This post will serve as a base for links to the rest of the chapters as I read them:
One reader of my blog recently challenged me to take on the heady atheists. Rather than focusing on the kind of basic fallacies found in various atheistic objections to belief, he suggested I should devote some of my philosophical energy to rebutting the claims of atheists who should actually be taken seriously. I took the advice to heart, acquired copies of J.L. Mackie’s Miracle of Theism and Graham Oppy’s Arguing About Gods. I’ve started reading Mackie’s book. I will be posting thoughts as I continue to read through it, and tie it into an extended critique of his arguments. For today, I’ll discuss only the introduction.
I found a few areas of agreement. Mackie noted that a cumulative case would not point to certainty, but could overcome objections to individual arguments. I agree with him here. I tend to favor a “cumulative case” type of argument, though I think that some theistic arguments could easily stand on their own to prove general aspects of theism (like a first cause).
I find a bit of difficulty with Mackie’s rather dismissive attitude towards faith (p. 4-6). As tends to be the case when faith is discussed by non-theists, he just brought up arguments which he believes shows that reason must be the basis for belief, and then moved on. But I’m not totally convinced that faith can be tossed aside as it is so often. First, I think of Plantinga’s proper function account and I think that while it is ultimately based on reason, it allows for one to be justified in belief through faith. Second, I’m not persuaded that faith cannot work as a kind of reason or discovery of reality. Faith, as it were, seems to account for many of our beliefs (other minds, for example?). So I think while I tend to be an evidentialist when it comes to these things, I am skeptical of a simple dismissal of faith. If anyone could help me with these points, I’d appreciate it.
Mackie discussed the possibility of naturalistic explanations of religion. I’m continually perplexed by the pervasiveness of this idea.Why should the origin of a belief undermine its truth? This would only work if the origin would serve to discredit the belief itself (as in Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism).
And I’ve been similarly unconvinced when it comes to others who argue that an account of how religious came to be would undermine the belief. I know Plantinga gives the idea more credit than I: in Warranted Christian Belief, I think, I recall him arguing extensively against naturalistic accounts. But I don’t see them as much of a threat, and I admit I groaned a bit when Mackie started going in that direction. It always seems like the kind of “hidden weapon” atheists have: “We have an evolutionary account of religion!” Of course whether that is true or not, I don’t see it as very persuasive.
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