Category: agnosticism

Musings on the Mind of God

By R.N. Carmona

Far above the claim that Christians have the truth, there’s one claim that has been overlooked by many non-believers: the claim that Christians understand the will and thoughts of an immaterial consciousness. This arrogant claim got me thinking quite a bit about our understanding of human consciousness and the consciousnesses of other organisms. As in other cases, a Christian may be cocksure about their pet theory, Cartesian dualism. They might be quite convinced of their theory of consciousness. Less common is the atheist who thinks they have consciousness figured out. Despite these haughty pretenses, none of these people understand consciousness; nor have they ironed out a viable theory of consciousness.

One well-known theory of where the idea of gods came from posits that humans simply created an ideal and then began to believe that the ideal exists. In other words, humans can be loving, good, strong, and knowledgeable, so given that, there must be a being who’s like us and yet perfect in every respect in which we are not. This they called god. When one considers a cross cultural approach, taking, for instance, Greek and Roman demigods into account, the theory holds an ocean of water. This is perhaps the reason why monotheists, Christians most specifically, think they can comprehend god’s thoughts and will.

Why must an immaterial mind resemble our demonstrably material mind? How can you understand a supposedly infinite consciousness if you can’t even comprehend your own finite consciousness? You also can’t understand the finite consciousnesses of other living things. The fact is that if such an immaterial mind existed, it would be beyond comprehension and certainly not as capricious, malicious, jealous, vindictive, and bloodthirsty as the Judeo-Christian or Islamic gods.

On top of that, the idea of an all-loving being is questionable because love is literally reducible to chemical reactions in the human brain. As Shermer explains:

I find it deeply interesting to know that when I fall in love with someone my initial lustful feelings are enhanced by dopamine, a neurohormone produced by the hypothalamus that triggers the release of testosterone, the hormone that drives sexual desire, and that my deeper feelings of attachment are reinforced by oxytocin, a hormone synthesized in the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood by the pituitary. Further, it is instructive to know that such hormone-induced neural pathways are exclusive to monogamous pairbonded species as an evolutionary adaptation for the long-term care of helpless infants. We fall in love because our children need us! Does this in any way lessen the qualitative experience of falling in love and doting on one’s children? Of course not, any more than unweaving a rainbow into its constituent parts reduces the aesthetic appreciation of the rainbow.

Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies–How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. New York: Times, 2011. 186. Print.

This isn’t to undermine the experience of love. Rather, this is to highlight the fact that what we call love is very specific to our neuroanatomy–a neuroanatomy that differs from even our closest cousins. I would argue that the jury is still out on whether chimps and gorillas feel or conceptualize anything like love, but one thing’s for certain, an immaterial mind may not even be capable of love or empathy, especially since the latter is dependent on social bonding and care of kin.

All this taken together and it becomes even clearer that humans created an ideal and started to believe that such an ideal must exist. Yet if there were such a thing as a immaterial mind that created the universe as we know it, it would be nothing at all like human beings. There’s more philosophical evidence to consider.

Consider the assertion that god is omniscient. In order for god to be omniscient, he would have to be able to calmly enter the waters of David Chalmer’s important question: what is it like to be a bat? In addition, he’d have to know what it’s like to be a velociraptor, a neanderthal, a wooly mammoth, a dolphin, and a dog. He’d have to be able to fully grasp the somatosensory, auditory, and olfactory experiences of every living being. If you’re persuaded by panpsychism, then god would have to understand what it’s like to be a chair or a blender. So clearly this is an incomprehensible consciousness far exceeding our own and there’s no way we were created in his image.

The fact is that many philosophers have strived and are striving to understand human consciousness; some have tried and are attempting to understand non-human consciousness. We admittedly do not fully understand our own consciousness or the consciousnesses of any other organisms and yet, billions of people claim to be privy to the thoughts and desires of an immaterial consciousness. It is this claim that should drive people away from belief. The claim is highly dubious and certainly wrong. If there were such a thing as immaterial minds, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend them and god being such a mind, is incomprehensible and the so-called revelations rendered to us thus far are woefully inadequate, for it is clear to anyone lacking the deep-seated need to believe that such a mind cannot be like ours, capable of both our feats and our faults.

Philosophical Atheism: Responding to a Bad Review

With some hesitation, I am choosing to respond to Geek From the East’s review of my book Philosophical Atheism: Counter Apologetics and Arguments For Atheism. The reason I hesitate is because though the blogger refers to himself as an “Agnostic seeker,” a brief skimming of his blog will convince anyone that he has a clear bias in favor of theism. I also hesitate because he’s an uninformed layman falling victim to a bit of Dunning-Kruger effect. His book reviews and blog posts have consisted of responses to atheists. He seems to have a vested interest in defending theism whilst pretending to safeguard academic writing from sloppy scholarship. Had he actually read my book, rather than skimmed, he would realize that the book was never intended to be a serious academic work! Serious academic work often intimidates readers and makes them feel incapable of fully grasping what’s being conveyed. In my book’s introduction, I state the following:

I’ve done my best to ensure that the book is accessible to the casual reader who has, at the very least, a faint interest in atheism, religion, philosophy, and science. My hope is that this work will light the dim flame of such a casual reader so as to get them more interested in philosophy and science. Despite this goal, there are places that are quite esoteric. These portions of the work might be difficult to follow, but these portions are not included for sake of discouraging any member of the audience. My hope, with regards to esoteric material, is that the mind of the reader is elevated, that within such an individual a will is awakened to learn more about these topics and get a better understanding of what at the moment appears difficult.

p.14, Print Edition

This adequately deals with his concern that the references and sources I use aren’t used in professional works that are meant to be taken seriously. The purpose of this book wasn’t to enter the discussion on the philosophy of religion. My intent wasn’t to get into a dialogue with William Lane Craig, John Lennox, or any of the other apologists mentioned in my book. While I would welcome such dialogue, assuming it takes the shape of actual dialogue rather than someone obstinately trying their darnedest to convert me, I didn’t write my book for sake of starting such a dialogue. My book is aimed at atheists, particularly atheists who are new to atheism; as such, they likely won’t know how to respond to these arguments.

