9/29/08

Ed Feser's Review of "Breaking the Spell"

I am really liking Edward Feser as of late. His areas of interest coincide nearly perfectly with my own- from libertatianism to atheism to the philosophy of mind. Due to that unique mixture, he consistently provides an emerging view of anarcho-Catholics that is stimulating and refreshing for we Protestant-types. In any case, I stumbled across this review of Dan Dennett's recent book.

Clicky

Enjoy!
Continue reading Ed Feser's Review of "Breaking the Spell"...

“The Apostles of Atheism”

In July of 2004 AD, Daniel Okrent admitted that the New York Times is a liberal newspaper (he was their public editor). This is, of course, tantamount to admitting that the Sun is hot.

To read/Or not to read


It is generally known and admitted that the media (all but radio, perhaps), Hollywood and its celebrities, academia, and even comedy skit shows and late night TV talk shows favor the non-“traditional,” non-conservative, non-Christian point of view.



Earlier this year the Culture and Media Institute, in conjunction with the Media Research Center, published a “Special Report” entitled “Apostles of Atheism” subtitled, “How the broadcast and print media helped spread the Gospel of Godlessness in 2007” (the hyperlink will open a PDF of the report).



In part, the report states:

“ To assess the news media’s coverage of atheism in 2007, CMI examined the morning, evening, late night and weekend news programs on all three broadcast networks, all issues of the three leading weekly news magazines (Newsweek, Time and U.S. News and World Report), and four programs aired on taxpayer-funded National Public Radio (Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation).

…This report concludes that, whether deliberately or not, the news media did not subject atheism or atheists to the same skepticism to which they subject Christians and Christianity. By airing unchallenged interviews and reporting predominantly positive-toned features, the news organizations in this study effectively promoted atheism and held it in higher regard than other religions… Atheists received uncritical treatment from the media in myriad stories.”

Continue reading “The Apostles of Atheism”...

9/26/08

Firmly By The Blade

Atheism and Occam's Razor

One of the most misunderstood and misused concepts in philosophy is Occam’s Razor. Note that the previous sentence says “in philosophy”, not “in logic.” This idea is most coherently phrased as, “Plurality ought never be posited without necessity.” The vast majority of misapplications occur when this idea is treated as a regulation, rather than a rule of thumb. Occam’s Razor (O.R.) is a philosophical guideline, and its application is therefore highly subject to interpretation. The “razor” moniker is particularly appropriate to this idea, given the way it is often applied. Razors meant to shave hair away from skin can be misused to slice through skin as well. The fact that a modern razor can be physically used in this way doesn’t automatically make that use appropriate or necessary – and the same idea applies philosophically. Just because someone can slice up an idea using Occam’s Razor doesn’t mean that they’ve done something constructive.
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Humans are fallible, and so the fewer assumptions we make, the more likely we are to arrive at a solution that corresponds with reality. For that reason (and despite the circular logic that’s inevitable when trying to prove such a thing), O.R. is a helpful tool for decision making. However, O.R. cannot be placed on the same shelf as even the most obscure logical rules, since there is nothing binding about it. At the risk of being overly repetitive, let it be emphasized once again that Occam’s Razor is a useful philosophical guideline, not a cosmic absolute. When a person says something like, “Occam’s Razor demands...” or “Occam’s Razor proves…”, or “parsimony requires,” they’re misinterpreting the purpose of the principle. O.R. demands nothing, proves nothing, requires nothing. It only suggests.

No group is as guilty of misusing Occam’s Razor as atheists when applying it to the existence of God. In fact, in the face of the last century of scientific discovery, once would expect atheists to be downplaying the importance of O.R., rather than harping on it. Given all we’ve learned about the history of the universe, the arrangement of the cosmos, and the sophistication of matter, it would seem that whatever grasp atheism has on O.R. certainly isn’t on the handle. Taking God completely out of the picture requires the postulation of everything from fantastic coincidences to multiple universes to unobservable, one-time alterations in the laws of physics, and so forth. That’s all well and good, but that kind of unproven, un-testable conjecture smacks of the “faith” that atheists are so dismissive of. Old habits die hard, though, and O.R. is still a popular line of attack from critics of religion. It’s also worth mentioning that Occam wouldn’t have supported an atheistic interpretation of his own philosophy. He was a theist – actually, a Franciscan friar.

The general application of O.R. by atheism is to say, “we can craft an explanation for such-and-such without mentioning God, therefore disbelief is more appropriate, as per Occam’s Razor.” However, this is not in keeping with the purpose of the principle. Remember, the guideline does not say, “fewer beings is better,” or, “any explanation without a God is better.” It says, “Plurality ought never be posited without necessity”. It’s the “necessity” part where interpretation comes into play. Just because I can explain how something happened without postulating a certain being’s involvement doesn’t make my explanation more likely by default. This is especially true when removing said entity from every explanation requires a mind-boggling number of assumed replacements. It’s inescapably true when the removal of said entity makes the end result impossible.

For example, I’ve seen rain combine with dirt and rocks to make something that looks a lot like concrete. I’ve seen rocks of all different shapes and sizes and colors. I’ve seen wind and mudslides move a lot of matter into some strange shapes. Looking now at a brick house, I can craft an explanation for how that house got there without mentioning humans. Rain and mud and gravel can make mortar, wind and earthquakes can move rocks, and it’s theoretically possible for thousands of perfectly rectangular rocks and naturally-made mortar to be formed into a two-story building with doors and windows by the actions of weather, isn’t it? Well, then, according to the atheistic misinterpretation of Occam’s Razor, that is the more correct belief, since humans are now unnecessary, and the “addition” of humans to the picture raises a lot of questions.

