceptive reason. It is simply the case that when one reasons to probable conclusions, the conclusion will sometimes be wrong. That is the whole idea of probable reasoning; it does not produce absolutely certain conclusions.
The unstated assumption (D) is clearly false, and so the argument based on this assumption is unsound, and therefore the argument does NOT “establish…conclusively” that (S2) is false.

bookmark_borderGod and Massive Deception about the Resurrection

Robert Cavin and Carlos Colombetti have written an article raising some significant objections to Richard Swinburne’s case for the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus: “Swinburne on the Resurrection” (Philosophia Christi, Vol. 15, No. 2; hereafter: SOR). LINK
I’m fully on-board with their overall conclusion that “…Swinburne’s argument for the Incarnation and Resurrection…is seriously undermined by the failure to satisfy the requirement of total evidence.” (SOR, p.37) As with other Christian apologists, Swinburne tends to focus on evidence that supports his Christian beliefs while ignoring significant evidence that points in the opposite direction. Swinburne also uncritically accepts certain Christian claims while being much more skeptical about beliefs that run contrary to Christianity. Confirmation bias is a widespread problem in human thinking, and it is particularly a problem when it comes to the philosophy of religion.
While I’m in agreement with the general conclusion of this article, I have my doubts about some of the specific points and objections in it. I will focus on what appears to be the key objection:
Swinburne’s argument for S3, while valid, is unsound. The problem here is that S2 is patently false. (SOR, p.31)
Here is the premise that they reject:
(S2) But God would neither perpetrate nor permit grand deception regarding the Incarnation and Resurrection. (SOR, p.30)
I have a couple of general criticisms of this article. First, there is no effort to clearly define the concept of “grand deception” which is a key concept in this argument, and there appears to be a bit of slipperiness and looseness in the article concerning this key concept.
Second, there is no effort in the article to show that it is possible for a perfectly morally good person to knowingly permit a “grand deception” concerning the incarnation or resurrection of Jesus (or of someone who is NOT actually God incarnate). It is implausible on its face that a perfectly morally good person would permit such a “grand deception”, so Cavin and Colombetti have failed to address this key question, which is significant in relation to the overall question at issue.
I plan to reply to the objections that Cavin and Colombetti raise against (S2), but I’m not fully dedicated to defending (S2). I would like (S2) to be true, because it is useful for some skeptical arguments about the resurrection. Consider the following skeptical argument:
1. If Jesus was a false prophet, then God would not permit Jesus to rise from the dead.
2. Jesus was a false prophet.
Therefore:
3. God would not permit Jesus to rise from the dead.
(S2) could be used to support premise (1) of this skeptical argument.
However, I am inclined to think that Christians have an odd and implausible conception of God as a person who is fanatically concerned with human beliefs about the nature and existence of God and various other metaphysical and theological issues. If there is a God, I doubt that God cares very much about these human beliefs. It seems silly to me that an all knowing, all powerful, perfectly good, eternal creator of the universe would care deeply about such human beliefs. So, I’m somewhat skeptical about the truth of (S2), for that reason.
Cavin and Colombetti give two main reasons for the claim that (S2) is “patently false.” The first reason is that in the Gospel of Mark (13:21-23),
…Jesus is presented as saying: “And then if any one says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed: I have told you all things beforehand.” (SOR, p.31)
According to the article, this passage shows that the author of Mark and, perhaps, Jesus himself had,
… a concept of God that was fully compatible with the thesis that God could (and, indeed, would) permit massive deception regarding the true identity of the Messiah–and this, specifically, through the misleading evidence of the signs and wonders of false prophets and messiahs that could even lead the elect astray.(SOR, p.31-32)
I have indicated above one problem with this line of reasoning: Mark’s concept of God might involve a logical or philosophical error. Given the widely accepted view that God is a perfectly morally good person, this might make it logically impossible for God to permit a “grand deception” concerning the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. Mark might simply have held a common misconception about God, and placed that misconception into the mouth of Jesus. While Norman Geisler would not tolerate the idea that the author of a Gospel had a mistaken idea about God and put that idea into the mouth of Jesus, Richard Swinburne might be more accepting of this possibility. Marcus Borg would have no problem with this suggestion.
