Ethical Realism

March 24, 2011

Why Theistic Religion Might Go Extinct

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 12:50 am
Tags: , ,

Successful religions have historically been appealing to both the educated and the uneducated. They have appealed to the greatest minds and “experts” (the most distinguished philosophers and scientists) and people who aren’t especially interested in fully understanding life’s greatest mysteries. First, I will argue that the success of religions partially depends on appealing to both of these groups because (a) the religion needs educated people to join and persuade others that the religion is probably true (b) sometimes only the greatest minds can convince educated people that the religion is probably true. Second, I will argue that religions have lost the support from the experts that they need. This doesn’t mean that all religion will die off forever, but it does mean that truly successful religions of the future will probably have to regain support from the experts. These will probably be either revised versions of current religions or entirely new religions.

1. Why religions need the world’s greatest minds.

Religions need the world’s greatest minds for at least two main reasons. First, they need educated people to join to convince others that the religion is probably true. Second, the world’s greatest minds are often needed to convince educated people that the religion is probably true.

(a) They need educated people to join to be persuasive.

Religions need educated people to join because educated people are good at convincing the general public that the religion is probably true. The educated know the arts of persuasion, argumentation, and evidence. The educated can be able to answer the various questions and objections given against the religion to help convince others that the religion is probably true (or at least not probably false). The educated have to be a step above the general public or the religious advocate will be unable to answer certain questions and objections. That will immediately put the religion into question.

(b) The greatest minds are often needed to persuade educated people.

The educated often use poor reasoning and are ignorant of the world’s most sophisticated arguments and evidence. Educated people can often spot this poor reasoning and ignorance of others and many educated people will become smarter than the religious advocates. At that point religious advocates will no longer be persuasive. We aren’t usually going to trust someone who claims to know something incredibly ambitious about the universe that we don’t personally know about—especially when we realize that the religious advocate doesn’t actually know anything we don’t know. They often claim to know more than they really do. It’s this point that the educated will need “experts” to persuade them of the religious truths. The experts can stay one step ahead of the vast majority of educated people concerning the evidence and arguments for a religion.

Additionally, people often love to appeal to expert opinion and sophisticated arguments. Everyone values rationality including religious people. If we can trust the most informed experts among us, then many of us will trust in our religion when it is supported by the most informed experts. If the most informed experts offer the best arguments and they favor our religion, then we will have a good reason to believe in our religion. These facts help us predict when religions will be successful. The most successful religions throughout history appealed to both the uneducated and the experts. The most successful religions were endorsed by the experts of their time and they were supported by the best arguments available at the time. They were “scientific” and “rational” insofar as the most rational worldview available was based on the opinions and arguments of the experts.

2. Religions have greatly lost the support of expert opinion

The problem is that our current experts—our philosophers and scientists—have a diverse set of beliefs concerning religion. They don’t agree that any one religion is probably true. In fact, many of our experts reject all religions. That makes it too difficult for informed people to decide which religion we should agree with. If the experts aren’t sure, then we can’t hope to be sure either. It’s impossible to rationally appeal to an authority when the best authority available is in radical disagreement.

Additionally, even the greatest theistic minds of our time tend not to fully endorse popular religious beliefs. Their beliefs are greatly ignored by the religious community and the so-called “authority” found in most religions aren’t particularly qualified or scientific. Their expertise is no longer based on rigorous educational requirements and their opinions are not subject to a peer-review process.

The fact that the success of religions depends partially on having the experts endorse them is bad news for our religions right now. Religions tend to rise and fall, so this might simply be the time for them to fall and new ones to take their place. If any religion is going to be successful again, there’s going to have to be a greater connection between religious philosophers and everyone else who follows the religion. There’s going to have to be great philosophers who can show why their religion is highly plausible through argumentation and many philosophers will have to support the religion. This is likely to either require a new religion or a great deal of change in an existing one.

When Nietzsche declared that, “God is dead,” I think this is part of what he was referring to. The philosophers and scientists of his time were already starting to doubt their religions and he knew that this doubt was going to eventually spread to everyone else. The reason God is dead rather than simply non-existent is because the thousands of years of religious tradition still has a hold on people. You can say that God “died” when the religion no longer had the greatest minds any longer, but just like a death, not everyone knows about it yet.

Many people do trust the experts and they are religious. They trust the “religious authority” endorsed by their church. However, I suspect that these people tend to be ignorant about the religious opinions of the greatest minds of our time. If we trust the experts, then we should trust the best experts rather than unqualified people pretending to be experts. It’s hard to continually have faith in a religion based on your trust of religious authority figures after we realize that they aren’t particularly qualified. The most educated people tend to realize that they are more qualified than the religious authority, but not everyone knows the difference between a true expert and a pretender.

Right now none of the arguments for God are particularly convincing to atheist philosophers or even atheists in general. That isn’t a good sign for the belief in God. The best philosophical arguments should be rational to the point of being convincing to rational people. Additionally, the belief in God tends to violate a rule of reason—don’t require us to accept ambitious claims unless absolutely necessary. Supernatural claims are particularly ambitious, and the three major monotheistic religions claim God is supernatural. We could simply decide that there is only a natural world rather than a supernatural one. We already know about the natural world, so there’s nothing ambitious about believing in it. We don’t know for sure that there is a supernatural realm, so it’s existence is quite an ambitious claim.

Of course, even religious people know about this rational requirement. They often think their religion’s supernatural claims are exceptions to the rule, but they still generally reject all other supernatural entities from other “false” religions.

