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the existence of God

This tag is associated with 11 posts

Really Recommended Posts 8/28/15- The Socratic Method, Planned Parenthood, science, and more!

postI have put together another slew of reads with which you, dear readers, can engage. Here we have evidence for God, Planned Parenthood, Peter Boghossian’s “Street Epistemology,” evaluating scientific discoveries, and boys and girls. I hope you enjoy them! Let me know your thoughts, and be sure to let the authors know as well!

Can the Evidence for God Have Other Explanations?– Natasha Crain, a Christian apologist focused on putting together apologetics for parents and children, answers a question from a skeptic about the evidence purporting to show the existence of God having other explanations. Short answer: of course it might have other explanations; the problem is whether these explanations are better. Check out her post for elaboration.

A Response to “Planned Parenthood is Not Selling Baby Parts, You F*****g Idiots”– In the typical, well-reasoned manner of those who support abortion on demand, a”Skepchick” published a profanity-laden video and a shortened blog-version of the same response to those asking questions about Planned Parenthood. Here is a response to said video.

Boghossian’s Street Epistemology is Not the Socratic Method– Peter Boghossian attempts to reason believers out of their faith, largely by defining faith however he wants. Here is an analysis of his “Street Epistemology” and its attempts to use the Socratic Method against believers.

Girls’ Area– All the recent discussions about boys and girls and whether we need labels for boys’/girls’ toys and bedding has some farther reaching consequences. Here’s a post which highlights how perceived gender roles can impact children.

How to Evaluate Certainty in Scientific Discoveries– A good discussion of the use and importance of error bars in calculations, with the expansion of the universe as a case-study.

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Really Recommended Posts 7/17/15- Inside Out, women and sacraments, apologetics, and more!

postI’m excited to present this week of “Really Recommended Posts” to you, dear readers, because it is a truly extraordinary lineup. I’ve worked ’round the clock (or at least for an hour) to read and bring to you some excellent posts from all over. Our diverse reads today include the latest Pixar movie, “Inside Out,” the necessity of not sharing (or apologizing for) fake news, women in sacramental churches, an exciting new book, and the criminal justice system. As always, let me know what you think! Be sure to let the authors know you appreciated their posts as well.

Inside Out– One of my favorite web sites, Empires and Mangers, takes a look at Pixar’s latest smash hit, “Inside Out.” Anthony Weber looks at the worldview issues raised in the movie, as well as how it might be used to start discussions about some good topics with children. Check out this great reflection.

An Embarassing Week for Christians Sharing Fake News– Here is some advice that we all need to take to heart. Ed Stetzer goes beyond just calling on Christians to check their sources to a real urgency to repenting and admitting wrong when we do share falsities. This is a phenomenal read that deserves to go viral.

Women Leadership in Sacramental Churches– The debate over women’s “role” in the church looks different in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. I am Lutheran and have experienced the kind of reasoning outlined in this post to try to restrict women’s places in the church firsthand. This is a good read that will not only broaden perspectives about sacramental churches but also make headway in the debate over women in the church.

New Book by James Warner Wallace: “God’s Crime Scene: A Cold Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe– Here is some background on an exciting upcoming release from the author of “Cold Case Christianity,” J. Warner Wallace. It looks like it will be examining arguments like the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. I wrote a glowing review of Wallace’s previous book, and I look forward to reading this one as well.

Obama frees drug offenders whose terms ‘didn’t fit crimes’– I think that the criminal justice system has turned into a major issue of injustice that we need to address. I think the President’s calling attention to this is a great thing, regardless of what political stance I and others take. There is gross injustice in inequality of sentencing for drug-related crimes, and there is data to back up that much sentencing is racially-biased. We as Christians must speak up for those treated unjustly, and this is an issue worth talking about. What are your thoughts? I’d love to read them here.

 

 

 

 

Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Explained

pw-jj…I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought.

Let’s get it out of the way: Pascal’s Wager does not have much “street cred.” It’s much-maligned as nothing more than rolling the dice, and doing so for no good reason. After all, on which deity should one wager?

Here, I’ll take a look at one formulation of Pascal’s Wager, then very briefly offer a way to perhaps circumvent the “many gods” objection. I’ll be relying heavily upon Jeff Jordan’s book, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God, in what follows.

One way to lay out the Wager may be as follows (quoted from Jordan, 23, cited below):

1. for any person S, and alternatives, a and b, available to S, if the expected utility of a exceeds that of b, S should choose a
2. believing in God carries more expected utility than does not believing
3. Therefore, one should believe in God

Now, this is a pretty straightforward argument. 3, the conclusion, follows via modus ponens. Thus, it is up to the one who wants to deny 3 to deny one of the premises. Let’s examine each in turn.

Premise 1 seems to be logical, but it has actually garnered just as many objections as the second premise. Some have argued that one should not reduce belief in God to a “gamble” or some pragmatic choice. Others have argued that one cannot simply choose to believe and argued that the Wager results in Doxastic Voluntarism–the notion that one may simply change beliefs at will. In order to combat each objection in turn, one would have to show that it may be permissible to choose pragmatically even in religion. Jordan argues to this effect at length, but for the sake of argument I think it may be enough to just say that generally, we do make choices which we think will benefit us, and this is not an objectionable path of reasoning. Moreover, the Wager does not reduce to doxastic voluntarism, for one may indeed change one’s disposition toward something, but not at will. This is a complex argument, and I think we may set it aside for now because there is nothing in Premise 1 which would demand doxastic voluntarism.

Premise 2, of course, is highly contentious as well. Some allege that belief in God prevents the joys of hedonistic living; others allege that one would not know which deity to choose; still others would argue that there could exist deities that would reward unbelief.