Obviously, that’s not what O.R. is intended for. It’s clear that the above example adds a lot of “plurality” – because the “plurality” that O.R. speaks of is that of causes and conditions, not just sentient entities. Assuming that these disparate parts all combined in a highly specific way without deliberate interaction adds a great number of assumptions about coincidences, outrageous improbabilities, and events of questionable possibility, not to mention the underlying problems of contrary evidence. I don’t even know if there was ever a time in history when the requisite conditions to create this “nature house” even existed – that’s yet another addition to the pluralities of the situation. Clearly, the explanation with the fewest “pluralities” is that it was deliberately built by a human being or beings. Questions about their character, intentions, motivations, and qualities are irrelevant.

That last concept is one of the areas where atheism really trips up on the question of God and Occam’s Razor. God may be a simple idea (depending on who you ask), but belief in God brings some accompanying questions, many of which are highly complex. That has nothing to do with the likelihood of His involvement in the creation or arrangement of the universe. Questions about the contractor’s personality may be interesting, and they may even influence how he built the house. It makes the sum total of details about everything related to the house more complicated, so to speak. Yet, the fact that some people think the contractor is weird or mysterious doesn’t make it more likely that the house was built by a freakish confluence of natural disasters. As it pertains to the formation of the house, a contractor is the most plausible solution. Mysteries of his preferences and opinions are secondary to the question of whether or not his involvement in building the house is more likely that not.

That’s not even an extreme example. If the above situation seems unlikely, consider some of the atheistic explanations for the arrangement of the cosmos, the intricacies of physics, the seeming impossibility of abiogenesis, and so forth. Every one adds a lot of “plurality”, in the form of unsubstantiated assumptions, outlandish probabilities, and ad hoc theories. These are all good examples of how Occam’s Razor, applied correctly, actually suggests the reality of God. Atheists are free to disagree of course, and there are some instances where God’s influence is rightly questioned by that same rule of thumb.

One cannot escape the fact that “simplicity” is not more truthful that complexity in and of itself. Politics thrives on over-simplifying things to the point of dishonesty, and we cannot make the same mistake in philosophy. “Necessity” does not refer to grammar, so an entity or idea is not “unnecessary” simply because we can construct a sentence without it. “It just is; it’s just there; it just happens…” may be the “simplest” answers, removing all possible questions and complications, but that doesn’t make them the most accurate solutions.

It’s critical to realize two things. First, that O.R. can never be appropriately considered “proof” of any theory, atheistic or theistic. Secondly, even the limited suggestions that O.R. makes about recent scientific discoveries are highly inconsistent with atheistic assumptions. The combination of those two ideas makes O.R. a more persuasive tool for theism than for atheism.

The concept of what is or is not “necessary” is first and foremost a product of your own presuppositions. In that regard, O.R. is really a dead-end road when discussing religion with most people. It’s especially not going to have much influence on a person with an established opinion about the existence of God. Using it as it was intended, though, doesn’t do much to support atheism’s preferred interpretations of what we see in nature. The atheist who picks up Occam’s Razor intending to slash at God will find himself holding it by the blade.

[Also posted at Gladio Mentis]


Continue reading Firmly By The Blade...

9/25/08

"Look Who's Irrational Now"

Interesting recent article from Mollie Ziegler Hemingway entitled, Look Who's Irrational Now

In part, she states:
"The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won't create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that's not a conclusion to take on faith -- it's what the empirical data tell us….Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn't. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students."

Continue reading "Look Who's Irrational Now"...

9/18/08

Dan Barker's Kalam Konfusion


If salvation is the cure, atheism is the prevention.



Dan Barker's recent book Godless contains Barker's personal perspective on the issues between atheism and Christianity. The entire book is not a personal account per se, as his deconversion story only assumes the first 80 pages or so. While I read the entire book in about an afternoon (it is fairly short and easy to read) there were a few sections I read and re-read; In fact, I was so surprised at some of the things he wrote that I had to write down the page number and return later.

Now, I'm going to try and be as fair as I can in this review. I've gone through a few iterations of this book review and decided that too much of this book is too subjective to critically examine (I sincerely hope that you read this book for yourself) in entirety, so I'm restricting myself to one chapter: Cosmological Kalamity.

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Don't get me wrong here. I am not saying that the rest of this book is unimportant or un-scholarly or otherwise below a person of my intelligence. Rather, I don't feel equipped to handle his personal life-story in a critical manner (maybe no one is). Furthermore, this is the one chapter where Dan "dives in". From the mouth of the horse:

While Refuting God [Part 1] gives simple, thumbnail responses to most theistic arguments, Cosmological Kalamity (which you are welcome to skim if philosophy is not your cup of tea) shows how I deal in depth with one of those arguments. (xiv)

He is obviously fairly pleased with the work he did in this chapter, and because my relative familiarity with the argument dwarfs that of my familiarity with the other topics in this book I thought I'd concentrate my fire a bit. I will point out a few oddities I stumbled across in this book, but I won't follow the rabbit trails too far.

Begging the question, begging the question, begging the question...

I hope you like reading those words because they officially represent Dan's most favorite logical fallacy. In his chapter criticizing the Kalam Cosmological Argument he either says or hints at "begging the question" nearly a dozen times. Apparently, he thinks it begs the question. How so? Let's look at the argument:

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
.: The universe has a cause.