Atheist philosophers have been doing quite well making sense out of reality without the need for God or the supernatural. If there is no God, they can make sense of reality pretty well. It’s possible that the universe ultimately needs to be explained by God if God exists, but not if God doesn’t exist. It seems overly ambitious to require people to believe in God at this point in time given that a naturalistic worldview offers such a rich understanding of the universe while simultaneously doing such a good job at being modest rather than ambitious.

I can’t say that theism won’t become plausible through some future evidence, argumentation, and expert agreement. In fact, I think that’s what’s necessary for theistic religions to continue to be successful in the future. Something new is needed in our intellectual communities or the theistic religions might die out just like other religions have died out throughout history.

There is nothing about any religion that makes it exempt from the same rational requirements as all the rest are. Every religion must compete for plausibility and it’s not clear that any religion in particular is plausible. If you have a religion and think there are 1,000 religions that are implausible, then you should ask yourself what makes your religion so different from the rest. Can you come up with arguments to explain why you’re probably right? If not, no one has any reason to trust you and your religion is in danger.

Conclusion

The most successful religions have appealed to both the educated and uneducated, and I think I understand why. The religions with the support of the educated and experts are often needed to make the religion plausible. Without that support the religion loses its plausibility. That is what we are seeing happen now. Our current religions could die out unless things change.

I don’t think that the requirement for religions to be rational and endorsed by experts is an offensive one. I have nothing against rational religions or rational theism. Whatever religions are proven to be probably true through argumentation and endorsed by the world’s greatest minds deserves to thrive. However, that sort of religion requires a great deal of support from the experts within science and philosophy. No religion has the necessary support from experts needed at this moment in time.

Advertisements

26 Comments »

  1. This seems like one giant argument from authority. This has nothing to do with truth.

    Take this example from the philosopher of science Ronald Giere: “Every student of Aristotle’s logic knew that it is possible to construct more than one valid syllogism yielding the same true conclusion, and that this could be done as easily with false premises as with true. Truth of the conclusion provides no logical ground for the truth of the premises. This obvious logical principle generated a methodological controversy that continues to this day. If two different hypothesis both saved the phenomena, there could be no logical reason to prefer one to the other.”

    The problem can also be shown with logical conditional statement of If X then Y. We know Y to be true. But this doesn’t show, logically, that X is true. For if we use this type of reasoning, then we are using the fallacy of affirming the consequent. For ~X also leads to Y as well. ~X can contain all sorts of other things. If a cat then an animal. Not a cat can also lead to an animal, like a dog or elephant.

    Not only this, but rational people can draw different conclusions. You also bring up probably, and what I said with If X then Y, it also holds with inductive arguments, which usually deals with probability. In short, there are infinite logical arguments that have the same consequents, and also the same probability when we use inductive arguments.

    The problem is with basic, foundational, assumptions we make about reality. Everyone does this. People just disagree, and reality, or even God, allows for this to happen. Reality/truth, is beyond our ability to know which one is true. Rationally, many people can have different opinions.

    The point about convincing people with argument can also rely on sophistry.

    Comment by gondoliere — March 24, 2011 @ 5:19 am | Reply

    • This seems like one giant argument from authority. This has nothing to do with truth.

      Some arguments from authority are rational. It has something to do with truth, but not all rational beliefs are true.

      Also, my own argument is not an argument from authority. It’s an argument based on actual human behavior isn’t entirely rational. What persuades people of a religion is what will make a religion successful. If religions aren’t supported by the experts, then the religion is going to lose its power of persuasion and might go extinct at some point.

      The “experts” are supposed to know the most sophisticated arguments. Actual persuasive arguments are part of the equation.

      Take this example from the philosopher of science Ronald Giere…. Not a cat can also lead to an animal, like a dog or elephant.

      I don’t understand the argument you presented here. What’s it have to do with the argument from authority or what I am talking about?

      Not only this, but rational people can draw different conclusions. You also bring up probably, and what I said with If X then Y, it also holds with inductive arguments, which usually deals with probability. In short, there are infinite logical arguments that have the same consequents, and also the same probability when we use inductive arguments.

      Yes, different people can sometimes have different opinions, but that doesn’t help the success of religions. Just the opposite. We can choose not to have a religion at all and it’s not clear why we should choose to believe in a religion if no one religion in particular is plausible. Do you think one religion in particular is plausible and stands above the rest? If so, you are claiming to know something beyond what I know and you’re going to have to come up with an argument I haven’t already heard before.

      The problem is with basic, foundational, assumptions we make about reality. Everyone does this. People just disagree, and reality, or even God, allows for this to happen. Reality/truth, is beyond our ability to know which one is true. Rationally, many people can have different opinions.

      That is correct.

      The point about convincing people with argument can also rely on sophistry.

      Yes it can. And sophistry tends not to be as persuasive in the long run because people sometimes realize that the authority in question is a fraud or deceiver. Sophistry will not convince the experts and it will often fail to convince educated people.

      Comment by James Gray — March 24, 2011 @ 7:20 am | Reply

      • “Some arguments from authority are rational. It has something to do with truth, but not all rational beliefs are true.”

        Well this seems like a problem. If some arguments from authority are rational, then some arguments from authority are not rational. If some arguments from authority are rational and some aren’t rational, then we need a way to figure out which of these are true and which are false. We can’t, obviously, rely on the authorities for an answer to this question, since they are the ones that are being questioned and some aren’t rational to believe with. So we need something else to decide which of these is right and which are wrong.

        “Also, my own argument is not an argument from authority. It’s an argument based on actual human behavior isn’t entirely rational. What persuades people of a religion is what will make a religion successful. If religions aren’t supported by the experts, then the religion is going to lose its power of persuasion and might go extinct at some point.”

