Category: epistemology

Procedural Realism: Refuting the Moral Argument For God

Proponents of the Moral Argument share a view known as substantive realism, which is the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”1

Let’s consider the fatal flaws this position has:

  • Whether one argues that morality is simply objective or it’s objective because it hinges on god, the view begs the question and thus isn’t justified. Begging the question is a fallacy, so a view that begs the question is either incorrect or must be revised so as to eliminate the fallacy in question.
  • The view is unjustifiably metaphysical. It, in other words, argues that morality is innate. It cannot be learned. It is part of the maker’s mark that god supposedly imprinted in us.
  • Given the weaknesses of this view, we need to look elsewhere; in other words, given that it isn’t enough to posit that morality is contingent on a deity, we’ve more work to do.

Prior to discussing procedural realism as contrasted with substantive realism, the notion alluded to in the second bullet point–which is, in fact, the notion alluded to by any proponent of the Moral Argument–was put to rest by the father of empiricism, John Locke. He argued that moral principles are not innate. One reason for this is because they aren’t universally assented to. We don’t come to immediate consensus on right and wrong the way we do when concerning the laws of logic. To put it another way, no matter the person or culture, the laws of identity, of non-contradiction, and of excluded middle are universally agreed upon. If any person fails to act in accordance with those laws, that person has failed to think or has lost his/her capacity to reason. This is not the case with morality.

Locke argues, for instance, that the consensus on whether an action is right or wrong has everything to do with how generalized the action was. Proponents of the Moral Argument argue that we all know it’s wrong to lie, to murder, or to rape, and from this, they conclude that morality proceeds from god and since we’re created in his image, moral values and duties have been ingrained in our souls since creation. Yet if we were to get more specific, agreement dissolves. Have a discussion, for example, on euthanasia, self-defense murder, and Anne Frank-esque sort of lies, i.e., lies that literally save lives or keeps one from harm, and you’ll immediately see that there’s absolutely no consensus on these matters.

The reason is because, as Locke further argued, we are likelier to provide reasons and justifications for our moral behavior. If it’s innate or proceeds from god, there will be no disagreement on these epistemic fronts. We would, in other words, be readily able to show why such an action is right or wrong. There would be no need to prove the correctness or incorrectness of an action, since this would already be known to us.2 Unfortunately, this isn’t the only claim implicit in the Moral Argument, so there’s more to be said.

Enter procedural realism: “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”3 Such a procedure could be Kant’s CI procedure or a problem-solution model. Or it could be something simpler. The procedures could even vary. In narrowing our focus, we should consider Kant’s CI procedure, which can be expressed in the following ways. There are four formulas for us to consider4:

1) The Formula of the Law of Nature: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.”

Kant placed a lot of emphasis on autonomy. Modern Kantians like John Rawls and Christine Korsgaard place similar emphasis on autonomy, but they also speak of self-legislation. This formulation is compelling because moral truths could arise from mere human agency rather than divine authority. One may contend that a psychopath would will murder as if it were a universal law of nature. However, like Goldstein, I would argue that morality is akin to crowdsourced knowledge; morality is, in other words, the culmination of human efforts spanning centuries. Rebecca Goldstein puts it this way:

There’s some ideal algorithm for working it out, for assigning weights to different opinions. Maybe we should give more weight to people who have lived lives that they find gratifying and that others find admirable. And, of course, for this to work the crowd has to be huge; it has to contain all these disparate vantage points, everybody who’s starting from their own chained-up position in the cave [Plato’s cave analogy]. It has to contain, in principle, everybody. I mean, if you’re including just men, or just landowners, or just people above a certain IQ, then the results aren’t going to be robust.5

This is a point I often make about moral epistemology. I argue that there are moral classes that are roughly analogous to economic classes. Some people have more moral expertise and therefore, lead more admirable and ethical lives. The average person is, at the very least, better than the career criminal. Sam Harris has endorsed this idea. He states:

Whenever we are talking about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. That is what it is to have a domain of expertise; that is what it is for knowledge to count. How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere, there is no such thing as moral expertise or moral talent or moral genius even? How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count? How have we convinced ourselves that every culture has a point of view on these subjects worth considering? Does the Taliban have a point of view on physics that is worth considering? No. How is their ignorance any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?6

Sam Harris is talking about moral classes. One reason some of us are convinced that there can’t be moral expertise, talent, or genius is because of fervent religious belief. Christians argue that without god, true morality cannot be achieved. Without god, all we’re left with is human opinion–-as though all human opinion is equal. Some opinions are undoubtedly better than others. The opinions that have been thus far expressed are better than those of Christians who disagree with them. It should be clear to any impartial third party that one side has thought more, read more, studied more, questioned more, and so on, and that in light of this, one set of opinions is superior to the other.

In the same vein as Harris, Goldstein talked about ruling out the peculiarities of certain people. Every moral opinion doesn’t count and that’s because some people and groups are morally superior to others. Unless one wants to argue that people are generally on par with the Taliban when it comes to morality, they’re admitting to the fact that there are moral classes. As stated, a simple corollary are economic classes. It’s clear that some people are prosperous and others are not. Some people can afford mansions and luxury cars; some people can afford a three-story house; others can barely afford an apartment and still others can scarcely afford a room; still others are homeless. In like manner, some people are simply morally superior to others and when looked at objectively, one will quickly realize that religious affiliation has nothing to do with it.

Some people, for instance, can see the injustice in discrimination and perpetrating acts of prejudice against minorities and gays. Some Christians cannot. Any Christian or non-Christian that has the capacity to see such injustice is in a higher moral class than Westboro Baptist and conservative, right wing Christians.

Some are admittedly anti-gay. This makes clear that they advocate restrictive legislation against them. They will protest the legislation of gay marriage though it’s already been made legal. They likely argue to invalidate the love gay couples share; this is quite common among conservatives. They misrepresent gays by accusing them of succumbing to so called sinful concupiscence. I, for one, wouldn’t advocate restrictive legislation against a group if whatever they’re doing isn’t harming anyone. Other than self-righteousness, what do they care if gays marry? Are they at their weddings? Are they watching them as they consummate their marriages? Are they there when homosexual couples choose to raise children? Conservative Christians might clamor about public displays of affection, but it’s not like straight people don’t forget to get a room! Given their self-proclaimed discriminatory stances, it can be stated without hesitation that they’re in a lower moral class than Christians and non-Christians who don’t think that way.

2) The Formula of the End Itself: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

What is meant by treating a person never simply as a means, but always as an end? This means to extend kindness to others with no intention of exploiting them, e.g. I’ll befriend this guy because he’s rich. You may contend that this sounds like Jesus’ Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, first and foremost, isn’t original to Jesus. This will be much more relevant shortly. Patricia Churchland puts it succinctly:

The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is very often held up as a judicious rule, and exceptionless rule, and a rule that is universally espoused, or very close to it. (Ironically perhaps, Confucius, though known to prefer the development of virtues to instruction by rules, might have been among the first to give voice to a version of this maxim, though given his broad approach to morality, it is likely he offered it as general advice rather than as an exceptionless rule.)7

Like Churchland, I don’t think the Golden Rule is sufficient. Also, this formulation is simply not the Golden Rule. Don Berkich, Philosophy professor at Texas A&M stated the following:

“Some  make the mistake of thinking that the First Formulation of the Categorical Imperative is but a badly worded version of the Biblical “Golden Rule”–Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Golden Rule, as Kant well knew, is a deeply misguided ethical principle. To see this, consider the following somewhat salacious example.

Suppose that Martin is 20 year-old college student. Suppose further that Martin has never been out on a date. The woman of his dreams finally agrees to go out with him. So Martin gets all dressed up and takes her out to a nice dinner, after which they drive up to Lookout Point. And…Martin does unto others as he would have done unto himself, with disastrous consequences. Because the same result cannot be obtained by application of the Categorical Imperative, it follows that the Golden Rule and the Categorical Imperative are not extensionally equivalent.”8

Kant argued that if we were to act to harm others, civilization would come to an end. It follows then that we’ll act to the benefit of one another. This is where Kant’s notion of a Kingdom of Ends comes from. We’ll get this shortly.

On the Golden Rule, a necessary tangent is required. The Golden Rule, according to Christians, is original to Jesus despite historical facts to the contrary. Jesus is, however, considered god incarnate. He is one with Yahweh. He is one mode of the Triune godhead. Therefore, if the Moral Argument is right in stating that moral values and duties exist because god exists, then these moral values and duties are based on a flawed ethical view known as egoism. This is precisely what Jesus advocates in the Golden Rule. In other words, any right action is the product of your own self-interest. The benefits I can reap are the basis of all my actions. Without diverging too far, I reject the Golden Rule and all variants of egoism for the same reason Louis Pojman rejected it:

We do not always consciously seek our own satisfaction or happiness when we act. In fact, some people seem to seek their own unhappiness, as masochists and self-destructive people do, and we all sometimes seem to act spontaneously without consciously considering our happiness.9

Given this, if the Golden Rule is a rudimentary formulation of egoism–-and I see no compelling reason to think it’s not–-we can reject Jesus’ ethical system and therefore, god’s basis for moral values and duties. It follows that the Moral Argument is wrong.

3) The Formula of Autonomy: “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims.”