Straight away Dan takes issue with the first premise. His claim is that we theists are hiding God by constructing a principle that would shield God from certain kinds of causal scrutiny. This is one of the oddest paragraphs I confronted in the book:

One approach has been to claim that only effects need a cause. Since a first cause is not an effect, it is exempt from causation. Another attempt conceives of a contingent cause of the universe, resting at the top of a pyramid of relationships rather than at the beginning of a chain of temporal events. But this a priori tactic of exempting the conclusion (a creator) from the causality required of everything else- with no evidence that any special "causeless" or "noncontingent" objects actually exist- makes the creator a part of the definition of the premise, which is circular reasoning. These versions fail to get God off the hook. (130)

Something ought to sound fishy to you. It isn't his failure to recognize that a first cause is not exempt from causation (no law of causation I'm aware of says that absolutely everything must have a cause). Notice that in his desire to force the argument into a question-beggar, he has, in effect, declared that all deductive arguments are circular (and, with his last sentence, he implies that these circular arguments are useless/false). Of course, any good deductive argument will contain a bit of the conclusion in each premise. What is appalling is the fact that any first-year student of logic would be able to catch that. Further, he himself begs the question in this paragraph; he tries to use the "fact" that we have no evidence of any "causeless" or "noncontingent" against an argument that purports to show that there is at least one of these objects.

Putting all that bluster aside for a moment, let's suppose that he is on target. Many theists AND non-theists believe that there are uncaused things that exist- numbers, propositions, forms, morality, etc. So saying that there are uncaused things does not smuggle God in anywhere, and his charge falls flat.

He claims that reality must be divided into two different sets- things that begin to exist and things that don't. If God is the only thing in the set of objects that does not begin to exist, he says, then "things that don't begin to exist" is merely a synonym for God. Further, this would mean that God is placed into the premise of an argument which would logically entail that we are begging the question (!). By now you are catching on to this begging the question deal, but this is really strange. Of course, there are a very large (an infinite number) of things that potentially never began to exist, so even granting his weird metaphysics one could satisfy his criteria.

He does return to this, though, and claims that there is nothing in our universe that we know of that could escape time (he claims, again, that allowing talk of "outside of time" amounts to begging the question). I assume that he means that to be in time is to have begun to exist. This is false, but we can let it go for now. He does think that causation is entirely contained within the universe such that any attempt to justify talk of God's causing the universe to exist from observation is not allowed (I think). Here it seems plain that he just is not familiar with the literature surrounding the issues. There are many things that we can draw conclusions about that would "transcend" our universe (see here, for example). In fact, supposing he is right, he has adopted a principle (that what we learn inside the universe cannot be applicable outside of it) and defeated his own position. Does his principle apply to our universe? How does he know? Why can't we apply the principles of causation to our universe in the same way?

He finally begins to move into the actual argument and claims that "experience within the universe shows us that many impersonal causes "create" many natural effects." (134)

I don't think this is true. We have never, to my knowledge, witnessed the creation of anything, but rather the rearranging of matter. This would be especially true if one is a non-dualist like Dan, in all probability, is.

He claims that Craig proves that a personal force was the cause of the universe because a cause has to be at least as complex as its cause. I'm going to say that this is patently false. I've never seen Craig say this before and I believe that he made it up. Unfortunately he does not tell us where he got this information, but I suspect it is not from any of his works. In light of his misrepresentation of Craig in the next section we'll look at, it is perfectly plausible that he is getting his information of Craig 2nd hand (from the likes of Michael Martin, perhaps).

If an actual infinity cannot be a part of reality, then God, is he is actually infinite, cannot exist. (135)

No. Theists do not say that God is an actual infinite. An actual infinite is numerically infinite, whereas God's infinity is qualitative. This is why we distinguish between potential infinites, actual infinites and absolute infinites. In no way does Craig suggest that we speak of God as an actual infinite; in fact, he goes out of his way to defend himself from such allegations.

Is the Kalam Cosmological Argument Wordplay?

According to Barker, the second premise of the KCA- The universe began to exist- says that a supernatural assumption has been made in the premise. In fact, he compares the argument with this:

1. All apples that fall from trees become bruised.
2. This orange fell from a tree.
3. Therefore, this orange is bruised. (140)

Apparently, his point is that a set cannot be a member of itself. Of course, Dan's problem here is that we don't treat the universe as if it is the set of all things. Even if something like materialism is true, it is possible that there are other members of this set (propositions, numbers, assorted abstracta). What he is trying to say, apparently, is that the universe is not able to be categorized in causal language as all the members of the universe are able to. But that would be a burden that he would have to carry; everything we know and understand is subject to causal laws. Why the "universe" should be any different is not readily apparent, and we must view this claim of his with suspicion. If it isn't for scientific or philosophical reasons, then his denial of causality seems to stem from his unwillingness to grant a perfectly plausible principle which carried theistic implications. Indeed, Barker does not touch a single one of Craig's arguments for either premise. He literally ignores them.

Rather, he opts for begging the question (this time he is doing the begging):

What does "everything" mean? Standing alone, it is synonymous with the universe (or cosmos). But in the cosmological argument, "everything" does not refer to "all things that exist" because it is followed by the limiting cause "that begins to exist". (141-142)

It seems to me that he is saying that the KCA fails because the universe is everything and God is not a part of the universe. He does not allow, because of his own "wordplay", that there could be something that did not begin to exist. And he proves this by defining the universe as "everything".

Let me be very clear about this- the laws of causation were not invented by the KCA, or William Lane Craig or Paul the Apostle. The first premise, "whatever begins to exist has a cause" is as philosophically and empirically sound as any principle could hope to be. Even if I didn't believe in God I would believe this principle. In fact, if Dan does not believe this principle is true (and I don't think he does) then I would be very interested in seeing his reason(s) for objecting to it.

You see this same kind of thing all over in the book. It would be interesting for someone with a lot of time to go through the text and count all the times he says "begs the question" and compare it to all the times he himself begs the question. Here, for example:

Words like "spirit" and "supernatural" have no referent in reality, so why discuss a meaningless concept? (104)

While this old logical-positivist sentence might have flown a half-century ago, there is a near universal consensus that much of what philosophers of religion do is quite meaningful, and it is not up to Dan to partition topics into these categories (especially as a way to "refute" God).