Again, dealing with each in turn would take quite some time, so I’ll simply offer a few comments. First, hedonistic living in one life would not outweigh the benefits of eternity with a benevolent deity. Second, the Wager may simply be used to prefer theism generally–after all, if one does not wager on any deity, there would be no possibility of infinite (or nearly limitless) expected utility from one’s wager. Third, inventing fictions to attempt to rival established religious traditions which have, presumably, been believed by our epistemic peers (to use the term of Jordan, 80-81) does not put them on par.

Now, it should be fairly clear that even an incredibly low probability for God’s existence may have much higher expected utility than unbelief, for the overall possible gain is much higher. Jordan elaborates on this and answers many objections (such as the notion that “betting” on something which is highly improbable is necessarily irrational). For now, I simply leave this statement hanging because it helps my purpose, which is to demonstrate to those interested that the Wager is worth investigating further.

Because of the above, another of the strengths of the argument may be found in its usefulness to the apologist. Pascal’s Wager, Jordan argued, may be viewed as a kind of “last ditch” argument for apologists and theism (24). After all, suppose one were to come up with an argument which convinced you that the truth of theism is quite unlikely indeed. In that case, Pascal’s Wager provides a rational reason to continue to believe in God. For, even if it is unlikely that God exists, the utility of believing that God exists has a potentially infinite reward and thus trumps the utility of not believing that God exists.

Remember, though, that this functions for any possibility of God existing that is greater than zero. It was at this point in the book that I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought. Not only may it be adequate to ground theistic belief, but it also may serve as a kind of bulwark against anti-theistic arguments as well.

I have argued that Pascal’s Wager may be formulated in such a way that one should believe in God. Now there is, of course, much more nuance and many more objections to each premise. Interested readers should check out Jeff Jordan’s Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God.

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!

Question of the Week: Wagering Much?– In this post, I asked the question of apologists about whether or not they used Pascal’s Wager. The feedback I got was diverse and interesting. Check out the post, and let me know your own thoughts.

Source

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

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.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein

Advocates of the presuppositional approach to Christian Apologetics have long hailed the debate between Greg Bahnsen (the late Christian theologian and apologist, noted for his achievements in presuppositional apologetics and development of theonomy–a view of the Law for Christians, pictured left) and Gordon Stein (the late secularist noted for his links to Free Inquiry among other things, pictured below, right) as a stirring triumph of presuppositional apologetics over atheism in a point-by-point debate. Recently, I listened to the debate and thought I would share my impressions here.

Debate Outline

Bahnsen Opening Statement

From the outset, it was clear this debate was going to be different from others I’d listened to or watched. Bahnsen outlined what he means by “God,” outlined a few general points about subjectivism, and then quickly dove into a presuppositional type of argument. He began with an attack on the idea that all existential questions can be answered in the same way:

The assumption that all existence claims are questions about matters of fact, the assumption that all of these are answered in the very same way is not only over simplified and misleading, it is simply mistaken. The existence, factuality or reality of different kinds of things is not established or disconfirmed in the same way in every case. [All quotes from the transcript linked below. My thanks to “The Domain for Truth” for linking this.]

Bahnsen then mounts an argument which is perhaps the most important innovation of presuppositional apologetics: the attack on neutrality. He notes that Gordon Stein in his writings puts forth a case for examining evidence in order to determine if God exists. He relies upon the laws of logic and seems to think that this avoids logical fallacies. Yet, Bahnsen argues, Stein has just argued in a circle as well. By presupposing the validity of the laws of logic and other forms of reasoning, he has fallen into the trap he has stated he is trying to avoid. As such, Stein’s outlook is not neutral but it is colored by his presuppositions. Bahnsen notes:

In advance, you see, Dr. Stein is committed to disallowing any theistic interpretation of
nature, history or experience. What he seems to overlook is that this is just as much begging the question on his own part as it is on the part of the theists who appeal to such evidence. He has not at all proven by empirical observation and logic his pre commitment to Naturalism. He has assumed it in advance, accepting and rejecting all further factual claims in terms of that controlling and unproved assumption.

Now the theist does the very same thing, don’t get me wrong. When certain empirical
evidences are put forth as likely disproving the existence of God, the theist regiments his
commitments in terms of his presuppositions, as well.

Therefore, what Bahnsen presses is that it is only on the Christian theistic presupposition that things like the laws of logic, the success of empirical sciences, and the like can make sense. He makes the transcendental argument for the existence of God:

we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility of the contrary. The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything.

Gordon Stein Opening Statement

Stein opens by clarifying what he means by “atheist”: “Atheists do not say that they can prove there is no God. Also, an atheist is not someone who denies there is a God. Rather, an atheist says that he has examined the proofs that are offered by the theists, and finds them inadequate.”

Stein then argues that the burden of proof is definitely in the theist’s court. He goes on to address a number of theistic proofs and finds them wanting. In fact, the rest of his opening statement is spent addressing 11 separate arguments for the existence of God, including the major players like the moral, cosmological, and teleological arguments.

Cross Examination 1

In the first cross-examination, Bahnsen asked Stein whether the laws of logic were material or immaterial. Stein finally, quietly, admits that the laws of logic are not material. Yet then Stein turns around and in his own cross examination presses triumphantly a point he thinks will be decisive. He asks Bahnsen, “Is God material or immaterial”; Bahnsen responds, “Immaterial.”; after a brief segway, Stein poses the following question which, by the tone of his voice, he seems to think carries some weight: “Apart from God, can you name me one other thing that is immaterial?” To this question, Bahnsen responds quickly, “The laws of logic.” The crowd erupts. Stein lost that one.

First Rebuttal: Bahnsen

Bahnsen spends most of his rebuttal arguing that the laws of logic are not mere conventions, and that Stein cannot make them such. If Stein does, then, argues Bahnsen, he can’t actually participate in a logical debate, because they could each declare a convention in which they each win the debate.