        It’s very questionable if people are even rational to begin with. The reason is that there is a belief logic. The main formulation of it is this: Person X is a completely consistent believer if and only if (a.) X believes something, and (b.) the set S of things that X believes is logically consistent, and (c.) X believes anything that follows logically from set S. It seems to be the case that people don’t believe everything that follows logically from set S. The other problem is that you brought up the psychological make up of people. What people psychologically believe don’t deal with truth.

        Another point seems that people already believe in things that many authorities don’t believe. So this would, prima facie, falsify the proposition brought forth. They don’t need authorities to be persuasive. They seem to have come to their belief without authorities to persuade them to it to begin with.

        “The “experts” are supposed to know the most sophisticated arguments. Actual persuasive arguments are part of the equation.”

        But this doesn’t get one any further. The sceptical tropes deal with this already. What seems obvious to one person, or persuasive in this case, isn’t obvious to another person, or persuasive in this case. What tastes sweet to one person can taste sour to another. As the saying goes, one man’s modus tollens is another man’s modus ponens.

        “Yes, different people can sometimes have different opinions, but that doesn’t help the success of religions. Just the opposite. We can choose not to have a religion at all and it’s not clear why we should choose to believe in a religion if no one religion in particular is plausible.”

        But this is the point. We don’t have a rational reason we should not believe in religion or to believe in religion. We all agree on a consequent, Y, but we disagree over the antecedent. One says X and the other says ~X. Thus, there is no rational reason to believe or not to believe. They both have the same consequent. In the end, one is free to choose whichever one that they want. Authority or no authority, it’s not rational to begin with. The plausibility of a religion, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with rationality. It comes down to what we think or believe.

        “Sophistry will not convince the experts and it will often fail to convince educated people.”

        Therein comes the crux of the matter. The experts could be the ones being deceived to begin with. There is a quote, and one I can’t find right now. The more one knows about a specific area (an expert in what you are talking about), the more they come to realize that they don’t know much about the subject they are an expert in. Not only that, but experts can delude themselves based on them, psychologically, thinking that they know more than others. That becomes the folly of men, and they become dogmatists.

        Comment by gondoliere — March 24, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  2. gondoliere,

    Thank you for the response. I think it clarifies your position quite a bit.

    Well this seems like a problem. If some arguments from authority are rational, then some arguments from authority are not rational. If some arguments from authority are rational and some aren’t rational, then we need a way to figure out which of these are true and which are false.

    First, the authority must be trusted to have certain arguments and evidence. Second, the authority must not be in radical disagreement. Third, authority can’t be used as the ultimate proof that something is true because it must be based on actual arguments and evidence. Scientists are commonly used as authority figures.

    I am not claiming that we know if religions are true or false just because of the opinions of experts, but the actual existence of experts who actually know certain arguments is very important.

    Here’s what the fallacy files has to say: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html

    We can’t, obviously, rely on the authorities for an answer to this question, since they are the ones that are being questioned and some aren’t rational to believe with. So we need something else to decide which of these is right and which are wrong.

    We can think about it on our own, appeal to arguments, hypothesize about theories of knowledge, and so on.

    It’s very questionable if people are even rational to begin with. The reason is that there is a belief logic. The main formulation of it is this: Person X is a completely consistent believer if and only if (a.) X believes something, and (b.) the set S of things that X believes is logically consistent, and (c.) X believes anything that follows logically from set S. It seems to be the case that people don’t believe everything that follows logically from set S.

    Right, people aren’t perfectly rational. I know I’m not. However, that doesn’t mean we are totally irrational. We are interested in being reasonable. That is a premise in my argument. Reasonable arguments and rational “experts” are important to people.

    The other problem is that you brought up the psychological make up of people. What people psychologically believe don’t deal with truth.

    People tend to want to believe what is probably true. Actually hitting that target is too much to ask of everyone in all circumstances. Asking someone to believe that “2+2=5” is not going to be an easy request to make on people because we are interested in knowing the truth when possible.

    Another point seems that people already believe in things that many authorities don’t believe. So this would, prima facie, falsify the proposition brought forth. They don’t need authorities to be persuasive. They seem to have come to their belief without authorities to persuade them to it to begin with.

    This is a complected issue and I don’t know that you actually falsified one of my premises here. I admit that people don’t always believe what the experts believe, but I think that is partially due to ignorance. A lot of people mistake sophists for experts, for example. There is a lot of deception going on.

    The experts say the world is round. Almost everyone agrees with that now. What the experts establish as true is likely to have an impact at some point.

    “The “experts” are supposed to know the most sophisticated arguments. Actual persuasive arguments are part of the equation.”

    But this doesn’t get one any further. The sceptical tropes deal with this already. What seems obvious to one person, or persuasive in this case, isn’t obvious to another person, or persuasive in this case. What tastes sweet to one person can taste sour to another. As the saying goes, one man’s modus tollens is another man’s modus ponens.

    Sometimes the experts can prove their case, sometimes they can make a case that a belief is plausible, sometimes they can make the case that a belief is extremely likely to be true, and so on. What it means to be a reasonable person is not completely up for grabs. We trust that scientists know that the world is round, that it goes around the Sun, etc. We can understand the evidence for these claims. We know they are true.

    It is possible for two opposing/incompatible beliefs to both be plausible. That is what causes disagreements and controversy among the experts.

    “Yes, different people can sometimes have different opinions, but that doesn’t help the success of religions. Just the opposite. We can choose not to have a religion at all and it’s not clear why we should choose to believe in a religion if no one religion in particular is plausible.”

