March 12, 2009

Does God exist?

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, March 12, 2009)

Does God exist?

Advertisements on the sides of buses in Calgary, Toronto, and elsewhere read as follows: THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE. Although I respect my atheist neighbours and friends, and although I will defend their right freely to express their worldview positions without fear of persecution—as I hope they would do for me—I nevertheless disagree with their position (their position about God, that is; not the bits about worry and enjoyment).

I think the evidence favours God’s existence. In defence of my position, here is a sketch of a cumulative case argument from science, ethics, and history (to be further defended in subsequent Apologia columns).

First, a clarification is in order. A cumulative case argument consists of a collection of sub-arguments that, individually, may not provide strong or decisive support for a conclusion, but jointly do—just as one strand of string may not be strong enough to lift a heavy load but several interwoven strands are.

Okay, here are the sub-arguments (also sketches thereof).

1. Various findings from science point to God.

The big bang posits a beginning of the universe. This, together with the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause, strongly suggests that the universe has a cause. Moreover, this cause, because it is the cause of all matter/energy, space, and time, would be physically transcendent (i.e., immaterial), temporally transcendent (i.e., eternal), and very powerful (perhaps all powerful).

In addition, the exquisite fine-tuning of the universe’s conditions for life suggests that the aforementioned cause is highly intelligent. Also, life’s blueprint—DNA’s code/language—smacks of an intelligent cause.

Furthermore, the fact that the universe operates according to mathematical/rational principles and the fact that our minds can understand many of these deep principles (a feat immensely beyond what is needed for mere survival)—these facts make good sense on the view that a rational Mind created both the universe and us.

2. Our experience of morality points toward God.

That all people have real worth (and so shouldn’t be murdered, tortured, or otherwise abused) is well explained by the doctrine that people are made in God’s image.

Also, the fact that we have free will to make moral (or immoral) choices makes sense on the hypothesis that God gave us the mental capacity/freedom to choose (or reject) the good.

3. Several historical facts point to God.

Shortly after Jesus’ death, various individuals and groups of individuals claim to have seen, touched, and conversed with the resurrected Jesus in various locations over several weeks. Also, the lives of these individuals were transformed into an irrepressible witness to Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

Because of what we know about dead bodies, a resurrection, if it happened, would be best explained as supernaturally caused. This means (especially in view of the previous evidence suggesting God’s existence) that Jesus’ actual resurrection shouldn’t be ruled out prior to historical investigation. The result: Jesus’ miraculous—i.e. God-caused—resurrection is strongly suggested by, plus makes good sense of, the historical evidence.

Therefore, bus ads or no bus ads, it’s reasonable to think that God—the God revealed by Jesus Christ—exists.

For further reading on God’s existence (for believers and non-believers), I recommend Chad Meister’s Building Belief (Baker 2006) and William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith (Crossway 2008).

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba.)

20 comments:

Pvblivs said...

     A couple thoughts. Creation and causation are temporal actions. No being can create time. The being needs some sort of time frame in which to create. (There could still be something outside the world we see.) Conspicuously absent are the claims that Jesus rising from the dead showed that he was in league with evil spirits. It's something I would expect to see if such a rising were generally believed. The "irrepressable witnesses" didn't come along until decades after the time he supposedly lived and died. (It's also why I don't put much stock in people saying that if the resurrection were false, they needed only produce a body. His body likely could no longer be identified and the "followers" likely never saw him in life.

Christopher said...

Dr. V,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the bus-ad campaign, and the question it naturally brings up: does God exist?

I have dealt with the social aspect of the bus-ad campaign at my site, and have suspicions that it is not simply a political exercise in equal rights. I personally think it is an attempt at transvaluating faith to doubt, and piety to scorn.

Still, I see a lot of good coming from the ad campaign, also. For example, wider public discourse.

Take care,
Christopher

Dr. V said...

Hello Pvblivs,

It’s good to hear from you again. I hope that all is well with you and yours. I will respond to your comments in piecemeal fashion.

Pvblivs wrote:

Creation and causation are temporal actions. No being can create time. The being needs some sort of time frame in which to create. (There could still be something outside the world we see.)

Hendrik’s reply:

I disagree. Causation, it seems to me, is not an essentially temporal concept. There is a distinction between the notions of temporally prior and ontologically prior which often gets missed. Significantly, the sensibility of the latter is all that is needed to make sense of the causation/creation of time.

I responded to a version of your objection a few years ago in my article, “There’s an intelligent defence for intelligent design,” a link to which is located somewhere on the right of this blog under my links of a terribly self-centered sort. (For the record, Pvblivs, you are in good company in setting out your objection. I’m pretty sure that the British physicist Stephen Hawking sets out a similar one in A Brief History of Time; I am unable to double check this at the moment, since my copy of Hawking’s book is in my office at the college.) Here is the relevant text from the aforementioned article:

Objection 3: Talk of "a cause of the universe's beginning" lacks meaning; it's nonsensical. To ask what caused the big bang assumes that the universe's cause came "before" time, but time itself came into being at the big bang, so asking what caused the big bang is like asking, "What is north of the North Pole?" It's absurd. So intelligent design is absurd.

Reply: This objection assumes that all causes precede their effects in time. But some causes are simultaneous with their effects—and this latter sense is all that is needed for intelligent design to remain within the realm of reason.

Think of a bicycle chain that moves the rear wheel sprocket. Or just consider the rear wheel sprocket moving the axle that moves the rear wheel. In these everyday cases there is simultaneous cause and effect. (In philosophical parlance, the cause is ontologically prior to the effect, but not temporally prior.) It's not unreasonable, then, to think that time's creation could occur simultaneously with its cause.

In other words, we are not asking something like "What is north of the North Pole?" Rather, we are asking something like, "What is above the North Pole?" Because such talk is not nonsensical, neither is intelligent design.


Yes, of course, we experience simultaneity and ontological priority within time, because we are temporal beings; nevertheless, it very much seems to me that the distinction between temporal priority and ontological priority is a sound one and allows the thesis that time can be created to make sense.

For more detailed argument, where I address some similar or related objections from Adolf Grunbaum, Paul Draper, Robin LePoidevin, and Jan Narveson, see pages 194-199 of my Ph.D. dissertation, “Miracle Reports, Moral Philosophy, and Contemporary Science,” a link to which is located on the right of this blog, under my links of a self-centered sort. (I would put the link right here in the text but I’m having some ongoing difficulty doing so; probably due to my lack of blog know-how.)

Pvblivs wrote:

Conspicuously absent are the claims that Jesus rising from the dead showed that he was in league with evil spirits. It's something I would expect to see if such a rising were generally believed. The "irrepressable witnesses" didn't come along until decades after the time he supposedly lived and died. (It's also why I don't put much stock in people saying that if the resurrection were false, they needed only produce a body. His body likely could no longer be identified and the "followers" likely never saw him in life.

Hendrik’s reply:

I think that I will not address your thoughts on Jesus’ resurrection at this point in time. I am hoping to write something on Jesus’ resurrection in a future installment of Apologia (nearer to Easter), so I will postpone the discussion of this topic until then.

Again, Pvblivs, it’s good to hear from you. I seem to recall something about you owing me a cup of expensive coffee….

With best regards,
Hendrik

Dr. V said...

Dear Christopher,

It’s very good to hear from you! I have fond memories of your many philosophical insights when we first met in Kitchener so many years ago.

Thanks for the link to your blog at St. Cynic. I have been perusing your blog and I am delighted to see your ongoing thoughtfulness, couched in respect for others plus a willingness to be corrected and go in the direction of the best reasons.

