Friday, October 28, 2011

Biological Evolution as Evidence against Theism

Many conservative Christians and lay atheists alike claim that if biological evolution is true, then God does not exist. Ironically, while many conservative Christians have attacked evolution because it supposedly entails atheism, no contemporary atheist philosopher has used evolution as evidence for atheism. Indeed, the only philosopher who has formulated an argument for the claim that evolution is evidence against theism and for metaphysical naturalism is agnostic philosopher Paul Draper.

Draper defends an evidential argument from evolution for naturalism. In other words, Draper's argument does not claim that evolution is logically inconsistent with the existence of God. Rather, it claims that known facts about evolution that are consistent with theism nevertheless provide evidence against it.

This argument is focused on God in general, not necessarily the Christian God. Draper argues that, all other things held equal, known facts about the origin of complex life are prima facie evidence against theism.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ted Drange's Anti-Creation Argument

The following is an excerpt of a longer essay by Ted Drange.

Definitions of "God"

Before getting to the arguments, it is important to present the various definitions of "God" that they employ:

D1: God is the eternal, all-powerful, personal being who created and rules the universe. (Being eternal, God cannot come into or go out of existence. Being all-powerful, he can perform any action that is logically possible to perform. Being personal, he has some characteristics in common with humans, such as thinking, feeling emotions, and performing actions. The universe is understood to consist of all the space, time, matter, and energy that has ever existed.)

D2: God is the eternal, very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and gave humanity its moral conscience.

D3: God is the eternal, very powerful, personal being who rules the universe, loves humanity, and strongly desires that that love be reciprocated.

D4: God is that being which is self-existent, that is, which contains the explanation for its own existence within itself.

D5: God is that being which is (objectively) perfect in every way. (The term "perfect" is here understood in an objective sense, as opposed to a subjective sense relative to individual values, so the term may be used in public reasoning.)

D6: God is the deity described in the Bible as interpreted by evangelical Christianity.

It will be indicated for each argument which of the above definitions of "God" it employs.

The Anti-Creation Argument (against D1, D6)
(1) If X creates Y, then X must exist temporally prior to Y.
(2) But nothing could possibly exist temporally prior to time itself (for that would involve existing at a time when there was no time, which is a contradiction).
(3) Thus, it is impossible for time to have been created.
(4) Time is an essential component of the universe.
(5) Therefore, it is impossible for the universe to have been created.
(6) It follows that God, as defined by D1 and D6, cannot exist.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Open-Minded Atheists?

(This is another item from the backlog in my Drafts folder. I think I wrote it in 2005 or 2006. This all seems moot since Flew has now passed away, but I'm posting it here for what it is worth.)

I was recently made aware of the following article:

Douglas LeBlanc, "Atheists and Theists Analyze Antony Flew’s Newfound Deism" Christian Research Journal, volume 28, number 3 (2005),
What I find interesting about this article is not the opinions expressed regarding Flew's conversion from agnosticism to Deism, but what appear to be implied pot shots by Gary Habermas and Douglas Geivett against (some?) atheists.

For example, in commenting on Flew conversion, Habermas stated, "“Here’s a guy who may be more open-minded than I thought,” Habermas said. “I think over the years we haven’t taken him at his word when he says he goes where the evidence leads.” It is unclear why Habermas did not take previously take Flew at his word. One potential explanation worries me. Habermas's remark reminds me of a belief held by many theists (not necessarily Habermas), that nonbelief is never rational but instead the result of a willful choice to suppress the truth of theism in order to justify an immoral lifestyle.

Turning to Doug Geivett, Geivett quoted Richard Carrier's article on Flew's conversion from nontheism to Deism, in which Carrier wrote:
This would appear to be his excuse for everything: he won’t investigate the evidence because it’s too hard. Yet he will declare beliefs in the absence of proper inquiry. Theists would do well to drop the example of Flew. Because his willfully sloppy scholarship can only help to make belief look ridiculous.
Before I comment on Geivett's remarks, I first need to mention a potential area of disagreement between Carrier and I: I don't necessarily agree with the last sentence in the above quotation. If Flew's scholarship was "willfully sloppy," at most that damages Flew's credibility, not the credibility of supernatural belief in general. Turning to Geivett, Geivett said that Carrier seemed concerned that Flew’s new beliefs “would disturb people’s faith that God does not exist.” Also, in another apparent (?) reference to Carrier, Geivett wrote, "I regret the churlish attitude of some who are scandalized by his intellectual honesty and his cautiously nuanced position.”

While I do not speak for Carrier, I highly doubt that he was "scandalized" by Flew's change in position. Just as Geivett correctly notes that the evidential strength of the case for Christianity "does not depend on the conversion of a notable" nontheist, the evidential strength of the case for naturalism is not undermined by the conversion of a nontheist, even a notable nontheist.

Also, LeBlanc's article does not contain any discussion about Flew's own admissions that he failed to research specific pieces of evidence. For example, regarding the origin of life, Carrier quoted Flew as stating:
I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.
There is also no reference to Flew's admission that he was "mistaught by Gerald Schroeder," regarding the alleged theistic implications of physics. In terms of the reported reasons for Flew's newfound Deism, these seem to be significant reversals. After all, according to the transcript of Habermas's interview of Flew, Flew summarized his following reasons for embracing Deism.
  • "The biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation," based upon the writings of Gerald Schroeder.
  • Flew also thinks "the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it. " He has "never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument," and he doesn't "think it has gotten any stronger recently." But he is apparently impressed with other arguments for intelligent design, based upon big bang cosmology and fine tuning.
  • It's not clear to me if Flew considers this evidence for Deism or just evidence favoring the existence of disembodied minds, but Flew has become convinced that evidence of near death experiences "certainly constitute impressive evidence for the possibility of the occurrence of human consciousness independent of any occurrences in the human brain."
So it appears Flew has come to reject two of his three stated reasons for embracing Deism.