This brings me to my next issue with this reviewer who unabashedly goes out of his way to misrepresent my work. He states that my book doesn’t “describe a current landscape of the topic accurately” and that, particularly in the chapter on the Moral Argument, I use a net-based reference — as though William Lane Craig’s own Q&A response somehow misrepresents his Moral Argument. If my reader were suspicious of my formulation of Craig’s Moral Argument, they can readily consult dozens of internet sources — including tons of YouTube debates in where he formulates the Moral Argument in the same exact manner. It always sounds like this:

P1 If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

P2 Objective moral values and duties do exist.

C Therefore, god exists.

That is precisely the argument I addressed and it is precisely the argument Craig puts forward. My concern isn’t whether there are other versions of the Moral Argument. There most certainly are. My intent is to address the most known version, the version that atheists will encounter the most. Given that Craig has plenty of admirers here in the US, over in the UK, in Australia, and in parts of Asia, it is only fitting that I address his argument and not Leibniz’s, for example. Most Christians with apologetic bents aren’t even familiar with Leibniz’s Moral Argument, so why address it? If it’s stronger than Craig’s then it stands to reason that they would employ it more often. Since they do not, my book didn’t address it. If it were to ever become more commonplace, then perhaps I will address it in future editions of my book.

Given my target audience (wannabe apologist Christians and atheists new to atheism, but most especially this latter group), I use accessible sources. Those accessible sources usually have further sources should any of my readers choose to consider them. I am not going to fill my book with journal publications that are inaccessible because they’re hard to get copies of or because they’re blocked by a paywall. Furthermore, I am not going to fill my book with sources that will obligate my reader to buy a ton of books. If they choose to consider the books and journal publications I did include, that’s entirely up to them. The point, once again, was to write a book that doesn’t scare the reader away.

Now to the biggest complaint. He talks about the current landscape and accuses me of dishonesty and yet fails to give an example of this so-called current landscape. Moreover and much more importantly, he neglects to mention that apologists like Craig, Licona, Lennox, and so on are guilty of this. I am not guilty of failing to update the discussion. They are most certainly guilty of that. William Lane Craig, who is only the most well-known apologist in both Catholic and Protestant circles, has trotted out the same five or six arguments in debate after debate after debate for about 30 years. That’s three decades of stale arguments and unmentioned objections, talking points, and amendments (assuming there are any) to any of the arguments he employs.

My purpose, I reiterate, is to address the arguments as they are usually offered. You can’t fault a response for basically quoting verbatim. If Craig’s Moral Argument differed today from a version offered twenty years ago, I would have addressed the new version of the argument. More importantly, I address this very point in my book, so had the reviewer sat on his hands a bit rather than prematurely review a book he didn’t read closely, he would have encountered the following:

The first half of this work dealt with as many theistic arguments as possible. There are others and variants of some of the ones discussed, but a theist will acknowledge that some of the arguments that rank as the best were included. Whether they will admit that the arguments were adequately refuted is doubtful. Despite this work, one that attempts to treat the case for theism charitably, I am of the persuasion that theism, most specifically monotheism, is held up by obstinacy rather than reasonable belief. This is to say that belief in god cannot be shown to be reasonable as proponents of apologetic arguments often claim. When their arguments are defeated, the believer will double down and often with no attempt to, at the very least, amend the argument.

C.S. Lewis, for example, offered an Argument Against Naturalism that met bitter defeat in the objections of Elizabeth Anscombe. Briefly, Lewis argued that since all thoughts are the result of irrational causes assuming naturalism is true, then either naturalism is unreasonable or false. Lewis used the example of atoms, which he considered to be irrational. Anscombe corrected Lewis and said that atoms are not irrational, but rather non-rational. Lewis accepted this distinction and attempted to revise his argument by replacing irrational with non-rational. The new conclusion is not the one he intended to arrive at, since a system of thought — which is what he considered naturalism to be — cannot be non-rational.

My intention isn’t to proceed as though I wish to address Lewis’ argument. Instead, I want to suggest that Lewis should serve as an example of how to proceed should one’s argument prove flawed. Lewis revised his argument, but upon realizing that Anscombe’s objection proved fatal to the argument, he abandoned it. The fact that one argument turns out to fail doesn’t mean that the world view has failed. Given theism’s catalog of arguments, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. Unfortunately, the opposition appears to confuse quantity with quality. Over thirty arguments are sometimes offered to make the case for theism, e.g., Peter Kreft. A few good arguments should suffice.

Aside from that, defeaters like the ones presented in the first half of this work aren’t enough to compel the theist to revise their argument, let alone abandon it entirely. The case for theism rests on the stilts of obduracy, the belief that theistic arguments can’t possibly be proven wrong. William Lane Craig offers the same five arguments in one debate after another. Four of the arguments he has employed have been adequately addressed in the first half of this work. What’s more is that I’m far from the first philosopher to refute these arguments. Yet these arguments have not been revised or abandoned.

Once again, I mention Craig’s penchant to trot out the same, tired arguments. I also mention that there are other variants, variants I didn’t consider because atheists won’t encounter them as often — if ever. What I also mention is that apologetics rests on obstinacy; apologists often proceed without amending arguments or abandoning them. I further suggest, as other philosophers have, that apologetics is pseudo-philosophy and pseudo-scholarship. It’s paradoxical in nature because it pretends to be something it isn’t. The field proceeds as though it’s scholarly and yet, it fails to showcase any of the hallmarks of actual scholarship. This is most pronounced in Craig’s refusal to abandon his arguments.

Now, a closet theist, like this reviewer, will no doubt claim that Craig has no reason to change his arguments because they haven’t been defeated. I outline plenty defeaters ranging from Mackie’s to Nielsen’s to Carroll’s and others. In Chapter 3, which this reviewer mentions in passing, I develop an accessible overview of Christine Korsgaard’s procedural realism — to my mind, one of the more viable non-theistic theories of morality. I could have also mentioned Kagan’s No Harm principle or Scanlon’s contractualism. I could have mentioned Carrier’s Goal Theory or the more modern pluralist theory offered by some psychologists. But again, that can be a work all its own and would involve more scholarship than my target audience cares for.