This is related to the first formulation, but this formulation puts more emphasis on autonomy and like modern Kantians would argue, self-legislation. This formula of autonomy has manifested itself time and again. Morally superior people are not only admirable, but they compel others to emulate them. This formulation is prominent in rearing children. Children learn moral behavior from their parents, so in a sense, this goes back to Locke; if moral principles are innate, they would, in his words, be known to “children and idiots.” Children quickly learn what’s apt and what’s inappropriate given other people’s feedback. If they do something wrong, they’re scolded. If they do something right, they’re commended. Going back to the notion of inverting authority into oneself, the child then becomes an adult who (roughly) follows the moral values instilled in her during childhood. She then becomes an autonomous self-legislator. God isn’t necessary once again and thus, the Moral Argument is wrong.

4) The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: “So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.”

This formulation is the most compelling given that it absorbs, so to speak, the other formulations. Kant didn’t only speak of wills; he spoke of rational wills. Thus, under this formulation, we are to act in such a way that would be acceptable in a community of rational wills. In a community of rational wills, rape and murder would be unacceptable. Since people are autonomous, taking their lives is a violation of their autonomy. Your fellow rational wills will also recognize you as an autonomous individual and thus, without any need for Jesus’ Golden Rule or more generally, egoism, the rights conferred to them will also be conferred to you. It certainly looks as though developed countries look a lot more like Kant’s Kingdom of Ends than like a society of egoists pursuing their own self-interests. Even despite capitalism, people enjoy charity, sharing, altruism, and equality. People, in other words, recognize one another as autonomous and there are strict laws in place to punish people who violate the autonomy of others.

Ultimately, the Christian demand for an authority is quelled by the fact that we, at the very least, possess the potential to legislate. That is to say that anyone of us can be exemplary moral agents. Kant’s rational will is preferable over the Hobbesian sovereign who can bend and break laws as he pleases. Such a sovereign sounds a lot like god. Also, their demand for a viable non-theistic ethical view has been addressed. The Moral Argument has not only been refuted, but the superiority of procedural realism, as a viable non-theistic view, has also been established.

Works Cited

1 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 36-37. Print.

2 See Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Cahn, Steven M. Ed. Classics of Western Philosophy, 7th Ed. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis/Cambridge. 2006. 630-632. Print.

3 Ibid. [2]

4  Pecorino, Philip A. “Chapter Two: Ethical Traditions”. Queensborough Community College. 2002.

5 Goldstein, Rebecca. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. 105. Print.

6 Churchland, Patricia Smith. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011. 168. Print.

7 Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub., 1990. 84. Print.

8 Ibid. [4]

9 Bagnoli, Carla. “Constructivism in Metaethics”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2011.

Advertisements

The Kalam Cosmological Argument and The Problem of Induction

By R.N. Carmona

Though the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) is a deductive argument, it imports inductive reasoning. Since there’s a distinction between argument and reasoning, it should apply to, at least, some deductive arguments.1 To see where this occurs, it is necessary to restate P1 of the KCA: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.2

Before demonstrating how P1 imports inductive reasoning, a distinction must be made between the common application of the Problem of Induction and what it is it actually entails. The common application of the problem focuses on the notion that given the uniformity of nature, the future will be like the past. For Hume, the uniformity of nature is used to justify induction. It is, however, important to note that Hume never explicitly mentioned induction. The Problem of Induction is derived from Hume’s discussion on causation.3 This notion is at the center of the common application of the Problem of Induction. It does, however, have broader application.

The problem should focus on beliefs concerning matters of fact that extend beyond experience and observation. These beliefs could be about past, unobserved present, and future events, objects, or phenomena.4 This is key to seeing how the first premise of the KCA imports inductive reasoning.

Disregarding discussions on the nature of time, i.e. whether time corresponds with A-theory or B-theory, the past and the future, intuitively speaking, have something in common. In science, predictions are often made about the future and the past; the latter is increasingly being referred to as a retrodiction.5 The reason predictions are necessary about the past and the future is because they are out of the reach of our experience and observational apparatus. Since we cannot directly observe or experience the past and the future, inductive inferences are necessary to draw conclusions about both.

When one argues that, whatever begins to exist has a cause, one is employing inductive reasoning. During one’s lifetime, one has noticed that every effect is preceded by a cause. However, in order to argue that this has always been the case, per Hume, one has to assume the uniformity of nature. It follows that one is making an inductive inference about the past.

From an epistemic standpoint, the Problem of Induction is also the problem of transfer of belief in the evidence. Though it is true that people believe things that lack evidence, conclusions are often supported by evidence. So the problem occurs in the bond between a conclusion and the evidence said to support it–specifically in the transfer from belief in the evidence to belief in a given conclusion. This transfer of belief is what Hume sought to address. He didn’t want to call into question the belief itself, but rather, the grounds of said belief.6

Much of this shouldn’t be news for the Christian or theist. When addressing proponents of scientism or when attempting to downplay the superiority of scientific over religious reasoning, they are both fond of invoking the Problem of Induction.7 Unfortunately, they fail to realize that it’s imported into an argument they’re also quite fond of. If it’s an actual problem, then the implications of the problem apply to the KCA. In other words, if the Problem of Induction cites a lack of justification for beliefs about the past that are out of the range of experience and observation, the Christian and theist aren’t justified in saying that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Since the premise lacks justification, there’s no way to establish its soundness. Therefore, given P2’s connection to P1, we cannot establish the soundness of P2. It follows that we cannot establish the soundness of the argument as a whole.

In the past, I’ve been pointedly critical of the KCA. I focused, for instance, on the concept of causation.8 I also located a common fallacy within the argument.9 One would be hard pressed to establish the soundness of the argument even if P1 didn’t feature inductive reasoning, which the Christian and theist admit has problematic implications. With that said, this isn’t so much a rebuttal of the argument, but rather, another spotlight on the double think of theists, Christians in particular.

It seems as though Christians don’t care to correct the inconsistency within their arguments. They can’t invoke the Problem of Induction whenever it suits them only to discard it whenever it doesn’t. If one is intellectually honest, consistency is required.  If they admit that there’s a Problem of Induction and that it is still without sufficient reply, as apologists have argued, then the implications of the problem are also imported into P1 of the KCA. I find that this conclusion is inescapable.

Works Cited

1 Will, Frederick L.. Is There a Problem of Induction? The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 39, No. 19, pp. 505-513. 1942. Print. 

2 Craig, William L. “In Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument”Reasonable Faith.

3 Burns, Samuel R.. The Problem of Deduction: Hume’s Problem Expanded. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 2009. Print.

4 Fritz Jr., Charles A.. What is Induction? The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 57, No. 4, pp. 126-138. 1960. Print. 

5 Barrett, Martin, Sober, Elliott. Is Entropy Relevant to the Asymmetry Between Prediction and Retrodiction? (1992); Steinitz, Yuval. Prediction versus Retrodiction in MIll (1994); Begun, David R. Human Evolution: Retrodictions and Predictions (2005); Christopher J. Ellison, John R. Mahoney, James P. Crutchfield. Prediction, Retrodiction, and The Amount of Information Stored in the Present (2009).

6 Oliver, Donald W.. A Re-examination of the Problem of Induction. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 49, No. 25, pp. 769-780. 1952. Print. 

7 See “Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus” by Vincent Torley

8 See “Dispotions, Causality, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument”

9 See “A Simple Rebuttal: Kalam Cosmological Argument”

Argument Against Religious Testimony and Miracles

This post is inspired by an exchange with David Marshall, an apologist and heckler over at John Loftus’ Debunking Christianity. You can see the exchange here. I honestly thought a discussion with a Ph.D. would turn out differently. Alas, that wasn’t to be. I got the same attempted insults, obstinacy, and outright refusal to provide evidence for what he’s affirming. In any case, to my argument.

Allow me to give you what amounts to an argument by analogy.

Legal testimony is, without a doubt, far more grounded than any religious testimony. By any, I do not wish to single out Christian testimony. I’m also talking about Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu testimony–the latter of these featuring a huge body of religious testimony. I also wish to include Christian testimony that Protestants aren’t fond of: Eucharist Miracles, the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, and basically any non-Protestant miracle claims. Erika Hayasaki, writing for Newsweek, states:

There have been 318 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence since 1989. In most of those cases, the eyewitnesses who testified felt confident in their memories when under oath on the stand. Yet eyewitness testimony contributed to 72 percent of those wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal and public policy group.

Continue Reading

Eyewitness testimony contributed to 72% of wrongful convictions. The point here is that all of us, religious or not, can agree that legal testimony is far more grounded than religious testimony. Legal testimony does not ask us to have faith in the supernatural, to believe that an exceptionless regularity has been violated, and so on. All it asks us to do is trust the integrity of the eyewitnesses in question. These eyewitnesses are reporting things that are well documented in movies, on surveillance videos, in newspapers, and so on: thefts, robberies, arsons, murders, assaults, etc. Religious or not, we can admit that crimes are committed day in and day out. Whether or not religious miracles are as frequent as some claim or infrequent as cessationists claim or impossible as atheists claim is irrelevant. Again, we can all consent to the fact that crimes are ubiquitous; they’re committed in all parts of the world, at any time of the day, and in virtually any neighborhood regardless of whether a given neighborhood is considered safe. Yet, a large percentage of wrongful convictions since 1989 have been due to eyewitness testimony.