But there is another problem with this objection that even a Conservative Evangelical like Geisler might point out. The teachings of Jesus are the teachings of a devout Jew, and thus must be interpreted in relation to the Old Testament, which also contains passages about false prophets. If you read O.T. passages about false prophets, you see that there is more than one consideration put forward for determining whether a person is a true prophet or a false prophet. Unless there is strong reason to think otherwise, one should assume that Jesus’ teachings about false prophets were in keeping with the O.T. teachings on this topic, and that the O.T. teachings provide an appropriate background for understanding Jesus’ words in the quoted passage.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 13, it is taught that if an alleged prophet encourages people to worship or obey “other gods” (vs.2 & 6), then that prophet “shall be put to death” (vs. 5), even if some predictions made by that prophet had come true (vs. 1-3). Thus, according to the the O.T. being an alleged prophet who encourages others to worship or obey a false god is a sufficient condition for being a false prophet. It is thus a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT encourage others to worship or obey a false god.
In Deuteronomy Chapter 18, it is taught that if an alleged prophet “speaks in the name of other gods” that prophet “shall die”(vs. 20). So, another sufficient condition for being a false prophet is speaking in the name of a false god. It is thus a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT speak in the name of a false god.
Finally, also in Deuteronomy Chapter 18, it is taught that if an alleged prophet speaks in the name of God, but makes a prediction or assertion that “does not take place or prove true” (vs. 22), then that person is a false prophet (who should be killed). So, it is a sufficient condition of being a false prophet to be an alleged prophet who makes a false prediction or assertion in the name of God. Thus, it is a necessary condition of being a true prophet that one NOT ever make false predictions or assertions in the name of God.
Although miracles are associated with true prophets in the O.T., there is no passage in the O.T. that teaches that performing a miracle is a sufficient condition of being a true prophet.
There is no good reason to believe that Jesus intended to reject or significantly modify these teachings of the O.T. about the differences between false prophets and true prophets. Thus, these teachings from the O.T. should be taken as assumed and accepted by Jesus, and as proper background assumptions for interpretation of the passage about false prophets and false messiahs quoted from the Gospel of Mark.
From the point of view of the author of Mark, and probably also from the point of view of Jesus, the O.T. provides us with appropriate and correct criteria for determining if someone is a false prophet or a true prophet. “Signs and Wonders” or miracles, are NOT sufficient conditions for establishing that an alleged prophet is a true prophet. The O.T. teaches that other necessary conditions must be met:
– Must never (at least as a prophet) encourage others to worship or obey a false god.
– Must never speak in the name of a false god.
– Must never make a false prediction or false assertion when speaking in the name of God.
Since in the view of the author of Mark, and presumably in Jesus’ view, God has provided these criteria for determining whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet, if someone is “deceived” into believing or following a false prophet simply because the false prophet performs some “signs and wonders”, then God cannot be held morally accountable for the foolishness of such people, for they have ignored the clear instructions that God gave on this matter. Even if millions of people were to be fooled by such false prophets, this would not reflect on God’s moral character, because they are morally culpable for their own deception, at least in part.
In the context of the belief that God has provided some clear guidance in the O.T. for how to determine whether a person is a true prophet or a false prophet, the passage from the Gospel of Mark can be made consistent with the view that God would NOT permit a grand deception concerning false prophets and false messiahs. God would permit people who ignore his guidance on this matter to be deceived into believing and following a false prophet, because those people would be morally culpable (in part) for their own deception. But we could then distinguish such a deception, even if it occurs on a “massive” scale, from a deception in which many people are misled into believing and following a false prophet when those people have diligently followed the guidance provided in the O.T. concerning this matter. It is only the latter kind of deception that a believer would likely count as “grand deception”.
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderF-Inductive Arguments: A New Type of Inductive Argument