Lastly, Dan leaves us with three questions. Let's have at them:

1. Is God the only object accommodated by the set of things that do not begin to exist? If yes, then why is the cosmological argument not begging the question? If no, then what are the other candidates for the cause of the universe and how have they been eliminated? (143)


Firstly, I don't think it is proper to ask why something does not beg the question. Secondly, the entire list of abstract objects did not begin to exist (in my view). But there is a consensus that abstract entities do not cause anything. Easy enough.

2. Does the logic of Kalam apply only to temporal antecedents in the real world? If yes, this assumes the existence of nontemporal antecedents in the real world, so why is this not begging the question? If no, then why doesn't the impossibility of an actual infinity disprove the existence of an actually infinite God? (143)


Well, the logic of the KCA applies exactly to what it's premises say it does. You can tailor the argument (see here) to fit both a temporal timeline or a timeless series of events. However, Dan's question is severely misguided because, as we saw before, not a single theist believes that God is a quantitative collection of things. And even if God was a collection of an infinite number of things, one could further say that God infinity wasn't formed by successive addition as a temporal timeline would.

3. Is the universe (cosmos) a member of itself? If not, then how can its "beginning" be compared with other beginnings?


I think it is better to skip over his confused understanding of set theory for a moment and focus on premise one of the argument. Either he is propounding a mysterious view of causation that I am unaware of, or he flat-out denies that events require causes. If the latter is true, then it would have been nice to see him interact with some of the literature defending causality. Craig's own work has popularized a lot of arcane philosophy (see here) and it certainly wouldn't be hard to find resources and tell us what his problems with the first premise are. As it stands, I don't know how to answer this question because I don't know what he is asking. Does he want to know what evidence there is for events having causes? Does he want to know if there have been other beginnings to other universes that we can compare ours to?

In any case, I feel very confident that if this is the best he can do against theism, I'm not to worried about the Barker salvo. He's a one-trick pony, and his rather unusual responses to an argument that has been carefully crafted and defended over the past few decades will not replace study and substance. Are there difficulties for the KCA? Sure. There are things about Christianity and God-belief that have kept me up at night. But I'm willing to engage the best and brightest on either side to understand the issues as best I can. Unfortunately, that leaves little room for this book.

Let this one go, folks.

Continue reading Dan Barker's Kalam Konfusion...

9/10/08

Christopher Hitchens : The Challenges, part III of III

This post will bring to a conclusion my consideration of Mr. Hitchens’ challenges.

To read/Or not to read


Let us now consider the next segment as Mr. Hitchens asks for:
“an example of a society which had fallen into slavery and bankruptcy and beggary and terror and misery because it had adopted the teachings and the precepts of Spinoza, and Einstein and Pierre Bayle and Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine…you will find no such example.”

I wish to propose a much simpler challenge: I would like an example of a society that adopted the teachings and the precepts of Spinoza, and Einstein and Pierre Bayle and Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.” You will find no such example and so whatever such a mythical society may produce is irrelevant. What I mean is this: suppose that I could provide you an example of a society which had fallen into such things but they had adopted the teachings and the precepts Spinoza, Einstein, Bayle and Jefferson but not Paine, would the example not count? Or imagine any combination of inclusions and exclusions. Just how absolutist are Mr. Hitchens’ “and” statements?
Thus, again I so not find the challenge unanswerable due to its force and correctness but due to its generic, fallacious and or straw man nature.
Is Mr. Hitchens unaware that the USA, which adopted the teachings and the precepts Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, did fall into slavery, etc.? Yes, but did the USA also adopt Spinoza, Einstein, Bayle? Well then, that does not count. Could we thank Einstein for the devastation of nuclear weapons? Thomas Jefferson, deist or not, attended Christian church services in the Capital building, something for which today he would be arrested or sued by the ACLU (apparently modernists understand Jefferson’s concept of separation between church and state better than Jefferson did).
The bottom line is that such arguments will go nowhere.

The last segment is a repeat of earlier ones:
“name an ethical statement made or action performed by a believer in the name of faith that couldn't have been by an infidel. And name, if you can (this is easier) a wicked action that could only be mandated by faith.”

This has been answered already in part I.

I do not know if to state that I have answered any of the challenges or to simply state that Mr. Hitchens’ challenges are a confused concoction of generic statements, misunderstandings and qualified to a degree that they may be unanswerable merely due to their illogical nature.

Continue reading Christopher Hitchens : The Challenges, part III of III...

9/6/08

My Final Treatise

It has been some time since I have recorded my thoughts here on AID. I must admit that I feel ashamed to have not kept in contact much with my team here, nor with our readers. The reasons for my absence are many, but are the product of one in particular which I believe many will find obvious by the end of this article; something that has taken up the majority of my minds time and patience these past couple of months.
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I have been studying and seeking in other fields of philosophy so as to craft a finer mind of my own and to understand the world around me more clearly. At the same time, these studies have led me on a new spiritual journey for the sake of truth and inner peace. In this article I hope to give some brief thoughts of my own regarding the topic that this blog represents: Atheism. I only hope that these fragments of thoughts are clear, being granted as a rational position by my fellow Theists and the opposition alike. I must confess that many of my thoughts were influenced by the likes of individuals such as Antony Flew, Alvin Plantinga, Scott Hahn, and the much older, yet still powerfully convincing Descartes: my personal thinking hero.

My philosophical journey began with my studies in Metaphysics and the particular method known as Existentialism. I had also begun to re-examine the Argument From Design (should be changed to the Argument TO Design, rather), noting before that I had always considered it one of the weaker arguments for the existence of God. It was with great surprise that I began to find the Design Argument to be perhaps the best of the argument for Gods existence, but not in the same way that many people conceive of it today. Combining my insights with those who promote arguments from reason, such as Alvin Plantinga and the former C.S. Lewis, and other such arguments such as the rationalists views of Descartes and the Existentialists views of Thomas Aquinas, I came to understand some things that have always been right in front of me. Or, should I say that they were always inside of me? Ingrained deep within my psyche and as my psyche? Could it have not been clearer before? The existence of God is so clear that I think any man, woman, or child would literally have to not be in order to miss it or lying to themselves, or confused about what they really think of reality.