I especially like your recent entry “Dawkins, Memes, and Bus-Ads.” I think that your skepticism about the benign intentions of the atheist ad campaign is a healthy skepticism. I would add that in a society (ours) whose general population has difficulty thinking beyond the level of slogans when it comes to deep philosophical and moral questions, the atheist slogan-laden ad campaign will probably have considerable effect. Considerable effect or not, certainly this more general problem having to do with the lack of deep philosophical-moral thinking is grounds for working towards and striving for a higher level of critical thinking at all levels (as I hope thoughtful atheists would agree). I think that your blog is an encouraging step in this direction.

One last point (of which you’re probably aware already): Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath have a nice discussion of Dawkins’ concept of memes in chapter 3 of their book The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (InterVarsity Press, 2007), see especially pages 68-74.

All the best to you and yours,
Hendrik

Froggie said...

Dr. V,
You wrote,
"First, a clarification is in order. A cumulative case argument consists of a collection of sub-arguments that, individually, may not provide strong or decisive support for a conclusion, but jointly do—just as one strand of string may not be strong enough to lift a heavy load but several interwoven strands are."

I could not help but notice that you described how the Theory of Evolution works, to a T.

best regards,
Dale

Dr. V said...

Hi Dale,

Thanks for your comment – it’s good to hear from you again. In view of your comment, I think that a few more clarifications are in order.

Clarification 1

A cumulative case argument is a type of argument. It consists of a collection of sub-arguments that, individually, may not provide strong or decisive support for a conclusion, but, if successful, jointly do. (Interestingly, the evidential force seems to arise not just from the accumulation of the support from each individual sub-argument, which of course is the main source of the evidential force, but also from the fact of their convergence onto the main conclusion.) The cumulative case argument is an argument type or structure that is found in various fields of inquiry, such as history, the sciences, law, ethics, philosophy, etc.

My point in clarifying the notion of cumulative case argumentation in my column was to short-circuit those critics who, when it comes to philosophical arguments for God’s existence, don’t realize that not each and every argument that is set out must provide 100% support. Rather, the argument is like an argument in a court case: various lines of argument are set out concerning the defendant’s guilt/innocence, none of which is individually decisive, but as a group can rationally persuade a jury, even though absolute certainty isn’t achieved (and even though the jury may sometimes be rationally persuaded, but mistaken).

Now, when you say that my description of cumulative case argument describes “how the Theory of Evolution works,” I presume you mean that the case for evolution is also a cumulative case argument. Yes, I agree with you on this, definitely.

Clarification 2

But now another clarification is in order. It should be noted that just because two arguments are of the same type or structure, not much follows logically from that. Just because two arguments share, say, a deductively valid form, it does not follow that they are both sound. (A sound deductive argument has a valid deductive form and true premises.) Just because two arguments share the form of, say, an inductive generalization, it also does not follow that they are both equally strong. (An inductive generalization moves from the properties found in a sample and concludes that the rest of the target population probably has those properties too; but, of course, some samples are better—i.e., more representative—than others, and so some inductive generalizations are better than others.) Just because two arguments share the form of, say, an argument from analogy, it does not follow that they are both equally strong. (Clearly, some analogies are better than others.) The same is true of cumulative case arguments: not all cumulative case arguments are equal. Some legal cumulative case arguments are stronger than others, some scientific cumulative case arguments are stronger than others, some philosophical cumulative case arguments are stronger than others, and so on.

In other words (and here is the point of my second clarification, finally), merely pointing to the similar argument type or structure of an opposing view’s argument isn’t really saying all that much, especially if the pointing is intended to be a criticism. So, Dale, you’re right in saying that there is an argument structure in the case for evolution that’s similar to my case for God’s existence, but you’re mistaken if this is supposed to be a criticism of my case for God’s existence. If it’s supposed to be a criticism, then more argument is needed.

Clarification 3

I also think it’s important to clarify the concept of evolution. (Yes, I’m stepping way out of my area of expertise here, so I’m trusting that readers who know more about this topic than I do will correct me if I’m wandering too far off.)

The word “evolution” is an ambiguous word. Dale, because your comment very much seems to be set out as a criticism of my argument for God’s existence, I suspect that you mean by “evolution” something like atheistic evolution on a large scale, a.k.a. atheistic macro-evolution. That is, by “evolution” you seem to mean this: that everything has evolved without any designing Mind behind it—i.e., the universe somehow evolved to be what it is (where “evolved” means simply undirected physical change over time), then matter evolved into a living cell (where “evolved” means some sort of undirected chemical evolution, i.e., an accidental coming together of non-living material stuff to form a living cell), and then the living cell (our common ancestor) evolved into all the various living organisms in all their complexity (“evolved” here means something like neo-Darwinian evolution, i.e., natural selection operating on genetic mutation).

It should be noted that besides atheistic evolution on a large scale, there is also theistic evolution on a large scale. In the latter case, a designing Mind is alleged to be the cause/creator of matter and its life-producing properties such that, when the first life form emerges, it evolves into more complex living organisms and all the living creatures we now observe.

It should be noted too that there is yet another but more limited sense of “evolution” that is sometimes in use as well: i.e., “evolution” in the sense that small-scale changes in an organism’s development arise from a fairly limited application of natural selection and genetic mutation (e.g., the changes in the beak sizes of Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands seem to be due to such an evolution). This limited version of “evolution” is sometimes referred to as micro-evolution. Interestingly, this kind of evolution can be held by theists as well as atheists. Of course, the large-scale evolutionists in both the theistic and atheistic camps would also hold that neo-Darwinian evolution—i.e. natural selection operating on genetic mutation—is not only the driving force behind micro-evolution but also probably is the main engine behind the large-scale evolution of life after it first began (to produce the beaks of Darwin’s finches, and the finches themselves, in the first place).

In other words (and this is, finally, the purpose of the above attempt to clarify “evolution”), my cumulative case argument for God’s existence doesn’t preclude evolution completely: it’s consistent with micro-evolution as well as theistic macro-evolution. So your criticism, if it’s a criticism, would seem to depend more on its philosophical presuppositions rather than its scientific credentials.

(An aside: I confess that I’m not convinced of the truth of neo-Darwinian macro-evolution, whether theistic or not. I quickly add and acknowledge that there are many very intelligent people who disagree with me on this. So, of course, I could very well be mistaken. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth pointing out that I’m not alone in my skepticism, and many of these people are very intelligent too. So there’s definitely room for reasonable disagreement. For a list of 700-plus highly credential scientists who are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life,” see “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” at http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/.)

End of Clarifications

Dale, thanks again for your comment. Please forgive me for my long-winded reply (I suspect that the long-windedness is probably related to the fact that I’m getting older). Long-windedness or not, and regardless of whether we end up persuading one another of our positions, I think it’s good that we get clear on our differences—and do so in a way that models civil discourse, especially for the sake of our younger readers.

On a more personal note: How is life in Pennsylvania? I hope that all is well with you and yours. We’ve been having some serious snow storms here in southern Manitoba, and there are some serious concerns about flooding (apparently lots of water from North Dakota is heading our way). I think that my family and I will be fine, but my heart goes out to those who will not be as fortunate. Cold, wet, and homeless—it’s not a good combination.

All the best to you,
Hendrik

get_education said...

Hi Hendrik,

I hope all is well, and that the floods never happened, nor will they.

You know what truly fails about your cumulative evidence scenario? That all of the items in your list have perfectly natural explanations. I would go one by one, but no time right now.

In my case, each time I understood some argument for the existence of God to fail, and fail miserably, that got me re-thinking my beliefs (and my trust in those who taught me those arguments). A very cumulative effect if you will.

I cannot go to each of your "evidences" in detail right now. But, supposing both sides to be intellectually honest, in the end Hendrik, the only thing separating an atheist from a God-believer, is faith and faith alone. There is no undeniable evidence for the existence of God anywhere to be found.