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

bookmark_borderPotential Objections to Swinburne’s Cosmological Argument

After studying inductive logic for so long, I’ve decided it is finally time to reread Richard Swinburne’s The Existence of God (second ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) and reconsider his inductive case for God’s existence. In doing so, I think I may have discovered a new objection to his cosmological argument. This is very rough and any comments would be appreciated.

Swinburne’s Terminology

The first thing we need to do is to get clear on Swinburne’s terminology and abbreviations.

Abbreviations:

E: A complex physical universe exists (over a period of time).
k: mere tautological evidence
h: the hypothesis of theism
P(h | k): the prior probability of theism. (Note: in the case of his cosmological argument, where he is abstracting away all contingent facts, the prior probability of theism reduces to the intrinsic probability of theism. More on that below.)
P(e | h & k): the probability that there be a physical universe caused by God
P(e|~h & k) : the probability that there be a physical universe without anything else having brought it about.

Definitions:

“C-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses ‘confirm’  or add to the probability of the conclusion, i.e., P(e | h & k) > P(e | h).
“P-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses make the conclusion more probable than not, i.e., P(e | h & k) > 1/2.

The Central Claim of Swinburne’s Cosmological Argument

Swinburne claims that his cosmological argument is a good C-inductive argument. In other words, if we start with just the intrinsic probability of theism and then add the evidence of the existence of a complex physical universe–and only that evidence–the output is a probability higher than what we started with. Let’s call that Swinburne’s “central claim.”

Swinburne’s Primary Reason for His Central Claim

As I read him, Swinburne’s primary reason for the central claim of his cosmological argument can be summed up in one word: simplicity.
According to Swinburne, the prior probability of any hypothesis is determined by three factors: (1) the internal simplicity of h; (2) the narrowness of scope of h; and (3) how well h fits in with our general background knowledge of the world contained in k. In the case of his cosmological argument, I interpret Swinburne as arguing that (2) and (3) do not apply; instead, his cosmological argument invites us to compare P(e | h & k) to the intrinsic probability of theism, P(h | k). When we do, Swinburne tells us, we will see that considerations of simplicity support his central claim.
And what does Swinburne mean by “simplicity”? His answer:

The simplicity of a theory, in my view, is a matter of it postulating few (logically independent) entities, few properties of entities, few kinds of entities, few kinds of properties, properties more readily observable, few separate laws with few terms relating few variables, the simplest formulation of each law being mathematically simple. … A theory is simpler and so has greater prior probability to the extent to which these criteria are satisfied. But, of course, it is often the case that only a theory that is less than perfectly simple can satisfy the other criteria (for example, explanatory power) for probable truth. The best theory may be less than perfectly simple; but, other things being equal, the simpler, the more probably true. (p. 53)

Some Objections to Swinburne’s Cosmological Argument

1. Even if Swinburne’s central claim is correct, a critic might argue, it is evidentially insignificant. Not only is Swinburne’s concept of a good C-inductive argument compatible with h being probably false, it is also compatible with there being a good C-inductive argument for a rival hypothesis, such as metaphysical naturalism. (In fairness to Swinburne, it should be noted that he admits this.) But the problem is even worse. His concept of a good C-inductive argument is compatible with there being a good C-inductive argument for a rival hypothesis and the latter argument being a stronger, or even much stronger, than the former argument. As I shall argue next, Swinburne’s cosmological argument suffers from precisely this problem.
2. Let N represent “metaphysical naturalism,” the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it. Notice that, so defined, N entails that the universe exists, i.e., P(universe | N) = 1. In contrast, theism does not entail the existence of a universe; God could have decided not to create anything. Swinburne himself argues that God has both good reasons to create and not to create humanly free agents; Swinburne regards both possibilities as equally likely. Although Swinburne doesn’t explicitly state this, his comments seem to entail that the probability of the universe, on the assumption that theism is true, is somewhere between 1/2 and 1, i.e.,
1/2 < P(e | h & k) < 1.
Even if that is correct, however, it would still be the case that:
P(universe | h & k) < P(universe | N & k).
Careful readers will note that I have just switched from ‘e’ to ‘universe.’ Why? It seems to me that the existence of a universe simpliciter is a more “fundamental” item of evidence than the existence of universe that is complex, and so the more appropriate starting point for an inductive cosmological argument. (This, of course, leaves Swinburne with the option of making the following reply: given that a universe exists, the fact that it is complex favors theism over naturalism. This raises an important question: how do we measure “complexity”? I’m going to leave that question and this possible reply to the side, for possible consideration in a future post.)
So, to sum up, given a very common definition of metaphysical naturalism, the evidence of the universe favors naturalism over theism for the simple reason that naturalism entails a universe whereas theism does not. 
This conclusion invites another reply: “Okay, smarty pants. Sure, if you build the existence of the universe into the definition of naturalism, then of course you’re going to be able to argue that naturalism entails the universe. But why should we build the definition of the universe into the definition of naturalism? Isn’t that just ad hoc?” As I shall argue next, the answer to that question is, “No.” To see why, let’s turn to my third objection to Swinburne’s cosmological argument.
3. My third objection to Swinburne’s argument is that his approach to prior probability (and intrinsic probability) is wrong because simplicity doesn’t play the role he thinks it does. Simplicity qua simplicity does not help to determine prior probability (and intrinsic probability). Rather, simplicity is, at best, correlated with prior probability.
As Paul Draper has argued, there are two and only two things which determine the prior probability of a hypothesis: modesty and coherence. Here is Draper on modesty.