Knowing that one exist is the absolute first certain thing that man can come to know. It is the only thing that can be proven by first being doubted. It is by doubt that self-existence is proven. From here we reason that we can think; that we are thinking things. In order to move further from this we must understand that we can examine the world around us and that we can interpret the world. We can also make choices and we can decide between those choices, seemingly uninhibited by the laws of nature themselves. And if we are to deny the freedom of choice and say that our minds are dictated by the material, then we can no longer accept that we or anyone else is rational, for rationality needs free will to be considered as such. No man can reason to the truth if reason does not exist and is merely something chosen for us. A man who thinks himself wise for destroying his own wisdom is the greatest fool of all. Needless to say, this is why Atheists are foolish in their thinking, but we have yet to conclude that in the following examination. Let us continue.

Taking this idea further, let us conclude what Descartes concluded, that the effect must have something of the cause. The cause must be greater than the effect in the sense that it created the effect. It must possess a lack of limitation that the effect has. Let us consider a conversation I had recently with a fellow Agnostic friend of mine. She had stated to me that the Universe could have come from the result of several causes acting on one another, sort of like a gradualist evolutionary process. She said that a cause “greater” than the Universe we see today was not necessary. But all I needed to do to upset this sort of thinking was ask her a very obvious thing: What then are we to make of that thing that was able to organize all those other causes to create the universe we have today? Shall we continue to suggest that smaller factors simply continued to pile on top of one another ad-infinitum? Where we have many things working together we must have something greater to make them do this. This is only reasonable. And for those out there that think an infinite regress is a plausible idea, I believe they have no good reasons for supposing such a thing exist. For if this were the case, then all justification would go out the window, there would be no reason to suppose that the Universe we have today came from those chain of causes. Note the following, that if there were such thing as an infinite regress, the Universe we have today would not exist. For the Universe we live in is set on a foundation that we can observe and understand. If such foundations were the result of an ever-changing, contingent chain of events, we would not be alive today to notice such things, for the very smallest change in the Universe and its patterns would destroy us all.

Going on with the idea of a “greater cause” over that of its effects, we must therefore conclude that if we consider ourselves rational creatures with the capabilities of design and purpose, that the cause of us must equally if not moreso, possess the same attributes. Even if we were to say that we create our own meaning, purpose, and objectives, and that design is simply a small function of human survival, we must conclude, rationally, that the ultimate reality possesses or at least can possess similar features. If not, then we claim that we are greater than that which has caused us or we concede the most irrational belief that the effects of causes do not hold similar like features of those causes, disrupting our idea of cause and effect forever.

It is by self-examination and the obvious understanding of human thought that we can conclude these things. It is by the empirical observation of the inner-self, that proves as the greatest evidence of design. From evidence of design, free will, rationality, etc. comes the logical conclusion of that which is greater than ourselves: The Ultimate Reality, which is God. And the only way for an Atheist to deny this evidence is to deny his or herself. It is from this denial that the label of “fool” is so adequate and not simply because of the mere denial of the existence of God. It is the denial of the freedom of choice, the rational mind, and the entire human person that is most foolish, because such things are the greatest evidence of belief. And of course, the Atheist will scoff at such an idea and call these things mere illusion, but if they are to do so they must similarly conclude that the human person, not as a body, but as a mind is an illusion, and all their thoughts and all their objections to the Theists are meaningless portrayals of chemical reactions bubbling their way to the surfaces of absurdity.

It is with this basic understanding that I have concluded that there is no longer any reason to argue with such disbelievers. I have eased my mind and made it clear to myself that there is no longer any reason, for the man who denies God denies himself, and the man who denies himself never sees God. It is not even a paradox, but a self-justifying circularity, much like the doubting of self-existence. I can see nothing more clear than this. I can see no other way. For those that argue over times, dates, the function of cells, the morals of the world, and all other things I simply smile and look the other way. It is a waste of time. For it should be obvious without such nonsense arguments. We have no need to use such things. The greatest evidence, the greatest witness, is within us and is us. We need nothing else to show these truths! Why have I wasted my time for so long till now? And I know that even now I may be wasting my time, as my opponents will think themselves clever by telling me how I evolved and where I came from. Shame on them for thinking that these things have any bearing on what I have stated, as though I deny my own evolutionary history simply because I am a Theists, or that I need to be told this because it is somehow relevant to the obvious conclusion of accepting the human person as it really is: a thinking thing. And however you view a “thinking thing”, you must logically conclude, if you are truly using reason and not mere emotions, that there is a greater. There is no other conclusion if one is to use their reason.

And it should be clear that to accept the mind as the brain, as a physical entity, one has destroyed their own wisdom. They should feel ashamed for even trying to argue such a thing, for they have made themselves the most obvious of fools and have made my argument the only rational conclusion, because they have discarded rationality for the absurd conclusion of determined mindsets.

I am finally at peace with myself and I have no need to argue this any longer. For this is the approbation of my delusion. It is who I am. It is all that I can be. And it is by the great knowledge and power of Allah that I have come to be helped in reaching these conclusions. And it is with this understanding of Allah that I must also leave this blog as its administrator and contributor, as I am no longer within the same Theological circle as my fellow brothers here on AID, so gifted as they are and so well intended. I only give thanks to all of you who have stuck through with this blog and made it the great place it is.

And it is with this final treatise that I say farewell to you all. Much love and blessings and may Allah guide you towards the straight path.

Assalaamu Alaykum


-M-


Continue reading My Final Treatise...

9/5/08

In Defense of Plantinga

Though I haven't been writing much lately, I still like to visit my old pals over at Debunking Christianity from time-to-time. 

