An atheist tries to refute the Argument from Reason

Here is an example of missing the point:

Even though the argument from reason may sound good, the argument is a good example of begging the question (I.E. circular reasoning). The premise (that physical sources cannot constitute a rational source) is the conclusion (That naturalism – which says physical sources can constitute a rational source – is wrong). The reason that this is hard to see initially is due to the way in which the argument is laid out.

I think this is flatly incorrect. Saying that physical causes cannot be rational is not the same as saying naturalism is false. I think it gives a good reason to reject naturalism, but it might turn out that we are not rational and naturalism is true.

The central point of the argument is that merely physical sources cannot constitute a rational source, and therefore Lewis (and others) come to the conclusion that naturalism is self-refuting. Yet this premise is left without a proper explanation, and I don’t see why merely physical sources cannot constitute a rational source – in fact, this is one of the things that naturalism argues – that rationality can arise out of a purely physical source. A person employing the Argument from Rationality simply posits as a premise that it cannot, and then claims that this makes naturalism self-refuting. Obviously, we could refute nearly any worldview in this manner. Similarly, we could claim that any abstraction – from love to opinions to ideas to art – cannot arise out of purely physical sources and our argument would be no different. Why abstractions cannot arise out of physical sources is not explained, and I think they clearly can. It’s easy to create an imaginary solution to an imaginary problem.

No, this is a clear case of missing the point. We know that at a fundamental level physical causes don’t act for reasons. The reason an asteroid hits the Earth isn’t because it thinks colliding with our planet is the best way to achieve some end. It is acting in accordance with the laws of physics, and these laws (plus relevant physical conditions) comprehensively explains the event. So we have a prima facie case against the physical constitution of rationality. Is an emergent account possible? Perhaps. Is such an account forthcoming? Doubtful. Therefore the argument constitutes a good reason to reject naturalism.

Sophistry is a joy!


One reason the atheism/Christianity debate won’t progress

There is a Christian mindset that makes people think they can substitute snippet for substance. We see this is the political realm, where public visibility and electability is partly determined by who can create the snappiest zingers. As many know, these one-liners may be fun, but they certainly aren’t intellectually edifying. Case in point. Surely it is the scandal of the church that they haven’t done enough to combat such senseless taunting, but I imagine it has something to do with the body count of the church pews. But anyway….

Atheists are, at least on the interweb, a beacon of rationality, reason and a source of hope for the human race. But then they revert to the same tribalistic grunting afflicting their superstitious counterparts. These people apparently believe that we can just skip the whole process of cultivating a thinking, experiencing, growing person in favor of getting the best of their one-liner interlocutor. Blech.

P. Z. Myers tries his hand at Plantinga’s EAAN

…with disastrous results. His tone is one of unbridled venom which, I think, is evidence of confusion and frustration:

I’ve read some of his work, but not much; it’s very bizarre stuff, and every time I get going on one of his papers I hit some ludicrous, literally stupid claim that makes me wonder why I’m wasting time with this pretentious clown, and I give up, throw the paper in the trash, and go read something from Science or Nature to cleanse my palate. Unfortunately, that means that what I have read is typically an indigestible muddled mess that I don’t have much interest in discussing, and what I haven’t read is something I can’t discuss.

There isn’t much in Plantinga that is bizarre unless you have no background in philosophy. But if that’s the case, why would you attempt to judge the merits of a world-class intellectual without some association with his ideas? Plantinga is anything but “pretentious”, and nearly anyone who has met him or heard him lecture knows he is a paragon of humility. With this unpromising start Myers begins his hijacking of Plantinga’s EAAN.

Paul Myers is criticizing Plantinga’s summary of the argument here. (As an aside, I think it is generally par for the course to criticize the in-depth version or the strongest possible version of an argument rather than a snapshot, but considering what Myers thinks of his stuff maybe it isn’t at all surprising he goes after the Books and Culture edition.) He agrees with a great deal of Plantinga’s preliminary remarks, but he goes after Plantinga at a curious portion of the argument:

Just believing in something, whether it is Christianity or physics, doesn’t mean it is necessarily true. Our brains attempt to model the world for functional purposes and lack any inherent, absolute means to detect truth.

Well, who knows what the latter part if this portion means. But Plantinga surely doesn’t believe that something is true just because one believes it. And doing a bit of investigative exegesis on the second sentence reveals that Myers either doesn’t believe in Plantinga’s (R) in the first place or he (mistakenly) thinks we have some kind of certainty in matters epistemic. What does it mean to say there could be an “inherent, absolute means to detect truth”? Do we “detect” truth at all? I don’t know how to interpret that wreck of a sentence, but either we do have some true beliefs or we don’t. And if we do have true beliefs to a significant degree, then we should be able to theoretically understand why we are able to produce reliable beliefs. That is the heart of Plantinga’s argument, whatever Myers makes of it.