G.E.

Christopher said...

G.E.,

For the most part I agree with you. Here's why:

"You know what truly fails about your cumulative evidence scenario? That all of the items in your list have perfectly natural explanations."

First, a cumulative case argument is not an argument meant to guarantee certitude. If it were, it would be an argument with absolute premises, and an absolute conclusion. Binary absolutes -- good/evil, right/wrong -- usually overstate their case, and fail to recognize the limitations of the human condition. That is, no one person has absolute knowledge of anything (including that conclusion).

Since a cumulative case is not meant to guarantee certitude, and since it is not meant as an absolute understanding, there will be reasonable flaws. For example, you have pointed out that what Dr. V. has listed all have natural causes. You're right to say that, and I'm sure you could explain them quite well. However, the sword is double-edged. For no matter how much you can convert an argument from metaphysical to physical premises, the fact remains that alongside the natural explanations you give, another person will see added divine explanations. Philosophers have been dealing with this sort of understanding for a while now, but they usually ascribe the notion of intentional objects to this kind of differentiation.

Daniel Dennett uses the example of how different demographics envision Queen Elizabeth II versus who she actually is. There may not be a 1:1 correspondence, but something of who she is somehow transmits cross-demographically. That being said, when a cumulative case argument can be interpreted one way and another, that does not absolutely, or definitively deny or prove the existence of the object in question.

So, from where I sit, you are right to conclude that "the only thing separating an atheist from a God-believer, is faith and faith alone. There is no undeniable evidence for the existence of God anywhere to be found." I would add to that, too, much to Victor J. Stenger's chagrin, there is no evidence that conclusively denies the existence of God, also. That places both the theist and the atheist in a position of faith, epistemologically.

get_education said...

Hi Christopher and thanks for your answer.

The problem remains that the cumulative evidence thing is supposed to rest on good and supportive evidence, even if small and even if that single piece is not enough to prove the whole point--God's existence in this case. All of Hendrik's arguments lack one way or another. Not just because there are plenty of natural explanations for the valid bits, but also because they are problematic in other bits. Once the evidence starts looking biased, misinterpretted, overinterpreted, filled with unwarranted assumptions, or plainly like a lie, you get nothing to accumulate. You rather get the opposite effect, which is what I started to get long ago when I was the one using such kind of argumentation (quite sincerely, and unaware of the many underlying problems). So, I know Hendrik (and perhaps yourself) truly believes these arguments to have some solidity. Yet, they don't.

Hum, I am talking too much and saying too little. The point is, the cumulative evidence fails if the evidence is no such thing. And this is not just a matter of interpretation. Once you start seeing the problems in each bit of evidence, perhaps one by one, the natural outcome is the conclusion that the few remaining "evidences" might also be false and you might lose the belief altogether. I truly think it would be much healthier for the believer to truly understand that faith is the one thing they have, and stop looking for "rational" evidences when the Bible itself commends on those who have faith, on those who believe without the need for such evidence.

Anyway, I am glad we concur. I agree that there is no conclusive evidence for the non-existence of "a" God. All also depending on how we would define what a God is, and whether we are talking about one of the innumerable Gods that humanity has worshiped.

In the end, as I said, and you agreed, all you are left with is faith or lack of it, in the existence of some God, or a particular, previously described, one.

Anyway, thanks for your well thought answer. Sorry about this all-over-the-place one.

G.E.

Dr. V said...

Hi G.E.,

Thanks for the well wishes. The rivers are indeed rising. This past Thursday evening, when I left the parking lot at the college at which I teach, I was shocked to see how close the river (Rat River) was to my car! A couple of faculty and staff members live quite close to the river, and I’ve been hearing requests for sand bags. Also, parts of local farmers’ fields are under what looks like a couple of feet of water. Also, on the local news I’ve seen pictures of much worse. It’s pretty amazing. Too bad we couldn’t harness all that moving water for generating some extra electricity.

Thanks too for your comments concerning the argument of my column. I will reply in piecemeal fashion.

G.E. wrote:

You know what truly fails about your cumulative evidence scenario? That all of the items in your list have perfectly natural explanations. I would go one by one, but no time right now.

Hendrik’s reply:

First, I do not “know what truly fails about [my] cumulative evidence scenario” because I think, on the basis of what seems to me to be some pretty good evidence and argumentation, that my cumulative evidence scenario does not fail.

Second, I do not deny that the items on my list can have natural explanations, but I do deny that the natural explanations are always the best explanations. I too haven’t time at the moment to set out further arguments (due to grading of exams and essays). But I will say that I’ve spent almost all of my formal education beyond high school studying these arguments. I think that the “perfectly natural explanations” end up not handling the evidence as well as the God explanation does.

(Having said this, I do not think that the God explanation should be forced onto anyone. I think it’s important to have a secular public square/arena to debate the issues freely and fairly while we all work hard to live in peace.)

G.E. wrote:

In my case, each time I understood some argument for the existence of God to fail, and fail miserably, that got me re-thinking my beliefs (and my trust in those who taught me those arguments). A very cumulative effect if you will.

Hendrik wrote:

That’s interesting. My case is almost the exact reverse: the cumulative effect of my studies has been a result in favor of God’s existence. That’s not to say that there aren’t some lousy arguments set out for God’s existence, for there are. But there are some good ones too, it seems to me.

G.E. wrote:

I cannot go to each of your "evidences" in detail right now. But, supposing both sides to be intellectually honest, in the end Hendrik, the only thing separating an atheist from a God-believer, is faith and faith alone.

Hendrik’s reply:

I realize that there are time pressures, so we can’t presently engage in detailed argumentation. No problem. However, I must take issue with your second claim, which, I must say, annoys me immensely.

I’ll repeat what you wrote, for the sake of clarity: “supposing both sides to be intellectually honest, in the end Hendrik, the only thing separating an atheist from a God-believer, is faith and faith alone.” Now, please think carefully with me here. Clearly, my writings show that I disagree with the claim that “in the end…the only thing separating an atheist from a God-believer is faith and faith alone.” After all, I have been arguing that it’s a question of evidence and good reasoning that separates an atheist from a God-believer, not just faith. What annoys me, then, is your clear logical implication that, because of my reasoned disagreement with the atheist position, that’s sufficient grounds for thinking that I must be intellectually dishonest.

Here again is your argument, with the implicit logical implication made explicit: If we’re honest, then the only difference between an atheist and a God-believer is faith and faith alone; Hendrik thinks it’s not the case that the only difference between an atheist and a God-believer is faith and faith alone (i.e., he thinks reasons and evidence have something to do with the issue); therefore, it follows logically that Hendrik is not honest. If H then F, not F, therefore not H (modus tollens). Wow. I’m hoping that you aren’t aware of the logical implication of your claim. Aware or not, the logical implication—a deductively valid logical implication—is there for all thinking people to behold.

I call the move you’ve made (whether wittingly or unwittingly) the Richard Dawkins Fallacy. The Richard Dawkins Fallacy is the mistake in reasoning that runs as follows: because someone disagrees with the atheist on God’s existence, therefore we have sufficient grounds for thinking that person must be ignorant or dishonest (or worse). This kind of argument, it seems to me, simply shouldn’t be allowed anywhere—except in college textbooks on fallacious argumentation.