Today, after perusing their blog, I noticed a post criticizing a personal hero of mine:  Plantinga.  The post is entitled, "Plantinga Propounds Invalid Argument", and is filled with a lot of unflattering caricatures of Plantinga's philosophy. 


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The entire article seems rather haughty considering that an amateur blogger (Evan) - who apparently has no experience in philosophy - is claiming to have bested a renowned epistemologist and all around respected thinker. 

In fact, reading the comments to the article reveals that the atheists over at DC are unwilling to afford the respect that I think Plantinga rightly deserves. 

Regardless, Evan's arguments stand or fall on their own, and so without further ado, I'll simply deconstruct his numerous misconceptions.

Firstly, Evan seems to find it incredible that Plantinga could "sympathize" with a young-Earth creationist, in the sense that Plantinga doesn't think that we can outright declare YEC beliefs to be irrational or stupid.

Evan says:

Plantinga himself believes that the earth is old because multiple lines of evidence converge to show this to be the case. Yet he is willing to accept the sensiblity of someone who does not accept the evidence that he does, because they are using their faith in scriptures and praying about it. If this is an adequate epistemology for a philosopher one wonders if there will be much in the rest of his philosophy to dream of or wonder about.

Of course, if this childish caricature is the best Evan can do, one might wonder about the rest of the article. 

Without getting too sidetracked from the main issue, I will simply note that Plantinga's views are hardly this simplistic.  If Evan really wants to criticize a scholar like Plantinga, I think he would do well to take the issue more seriously, and not misrepresent his opponent's views. 

However, I will note that as an epistemologist, Plantinga simply points out that there is nothing about the idea of a young Earth that can be declared outright irrational, and as such his charge still stands.  Evan hasn't outlined exactly what is irrational about belief in a young Earth from an epistemological viewpoint.  Certainly a naturalist who thinks the Bible is nothing more than ancient mythology would find it ridiculous, but the presuppositions of naturalism aren't necessarily axiomatic. 

Regardless, I've already spent far too much time on such an important issue, so I'll move along.

What Evan really takes exception to with his blog post is Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism.  In simple terms, this states that if evolution and naturalism are both true, then we have no reason to think that ANY of our beliefs are true, or no way of knowing if they are true.  Therefore, given the truth of naturalism and evolution, we have reason to believe that naturalism and/or evolution are false. 

Since evolution is the more basic of these two beliefs, it would stand to reason that naturalism is an irrational philosophy in light of evolution. 

As Plantinga so succinctly puts it:

I said naturalism is in philosophical hot water; this is true on several counts, but here I want to concentrate on just one—one connected with the thought that evolution supports or endorses or is in some way evidence for naturalism. As I see it, this is a whopping error: evolution and naturalism are not merely uneasy bedfellows; they are more like belligerent combatants. One can't rationally accept both evolution and naturalism; one can't rationally be an evolutionary naturalist. The problem, as several thinkers (C. S. Lewis, for example) have seen, is that naturalism, or evolutionary naturalism, seems to lead to a deep and pervasive skepticism. It leads to the conclusion that our cognitive or belief-producing faculties—memory, perception, logical insight, etc.—are unreliable and cannot be trusted to produce a preponderance of true beliefs over false. Darwin himself had worries along these lines: "With me," says Darwin, "the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

While this argument might certainly be unsound, I don't think it's as blatantly false as Evan paints it to be. 

In response to this, Evan goes on at some length (and I might note needlessly) about how naturalists aren't the only one's who are skeptical and so on.  What this has to do with the argument, I don't know.  It seems that Evan is confusing a "normal" level of skepticism with the radical form of skepticism evolution and naturalism combined would seem to lead us to.  Regardless, Evan doesn't really make a counterpoint to the argument when he speaks about skepticism, so I don't know what else to say.

One must wonder exactly what mechanism Plantinga imagines allows him to have the correct apprehension of this particular fact when so many of his "sensible" coreligionists and theists in general disagree with him on this point vehemently. Does he believe that his brain is working better than theirs? Yet this could not be for Plantinga, because he believes that brains don't detect true beliefs.

This paragraph contains two matters on which Evan is confused. 

Firstly, Plantinga never claims that he is absolutely right on the issue of Old Earth v. Young Earth, since Evan has already pointed out that Plantinga has declared belief in a Young Earth to be rational.  Certainly, then, I don't see how Plantinga would claim his brain is "working better" - whatever that means - than a YECreationist.  When it comes to epistemology, as best Plantinga might claim that he relies less on the absolute literal nature of the Bible than his YEC counterparts. 

Secondly, we can see here that Evan has completely misunderstood the point of Plantinga's argument.  Plantinga is not arguing that humans don't hold true beliefs about reality, only that given naturalism and evolution, we have no reason to believe that what we believe is true. 

This is a rather important distinction, and missing this point doesn't bode well for the rest of Evan's post. 

[Plantinga] believes that brains don't detect true beliefs.


I know you think I'm kidding, but really, that is his position. He believes that brains by themselves are evolved organs and therefore can only be "adaptive" but that being adaptive does not entail the truth of a given conclusion arrived at by an adaptive organ.

Plantinga would only argue that this is true just in case evolution and naturalism are both true.  Despite that Evan is a bit confused on Plantinga's actual argument, poking fun at it and chuckling about it with your fellow atheists doesn't disprove the point.  Again, given Plantinga's reputation, I think Evan would have been better off taking this issue more seriously. 