His claim is that popular apologetic arguments are straw mans and yet, he fails to provide even one example. He fails to mention that the Kalam Cosmological Argument isn’t original to William Lane Craig. How is that argument a straw man? Which argument is the real, stronger version? The Moral Argument isn’t a straw man. Again, I offered it, word for word, the same way Craig does. What argument is the Moral Argument a straw man of? How about Aquinas’ arguments — which I carefully formulated using Aquinas’ own words? What are they straw mans of? He actually said that “those popular arguments are mostly just weaker form of those strongest arguments for God. In other words, they are actually straw-manned form of those arguments.” This is the most dubious part of his review and yet he says that I don’t know what I’m talking about. It appears that the shoe fits his foot perfectly.

What’s also golden is that he accuses me of being uncharitable to theistic arguments because I supposedly didn’t include refutations to my refutations or refutations to my arguments for atheism. My arguments for atheism have been on the web for about two years and aside from the one objection discussed in Chapter 12, I have encountered no refutations. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any. It certainly doesn’t mean that I didn’t consider any. In fact, my Argument from Cosmology receives much attention because it runs into a number of difficulties, the biggest of which is one of its pillars, namely mathematical antirealism. I spend much time in Chapter 11 discussing this difficulty, a difficulty that can no doubt be raised in objection to the argument. Craig and most apologists are mathematical realists, so my argument will no doubt strike them as off — hence why I carefully address such an issue. But what can be said about a reviewer who didn’t even get that far or one who didn’t care to read my book carefully?

Had he read Chapter 7, he would have seen a clinical treatment of Aquinas’ notion of privation, which attempts to refute the notion of a perfectly evil being or, using his terminology, a being that is evil to the utmost degree. Had he read Chapter 6, he would have seen that I updated the theist’s philosophy of mind. I replaced the outmoded Cartesian dualism with Chalmer’s property dualism. In Chapter 8, I am most careful in my treatment of Van Tillian presuppositionalism. I make my best attempt to convey what Van Til tried to argue without degrading his language. The entire book is an exercise in charitable presentations of what theists have offered. The fact that I ultimately am not persuaded by any of these arguments or systems of thought is by no means an indication of a secret desire to misrepresent theistic arguments. To the contrary, my intention is to be as charitable as possible so as to increase the strength of my refutations. The first step in any successful refutation is a clear comprehension of the argument or system of thought.

Perhaps he should, once again, fault apologists. Craig does not change his favored arguments. Licona follows his lead. Lennox doesn’t really present arguments in that form. His approach is more informal. I briefly mention Peter Kreft who has as many as 30+ arguments — each receiving adequate refutation. The fault is on the apologist who thinks his argument(s) so ironclad that the discussion never moves forward. My book is a handbook of sorts for people new to atheism, but it is also an indictment of apologetics. I entered a stale discussion if only to inform people new to atheism and cocksure Christians who put too much stock in these arguments. I never intended to move the discussion forward because my opponents don’t think that’s warranted; if they thought so, they would have already done that.

One apologist that attempts to do that is Alvin Plantinga. He has amended his ontological argument a few times. The one presented in my book is considered the strongest version by a vast majority of Christians. It is, after all, the version I encounter the most and the one that is labelled the “Victorious” Ontological Argument. The reviewer may disagree and might offer a slightly different version, but that version will fall victim to the same objections. Plantinga’s god is maximally excellent, which means perfect in a particular world. His god is also maximally great, which means perfect in every world. My refutation is simple, so simple it can be stated in a sentence: if we can find a world lacking a maximally excellent being, then a maximally great being (a being who is maximally excellent in all worlds) doesn’t exist. Given that, I suggest we consider the only world we can access, i.e., the one we find ourselves in. I focus on the idea that he’s perfectly good and ask whether a perfectly good god can exist in this world, ala Problem of Evil. My conclusion is the same as many a philosopher’s conclusion: the natural evil in this world is gratuitous to such an extent that a perfectly good being cannot possibly exist. Therefore, a maximally excellent being fails to exist in this world and by extension, a maximally great being fails to exist.

This is a fatal defeater to Plantinga’s argument in any form unless he chooses to abandon the maximally excellent and maximally great qualifiers. In recent scholarship, Plantinga has not done that. His admirers most certainly haven’t when considering that the version appearing in Chapter 4 of my book is precisely the version presented by wannabe apologists. The reviewer may disagree and offer another, a “stronger” version. What argument can be better than the so-called “Victorious” Ontological Argument? If he were to present one, I will carefully pick it apart as well.

Now I turn to the minor problems he has with “my book” as though these problems are pervasive. I briefly mention a distinction in scientism. That distinction is not important to my book. I mention it for sake of condemning the maximal scientistic attitudes of New Atheists. Despite that, I am not opposed to science informing philosophy and other disciplines. The reviewer says minimal scientism is meaningless to argue and/or indefensible. On minimal scientism, science can inform philosophy. Science has done exactly that in many cases. Any brief consideration of philosophy of mind or of time or of mathematics will prove this quite conclusively. I wanted to be sure to say that I am not opposed to a philosopher mentioning cognitive and neuroscience. I am not opposed to a philosopher talking about cosmology and quantum mechanics with respect to time. I wholeheartedly believe science should inform other disciplines whenever it is deemed relevant and/or necessary. The same applies to history. I suggest a scientism along Pinker’s lines of thinking (see here). If it’s so indefensible, the author has to tell us why cognitive and neuroscience are inapplicable to philosophy of mind. He has to argue against the use of science in philosophy, history, and other disciplines. What’s untenable is his position.

The other minor quibble he has with my book is my discussion on atheism. Yet he has no grasp of the normative-analytic distinction, a distinction I borrowed from the philosophy of law. On natural law, answering the question of normative jurisprudence, namely what should law be, also answers the question of analytic jurisprudence, what is the law. So, if we answer what atheism should be we arrive at what atheism actually is. He alludes to a non-naturalistic atheism, but fails to qualify it. He is all too content with saying that he doesn’t get why atheism should be defined as strictly as I define it. Following Kai Nielsen, I argue that “naturalism, where consistent, is an atheism” (Nielsen, 2001 p.30). I further argue that atheism, where consistent, is a naturalism. That’s why I contrast atheism with Buddhism, a religion that obligates its adherents to believe in metaphysical beings and realities. Should an atheist believe in such things, they are not a naturalist and arguably, not an atheist. So if we answer the question of what atheism should be, we answer the question of what it actually is.