The degree of modesty of a hypothesis depends inversely on how much it asserts (that we do not know by rational intuition to be true). Other things being equal, hypotheses that are narrower in scope or less specific assert less and so are more modest than hypotheses that are broader in scope or more specific.[1]

 And here he is again, this time on coherence.

The degree of coherence of a hypothesis depends on how well its parts (i.e. its logical implications) fit together. To the extent that the various claims entailed by a hypothesis support each other (relative only to what we know by rational intuition), the hypothesis is more coherent. To the extent that they count against each other, the hypothesis is less coherent. Hypotheses that postulate objective uniformity are, other things being equal, more coherent than hypotheses that postulate variety, either at a time or over time.[2]

Although I won’t defend the claim here, it appears that all of Swinburne’s examples (to support his claim that simplicity partially determines prior probability) involve examples where modesty, coherence, or both come into play. He does not seem to provide any examples supporting his criterion of simplicity which do not also involve modesty, coherence, or both. So let’s suppose Draper is right about intrinsic probability generally. What, then, can we say about Swinburne’s cosmological argument?
One of Swinburne’s supporting reasons is the notion that the existence of the universe is less simple than the existence of God, and so less to be expected a priori than the existence of God, i.e., P(h | k) > P(e | k). In his words:

There might have been a physical universe governed by quite different laws, or there might have been no universe at all. But it is always simpler to postulate nothing rather than something; and so, in the absence of observable data made probable by the hypothesis that quite different non-fundamental laws were operating in the past, the hypothesis that the universe came into existence a finite time ago will remain the more probable hypothesis.” (p. 140, italics are mine)

If intrinsic probability is determined solely by modesty and coherence, however, then this argument is just flat out wrong. To be charitable, let’s take coherence off the table and assume that theism is perfectly coherent. That leaves us with modesty. It’s far from obvious that h is more modest than e.
Besides, if we compare theism and naturalism as rival explanatory hypotheses and limit ourselves to just the evidence of the universe, the comparison does not go well for theism. Both supernaturalism and naturalism are equally modest and equally coherent, so both theories have equal intrinsic probabilities. Notice, however, that theism is a variant of supernaturalism in the sense that theism entails supernaturalism but is not entailed by it. In other words, theism could be false even if supernaturalism is true. This is because theism says everything that supernaturalism says, but then adds on several additional claims. That is why theism is less modest than both supernaturalism and naturalism. That is also why theism has a lower prior probability than naturalism.

An Inductive Cosmological Argument against Theism

These insights enable us to formulate an inductive cosmological argument against theism. Let B be our background information; E be the existence of the universe; T be theism; and N be naturalism. Here is the explanatory argument.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. T is not intrinsically much more probable than N, i.e., Pr(T | B) is not much more probable
than Pr(N | B).
3. Pr(E | N) =1 > Pr(E | T).
4. Other evidence held equal, T is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & E) < 1/2.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Cosmological and Teleological Arguments – Part 3

I am exploring a concern about, or potential objection to, Swinburne’s inductive cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God. The objection I have in mind is something like this, for the cosmological argument:
Although the one factual premise of Swinburne’s cosmological argument is supposed to be the ONLY contingent factual claim or assumption upon which the conclusion of the argument rests, the argument actually rests on a considerable number and variety of contingent factual claims and assumptions, and this casts some reasonable doubt on the argument.
In order to explore this potential objection in a somewhat systematic way, I have made an outline of the general kinds of objections that are made against arguments. An argument has three basic parts (a premise or premises, an inference, and a conclusion). Thus, there are three basic types of objection:
TYPES OF OBJECTION
1. Objection to a premise of the argument (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)
2. Objection to an inference of the argument (illogical, invalid, dubious, weak)