Evan goes on to say (with Plantinga's words in Italics):

Let's look again at his position about what he calls "neurophysiology":


Your beliefs may all be false, ridiculously false; if your behavior is adaptive, you will survive and reproduce. Consider a frog sitting on a lily pad. A fly passes by; the frog flicks out its tongue to capture it. Perhaps the neurophysiology that causes it to do so, also causes beliefs. As far as survival and reproduction is concerned, it won't matter at all what these beliefs are: if that adaptive neurophysiology causes true belief (e.g., those little black things are good to eat), fine. But if it causes false belief (e.g., if I catch the right one, I'll turn into a prince), that's fine too. Indeed, the neurophysiology in question might cause beliefs that have nothing to do with the creature's current circumstances (as in the case of our dreams); that's also fine, as long as the neurophysiology causes adaptive behavior. All that really matters, as far as survival and reproduction is concerned, is that the neurophysiology cause the right kind of behavior; whether it also causes true belief (rather than false belief) is irrelevant.

The use of scare quotes around the word physiology is about the best response that Evan will muster with regards to this analogy.  Evan has this to say in response:

But this metaphor is absurd and wrong on the face of it. For a frog to catch a fly he first needs to adequately apprehend that there is a fly to be caught. This belief MUST be true for a frog to catch it. The frog's eye must accurately determine there is a fly in the field of vision. It must accurately gauge the speed and distance of the oncoming fly. It must accurately know the position of its tongue in its mouth and accurately direct its head and mouth at the correct angle to catch the fly. All of these things are things the frog's brain must believe first, before it can create an overarching belief that drives it to catch and eat the fly. Therefore Plantinga must admit that at least some of the beliefs the frog needs to have must correspond accurately to the external world. And of course, even in his example, the simplest belief is the one that is most correct, namely that the fly will feel better if it eats.

I had a good chuckle at the fact that Evan actually thinks that frogs hold beliefs. 

Anyway, the fact remains that the example of the frog is simply an illustration meant to distance the reader from the fact that what Plantinga is really talking about is the human mind. 

However, Evan is employing a sort of circular reasoning here.  Above, Plantinga rightly points out that the frog will still attempt to catch the fly if it thinks that catching the correct fly will turn it into a prince.  Well, Evan claims that in actuality the frog must believe that eating the fly will make it feel good.  But why?  What is necessary about that belief over any other?  Evan seems only to claim it by brute force.  The fact is, the frog need only believe anything that will lead to adaptive behaviors.  Again, Evan has missed a simple point, which is causing quite a bit of confusion, and ultimately all of his counter-examples fall prey to this same problem. 

Then, Evan says:

Plantinga's skepticism about neurophysiology assumes the accuracy of perception. Yet we all know that many perceptions themselves can be flawed. A few minutes with a magic-eyes book or even a glass of water and a pencil can show a child that. So if Plantinga's main point is that perception, memory, the brain's physics, working logic and apperception can be inherently flawed yet still adaptive, his point is one that neuroscientists have been making for several decades.

Again, Evan misunderstands the thrust of Plantinga's argument.  Plantinga is not claiming that our beliefs are absolutely false or at least indeterminably true, only that we would have reason to believe they are given evolution and naturalism (by now the perceptive reader will notice the self-destructing nature of the coupled beliefs of evolution and naturalism). 

Furthermore, how is pointing out that neuroscientists have demonstrated that Plantinga's argument is true detract from Plantinga's argument.  Pretending for a moment that Evan's misunderstanding of the argument is actually correct, Evan would only be proving Plantinga's point for him here.  If I actually cared a little bit more, I might be flabbergasted by Evan's supposed criticism of someone I respect so much. 

Moving on...(Plantinga's words are in italics)

Yet Plantinga wants to take healthy skepticism and reduce it to a ridiculous solipsism that would be destructive to all knowledge. His way out is obvious:


Clearly this doubt arises for naturalists or atheists, but not for those who believe in God. That is because if God has created us in his image, then even if he fashioned us by some evolutionary means, he would presumably want us to resemble him in being able to know; but then most of what we believe might be true even if our minds have developed from those of the lower animals.


As a side point, the use of the term "lower animals" is simply another example of his lack of understanding of biology. A high-school level understanding of biology as it is taught in the 21st century would teach Plantinga that all life forms on earth are equally evolved. They have all derived from a common ancestor and have been adapting to changing environments and ecologies since then and all lineages extant have survived to this point. There are no "lower animals" unless you already accept creationism. But back to his main point.

There is a disturbing amount of nitpicking on Evan's part here.  I doubt that Plantinga doesn't understand this point, but this is so irrelevant that I don't care to worry about it. 

According to Plantinga, while brains cannot evolve a method for detecting truth, God can give them that ability through his creation. Yet of course there is simply no logical connection between the existence of a theistic deity and the belief systems of organisms evolved under such a deity. I will give some alternatives that Plantinga fails to even consider, much less address, that show how limited his "supernaturalism" really is.

Actually, Plantinga's claim is a bit more cautious than that; Plantinga merely stated that our beliefs aren't necessarily false if God exists and created us (even 'indirectly' through evolution), which is in contradistinction to naturalism. 

Therefore, Evan's "examples" are useless and don't actually refute any point that Plantinga has made.  As a point of fact, as far as Plantinga's arguments are concerned, all of those examples are logically equivalent to naturalism.  In other words, Evan just made Plantinga's point for him, without realizing it. 

I'm very close to being flabbergasted by the absolutely terrible job Evan is doing of refuting my hero here.

There is simply no logical or philosophical reason to select Christian theism as the only rational alternative to methodological naturalism.

Another misunderstanding - Plantinga wasn't arguing for Christianity, but against naturalism. 

Certainly there is no reason to assume the probability of one supernatural hypothesis over any other as there is simply no accepted supernatural data.

Whatever this statement means, it seems to be loaded with a lot of atheist bias.  I don't really know exactly what "accepted supernatural data" is, but I'm sure it has something to do with Evan's acceptance of Scientific Naturalism which is a self-defeating philosophy. 

Plantinga knows, however, that most of his readers are either Christian or former Christians and thus artificially limits his calculus to those two possibilities to make his outcome look superficially more plausible.