He goes on to re-stress the transcendental argument and point out that Stein failed to address it. He develops it a bit further by attacking the notion that an atheistic worldview can make sense of logic:

And that’s because in the atheistic world you cannot justify,you cannot account for, laws in general: the laws of thought in particular, laws of nature,cannot account for human life, from the fact that it’s more than electrochemical complexesin depth, and the fact that it’s more than an accident. That is to say, in the atheist conceptionof the world, there’s really no reason to debate; because in the end, as Dr. Stein has said, allthese laws are conventional. All these laws are not really law-like in their nature, they’re just,well, if you’re an atheist and materialist, you’d have to say they’re just something that happensinside the brain.

But you see, what happens inside your brain is not what happens inside my brain.

Stein First Rebuttal

Stein argues that laws of logic are indeed conventions, saying:

The laws of logic are also consensuses based on observations. The fact that they can predict something correctly shows they’re on the right track, they’re corresponding to reality in some way.

Oddly, Stein continues to act as though Bahsnen’s argument was a variety of cosmological argument. He argues that before we can ask “what caused the universe” we must ask whether the universe is actually caused. He then tries to address the argument more explicitly, saying that it is “nonsense” and that various cultures do indeed have different logic. His most direct argument against the trasncendental argument is that “If matter has properties that it behaves than we have order in the universe, and we have a logical, rational universe without God.”

Debate Segment Two

Stein Opening 2

Stein argues that the problem of evil is an evidential argument against the existence of God. He states that it raises the probability that there is no God. He asserts that there is no physical evidence for God. Stein then argues that God has not provided evidence for his existence, but that He should do so. Finally, he turns to the problem of religious diversity, asking why God would allow other religions if there is only one God.

Bahnsen Opening 2

Bahnsen argues that Stein placing the laws of logic into a matter of consensus undermines their usefulness and in fact  defeats the purpose of rational inquiry and debate. He argues further that Stein’s definition of laws of logic within pragmatic terms doesn’t come close to the extent of the laws of logic.

Stein Rebuttal

Stein argues that bahnsen hasn’t actually done anything to explain the laws of logic. He argues that simply saying they are the thoughts of God doesn’t mean anything, and that it does nothing to explain them. He therefore argues that Bahnsen fails to provide an adequate explanation for the facts of the universe.

Bahnsen Rebuttal

Bahnsen presses the point that Stein’s entire system is based upon presuppositions which he cannot justify. Induction is undermined in an atheistic worldview because there is no reason to believe that things will continue to happen as they do currently happen. He briefly addresses the problem of evil by saying that within an atheistic universe there simply is no evil, so it makes no sense from Stein’s perspective to press that issue.

Closing Statement: Stein

Stein’s closing statement seems to be more of a rebuttal than anything. He argues that there can be evil defined in an atheistic universe as that which decreases the happiness in people. Yet even this, he says, “We don’t know”–we don’t know that there is evil in an atheistic universe, rather it is a consensus and pragmatically useful.

He argues that we can know about induction because of statistical probability: it is highly improbable that the future will be different from the past because it has been similar in activity to the past for as long as we know.

Closing Statement: Bahnsen

Bahnsen finally presses the transcendental one last time. He argues that while Stein has called it hogwash and useless, he hasn’t actually  responded to it. Bahnsen states that once more the atheistic worldview can’t make sense of itself. For example, saying the future will be like the past due to probability begs the question: there is nothing in the atheistic worldview to say that probability can help determine what the future will be like. It might work pragmatically, but it fails to give any explanation. Finally, Bahnsen argues that you cannot be a rational, empirical human being an an atheistic universe.

Analysis of the Debate

It is abundantly clear throughout this debate that the presuppositionalist takes a very different approach to debate and apologetics than those from other methods. One can see this immediately when Gordon Stein delivers his opening statement, which was presumably prepared beforehand, and goes to answer common theistic arguments like the cosmological and teleological argument. But Bahnsen never once used either of these arguments, and took an entirely different approach. I think this initially caught Stein off guard and that impression remained throughout the debate.

Stein’s responses to Bahnsen were extremely inadequate. This became very clear in their debate over induction and empiricism. For example, although Stein held that he could say the future will be like the past based upon probability, he had no way to say that the world was not spontaneously created 5 minutes ago with implanted memories and the notion that the future will be like the past. Bahnsen didn’t make this argument, but it seems like it would line up with his reasoning. Of course, he would grant that the theist has to presuppose that God exists in order to make sense of induction, but that was exactly his point: without God, nothing can be rational.

I found it really interesting that Stein kept insisting that the laws of logic are mere social conventions. He kept pressing that some cultures do not hold that they are true as defined. But of course, cultural disagreement about a concept doesn’t undermine the truth value of a concept. If, for example, there were a culture that insisted that 2+2=5, that wouldn’t somehow mean that 2+2=4 is a logical convention, it would mean the culture who insisted the sum was 5 would be wrong. Similarly, the laws of logic may be disagreed upon by some, but to deny them is to undermine all rationality.

Overall, I have to say I was shocked by how this debate turned out. I have long been investigating presuppositional apologetics and continually wondered how it would work in an applied situation. It seems to me that to insist on a presupposition in order to debate would not work, but Bahnsen masterfully used the transcendental argument to reduce Stein to having to argue that logic is merely a social convention while ironically using logic himself to attack theism.

It seems to me that this debate showed what I have suspected for some time: presuppositional apologetics is extremely powerful, when used correctly. Now I’m not about to become a full-blown presuppositionalist here. My point is that it is another approach Christians can use in their witnessing to those who do not believe. I envision a synthesis of presuppositional apologetics with evidentialism. Some may say this is impossible, that they are anathema to each other, but I do not think so. They can be used in tandem: the presuppositional approach to question the worldview of others, while the evidentialist approach can be used to support the notion that the Christian worldview provides the best explanation for the data we have.