So it’s not that Craig Keener is a liar or dishonest. It’s that regardless of what eyewitnesses claim to see, eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. Testimony itself is on shaky epistemic grounds because there are problems with it: distress, reconstructive memory, leading questioning, etc. Memories can be altered and even deleted. There’s also the issue of memory confabulation. If 72% of wrongful convictions in legal cases are due to eyewitness testimony stemming from people who have no vested interest in proving something, then it is much more likelier that the testimony of religious people, who do, in fact, have a vested interest in proving their religions true, is equally, if not, more unreliable. To reiterate, the former group has no vested interest in proving something; leave that vested interest to the prosecution. The latter group definitely does want to prove something. Bhakti Hindus definitely want to prove their faiths. Muslims do as well. So do Christians, Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. So setting Keener aside, my distrust is in the people he interviewed.

In any case, a miracle, as Hume defined it, is an exception to a previously exceptionless rule. Furthermore, Hume’s prescription is that we should only trust testimony when it is likelier that the testifier is correct. Is it likelier that a Catholic is correct about a Eucharist miracle? Of course not! And it is likely that Protestants agree. Now back to charismatic Protestant views: is it likelier that one of Keener’s testifiers is correct about a faith healing? No!

Aside from testifying of an exception to a previously exceptionless rule, there’s a phenomenon in religious testimony that happens much more frequently than in legal testimony: there are known cases of fraud, e.g. Benny HinnyPeter Popoff. Benny Hinn, for instance, was considered a faith healer and a miracle worker. He turned out to be a vicious fraud, swindling money out of people. Given what such cases require us to believe and given *documented* cases of fraud, how are we to believe any religious testimony about a miracle?

Briefly, that is my argument. Whether or not one agrees with Hume’s definition matters not; to my mind, Hume’s definition captures, more generally, what religious people mean when they speak of miracles. If one prefers a definition that has one’s god violating the laws of physics, then one is just providing a definition that is far less likelier to be true. At any rate, Hume’s prescription provides us with the right level of skepticism. If someone is testifying of seeing a pterodactyl fly over them while they’re climbing a mountain, then we are to distrust her because she is less likely to be telling the truth. As it turns out, when having a laugh with one of these cryptozoology shows, someone actually claimed to see exactly that! Should I believe him? Of course not. It is much likelier that it was a drone or even a large bird that was misidentified. When given that religious testifiers are less likely to be honest or more likely to have a vested interest in proving their religion true or converting people, and given that there’s documented fraud when concerning purportedly miraculous acts, I have every reason to distrust and even dismiss religious testimony.

Given the above, religious people should move on from this pointless argument. These are old coals that have been raked over one too many times. You are not the first and probably won’t be the last religious buffoon to tout miracles as evidence of your religious beliefs. There is absolutely no way you can convince any of us that miracles happen and happen as frequently as you claim. Despite the first-hand testimony of eyewitnesses, I’ve provided religious people with compelling evidence against their testimonies.

In anticipation, they might argue that evidence against eyewitness testimonies isn’t evidence against what they’re testifying about, but now they’re back at square one, with no evidence for miracles. They’re left with religious obstinacy. Given Marshall’s emphasis on evidence, it would be inconsistent of him to take this route. The only honest conclusion is that there’s no evidence for miracles because there are no miracles. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but it is only where evidence is to be expected. Now if they were to apply this reasoning to the First Century Palestinian they revere so much, their entire religious cookie crumbles.

A Brief Introduction to The Philosophy of Time

By R.N. Carmona

For purposes of my forthcoming argument, consider what follows a primer for it. §I will be brief, which isn’t to say it won’t be exhaustive. In it, I will render a summary of competing theories of time and I will also discuss matters germane to my argument. I will summarize A-, B-, and R-theories of time. I will place emphasis on a version of the B-theory that will feature throughout my argument, namely Mellor’s token-reflexive theory. I will do so by reviewing a pivotal discussion in the philosophy of time between Quentin Smith and L. Nathan Oaklander. This discussion will make clear Oaklander’s possible motivations for embracing a B/R-theory of time, a version of which I will defend in §2. I am, however, more concerned with our perception of time and its passing, i.e., the phenomenology of time. Given that, the temporal parts theory of identity will feature in my argument, but with an important difference. I will briefly discuss this theory below. In §2, I will then address possible objections to my argument and briefly sketch its implications if true. I will thus briefly discuss mathematical nominalism and a matter of concern in the philosophy of science.

If anyone feels sufficiently comfortable with the jargon of this discussion, you may feel free to skip §I altogether. Since I want layman and, in particular, people new to this discussion to understand my argument, it is necessary to survey the discussion thus far. Mellor and others have expressed dismay when confronted by the existing literature in the philosophy of time, so any survey has to have a limited scope since it isn’t practical to attempt a survey of all of the existing literature. I will therefore forgo discussing J.J.C. Smart’s date theory of time and Michelle Beer’s co-reporting thesis. I will limit my introduction to the parts forming the whole, namely my argument.

I

A-Theory of Time

On the A-Theory, there are actual properties of being five days past, becoming present, being present, and being in the near or far future. It follows that my birth becomes more and more past with each passing day. My inevitable death becomes nearer and nearer to the present. What is present will eventually become past and then recede further into the past. This is known as the a-series. Contrary to McTaggart, the A-theorist denies that the a-series is contradictory. Moreover, they believe that the a-series cannot be reduced to b-relations: notions of earlier, later, and simultaneous. B-relations are comprised of b-moments that have different b-times such that b-moment with b-timel occurs earlier than b-moment with b-timell. So if we take, for instance, Friedrich Nietzsche’s death on August 25, 1900, we now have a b-moment. If we then take his birth on October 15, 1844, we have another b-moment. The dates of both represent distinct b-times. The b-relation is twofold, either in his birth being earlier than his death or his death being later than his birth. A-theorists hold that b-times come into existence, i.e., when Nietzsche’s death was future, it had no b-time.

On A-theory, what’s irreducible and essential is the a-time. Events actually do move from future to past once arriving at the present. Or, events have b-times, but the present moves, which gives these b-times real a-times. A-times have what I’ll call an a-relation, which is to say how much earlier or later an a-moment is than the present. If Jane James played volleyball yesterday, is painting right now, and is going to swim tomorrow, then a-momentl is her having played volleyball yesterday, which occurred earlier than her painting right now and a-momentll is her going to swim tomorrow, which will occur later than her painting at present. Mellor described this as an a-scale reserving a-series for the sequence of events located at those times. He adds that there is more to the a-scale than the sequence of a-times. There is a measure reflecting the speed at which one a-time succeeds another.1 Next Monday, for example, succeeds last Monday by seven days and the following Monday will succeed that one by precisely the same number of days. These measures also reflect how long such events are present. Therefore Nietzsche, who lived for ~56 years, occupies 56 years in the past of the a-scale. On the a-scale, entities cannot be located at any single moment since they occupy an interval on the scale.

R-Theory of Time

On the R-theory, temporal relations are unanalyzable, which means that they cannot be reduced to the properties of their terms nor the terms of temporal relations such as pastness, presentness, and futurity. The only category of temporal entities are hence relations. There are no moments or points in time as with both the A- and B-theories. There is no absolute becoming, i.e., the coming into or going out of existence of events. Monadic A-properties are not ascribed to these events. On the R-theory, time is relational and what’s entailed are durations, which similar to the B-theory, consist in dyadic terms. Instead of dyadic terms like earlier than and later than, however, these relations are lasts as long as, lasts longer than, or lasts shorter than.

In explaining Russell’s analysis of the order in relational facts, Oaklander remarks:

These relations hold between relata and facts. Since all series have a direction, Russell differs from McTaggart in both his account of the transitory aspect of time and its direction. For McTaggart what gives time a direction and its transitory character are changing A-characteristics. A Russellian will ground the transitory or dynamic aspect of time in the relation “is earlier than,” and the direction of a whole series is aggregated from the order relations for all the relational facts contained in it.2

There is, in other words, a difference in a and b as related by R and b and a as related by R. If it’s an asymmetrical relation, then one fact holds. If there are such facts as that a R b, i.e., a has an R-relation to b, then such facts can be reduced to a fact about either a or b. This neither makes them innately complex nor entail that they have some properties to distinguish them from c or d. This is what a Russelian means when saying that relations are external. To supplement, an example is necessary. An R-relation is simply in lasts as long as, lasts longer than, or vice versa. So let a be Mary’s wedding and b be Martha’s funeral. If our a and b have some relation R, and the relation is asymmetrical, which is to say that they didn’t have the same duration, then the fact of their relation is reducible to a fact about either event. Therefore, if Mary’s wedding lasts longer than Martha’s funeral, then the fact of their R-relation is simply reducible to the fact that Mary’s wedding lasted longer. The same would hold if the opposite were true. An R-relation is irreducible iff the relation is symmetric.

Unlike the B-theory, the direction of time is not dependent on causation or entropy, which are complex relations that are perhaps derivative of the simpler R-relations. As far as what we perceive, we don’t always perceive causes and their effects directly, and moreover, we don’t perceive entropic relations, i.e., x has less entropy than y. If we are to perceive such relations, we do so only in an extended sense, which is to say that we only do so via the apparatus used in the sciences. It is not an innate perception like the passage of time. On the Russelian theory, the direction of time is contingent on such simpler R-relations.