The dictionary tells us that atheism is the lack of belief in gods. Common sense tells us it’s a bit more involved than that. Do atheists lack belief in gods, but still believe in what the holy text(s) convey? They do not. Do they stop believing that there’s a god and continue to believe in angels and demons? They do not. Along with god, atheists lack belief in the efficacy of religious rituals, the divine authority of religious texts, and metaphysical beings and realities. This is precisely why Buddhists, though they don’t worship a god, are not atheists. They revere the Buddha to an extent and attempt to imitate his ways; they also take his words and deeds seriously and believe in the efficacy of their rituals, most especially meditation. On meditation, some forms have proven effective, but Buddhists go beyond a version like Transcendental Meditation and continue to believe that meditation results in samadhi or what the ancient Hindus referred to as moksha. Along with that, some continue to believe in the cycle of death and rebirth, i.e, reincarnation. Atheists cannot and very often do not believe in any of these things. By their own admission, they are naturalists; all that exists is what is sensible, measurable, and quantifiable in the universe. There are no astral planes, heavens, or portals to metaphysical dimensions.

Lastly, my discussion in Chapter 1 is prefaced by much discussion between other philosophers. Atheists make use of the approaches I discussed. They employ naturalism, fallibilism, and deductive and inductive atheology. The best use of atheism, philosophically speaking, is an approach that employs those approaches and more. I also suggested that one approach may work better in one case but not others. We can indict a theist’s conclusion because his knowledge isn’t complete, i.e., fallibilism, in a given case. In another case, however, it might be more useful to employ naturalism. Where one person argues that prayers can be answered, an atheist might be better suited in addressing that conclusion via naturalism rather than waving away the conclusion because the theist’s knowledge is faulty. It is faulty in this case as well, but there are ways to disabuse the theist of such a conclusion that prove more effective. One can, for instance, allude to the Problem of Evil.

Theist: “God answered my prayer! I got the job!”

Atheist: “Why would he give you a job and fail to answer the cries of the little boy being sexually abused by his priest or the cries of a girl being molested by a family friend? Also, plenty of research has been done on this and it has been proven conclusively that prayer doesn’t work. For one, there are psychological biases people have. In other words, you want to see things a certain way. What you’re neglecting in your case is that you interviewed for the position, you worked your butt off to attain all the necessary qualifications, and you ultimately impressed them with your charm and the depth of your answers. You want god to take the credit for something you did. Some cases are like that. Other cases attribute causation from mere correlation or outright coincidence.”

It should occur to anyone that atheists proceed in both ways. Sometimes they’ll go with fallibilism and sometimes they’ll go with naturalism. Other times, as I did in the second half of my book, they’ll platform on naturalism and use actual deductive or inductive arguments. I am not suggesting, as the reviewer thought I did, that we can jump from an ought to an is. What I’m suggesting is that the way atheism is is as it should be. In other words, what atheism ought to be is precisely the form it takes wherever it retains consistency. An atheist who believes in astrology is mildly inconsistent and should address that if they care for the project of making their atheism more consistent. An atheist who believes in astral realms is extremely inconsistent and hasn’t fully come to terms with the conclusion that there’s no god. Perhaps some aspect(s) of religious thinking still appeals to this individual and that’s fine, but a consistent atheist s/he is not. The form it has taken in the likes of Mackie, Ayer, Grayling, Dennett, Russell, Smith, and others is precisely as it should be. So it isn’t that we answer the normative question to get the answer to the analytic question, but rather that in answering the former  we simultaneously answer the latter. That point I made absolutely clear.

As for the other parts of his review, I’ll be sure to read them, but given this rough start, I’m not sure I’ll be responding to anything else this particular reviewer has to say. It’s clear to me and should be clear to anyone else — given his blog’s content — that he has a clearly defined bias for theism, almost certainly Christianity. He resides in South Korea, a country with a burgeoning Christian population. He may not be sure that god exists, but it’s clear that he believes in god. He is, to put it another way, an agnostic theist. He believes in god, but doesn’t know or claim to know that he exists. That’s fine so long as he doesn’t pretend otherwise. He may want to give people the impression that he’s impartial and doesn’t care either way, but given his reviews and posts, it is crystal clear that he is opposed to atheism. This review is rife with problems, each of its own creation. Had he read my book more thoroughly or read it in its entirety before reviewing, he may have fared better. What’s more is that he seems to have missed one of the central focuses of my book; this book is written to interested laymen, them who are, in particular, new to atheism. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and other new atheists will not give them any segue into addressing these arguments; I have attempted to provide that in a brief, mostly accessible manner and despite these uncharitable complaints, I strongly believe that I have accomplished that.

I’ll let new readers decide for themselves. My book is available for purchase here. Read, write a review on Amazon or on your blog, or approach me with questions over on Tumblr. Happy reading!

An Excerpt From My New Book

It is useful to note that even if Plantinga or any Christian rejects the contra-argument, the first premise can be challenged. Rather than quibble with what is meant by maximal excellence, an atheist can accept the definition as it stands. The atheist can, however, question whether this is possible world W in where a being of maximal excellence exists and explore the consequences if it turns out that this isn’t that possible world. In other words, if this isn’t that specific possible world, then the argument is speaking of a possible world that is inaccessible to the believer and the believer is therefore in no better position to convince the non-believer. Put another way, if a being of maximal excellence doesn’t exist in this possible world, then it possibly exists in another world that cannot be accessed by any of the inhabitants in this world. There is therefore no utility or pragmatic value in belief. The argument would only speak of a logical possibility that is ontologically impossible in this world.