Links

Listen to the debate yourself. Get it here. The transcript I used was also from this page. Thanks to the author for such a great resource.

I’ve been researching and writing about presuppositional apologetics. For other posts about presuppositional apologetics, check out the category.

I highly recommend starting with the introduction to the most important thinker in the area, Cornelius Van Til.

Choosing Hats– A phenomenal site which updates fairly regularly with posts from a presuppositional approach (the author uses the term “covenental apologetics”). The best place to start is with the post series and the “Intro to Covenental Apologetics” posts.

The Domain for Truth– Another great presuppositionalist web site. I highly recommend browsing the topics here.

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. 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.

The Argument from Religious Experience: A look at its strength

I have written previously about the argument from religious experience. I provided a brief outline of the argument and commented on its usefulness. Now, I turn to the question of the strength of the argument from religious experience.

[Note: Through this post, when I say “religious experience” I am referring to experience generally–that is, numinous, sensory, and the like. I will distinguish when I mean otherwise.]

The Sheer Numbers

Religious Experience is pervasive throughout human history. You can find accounts of it in the Upanishads, the Vedas, the Qur’an, the Torah, the Gospels, and more. Not only that, but recent, systematized studies have found that religious experience continues to be a part of people’s realm of experience.

Consider David Hay’s study, Religious Experience Today. The book is based upon a number of national and community surveys in the UK. For example, one Gallup poll in Britain in 1987 yielded a response rate of 48% of people saying they had had a religious experience as described by the poll. In 2000, another poll in the UK yielded a 36% positive response. Granted that some of this may be due to false positives, one must also realize that there is a kind of repression of expressing religious experience due to embarrassment and/or personal bias, so these numbers may also lean towards the lower end (Hay, 57ff).

One could also look at the sheer number of luminaries throughout all time who have claimed religious experience. Throughout the literature, such experiences are far too numerous to be restricted to a descriptor like “many.”

One can’t help but agree with Richard Swinburne, who wrote, “[T]he overwhelming testimony of so many millions of people to occasional experience of God must… be taken as tipping the balance of evidence decisively in favour of the existence of God” (Is There a God?, 120).

The Balance of the Scales

“The argument from religious experience” (hereafter ARE) is itself somewhat of a misnomer–there are many forms of arguments from religious experience, so it is helpful to clarify when one is in dialog which version one is using. I have noted elsewhere that the ARE comes in two varieties: one which argues for public belief and one which argues for personal justified belief.  There are two more variants to introduce here: the broad version and the narrow version.

1. The Broad Version of the ARE presents religious experience as a general proof for either:

A) the existence of some transcendent realm–this being a transcendent aphysical realm. This is the broadest version of the argument.

B) the existence of God. This is a broader version of the argument, but isn’t as generalized as A).

2. The Narrow Version of the ARE argues for the truth of a particular religion based upon religious experience. Note that this is narrow in that many religions could affirm a “transcendent realm” or the existence of God[s], but if the argument is construed in this fashion, only the religion which is claimed to have superior evidence from religious experience is [fully] true. [Other religions could have many truths which could be affirmed through RE, but only one would have the “full” or “realized” truth.]

The argument from religious experience is much easier to defend if it is presented broadly. As one narrows the argument, one is forced to deal with potential defeaters from religious experiences which do not accord with the argument being made. For example, if one argues that God exists based upon religious experience, one would have to somehow contend with the great amount of evidence for monistic or Nirvanic religious experience.

Think of the argument like as a bridge with a counterbalance or a scale with a counterbalance. The more weight one places on the argument [i.e. saying that it can justify the existence of God] (scale/bridge), the more one must deal with that weight on the other end (counterbalance).

If the argument is presented as a way to prove general transcendence of experience, it is extremely strong and very easy to defend. When one instead uses the argument to try to justify the truth claims of a specific religion, one then must come up with a mechanism for determining how to evaluate competing religious experiences. For example, if I argue that religious experiences prove Christianity to be true because so many people have experienced in sensory ways Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then it is my task to also show that the experiences of, say, Shiva as god are unwarranted. Thus, the philosopher’s task increases in difficulty the more narrowly he presents the arguments conclusion.

Consider the following two conclusions from arguments (granting me authorial privilege to assume that readers can plug in the premises): 1) Therefore, religious experience justifies the belief that there is a realm apart from our mere physical existence; 2) Therefore, religious experience serves as powerful evidence for the truth of Christianity. The fact that 2) is much more narrow means that one must do much more to show that the conclusion is justified.

Does this mean that the argument is useless when arguing for a particular religion? Certainly not. There are many who have used the ARE for a defense of Christianity specifically (cf. William Alston Perceiving God and Nelson Pike Mystic Union). What is important to note is that when one uses the argument in dialog they must be very aware of how they formulate the argument. As a “Broad/public” version, it can serve as powerful evidence in part of a cumulative case for Christianity; as a “narrow/private” version, it can be strong confirmation of the justification of one’s faith. These variants can be used together or separately.

The Strength of the Argument

So how strong is the ARE? I hope I don’t disappoint readers when I respond by saying: that depends! As far as my opinion is concerned, it seems to me that the “broad/public” and “broad/private” version of the argument are nearly irrefutable. I think it is an invaluable tool for apologists and philosophers of religion. The “narrow/private” or “narrow/public” versions of the argument are not as strong by necessity: they must contend with more objections as they narrow. However, as part of one’s own faith life, I think the “narrow/private” and “narrow/public” versions can give great comfort and solace.

[Author’s note: The next post on the argument from religious experience will defend the principle of credulity.]