And therefore atheists can discard Plantinga's words without a single ounce of real, critical thought. 

How convenient.

At this point in the post, Evan moves on to Bayesian analysis, but to be fair to my readers I'll refrain from commenting since I'm too ignorant on this subject.  (Not that that stops fundy atheists like Evan, but...)

Most of the rest of Evan's post is based on the myriad misunderstandings that I've pointed out so far, so there isn't much that remains to be said. 

An interesting point to note, however:

While [Plantinga] does believe that he has had some true beliefs, he has admitted in his review of Dawkins that some of his arguments in the past have been invalid. How is it possible for his God-given truth detector to have allowed this?

This statement inadvertently demonstrates one of the many reasons why the so-called New Atheism is in so much trouble.  This sort of childish commentary is the bread and butter of modern atheists - it's the rule rather than the exception.  This sort of mindset of critiquing complex issues with misrepresentative one-liners should really be intellectually embarrassing for anyone who takes these issues seriously (theist or atheist). 

At this point, I think I've successfully deflated Evan's criticism so I'm not going to continue beating a dead horse. 

I simply want to highlight some of the "rational" and "freethinking" commentary we find on Loftus' blog in regards to this post. 

One commentator wrote:

Once you have the supernatural, all of your beliefs at once become questionable, because supernatural agents can change the laws of nature at will.

Which is irrelevant to the issue, but I just wanted to point out that as far as this commentator knows, the universe is randomly acting ordered and rational, and might randomly break it's own laws, and therefore all of his beliefs are questionable.  So there!

Anyway, this more to say about that, but for the handful of you still reading at this point, I'll wrap this up.

Another commentator says:

Great post, Evan. For the life of me, I don't understand why Plantinga is so highly regarded.

Presumably this person thinks that Dawkins is a great philosopher?  Either way, if you can't understand why Plantinga is so highly regarded, then you're clearly a fundy atheist.  Clearly.  :)

Another commentator says:

looking at beliefs as being "true" or "false" is misleading: only in systems of formal logic, such as mathematics, can things be, by definition, absolutely true or false: 2+2=4 is absolutely true in arithmetic, for instance. A frog's "belief" about flying objects is a model which works to keep the frog well fed, but it is not absolutely "true" or "false".

I had a good chuckle about this since, based on this person's own logic, I have no reason to believe anything in this quote. 

Another commentator says:

Surely believing that our cognitive faculties are reliable is properly basic?

Thus showing that fundy atheists can, in fact, get half way to understanding something outside their own little box. 

Clearly the fact that at least some of our beliefs is true is...well...true.  Therefore, Plantinga's argument that any belief which leads us to believe that our beliefs are false or unknowably true is false, isn't really that far fetched now, is it?

And I'll wrap up my post with my favorite comment by the philosopher John W. Loftus.

Very nice job Evan!

I am by no means an actual philosopher (I'd like to call myself an amateur philosopher :) ), but I can clearly see that Evan only did a good job if his job was to misunderstand all of the basic points of Plantinga's argument. 

John, as a philosopher with an actual education that dwarfs my own, should have recognized this fact.  Though, to be fair to John, it's much easier to critically analyze something with which you disagree. 

That said, this concludes my post.   


Continue reading In Defense of Plantinga...

9/2/08

Christopher Hitchens : The Challenges, part II of III

Let us now consider the next segment of Mr. Hitchens’ challenges (find part I here):

To read/Or not to read



“if I was to ask you can you think of a wicked action that could only have been performed by someone who believed they were on an errand from God, there isn't one of you who would take 10 seconds to give an example.”
This segment appears to be premised upon the ubiquitous New-Atheist concept that since atheism is mere a lack of belief in god(s) then atheism is perfectly pure and nothing evil has ever been done in its name. I personally find the challenge difficult to understand: you see, the term “only” is very restrictive and I suspect that if I were to state, “Consider the following actions which were committed by atheists…” Mr. Hitchens may very well respond that since he knows of the same, or similar, actions taken by theists then it does not count.
Therefore, I will offer some examples of wicked actions performed by atheist (regardless of whether it was in the name of atheism or not) and let the cards fall where they may.

Eugen Turcanu of the Communist Romanian Secret Police “devised especially diabolical measures to force seminarians to renounce their faith…Some had their heads repeatedly plunged into a bucket of urine and fecal matter while the guards intoned a parody of the baptismal rite”[1]

In Communist Russia “prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings…”
“human being would be lowered into an acid bath…”
“they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs…”
“a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the ‘secret brand’)…”
“a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot.”[2]


Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer (interviewed by Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, 11/29/1994), “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then…what is the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought…I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime.”


Kevin Underwood (who was found guilty in Oklahoma cannibalistic plot case), “Pretty much the only time I believe in God is when I want to blame Him forsomething.”


Jerry Seinfeld, “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”
George Costanza, “I do for the bad things.” (Episode 63, Season 4)


These are a mere drop in the bucket of such wicked action that had nothing to do with theism. But again, the challenge is so generic that surely any example would be excluded. Perhaps the answer to the challenge is all too simple and here it is: no one can come up with even one single wicked action that could only have been performed by someone who believed they were on an errand from God since any such examples could be discredited by claiming that atheists have also committed the same, if not similar, actions.
But what about the very concept of being on a errand from God? Surely, no one who lacked a god(s) belief would do any such thing. Not necessarily, Professor of Philosophy Daniel Dennett claims that Joseph Stalin was not an atheist (even though he was) because Stalin believed in a god and that god was Stalin. Apparently, it is philosophically sound to claim that atheists are theists (see here for Prof. Dennett’s statement).

[1] Daniel J. Flynn providing an example from the book: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression
[2] Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Thomas P. Whitney, trans., The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 – An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 93-94


Continue reading Christopher Hitchens : The Challenges, part II of III...