The atheist can take it a step further. What Christian theists purport to know about god stems from the Bible. The Bible, in other words, gives us information about god, his character, and his history as it relates to this world. Assuming this is possible world W, does he represent a being having maximal excellence? Is he, for instance, identical to a being who is wholly good? Any honest consideration of parts of the Bible would lead one to conclude that god is not identical to a being who is wholly good; god, in other words, isn’t wholly good. So obvious is his evil that Marcion of Sinope diverged from proto-Orthodox Christians in concluding that the Jewish God in the Old Testament is an evil deity and is in no way the father of Jesus. Yet if he’s evil, then he isn’t wholly good and if he isn’t wholly good, he fails to have maximal excellence.

Moreover, and much more damning to Plantinga’s argument, is that a being of maximal greatness has maximal excellence in all worlds. Therefore, if this being does not have maximal excellence in one of those worlds or more specifically, in this world, then it does not possess maximal greatness. Far from victorious, Plantinga’s argument would taste irreparable defeat and this, in more ways than one.

R.N. Carmona Philosophical Atheism: Counter Apologetics and Arguments For Atheism

Print is Now Live on!

Book is now available for purchase here! Here are the Table of Contents to whet the appetite:


Chapter 1: Philosophical Approaches to Atheism

Chapter 2: Refuting the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Chapter 3: The Moral Argument Refuted

Chapter 4: Refuting Plantinga’s Victorious Ontological Argument

Chapter 5: On Qualia and A Refutation of the Argument from Consciousness

Chapter 6: Refuting the Fine-Tuning Argument

Chapter 7: The Failures of Aquinas’ Five Ways

Chapter 8: Transcendental Arguments and Presuppositionalism Refuted

Chapter 9: The Argument from Assailability

Chapter 10: The Arguments from History and The Multiplicity of Religions

Chapter 11: The Argument from Cosmology

Chapter 12: On the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument


I hope you guys enjoy!

“Atheism On Trial” On Trial

By R.N. Carmona

Over at PhilosophyNow, which is a site I frequent for philosophy articles, Stephen Anderson, a philosophy teacher in Ontario, puts atheism on trial. Before I write my rebuttal, I must speak bluntly: his trial is egregious and makes obvious a gross misunderstanding of atheism and the various positions among atheists. I’ll make his misunderstandings clear. This rebuttal isn’t meant to open a debate between myself and Anderson, but I welcome it. I will, however, speak honestly once again: once my rebuttal is done, I doubt there will be a response, since Anderson’s mistakes are so elementary.

He begins with an introduction that attempts to skew the truth, i.e., he speaks of atheism as though it is a privileged position; he speaks as though there’s a such thing as atheist privilege rather than religious or more specifically, Christian privilege. This immediately shows Anderson’s disconnect from the truth. There is no atheist privilege in many countries. He says that atheists like to remind people that in the past, atheists were “hacked to pieces with a scimitar or boiled in oil…as if the follies of distant ancestors should make us blush.” The glaring issue here is that this isn’t merely the folly of distant ancestors, but rather, past follies resemble the follies committed by religious people in the modern day. Anderson never makes clear what his religious beliefs are though he seems to suggest in his conclusion that he’s Jewish; he simply refers to his deity as the “Supreme Being.” Given this neutral position, the crimes of religious people in the modern day are enough to refute his claim. The reason we’re fond of reminding people of such crimes is because they still happen. They happen, in particular, to atheists around the world. They also happen, in general, to people due to the radical religious beliefs of some practitioners. Therefore, such comments are made because they’re still relevant.

Earlier this year, American secularist Avijit Roy was hacked to death in Bangladesh.1 His wife was also attacked. As a result of the attack, her finger was amputated. He was one of three bloggers murdered in Bangladesh over the last four months and the fourth in the last two years. Two more have been attacked since 2004. After killing Roy, two of Roy’s followers were murdered: Ananta Bijoy Das and Washiqur Rahman.2 Such examples are not only instances of violence against atheists, but they’re indicative of what would happen if believers were given more power than they have in secular countries. It’s also a continuing trend: when a theocracy is in place, violence against nonbelievers and people holding other religious beliefs are the norm. In 13 Muslim countries, atheists could be legally executed.3 The article (which is cited below) also shares some striking examples of violence, discrimination, and prejudice against atheists. “This report shows that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers although they have signed U.N agreements to treat all citizens equally,“ said IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx. Also, in India “humanists say police are often reluctant or unwilling to investigate murders of atheists carried out by religious fundamentalists.” “Across the world, the report said, “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prevent them working for the state.””

There are also crimes against people in general. The next example could be considered violence against atheists since some scholars and critics of Islam are atheists. Robert Spencer, a renowned critic of Islam states:

Some of the bold scholars who have investigated the history of early Islam have even received death threats. As a result, some publish under pseudonyms, including scholars of the first rank, such as those who go by the names Christoph Luxenberg and Ibn Warraq. Such intimidation is an impediment to scholarly research that even the most radical New Testament scholar never had to deal with.4

There’s also the fact that extremist Muslims pour acid on young girls and women who simply want an education.5 Before responding by saying that all of my examples have focused on Islam, I will add that Christians have murdered dozens of children during exorcisms.[6][7] Belief in so called faith healing has also led to many deaths, spanning decades. In this, there’s also an implicit discrimination against atheists. For instance, Jerry A. Coyne states:

If your faith mandates spiritual healing and your child dies because you offer prayer instead of insulin or antibiotics, your chances of being charged with a crime are slim. There are religious exemptions for child neglect and abuse, negligent homicide, involuntary manslaughter. Several states allow parents to use a religious defense against charges of murder of their child—and in some places they can’t be charged with murder at all. And even when parents are prosecuted, acquiescence to religious belief often leads to their being acquitted or given light sentences, including unsupervised parole. None of this, of course, applies to parents who refuse medical care on nonreligious grounds; those individuals get no immunity from prosecution.8

As clearly stated, nonreligious parents receive no leniency when concerning child neglect, abuse, or wrongful deaths. Though there are no clear examples of religious favoritism between religions, e.g. Christianity favored over Buddhism, I’d argue that Buddhist parents who cite a religious exemption after the death of one of their children will be treated far less favorably than a Christian claiming the same. This is to set aside that atheists are legally prohibited from taking public office in seven states.9 Discrimination and prejudice against atheists are both subtle and obvious. Atheists around the world are still murdered for their non-belief. Today’s Muslims are yesterday’s Jews and Christians. Never mind that there are clear examples, in books shared by the Christian and Jewish canon, of violence against atheists and people subscribing to other religious beliefs. I will, however, digress since I think I’ve given this claim a thorough thrashing.