    But this is the point. We don’t have a rational reason we should not believe in religion or to believe in religion. We all agree on a consequent, Y, but we disagree over the antecedent. One says X and the other says ~X. Thus, there is no rational reason to believe or not to believe. They both have the same consequent. In the end, one is free to choose whichever one that they want. Authority or no authority, it’s not rational to begin with. The plausibility of a religion, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with rationality. It comes down to what we think or believe.

    No, religions, scientists, and philosophers all make claims about reality. These claims need to be given evidence and arguments. Some beliefs about the universe are rationally optional and some aren’t.

    I already introduced one reason against theism. That doesn’t prove theism is false, but we don’t need to prove what is true and false. We only have to prove that there’s more reason to believe one thing than another. (I didn’t do that either, but it is theoretically possible.)

    “Sophistry will not convince the experts and it will often fail to convince educated people.”

    Therein comes the crux of the matter. The experts could be the ones being deceived to begin with. There is a quote, and one I can’t find right now. The more one knows about a specific area (an expert in what you are talking about), the more they come to realize that they don’t know much about the subject they are an expert in. Not only that, but experts can delude themselves based on them, psychologically, thinking that they know more than others. That becomes the folly of men, and they become dogmatists.

    First, being reasonable is possible with ignorance. We don’t know everything, but we can often find out which belief is probably true given our limited information. Second, the problem that human beings are fallible doesn’t give us the right to give up being reasonable. I can’t decide to go ahead and kill a bunch of innocent people just because our moral knowledge is limited. I can’t decide that 2+2=5. I can’t decide that the world is flat and that the sun revolves around the Earth. Being reasonable means knowing what we should believe even though we might be wrong.

    It isn’t impossible to know the difference between a sophist and a philosopher. People used to not know the difference, but Socrates helped us figure it out.

    Self-deception is always a threat, but science and philosophy is self-correcting. Errors made can eventually be discovered and debunked. It’s not totally impossible to discover self-deception or errors.

    I find the denial of the possibility of knowledge/effective reasoning to be self-defeating. If you deny it’s possible to be reasonable, then you are either being unreasonable or you are being reasonable. If you are being unreasonable, then no one cares about what you have to say. If you are being reasonable, then you just proved yourself wrong. I defend the importance of philosophy in my last piece: https://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/the-philosophy-campaign/why-philosophy-is-important/

    I also discuss my understanding of knowledge two posts ago here: https://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/theoretical-virtue-epistemology-a-common-sense-philosophy/

    (Edited to add the last two paragraphs.)

    Comment by James Gray — March 24, 2011 @ 9:42 am | Reply

  3. “First, the authority must be trusted to have certain arguments and evidence. Second, the authority must not be in radical disagreement. Third, authority can’t be used as the ultimate proof that something is true because it must be based on actual arguments and evidence. Scientists are commonly used as authority figures.”

    First, having certain arguments can have equal and opposite arguments. That doesn’t gain anything. Having evidence doesn’t mean anything when we realize that ‘evidence’ only derives it support when we have data that is interpreted to support a pre-existing theory, or under theory-laden observation. Second, radical disagreement is what leads to a whole new paradigm to view things. Thus, it leads to a grow in our outlooks and our understanding. To try to avoid this is to keep the status-quo because it makes us feel good. Third, authorities already base their ideas on arguments, and so this doesn’t give us anything when it’s realized that they reached these conclusions based on the argument already.

    “I am not claiming that we know if religions are true or false just because of the opinions of experts, but the actual existence of experts who actually know certain arguments is very important.”

    Experts knowing an argument isn’t important at all. For every argument an equal and opposite argument can be presented. An expert can have some arguments, and a non-expert can have some arguments. The experts can have arguments that can arrive at the same conclusion as the non-expert, but through different premises. Thus, experts can support one argument over another because they have a preference for the premises of the argument that they presented. One can exclude a deity and the other can include a deity. Thus, there is no reason to accept their arguments, unless one already accepts their point of view.

    “We can think about it on our own, appeal to arguments, hypothesize about theories of knowledge, and so on.”

    Of course. And this can lead us to arrive at different conclusions.

    “Right, people aren’t perfectly rational. I know I’m not. However, that doesn’t mean we are totally irrational. We are interested in being reasonable. That is a premise in my argument. Reasonable arguments and rational “experts” are important to people.”

    Now you are talking about a psychological issue and one that doesn’t have anything to with truth or knowledge. What’s important to people doesn’t equate to truth or that we should follow it.

    “People tend to want to believe what is probably true. Actually hitting that target is too much to ask of everyone in all circumstances. Asking someone to believe that “2+2=5″ is not going to be an easy request to make on people because we are interested in knowing the truth when possible.”

    But what is probably true is based on our subjective probability. It’s based on what we think the probability of something is. It’s not based on anything outside of that or theory-laden observations of things we use in making our decisions. Being interested in know the truth when possible implies that we already have an idea of what’s true.

    “This is a complected issue and I don’t know that you actually falsified one of my premises here. I admit that people don’t always believe what the experts believe, but I think that is partially due to ignorance. A lot of people mistake sophists for experts, for example. There is a lot of deception going on.”

    It’s either that or it’s due to the experts actually being ignorant. The deceptions could actually be done by the experts themselves, and that’s why they don’t believe the experts to begin with.

    “What it means to be a reasonable person is not completely up for grabs. We trust that scientists know that the world is round, that it goes around the Sun, etc. We can understand the evidence for these claims. We know they are true.”

