Category: philosophy of religion

Refuting Plantinga’s “Victorious” Ontological Argument

By R.N. Carmona

As sort of a reply to the article I posted earlier, I have decided to present Chapter 4 of my book Philosophical Atheism in full. Plantinga’s version of the Ontological Argument is seen as the most updated and formidable. It also makes use of the clause in Nagasawa’s article, namely that since it’s possible that god is necessary, it follows that he is necessary. In my book I explain why I’m extremely skeptical of that clause because I see the leap from logically conceivable to logically possible as flawed; moreover, I see the jump from logically possible to logically probable as flawed, and therefore, see the leap from logically probable to actual as flawed. Never mind that the necessity of such a being is without warrant. Despite the supposed strength of Plantinga’s argument, it is irreparably more flawed than its predecessors. Please read below to find out why.

In order to be charitable to theists, I will forgo discussing Anselm’s Ontological Argument altogether, especially since most of them consider it less preferable when compared to Plantinga’s version or the modal argument. Since Plantinga’s version fails for the same reasons, I will discuss the modal ontological argument. The modal version is as follows:

P1 If God exists then he has necessary existence.
P2 Either God has necessary existence, or he doesn’t.
P3 If God doesn‘t have necessary existence, then he necessarily doesn’t.
P4 Therefore: Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t.
P5 If God necessarily doesn’t have necessary existence, then God necessarily doesn’t exist.
P6 Therefore: Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t exist.
P7 It is not the case that God necessarily doesn’t exist.
P8 Therefore: God has necessary existence.
P9 If God has necessary existence, then God exists.
C Therefore: God exists.

The first bad assumption is found in the first premise. Before I demonstrate why, it is useful to define necessary existence. An entity that exists in all possible worlds necessarily exists, i.e., a being that cannot fail to exist. Leibniz coined the term when he put forth the idea that god created “the best of all possible worlds,” which is one of the earliest theodicies. Philosophers conclude that it is probable that god is a necessary being; however, that conclusion isn’t indicative of truth. Therefore, it is a bad assumption to begin an argument with such an obscure probability.

Philosophers do not state how probable the necessary existence of god is. It is probable that god does not necessarily exist. That allusion can be found in premise two. Also, one could just as easily argue that either there are seven perfect beings who necessarily exist or any other random number of gods so long as we are able to begin with the unwarranted assumption that there are necessary beings. Nothing but our intuition of simplicity is reason to choose one necessary being rather than seven or eight. The possibility of god not having necessary existence is entirely ignored in premise seven — the second bad assumption and the worst of the two. By what authority does one arrive at that premise? Therefore, it follows that what comes after premise seven isn’t true.

God is believed to have necessary existence for a number of reasons; the greatest of these reasons is the assumption that he is eternal, a belief stemming from Anselm. From there, believers posit that god’s existence doesn’t require an explanation. Richard Dawkins and other atheists ignore this assumption when asking, “where did god come from?” From a believer’s point of view, god isn’t a contingent being. Therefore, to them, the question is nonsensical. There is, however, a better option for atheists and it’s the option normally chosen perhaps without realizing: god is an impossible being. An impossible entity is an entity that doesn’t exist in any possible world, i.e., a being that fails to exist in all possible worlds, e.g., a seven sided octagon; a rectangular oval. With that said, I present the equally valid Modal Anti-Ontological Argument:

P1 If God doesn’t exist then he has impossible existence.
P2 Either God has impossible existence, or he doesn’t.
P3 If God doesn’t have impossible existence, then he necessarily doesn’t.
P4 Therefore: Either God has impossible existence, or he necessarily doesn’t.
P5 If God necessarily doesn’t have impossible existence, then God necessarily exists.
P6 Therefore: Either God has impossible existence, or he necessarily exists.
P7 It is not the case that God necessarily exists.
P8 Therefore: God has impossible existence.
P9 If God has impossible existence, then God doesn’t exist.
C Therefore: God doesn’t exist.

If apologists want to argue that their argument is valid, they must grant that the above argument is also. What’s left is to consider which of the two is sound. Unlike the probability apologists put forth, a probability that is bolstered by theological motivations, I can put forth a concrete probability: it is highly probable that the Judeo-Christian god — the god that the Ontological Argument was designed to defend — does not exist. Thus, the modal anti-ontological is sound. I am, of course, putting the cart before the horse as I have yet to argue for that conclusion. That will, in part, be the task of the second part of this work.

It is time now to turn to Plantinga’s version of the argument and to show why it falls into the same trap. I will also address one of the primary motivations driving believers to accept some version of the ontological argument. Plantinga’s version is considered “victorious” not because it is an ironclad, unassailable version of the argument, but rather, because it succeeds at showing that belief in god is rational. The jury is still out with regards to that, but one thing is for certain, Plantinga’s argument does not succeed where the other versions have failed. In fact, it falls victim to a similar contra-argument. Plantinga’s version can be formulated as follows:

P1 A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
P2 A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
P3 It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
P4 Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
C Therefore, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

The contra-argument would begin with (1) and (2); it would, in other words, accept the definitions of a being with maximal excellence and a being with maximal greatness. It would diverge beginning at (3) and would therefore continue as follows:

(3) It is impossible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
(4) Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being does not exist.
(5) Therefore, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being does not exist.

