Positivism and the Presumption of AtheismFirst of all apologies this has taken so long. No particular reason, life and stuff I suppose. Anyway I have finally gotten around to giving some time to this and so here is some honest feedback for you.
The reading you recommended was quite a long piece (compared to our usual blog post size anyway) and I don't intend covering it line by line, so if I have missed out some areas you think are important then please let me know.
We start with a brief history of epistemology in the form of the odd snippet. You are perhaps better able to comment on the even handedness of his choices than I am. I will simply address things as he raises them.
First topic up for discussion is the old word game about empirical verification and empirical falsification. Paul and I have previously discussed my own logically unsupportable bias for evidence and reason.
Whilst admitting its logically in-supportability I will only repeat here that it does work in this reality as far as empirical verification and empirical falsification has been tested and I am not aware of any instances of it not working.
So anyway, we are initially regaled with the tale from Antony Flew of the garden in the jungle with no gardener who then becomes "qualified as an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener". Flew asks how this is different from no gardener at all. This has since been developed with variations such as Russell's teapot and the invisible pink unicorn now abound.
On Flew’s view the God-hypothesis is not false but simply meaningless.
Our author then shows how Flew was wrong.
Ah, penny dropping here.
This chap is going through the "evidences" against God and arguing against them rather than giving dome positive evidences in favour of god. I had hoped he would give us some positive evidences for god. I had asked for some positive evidences for god. Ok lets not be too hasty and give up just yet he sill has time to cover some of these and he is just giving a historical recap at the moment anyway.
For the record, I don't claim to have proof that god does not exist. I just don't think he does exist as I have seen no evidence for him. It was my persistent badgering of Paul for evidence along these lines which led to Paul giving me this material to read in the first place. Still, lets push on, plenty of time for some positive evidences to be covered later on, fingers crossed.
OK next we get something of a little more note. The "presumption of atheism". This indeed seems to be my position in a nutshell. Great lets see where this goes.
Well first our author wanders off talking about the difference between agnosticism and atheism. OK, I am happy to submit to this as well. Technically I am an agnostic. I do profess to follow the evidence and keep an open mind and therefore I do readily admit this in conversation.
However I don't think this means agnostics think god is a 50/50 chance. There is bound to be a range of agnostic opinion from pretty likely to almost no chance. I am at the almost no chance end of the scale. Ok, so we can chat about technical definitions, fine, but why is the atheist presumption wrong if we allow it to mean the practical everyday atheist position of no evidence means no belief in the same sense that no evidence for Father Xmas equals no belief and, for that matter, every other weird and wonderful claim made with no supporting evidence. I don't believe in fairies either for example.
After several careful readings of this ( to get over my sense of disappointment and incredulity ) here is his counter argument;
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” For example, in theoretical physics entities are frequently postulated for which there is (as yet) no evidence, but that absence of evidence in no way justifies one in thinking that such entities do not exist. To give an illustration, it has become commonplace in astrophysical cosmology to postulate an early inflationary era in the expansion of the universe in order to explain such features of the universe as its flat space-time curvature and large scale isotropy. Unfortunately, by the very nature of the case, any evidence of such an era will have been pushed by the inflationary expansion out beyond our event horizon, so that it is unobservable. But woe be to the cosmologist who asserts that this absence of evidence is proof that inflation did not take place! At best we are left with agnosticism.My problems of this can be summarised as follows;
- How does this address fairies at the bottom of the garden? If his argument is a general one then presumably he believes in anything and everything. Surely not. If his argument is only specific to God then he hasn't either stated this explicitly or provided any reasons for such a get of out jail card for his god. Perhaps we will see this later.
- Postulating a hypothesis in science is a long way from believing in it. First of all conjectures can become hypothesis only when they can be shown to present a more parsimonious or effective explanation of already well known facts. Only when hypothesis which can explain already known facts manage to start predicting previously unobserved phenomena do they get a chance to become "theories" and even then they are subject to review and even abandonment in due course as new evidence is gathered.