For the record, I am and have been trying to be as honest as I can about the question of God’s existence. I believe it helps to keep oneself honest by engaging with intelligent people who disagree with one. As a result, during my years of formal education I have studied with at least a couple of the world’s top atheist philosophers, plus I have carefully read a considerable number of atheists’ arguments against God. Also, in my attempt to be honest in my studies, early in my education I made a point of studying logic and critical thinking. I was convinced that careful argumentation was crucial in this investigation. After all, why believe in God or not-God or something in between—or whatever—if there aren’t good reasons for doing so? I took every logic and critical thinking course available at the undergraduate level (there were five or six such courses at my undergrad alma mater), and generally I received excellent grades on these courses; some of these courses I took again (as extra to my degree, and to improve my understanding); some of these courses I took again as an auditor (with different professors, again to improve my understanding); as an undergraduate student I also worked as a logic tutor; then as a master’s student I took graduate studies in informal logic; as a master’s student I also worked for four semesters as a teaching assistant for a couple of world-class critical thinking specialists; then, having completed the PhD in philosophy, I have been teaching courses in critical thinking. I should also point out that my formal studies had much to do with the question of God’s existence and objections to God’s existence: in fact, this was the primary focus of my PhD work. My PhD work also involved studies in the philosophy of science, in which I excelled. I don’t mean to come across as tooting my own horn here, but in my studies I also won the occasional scholarship, one of which was quite prestigious. All of this is to say that in my academic work I’ve taken the question of God’s existence and objections to God’s existence very seriously—and honestly. So, please, please do not suggest that I am dishonest in addressing this question. It’s false. And it’s unfair.

Significantly, it’s unfair not just to me but also unfair to the many excellent philosophers, theologians, scientists, etc. who have committed their lives to studying the question of God’s existence and have decided—honestly and reasonably—that God exists.

G.E. wrote:

There is no undeniable evidence for the existence of God anywhere to be found.

Hendrik’s reply:

I agree. But this is a trivial point. Of course, any and all evidence can be denied. The issue, rather, is whether the denial is strained or not. That is to say, the issue has to do with what degree the evidence is good or not, to what degree the reasoning is good or not—in other words, whether the pros outweigh the cons.

In the case of God’s existence, this doesn’t mean that I think the cons don’t exist or don’t carry any weight whatsoever, but it does mean that I believe it’s reasonable to think that the pros are more persuasive rationally than the cons, that the pros carry more weight than the cons.

Obviously, G.E., we disagree deeply about the question of God’s existence. I’m okay with that. I am also well aware that I could be mistaken. However, if I am mistaken, I like to think it’s because I’m honestly mistaken (at least I should be given the benefit of the doubt). Perhaps we’re both honestly mistaken! Whether we’re mistaken or not, let’s encourage each other to argue well. Let’s model disagreement that respects those with whom we disagree. In so doing, I think we will be helping to make the world a better place (at least a wee bit better).

Best regards only,
Hendrik

P.S. G.E., just a quick postscript to say that I haven’t forgotten that you promised to invite me out for a coffee if/when you happen to be in my neck of the woods. I should point out that both of my sons work in specialty coffee shops, so I’ve been spoiled. On our coffee outing, then, I will probably order a specialty coffee that has one of those very long names which are hard to say let alone remember (I’ll just point at the appropriate line on the menu and at the cup size). Of course, the longer the name of the coffee, the more expensive the coffee is. I thought you should be forewarned.

P.P.S. Christopher, I wrote all of the above before your comment arrived. It looks like we may have some differences of view regarding the extent or grounds of our faith commitments (whether Atheist or Christian). I think that to resolve this, we should meet over an expensive coffee too! (Are there coffee shops in the Far North?) Best regards to you as well.

P.P.P.S. I now see that G.E. has sent another comment. Thanks, G.E., for your comment. I won’t respond in the near future, because I must attend to some other matters. Cheers.

get_education said...

Dearest Hendrik,

After all, I have been arguing that it’s a question of evidence and good reasoning that separates an atheist from a God-believer, not just faith.

I know this.

What annoys me, then, is your clear logical implication that, because of my reasoned disagreement with the atheist position, that’s sufficient grounds for thinking that I must be intellectually dishonest.

Well, the problem is that you forgot this little bit:

in the end Hendrik

Which was meant to mean, "after carefully examining such evidences". I did that Hendrik. I also said I used those arguments (kinda), and found their problems one by one.

So, yep there is that logical implication, if you forget the context and some bits.

Do not worry, I make the same mistake you made here, quite often.

I am also marking. So, talk to you later.

G.E.

PS I will be interested on tasting one of those long-named coffees.

Dr. V said...

G.E.,

Thanks (I think) for the clarification. So, you say that the argument goes like this: If we’re honest, then, in the end—i.e., after G.E. has carefully examined the evidences and found them problematic—the only difference between an atheist and a God-believer is faith and faith alone; Hendrik thinks it’s not the case that the only difference between an atheist and a God-believer is faith and faith alone (i.e., Hendrik thinks—and G.E. knows that Hendrik thinks this—that good reasons and evidence point to God’s existence); therefore, it follows logically that Hendrik is not honest.

Again: If H then (in the end) F, not F (which G.E. knows), therefore not H (modus tollens). You may not be intending that ugly logical implication which annoys me, but it sure looks like it's still there.

Am I missing something here? Are you really trying to be nasty towards me? Intended nastiness or not (though I hope it's not), I think that this is turning into a VERY long-named and VERY expensive coffee!

Best regards only,
Hendrik

P.S. I have a theory that applies to all of us who do grading as a part of our livelihood: Too many nights of reading too many poorly written essays and exams can cause brain damage. (If any of our students happen to be reading this, please take this as a friendly exhortation to do better work!)

Christopher said...

Dr. V.,

You wrote the following:

"P.P.S. Christopher, I wrote all of the above before your comment arrived. It looks like we may have some differences of view regarding the extent or grounds of our faith commitments (whether Atheist or Christian). I think that to resolve this, we should meet over an expensive coffee too! (Are there coffee shops in the Far North?) Best regards to you as well."

God bless, you, Professor V.! I have had nothing but admiration for you since our first encounter in your Philosophy class in '96/97. You are a fantastic teacher, and I'm sure even more so now that you have further rarified your understandings. I'm jealous of the students you currently teach. Lord knows I could use many a refresher in logic! Sadly, my philosophy library (in fact, my entire library) is trapped in N. Ontario awaiting my rescue, so I'm without my "Questions that Matter" text.

Anyway, I'm here to curtail any anxieties you may feel concerning the "extent or grounds" of my faith commitments. Let me assure you that I will treat you to a very expensive coffee despite my continuing faith in Our Lord, Jesus. There are plenty of fantastic nooks and crannies for incredible coffee here in Whitehorse; all of which would benefit from some heady, faith-based conversation from two convinced believers. So, if you feel a sense of derring-do, and want to pet some grizzlies, please do come visit.

Now, what you have exchanged with G.E. regarding your 'honesty' really was a shock to me. I was unaware of the (probably unintended) implication in G.E.'s comment. When you pointed it out to him, I felt it necessary to point out that I have no questions regarding your honesty, or commitment to integrity. You are a top-notch scholar, and I often find myself frustrated at the two week intervals I have to wait before learning from your next article. It's good to be your student again -- though this time from the sidelines, and at much less expense.

Where we might differ, however, is that I cannot keep myself committed to much more than the essentials of traditional theology. I've put away my puppyish naivete as I've grown more aware of the history of theology, the implications of archaic paradigms conflicting with modern social necessities, and current socio-philosophical demands. That, and I'm far too open to making actual contact with people than holing myself up behind a wall of codifications, doctrinal canons, and parti pris ecclesiologies. I'm tired of the games, deceptions, hypocrisy, and platitudinous Christianese. I'm interested in committed, connective fellowship that transcends petty denominational barriers. I also think quite a lot of the usual theological quibbles that fuel the friction between believers, and competing groups of believers is jejune, and I don't want to be part of it. I used to be there, but I've moved on. I want peace, freedom, and assurance that despite any doctrinal differences believer 'A' and I might have, that doesn't mean that I'm less a believer than 'A'. Which is, sadly, what I have seen, and continue to see and experience with the general base of evangelicalism.