Further Reading

See my “The Argument from Religious Experience: Some thoughts on method and usefulness“- a post which puts forward an easy-to-use version of the ARE and discusses its importance in apologetic endeavors.

The following books are all ones I have read on the topic but do not present a comprehensive look at literature on the subject.

Caroline Franks Davis, The Evidential Force of Religious Experience (New York, NY: Oxford, 1989). One of the best books on the topic, Franks Davis provides what I would see as a nearly comprehensive look at the epistemic defeaters to consider with the argument from RE.

Jerome Gellman, Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1997). Gellman provides a robust defense of the principle of credulity.

Paul Moser, The Evidence for God (New York: NY, Cambridge, 2010). This work is not so much about the argument from RE as it is an argument showing that any evidence for God is going to be necessarily relational. I highly recommend it.

Richard Swinburne, Is There a God?(New York, NY: Oxford, 2010). This is an introductory work to Swinburne’s theistic arguments. It has a chapter on the argument from RE that provides an excellent, easy-to-read look at the issues surrounding the argument. I reviewed this book here.

There are a number of other fantastic books on the topic as well. Swinburne’s The Existence of God has a chapter that remains a classic for the defense of the argument from RE.

William Alston’s Perceiving God is perhaps one of the best examples of a robust epistemology built up around RE and realism.

Keith Yandell’s The Epistemology of Religious Experience is a extremely technical look at many of the issues, and I found it particularly useful regarding the notion of “ineffability” in RE.

Kai-man Kwan’s Rainbow of Experiences, Critical Trust, and God is a very recent look at the argument which again features a large amount of epistemological development.

Nelson Pike provides a unique look at the phenomenology of RE and a synthesis of theistic and monistic experiences in his work Mystic Union.

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. 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.

The Argument from Religious Experience: Some thoughts on method and usefulness

The argument from religious experience (hereafter referred to as “argument from RE”) has seen a resurgence in scholarly work. Keith Yandell, Richard Swinburne, Jerome Gellman, Kai-man Kwan, Caroline Franks-Davis, Paul Moser, and others have contributed to the current discussion about the topic.

One thing which has disappointed me on more than one occasion is the dismissive attitude that some Christian apologists show towards the argument from religious experience.

What reasons are there for apologists to adopt such a stance? Well it seems possible that some of them simply haven’t studied the argument enough to consider its plausibility. I admit that before interacting with the argument, I was skeptical of the possibility for its having any value. But I want to suggest another possibility: apologists tend to favor arguments which can be presented and defended in a debate format or which are useful in short conversations with others. I’m not suggesting this as an attack on my fellow Christians, merely as an observation. And this is not a bad thing; it is indeed greatly useful to have arguments which can be presented quickly and defended easily when one is trying to present a case for Christianity to others.

The problem is the argument from RE requires a great deal of epistemological background in order to get to the meat of it. The authors listed above each develop a robust epistemology to go with their argument. This seems to put a limit on the usefulness of the argument; if it must be conjoined with a broad discussion of epistemology, then how can one present it in such a way that those who aren’t professional philosophers (or at least interested in the topic) can understand? It is to this question I hope to present an answer.

Background Information

Formulations of the Argument

There are two primary ways the argument from RE can be formulated (Caroline Franks Davis suggests a number of ways the argument can presented in The Evidential Force of Religious Experience, 67-92). The first is the personal argument; the second is the public argument. Now I have seen very few versions of the former in the literature. The personal argument is essentially an argument from RE which centers not on trying to demonstrate the existence of God to others, but rather upon justifying one’s own belief that such an experience is genuine. In other words, the personal argument from RE focuses upon defending one’s own conviction that a religious experience is veridical.

Paul Moser, in his work The Evidence for God, suggests one possible way to formulate this argument [he does not refer to it in the same terminology as I use here]:

1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered and receives the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative power of… God

2. I have been offered, and have willingly received, the transformative gift.

3. Therefore, God exists (200, cited below).

This argument is one example of what I would call the personal argument from RE. It focuses on one’s own experience and uses that to justify one’s belief in God. [It seems Moser could be arguing for this as a public argument as well, but a discussion of this would take us too far afield.]

A public argument from RE is generally formulated to establish the belief in God (or at least a transcendent reality), just as other theistic arguments are intended. It will best function as part of a “cumulative case” for the existence of God. One example of an argument of this sort can be found in Jerome Gellman, Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief:

If a person, S, has an experience, E, in which it seems (phenomenally) to be of a particular object, O… then everything else being equal, the best explanation of S’s having E is that S has experienced O… rather than something else or nothing at all (46, cited below).

Readers familiar with the literature on RE will note the similarities between this and Richard Swinburne’s principle of credulity. The basic  idea is that if someone has an experience, then they are justified in believing they had that experience, provided they have no (epistemic) defeaters for that experience.

Brief Epistemological Inquiry

I’ve already noted the intricate ties the argument from RE has with epistemology, and a quick introduction to the argument would be remiss without at least noting this in more explicit detail. The core of establishing the argument from RE is to undermine methodological/metaphysical naturalism. Thus, a robust defense of the argument from RE will feature building up a case for an epistemological stance in which theistic explanations are not ruled out a priori.

A second step in this epistemological background is to establish a set of criteria with which one can judge and evaluate individual religious experiences. Caroline Franks Davis’ study (cited below) is a particularly amazing look into this tactic; she explores a number of possible defeaters and criteria for investigating REs. These range any where from hallucinogenic drugs to the multiplicity of religious experience.

The Force of the Evidence

One concern I had when I was exploring the argument from RE is that it would not have very much force. Upon investigating the topic, however, I can’t help but think the force of the argument is quite strong. Swinburne seems correct when he writes, “[T]he overwhelming testimony of so many millions of people to occasional experience of God must… be taken as tipping the balance of evidence decisively in favour of the existence of God” (Swinburne, Is There a God?, 120, cited below). The important thing to remember is that an overwhelming number of people from all stations of life and cultures have had experiences that they deem to be “spiritual” or hinting at “transcendence.” Denying universally all of these experiences as genuine would seem to require an enormous amount of counter-evidence.