Thus, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence only in cases in which, were the postulated entity to exist, we should expect to have some evidence of its existence. Moreover, the justification conferred in such cases will be proportional to the ratio between the amount of evidence that we do have and the amount of evidence that we should expect to have if the entity existed. If the ratio is small, then little justification is conferred on the belief that the entity does not exist.Well my first thoughts here are that this is still not offering any evidence in favour of god. It goes some way to introducing topics which might attempt to give god his get out of jail free card, although falls short, so far, of attempting to make this case.
Again, the advocates of the presumption of atheism recognized this. Michael Scriven, for example, maintained that in the absence of evidence rendering the existence of some entity probable, we are justified in believing that it does not exist, provided that (1) it is not something which might leave no traces, and (2) we have comprehensively surveyed the area where the evidence would be found if the entity existed. But if this is correct, then our justification for atheism depends on (1) the probability that God would leave more evidence of His existence than what we have and (2) the probability that we have comprehensively surveyed the field for evidence of His existence That puts a different face on the matter! Suddenly the presumer of atheism, who sought to shirk his share of the burden of proof, finds himself saddled with the very considerable burden of proving (1) and (2) to be the case.
I also fail to see why the burden of proof has switched on to my "shirking" shoulders. Surely it is for the theist to make their case as to what evidence god should or should not leave. This is after all just another way of asking what it is that the theist's actual claim is.
Paul, what claims do you make that we can judge based on the evidence?
I do get slightly annoyed now by the casual reference to my shirking my side of the burden of proof for a claim I haven't made and the doesn't further endear himself to me when he refers to the "facile presumption of atheism" before he has made a convincing case why it should be considered facile.
The debate among contemporary philosophers has therefore moved beyond the facile presumption of atheism to a discussion of the so-called “Hiddenness of God” --in effect, a discussion of the probability or expectation that God, if He existed, would leave more evidence of His existence than what we have. One’s perspective on this issue cannot but be influenced by one’s assessment of the project of natural theology (see chapters 27-28). For if one is convinced that God has left pretty convincing evidence of His existence, then one is apt to be skeptical that we should expect to see much more evidence of His existence than that which we have. Scriven, in the end, held that we are justified in rejecting the existence of some entity only if the claim that it exists is wholly unsupported, that is to say, there is no particular evidence for it and not even general considerations in its favor.Well that seems to leave me precisely where I started. What evidence is there for god?
By this criterion, Scriven advocated that we remain merely agnostic, rather than disbelieving, even about such entities as the Loch Ness monster and the Abominable Snowman!True, but remember that there are wide degrees of agnosticism. At least so far the argument and the degree of agnosticism are still being logically linked to the empirical evidence. This is wholeheartedly agree with.
But next this made my jaw drop;
But surely any unprejudiced observer will discern as much evidence for God as for the Loch Ness monster.Surely I have missed something here - I thought this piece was going to show me this evidence.
At least I can claim thus far that I do appear to meet the author's definition of an unbiased observer. Perhaps we will get some evidence next;
Unsatisfied with the evidence we have, some atheists have argued that God, if He existed, would have prevented the world’s unbelief by making His existence starkly apparent (say, by inscribing the label “Made by God” on every atom or planting a neon cross in the heavens with the message “Jesus Saves.”Fair enough, I think it is for the theist to tell me what claims they are making for god. What are they exactly? We don't get them yet. Instead we get an argument that god might be worse off in terms of believers if he made his existence obvious, like so;
If God were to inscribe His name on every atom or place a neon cross in the sky, people might believe that He exists; but what confidence could we have that after time they would not begin to chafe under the brazen advertisements of their Creator and even come to resent such effrontery? In fact, we have no way of knowing that in a world of free creatures in which God’s existence is as obvious as the nose on your face that more people would come to love Him and know His salvation than in the actual world. But then the claim that if God existed, He would make His existence more evident has little or no warrant, thereby undermining the claim that the absence of such evidence is itself positive evidence that God does not exist.Well my response here is, "Look, tell me what it is you are claiming for evidence for your god and I can judge it. If you are saying that it won't be bloody obvious then OK, but what is the evidence exactly?". I feel like I am talking to myself.
