J.L. Mackie

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Book Review: “How to Be an Atheist” by Mitch Stokes

hba-stokesI’ll admit it: going into Mitch Stokes’ How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough, I was skeptical [har, har]. Any book that claims to discuss “how to be x” where “x” is some worldview to which the author does not describe has an uphill battle. After finishing, I have to say that my fears were premature. In this astonishing book, Stokes does well what few even attempt: relational, witty engagement with those with whom one disagrees. The book is a calling for self-described skeptics to examine their own skepticism and see whether they are being skeptical enough. Throughout the book, key tenets of “belief” that most people share are challenged by means of classical and modern skeptical argument. Few aspects of life are left unexamined. Whether it is the belief in other minds, morality, or the origin of the universe, Stokes encourages consistent skepticism on all counts.

The book is organized around three parts: Sense and Reason, Science, and Morality. Stokes avoids the potential pitfalls of getting bogged down in complex attempts to defend an alternative view and focuses instead upon skeptical inquiry. He takes a microscope to these topics and asks, effectively, “How should we treat this topic if we were really going to be skeptics?” It’s a refreshing perspective, and one that makes the book highly readable. It reads like an inquiry in the best, technical sense of the term.

‘How do the topics of this inquiry fare?’ you might wonder. Under skeptical scrutiny, very little is left for us. This is not an extended apologetic for the Christian faith. No, this book is specifically aimed at seeing where skepticism takes us if we are actually consistent about it. Free will, objective morality, sense perception, and even realism about scientific inquiry are each cast into doubt. None of this is done in a condescending way or through trickery. Instead, Stokes continually utilizes the works of atheists as sources for his points. True skepticism leaves very little to be affirmed in the world, and what is left behind looks rather pale in comparison to what we experience.

How to Be an Atheist is one of those rare apologetics books that could, I think, reasonably be handed to a skeptical, atheistic friend as a book they might be willing to read–and engage with. Stokes’ humorous style is never offputting. Instead, he encourages a consistent, skeptical look at the world. He shows just how bleak such a vision of the world ought to be. Moreover, he does so by using the words and works of atheists themselves. The New Atheists (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett) are featured throughout, but Stokes doesn’t limit the scope of the work to them. He delves deeper, citing some of the great skeptical minds of all time–people like J.L. Mackie and David Hume. The continued engagement with the best and brightest atheists demonstrates a willingness to engage with the “other side” on the part of Stokes that is admirable and fascinating.

If there is anything to critique in this excellent work, it would be that Stokes, having demonstrated the bleak view of the world through skeptical eyes, doesn’t do enough to dig readers back out of the “hole” of doubt that has been descended into. There are a few moments where this happens, but the book is almost entirely a work of skeptical inquiry–showing what it would look like if people consistently applied their skepticism. It is an endeavor to show the absurdity of life without God.

How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough is an enjoyable read that provides both a mental workout and a bit of fun. It will serve as a valued reference and resource for me for some time to come, I’m sure. I recommend it very highly.

The Good

+Humorous examples
+Encourages consistency
+Engages top skeptical minds
+Valuable resource all-around

The Bad

-Little direction about where to go next

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Mitch Stokes, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Does good always eliminate evil?

michael-binds-satan-william-blakeOne of the key components of the composition of the problem of evil (at least its logical variety)* is the notion that good will eliminate evil. The late J.L. Mackie put it this way:

A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being. (Mackie, 150, cited below)

Simply put, this statement and any like it seem fairly obviously false if made without any rather major qualifications. After all, it seems clear that the total elimination of evil is not actually a logically necessary end for a good being, even an all-good, all-powerful being.

C. Stephen Evans presented a case to show that Mackie’s statement (and those like it) are simply mistaken. He noted that the principle that good must eliminate evil seems to be blatantly false without a number of qualifications. He argued that there are some evils which good beings will allow in order to bring about a greater good. The analogy he used was that of parents not allowing their children to ride in automobiles. After all, this would ensure that they would never be involved in the evil of a car crash, but surely it would also prevent greater goods of interaction with friends, learning to drive and the responsibility that comes with, and more (127). However, Evans was quick to note that a deity is by no means directly analogous to a human parent. The resources God would have to prevent evil are infinitely greater than that of a human parent.