    Science doesn’t show us what is true. It shows us models that are testable. It’s, as Karl Popper said, ‘Myth Making’. It’s not concerned with truth. It’s concerned with seeing what works. What work’s doesn’t show that it necessarily leads to what is true, and there is also the problem of infinite models that all have different conceptual underpinnings. Your giving more credit to something than is deserved.

    “I already introduced one reason against theism. That doesn’t prove theism is false, but we don’t need to prove what is true and false. We only have to prove that there’s more reason to believe one thing than another. (I didn’t do that either, but it is theoretically possible.)”

    But now, theoretically, there are infinite amount of arguments for theism. So when we have all these arguments lined up next to each other, they cancel each other. Then we are stuck with Buridan’s ass. There’s no rational reason for one over the other, and it comes down to which way we would prefer to go. If you want to talk about the rational choice, than it would neither be affirming or denying theism, but to be agnostic and choose to either believe or not.

    “It isn’t impossible to know the difference between a sophist and a philosopher. People used to not know the difference, but Socrates helped us figure it out.”

    The difference now is that even scientist look at philosophers as sophists, or just people that argue over semantics and offer nothing about knowledge. So Socrates might have helped out in the past, but now things have changed drastically from then.

    “I find the denial of the possibility of knowledge/effective reasoning to be self-defeating. If you deny it’s possible to be reasonable, then you are either being unreasonable or you are being reasonable. If you are being unreasonable, then no one cares about what you have to say. If you are being reasonable, then you just proved yourself wrong.”

    You probably find this to be the case because you have faith in something you can’t demonstrate without assuming it to begin with. If we look back through history, then we find that most, if not all, of the philosophers have been undermined and flaws found through out their positions or arguments. Then we recognize that opinions ebb & flow with time. What was considered strong today will be found to be unfounded tomorrow.

    One can be reasonable when one shows that things are unreasonable. For one can show that the only thing reasonable is to admit that we are unreasonable. There’s nothing self-defeating about this, since that would be the only thing. Everything else besides that would be unreasonable. That would, it seems, to be the definition.

    Comment by gondoliere — March 25, 2011 @ 7:35 am | Reply

    • First, having certain arguments can have equal and opposite arguments.

      That is sometimes the case.

      That doesn’t gain anything.

      It does gain something when there aren’t equally plausible opposing arguments.

      Having evidence doesn’t mean anything when we realize that ‘evidence’ only derives it support when we have data that is interpreted to support a pre-existing theory, or under theory-laden observation.

      Why do you say that? Does this assertion not also rely on any assumptions or pre-existing theory?

      Second, radical disagreement is what leads to a whole new paradigm to view things. Thus, it leads to a grow in our outlooks and our understanding. To try to avoid this is to keep the status-quo because it makes us feel good.

      I never said to avoid radical disagreement at all costs. Radical disagreement among the experts merely means that the experts probably aren’t sure what we should believe concerning a certain topic. It is rational to disagree about certain things.

      Third, authorities already base their ideas on arguments, and so this doesn’t give us anything when it’s realized that they reached these conclusions based on the argument already.

      I don’t know what you mean here.

      “I am not claiming that we know if religions are true or false just because of the opinions of experts, but the actual existence of experts who actually know certain arguments is very important.”

      “We can think about it on our own, appeal to arguments, hypothesize about theories of knowledge, and so on.”

      Of course. And this can lead us to arrive at different conclusions.

      Sometimes, yes. Some beliefs do not have equally justified alternatives. Not all beliefs can be equally defended and dismissed.

      “Right, people aren’t perfectly rational. I know I’m not. However, that doesn’t mean we are totally irrational. We are interested in being reasonable. That is a premise in my argument. Reasonable arguments and rational “experts” are important to people.”

      Now you are talking about a psychological issue and one that doesn’t have anything to with truth or knowledge. What’s important to people doesn’t equate to truth or that we should follow it.

      The topic of this piece was whether or not religion might go extinct. It might go extinct because of psychological factors tied to our understanding and interest in being reasonable.

      All of a sudden I get the feeling that you think I’m trying to disprove religion or something. That was not the intention.

      But what is probably true is based on our subjective probability. It’s based on what we think the probability of something is. It’s not based on anything outside of that or theory-laden observations of things we use in making our decisions. Being interested in know the truth when possible implies that we already have an idea of what’s true.

      Yes, we have to have an idea of what’s true to have arguments. Arguments rely on premises. The premises should be what we think is probably true, and the conclusion is something we are less certain is true.

      “This is a complected issue and I don’t know that you actually falsified one of my premises here. I admit that people don’t always believe what the experts believe, but I think that is partially due to ignorance. A lot of people mistake sophists for experts, for example. There is a lot of deception going on.”

      It’s either that or it’s due to the experts actually being ignorant. The deceptions could actually be done by the experts themselves, and that’s why they don’t believe the experts to begin with.

      The experts have to deal within the realm of available information, so some ignorance is involved. If the experts are deceivers, then they aren’t actually experts at all. That’s not to say that experts are infallible. They do make mistakes.

      My argument doesn’t depend on the infallibility of experts. If there are no experts, that is not going to help religion thrive. Religions have historically depended on experts. If there are none, then we have even less reason to be religious.

      “What it means to be a reasonable person is not completely up for grabs. We trust that scientists know that the world is round, that it goes around the Sun, etc. We can understand the evidence for these claims. We know they are true.”

      Science doesn’t show us what is true. It shows us models that are testable. It’s, as Karl Popper said, ‘Myth Making’. It’s not concerned with truth. It’s concerned with seeing what works. What work’s doesn’t show that it necessarily leads to what is true, and there is also the problem of infinite models that all have different conceptual underpinnings. Your giving more credit to something than is deserved.