And, lest the implication possibly come up, I don't perceive any of the things I've just written as bearing on you. You are excluded from my observations, hurts, and reasons for departing from 'conservative' Christian popularism.

God bless you, my friend.

Dr. V said...

Christopher,

Thanks for your kind words. I really enjoyed our classes together in 96/97. And it's great that we can reconnect via the Internet, even though there's so much physical distance between us.

As I've mentioned to you previously, I have some family in Whitehorse, so a visit is definitely within the realm of the real.

I'm glad that you are still strong in your faith in our Lord Jesus. I can relate to some of the stuff that you mentioned.

You wrote: "I'm tired of the games, deceptions, hypocrisy, and platitudinous Christianese. I'm interested in committed, connective fellowship that transcends petty denominational barriers. I also think quite a lot of the usual theological quibbles that fuel the friction between believers, and competing groups of believers is jejune, and I don't want to be part of it."

My response: Amen!

I too have a sense that "mere Christianity" is what's important. In addition, I have an ongoing and growing sense that part of loving God (a.k.a. the Logos) with all of one's mind involves careful, truth-seeking argument, done in a humble, respectful, loving way. This may sound heretical to some, but I think that when anyone seriously seeks what's true and does so with an honest humble heart and with careful thinking, they're somehow drawing near to the Logos, who is also The Truth. I think that's a step in a good direction. (And even if -- God forbid! -- there is no Logos/God, I still think it's step in a good direction.)

Also, I think that what the honest and careful-thinking truth seeker does with Jesus -- who is, I've come to believe, God in the flesh -- will ultimately be up to them and God.

I quickly add that if someone rejects what is true (or what I think is true) with regards to religious matters, I will defend their right to do so. It seems to me that God has given us all the freedom to reject Him. I don't think it's wise or reasonable to reject God (hence my column Apologia), but it seems to be a God-given freedom that's important to protect. Of course, we should also protect the freedom of those who accept God.

I'm not a theologian or New Testament scholar, nor am I a really smart philosopher (truly there's no false humility here; it helps to have a family which provides reality checks every evening at the dinner table, though sometimes I think they're a bit too eager to help me). So I encourage readers to make their own judgments on these matters. Of course, I encourage careful thinking and truth seeking too.

God bless you Christopher, my friend.

Hendrik

get_education said...

No Hendrik, I am, not intending to be nasty. And no, I am not so self-righteous that I think the "in the end" means "after G.E. has finished examining the evidence and found it problematic."

Look at your arguments yourself. You will find in each and every one of them something that requires your faith to think it is that way and no other way. So, only granting those to be true the things are "evidence." Meaning, faith and faith alone. I can do the same! Examine them, find them to be lacking because they require that leap of faith, yet, for some of them, myself not having an answer (or not a satisfactory one). For me, it is easy to shrug and say. I do not have a completely satisfactory answer. Yet, believing it to be this way, and thus point to God, obviously requires you to either fall into a false dichotomy (either you have an answer or God) or make a leap of faith: Thus, faith and faith alone.

I know this will not be enough to convince you Hendrik, because WE have not examined the arguments carefully. Yet, what do you think it means when you finish by saying that we will have to agree to disagree? It means, my friend, that the difference seems insurmountable, so much so, that then, again, it is faith and faith alone.

Since WE have not carefully examined the evidence, you remain honestly mistaken to think it is reason and reason mainly (yet not alone I guess) what makes atheists and God-believers different.

Hendrik, how do you expect to have a honest argumentation here if you are looking for a way to interpret me as trying to insult you? Why don't you just give me the benefit of the doubt on this one? Come on! I said I was there too. Making mistakes is possible with or without excellent grades and degrees in philosophy and science. (I continue to make mistakes too, of course.)

G.E.

Dr. V said...

Hello again G.E.,

I’m glad that you were not intending to insult me. I was truly hoping that you weren’t, but what you wrote (on both occasions) really did leave some serious doubt in my mind. And, as I argued, my doubt was a reasonable doubt. For the record, G.E., I was really trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. You explicitly supposed “both sides to be intellectually honest,” so I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you were being honest (otherwise you wouldn’t have written what you wrote). But then the logical implication of what you wrote was so terribly, terribly clear. At risk of flogging a dead horse, here again is your (first) argument (which isn’t really substantially different from your clarified version): If we’re honest (and clearly G.E. thinks he’s being honest), then the only difference between an atheist and a God-believer is faith and faith alone; but Hendrik thinks it’s not the case that the only difference between an atheist and a God-believer is faith and faith alone (i.e., he thinks reasons and evidence have something to do with the issue); therefore, it follows logically that Hendrik is not honest. If H then F, not F, therefore not H (modus tollens). I wasn’t (as you put it) “looking for a way to interpret [you] as trying to insult [me].” Rather, I was looking at what you so clearly wrote and so clearly logically implied. On the one hand, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt in the sense of believing that you were expressing yourself honestly, and, on the other hand, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt in the sense of believing that you are aware of fundamental deductively valid argument forms such as modus tollens. Consequently, it very much seemed that intellectual integrity (for both of us) required me to call you on this. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I apologize if I came across as disrespectful in any way.

In view of our discussion, I think it’s time for a few more clarifications. I have five. (Please bear with me. I think that many differences and arguments hinge on some intellectual knots that simply need some untying.)

First, I am not a fideist, as you very much seem to think. (A fideist is someone who believes that the question of God’s existence has to do with faith and faith alone.) Rather, in my journey of life I have come to hold to an epistemological position called critical realism: i.e., we can know reality to some extent directly (a.k.a. epistemological particularism), and to some extent indirectly via evidence and reasonable inferences based on that evidence; but we have to think carefully and adjust our beliefs when adjustments are needed as a result of our investigation of reality. It seems to me that belief that God exists can be gotten via the evidence of nature/creation (a.k.a. general revelation) and via history (i.e., special revelation via Jesus’ miraculous resurrection). I think that salvation is by faith (in Christ) and faith alone; I do not think that belief that God exists has to be by faith and faith alone. (Having said this, I quickly acknowledge that some philosophers such as the University of Notre Dame’s Alvin Plantinga hold that belief in God is a “properly basic belief.” I’m not necessarily disagreeing with this. Rather, like Plantinga, I think that there are also good arguments for God’s existence.)

Second, I am very sure that the Bible doesn’t say what you say it does with respect to evidence. You wrote (to Christopher) that “it would be much healthier for the believer to truly understand that faith is the one thing they have, and stop looking for ‘rational’ evidences when the Bible itself commends on those who have faith, on those who believe without the need for such evidence.” I think that you have the “Doubting Thomas” passage in mind here. Of course, as in any good interpretive work, context is needed. It turns out that John’s Gospel (where the passage about Thomas is found) is, among other things, an appeal to reason and evidence. If you doubt this, pick up a copy of The Apologetics Study Bible (or any other generally respected version of the Bible), and notice how often “signs” are emphasized. Also, take a look at John 20:24-31. This is the passage where Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus resurrected; and then Jesus appears to him and invites Thomas to touch His wounds; and then Jesus says, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.” Many readers stop here and think (mistakenly) that Jesus is teaching something that is anti-evidential. But (and keeping in mind the importance of context), look at the very next two verses: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book [i.e., John’s Gospel]. But these are written so that you may believe [or continue to believe] Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” The trouble with Thomas, then, is not that he insisted on evidence; the trouble with Thomas is that he didn't believe the evidence that was already there—namely, the witness testimony of those who saw the risen Jesus. Whether one takes Mark 16:14 as an authentic part of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:14 confirms this understanding of John 20:24-31. Also 1 John 1:1 confirms this understanding: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life [a.k.a. the resurrected Jesus].” This is the stuff of historical evidence. In other words, the Gospel of John is very reason-and-evidence friendly.