3. Objection to the conclusion of the argument (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)

Since an objection is itself an argument, replies to objections are also objections to an argument, and thus there are at least three types of reply:
TYPES OF REPLY TO AN OBJECTION
1. Objection to a premise of the objection (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)
2. Objection to an inference of the objection (illogical, invalid, dubious, weak)
3. Objection to the conclusion of the objection (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)
Also, in presenting or developing an argument, one can provide support for any of the three basic parts of an argument: support for a premise, support for an inference, and support for the conclusion. If one gives evidence in support of the truth of the conclusion, however, that amounts to giving another argument or piece of evidence in addition to the original argument.
So, where might contingent factual claims be called up by Swinburne in a discussion about the cosmological argument (TCA)? He might put forward some contingent factual claims in support of the truth of the premise of his argument, or in support of the inference in this argument, or in support of the clarity or knowability of the conclusion of the argument (but not in support of the truth of the conclusion, because that would introduce a whole new argument into the picture).
Like any good philosopher, Swinburne also considers objections to his arguments, so he might put forward some contingent factual claims in response to an objection to the premise of his cosmological argument, or in response to an objection to the inference of his cosmological argument, or in response to an objection to the conclusion of his argument. Here then are the key questions to examine:
1. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to support the premise of TCA?
2. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to support the inference in TCA?
3. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to support the conclusion of TCA (in terms of clarity or knowability)?
4. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to reply to an objection to the premise of TCA?
5. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to reply to an objection to the inference in TCA?
6. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to reply to an objection to the conclusion of TCA?
If Swinburne does use contingent factual claims for any of these purposes, then this would provide some confirmation of my suspicion about his cosmological and teleological arguments. However, one further question would also need to be answered to fully confirm my suspicion: Is Swinburne’s use of contingent factual claims (other than the one premise of TCA) essential to supporting or defending this argument? or is there some other way to support or defend the point in question without use of contingent factual claims, by using only a priori truths, analytic truths, or tautological truths?

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Cosmological and Teleological Arguments – Part 2