      How does Karl Popper know that? What’s his evidence?

      I don’t think it’s just useful to think that the world is round or that the Earth goes around the sun. I think these are well established facts. We don’t know they are facts for absolute certain, but they are highly plausible beliefs–they are more likely true than alternative hypotheses. There are theoretical virtues that can make one hypothesis better than another.

      “It isn’t impossible to know the difference between a sophist and a philosopher. People used to not know the difference, but Socrates helped us figure it out.”

      The difference now is that even scientist look at philosophers as sophists, or just people that argue over semantics and offer nothing about knowledge. So Socrates might have helped out in the past, but now things have changed drastically from then.

      So, you think it’s OK if I go around killing people? There’s nothing unreasonable about doing that? You think even scientists would agree?

      “I find the denial of the possibility of knowledge/effective reasoning to be self-defeating. If you deny it’s possible to be reasonable, then you are either being unreasonable or you are being reasonable. If you are being unreasonable, then no one cares about what you have to say. If you are being reasonable, then you just proved yourself wrong.”

      You probably find this to be the case because you have faith in something you can’t demonstrate without assuming it to begin with.

      How do you know?

      If we look back through history, then we find that most, if not all, of the philosophers have been undermined and flaws found through out their positions or arguments.

      That doesn’t mean all opinions are equal. Some beliefs can be more accurate than others. What you are saying is even true of scientific beliefs, but some scientific beliefs have had more evidence and some have been more accurate. Even Newton’s laws of physics were pretty close. It is closer to modeling reality than anything before it and it’s still pretty close to what Einstein had to say.

      Then we recognize that opinions ebb & flow with time. What was considered strong today will be found to be unfounded tomorrow.

      We are restricted to reason using the information given to us right now. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reason using the information given to us and give up.

      One can be reasonable when one shows that things are unreasonable. For one can show that the only thing reasonable is to admit that we are unreasonable. There’s nothing self-defeating about this, since that would be the only thing.

      Yes, it is self-defeating. You’d have no reason to think you’re unreasonable. You’d just decide you are unreasonable and declare yourself unreasonable. There would be no reason for anyone to agree with you. There would be nothing reasonable about such a declaration.

      Comment by James Gray — March 25, 2011 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  4. Just throwing some thoughts out.

    I know an atheist philosopher of religion, Quentin Smith, notes in his paper, (http://www.philoonline.org/library/smith_4_2.htm), that Christian philosophers are growing and are respected in academia. The following is an excerpt from Smith’s paper.

    “Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion, such as Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, etc. Philosophia Christi began in the late 1990s and already is overflowing with submissions from leading philosophers.

    . . . theists in other fields tend to compartmentalize their theistic beliefs from their scholarly work; they rarely assume and never argue for theism in their scholarly work. If they did, they would be committing academic suicide or, more exactly, their articles would quickly be rejected. . . . But in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, ‘academically respectable’ to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today. A count would show that in Oxford University Press’ 2000–2001 catalogue, there are 96 recently published books on the philosophy of religion . . . . By contrast, there are 28 books . . . on the philosophy of language, 23 on epistemology (including religious epistemology, such as Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief), 14 on metaphysics, [etc.]. . . .
    God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”

    James Gray you write, “Atheist philosophers have been doing quite well making sense out of reality without the need for God or the supernatural. If there is no God, they can make sense of reality pretty well. It’s possible that the universe ultimately needs to be explained by God if God exists, but not if God doesn’t exist. It seems overly ambitious to require people to believe in God at this point in time given that a naturalistic worldview offers such a rich understanding of the universe while simultaneously doing such a good job at being modest rather than ambitious.”

    I know many philosophers would take exception with that. Basically quoting one philosopher, Trent Dougherty, is that naturalists have not come up with an explanation of the existence and nature of the world; whereas theism has plausible answers for these.

    Mike Rea’s book World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism is considered to be a great book that critiques naturalism.

    Comment by Jarrett Cooper — March 26, 2011 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

    • Jarrett Cooper,

      Thanks for the comment. I want it to be clear that I respect theistic philosophers and I don’t want to suggest that they have no credibility. You threw some ideas out there, and I will lay out various considerations involving those ideas. I did say some things against theism in this piece, but my intention was not to debunk theism. You actually seem to implicitly agree with what I said against theism. What I said against it is compatible with the actual existence of God. There can be considerations for and against the plausibility of God which must all be taken into consideration.

      First, it’s not clear how much support from the experts a religion requires, but I don’t think there is enough support right now. Originally the experts would unanimously endorse the religion. That is no longer the case and the diversity of opinions is harmful to the plausibility of religion.

      Second, theistic philosophers tend not to embrace all the traditional religious beliefs of any particular religion. They don’t give a stamp of approval saying, “this religion is correct.” Saying God exists is an important stamp of approval, but theism isn’t enough to have theist religion.

      Third, what they have to say is valuable, but largely ignored by actual religions.

      Fourth, The origins of the universe is a contentious issue, and I don’t think Mike Rea would claim that the atheism is totally without merit. I think he would admit that the best explanation for the origins of the universe is up for debate and it has not be settled.

      Fifth, I personally see no reason to think naturalism couldn’t explain the origin or non-origin of the universe. It could have simply always existed in some sense. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for naturalism to be true given our concern about the universe’s origins. The origins of the universe are so contentious that the most plausible answer to this issue will depend on how plausible the existence of God is. If God is sufficiently implausible, then we will dismiss using God to explain the origins just like we dismiss using God to explain most everyday phenomena.

      Sixth, even if a first cause must explain the origins of the universe, it might be a deistic god or a non-god.