A Suggested Version for Quick Discussion

So what to do with this background knowledge? It seems to me it is possible to at least sketch out a version of the argument from RE for a brief discussion, with a defense. Further reading is provided below.

The Argument Stated

1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.

2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences of a transcendent realm.

3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm.

The argument made more explicit

The reason I suggest this as the way to use the argument from RE in a brief discussion is because it can more easily form part of a cumulative case and requires less epistemological work to justify it. The first premise is, in general, a principle of rationality. While there are many who have attacked Swinburne’s principle of credulity, it does seem that we generally affirm it. If I experience x, then, provided I have no reasons to think otherwise, I should believe that x exists/was real/etc.

The second premise is the result of numerous studies, some of which are cited in the works cited below. To deny this nearly universal experience is simply to deny empirical evidence. People like William James have observed this transcultural experience of the transcendent for hundreds of years.

Thus, it seems that we are justified in being open to the existence of things beyond the mundane, everyday objects we observe in the physical reality. If people from all times and places have had experiences of things beyond this everyday existence, then it does not seem irrational to remain at least open to the possibility of such things existing.

The conclusion may come as something of a letdown for some theists. But I would like to reiterate that this is a version of the argument intended for use in a brief conversation. There are versions of the argument in the cited literature below which defend theism specifically and engage in synthesis of these experiences into the theistic fold. What I’m trying to do here is make the argument part of the apologist’s arsenal. If we can use the argument merely to open one up to the reality of the transcendent, then perhaps they will be more open other theistic arguments. As part of a cumulative case, one can’t help but shudder under the overwhelming weight of millions of experiences.

Conclusion

The argument from religious experience has enjoyed a resurgence in scholarly popularity. A number of books from publishers like Oxford University Press, Cornell, and Continuum have reopened the argument to the scholarly world. It is high time that Christian apologists put in the work needed to utilize these arguments in everyday, accessible apologetics. The argument formulated above is just one way to do this, and Christians would do well to explore the argument further. The experience of God is something not to be taken lightly; Christians throughout our history have had such experiences and been moved into intimate relationships with God. We should celebrate these experiences, while also realizing their evidential value.

Further Reading and Works Cited

The following books are all ones I have read on the topic but do not present a comprehensive look at literature on the subject.

Caroline Franks Davis, The Evidential Force of Religious Experience (New York, NY: Oxford, 1989). One of the best books on the topic, Franks Davis provides what I would see as a nearly comprehensive look at the epistemic defeaters to consider with the argument from RE.

Jerome Gellman, Experience of God and the Rationality of Theistic Belief (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1997). Gellman provides a robust defense of the principle of credulity.

Paul Moser, The Evidence for God (New York: NY, Cambridge, 2010). This work is not so much about the argument from RE as it is an argument showing that any evidence for God is going to be necessarily relational. I highly recommend it.

Richard Swinburne, Is There a God?(New York, NY: Oxford, 2010). This is an introductory work to Swinburne’s theistic arguments. It has a chapter on the argument from RE that provides an excellent, easy-to-read look at the issues surrounding the argument. I reviewed this book here.

There are a number of other fantastic books on the topic as well. Swinburne’s The Existence of God has a chapter that remains a classic for the defense of the argument from RE.

William Alston’s Perceiving God is perhaps one of the best examples of a robust epistemology built up around RE and realism.

Keith Yandell’s The Epistemology of Religious Experience is a extremely technical look at many of the issues, and I found it particularly useful regarding the notion of “ineffability” in RE.

Kai-man Kwan’s Rainbow of Experiences, Critical Trust, and God is a very recent look at the argument which again features a large amount of epistemological development.

Nelson Pike provides a unique look at the phenomenology of RE and a synthesis of theistic and monistic experiences in his work Mystic Union.

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. 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.

The Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends

 Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

It will be my purpose in the following arguments to show that secular humanistic theories which try to ground moral ontology fail–and fail miserably.

Recently, I listened [again] to the debate between William Lane Craig and Louise Anthony. Some have lauded this debate as a stirring victory for secular ethics. (See, for example, the comments here–one comment even goes so far as to say “I swoon when someone evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma and frown at the impotent, goal-post-moving, ‘Divine nature’ appeal.”) In reality, I think Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

I’ll break down why this is the case by focusing upon three areas of development in secular and theistic ethics: objective moral truths, suffering, and moral facts.

Objective Moral Truths

Louise Anthony and William Lane Craig agree that there are objective moral truths. Now, this is important because many theists take the existence of objective morality to demonstrate–or at least strongly suggest–the existence of God. Interestingly, other humanist/secular scholars have agreed with Anthony, claiming there are objective truths (another example is Sam Harris–see my analysis of his position contrasted with theism here). The question, of course, is “How?” Consider the following:

Louise Anthony seems to be just confused about the nature of objective morality. She says in response to a question from the audience, “The universe has no purpose, but I do… I have lots of purposes…. It makes a lot of difference to a lot of people and to me what I do. That gives my life significance… The only thing that would make it [sacrificing her own life] insignificant would be if my children’s lives were insignificant. And, boy you better not say that!”

Craig responded, “But Louise, on atheism, their lives are insignificant.” Anthony interjected, “Not to me!”

But then she goes on to make this confused statement, “It’s an objective fact that they [her children] are significant to me.”