B-Theory of Time

On the B-theory of time, there are only b-times, which are described in terms of an a-scale. No events are in themselves past, present, or future and though the a-scale seems indispensable, the utility of the a-scale and our perception of the past and the future aren’t reflective of reality. Also, time doesn’t really flow. According to Prior, the passage of time is simply a metaphor.3 If time actually flows, does this flow occur in time or does it take time to occur? If it is the case that time passes, is there not what Prior dubbed a ‘super-time’ in which it does so? If indeed it does flow, then it flows at some rate, but a rate is a movement through time, so how can rate apply to time itself? So if time doesn’t flow at some rate, how can it be said that it flows at all?

The answer to these questions lie in the manner in which we speak about time. What causes the confusion is the way we employ tense-adverbs. This remains a central point of disagreement between A- and B-theorists. A-theorists take tense seriously whilst B-theorists offer tenseless theories of time, which isn’t to say they don’t take tense seriously, but rather, that regardless of our experience, time is not required to be tensed. Since I’ll be defending a B/R-theory of time, I will not belabor this summary. This entire argument will, to some degree, cover the history of the B-theory and also the place it occupies in today’s discussion. Since questions of tense feature heavily in today’s discussion, it is time now to discuss that at length.

Time and Tense

To simplify matters, proponents of tensed theories of time will from here on be called ‘tensers’ and proponents of tenseless theories of time will be called ‘detensers’. One of the earliest approaches to a tensed theory of time is credited to A.N. Prior who makes use of first-order logic in laying out his theory. W.V.O. Quine also made use of first-order logic, but assumed, like others before him, that physicists accept the tenseless theory of time. Tensers sometimes argue that this assumption is at the center of any tenseless theory though in the modern day, physicists following Minkowski have been supplanted by physicists following Einstein, i.e., tenseless theory is assumed to be true because of special relativity. Both Prior’s early tensed theory and Quine’s assumption are problematic. Since, I am offering a B/R-theory of time, I will not spend time on the challenges facing Prior’s tensed theory. I will, however, briefly discuss the difficulties Quine’s assumption faces so that it’s clear why it is necessary to pass from the old to the new tenseless theories of time, which depend on the New Theory of Reference in the philosophy of language. Before doing so, it is necessary to review Prior’s theory and Quine’s assumption because that will only serve to make the new tenseless theory easier to comprehend. To this we now turn.

Prior, following Augustine, stated that the past is the past present and the future is the future present. In applying and reapplying tense-adverbs, individual facts, i.e. facts about a thing, are preserved. We will return to the distinction between individual and general facts in my discussion on change in §II, but the distinction for our current purposes will make clear that the following sentences are about real things. So, to return to one of our previous examples, rather than saying I was born x years ago, we could say: It was the case two months ago that (it was the case only x years ago that (I am being born). In the same vein, we also have the tendency to obscure what our sentences are actually about, as in when we talk about one’s falling off the wagon or one’s homecoming. For instance:

(1) It is now four years since it was the case that I am falling off the wagon.

This could be paraphrased with:

(2) My falling off the wagon has receded four years into the past.

The suggestion here is that this event dubbed, one’s falling off the wagon, has gone through the motion of becoming further and further past. It has gone through this motion since it ended. (2), however, is just a paraphrase of (1) and (2) is not about this event of one’s falling off the wagon, but rather, a complex way of speaking about changes in the individual who fell off the wagon. What looks like changes in events, thence, are actually changes in things.

Prior had to deal with a possible objection, however. Borrowing McTaggart’s example of Queen Anne’s death, it appeared as though his sentence structure couldn’t apply to that example. If sentences like the aforementioned are facts about individual things, then how can such a sentence be about Queen Anne if she’s dead? The statement, rather than expressing an individual fact, is instead expressing a general fact. Even when, for example, we are mistaken in thinking that someone stole one of our possessions, whether someone stole it or not, the general fact can be expressed by stating: I think that (for some specific y (y stole my lunch)). On such a formulation, Queen Anne’s death isn’t a fact about her, but rather, a general fact. Her death becoming more past is not a change in her, but it does express what Prior called a ‘quasi-change’ and “what is common to the flow of a literal river on the one hand…and the flow of time on the other.”4

Quine, on the other hand, in attempting to preserve the tenseless extensional symbolism of sentential and predicate logic, defended his view by appealing to the fact that physicists accept the tenseless theory of time. Concerning natural language, Quine thought that it could be paraphrased by a tenseless language that denotes dates for tenses and substitutes singular phrases. For instance, James was running if uttered at noon on September 15, 2003 becomes James runs before noon on September 15, 2003. As mentioned above, Quine’s attempt to de-tense natural language has been met with a number of challenges and thus runs into difficulties. Not only does his view rest on a misapprehension of physics but also on questionable assumptions concerning the philosophy of language.5 Old tenseless theories of time sometimes relied on Quine’s assumption, but more importantly, they relied on the notion of de-tensing natural language.

To see the difference between old and new tenseless theories, it is necessary to contrast an old tenseless theory against a tensed theory that holds that properties of the pastness, presentness, and futurity of events are ascribed by tensed sentences. The debate regarding which theory is true centered around whether tensed sentences could be translated by tenseless sentences that instead ascribe relations of earlier than, later than, or simultaneous. For example, “the sun will soon rise” seems to entail the sun’s rising in the future, as an event that will become present, whereas the “sun is rising now” seems to entail the event being present and “the sun has risen” as having receded into the past. If these sentences are true, the first sentence ascribes futurity whilst the second ascribes presentness and the last ascribes pastness. Even if true, however, that isn’t evidence to suggest that events have such properties. Tensed sentences may have tenseless counterparts having the same meaning.

This is where Quine’s notion of de-tensing natural language comes in. Rather than saying “the sun is rising” as uttered on some date, we would instead say that “the sun is rising” on that date. The present in the first sentence doesn’t ascribe presentness to the sun’s rising, but instead refers to the date the sentence is spoken. In like manner, if “the sun has risen” as uttered on some date is translated into “the sun has risen” on a given date, then the former sentence does not ascribe pastness to the sun’s rising but only refers to the sun’s rising as having occurred earlier than the date when the sentence is spoken. If these translations are true, temporal becoming is unreal and reality is comprised of earlier than, later than, and simultaneous. Time then consists of these relations rather the properties of pastness, presentness, and futurity.6

Due to advancements in the philosophy of language, however, old tenseless theories have been abandoned. Prior to discussing new tenseless theories, it is necessary to see why old theories fell out of style. The New Theory of Reference, which was first developed by Ruth Barcon Marcus in “Modalities and Intensional Languages” (1961) and which was further developed by Donnellan, Kaplan, Putnam, and others was the reason tensed and tenseless sentences were reconsidered. David Kaplan, in applying the theory to indexicals like ‘now,’ argued that the rule of use of the indexical ‘now’ is that it strictly concerns the time it is spoken and does not ascribe a property of presentness. Thus, the ‘now’ in the “sun is now rising” strictly refers to the date on which the sentence is said. Furthermore, the sentence has no tenseless translation. Kaplan held that translations met two requirements: identical meaning and identical semantic content. Meaning, in this sense, speaks of a sentence’s rule of use, so in the “the sun is now rising,” the rule of use concerns the date it is spoken. If, however, one tacks on “at 7a.m. on October 4, 2001,” then the sentence instead concerns at 7a.m. on October 4, 2001. Therefore, the former cannot translate into the latter and vice versa because the two sentences have different rules of use. It follows that the tokens of either sentence do not translate into the tokens of the other. I will reserve the type-token distinction for my summary of D.H. Mellor’s tenseless theory. The central idea at the core of the new tenseless theory is “that tensed sentences (as uttered on some occasion) are untranslatable by tenseless sentences, but that it is nonetheless the case that tensed sentences ascribe no temporal determinations not ascribed by tenseless sentences.”7

New Tenseless Theories of Time

As far as new tenseless theories are concerned, there are two progenitor theories: Mellor’s token-reflexive theory and Smart’s date theory. Both have been challenged frequently by Quentin Smith and defended just as frequently by L. Nathan Oaklander. Since Mellor’s token-reflexive theory is agreed to be the most developed and serves as the common ancestor of modern tenseless theories, I will trace Smith and Oaklander’s extensive exchanges in order to provide a more thorough understanding of the new tenseless theory. I will then make explicit which theory I am defending and expounding on. I will make clear that Mellor’s intuitions were best served had he placed more emphasis on our experience of time, which is precisely the horns of the issue. These concerns will compose the content in the next section, but for now, let us explore an important exchange between Smith and Oaklander through the lens of Mellor’s token-reflexive theory.

The force of Smith’s challenges and Oaklander’s defenses will neither be understood nor felt unless Mellor’s theory is adequately summarized. A pivotal distinction serving as the core of Mellor’s theory is the type-token distinction. The type-token distinction can present difficulties when applied, but the distinction itself isn’t hard to understand. Take for example the word institution. If asked how many letters are in that word, one may respond with two answers: eleven or six. The first answer is arrived at if one counts all of the letters in the word whilst the second is arrived at if one counts all of the letters once, i.e., if one forgoes counting a letter that is repeated. That is to say that one notes that there are only the letters i, n, s, t, u, and o. In the former reply, one is answering on the basis of tokens whereas in the second reply, one is answering on the basis of types. Tokens refer to particular things and therefore, when we talk of particular facts, we are in turn talking about tokens. Types, on the other hand, refer to abstract objects, e.g., the letter B or the number 2. Mellor employs the distinction in order to find B-truthmakers for A-propositions. To see why this is necessary, I will sketch out the problem Mellor faces.