Oh dear I have just seen the heading for the next section;
Religious Belief without WarrantDoes that mean what I think it means? Apparently;
One of the presuppositions underlying the original discussions of the presumption of atheism was theological rationalism or, as it has come to be known, evidentialism. According to this view, religious belief, if it is to be justified, must have supporting evidence.So is this piece going to to give me evidence for god's existence or is it going to try to argue that god should get a get of the evidence jail free card? Looks like it may be the latter.
Thus, Scriven asserted that if someone claims that “theism is a kind of belief that does not need justification by evidence,” then there must be “some other way of checking that it is correct besides looking at the evidence of it;” but that cannot be right because “any method of showing that belief is likely to be true is, by definition, a justification of that belief, that is, an appeal to reason.” [iii] Here Scriven equates holding a belief justifiably with being able to show that belief to be true, and he assumes that an appeal to reason to justify a belief involves providing evidence for that belief. Both of these assumptions have been vigorously challenged by contemporary epistemologists.Well hang on a second, it the theist who is stating that his belief is true and Paul has said many times that he has evidence to prove this, so to describe this as an assumption seems a bit unfair.
On the other hand someone claiming that they have a true belief with no proof would appear to be an idiot or perhaps deluded, honest but deluded at best.
Is that harsh?
Take it away from the the religious context for a moment, someone who thinks they can fly would perhaps be described as an idiot by most observers, remember that they are actually claiming no evidence, they just know it is true. Yep, idiot would be the word.
( slightly off topic aside; I have been fiddling with the truly wonderful Quicksilver, which is the closest to psychic software I have ever seen, and so threw "idiot" out on to the web for a range of definitions from different dictionaries.
Here are the first two results;
1. A man in private station, as distinguished from one
holding a public office. [Obs.]
St. Austin affirmed that the plain places of
Scripture are sufficient to all laics, and all
idiots or private persons. --Jer. Taylor.
2. An unlearned, ignorant, or simple person, as distinguished
from the educated; an ignoramus. [Obs.]
Christ was received of idiots, of the vulgar people,
and of the simpler sort, while he was rejected,
despised, and persecuted even to death by the high
priests, lawyers, scribes, doctors, and rabbis. --C.
Honestly I am not making this up.
Anyway - back to the topic at hand )
A pragmatic argument seeks to provide grounds for holding a particular belief because of the benefits to be had from holding that belief. Jeff Jordan has helpfully distinguished two types of pragmatic arguments: truth-dependent and truth-independent arguments. A truth-dependent argument recommends holding a belief because of the great benefits to be gained from holding that belief if it should turn out to be true. A truth-independent argument recommends holding a belief because of the great benefits to be gained from holding that belief whether or not it turns out to be true.The well known logical fallacy called the "argument from benefit" isn't going to convince me of anything.
Next we get Pascal’s Wager as an example of this.
To keep myself strictly on topic I won't here give my reasons why I think that Pascal's Wager is a very poor bet. Instead I will point out that this is not evidence for god. At best it can be thought of as an argument designed to muster some benefits for use in the aforementioned logical fallacy called the argument from benefit.
In the text we next get this argument for "pragmatic belief" i.e. the argument from benefit logical fallacy;
If and only if the belief is for us a genuine option, that is to say, a choice which is living, momentous, and forced. A living choice is one which presents to me a belief to which I can give genuine assent. A choice is momentous if a great deal hangs on it, it presents to me a rare opportunity, and its consequences are irreversible. Finally, a choice is forced if there is no option of remaining indifferent, if to not choose to believe is, in effect, to choose to not believe.Well this is a neat little unsupported assertion in the form of a definition for religion to meet isn't it. You must know me well enough by now to know that the "unsupported assertion" bit kills this for me, but apparently not for the author;
Regardless of religion’s truth, then, religious belief is beneficial and, in view of such benefits, pragmatically justified.Ho Hum.