Note how Anthony has confused the terms here. Yes, it is an objective fact that according to Louise Anthony, her children matter to her. We can’t question Anthony’s own beliefs–we must trust what she tells us unless we have reason to think otherwise. But that’s not enough. What Craig and other theists are trying to press is that that simple fact has nothing to do with whether her children are actually valuable. Sure, people may go around complaining that “Well, it matters to me, so it does matter!” But that doesn’t make it true. All kinds of things can matter to people, that doesn’t mean that they are ontologically objective facts.

It matters to me whether the Cubs [an American baseball team] win the World Series. That hasn’t happened in 104 years, so it looks like it doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of the universe after all. But suppose I were to, like Anthony, retort, “But the Cubs matter to me! It’s an objective fact that them winning the World Series is significant to me!” Fine! But all the Cardinals [a rival team] fans would just laugh at me and say “SO WHAT!?

Similarly, one can look at Anthony with incredulity and retort, “Who cares!?” Sure, if you can get enough people around Anthony who care about her children’s moral significance, you can develop a socially derived morality. But that’s not enough to ground objective morality. Why should we think that her values matter to the universe at large? On atheism, what reason is there for saying that her desires and purposes for her children are any better than my desires and purposes for the Cubs?

Another devastating objection can be found with a simple thought experiment. Let’s say Anthony didn’t exist. In such a world, there can be no one complaining that her children matter “to me!” Instead, her children just exist as brute facts. How then can we ground their significance? Well, it seems the answer for people like Anthony would be to point to the children’s other family say “Those children matter to them!” We could continue this process almost endlessly. As we eliminate the children’s family, friends, etc. and literally make them just exist on their own, we find Anthony’s answer about allegedly objective morality supervenes on fewer and fewer alleged moral facts. Suddenly “Those children matter to themselves!” is the answer. But then what if we eliminate them? Do humans still have value? The whole time, Anthony has grounded the significance of her children and other humans in the beliefs, goals, and purposes of humans. But without humans, suddenly there is no significance. That’s what is meant by objective morality. If those children matter even without humans, then objective morality is the case. But Anthony has done nothing to make this the case; she’s merely complained that her children matter to her.

Now, some atheists–Anthony and Sam Harris included–seem to think they have answers to these questions. They seem to think that they can ground objective morality. We’ll turn to those next.

Suffering

One of the linchpins of humanists’ claims (like Anthony and Sam Harris) is suffering. The claim is that we can know what causes suffering, and that this, in turn, can lead us to discover what is wrong. We should not cause suffering.

But why not?

Most often the response I’ve received to this question is simply that because we do not wish to suffer, we should not wish to have others suffer or cause suffering for others. But why should that be the case? Why should I care about others’ suffering, on atheism? That’s exactly the question humanism must answer in order to show that objective morality can exist in conjunction with secularism. But I have yet to see a satisfactory answer to this question.

Anthony was presented with a similar question in the Q&A segment of her debate with William Lane Craig. One person asked (paraphrased), “Why shouldn’t I base morality as ‘whatever benefits me the most’?” Anthony responded simply by simply arguing essentially that it’s not right to seek pleasure at the expense of others, because they may also want pleasure.

But of course this is exactly the point! Why in the world should we think that that isn’t right!?

The bottom line is that, other than simply asserting as a brute fact that certain things are right and wrong, atheism provides absolutely no answer to the question of moral objectivity. People like Anthony  try to smuggle it in by saying it’s objectively wrong to cause suffering [usually with some extra clauses], but then when asked why that is wrong, they either throw it back in the face of the one asking the question (i.e. “Well don’t you think it’s wrong?”) or just assert it as though it is obviously true.

And it is obviously true! But what is not so obvious is why it is obviously true, given atheism. We could have simply evolved herd morality which leads us to think it is obviously true, or perhaps we’re culturally conditioned by our close proximity to theists to think it is obviously true, etc. But there still is no reason that tells us why it is, in fact, true.

Moral Facts

Anthony (and Harris, and others with whom I’ve had personal interactions) centralize “moral facts” in their metaethical account. As a side note, what is meant by “moral fact” is a bit confusing but I don’t wish to argue against their position through semantics alone. They claim that we can figure out objective morals on the basis of moral facts. Sam Harris, for example, argues that there is a “continuum of such [moral] facts” and that “we know” we can “move along this continuum” and “We know, we know that there are right and wrong answers about how to move in this space [along the moral continuum]” (see video here).

Now it is all well and good to just talk about “facts” and make it sound all wonderful and carefully packaged, but Anthony and Harris specifically trip up when they get asked questions like, “How do we figure out what moral facts are?”

Anthony was asked “How do you determine what the objective moral facts are”, and responded by saying, “We do it by, um, testing our reactions to certain kinds of possibilities, um, thinking about the principles that those reactions might entail; testing those principles against new cases. Pretty much the way we find out about anything” (approximately 2 hours into the recorded debate).

One must just sit aghast when one hears a response like that. Really? That is the way we discover moral truths? And that is the way we “find out about anything”? Now I guess I can’t speak for Anthony herself, but when I’m trying to find out about something, I don’t test my reaction to possibilities and then try to figure out what my reaction “might entail.” That is radical subjectivism. Such a view is utterly devastating for not just morality but also science, history, and the like. If I were to try to conduct scientific inquiry in this manner, science would be some kind of hodgepodge of my “reactions” to various phenomenon. Unwittingly, perhaps, Anthony has grounded the ontology of her morality in the reactions of people. But this error isn’t restricted to Anthony. Harris also makes this confounding mistake. His basic argument in the talk linked above is simply, “Science can tell us what people think about things, so it can tell us about morality.” This is, of course patently absurd. Suppose I tried to test these humanists’ theories on groups of people by sticking them in a room and having them watch all kinds of things from murder to the rape of children to images of laughter and joy. Now suppose I randomly sifted my sample among the population of the world, but somehow, by pure chance, got a room full of child molesters. As I observe their reactions, I see they are quite joyful when they observe certain detestable images. Now, going by Anthony/Harris’ way to “find out about anything” and thinking about what these people’s reaction entails, I conclude that pedophilia is a great good. But then I get a room full of parents with young children, who react in horror at these same images. Then, as I reflect on their reactions, I discover that pedophilia is a great evil. And I repeat this process over and over. Eventually, I discover that the one group was an aberration, but it was a group nonetheless.