Atheists do not remind people of the past for sake of doing so, but because past treatment of atheists is relevant to present treatment of atheists. Given evolving standards of decency and the improvement of governments around the world, the murder of someone who doesn’t believe or believes differently is prohibited. That isn’t to say that there aren’t other ways of harming atheists and people subscribing to different beliefs. One can discriminate and commit acts of prejudice against such people, and as discussed, there are legal avenues that enable such discrimination and prejudice.

Anderson’s primary mistake–the mistake that is, in fact, at the root of his other errors–is his definition of atheism. His definition of atheism is purely etymological and ignores the changes in its definition over time. Anderson, for example, never considers the modern definition: the lack of belief in gods. He goes with the definition “no theism,” which he interprets to mean “no gods.” He, like many theists, conflates epistemic belief and epistemic knowledge.

Though related, these concepts are different. Epistemic belief is established by epistemic entitlement and also, warrant and justification, e.g., justified true belief. “Philosophers who acknowledge the existence of entitlements maintain that there are beliefs or judgments unsupported by evidence available to the subject, but which the subject nonetheless has the epistemic right to hold.”10 Knowledge, on the other hand, is established by these as well, but to believe in something and to know something aren’t one and the same. Warrant and justification are often conflated, but epistemologists differentiate between the transmission of one and the other.11 Given that knowledge and belief are often conflated and that, at least, one definition, i.e., Plato’s definition, defines knowledge as justified true belief, when concerning atheism, which is a position of belief and not one of knowledge, it is easy to see how someone can make the mistake Anderson makes. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods and is therefore, our position of belief when concerning gods. Theism is the belief in gods, whether one (mono) or more (poly), and is also a position of belief regarding gods. Neither is a claim of knowledge. A theist might believe in one god or many, but s/he isn’t obligated to know whether or not their god(s) exists. Likewise, atheists do not believe gods exist, but it is not incumbent on them to know or to be able to demonstrate that this is, in fact, the case.

Given this, Anderson also misuses the position of knowledge. He focuses on his meaning of agnostic, but his meaning imports the error implicit in his definition of atheism. Agnostic, etymologically speaking, means “no knowledge.” This is contrasted with the term gnostic, which is derived from the Greek gnosis, meaning knowledge. Theists and atheists can be either agnostic or gnostic, and it’s those terms that contain the position of knowledge. Most atheists are openly agnostic atheists, since gnostic atheists, as Anderson intuitively understands, have their work cut out for them. Anyone who claims specialized knowledge is also required to demonstrate how they know what they claim to know. Christians, for instance, claim to know rather than merely believe that their god exists. None of them can demonstrate how they came to know this. Many of them will cite revelation as though that’s sufficient, but ultimately, they fail to establish their knowledge. Atheists, on the other hand, have demonstrated that the Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist.

In order to demonstrate this, religious knowledge is not required, as some would claim. All that’s required is to take x or y religious claim as the null hypothesis.* The alternative hypothesis, in this case being the atheist’s hypothesis, is the inverse of the null, i.e., the direct contradiction of the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is that Yahweh created the universe, the earth, and all of life, and that he assumed a human body on Earth through Jesus Christ, died for our sins, resurrected, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and left with believers his Holy Spirit, which bears witness to Jesus. The alternative hypothesis is that none of that is true, and this can be demonstrated by independent domains of knowledge: anthropology, history, science, philosophy, etc. I will not undertake the task here, but this is something that I’ve done in the past, as I’ll link below. Given the near universal belief in the Trinity, all that’s required is evidence against either the Father or the Son. Suffice to say that there’s no conclusive evidence for the Jesus depicted in the Gospels, and this is, in fact, the consensus position among Jesus scholars despite the overwhelming bias toward maximal historicity; even theists will make the minimal claims that Jesus was baptized and was crucified, and that he was an itinerant preacher. This is to set aside intra-contradictions (inconsistencies within a Gospel) and inter-contradictions (inconsistencies between the Gospels). Whoever Jesus might have been, it’s enough to say that the Gospel version is at best embellished and at worst mythologized. As stated, this can be shown given objective, independent methods that have nothing to do with dubious revelations of any sort.

Atheists can therefore claim to be gnostic atheists when concerning Christianity. In fact, they can go through similar motions to show that there’s evidence against Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism and thus, make the same declaration when concerning those religions. Atheism is therefore less black and white and instead, more like a spectrum. Given the claims of holy books, especially claims regarding this or that god, it is possible to debase such claims to such a degree that even a fervent believer can come to be convinced that such claims are false. In the absence of such claims and in the presence of ingenuity, e.g. Spinoza and less admirably, Deepak Chopra, it is harder to demonstrate that there’s no evidence for a given god. Chopra, for instance, does not claim that his deity created the Earth in six literal days, as some Christians do. Spinoza doesn’t claim to have four hagiographies depicting the life of his Savior. Einstein didn’t claim that he had dozens of Hadiths depicting the life of the prophet of his god. There is thus less reliable ways of establishing non-belief in such gods.

On the subject of agnosticism, Anderson makes use of a false analogy. To make this clear, I’ll quote him generously:

Let me illustrate. I have never been to Denmark. Call me, if you will, a ‘Denmark-agnostic.’ I have seen brochures that show a pretty country; but we all know about Photoshop fakery, so I remain doubtful. I’ve eaten some nice cheese that purported to be from Denmark, but I don’t know how far one can trust the word of cheese. My friends claim to have visited Denmark, and they report having a lot of fun. I have even been told that my ancient ancestors may well have hailed from thence. Still, I have no first-hand evidence that any of this is true.

Should I declare against the existence of Denmark until further notice? Of course that is silly. The fact that I have not personally been to Denmark doesn’t count in the question of its existence. Whether it’s actually there is one question; whether or not I have certainty about it personally is another. There is simply no reason to jump to the conclusion that because I don’t know a thing, no one else does either. That’s not sound philosophy. Furthermore, is not my skepticism willfully stupid? Suppose my friends really are reliable, or the cheese really is telling the truth. Suppose I have a personal opportunity to find better evidence, or even to visit Denmark – and I refuse, because I can’t be absolutely sure beforehand that it’s there: how silly would that be?