A-propositions are multifarious, but for simplicity, we will use the example Mellor uses: Jim races tomorrow.8 So if today is June 1, its B-truthmaker, then, is Jim racing on a day occurring after June 1. B-truthmakers, unlike A-truthmakers, are limited to B-facts. The difficulty Mellor faced is that the B-fact “Jim races on June 2” is always a fact, as he thought of all B-facts. Therefore, how can B-facts make propositions true at some times and false at other times? This problem arises because B-theorists acknowledge that A-propositions are sometimes true. B-facts, however, are unlike A-facts in that they don’t come and go, so one B-fact can’t make “Jim races tomorrow” true at some times and false at others. It follows that multiple B-facts are needed; in fact, as many B-facts as there are times in which an A-proposition can have a varying truth value. It therefore takes a new B-fact to make our statement true and false every day of Jim’s life.

The exchange between Smith and Oaklander centers around whether Mellor’s theory is self-contradictory and whether it can be reduced to the old tenseless theory of time. More generally, it centered around whether the new tenseless theory was to be either abandoned or radically revised. The disagreement between them was not resolved, but Smith did find value in what he considered an alternative theory offered by Oaklander. Despite accusing one another of misunderstanding the new tenseless theory, it is clear that they both adequately understood it. What’s more manifest is their opposing frameworks and convictions. Ultimately, the exchange may have played a role, whether large or small, in Oaklander espousing a B/R-theory of time, which isn’t to say he abandoned the tenseless theory entirely, but eventually came to realize that, as it stood, it was incomplete. To summarize their exchange, I will start with Smith’s criticisms of Mellor’s theory.

Smith vs. Oaklander

Smith held that Mellor’s theory wasn’t the final word in this discussion. He also held the theory to be self-contradictory. Smith explains:

Mellor inconsistently holds all five of these positions: (1) tensed sentences have different truth conditions from tenseless sentences and thus are untranslatable by them; (2) tensed sentences have tenseless truth conditions, namely, tenseless facts; (3) these tenseless facts are the only facts needed to make tensed sentences truth; (4) tensed sentences state the facts that are their truth conditions; and (5) tensed sentences state the same facts that are stated by the tenseless sentences that state the former sentences’ truth conditions.9

Smith held that (1) and (5) were incompatible. Since he wanted to develop an internal critique of Mellor’s theory, he assumed “fact” as defined and used by Mellor. Smith thought that Mellor’s definition committed him to three theses that implied the principle of the identity of truth (hereon PITC), which Smith formulates as follows:

If two tokens of the same sentence or two tokens of different sentences state the same fact, F1, they have the same truth conditions; that is, are true iff F1 and every fact implied by F1 exist.10

The theses are as follows: (a) facts only correspond to true sentence tokens or in Mellor’s words, “we are only concerned with sentences expressing judgments, that is, stating what people take to be facts.”11 (b) conditions that are both necessary and sufficient to make sentences true, are facts, i.e., truth conditions; (c ) in keeping with Mellor’s “Jim races tomorrow” example, a token that states some fact is true iff the fact and its implications exist; one fact can imply another iff the one cannot exist unless the other does. For instance, it cannot be the fact that Jim races tomorrow unless there also exists the fact that Jim doesn’t go to the ER because he feels ill. In other words, Jim has to be physically able to race if he is to race tomorrow.

Smith held that Mellor’s theory contradicts PITC and its own assumptions; more specifically, that the combination of (1) and (5) contradicts PITC. To make this contradiction clear, Smith focused on Mellor’s primary example of tensed and tenseless sentences:

Let R be any token of “Cambridge is here” and S be any token of “It is now 1980.” Then R is true if and only if it occurs in Cambridge, and S is true if and if it occurs in 1980. If a sentence giving another’s truth conditions means what it does, R should mean the same as “R occurs in Cambridge” and S should mean the same as “S occurs in 1980.” But these sentences have different truth conditions. In particular, if true at all, they are true everywhere and at all times. If R does occur in Cambridge, that is a fact all over the world, and if S occurs in 1980, that is a fact at all times. You need not be in Cambridge in 1980 to meet true tokens of “R occurs in Cambridge” and “S occurs in 1980.” But you do need to be in Cambridge in 1980 to meet the true tokens, R and S; for only there and then can R and S themselves be true.12

Smith then notes four items about the sentences “It is now 1980” and “S occurs in 1980.” He considers these items to be derivatives of Mellor’s five items mentioned above. The items are as follows: (1) A token of “S occurs in 1980” states only the fact that S occurs in 1980; (2) This fact is the truth condition of any token S of “It is now 1980”; (3) this tenseless fact is the sole fact stated by S, which is a token of a tensed sentence expressing belief in token-reflexive truth conditions; (4) Any token of “S occurs in 1980” has a different truth condition from any token of “It is now 1980” because any token of the latter is true only if it occurs in 1980 and the former is true at all times it is tokened. According to Smith, the combination of (1), (2), and (3) contradict (4) because according to PITC, two tokens of different sentences which state the same fact have the same truth conditions.

There is, however, a way out if one were to reject (4). Given two tokens S and U, if they state the same fact, they are both made true by that same fact. According to Smith, Mellor fails to see the truth-conditional resemblance S and U share. In other words, it is necessary and sufficient for S to be true being that it occurs in 1980, but it is not necessary nor sufficient for U to be true being that it occurs in 1980. There is no difference in their truth conditions, but rather, in what the facts are about. The fact about token S is a fact about it and not U and thus, restricts S to 1980. This does not constitute a further fact about S’s truth conditions. This resolution, according to Smith, reduces Mellor’s new tenseless theory to the old tenseless theory. On this, Oaklander takes Smith to be both mistaken and not fully understanding Mellor’s theory.

This misunderstanding is due to the fact that Mellor is not always clear. This might provide basis for attributing internal inconsistency to his theory. Oaklander argues that a clearer distinction of sentence types and tokens is required to circumvent the contradiction Smith seemingly uncovers. To recap, tokens refer to particular things and therefore, when we talk of particular facts, we are in turn talking about tokens. Types, on the other hand, refer to abstract objects, e.g., the letter B or the number 2. If S, “It is now 1980,” is understood as a type, then it doesn’t have truth conditions. So by extension, tensed sentence types have no truth-value. If, on the other hand, we consider “It is now 1980” and “S occurs in 1980” as tokens, then their truth conditions are identical. According to Oaklander, Smith “interprets Mellor to be saying that “any token of ’S occurs in 1980’ has different truth conditions from any token S of ‘It is now 1980,’ because S is true iff it occurs in 1980 and “S occurs in 1980,” if true at all, is true ‘at all times’ it is tokened.”13 Though it is true that tenseless sentence types are either true or false at all times they are tokened, the tokens themselves are not tokened at different times. Mellor argued that tensed tokens have unqualified truth-values. For example, stating or writing that ‘E is past’ is false given that it occurs before E. Therefore, tensed sentence tokens do not have different truth conditions from the tenseless ones. According to Oaklander, Smith would only arrive at this conclusion given that he confused tokens with types.

Oaklander further argues that the token-reflexive theory can avoid Smith’s objections if it is modified. It is not inconsistent to hold that tensed and tenseless sentence types have tokens with different truth conditions whilst holding that tensed and tenseless sentence tokens have identical truth conditions. Oaklander does not consider this to be a reduction of Mellor’s new tenseless theory to the old one because for Mellor, having identical truth conditions is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for translation of tensed sentences. As a consequence, even if tensed and tenseless sentence tokens have identical truth conditions, it doesn’t entail that tensed sentence tokens can be translated by tenseless sentence tokens. Moreover, contra Smith, this isn’t Mellor’s only reason for rejecting translatability. He, for instance, makes the following claim, which is in keeping with the New Theory of Reference aforementioned: two sentences have the same meaning iff they have the same use. Recall, that according to Kaplan, meaning refers to a sentence’s rule of use. According to Mellor, since tensed sentence tokens have different meanings that differ from those of tenseless sentence tokens, the former cannot be translated by the latter.

Oaklander does acknowledge at least the appearance of difficulty raised by Smith. Specifically, when Smith speaks of one sentence logically entailing another, the inference should be justifiable by truth conditions. One should be able to demonstrate that what makes the first true also makes the other true. If this cannot be done, the truth conditions for one’s sentences are incorrect or one is mistaken about such entailments. Oaklander concedes that Mellor does not consider this objection, but suggests that Mellor has a way to circumvent Smith’s contentions. Mellor makes use of Kaplan’s demonstratives and indexicals and argues that this helps to account for the logical equivalence of “It is now 1980” and “1980 is present.”14 The meaning of “It is now 1980” and “1980 is present” concerns a rule from the time when the tokens are uttered to their tenseless truth conditions. The truth conditions of their tokens will vary since their context of utterance varies. In each case their truth conditions are tenseless notwithstanding. Therefore, any token of “It is now 1980” is true with respect to the time at which the token is spoken iff it is spoken in 1980. The same applies to “1980 is present.” So if the truth conditions of both are identical, there is no longer a difficulty in getting them to be logically equivalent.