Warrant without Evidence
The evidentialist might insist that while pragmatic arguments show that holding certain beliefs, including religious beliefs, is beneficial and therefore prudent, nevertheless that does not show that holding such beliefs is epistemically permissible, that one has not violated some epistemic duty in believing without evidence.Yes indeed.
One of the most significant developments in contemporary Religious Epistemology has been so-called Reformed Epistemology, spearheaded and developed by Alvin Plantinga, which directly assaults the evidentialist construal of rationality.OK. It is the de facto objection I have as a priority here myself.
This is covered here in terms of arguments that christian belief is unjustified, that it is irrational, and that it is unwarranted.
Plantinga’s aim is to show that all such de jure objections to Christian belief are unsuccessful, or, in other words, that Christian belief can be shown to be unjustified, irrational, or unwarranted only if it is shown that Christian beliefs are false. There is thus no de jure objection to Christian belief independent of a de facto objection.
Plantinga endeavors to show this by developing a model or theory of warranted Christian belief, that is to say, an account of how it is that we know the truth of various Christian truth claims. On behalf of his model Plantinga claims, not that it is true, but thatBut hang on this neatly misses out the actual evidence bit. Isn't that part (i) ? ? ?
(i) it is epistemically possible, that is to say, for all we know, it may be true,
Well that is the whole point at debate here after all.
(ii) that if Christianity is true, there are no philosophical objections to the model, and
Well OK but we haven't done the first bit yet, so file this away for when have been given the convincing evidence shall we.
(iii) if Christianity is true, then something like the model is very likely to be true.
So Plantinga sets for himself two projects, one public and one Christian: (1) to show that there is no reason to think that Christian belief lacks justification, rationality, or warrant (apart from presupposing the falsehood of Christian belief) and (2) to provide from a Christian perspective an epistemological account of warranted Christian belief.
But, Plantinga asks, why cannot the proposition God exists be itself part of the foundation, so that no rational evidence is necessary?Well simply because this is the get out of jail card magic escape, that's why, and by the way you still haven't told us why god should get this treatment yet.
This next bit is mind-bendingly daft but I didn't want to chop it up and get accused of taking things out of context so here it is in all its glory;
The evidentialist replies that only propositions that are properly basic can be part of the foundation of knowledge. What, then, are the criteria that determine whether or not a proposition is properly basic? Typically, the evidentialist asserts that only propositions that are self-evident or incorrigible are properly basic. For example, the proposition The sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse is self-evidently true. Similarly, the proposition expressed by the sentence "I feel pain" is incorrigibly true, since even if I am only imagining my injury, it is still true that I feel pain. Since the proposition God exists is neither self-evident nor incorrigible, then according to the evidentialist it is not properly basic and therefore requires evidence if it is to be believed. To believe this proposition without evidence is therefore irrational.Look, I stated earlier that I accept that my insistence on evidence and logic can't be proved on paper and I rely upon the fact that it works as a world view as comfort until or indeed if the philosophers come up with a form of words they think does show this.
Now Plantinga does not deny that self-evident and incorrigible propositions are properly basic, but he does demand, “How do we know that these are the only properly basic propositions or beliefs?” He presents two considerations to prove that such a restriction is untenable: (i) If only self-evident and incorrigible propositions are properly basic, then we are all irrational, since we commonly accept numerous beliefs that are not based on evidence and that are neither self-evident nor incorrigible. For example, take the belief that the world was not created five minutes ago with built-in memory traces, food in our stomachs from the breakfasts we never really ate, and other appearances of age. Surely it is rational to believe that the world has existed longer than five minutes, even though there is no way to prove this. The evidentialist’s criteria for properly basicality must be flawed. (ii) In fact, what about the status of those criteria? Is the proposition Only propositions that are self-evident or incorrigible are properly basic itself properly basic? Apparently not, for it is certainly not self-evident nor incorrigible. Therefore, if we are to believe this proposition, we must have evidence that it is true. But there is no such evidence. The proposition appears to be just an arbitrary definition–and not a very plausible one at that! Hence, the evidentialist cannot exclude the possibility that belief in God is also a properly basic belief.