Similarly, the person who declares herself agnostic has only said something about her personal certainty, not about the existence of God. And that lack of certainty is met with a satisfactory rejoinder if someone else can honestly claim to have some real personal knowledge of God, or can describe a way she could obtain better information. But the agnostic has no logical reason at all to insist that no one else can possibly have such knowledge.

These examples are, in fact, dissimilar. No one, not even the most radical believer, can establish that their “brochure” is the true word of their god. They cannot claim to have seen their deity or claim that others saw him/her as well. Group hallucinations and mass hysteria do happen and for various reasons, but these are not indicative of truth, especially when considering that such hallucinations bolster the claims of different and contradictory religions.12 Religions are, for the most part, mutual exclusive: if one is true, that excludes the possibility of another being true. Therefore, group hallucinations or mass hysteria cannot indicate that two or more religions are true since they openly exclude the possibility of another religion being true.

Going back to Anderson’s false analogy, it suggests that we can know a god in the same way we know a place. It would be silly to be agnostic when concerning Denmark simply because I haven’t been there or haven’t had experiences there. Others have been to Denmark. Others live there and have experiences there. Aside from that, Denmark is marked on maps and globes. One can get a visa to go there. There are flight tickets from New York to Denmark, from DC to Denmark, from [insert almost any place in the world] to Denmark. If one were silly enough to be agnostic when regarding Denmark, there are myriad, independent ways to affirm Denmark’s existence. The same cannot be said of god.

A religious experience is not enough to establish a god’s existence because unlike the experience of traveling to and being at a certain place, one can be mistaken about religious experience. One can speak in tongues and attribute this to their Christian beliefs, but one might be mistaken in doing so, especially given that believers of other religions also speak in tongues.13 This is ignoring the fact that other Christians are cessationists and therefore believe that the so called gifts of the spirit are no longer operable, i.e., they do not believe that modern Christians can actually speak in tongues. Revelation, which I glossed over above, cannot establish the existence of a god either. Kai Nielsen makes this clear:

Similar things should be said for an appeal to Revelation or Scripture. Even without philosophical analysis, a cursory study of anthropology or the history of religions should disabuse us of that. Putative revelations and holy books or holy legends are many and conflicting. There is no way by an appeal to any putative Revelation or Scripture to establish or to know which, if any is, or even could be, “the genuine Revelation”—The Truth and The Way—and to return to natural theology, philosophy, or historical inquiry to establish which one is the genuine one is to abandon the appeal to Revelation or Scripture as our ultimate court of appeal and to appeal to something else instead to ascertain genuine Revelation from counterfeit. If we try to say “Well, they are all genuine!” then we are just left with a conflicting mess of different appeals—sometimes with radically different and conflicting or perhaps upon occasion incommensurable conceptions.14

Anderson’s biggest error, which is again based on his initial error, namely his definition of atheism, is that atheists cannot have adequate evidence for denying the existence of a god. He states that the God hypothesis is too high for atheism. He, however, makes use of a covert God of the Gaps Argument, i.e., an argument from ignorance. By adequate, he actually means all of the evidence regardless of whether we have access to it or not. He states that “one would need to rule out every reasonable possibility of positive evidence for his existence.” He adds:

How is that to be done? Can we go everywhere, at all times, and see everything? And if we could, must such an entity necessarily present Himself upon the whim of the experimenter, to be crammed into a beaker or pinched in calipers, so to speak? (Some theists have argued that, having a sovereign will, God disdains to do parlour tricks to entertain skeptics – but that is another matter.)

Aside from the fact that these questions conceal a God of the Gaps Argument, this set of questions is unfortunately a proverbial shot in the foot. For a theist to affirm the existence of his/her god, s/he would have to go everywhere, at all times, and see everything and then, on a whim, this god, apparently against its nature, would have to do a parlor trick to reveal itself. The standard of evidence is too high for either side! If this is the kind of evidence required to affirm or deny belief in a god, then it would be unattainable by believer or non-believer.

Thankfully, scientific and historical methodology disabuse us of having to have such a standard. Inductive, abductive, and deductive forms of reasoning can help either side to, at the very least, attempt to establish their belief or non-belief. History has not been kind to theists, despite what apologists might claim. Despite supposed ironclad arguments for god, none have proved convincing to atheists nor conclusive overall. Hume and Kant and then Mackie, Watson, Flew, Russell, Nielsen, and others have settled that score; apologetic arguments, which are usually deductive, are not sufficient evidence for god. I must also stress that a god that refuses to do parlor tricks is as good as nonexistent. William Provine said it best:

A widespread theological view now exists saying that God started off the world, props it up and works through laws of nature, very subtly, so subtly that its action is undetectable. But that kind of God is effectively no different to my mind than atheism.15

Therefore, if deductive arguments aren’t enough and your god refuses to do parlor tricks, what sort of evidence can a theist claim to have? If the null hypothesis cannot be established in some way, then it is incumbent on any rational person to reject it and therefore, accept the alternative hypothesis. In the jargon Anderson prefers, the positive claim is that a god exists whilst the negative claim is that a god doesn’t. This is akin to talk of statistical null and alternative hypotheses. The null is the positive whilst the alternative is the negative. In good fallibilist and Bayesian fashion, since we can’t be 100% certain of these sorts of claims, we’re left with the probability of one of our hypotheses being true. In this case, the null or positive hypothesis, i.e., the God hypothesis, must be rejected. We therefore accept the alternative hypothesis, which is essentially to establish the negative.

Getting into inductive and abductive methods of establishing non-belief would serve as an unnecessary tangent. For argument’s sake, I would like to point Anderson and people who disagree with my rebuttal to my Arguments for Atheism and my analysis of Philosophical Atheism. Assertions are only allowed if the toil of supporting them has already been done. I can make the kinds of assertions I’ve made, e.g., that the Judeo-Christian god is demonstrably nonexistent, because I’ve labored to establish such claims.