In the case of God, however, God cannot bring about the logically impossible. Rather than going for a full-on theodicy (an account of why evils exist), Evans argued that certain goods are impossible to achieve without some evil. Thus, courage necessitates some kind of suffering (128). He did not argue that this notion alone provides a comprehensive theodicy; but for our purposes it is enough. It seems clear that the notion that good must eliminate evil is not only unsupported by argument (it is an a priori assumption), but also patently false. That is, we have evidence that at least some evil must be allowed in order for some good to be brought about.

I want to be clear about my thesis in this post: I am not claiming to have a comprehensive explanation for all evil everywhere. My claim is rather that good does not, by necessity, eliminate evil. That’s all. I believe that I have established this thesis. If so, then Mackie’s argument (and those like it) fail.

*The logical problem of evil is basically an argument that there is a contradiction in theistic belief related to God’s power and goodness and the existence of evil.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford, 1982).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Thermodynamics, the Past, and the Multiverse: Arguing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

[I]t seems impossible to disprove, a priori, the possibility of an infinite past time. -J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, 93.

I wrote recently about several objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, but I wasn’t able to cover even the most common objections in one post. Here, I’ll examine a few more objections to the argument, as well as offer critiques and more links to read.

Matter can be neither created nor destroyed

A common objection to the Kalam Cosmological Argument (hereafter KCA or Kalam) is against its principles of causation. The atheist points out the principle of the conservation of energy: that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but only change forms (it can equally be said that “matter can be neither created nor destroyed…”). Applying this to the Kalam, they argue that because the KCA asserts the universe began and was caused, it cannot be true–matter cannot come into existence.

There are several problems with this objection. First, it assumes a causal principle: that only material causes exist. For it is true that the conservation of energy applies to material causation, but it may not apply to immaterial causation. “Ah,” the atheist may counter, saying, “but why think that there is immaterial causation anyway?” Why? Because that’s exactly what the KCA is made to demonstrate: that the universe was caused by an immaterial entity. The first premise (Everything that begins has a cause) would indeed have to surrender to the conservation of energy… but only if it is assumed that the cause is material. The Kalam is presenting an immaterial cause, creating the universe ex nihilo–out of nothing. For more on this objection, see William Lane Craig’s answer to the question “Must everything have a material cause?”

Second, using the conservation of energy to argue against the beginning of the universe reveals confusion about cosmology to begin with. Scientists can extrapolate back to the beginning of the big bang–which is the moment when both space and time came into existence, along with all of the material world (Craig and Copan, cited below, 222ff). So we know scientifically that there was a moment when there was no matter at all. It was created, not out of other matter, but out of nothing. Here is the key to note: it is once the universe came into existence that the laws of nature came into effect–before the universe, there was nothing.

Third, if it is true that matter has never been created or destroyed, matter and energy would be eternal. But if that is the case, then due to another law of thermodynamics–entropy–the entire universe would have evened out all the energy by now. There would be no stars burning, no people breathing, etc. Thus, it is easy to see scientifically that the universe is not eternal.

Infinite Past is No Problem

The late atheistic philosopher J.L. Mackie objected to the Kalam from a different perspective. He felt that there was a problem with the way William Lane Craig tried to establish a finite past. He argues that “[The Kalam] assumes that, even if past time were infinite, there would still have been a starting-point of time, but one infinitely remote, so that an actual infinity would have had to be traversed to reach the present from there. But to take the hypothesis of infinity seriously would be to suppose that there was no starting-point…” (Mackie, 93, cited below).

William Lane Craig and Paul Copan point out that, “On the contrary, the beginningless character of the series of past events only serves to underscore the difficulty of its formation by successive addition. The fact that there is no beginning at all, not even an infinitely distant one, makes the problem worse, not better” (Craig and Copan, 214, cited below). It’s not that defenders of the Kalam argue that if the past is infinite, one could not count to the present–rather, it’s that if the past is literally infinite, there is no beginning, and one could never reach the present moment by successive addition.