      Seventh, atheistic philosophers aren’t all naturalists. There are supposedly views somewhere between naturalism and supernaturalism. For example, some philosophers endorse something like Platonic forms. Platonic forms are not necessarily supernatural.

      Eighth, many theistic philosophers are naturalists now, and many were naturalists a long time ago. This even includes the Stoics from 2,000 years ago. What I said concerning theism in the piece was not against theistic naturalism. Just a quick web search brought this up, which looks relevant: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/docs/Barnes.html

      Comment by James Gray — March 26, 2011 @ 10:42 pm | Reply

  5. I think you for the reply 🙂

    James Gray writes, “First, it’s not clear how much support from the experts a religion requires, but I don’t think there is enough support right now. Originally the experts would unanimously endorse the religion. That is no longer the case and the diversity of opinions is harmful to the plausibility of religion.”

    You say it’s not clear how much support it (religion) requires, but then say there’s not enough support by the expert right now. This sentence of yours confuses me. I also don’t understand this part of yours, “Originally the experts would unanimously endorse the religion.” What “experts” are you talking about? I’d think it rare that experts have ever unanimously endorsed any religion throughout history. There are always conflicts and disputes between experts. Also the word “expert” is ambiguous. Is it suppose to be some elite in the intelligentsia or something?

    Furthermore, can one take the same approach that you write, “That is no longer the case and the diversity of opinions is harmful to the plausibility of religion.” Except just swap out religion at the end and put up any other belief system. I mean there are a diverse range of opinions with regards to the plausibility of moral truths, modality, philosophy of time, and so forth and so on. All of the diverse opinions on the aforementioned topics no more hurt the plausibility of those topics any more than religion.

    James Gray writes, “Second, theistic philosophers tend not to embrace all the traditional religious beliefs of any particular religion. They don’t give a stamp of approval saying, “this religion is correct.” Saying God exists is an important stamp of approval, but theism isn’t enough to have theist religion.”

    I’m sure you will not be surprised that most theistic philosophers of religion are Christians–and as Quentin Smith notes that most are Orthodox Christians. Many of these philosophers not only argue philosophically for theism, but also argue in closing the gap from bare theism to Christian theism. (This is known as closing the “Gap Problem.”)

    James Gray writes, “Third, what they have to say is valuable, but largely ignored by actual religions.”

    Unfortunately, this goes for all branches of philosophy (and the ideas they bring forth). Many people just don’t value philosophy. Both the religious and irreligious.

    James Gray write, “The origins of the universe is a contentious issue, and I don’t think Mike Rea would claim that the atheism is totally without merit. I think he would admit that the best explanation for the origins of the universe is up for debate and it has not be settled.”

    Using scientific naturalism can’t give us the explanation of the origins and nature of the world. (This is simply out-of-bounds for the scientific naturalist. Science answers the “how” questions and not the “why” questions. For example, science can answer how fast is the speed of light, but not why is the speed of that only fast.) The metaphysical naturalist can only respond saying that the universe is just a brute fact. But none of this answers why the universe is contingent and why does it exist. This is where theism has plausible answers; whereas naturalism doesn’t have any explanations for these things. So far from naturalism making sense of the world when it has no explanation of the origin, existence, and nature of the world.

    James Gray writes, “I personally see no reason to think naturalism couldn’t explain the origin or non-origin of the universe. It could have simply always existed in some sense. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for naturalism to be true given our concern about the universe’s origins. The origins of the universe are so contentious that the most plausible answer to this issue will depend on how plausible the existence of God is. If God is sufficiently implausible, then we will dismiss using God to explain the origins just like we dismiss using God to explain most everyday phenomena.”

    See above. But yes, even if the universe is eternal still doesn’t get the naturalist out of the fact that the universe is still contingent. It’s more than just mere origins of the universe, but also its very existence and nature. A very fine philosopher, Alexander Pruss, wrote a paper on Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments (a.k.a Argument from Contingency) https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html

    James Gray writes, “Sixth, even if a first cause must explain the origins of the universe, it might be a deistic god or a non-god.”

    It could, but as I said above, philosophers of religion (whom most are Christian) don’t just argue for a deistic-God, but make arguments in closing the “gap” from Deism to bare-Theism then to Christian theism. All of this is known as closing the Gap Problem. One philosophy, Josh Rasmussen, does work in closing the gap. Thomas Aquinas in his Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae does so as well, and Robert Koons has solutions in closing the gap. Richard Swinburne has solutions in closing the Gap Problem in his book The Christian God>/i> and The Resurrection of God Incarnate. Epistemologist, Bayesian theorist, and confirmation theorist, Timothy McGrew, along with his wife, Lydia McGrew, wrote a paper A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. that helps close the gap. All of these things help close the Gap from theism to Christian theism.

    James Gray writes, “Seventh, atheistic philosophers aren’t all naturalists. There are supposedly views somewhere between naturalism and supernaturalism. For example, some philosophers endorse something like Platonic forms. Platonic forms are not necessarily supernatural.”

    Yes, not all atheists are naturalists, but most naturalists (metaphysical naturalists) are atheists. It was you who wrote that the naturalist world-view offers such a rich understanding of the universe. I noted many would strongly disagree with that, and quoted/paraphrased Trent Dougherty, and noted Mike Rea’s book World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism.

    James Gray writes, “Eighth, many theistic philosophers are naturalists now, and many were naturalists a long time ago. This even includes the Stoics from 2,000 years ago. What I said concerning theism in the piece was not against theistic naturalism. Just a quick web search brought this up, which looks relevant: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/docs/Barnes.html

    I think your conflating scientific/methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. Yes, many theists can and do adopt the former (Christians when doing science [e.g. Christopher Isham] can allow for scientific naturalism), but not the latter. Being a Christian and metaphysical naturalist is basically an oxymoron–a contradiction (they would have to be some pantheist or something of that sort).