Smith responds by alleging that Oaklander misunderstands Mellor’s theory and that the type-token distinction cannot be employed to show that Mellor’s theory is consistent. According to Smith, Oaklander’s misunderstanding of Mellor’s theory lies in the fact that Mellor defines differences in meaning and use of sentence tokens in terms of differences in their truth conditions. If logically contingent sentences, that is to say, sentences that are neither tautologous nor unsatisfiable, have identical truth conditions, then they also have identical meaning and use. Smith maintains that the contradiction is present in Mellor’s theory and that it can only be circumvented by altering the theory. Smith instead chooses to consider whether Oaklander’s revisions have any merit.

Smith accuses Oaklander of merely reproducing the problem Smith pointed out in a different guise. He argues that Oaklander equivocates upon “it” the logical sameness of “It is now 1980” and “1980 is present.” If one were to replace “it” by identifying the relevant tokens, the seeming sameness of their truth conditions disappear. He presents the truth conditions as follows:

Any token S of (1) is true with respect to the context of S’s utterance if and only if the year of S’s context of utterance is 1980.

Any token V of (2) is true with respect to the context of V’s utterance if and only if the year of V’s context of utterance is 1980.15

Recall that Oaklander states that sentence types do not have truth conditions; only tokens do. Smith then considers two 1980 tokens S and V. S and V are true with respect to their utterances iff the year of their context of utterance is 1980. This, according to Smith, brings us back to the problem he raised because their truth conditions lie in the fact that they both occur in 1980. These tenseless facts do not entail each other because it is possible for S to occur in 1980 whilst V does not occur in 1980, if at all. As a consequence, these facts aren’t enough to explain their logical equivalence. Smith asserts that their logical equivalence is explained by the tensed fact, “1980 is present,” because it belongs to both their truth conditions. Given this, we should see that the tensed theory is more in keeping with facts about language and time than Mellor’s token-reflexive theory.

Oaklander responds by arguing that Smith’s objection is valid only if one presupposes a conception of analysis rejected by proponents of the new theory though having been accepted by proponents of the old theory. Oaklander states:

To begin to see what is involved in this last point note that the early defenders of the tenseless view believed that a complete description or analysis of time could be symbolically represented in a non-indexical tenseless language. To give a complete description or analysis involves constructing a single language that performs two functions. First, in its “logical” function, this perspicuous or ideal language (IL) is a symbolic device for representing or transcribing the logic of sentences contained in ordinary language.16

IL has both a logical and an ontological function. The former is the manner in which IL represents the correct logical form all sentences and entailments in a natural language can assume, e.g., well formulated formulae (wffs) in propositional and predicate logic. The latter represents the facts and the kinds of entities that exist. On the old tenseless theory, given logical considerations, one could draw ontological conclusions. For instance, the logic of temporal discourse could be translated into tenseless language, so therefore, time, ontologically speaking, is comprised of immutable temporal relations between terms that do not have A-properties.

Oaklander concedes that due to such assumptions, Smith’s objections to the old token-reflexive theory are strong. This, however, is not an argument against the new token-reflexive theory. In rejecting translatability in determining the nature of time, them who espouse the new theory are rejecting the very basis of Smith’s argument. Detensers accept the A-theorists claim that tense is indispensable when concerning discourse, but deny that in an attempt to capture the nature of time, tense is indispensable. The former is to say that tenseless sentences cannot replace tensed sentences without loss of meaning. In accepting this, thence, any proponent of the new theory is abandoning an IL capable of adequately accounting for both logical and ontological considerations. The ontological function is hence kept distinct from the logical function. Logical connections therefore are not representative of ontological links between facts in reality. There need not be a connection between the facts of “It is now 1980” and “1980 is present” that provides a basis for their truth conditions. Contra smith, tensed facts do not need to be employed in order to account for their logical equivalence. According to the new theory, two sentences with different meanings can correspond to the same fact and to a different one. “It is now 1980” and “1980 is present” can either correspond to the same fact or not. In failing to see this, Smith’s objections are not applicable to the new token-reflexive theory.

Though the discussion didn’t end there, Oaklander’s response adequately defends Mellor’s token-reflexive theory or, at the very least, offers a viable alternative. The distinction he draws given an IL and the isolation of the ontological from the logical allows detensers to reject the notion that logical equivalence provides a basis for the truth conditions of “It is now 1980” and “1980 is present.” Furthermore, they can reject the notion that tensed facts are necessary to explain logical equivalence. This is what allows Mellor to say that the sentences tokens of “Cambridge is here” and “It is now 1980” have different truth conditions. If the ontological is held as distinct from the logical, these sentences can be made true by the same fact or not. Their logical equivalence does not imply that some fact corresponds to it.

Temporal Parts Theory of Identity

Since the Temporal Parts Theory of Identity will feature in my forthcoming argument, I will outline it here. I will then note a difference between the theory as it stands and my version of it, which can constitute a reduction of the theory. This may seem tangential, but even if so, it is a relevant detour because when accounting for our experience of time and its passing, a theory of identity is necessary in any theory of time and specifically, one that is consistent with the theory of time in question. Given the B/R-theory I will offer, I will argue that the temporal parts theory is best suited to meet the criterion of consistency. One will find that in speaking of temporal parts, the detensers’ acceptance of tense being indispensable in regards to temporal discourse will be made apparent. In other words, I will be speaking of earlier temporal parts differing from later ones.

The Temporal Parts Theory of Identity (hereon TPT) is derived from the notion of time being, in some sense or to some degree, like space. One can think of, for instance, a linear timeline depicting the years all 44 U.S. Presidents held office. Or one can think of the x-y axis used in physics. Time is represented by the x-axis whilst space is represented by the y. Or one can think of a space-time diagram containing two axes representing space and another to represent time. These sorts of considerations have led some philosophers and scientists to ask whether time is a dimension. According to some accounts, time is the fourth dimension. Time, however, is not always analogous to space. D.H. Mellor discussed these disanalogies at length.17 He, for instance, concluded that there’s no spatial analogue for our feeling of the passing of time. We can’t, in other words, attribute the passing of time to spatial changes.

With respect to parts, however, time and space are analogous. Theodore Sider explains:

Temporal parts theory is the claim that time is like space in one particular respect, namely, with respect to parts. First think about parts in space. A spatially extended object such as a person has spatial parts: her head, arms, etc. Likewise, according to temporal parts theory, a temporally extended object has temporal parts. Following the analogy, since spatial parts are smaller than the whole object in spatial dimensions, temporal parts are smaller than the whole object in the temporal dimension. They are shorter-lived.18

Recall, as an example, the b-moments in Friedrich Nietzsche’s life. Friedrich Nietzsche’s birth on October 15, 1844 is one b-moment and his death on August 25, 1900 is another. The dates of both represent distinct b-times. On TPT, he is spread out from October 15, 1844 to August 25, 1900. If we were to depict him in a space-time diagram, his parts on our diagram will depict his temporal parts. If we were capable of watching Nietzsche in his infancy, we will be observing a temporal part, then another that resembles it, and then another. If one were to watch infant Nietzsche long enough, his later temporal parts will be slightly bigger than the previous ones. That is to say that Nietzsche is no longer an infant; he is now, for instance, a toddler. So on our space-time diagram, Nietzsche grows the further we move away from his birth. It is also worth noting that temporal parts have spatial parts and vice versa. Nietzsche’s hand, like Nietzsche himself, persisted within the interval of time his life occupies. The parts he was comprised of will also be represented on our space-time diagram.

TPT is consistent with the B-theory and the B/R-theory that I will offer. For example, with regards to distant objects, time and space are alike. M31, though very distant, is just as real as any object in close proximity on Earth. Temporally distant objects, likewise, are real. This is the view known as eternalism, which differs from presentism in denying the thesis that only objects in the present exist. Also, with regards to here and now, time and space are analogous. If, for instance, I’m talking to my friend in China, she may say that it is sunny ‘here’ whilst I may say it is snowing ‘here.’ There’s no disagreement between us. Here is, in other words, relative to the person. The word ‘now’ works in like manner. If I were speaking to Fred, a homo erectus, via a time-traversing telephone, he could express that it is currently 1.8 million years before the advent of our calendars whilst I express that it is 2015. He and I do not disagree. ‘Now,’ like ‘here,’ is relative to the person. This is the gist of the B-theory of time.

Regardless of whether TPT is consistent with my B/R-theory of time, there’s still the question of whether TPT is true. Presenting a philosophical case in defense of the theory and reducing it to a simpler theory will be tasks undertaken in §2. The reduction of the theory is necessary because though detensers do not deny the indispensability of tense when concerning temporal discourse, TPT is, to my mind, mistaken because it bridges the chasm between the logical and ontological aspects previously discussed. In other words, TPT goes from ordinary tensed discourse to a dubious ontological commitment, namely that temporal parts are objects that exist and we can, in some sense, comprehend what they are like.