Like in the case of the modal version, if a believer claims that Plantinga’s version is valid, s/he must also admit that this version is also. We would again be obligated to consider which of the two is sound.

Curiously, the first premise has another glaring problem. It has, more specifically, an inescapable entailment. The first premise appears to imply that it is possible that there exists a being that has maximal excellence but doesn’t have maximal greatness. There is a being that is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in Y, but not in X. This possibility leaves the door wide open for polytheism and also implies that in some possible world(s) there exists beings who can rival god in the worlds in which they happen to exist. Certainly Plantinga doesn’t intend to allow for these implications, but the first premise obviously entails precisely that. Far from being “victorious,” the argument leads to issues that are simply not found in Anselm’s version.

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

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

It is time now to consider one motivation a believer may have for accepting a given version of the ontological argument, namely abstract objects. The prevalent school of thought among such believers is that all abstract objects depend on god for their existence. More specifically, abstract objects depend on god for their existence. When one considers that abstract objects need not depend on god for their existence, one should no longer have any motivation to accept the ontological argument as sound. Without entering the metaphysical waters of Lewis’ counterfactuals, one can consider specific abstract objects. One can consider the sort of moral truths discussed in the previous chapter and see that they have naturalistic origins.

One can also consider universals. When concerning universals, there are three views: Platonic, Aristotelian, and Nominalist. Given these three views, some have located a controversy. Yet one can dismiss one of the views on a number of grounds. Prior to dismissing one of the views, it is necessary to elaborate on them.

On the Platonic view, known as Platonic realism, universals exist in a supernatural realm, the realm of forms. These forms give meaning to the terms we use. These abstractions actually exist. So when we speak of all people having ‘humanity’, humanity exists in the realm of forms. That is to say that the form ‘humanity’ is an incorporeal form that corresponds to what all people have in common.

According to the Aristotelian view, Aristotelian realism, which was championed by Peter Abelard, universals are properties or relations held in common by given objects. Humanity therefore exists in the natural realm and not in a supernatural realm. It is a relation all people hold in common and the universal is a term that represents this relation. ‘Manhood’ or ‘blackness’ are instantiated in all men and all black things respectively. This leads to a glaring issue. Clearly, a black table, a black chair, and a black shirt are different objects and yet, they have in common the same property. These objects are thus qualitatively equal. The response to this is that though universals are natural, they do not act as natural objects.

The nominalist view denies that universals exist. There are two ways to go about that. The one denies that universals exist altogether whilst the other accepts commonalities like ‘humanity’, ‘manhood’, and ‘blackness’, but denies that they can be aptly called universals. To apply these approaches, one need only offer a paraphrase of sentences that are true and entail universals. Thus, for a sentence like “all men are mortal,” the nominalist need only offer a paraphrase that denies the universal ‘mortality’ or denies that it can aptly be referred to as a universal. There are several ways to confront this.

A nominalist can take the predicate, concept, mereological, class, modal, or resemblance routes. Both the predicate and concept routes accept commonalities, but deny that they can dubbed universals. On the predicate view, the predicate “mortal” applies to men because they’re mortal and this entails the universal “mortal.” On the concept view men fall under the concept “mortal,” but there’s no such thing as “mortality.” The mereological view says that a man is mortal because he is a part of the whole of things that are mortal. Unfortunately, the mereological view cannot be used when speaking of mass or shape, for instance, since the mass or shape of the parts do not equal the sum of the mass or shape wholes. That is to say that the sum of the sides of all equilateral triangles do not themselves equal an equilateral triangle.

Class nominalism avoids these pitfalls by offering that man is mortal by virtue of belonging to the class of all mortal things. This view also runs into issues. So does David Lewis’ Modal Realism, which posits possible worlds on the basis of counterfactuals. There’s also resemblance nominalism, which offers that mortal beings don’t resemble each other because they’re mortal, but rather, they’re mortal because they resemble each other. In the case of sentient beings, resemblance nominalism seems to do well.

There are other versions of nominalism that can be discussed, e.g., causal nominalism, but much of the so-called controversy can do with some butchering. One should therefore employ Ockham’s Razor to cut off some fat. For one, Platonic Realism is simply unnecessary. If one is to offer only necessary postulates, then a realm of forms in where universals exist is unnecessary. Them who have looked instead to the way in which we employ language have the right idea. Either Aristotle’s view is correct or one of the nominalist views is correct.

On the nominalist view, there’s more fat that can be cut off. Color, for instance, is experienced in a particular way by human beings. Some animals don’t see the colors we see; others see no color; others can see in infrared; still others, one can imagine, may see in ultraviolet; we can also imagine a creature that can see the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Color, in any case, is reducible to light and need not be a property, particular or universal, of any object. On the basis of abstraction, in the same way we imagine a similarity in all black things, we can imagine these objects without ‘blackness.’ Put another way, the black sofa, the black table, and the black chairs can be as they are with no color to be found. The color need not be a part of them.