Like many other liberals, I’m delighted and mesmerized by Bridgegate and various other Chris Christie scandals from the fine state of New Jersey. I cannot wait for my daily dose of Rachel Maddow dishing the latest dirt on Christie and his idiotic crowd of corrupt New Jersey hooligans.
What does this have to do with Swinburne’s arguments for God? Well, one neat trick that a couple of Christie’s friends have pulled is to plead the 5th amendment as a legal justification for refusing to turn over documents in accordance with subpoenas from the N.J. legislature. I initially thought it was ridiculous to plead the 5th in relation to providing documents, but a recent Supreme Court case did apply the 5th amendment to the production of documents, and after reading a bit about that case, I see that pleading the 5th makes a good deal of sense in this particular case. The key concepts here are ‘relevance’ and ‘background knowledge’, and these concepts also apply, quite appropriately, to Swinburne’s case for God.
The subpoenas issued by the N.J. legislature basically request documents that are RELEVANT to Bridgegate, relevant to the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge back in September of last year. But judgments of relevance always depend on BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE. Some documents are such that anyone, with common background knowledge could identify the document as being relevant. For example, if an email says “Should we plan the lane closures on the George Washington bridge for early in September?” just about anyone could determine that email to be relevant to the inquiry of the legislature.
But the relevance of some documents might not be so obvious. For example, the famous email from Bridget Anne Kelly, then Christie’s deputy chief of staff, reads: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”. Notice that this email does NOT explicitly reference the George Washington bridge. Nor does it say anything about closing down lanes on a bridge. Someone (i.e. David Wildstein) had some background knowledge about the context of this email, such that the few words in the email are interpreted as being relevant to the lane closures on the George Washington bridge back in September.
Roughly speaking, Wildstein knew that he and Bridget Kelly were part of a criminal conspiracy to create a terrible traffic jam in Fort Lee by shutting down lanes on the George Washington bridge. This background knowledge allowed Wildstein to identify that email as being part of a collection of conversations and discussions and planning sessions in this criminal conspiracy.
In putting forward this specific email as being relevant to the lane closures on the George Washington bridge, Wildstein is revealing some of his own background knowledge, and thus he was, in effect, testifying against himself. It is not just the fact that the contents of the email constitute potential evidence for criminal charges against him, but the very production of this email amounts to him testifying that the email is relevant, which appears to imply that Wildstein has background knowledge of a criminal conspiracy.
In any case, whether or not you agree with my take on the Bridget Kelly email, it is clear that judgments of relevance are based upon one’s background knowledge. The same goes for judgments of significance. These concepts and related principles can be applied to Swinburne’s case for God, and to his inductive Cosmological and Teleological arguments. Each inductive argument for God involves a single factual premise, which Swinburne claims to provide inductive evidence for the existence of God.
My objection or my concern with these arguments (at least the concern I wish to explore here and now) is that in order to properly and correctly understand the meaning, the relevance, and the significance of each of those premises, one must draw on a significant amount of contingent factual background knowledge. If I am correct in this view, then that opens the door to a significant degree of doubt about the correctness and strength of these arguments, because if they actually depend on a larger set of factual assumptions (which might either contain some false or questionable claims, or which might reflect a biased selection from a larger collection of available and relevant factual evidence), then there is clearly a sense that the significance or strength of these arguments is not a purely a priori matter, and is subject to reasonable doubts and challenges.
One thing I admire about Swinburne is that he not only studied philosophy of religion and theology, but he understood the importance of science, especially as a perceived threat to religious belief, and so he also studied philosophy of science and the history of science, and he spent several years thinking about and writing about the philosophy of science prior to building his case for God. In his book, The Existence of God, Swinburne puts his knowledge of science to good use, and this is especially the case with the presentation of his inductive cosmological and teleological arguments.
My concern is that much of the background knowledge that Swinburne brings to bear concerning these arguments are contingent factual assumptions/beliefs, in which case, it appears that it is mistaken or misleading to view these arguments as consisting of just one or two contingent factual claims, as opposed to them being based on a large collection of contingent factual assumptions, some of which might be false or questionable, and which may be the result of a biased selection of such contingent ‘facts’ from a much broader collection of evidence (which may include facts that don’t fit so well with Swinburne’s theism).
Swinburne’s inductive cosmological argument has just one premise (see EOG, p.149):
e. A complex physical universe exists (over a period of time).
And it has a single simple conclusion:
g. God exists.
Swinburne argues that this contingent factual claim is both relevant and significant in relation to the hypothesis that ‘God exists’. These judgments, I believe, are based on Swinburne’s knowledge (and beliefs) about physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, philosophy of science, and history of science. I suspect that there is a great deal of contingent background knowledge (or beliefs) that is being drawn upon not only in the formulation of Swinburne’s own judgment that e is relevant and significant in relation to g, but that in order to argue this point, in order to persuade others of his view on this matter, Swinburne must draw upon a large collection of contingent background knowledge (or beliefs).
It is the degree of complexity of the physical universe that impresses Swinburne, but the expression “a complex physical universe” is somewhat vague. How complex does a universe have to be in order for e to be true? If only a small degree of complexity is required for this expression to be correctly applied, then perhaps the evidence here is of only minor significance or weight. Also, we need to have some way to measure or quantify degree of complexity.
Could the existence of a single electron count as the existence of “a complex physical universe”? That seems a bit too simple to me, but if the behavior or nature of the electron was determined by several laws of physics, perhaps even a single electron could count as “a complex physical universe”. If so, then e would not be very significant, it seems to me, as evidence for theism.
Part of Swinburne’s discussion and defense of his inductive cosmological argument appears to revolve around a possible objection. The objection could be put like this:
It does seem fantastically improbable that complex organisms such as tigers, dolphins, and human beings would spontaneously arise as the result of a chance conglomeration of inorganic matter. But according to the well-established theory of evolution, such complex organisms did not arise in such a manner. Rather, very simple organisms were formed by chance conglomeration of organic compounds, and over billions of years through the process of evolution very complex organisms arose from less complex organisms which in turn arose from very simple original life forms. The complex physical universe that we observe today might also have arisen through a process of development from a much simpler physical universe.
Swinburne thinks this is not just merely a possibility or conjecture; he thinks this is probably the way the present physical universe came to be what it is today:
…all the evidence suggests that the universe evolved from a much simpler state in accord with the laws of nature ensuring that such a universe would develop into a large complex universe. (EOG, p.150)
Knowledge about the process of biological evolution is mostly contingent factual knowledge, not knowledge of tautological truths. This knowledge of biological evolution suggests the possibility that the current complexity of the physical universe might also have arisen through some natural process over a long period of time, and that billions of years ago, the universe might have been much more simple, much less complex, than it is now. But this objection does NOT require contingent factual knowledge. The main idea here is of a concept or a logical possibility: something complex can arise from something much simpler through natural processes. Such an idea or possibility could occur to someone who had no knowledge of the biological process of evolution. Though the well-established theory of evolution gives this idea or possibility some initial plausibility and appeal, the idea can stand on its own, at least as a possibility that needs to be considered, and taken seriously.
However, if we take this idea, this logical possibility, seriously it seems to me that the objection this raises against Swinburne’s cosmological argument can be properly evaluated only in terms of contingent factual background knowledge about: physics, chemistry, biology, evolution, astronomy, cosmology, philosophy of science, and history of science. Furthermore, it seems to me that Swinburne’s response to this objection draws upon his knowledge of physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, etc. In order to persuade others that his inductive Cosmological argument is significant and can withstand this objection, Swinburne must make use of his considerable stock of contingent scientific knowledge (or beliefs).
To be continued…