Also, the Gospel of Luke is very reason-and-evidence friendly. Look at the beginning of this document. The writer talks about having “drawn up an account” from “eyewitnesses” which he has “carefully investigated.” Why? So that the person for whom this account was written would “know the certainty of the things” he was taught. This, again, is the stuff of historical evidence and reasoning therefrom.

Perhaps you’re thinking of the “heroes of faith” passage in Hebrews chapter 11. Here faith is said to be “the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” And, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen has been made from things that are visible.” A twentieth-century existentialism-soaked view would probably understand “faith” as some sort of non-reason/evidence-based blind leap based on feeling and feelings only. But that’s a twentieth-century existentialist reading. It’s much more reasonable to think that what we’re talking about is merely “a conviction of certainty about what cannot be seen” (The Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1835). This is not at all inconsistent with the larger context of the New Testament and its general reason-and-evidence friendliness. Indeed, in the first chapter of Romans (verse 20), Paul writes: “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Also, as the Psalmist writes (Psalm 19:1-2): “The heavens declare the glory of God: the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” In other words, the universe is the evidence that we observe; our faculty of reason is used to read and understand what we observe.

In general, the Bible is very reason-and-evidence friendly. For more on the topic of the Bible and reason, see J. P. Moreland, "Philosophy," in Opening the American Mind: The Integration of Biblical Truth in the Curriculum of the University, edited by W. David Beck (Baker 1991). I also have a two page document on so-called biblical objections to philosophy/apologetics which I distribute to my philosophy students and which I would be happy to send to you via email if you wish (or to any other reader if he/she wishes).

(Note/reminder: In the above paragraphs I am not making an appeal to the Bible as God’s Word. I am merely showing that the Bible doesn’t say that it’s against reason and evidence, contrary to what G.E. has stated.)

Third, in my arguments I am not setting out what my faith requires to be “that way and no other way,” that is, I am not making arguments that have been squeezed into some presupposed constraints of my faith; rather, I am setting out arguments that point in the direction of God—and that’s why I think it’s reasonable to believe God exists. Like the philosopher Antony Flew (the former atheist who became convinced of God’s existence because of the evidence for God’s existence), I am trying to follow the argument in the direction it points me and I am making a reasonable inference to what very much seems to be God. My “faith” here has merely to do with the general human trust in the reliability of the senses and the human mind, the reliability of induction, the trustworthiness of logic and math, the intelligibility of the world, the reliability of language for communication, etc. My belief, on the other hand, is a reasonable one—and it goes in the direction that the evidence is pointing. Now, please note carefully: it is here where I differ with my atheist friends. Atheists, it seems to me (and said respectfully), have a belief that is not reasonable. Why? Because their belief that there is no God goes in a direction that the evidence is not pointing. So the major difference between my atheist friends and me is not merely one of “faith and faith alone”; it’s a difference that primarily has to do with the evidence and the arguments concerning which reasonable direction the evidence and good reasoning therefrom points us.

Perhaps it might be helpful to think of it this way: On the one hand, the atheist has belief based on evidence and (allegedly) good reasoning which points to no-God; on the other hand, the critical realist theist has belief based on evidence and (allegedly) good reasoning which points to God. Our difference isn’t one of faith and faith alone; it’s a difference of which worldview is the more reasonable worldview based on the reality we experience and observe. Enter: the importance of good argument for purpose of worldview arbitration.

(For a helpful book on worldview arbitration, see the philosopher Ronald H. Nash’s Worldviews in Conflict [Zondervan 1992]. Nash sets out some helpful criteria for deciding whether a worldview is reasonable or not: [1] test of fact [outer and inner world], [2] test of logical consistency [in core beliefs], [3] test of practice/livability [without borrowing from other worldviews]. I use Nash’s book as a text in my Worldview Studies course. Also, I just received an examination copy of Chad Meister’s Introducing Philosophy of Religion [Routledge 2009], and on page 39 there are some very similar criteria for assessing worldviews.)

Fourth, to dismiss someone’s arguments without examining them, or at least without presenting strong arguments in defense of the dismissal, is a logical error: it’s called the Fallacy of Hasty Conclusion. For example, in one of your comments (in which you are obviously encouraging Christopher to dismiss my arguments) you wrote: “I know Hendrik…truly believes [his] arguments to have some solidity. Yet, they don't.” This is problematic for three reasons. First, you haven’t seen all my arguments. Second, even if you have, you haven’t set out any specific arguments to show that my specific arguments don’t have “some solidity.” Third, you have only set out some general considerations about cumulative case arguments, considerations which may or may not apply to my specific arguments. Therefore, your conclusion—that my arguments don’t have some solidity—is too hastily drawn. (For more on the Fallacy of Hasty Conclusion, see Ralph H. Johnson & J. Anthony Blair’s Logical Self-Defense, United States Edition [New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994], p. 72.

To get clear on my third reason for thinking your reasoning commits the fallacy of hasty conclusion, let’s take some time to get clearer on cumulative case arguments. I submit (along with probably the rest of the philosophical world) that they can provide decisive support for a conclusion (“decisive support” as in beyond a reasonable doubt as in a court of law), even if each line of evidence doesn’t provide decisive support, and even if each line of evidence has a perfectly good explanation that goes against the main conclusion. Consider the following thought experiment. Assume that two of us—my friend and I—are in a windowless room and we cannot go outside, and we are trying to decide whether or not it is raining outside. Assume, then, that we have two competing hypotheses/possible conclusions: (1) it’s raining; (2) it’s not raining. We come across various data in the confines of our room and we try to decide, reasonably, whether it’s raining or not. First, we hear a pitter-patter sound coming through the ceiling. I argue that this is good grounds for thinking that it’s raining. My friend, however, is skeptical. It’s possible, he says, that it’s due to a sprinkler on the roof, to wash off the bird droppings and accumulated dust and dirt. Yes, I agree, it’s possible, since it is spring cleaning time. This is a perfectly legitimate non-rain explanation. So, I agree, my rain hypothesis isn’t justified. Second, we then see someone whose jacket is soaked come into the room. (Assume we can’t talk to the poor fellow.) I argue that this is evidence for rain, it’s the sort of thing we would expect if it were raining. My friend says, no, it can easily be explained by the sprinkler on the roof. Maybe the guy on the roof with the sprinkler is a real “Hoser” (yes, this was an attempt at humor). I have to agree, this is, again, a perfectly legitimate non-rain explanation, so the rain hypothesis isn’t justified. Third, we then hear a swooshing sound from outside, apparently coming from the street (i.e., we hear the sound of car tires on a wet street). I argue that this counts in favor of the rain hypothesis. After all, this is the sort of thing we would expect if it were raining. My friend, however, argues that the streets could very well be wet because a street cleaner just went by and soaked the streets. It’s spring cleaning time, after all. Again, this is a reasonable no-rain explanation, so I would have to agree. Fourth, we then hear thunder. I argue that this counts in favor of the rain hypothesis because usually thunder storms and rain storms go hand in hand. My friend, however, points out that sometimes we have dry electrical storms, which have thunder too. Again, a perfectly good no-rain explanation. Fifth, we then notice that the room is awfully humid. I argue that this counts in favor of the rain hypothesis, because when it rains there is usually an increase in humidity in the room. My friend, however, argues that the air conditioner may not be working properly. Again, another perfectly good no-rain explanation. Sixth, we then notice that the barometer is giving a low reading. I argue that this indicates a storm and precipitation such as rain (since it’s spring and the weather has been warm). My friend, however, argues that low barometer readings are not conclusive. My friend is right. Thus, and once again, another perfectly good no-rain explanation. Seventh, I then notice that my arthritis is acting up and it usually does so when it’s raining outside. So I argue that this is evidence for the rain hypothesis. My friend, however, argues that my arthritis could very well be due to my having had a bad sleep the night before. Another perfectly good no-rain explanation. Surely, in view of the above seven lines of evidence, and even though my friend has a perfectly good no-rain explanation, it would be very reasonable for me to conclude that it’s raining outside. There is an accumulation of evidence that points to the rain hypothesis, and there is a convergence of this evidence onto the rain hypothesis. (There is, in a word, consilience.) And this makes it not only reasonable to think that it’s raining, but also more reasonable than thinking that it’s not raining.