If one finds this line of reasoning unconvincing, however, one must also deal with the empirical problem with an infinite past: entropy. If the universe has existed forever, then all the energy in the universe should have evened out by now. We would simply not observe the universe we do. Thus, both philosophically and scientifically, we can discount the idea of an infinite past.

The Multiverse, Redux 

I addressed the multiverse in my previous post on the topic, but it should be noted how much of a difficulty there is for those wishing to use the multiverse to discredit the Kalam. Jeffrey Zweerink points out that according to Arvind Borde, Alexander Vilenkin, and Alan Guth, “any cosmos that expands on average (like an inflationary multiverse) must have a beginning in the finite past” (Zweerink, 32, cited below). The multiverse does not help those trying to avoid a beginning for the universe, it merely pushes the problem up one level.

Conclusion

Again, after subjecting the  Kalam Cosmological Argument to multiple objections, it emerges unscathed. It establishes its conclusion: the universe has a cause. What does this mean? That’s a question we should all consider of utmost importance.

Links

An outline of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument– A survey of some philosophical and popular attacks on the KCA along with rebuttals.

Sources

William Lane Craig and Paul Copan,Creation out of Nothing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York, NY: Oxford, 1982).

Jeffrey Zweerink, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? (Reasons to Believe, 2008).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Multiverse Created Itself” and “Who made God after all?” -The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. -Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, 135.

Is this so reasonable? Is it true that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing? The Kalam Cosmological Argument is one of the most compelling arguments for theism. The broad opposition to the Kalam (or, more specifically, to its implications) from atheists has lead to some sophisticated arguments (like those of Graham Oppy or J.L Mackie), but it has also lead to some pretty poor arguments. Below, several objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument have been outlined, along with rebuttals of varying lengths.

The Multiverse?

Some have objected to the Kalam by raising the possibility of a multiverse. They say that this counters the Kalam because it’s possible that our universe is one of nearly infinite past universes, generated as another “bubble” among untold trillions of other bubble universes. There should be one glaring difficulty with this objection that most can see immediately: “Whence the multiverse?” If the multiverse is proposed as eternal, then every objection about actual infinites applies to the multiverse. Not only that, but the multiverse itself would have to account for entropy. How is it that all the energy in this (nearly) infinite multiverse has not been used if it has existed for all eternity?

Ways around these difficulties have been proposed. For example, regarding entropy, some have argued that perhaps different laws of nature apply to the multiverse as a whole. Clearly, this is an extremely ad hoc theory that is really only invented to try to get around the argument. Once we’re allowed to modify reality to our every whim, we could indeed create anything we like–including (nearly) infinite universes.

Another problem with the multiverse objection is that we have startlingly little evidence for such a hypothesis. While there are many hypothetical scientists proposing bubble universes and the like, it’s shocking to read just how little evidence there really is for such a hypothesis.

Finally, even were there an infinite multiverse–as some have proposed due to string theory–this would not avoid an absolute beginning for the entirety of the multiverse. Bruce Gordon points out that the standard inflationary models still use inflation with a finite duration, which would entail that regardless of the number of universes which exist, there would still have to be an absolute beginning to the multiverse (Gordon, cited below, 86-87).

Perhaps, however, this multiverse (or the universe) is finite, but it created itself. There are a number of proposals suggesting just that.

The Universe Created Itself

I don’t think I can do much better than Edgar Andrews did over at his blog when he asks “Could a universe create itself?” He points out that the difficulty with each scenario proposed in which the universe creates itself is that it presupposes the existence of either matter, energy, or the laws of nature–the very things which this objection is supposed to answer. Andrews writes,

 Stephen Hawking [who recently proposed the universe created itself] falls into this dilemma by claiming that the universe was created as a result of quantum mechanical fluctuations (in a vacuum) which became stabilized by gravitational forces [Hawking pp. 131-135; Hawking review]. He thus requires the laws of quantum mechanics and of gravity to have pre-existed the universe… But what is the law of gravity but a description of the way materialbodies interact — either with one another or with the space-time continuum? To claim that such a law existed in the absence of matter, energy, space or time stretches credulity and is incapable of demonstration. Only ‘mind of God’ and ‘non-material blueprint’ arguments remain and these are theological not scientific.