In the next section, which is my argument, I will attempt to answer the question as to whether anything can have the characteristic of being in time. I will endeavor to show that nothing can have this characteristic. My approach will differ from McTaggart’s because a philosophical theory stands in relation to logical, conceptual, perceptual or actual phenomena in our world. Doing away with the A-series is therefore necessary but not sufficient to show that nothing exists in time, i.e., that time is unreal. If our experience of time is not evidence for real time, one must still account for this experience: ponder its origin, what might this experience hinge on, and whether it is possible for time to exist in isolation of these things. I will endeavor to show that time does not exist in isolation of these and I will argue that some of the literature has hitherto agreed with this assessment. What’s left is to bring together relevant threads of this discussion to draw a conclusion that, at the very least, offers a plausible solution to our conundrum. These threads will consist of valid parts of Mellor’s new token-reflexive theory, the R-theory as defended by Oaklander, and the union of B- and R-theories which will bear some resemblance to but differ in key aspects from Oaklander’s theory. I will also defend TPT, defend my reason for reducing it to a simpler theory of identity, and then relate this reduction to my B/R-theory of time. Then, I will consider objections to my theory, discuss its implications, especially as they relate to the philosophy of science, and introduce mathematical nominalism to circumvent the main problem arising from my theory.

Works Cited

1 Mellor, D. H. Real Time II. London: Routledge, 1998. 8. Print.

2 Oaklander, Nathan. Adrian Bardon ed. “A-, B- and R-Theories of Time: A Debate”. The Future of the Philosophy of Time. New York: Routledge, 2012. 23. Print.

3 Prior, A. N. Papers on Time and Tense. Oxford: Clarendon P., 1968. Print.

4 Ibid. [2]

5 Oaklander, L. Nathan, and Quentin Smith, eds. The New Theory of Time. New Haven: Yale UP, 1994. 10. Print.

6 Ibid. [4]

7 Ibid. [4], p.18-19

8 Ibid. [1], p.27

9 Smith, Quentin (1987). “Problems with The New Tenseless Theory of Time”. Philosophical Studies 52 (3): 371-392.

10 Ibid. [9]

11 Mellor, D. H. Real Time. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire: Cambridge UP, 1981. 28. Print.

12 Ibid. [11], p.24.

13 Oaklander, L. N. (1991). “A Defence of the New Tenseless Theory of Time”. The Philosophical Quarterly 41: 26–38.

14 D. Kaplan (1978). “On the Logic of Demonstratives”. Journal of Philosophical Logic 8: 81-98.

15 Ibid. [5], p.73.

16 Oaklander, L. Nathan (1990). “The New Tenseless Theory of Time: A Reply to Smith”. Philosophical Studies 58 (3): 287 – 292.

17 Ibid. [1], p.95-96

18 Sider, Theodore (2008). “Temporal Parts”. Web. <http://tedsider.org/papers/temporal_parts.pdf>

“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. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/27/american-atheist-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh>

2 Al-Mahmood, Syed Zain. “Third Atheist Blogger Hacked to Death in Bangladesh”. Wall Street Journal. 12 May 2015. Web. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/third-atheist-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh-1431439393>

3 Evans, Robert. “Atheists Face Death Penalty In 13 Countries, Discrimination Around The World According To Freethought Report”. Huffington Post. 25 Jan 2015. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/10/atheists-death-penalty-_n_4417994.html?1386682143>

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. <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/03/world/asia/pakistan-acid-attack/>

6 Karimi, Faith and Sutton, Joe. “Police: Maryland mom kills 2 of her children during attempted exorcism”. CNN. 19 Jan 2014. Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/19/justice/maryland-exorcism-deaths/>

7 Collins, Dan. “Autistic Boy Dies During Exorcism”. CBS. 25 Aug 2003. Web. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/autistic-boy-dies-during-exorcism/>

8 Coyne, Jerry A. “Faith Healing Kills Children”. Slate. 21 May 2015. Web. <http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2015/05/religious_exemptions_from_medical_care_faith_healing_kills_children.html>

9 Goodstein, Laurie. “In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban”. The New York Times. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/07/us/in-seven-states-atheists-push-to-end-largely-forgotten-ban-.html?_r=0>

10 Altschul, Jon. “Epistemic Entitlement”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/ep-en/>

11 Moretti, Luca. “Transmission of Justification and Warrant”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 19 Nov 2013. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/transmission-justification-warrant/>

12 McGirk, Tim. “Hindu world divided by 24-hour wonder”. The Independent. 23 Sept 1995. Web. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/hindu-world-divided-by-a-24hour-wonder-1602382.html>

13 Koic, Elvira, et. al. “Glossolalia”. Antropol. 29 (2005) 1: 307–313 UDC 616.89-008.434 Review. Web. <http://www.psihijatrija.com/bibliografija/radovi/Koic%20E%20GLOSSOLALIA%20COLLEGIUM.pdf>

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.

Philosophical Atheism: Analytic and Normative Atheism

By R.N. Carmona

Theism and atheism aren’t merely epistemic stances concerning belief in god, but they’re robust philosophical positions that contain an analytic component. Analytic theism will ask the following questions: what is theism?; what or who is god? Analytic atheism will share the latter question insofar as the theist attempts to provide answers to that question.

Atheists, however, will not always agree with the answers provided by theists. A theist may respond to the first question and say that god is existence. An atheist might object by saying that such a definition is inconsistent with what theists commonly profess and that what they usually profess is much more elementary. God, for example, is man-like. He is pleased or displeased; given the latter, he is prone to anger. Furthermore, he purportedly has properties that can’t be attributed to mere existence: he’s omniscient, omnipotent, eternal. The atheist could also respond by stating that defining god as existence is much too vague. The aim of a definition is description; this definition, however, fails to describe what is meant by god.

Analytic atheism also attempts to answer the question: what is atheism? To accomplish this, however, the normative component has to be consulted. The analytic component, which is discussed below, will provide theories of atheism or more simply, accounts of what atheism should be–therefore providing possible answers to the question of normative atheism. The analytic component is therefore responsible for determining which account best captures what atheism is or alternatively, what an atheist is.

What an atheist is is perhaps best defined by the approach he/she chooses. The approach chosen or a combination of these approaches might help us to arrive at a better definition of atheism. There’s fallibilism, deductive atheology, and inductive atheology. The latter two are encompassed by evidentialism. This position is arguably most familiar to modern atheists:

[A]theists have taken the view that whether or not a person is justified in having an attitude of belief towards the proposition, “God exists,” is a function of that person’s evidence.  “Evidence” here is understood broadly to include a priori arguments, arguments to the best explanation, inductive and empirical reasons, as well as deductive and conceptual premises.  An asymmetry exists between theism and atheism in that atheists have not offered faith as a justification for non-belief.  That is, atheists have not presented non-evidentialist defenses for believing that there is no God.1

A priori arguments fall in the purview of deductive atheology. Such atheists would argue that the traditional view of god is incoherent. Such a god isn’t possible on this view. The characteristics god purportedly has are contradictory either in and of themselves or when one attempts to reconcile them. Take for example J.L Mackie’s explication of the Omnipotence Paradox: “can an omnipotent being make things which he cannot subsequently control? Or, what is practically equivalent to this, can an omnipotent being make rules which then bind himself?”2 This is a more generalized version of the Omnipotence Paradox, which usually asks: can god create a stone he cannot lift? Therefore, the paradox can be viewed as an argument attempting to show that omnipotence is incoherent in and of itself. The argument attempts to accomplish this by dividing omnipotence into two components, which I’ll call functional and physical. Functional omnipotence is the capacity to will anything whilst physical omnipotence is the capacity to do anything. Therefore, the argument attempts to show that it’s possible that god could will something he cannot do–in Mackie’s case, will something that he can’t control or in the general case, will the existence of a stone so heavy that he cannot complete the particular task of lifting it.

Another route such an atheist takes is the attempt to show that any given attributes of god are irreconcilable.

The combination of omnipotence and omniscience have received a great deal of attention.  To possess all knowledge, for instance, would include knowing all of the particular ways in which one will exercise one’s power, or all of the decisions that one will make, or all of the decisions that one has made in the past.  But knowing any of those entails that the known proposition is true.  So does God have the power to act in some fashion that he has not foreseen, or differently than he already has without compromising his omniscience?  It has also been argued that God cannot be both unsurpassably good and free.3

Another route available to such an atheist is to argue that we haven’t been offered an adequate concept of god.4 Concepts of god are often relative to this or that religion or subjective to this or that individual. Such concepts often do not agree with one another.

Perhaps the final route such an atheist can take is to argue that the failure of theistic arguments entails atheism. In other words, since arguments for god fail, it is reasonable to hold that god doesn’t exist. Such an atheist, for example, will argue that since the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails to prove that god created the universe, we should believe that such an agent didn’t create the universe. Alternatively, she will argue that since the Ontological Argument fails to show the existence of a necessary being, this being is instead impossible. Whether or not these arguments hold are of no interest at the time. This is, however, how such an atheist will proceed.

An atheist operating under inductive atheology has several possible approaches. Whether or not one can prove a negative is too tangential a topic to cover here, but assuming it’s possible, one could offer Michael Martin’s argument:

P1 [A]ll the available evidence used to support the view that X exists is shown to be inadequate; and

P2 X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then there is a presumption that would be evidence adequate to support the view that X exists; and

P3  this presumption has not been defeated although serious efforts have been made to do so; and

P4  the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined; and

P5  there are no acceptable beneficial reasons to believe that X exists.5

What makes this argument inductive is P3 and P4. P3 and P4 hold hitherto and thus, there’s the tacit assumption that they will hold going forward. In other words, that the future will resemble the past.

