atheism, philosophy

Reading “Miracle of Theism” by J.L. Mackie: Introduction

This post will serve as a base for links to the rest of the chapters as I read them:

Chapter 1

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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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


6 thoughts on “Reading “Miracle of Theism” by J.L. Mackie: Introduction

  1. Your argument for faith reminds me a lot of Craig’s argument for the immediate experience of God as a properly basic belief. And it is this experience that grounds that faith, so faith in itself would be a properly basic belief, just as belief in other minds or the physical world would be. There’s no reason or logical basis to dismiss faith offhand (as Mackie does) as a result.

    Posted by sabepashubbo | July 13, 2011, 5:12 PM
    • Yeah, that is exactly what I was getting at, though Craig’s argument is really Plantinga’s argument. Too many people have a distorted image of faith. There is a long history in philosophy with some pretty solid defenses of faith.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2011, 10:58 PM
  2. I appreciate the response J.W! I actually have this book, but have not tackled it yet, so I’m curious to see your review, even if I’m unable to evaluate

    Posted by Rob El | July 13, 2011, 9:23 PM
    • Well I think you’re right in many ways. Particularly once I get into my doctoral studies several years from now, but even now as a grad student I do have a bit of an obligation to take on the best possible arguments, regardless of how well known or oft-used they are. I appreciate the suggestion!

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 13, 2011, 10:57 PM
  3. Hi there.

    I’m not sure how parallel belief through faith applied to God is to belief through faith applied to other minds.

    They may seem structurally similar, but the consequences in practice are very different.

    A non-theist can conceive of the possibility that God exists. I think it is possible for a theist to conceive of the possibility that God does not exist. (Not being a theist I cannot say with certainty what possibilities theists can conceive of.) But to believe or not believe in the existence of other minds is I think something different.

    Initially it appears as if it is possible to believe that other minds do not exist. But if we start with the axiom that other minds do not exist we end up in a position where we cannot coherently account for our use of mental concepts, because we have no criterion for knowing we are correctly applying mental terminology. If I genuinely think there are no other minds, then how can I say that I have a mind?

    This is not a ‘proof’ that other minds exist, but I think it casts doubt on whether the converse can be coherently stated. I would see this as related to the view that communicating social animals like ourselves have a ‘theory of mind’ as one of the preconditions of their social communication and social behaviour. An individual social animal in possession of both a theory of mind and a shared language can certainly speculate whether that theory of mind is justified, but he or she will very soon be up against the limits of that shared language.

    It is hard to see this as a question of faith, parallel to faith in God.

    Posted by Chris Lawrence | July 16, 2011, 4:59 AM


  1. Pingback: Reading Mackie “Miracle of Theism”: Chapter 1 « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - August 31, 2011

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