What we’re left with then is shape, mass, and other extensional properties, and also the space these objects appear to occupy. With color out of the way and with Platonic realism disqualified, we can make progress in solving the problem of universals. Obviously the answer isn’t obvious, since it’s still widely discussed. But for creatures lacking the capacity of a language formed by subjects and predicates, particulars and universals may not occur to them. It is likelier that human language leads to problems such as these and the related one-many problem. The controversy is then lifted by paying more attention to how language creates more problems than it solves.

Given the nominalist views surveyed above, it is clear that universals do not depend on god for their existence. In fact, universals may not have existence proper. In other words, if they don’t exist in a Platonic realm or within the divine thoughts of god, then they do not have a property of existence. One will find that other abstract objects can be explained in similar fashion.

Numbers, for instance, need not be Platonic in any sense. The number 4 or the a priori truth of some equation need not depend on god for their existence. Such a tangent isn’t necessary given that I discuss nominalism as it relates to numbers in chapter eleven, but at every turn when confronted with a so-called abstract object, the atheist can offer the following questions: does this abstract object have the property of existence? What is meant by existence in this case? Certainly abstract objects do not exist in the same way a person or an animal exists. The use of the word existence in this case warrants caution and skepticism. In any case, when thinking of examples of abstract objects, it is clear that all abstract objects can be explained in one or more of the following ways: (a) nominalism (b) reductionism, e.g., colors are reducible to an astrophysical phenomenon, namely light (c) the Lockean thesis, i.e., an abstract object can’t be abstracted in isolation from its physical counterpart or the object on which it acts upon. A bit of elaboration is in order.

According to the Lockean thesis, one cannot think of motion abstractly without also thinking of an object in motion. The same applies to abstract objects. One cannot think of a moral truth, e.g. murder is wrong, without thinking of or imagining a murder. One can’t think of the number 4 without reference to the number as it appears in a book, a sheet of paper, or a chalkboard. Even if one imagines a blue number 4 within one’s mind, one is still representing in one’s mind the number as s/he has seen it before. The numbers and their sequence aren’t innate; we all learned of their value and their appearance at some point in childhood and there’s no way to think of them as abstract in the absence of some physical counterpart. Much more can be said about abstract objects and numbers specifically, but it should be clear now that the purported relation between god and abstract objects is a dubious motivation for accepting the ontological argument. Despite this, there’s a specific abstraction that warrants much attention and it is for this reason, I’ve devoted the entire next chapter to it.

All citations can be found in my book Philosophical Atheism.

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What is Post-Theism?

By R.N. Carmona

Many might be confused by the post-theist label. It does not mean that one is a theist unaffiliated with organized religion. This doesn’t mean one believes in a deity. Post-theism describes an attitude that one is beyond the god question. The atheist label no longer makes sense because the question of god is a settled fact; a god doesn’t exist and never did, so one doesn’t lack belief, but rather proceeds with the knowledge that there’s no god and conducts their life as such.

One no longer dwells on the question or considers the question. Yes, this is compatible with gnostic atheism because it requires knowledge rather than mere non-belief sans knowledge, i.e., agnostic atheism. However, the question of whether a god exists no longer interests the post-theist; it no longer occupies her time in that it’s something she gives no thought to. Religion and belief in god is a relic of human history. So she is as post-atheistic as she is post-theistic.

Post-(a)theism is a stronger position in that it isn’t a proclamation of non-belief or even knowledge of there being no god. It’s a stronger claim: religion was borne out of human ignorance; our lack of scientific knowledge, historical knowledge, philosophical understanding and reasoning, and technological progress resulted in a belief stemming from agency over-detection, among other fallacious conclusions. Religion was the result of primitive thinking, underdeveloped reasoning, and a severe misapprehension of the world we live in.

In many ways we are all post-theistic in that we don’t attribute lightning, tidal waves, strong winds, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes to the wrath of a god. We moved passed polytheistic explanations of natural phenomena and remain only with the palpably silly idea that a god created the universe and world. The post-theist gets to a point where those notions are as ridiculous as the idea that Zeus launches every lightning bolt everywhere – including on planets like Jupiter. If one is to learn about causation, the dispositions of material objects, and the universe, one will see that these do not allow for such an explanation; never mind that god is a human projection, a way of seeing our own image even behind phenomena we can’t even begin to control.

God is the name of an idealized human, infinite in every domain we are finite in: infinitely knowledgeable, powerful, moral, and good; every one of us will die and yet god is considered eternal. God is the name of human naiveté and arrogance, the notion that the creator of the universe must be a perfect version of ourselves. God is the name of the lack of imagination of our ancestors. If anything, imagination hasn’t discovered a super-human controlling and governing the universe; imagination has discovered natural forces that move celestial bodies and oversee their formation; imagination has scaled down the universe to previously incomprehensible small scales; imagination has proven once and for all that the universe is probabilistic, that chance rather than agency is more prevalent in the universe. Imagination has shown that the idea of god was borne from a lack of creativity rather than masterful ingenuity. Whether you like it or not, we are beyond the need for god as ultimate explanation or temporary placeholder; we are beyond the question of whether one exists. This is the age of post-theism.

An Excerpt From My New Book

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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]