Naturalism is another argument available to an atheist operating under inductive atheology. This is, in fact, the prevalent approach among modern day atheists. Atheists may disagree on the details and therefore, espouse different sorts of naturalism. However, the more prominent forms are metaphysical and methodological. Methodological naturalism has two primary forms: constructive and deflationary. Deflationary is based on–not exclusively–the Natural Ontological Attitude (NOA). Arthur Fine describes it as follows:

I certainly trust the evidence of my senses, on the whole with regard to the existence and features of everyday objects. And I have similar confidence in the “cheek, double-check, check, tripe-check” of scientific investigation…So if scientists tell me that there really are molecules and atoms, and…who knows maybe even quarks, then so be it. I trust them and, thus, must accept that there really are such things with their attendant properties and relations.6

NOA is an alternative to scientific realism and anti-realism. “Both realism and anti-realism add an unwanted philosophical gloss to science.”7 Therefore, the position neither agrees with scientific realism nor anti-realism. At first glance, NOA may sound exactly like scientific realism, but there are key differences that should be considered (e.g. the correspondence theory of truth doesn’t factor into Fine’s NOA). Constructive naturalism differs from NOA because it “involves commitment to a definite method for resolving ontological matters.”8 Such a naturalist may make use of, for example, Quine’s Naturalized Epistemology.

Metaphysical naturalism absorbs methodological naturalism. The view could be defined as follows:

Metaphysical naturalism seeks to explain every feature of our reality through only natural entities and causes, without the need of god(s) or the supernatural in any part of one’s worldview and life philosophy. In other words, a “big picture” explanation of reality can be reached without any appeal to religion, making religions such as Christianity unnecessary and extraneous to answering the big questions in life.9

Metaphysical naturalism is a robust worldview that often requires lengthy elucidation. This has been done by, for example, Richard Carrier who states:

[I]f you want to know what we believe on almost any subject, you need merely read authoritative works on science and history–which means, first, college-level textbooks of good quality and, second, all the other literature on which their contents are based. The vast bulk of what you find there we believe in. The evidence and reason for those beliefs is presented in such works and need not be repeated…10

Where such authorities are silent, metaphysical naturalism is capable of providing possible answers. Take, for instance, the mind or morality. Metaphysical naturalism can offer cogent explanations in regards to both. For instance, with respect to the mind, some naturalists have offered some version of supervenience.

On fallibilism, an atheist can argue that a theist has come to a given conclusion because he hasn’t considered all the relevant evidence.11 In fact, part of this attitude plays a role in discussions between theists and atheists. Theists, generally speaking, make it quite obvious that they aren’t aware of all of the relevant evidence. William Lane Craig, for example, employs a perfunctory grasp of cosmology in order to support his KCA. It’s reasonable to conclude that if he were aware of all of the evidence, his conclusion would be different. Unfortunately, this might be too generous. Craig has been made aware of the evidence and regardless of the fact, he still chooses to endorse the KCA. So in some cases, it’s not just that a theist’s knowledge is fallible, but it’s that they disregard the fact and do not care to correct it.

Now that I’ve surveyed analytic atheism, it is time now to discuss the normative component of atheism. The normative question is akin to normativity as commonly understood in philosophy. Take, for instance, normative jurisprudence. The question of normative jurisprudence is: what should law be? In like manner, the question of normative atheism is: what should atheism be? Or, what should an atheist be?

Clearly, given that a Buddhist can be considered an atheist, atheism should be more than simply lack of belief in gods. To see what atheism should be or what an atheist should be, it is required that we distinguish the atheist and the Buddhist. We are required to account for their differences. These differences will help us see why one identifies as an atheist whilst the other identifies as a Buddhist.

Buddhism, however, divides into two primary schools: Mahayana and Theravada. These two schools divide further within themselves. We therefore have to narrow our focus. In other words, we have to focus on a certain type of Buddhist to see where the differences are. Thus, we will focus on Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism pertains to Mahayana Buddhism. It, however, incorporates tantric and shamanic aspects–the latter of which it appropriated from the ancient Tibetan religion, Bon. For this reason, it is often conflated with or mistaken for a minor school of Buddhism, Vajrayana.12 Tantra for instance “brings Tibetan Buddhism a magical element and a rich portfolio of heavenly beings. It also brings a wide variety of spiritual techniques such as mantras, mandalas, ceremonies, and many varieties of yoga.”13

Without going any further into Tibetan Buddhism, does an atheist, as normally construed, believe in magical elements and heavenly beings? Does she participate in rituals or believe in their efficacy? The obvious answer is no. Therefore, when someone refers to Buddhism as atheistic, they mean only to point out that Buddhism doesn’t offer a concept of god. It isn’t, however, atheistic in a normative sense. Given this, what then should atheism be? Alternatively, what should an atheist be?

Given the analytic component surveyed earlier, an atheist could adhere to any of the following theories: default atheism, natural atheism, or pluralistic atheism. Default atheism makes use of deductive atheology and cites that since the arguments for god fail, god cannot exist. Or such an atheist could state that since there’s no evidence for god, god doesn’t exist. They are therefore an atheist by default. Natural atheism, on the other hand, piggybacks on naturalism. Since all empirical explanations are naturalistic, the supernatural doesn’t factor into what she believes in. She is therefore a natural atheist.

Pluralistic atheism is what I want to offer. If any of the above methodologies or positions sound familiar to you, it’s because atheists are a diverse group of people that, in fact, employ some of these methodologies and therefore, adopt such positions. They will therefore have diverse ways of grounding their atheism, if such a project even interests them. Default atheists, for example, might not care enough about the question. Others not only care about the question of god, but they also care about what results from belief in god; given this, they make an effort to justify their non-belief in such entities. Pluralistic atheism therefore makes some use of every method discussed above. It doesn’t favor deductive over inductive atheology or vice versa. It can and very often does incorporate naturalism into its justification. It can and does invoke fallibilism in discussions with theists.

So given this, the question of what atheism is is answered by what atheism should be. Since pluralism incorporates naturalism, the question of natural atheism is essentially the combination of those questions. That is to say that what atheism is is identical to what atheism should be. On naturalism and therefore, on pluralism, the question of what atheism is is clearly answered once we consider what atheism should be.

Atheism should be more than the lack of belief in gods. It should also, by extension, be the lack of belief in the authority of religious texts, the efficacy of rituals, the purported existence of metaphysical entities such as angels and transcendent ancestors, magic, and even aspects of religious culture. Given the latter, atheists shouldn’t wear some traditional attire. The other items are pretty straightforward. The reason they’re straightforward goes back to our analytic component.

If the arguments for god fail or if naturalism is true or if a theist has incomplete knowledge and thus a false conclusion, we have good reason to reject the entirety of the system they’re offering. If we reject the Judeo-Christian god, then we are compelled to reject the Judeo-Christian portraits of heaven and hell along with the entities said to reside in these places. We must also reject the so called power of prayer and the utility of fasting. Also, given the authority of science and the evidence it has presented us with, the purported authority of the Bible becomes suspect. It is more suspect still when one considers what history tells us. Therefore, atheism should be and therefore is the lack of belief in gods and anything that may be tied to them: religious texts, rituals, metaphysical entities and places, and cultural aspects.

What I’ve attempted to do here is show that analytic atheism entails normative atheism. This is the case because on pluralism, naturalism is featured. Natural atheism, like natural law, answers the questions of analytic and normative atheism as one. The question of analytic jurisprudence is what is law whilst the question of normative jurisprudence is what should the law be. A natural law theory like, for instance, Leibniz’s will answer both questions simultaneously. This, I have argued, is what happens with atheism.

Atheism is the default position. Belief is like an achieved rather than ascribed status. At birth, you are either a son or daughter; this status is ascribed. The status of Christian is achieved given that one has to go through some motions to become one–e.g. baptism. Atheism, on the other hand, is like an ascribed status. At birth, you are neither Christian nor Muslim nor Hindu. These labels may be given to you by devout parents, but they aren’t true given that you have no way of formulating a sophisticated worldview. Atheism is also the natural position. Given naturalism, gods cannot feature into any explanation in and of the universe. One can, of course, offer ad hoc rationalization, but this is not parsimonious. It adds to an explanation that is already complete. Therefore, given natural atheism and consequently pluralistic atheism, what atheism is is exactly what atheism should be. If we answer the latter, we answer the former.

Works Cited

1 McCormick, Matt. “Atheism”Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 21 Dec 2014.

2 Mackie, J. L. 1955. Evil and omnipotence. Mind 64 (254): 200-212. Available on web.

3 Ibid. [1]

4 Smart, J.J.C. “Atheism and Agnosticism”Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 9 Mar 2004. Web. 21 Dec 2014.

5 Martin, Michael, 1990.   Atheism:  A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia:  Temple University Press, 1990.

6 Arthur Fine as quoted in Ritchie, Jack. Understanding Naturalism. Stocksfield, England: Acumen, 2008. 97. Print.

7 Ibid. [6]

8 Ibid. [6]

9 Ferguson, Matthew. “Thinking about the ‘Metaphysics’ in Metaphysical Naturalism”Civitas Humana. 26 Apr 2014. Web. 21 Dec 2014.

10 Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse, 2005. 67. Print.

11 Ibid. [1]

12 “Tibetan Buddhism”. BBC. 14 Jan 2004. Web. 21 Dec 2014.

13 Ibid. [12]