In conclusion: Habermas admission that he did not previously take Flew at his word is troubling. Geivett's (apparent?) comments about Carrier go too far. And LeBlanc's article does not acknowledge Flew's reversal on his two of his major reasons for switching from nontheism to Deism. Nevertheless, I do agree with Geivett that Flew should be "given the space he needs to draw his own conclusions and report them on his own terms.”

Also, to repeat what I wrote in a related article about Flew, nothing I have written is any way meant to deny the fact that Flew apparently moved from naturalism to supernaturalism (i.e., deism). All I have claimed is that it appears that, as of 2005 or 2006, Flew apparently came to reject two of his three stated reasons for embracing Deism.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is Antony Flew a Former Agnostic or Former Atheist?

(This is another item from my drafts folder that was never published. I think I wrote this in early 2006. I have fixed/added some links and made some edits.)

The journal Philosophia Christi and perhaps, by extension, Biola University, have made a big deal of Antony Flew's conversion from atheism to theism in the article, "Atheist Becomes Theist." See:

When Flew did call himself an atheist, he made it very clear that he always considered himself a so-called 'negative' atheist. In his terminology, he lacked belief in God, but he never held the positive belief that God does not exist. In this sense, Flew's "presumption of atheism" could be renamed the "presumption of agnosticism" (as at least one Christian apologist has pointed out).  Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Flew never accepted any of the arguments for the nonexistence of God. (If anyone knows of any evidence to the contrary, please let me know and I will accordingly issue an update to this post.)

Why does this matter? Because many theists, including several of the Christian philosophers associated with Philosophia Christi (Craig [see here], Moreland, Geivett, Copan [see here], et al) have always criticized this definition of atheism as revisionist. Whenever someone would say in a debate that atheism is merely the lack of theistic belief, the Philosophia Christi philosophers would say that atheism is properly defined as what Flew called 'positive' atheism, viz, the belief that God does not exist. According to these philosophers, individuals who are merely 'negative' atheists are not atheists at all.

So it seems there is tension here, if not an outright contradiction, between what some Christian philosophers have typically said about the definition of atheism, and their attribution of atheism to Antony Flew.
Either Flew was an atheist and so-called 'negative' atheism is a form of atheism after all, or atheism must be defined as the positive belief that there is no God and hence Flew was never an atheist (in that sense) and hence theists should not refer to Flew as a former atheist.

In order to avoid any misunderstandings, I want to emphasize a couple of points. First, I am not objecting to the Philosophia Christi philosophers' insistence that atheism be defined as the positive belief there is no God. In fact, I pretty much agree with them. Second, regardless of how we label Flew's pre-Deism position (e.g., 'atheist', 'negative atheist', or agnostic), nothing I have written is any way meant to deny the fact that Flew apparently moved from naturalism to supernaturalism (i.e., deism). All I have claimed is that there seems to be a tension between how certain Christian philosophers have defined atheism, on the one hand, and how they have labeled Flew's beliefs prior to his conversion to deism.

Christian Critique of Certain Arguments for God's Existence based on Science

(Another backlog item)

I think this book review is interesting because it criticizes common theistic tactics for using science as evidence for God:

Silver's Defense of Draper's Argument from the Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure

(Another item from my drafts folder.)

David Silver has written this interesting paper on the problem of evil, "Religious Experience and the Evidential Argument from Evil," Religious Studies 38(3):339-353.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wanchick's Reply to Baggini

(Again, this is another article in my Drafts folder that was never posted before I stopped blogging. I think I wrote this in 2005 or 2006. In the spirit of clearing out the backlog, I am posting it now.)

Tom Wanchick has written a reply to or review of Julian Baggini's, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction:

The Argument from the Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure

Informal Statement of the Argument

The naturalistic explanation for this is obvious. If animals are the products of evolution by natural selection, we would expect physical pain to aid survival. But not all physical pain and pleasure aids survival. For example, think of the horrible pain that inflicts many people with terminal illnesses. If naturalism is true, this is what we would expect: evolution by natural selection is not an intelligent process; there seems to be no way for creatures to have evolved so that they only feel pain when it will aid survival. In contrast, if theism were true, God could "fine tune" humans so that they experience pain only when it is necessary for some greater good. If God did exist, what possible reason could he have for allowing people with terminal illnesses have to endure such agonizing pain until they finally die? The chances that such a reason would intersect with the biological goal of survival is pretty slim. Thus, the biological role of pain and pleasure is more likely on naturalism than on theism.

An Argument from Moral Realism to Atheism

In a recent article, Quentin Smith formulates a creative argument for atheism based on the combination of moral realism and infinite spacetime. Smith formulates his argument as follows:
1. Moral realism is true.
2. The universe in which we live is infinite.
3. At least one relevant version of an aggregative theory of values is true.
4. Therefore, God does not exist.

The Scale of the Universe as Evidence for Naturalism?

In his book, The Non-Existence of God, philosopher Nicholas Everitt provides the first detailed analysis and defense of the argument from scale for God's nonexistence. Everitt formulates his argument as follows:

(1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale, i.e. one that is not unimaginably large, unimaginably old, and in which human beings form an unimaginably tiny part of it, temporally and spatially.
(2) The world does not display a human scale.
(3) Therefore, there is evidence against the hypothesis that the God of classical theism exists with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him.