Similarly, suppose we took the claim of Smith (above) seriously–that the universe created itself from nothing. Does this even make sense? William Lane Craig writes, “…if prior to the existence of the universe, there was absolutely nothing–no God, no space, no time–how could the universe possibly have come to exist?” This is an extremely important question for the atheist to answer. Most often, however, atheists have instead changed the meaning of “nothing” to mean quantum vacuum or some other physical reality. This is hardly “nothing” that would have existed before the universe. Before the universe, there was no space, no time, no anything.

Edgar Andrews points out the confusion that some atheist philosophers and physicists perpetuate with this conflation of “nothing”:

[Victor Stenger] begins by utterly confusing the pre-creation ‘nothing’ that lies outside of space-time with the ‘nothing’ of a vacuum within space-time. Next, without making it clear which ‘nothing’ he is talking about, he claims that ‘the transition from nothing to something is a natural one, not requiring any agent.’ (Andrews, 97, cited below).

The problem isn’t solved when one lends it the idea of a multiverse, either. Oscillating universe models still imply a finite beginning (Gordon, 86ff). The idea that an infinite number of universes caused each other in a causal loop does no better–it leads only to a vicious regress. Ultimately, such proposals must be rejected for what they are–fiction.

Who Caused God?

Another trite response to the Kalam is the classic “Well fine, you say the universe is caused, well who caused God?” line. Here the atheist commits a number of classic blunders, to steal the phrase from “The Princess Bride.”

First, as in all scientific (and otherwise) inquiry, once one has reached the best possible explanation for an event, one has reached the end of the inquiry. An inference to the best explanation does not require an explanation of that explanation. There’s a reason that scientific inquiry can appeal to laws: they best explain how the world works.

Second, the first part of the Kalam is that “Everything which begins to exist has a cause” not  “Everything is caused.” The atheist has merely misread or misinterpreted this principle. Should the atheist want to press the second point–that everything is caused, they have already conceded the weaker principle (that everything which begins has a cause), and they must further argue for a much stronger metaphysical claim. I leave it to the atheist to establish this claim.

“But,” the atheist may object, “you’re just denying the antecedent!” Not quite. I’m not saying that God didn’t begin, therefore God was uncaused–rather, I’m arguing that because God did not begin, this argument does not apply to God. There could be other arguments made to establish that God is caused, but to do so would require, as I pointed out, arguing for the metaphysical principle that “everything is caused.” Again, I leave the atheist to make this argument.

Conclusion

While many objections to the Kalam might be made in good faith, it is clear upon examination that they all fall far short of defeating the argument. The Kalam Cosmological Argument succeeds in its goal: to show that the universe is caused. What is this cause? That’s a question we must all consider with fear and trembling.

Links

Those interested in a broad outline of the Kalam Cosmological Argument can read my post on the topic.

For a discussion of one both Richard Dawkins’ and Graham Oppy’s objections to the Kalam, read Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Sources:

Edgar Andrews, “Could a universe create itself?”

Edgar Andrews, Who Made God (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009). Reviewed here.

Bruce Gordon, “Inflationary Cosmology and the String Multiverse” in New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010).

William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, Creation Out of Nothing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Reading Mackie “Miracle of Theism”: Chapter 1

I’ve been reading through The Miracle of Theism by J.L. Mackie. The book is known as one of the more powerful philosophical explications of atheism. You can read my thoughts on the introduction here (along with links to the rest of the series as they appear).

Chapter one thoughts:

Mackie begins with a brief outline of Hume’s argument, which he first outlines in five points, and refines it further thereafter. The five points from Hume, according to Mackie (p. 14-16) are: 1) “Hume says there are no really well-attested miracles…”; 2) “the human mind has a positive tendency to believe what is strange and marvelous”; 3) “reports of miracles ‘are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barborous nations’. Where they are believed by civilized peoples, these ‘will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors’, so that the stories will have acquired the authority of received opinions before the nations in question have developed powers of criticism and traditions of rational inquiry…”; 4) “different religions are in conflict: their claims therefore undermine and destroy one another…”; 5) “Hume says, the very fact that a miracle story is used to introduce a new religion or to support an existing one is an additional reason for skepticism. Many people have an intense desire to believe in some religious object…”