In Plantinga’s world, if we queried the inhabitants with some simple question, such as, “Is fire hot?”, 50% would say no, and 50% would say yes. This world must be populated entirely with philosophers of Plantinga’s ilk, because I think that in reality they would have used experience and their senses to winnow out bad ideas, like that fire is cold, and you’d actually find nearly 100% giving the same, correct answer. Plantinga does not seem to believe in empiricism, either.

Despite Paul’s misreading of Plantinga’s intention, I do disagree with Plantinga here, but not in Paul’s favor. Given that one could have true of false beliefs and those beliefs are entirely random as to their truth value, the probability of this belief being true is far less than .5. For any given “truth”- say, the true number of gumballs in the jar- there are perhaps an infinite number of false beliefs. If the actual number of gumballs is 25, then all numbers less than or greater than 25 would be false. Plantinga makes this clear in other places, but again, since Myers chose to interact with Plantinga’s précis, we don’t see that in his post.

What it does mean, though, is that if there are ideas that are not amenable to empirical testing, such as “I will go to heaven when I die”, those ideas have a very low probability of being true. We can think of those as being the product of random input, in some ways, and since they cannot be winnowed against reality, they are unreliable.

No. This is garbled positivism, and no one will ever be able to find support for P. Z.’s odd epistemological principle which ends up looking something like this: “If beliefs aren’t empirically testable, they are unreliable.” Since it is a blanket principle it is self-referencing, and unless he has an ace up his sleeve that somehow escaped some of the worlds brightest thinkers in the first half of the 20th century, this self-referencing principle is also unreliable. Somehow I think if Myers would have kept reading Plantinga’s papers that ended up in the trash he would have gathered as much and, just maybe, tightened up his epistemology a bit. Lastly,

Brains are not reliable; they’ve been shaped by forces which, as has been clearly said, do not value Truth with a capital T. Scientists are all skeptics who do not trust their perceptions at all; we design experiments to challenge our assumptions, we measure everything multiple times in multiple ways, we get input from many people, we put our ideas out in public for criticism, we repeat experiments and observations over and over. We demand repeated and repeatable confirmation before we accept a conclusion, because our minds are not reliable. We cannot just sit in our office at Notre Dame with a bible and conjure truth out of divine effluent. We need to supplement brains with evidence, which is the piece Plantinga is missing.

This is a strange response. He seems to be conceding the point by saying not (R), but then says our faculties are reliable through a web of input. Of course, this is simply begging the question against Plantinga. But if he really believes Plantinga sits in his chair funneling divine wisdom to the underlings of Christianity, I would expect him to think as much.

A. N. Wilson Converts

This is very interesting. This isn’t big news stateside, but across the pond A. N. Wilson is a bit of a literary celebrity. He has written (quite famously) a biography of C. S. Lewis and works extremely critical of him, and some of his other books proudly display his atheism (see here).

In any case, read his conversion story here.

Craig vs. Carrier

William Lane Craig recently squared off with Richard Carrier on the resurrection of Jesus. The consensus is that Craig won, or at least Carrier lost. Decide for yourself:

Is William Lane Craig Afraid of John Loftus?

John Loftus, famous author (don’t forget to check out his book) and chief antagonist of the number one website on the internet Debunking Christianity recently found out that WLC is afraid to debate him:

I learned from DC member Darrin at the Carrier/Craig debate that Craig said he would not debate his former students. That’s what he said.

I am now classed with a group of people, i.e., the people comprised of his former students. And Dr. Craig says he will not debate anyone in that class of people. Okay, I guess. But given the fact that I’m probably the only member of this class of people who wants to debate him he might as well have said: “I will not debate John W. Loftus.”

Not only is WLC too frightened to debate Loftus, but apparently he has been since 1985:

While I was a student of his he said something I thought was odd at the time. This was back in 1985 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He said “the person I fear debating the most is a former student of mine.” Keep in mind that Dr. Craig was on a High School debate team and has been debating these topics for probably just as long as I’ve been thinking about them. And he had only been teaching a few years before this to actually know of any student who might want to debate him. But that’s what he said. Again, he said “the person I fear debating the most is a former student of mine.”

He cannot deny saying this, and I don’t think he will.

Does he really fear me? I don’t know. But just maybe he does after all. He could change his mind though. I think a lot of people would be interested in this match-up.

Apparently being a “former student” of WLC’s includes being a current student of WLC’s. Either that or Loftus is lying. But since that is clearly implausible, what Craig meant by former student was just current student. This is further bolstered by what Debunking Christianity’s leading investigative reporter and Pulitzer prize winner “Darrin” uncovered in his interview with Craig. Follow the logic:

1) Craig will not debate former students.
2) Loftus is a former student.
3) Loftus is pretty much his only former student.
4) ????????
5) Craig is afraid of Loftus.
.: Profit.


What Philosophy Isn’t

John Loftus.
Read any of his malformed opinions on religion and philosophy here.
Remember to not buy his book here.
He is narcissistic, out of touch and a poor philosopher to boot. For hilarity, read the comments here and here. He never disappoints.
Oh, the obligatory “DJ is a liar” thread.