It was in this context that I asked Paul for evidence of god. Now I am told that it is not logical and rational to ask for evidence because the whole of existence could just be a dream (to borrow a phrase from previous exchanges with Paul).
Now for me it all boils down to this;
If the reason why your god can have a "get out of evidence jail free card" is because we can't prove that evidence and logic are real on a piece of paper without using evidence then we might s well all pack up and go for a beer. Your argument is the nuclear war option for logical discussion. It is the Armageddon for logical discourse. Its just plain daft in that it knocks the floor out from underneath any and every world view including the theists. For this reason I don't see it as a useful contribution.I am happy to fall back on my technically irrational bias for evidence and logic because they work as far as we can tell.
Back to fantasy land for this;
Plantinga thinks that the theist is not only within his epistemic rights in believing in God without evidence, but that he actually knows apart from evidence that God exists. In order to show that such a view is tenable, Plantinga introduces his epistemological model of religious belief. Quoting John Calvin’s teaching that “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity . . . . a sense of divinity which can never be effaced is engraved upon men’s minds” (Institutes I.iii.1, 3), Plantinga proposes that “there is a kind of faculty or cognitive mechanism, what Calvin calls a sensus divinitatis or sense of divinity, which in a wide variety of circumstances produces in us beliefs about God.” [iv] Plantinga also speaks of the sensus divinitatis as “a disposition or set of dispositions to form theistic beliefs in various circumstances or stimuli that trigger the working of this sense of divinity.” [v]Wow, amazing, we even have a whole other sense, a sense of god. What happened to mine I wonder? Hnag on though because this gets better;
Just as perceptual beliefs like “There is a tree” are not based on arguments from more basic beliefs but arise spontaneously in me when I am in the circumstances of a tree’s appearing to be there, so the belief “God exists” arises spontaneously in me when I am in appropriate circumstances, such as moments of guilt, gratitude, or awe at nature’s grandeur, as a result of working of the sensus divinitatis.So this doesn't show us god exists or not then. That's what I thought.
. . . With respect to the belief that God exists, Plantinga holds that God has so constituted us that we naturally form this belief under certain circumstances; since the belief is thus formed by properly functioning cognitive faculties in an appropriate environment, it is warranted for us, and, insofar as our faculties are not disrupted by the noetic effects of sin, we shall believe this proposition deeply and firmly, so that we can be said, in virtue of the great warrant accruing to this belief for us, to know that God exists.
So, Plantinga maintains, if his model is true, theistic belief is both justified and warranted. So is theistic belief warranted? That all depends on whether or not God exists. If He does not, then theistic belief is probably not warranted. If He does, then Plantinga thinks that it is. For if God exists, then He has created us in His image, He loves us, and He desires that we know and love Him.
And if that is so, the natural thing to think is that he created us in such a way that we would come to hold such true beliefs as that there is such a person as God . . . . And if that is so, then the natural thing to think is that the cognitive processes that do produce belief in God are aimed by their designer at producing that belief. But then the belief in question will be produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth: it will therefore have warrant. [vii]He goes on to list a whole load of things which this extended model postulates including the fact that god exits. We still see no evidence for this. Instead we get this;
But if there is no de jure objection to theistic belief, what about specifically Christian beliefs? How can one be justified and warranted in holding to Christian theism? In order to answer this question, Plantinga extends his model to include not just the sensus divinitatis but also the inner witness or instigation of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, one can be said to know the great truths of the Gospel through the instigation of the Holy Spirit.Next we get a discussion about how other religions can equally use Plantinga's arguments and then a brief discussion of how this original model can be modified to fit in with some parts of christian scripture.
Because we know the great truths of the Gospel through the Holy Spirit’s work, we have no need of evidence for them. Rather they are properly basic for us, both with respect to justification and warrant. Plantinga therefore affirms that “according to the model, the central truths of the gospel are self-authenticating,” [x] that is to say, “They do not get their evidence or warrant by way of being believed on the evidential basis of other propositions.” [xi]
Yep thats it.
But the proof stuff . . . ?
Nah . . .