I see very little to commend among these five points. In fact, I find them all rather horribly mistaken. In regards to 1, this is simply begging the question. This “argument” is less a premise than it is an axiomatic denial of miraculous claims. It’s a broad, sweeping claim with no reason to accept it. There is nothing to support the second claim. I actually see it as a bit of “folk psychology of religion,” as it were. Isn’t it funny that the person, like Hume, who makes this point is believing a rather marvelous claim: that they are epistemically in a position to judge everyone else? It’s quite patronizing to make a point like 2, and given that the only evidence Mackie is willing to offer to support the claim is a vague hand wave towards people who believe in flying saucers, I don’t see any positive evidence to accept 2.

Regarding 3, we have a wonderful example of the genetic fallacy. Not only that, but I think we have a decent amount of evidence to show that this claim is simply false. While there are certainly persons who uncritically accept reports of miracles, there is a startling tradition within Christianity specifically which tells us to test such things for truth (cf. the comment to test the truth of spirits by the received Spirit in 1 John 4:1). And, of course, we could grant the third point and still find little reason to undermine the truth of miracles. Just because we have “received opinions” doesn’t mean these opinions are false. Mackie/Hume again just assume falsity, and apply folk psychology. It’s not a very objective method.

Point 4 is interesting because Mackie grants that “[4] has less force now than it had when Hume was writing.” But this is due, according to Mackie, not to the radical overvaluing of religious conflict, but because, according to him, various religions have made efforts to conform and take in aspects of each other—allowing for a broader spectrum and less internal conflict with claims of miracles from other religions. Fair enough, but I think there’s an even better reason to think the argument has little force: it doesn’t follow that because claims conflict, they are all false. Or, as I often like to put it, “Diversity of opinions does not entail the falsehood of them all.” I still struggle to see what the problem is supposed to be about miracle reports. It’s clearly false to say that they would cancel each other out, as Hume so ineloquently assumes. Suppose we apply this to another example: a murder investigation. One expert witness comes forward and says that the DNA evidence is positive. Another expert says it is negative. According to Hume’s standards, they’re both wrong, because they have conflicting opinons! But one of them has to be correct. I see no reason to accept 4 whatsoever because it literally tells us nothing useful.

Against 5, there must be some argument to show that 5 should be true, apart from more folk psychology. What evidence does Hume have to show us what he is saying is correct? I haven’t seen any offered.

Interestingly, Mackie actually grants a number of things which give credibility to the Resurrection. For example, he grants that independent witnesses increase the value of testimony (25). But, perhaps with the argument from the historicity of the resurrection in mind, he quickly modifies this account in an ad hoc way to provide himself a way out: “Not only in remote and barbarous times, but also in recent ones, we are usually justified in suspecting that what looks like distinct reports of a remarkable occurrence arise from different strands of a single tradition between which there has already been communication” (26). But of course Mackie gives no reason to accept this premise, and that is what it is: a premise. Mackie is positing that given a “remarkable occurrence” which is testified by different sources, we are justified in believing that they aren’t really independent, but are strands of a single tradition. Why should we believe him? What justifies us (epistemically) to do this? It is a rather monumental claim made by Mackie here, because he’s literally telling us that we are justified in question-begging any independent testimonies of miraculous reports out of existence.

Finally, Mackie closes the chapter with another remark similar to those he’s grown accustomed to throughout the chapter: “…it is all too easy to explain [a miracle/violation of a natural law] immediately by the automatic communication of beliefs between persons and the familiar psychological processes of wish fulfillment, and ultimately by what Hume himself was later to call ‘the natural history of religion’” (29). Well this sounds quite impressive, but Mackie has given us no reason to think that these explanations serve as the best explanation or presented us with evidence for the supposition that a natural explanation is always preferable to a supernatural one.

I can’t say I’m very impressed with Mackie’s critique of miracles. Hume’s argument fails to take into account anything but folk psychology, and Mackie’s additions really just amount to “Beg the question against the believer, and you’ve explained miracles.”

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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