What does this mean?

Quite simply, it means that both Harris and Anthony haven’t made any groundbreaking theory of ethics. Rather, they’ve just made a pseudo-humanistic utilitarianism. They ground moral ontology in our “reactions” to various moral situations. The only way for them to say something is morally wrong if people have different reactions is either to go with the majority (utilitarianism) or choose one side or the other, which essentially turns into a kind of Euthyphro dilemma against atheists. Either things are wrong because enough people think they’re wrong (in which case morality is arbitrary) or things are wrong because they simply are wrong, period (in which case the humanist has yet to provide an answer for moral ontology).

Conclusion

Given the discussion herein, one can see that those atheists, humanists, and/or secularists who desire to ground objective morality still have a lot of work to do. Louise Anthony’s best attempt to ground morality boils down into radical subjectivism. Sam Harris’ account fares no better. Those who are trying to ground objective morality within an atheistic universe will just have to keep searching. The solutions Anthony and Harris have attempted to offer are vacuous.

Image Source:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SecularHumanismLogo3DGoldCropped.png

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. 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.

Really Recommended Posts 01/26/12

Jump: Hiking the Transcendent Trail– I can’t describe how aesthetically pleasing this site is. But, apart from that, Anthony Weber outlines a basic argument from aesthetics towards the existence of God. I found this post really interesting and mind-opening. Check it out!

Was Adolf Hitler a Better Man Than Martin Luther King, Jr.?– Relativism cannot make sense of moral heroes. Arthur Khachatryan makes an excellent argument towards this end here.

Maverick Philosopher: Why Do Some Physicists Talk Nonsense about Nothing?– A discussion of Lawrence Krauss’s position on the universe from “nothing.” [Warning: There are a few curse words here.]

My recent discussion of the moral argument had many up in arms about the fact that I didn’t explicitly defend its premises. [Note that that was never the intention of the post, as its title explicates.] Glenn Peoples has an excellent post defending P1 of the moral argument: that If God did not exist, there would not be any objective moral values or duties. Check out his “The conditional premise of the moral argument.”

Ehrman’s Problem: He Misreads the Bible and Impugns God’s Fairness– Clay Jones discusses a number of difficulties with Bart Ehrman’s interpretations of the Bible. Check out the entire series. Part 2: Free Will and Natural Evil Part 3: God Could Have Made Us So We’d Always Do Right Part 4: Why Don’t We Abuse Free Will in Heaven?  Part 5: God Should Intervene More to Prevent Free Will’s Evil Use He’s Confused About the Free Will Defense

Alexander Vilenkin: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”- Discussion of reasons to hold the universe began based on cosmology.

Apologetics and the Search for Truth

Apologetics must be not only a defense of but also a search for the truth. A parallel I would draw is one I heard in the movie, “The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon.” In that movie, they discuss the role which Mormon apologists have taken on: that of defending a falsehood, and essentially just telling believers they must keep the faith and ignore/lie about the evidence. Christian apologists must never allow themselves to value fideism over reasoned faith. If conclusive evidence undermines an article of faith, it must be abandoned.

What am I suggesting? Apologetics is not just a static defense of each point of Christianity, rather, it is a defense seeking truth. Some will immediately bristle upon reading this and argue there are some beliefs Christians cannot compromise. I agree. There are truths, which, if shown to be false, would lead to the falsehood of Christianity. But if evidence existed which conclusively proved God did not exist, then Christianity would be false, no matter what we would desire. That said, it seems to me that there is an overwhelming weight of evidence showing that God does indeed exist. Not only that, but there is a  huge amount of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. So again, we return to the position of the apologist: defending truths.

Perhaps an example might help draw out the implications of my points. Take Young Earth Creationism. Many apologists continue to defend this position, yet there is conclusive evidence both in the cosmic background radiation from the Big Bang and in the dating of rocks on earth and from space that the world is much older than a Young Earth position would have us believe. Not only that, but throughout the history of Christianity, a Young Earth position has not been a serious article of faith. The conclusive evidence against the Young Earth position should lead Christian apologists to continue to seek to understand the world God created–along different lines as necessary.

It is telling that Paul himself wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” He goes on to clearly explicate the implications of this historical fact for Christianity. Christianity is based upon seeking truth. If it were the case that central truth claims of Christianity were factually incorrect, than “our preaching is usless” and “so is [our] faith.” Christian apologists should therefore continue to seek truth, and defend it. The order of operation is not: pick a belief, decide it is true, and defend it. Rather, the apologist must operate in a completely opposite fashion: seek to discover truth, believe in  that truth, and defend it.

So, fellow apologists, I issue you a challenge: let nothing be unexplored. When you get the questions you cannot answer, do not fall on fideism, but investigate the truth. All truths are God’s truths, and we should not fear them.

To those who detract apologetics as a defense of falsehoods, I also issue a challenge: Have you actually explored the truth claims of Christianity? Have you engaged the arguments for theism? Have you investigated the evidence for the Resurrection of Christ? If not, you also need be consistent–leave no stone unturned in your search for truth.

While there almost certainly are apologists who defend their specific theological point against any and all scientific and philosophical evidence, what I am suggesting is a methodological apology: one which actively defends truth, but without putting all the weight upon one position; one which continues to seek truth, wherever it is found; a methodology which not only defends the truth, but finds it. What is truth? That which God has wrought.

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. 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.

“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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