Hence, G.E., cumulative case arguments do not automatically fall prey to the general criticism that you’ve set out.

(Note: The rain-versus-not-rain example is basically how we reason in courts of law. Sure, we may sometimes make a wrongful conviction, but in general we don’t. And the fact that we sometimes make mistakes isn’t a good enough reason for abandoning this type of reasoning.)

Fifth, and finally, when I sometimes finish a comment with something like, “it looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree,” it usually just means that I am politely (and honestly) saying this: it looks like I’ll have to do an awful lot of clarifying of elementary but missed philosophical subtleties to make my point here, I don’t have time to do so, so let’s disengage.

Well, G.E., I hope that the above clarifications are helpful. I now must disengage. Like you, I have grading and research to do. In fact, I may have to avoid this blog for a while so I can get my grading and research done! I must go and do the work that actually pays me my wages. For the record, I really like our ongoing arguments and clarifications (though I don’t like it if/when I offend you).

If you end up leaving some comments that I don’t have time to respond to, it looks like we may have to, at least temporarily, agree to disagree. (Sorry, this was an attempt at humor…)

Best regards only,
Hendrik

P.S. I hope that I haven’t disqualified myself from our coffee with the long name.

get_education said...

Wow!

You did make a long thing.

OK, I clarify that I was not making an argument, I was just saying that there are lots of reasons why this fails, and that I had no time to go through it ...

I was not encouraging Christopher to dismiss your arguments, I was telling my opinion about them. Again, I cannot ask anybody to dismiss your arguments without explaining why or how they fail kinda exactly.

Yep, we will have to agree to disagree means we are tired often. But it will mean there is no diserneable way to clean the mess up (undecidables). Just wait and see.

Your rain example is noce and all, but there you are talking about things that are possible, not about all-powerful, all-knowing, all-whatever, invisible, "infeelable" entities.

This sounds pretty, I agree, but to the atheist it just sounds like: Let us find a bunch of problems, better if they are very hard problems. Let us attribute them to a single cause, let us call that cause God, and we are done.

I hope we will be able to see that as we advance in our exchange.

Remember, I started as a true deeply involved believer.

I detest the "worldview" thing. Sounds like a very artificial line of reasoning. I detest the "borrowing from other worldviews", like if anything belonged to a particular group with their particular beliefs. I think this worldview thingie is mostly (or exactly) a rhetorical device. I hope I will be able to show you that too. This is so much like that tiring and obtuse TAG / presuppositionalist ... bird droppings ... But you are an honest person, maybe it will be worth arguing that kind of stuff with you.

Anyway, not to worry, the coffee stands firm in the horizon.

G.E.

Dr. V said...

G.E.,

Thanks for your comment. I only have time for a couple of quick responses.

G.E. wrote:

Remember, I started as a true deeply involved believer.

Hendrik's reply:

Yes, I remember. But remember too that I didn't start as "true deeply involved believer". I suppose that's why I think careful argument -- including worldview assessment -- is important.

Okay, I can't resist. Here's one more clarification: The notion of worldview of which I wrote doesn't really belong to a group (though groups hold them, argue for them, etc.); rather, a worldview is a philosophical position (like, say, atheism is a philosophical position, a view of the world, or what's real). The "borrowing" idea has to do with intellectual/ logical inconsistencies that might arise if the practice of life requires the truth of beliefs not warranted by the philosophy. If a philosophy can't be lived without such "borrowing", then that counts against that philosophy/ worldview.

For example, if I were to hold to a philosophy that says we cannot communicate via language, then the fact that I'm using language to communicate this (and doing so successfully) counts against this philosophy. In this case I would be borrowing from a philosophy that holds that we can communicate via language, contrary to my philosophy. So my philosophy would have a tough time with the test of practice.

Here's another example. Let's say that I hold to a philosophy that says that we cannot know, or have reasonably accurate beliefs about, the external world (i.e., the world outside my mind). My philosophy says that everything is illusory. But let's say that you notice that I look both ways before I cross the street. You ask me about this, and I tell you that I do this so I can avoid getting hit by traffic. It seems clear, then, that in the practice of everyday living (walking), I would be borrowing (unwittingly)from a worldview/ philosophy that says that I do know or have reasonable beliefs about the external world. Hence (again) my worldview/ philosophy would have difficulty with the test of practice.

Here's another example. Let's say that I subsribe to a worldview/ philosophy that says there are no real values, that nothing really is right or wrong. But then I go and say that torture is really and truly wrong for everyone, everywhere, and always. I would be borrowing from a worldview which holds deeply true and real moral values, contrary to my own.

G.E. wrote:

Your rain example is noce and all, but there you are talking about things that are possible, not about all-powerful, all-knowing, all-whatever, invisible, "infeelable" entities.

Hendrik's reply:

For the record, the rain example does show that your general criticism of cumulative case arguments fails. I'm not trying to keep score here, but because a proper understanding of cumulative case argument is central to my case for God's existence, this point is significant.

But now I have a question: How do you know that an "all-powerful, all-knowing, all-whatever, invisible, 'infeelable'" God isn't possible?

If such a being is not possible, as, say, a square circle is not possible, then I would agree that my cumulative case argument should be abandoned. But from my understanding of the considerable amount of work done in contemporary philosophy of religion on the concept of God, I'm pretty sure that the concept is logically coherent.

Okay, I've got to stop. I hope the clarification of "borrowing" from a worldview is helpful. And I am interested in your argument for thinking God isn't possible.

All the best to you,
Hendrik

get_education said...

Hi again Hendrik,

Well, the worldview thing might be something of a philosophy (I never said it belonging to a particular group, I said they use it a lot and that I detest it). Yet, I still see the worldview thing as a rhetorical device.

Look, it might be quite an established thing in philosophy, I do not know. However, when entering into debates and the way you phrase it, looks like nothing is real, or, perhaps, like we cannot know what is real, and that the only way around is to imagine a set of imaginary worlds (worldviews), no matter how nutty, since nuttiness also depends on such constructs, then we test all the imaginary things, and we are forced to accept the one that looks more self-consistent. Not really because it is the correct one, but because it is self-consistent.

See? To me it does not sound like we would arrive at anything by such an approach but to an agreement that such and such worldviews sound self-consistent. Yet, and then, how can we tell it is self consistent without a perspective on consistentness that comes from yet another worldview? How do we examine a worldview without living in another? can you examine them from within without another worldview interfering? Can you escape each of these worldviews and thus judge from outside with no biases? Where does one worldview start and another end? Do they overlap? Do you have to have a worldview that has already been described? Are you allowed to make your own? If so, and if you make it self consistent, then will that new one be the truth, or yet another self-consistent worldview? Where do you end that? Do you end that?