At any rate, despite the rampant scientism of the so called new atheists, to say that science has destroyed god isn’t exactly a controversial statement given that one understands what is meant by it. The statement is not claiming that science, as though it were an entity, literally stood toe to toe with god and destroyed him. The statement is claiming that scientific advancements have led to the retreat of religious and paranormal explanations and thus, the refutation of religious claims both past and present. Given immutable fundamental laws of physics, it cannot be argued that Jesus walked on water. Given the philosophical investigation of causation, it cannot be argued that an immaterial god created a material universe. In my response to Edward Feser, I discussed an example.

Quentin Smith alludes to a similar concept–namely Hector-Neri Castaneda, Galen Strawson, David Fair, Jerrold Aronson and others’ Transference definition of a cause. He cites Castaneda as stating that “the heart of production, or causation, seems, thus, to be transfer or transmission.“ Smith also states the following:

Castaneda’s full theory implies a definition that includes the nomological condition: c is a cause of e if and only if (i) there is a transfer of causity from an object O1 to an object O2 in a circumstance x, with the event c being O1’s transmission of causity and the event e being O2’s acquisition of causity; (ii) every event of the same category as c that is in a circumstance of the same category as x is conjoined with an event of the same category as e.

In the same vein as normative dispositions, if god is immaterial, how can he transfer causity to material objects. Castanda’s (ii) meets Hume’s nomological condition and my more fundamental material condition. To get around this issue, the theist would have to introduce a brand, so to speak, of causation that makes discussions like this unintelligible. To put it bluntly, it would be the invocation of nonsense to preserve nonsense. The same objection applies to how a timeless deity can operate within time. That, however, is a discussion for another time.

In the section Anderson titled “The Negation Problem,” Anderson makes use of the same error to continue his discussion. He uses another horrid analogy, but more importantly, he again claims that we have to be more or less omniscient to be a rational, logical atheist. As far as proving a negative is concerned, I updated his choice of words to show that negatives are proven at an astonishingly high rate. Every time we reject a null hypothesis, we accept the alternative and therefore, prove a negative. Furthermore, whenever a positive claim cannot be substantiated, it is reasonable to conclude that its negative is, at best, implied. This terrain is to be carefully treaded because, as Aristotle showed, some claims do not imply their negative. If we cannot establish that all swans are white, this does not imply that none are white, but rather, that some are not white. If, however, we make a particular claim rather than a plural or general claim, such as the claim, “this specific god exists,” if it cannot be demonstrated that that particularly god exists, then the implication is that that specific god doesn’t exist. The failure of apologists, especially evidentialists, to provide evidence for the existence of their god(s) implies that their respective deities do not exist. This is still a long way from the claim “no gods exist,” but as we’ve already discussed, an atheist need not adopt that claim though I would argue, on the basis of consistency, that this claim is eventually made by seasoned atheists. It’s, in fact, a claim I have no trouble making since as aforementioned, I’ve gone through the painstaking process of developing arguments, refuting arguments for god, fielding rebuttals, and assessing the available evidence. As a Bayesian, I don’t need near omniscient insight into the universe and all of the evidence at all places and times. As mentioned, that standard is unattainable and unrealistic, and though Anderson finds it feasible, he’s being dishonest in attempting to pigeonhole atheists whilst ignoring that he shoots himself in the foot.

In his section titled “Atheists Dodging the Bullet,” he makes use of the initial error: that atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusive. I will therefore say nothing about that section. There’s also the fact that much has been said about Dawkin’s agnosticism. I honestly find it ridiculous since he openly discusses his spectrum in The God Delusion. He clearly acknowledges that on a scale of seven, he falls under six. For people claiming to be familiar with so called new atheist literature, they fail to demonstrate this familiarity.

Overall, though he claims to be “charitable” toward atheism, he is dishonest in making that claim. He was not charitable in the least. He was deceptive and dishonest. He demonstrated every characteristic one would come to expect of a religious apologist. Unfortunately, I’ve presented Anderson with a barrage of bullets he will be unable to dodge. My objections are indeed penetrating. But if Anderson is like the common apologist, I’d expect him to put his obduracy on display, repeat his vacuous claims, and claim a victory he didn’t earn. Given his egregious errors, he forfeited the game before it was played.

*I am well aware that some think it’s accurate to describe atheism as the null hypothesis and I agree. I am, however, working from Anderson’s flawed theistic framework, which would instead characterize theism as the null hypothesis. If that were actually the case, we would have to reject it and accept the alternative hypothesis, atheism.

Works Cited

1 France-Presse, Agence. “American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh”. The Guardian. 27 Feb 2015. Web. <>

2 Al-Mahmood, Syed Zain. “Third Atheist Blogger Hacked to Death in Bangladesh”. Wall Street Journal. 12 May 2015. Web. <>

3 Evans, Robert. “Atheists Face Death Penalty In 13 Countries, Discrimination Around The World According To Freethought Report”. Huffington Post. 25 Jan 2015. Web. <>

4 Spencer, Robert. Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012. 13-14. Print

5 Khan, Shaan. “Pakistani Taliban target female students with acid attack”. CNN. 3 Nov 2012. Web. <>

6 Karimi, Faith and Sutton, Joe. “Police: Maryland mom kills 2 of her children during attempted exorcism”. CNN. 19 Jan 2014. Web. <>

7 Collins, Dan. “Autistic Boy Dies During Exorcism”. CBS. 25 Aug 2003. Web. <>

8 Coyne, Jerry A. “Faith Healing Kills Children”. Slate. 21 May 2015. Web. <>

9 Goodstein, Laurie. “In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban”. The New York Times. Web. <>

10 Altschul, Jon. “Epistemic Entitlement”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. <>

11 Moretti, Luca. “Transmission of Justification and Warrant”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 19 Nov 2013. <>

12 McGirk, Tim. “Hindu world divided by 24-hour wonder”. The Independent. 23 Sept 1995. Web. <>

13 Koic, Elvira, et. al. “Glossolalia”. Antropol. 29 (2005) 1: 307–313 UDC 616.89-008.434 Review. Web. <>

14 Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 399-400. Print.

15 Quoted in Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points toward God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004. 26. Print.