Rhetorical device for all I am concerned. Again, we will see if you try to encapsulate me into a worldview

Why would God be not possible? I would ask why is it possible, or which one do you think is possible. This could take much longer Hendrik. From examination of whatever I have examined, the concept is not logically coherent. But we will see. We might have to start by defining a target God.

It remains that unless you think a God is authentically possible, a cumulative argument does not work at all. This possibility is faith Hendrik, and faith alone. I am guessing that as we exchange words, it might become clearer.

G.E.

Dr. V said...

Hi G.E.,

Thanks for your comments and questions. I think that—again—some clarifications are in order. Here are six more.

Clarification 1

The idea of worldview properly understood is not a rhetorical device. A worldview is in effect a large-scale theory or explanation or understanding of the universe. Some worldviews have a God or gods in their belief systems: e.g., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. And some worldviews do not have a God or gods in their belief systems: e.g., a form of Buddhism, Sartre’s existentialism, Dawkins’ atheism, etc.

Clarification 2

Self-consistency is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the truth of a worldview. If a worldview is self-consistent (i.e., doesn’t have logical contradictions at its core) then this counts in favor of the worldview in the sense that it’s not automatically ruled out. But, of course, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. To determine whether it’s true requires that we look at the evidence of the world which may or may not favor the worldview in question.

Think of it this way: If a claim is internally logically contradictory, then it’s definitely false, because logical contradictions are necessarily false; but if a claim is not internally logically contradictory, then it might be true, or not (we don’t know, we need to examine the evidence). Enter: the test of fact. That is to ask: Is the claim supported by the evidence of the world (i.e., the outer world and the inner world)? Enter: the test of practice. That is to ask: Is the claim livable without borrowing from some other philosophical view?

So, one should not accept a worldview just because it’s self-consistent. That would be to confuse a necessary condition for a sufficient condition. The three worldview tests—test of fact, test of logical consistency, test of practice—need to be considered together. So, each is a necessary condition, and jointly they are sufficient.

Clarification 3

Yes, we all begin with assumptions and biases. But we all also live in a common world, a world of objects such as rocks, plants, dogs, cats, people, waterfalls, lakes, the moon, the stars—the world that the sciences and history investigate. By thinking carefully about this common world, we’ve developed some criteria for testing whether claims about this world are true or reasonable to believe to be true. The success of science is a testament to this. The sciences, along with the careful study of history, are instances of refined and institutionalized critical thinking. Another instance of refined and institutionalized critical thinking is legal argument, where we arbitrate competing claims to truth (he did it vs. he didn’t do it) by carefully examining the pros and the cons. So, by doing critical thinking very carefully, we can minimize the distorting effects of bias, faulty inferences, etc. We can let the evidence of the world speak for itself, instead of making it say things we want it to say. This, it seems to me, is the purpose of, in general, getting a good education, and, more specifically, taking a good critical thinking course.

Clarification 4

If someone makes a claim about the world, such as, say, that there is a God, or, say, that there is no God, then this person is setting out a core doctrine of a worldview: in the former case a theistic worldview, in the latter case an atheistic worldview. This isn’t a rhetorical device; this is a mere description of a philosophical view that a person claims to hold.

Clarification 5

Regarding the question, “Why would God not be possible?” I was asking you this question because your previous claim logically implied it. You wrote: “Your rain example is noce [nice] and all, but there you are talking about things that are possible, not about all-powerful, all-knowing, all-whatever, invisible, ‘infeelable’ entities.” The logical implication of your claim is that God is not possible. I was simply wondering why you think this. You go on to say (later) that, on the basis of what you’ve examined, the concept of God is “not logically coherent.” That’s a reasonable reply. But I’m wondering what your arguments are for the alleged logical incoherence of God (more specifically, the Christian concept of God). It turns out that my experience of examining arguments that purport to show logical incoherence of the concept of God has been such that the arguments usually fall apart upon close inspection. (For an example, see the beginning of this blog where Pvblivs and I discuss an objection to the logical coherence of God.) But, of course, I haven’t seen every such argument, so, to be intellectually honest, I think that I should be open to looking at them. That’s why my specialty, along with Philosophy of Science, is Philosophy of Religion, where these sorts of arguments are part of my professional diet.

Clarification 6

G.E. wrote: “It remains that unless you think a God is authentically possible, a cumulative argument does not work at all.”

Hendrik’s reply: Right, if God isn’t a logical possibility, as, say, a square circle isn’t a logical possibility, then a cumulative case argument does not work at all—and will never work. I believe that I pointed this out previously.

Significantly, it needs to be pointed out that if you think that I’m arguing for something logically contradictory like a square circle, then you will always prejudge my arguments to fail, no matter how strong my arguments are. No matter how much good evidence for God is presented, it can’t be evidence for God. That’s philosophically interesting—and revealing of how a core doctrine of a worldview can influence what one “sees” (or, better, fails to see).

G.E. wrote: “This possibility [of God] is faith Hendrik, and faith alone.” With respect, G.E., I disagree. To think that X is a logical possibility is to think that there aren’t any logical contradictions in the concept of X. This can be determined by looking at arguments that purport to show that the concept is logically contradictory and demonstrating logically that the arguments are faulty. Such philosophical work, coupled with any prima facie lack of contradictoriness in the concept of X, allows one to conclude—via reason—that the concept is not logically impossible. So, it seems to me that the claim that the possibility of God is by faith and faith alone is not true. It seems to me that the light of reason can show us that God is a logical possibility. (Of course, whether God exists is a different question. I add this because some people confuse the issues of actual existence and logical possibility.)

Concluding comments

Well, I should stop. If my clarifications aren’t helpful to you, G.E., I think that we’ll have to agree to disagree. No, this doesn’t mean that our difference has to do with faith and faith alone. Rather, by this I mean that, if it looks like what I’ve written (and written and written) isn’t helpful, then I am going to have to disengage from the conversation—I really don’t have time to do a lot more clarifying of philosophical subtleties. (No disrespect in saying this, but this blog was not intended to be a distance education course wherein I offer my services to tutor one or two students.) It seems to me that because my serious philosophical points seem to be getting ignored or dismissed as “rhetorical devices”, which they simply and clearly are not, I shouldn’t continue the conversation. Please understand that it’s not a case of me thinking that I’ve been confronted by insurmountable arguments against my view (it’s not this at all, in fact); rather (and I intend no disrespect in saying this), it’s more like a case of me talking to a student who probably should have taken an introductory course in philosophy before taking my more advanced course in philosophy. (I’m sure that all educators reading this have experienced this sort of scenario at least once in their careers, and can relate.) At any rate, I do truly hope that what I’ve written is helpful.

So, G.E. (and other Apologia readers), I think that I will turn off the comments section of my blog for a while. I need to make some additional time to focus on my research projects over the summer, and I think that turning off the comments section will help me do this. I think too that turning off the comments section will also ensure that opinions and arguments which befuddle rather than enlighten won’t cloud up what I write in my future Apologia columns (I’m thinking of the fellow “Bob” here, whose impolite philosophical fog can be found at the very top of the thread for the comment section for "DNA and Intelligent Design"). G.E., I’ve gotten some really good ideas from our exchanges which I think I will incorporate into future installments of my column, so I thank you for that. Thanks too, G.E., for your ongoing interest. I hope your summer is productive and restful.

Best regards only,
Hendrik

P.S. Even though I am turning off the comments section for a while, I reserve the right to reply to comments that have already been submitted. I have this insatiable urge to clarify philosophical stuff. I suppose that’s part of why I think I’ve been called to teach philosophy.

P.P.S. Speaking of insatiable urges, any expensive coffees owed to me are still owed to me. I confess that this second postscript is simply due to my insatiable caffeine addiction…