    The top philosophers of religion, who are Christians, are not metaphysical naturalists. If they are they have redefined naturalism so broadly that it allows supernaturalism, which, of course, would be silly.

    Comment by Jarrett Cooper — March 27, 2011 @ 12:42 am | Reply

    • Jarrett Cooper,

      You say it’s not clear how much support it (religion) requires, but then say there’s not enough support by the expert right now.

      Right, I don’t have to know exactly where to draw the line, but right now the religious experts aren’t taken seriously by their own religions. I think they will have to be taken more seriously. That might require more persuasive arguments and greater certainty.

      I might be wrong. Maybe they are taken more seriously than I think and religions will continue to thrive for that reason.

      This sentence of yours confuses me. I also don’t understand this part of yours, “Originally the experts would unanimously endorse the religion.” What “experts” are you talking about? I’d think it rare that experts have ever unanimously endorsed any religion throughout history. There are always conflicts and disputes between experts. Also the word “expert” is ambiguous. Is it suppose to be some elite in the intelligentsia or something?

      Maybe total unanimity was never reached, but it was pretty close in many time periods in many locations. The Catholic religion was pretty much verified as true by the experts of the time, for example. These experts were taken very seriously. A lot of what the experts had to say determined what the religion would be about. Augustine is a good example of an authority within the Catholic church.

      Experts are those who are authorities within their field of research. Philosophers and scientists should be taken seriously by religious people and religion should take the best philosophy and science seriously. If no sufficiently plausible science or philosophy is available, that is a problem for the religion.

      Furthermore, can one take the same approach that you write, “That is no longer the case and the diversity of opinions is harmful to the plausibility of religion.” Except just swap out religion at the end and put up any other belief system. I mean there are a diverse range of opinions with regards to the plausibility of moral truths, modality, philosophy of time, and so forth and so on. All of the diverse opinions on the aforementioned topics no more hurt the plausibility of those topics any more than religion.

      How does it hurt the topics? Philosophy has very little to do with culture or everyday living right now. Is Aristotelianism or Stoicism in danger because of the diversity of opinion? Of course, there are very few Aristotelians or Stoics alive right now and they have a negligible impact on society.

      There are probably some very plausible/nearly established philosophical beliefs that people should know about and take seriously, but that isn’t happening right now because the experts have help educate society before there can be a philosophical influence. However, there are certainly well-known scientific facts that are very important to everyone in everyday life because we are educated about them.

      James Gray writes, “Second, theistic philosophers tend not to embrace all the traditional religious beliefs of any particular religion. They don’t give a stamp of approval saying, “this religion is correct.” Saying God exists is an important stamp of approval, but theism isn’t enough to have theist religion.”

      I’m sure you will not be surprised that most theistic philosophers of religion are Christians–and as Quentin Smith notes that most are Orthodox Christians. Many of these philosophers not only argue philosophically for theism, but also argue in closing the gap from bare theism to Christian theism. (This is known as closing the “Gap Problem.”)

      Yes, “philosophy of religion” is mainly a term used for “Christian philosophy.” That doesn’t mean all theistic philosophers are into “philosophy of religion.” They can be interested in all kinds of things.

      James Gray writes, “Third, what they have to say is valuable, but largely ignored by actual religions.”

      Unfortunately, this goes for all branches of philosophy (and the ideas they bring forth). Many people just don’t value philosophy. Both the religious and irreligious.

      Yes, and philosophers will have to do something if they want philosophy to have a greater impact on culture. Right now the philosophical impact is pretty much dead. The religious impact can also die off if nothing is done.

      James Gray write, “The origins of the universe is a contentious issue, and I don’t think Mike Rea would claim that the atheism is totally without merit. I think he would admit that the best explanation for the origins of the universe is up for debate and it has not be settled.”

      Using scientific naturalism can’t give us the explanation of the origins and nature of the world. (This is simply out-of-bounds for the scientific naturalist. Science answers the “how” questions and not the “why” questions. For example, science can answer how fast is the speed of light, but not why is the speed of that only fast.) The metaphysical naturalist can only respond saying that the universe is just a brute fact. But none of this answers why the universe is contingent and why does it exist. This is where theism has plausible answers; whereas naturalism doesn’t have any explanations for these things. So far from naturalism making sense of the world when it has no explanation of the origin, existence, and nature of the world.

      That sounds like a misinterpretation of epistemic naturalism. It is quite possible that empirical/nauturalistic philosophy can answer why questions (based on observation). In fact, I don’t think someone would be an epistemic naturalist if they thought naturalism couldn’t possibly answer philosophical questions. That’s pretty much the whole point of the position The theist claim tends to actually be against materialism, a sort of ontological naturalism. I think that fails as well.

      You are throwing around big words without defining them and there are ambiguities involved. There can be confusions due to the ambiguity.

      James Gray writes, “I personally see no reason to think naturalism couldn’t explain the origin or non-origin of the universe. It could have simply always existed in some sense. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for naturalism to be true given our concern about the universe’s origins. The origins of the universe are so contentious that the most plausible answer to this issue will depend on how plausible the existence of God is. If God is sufficiently implausible, then we will dismiss using God to explain the origins just like we dismiss using God to explain most everyday phenomena.”

      See above. But yes, even if the universe is eternal still doesn’t get the naturalist out of the fact that the universe is still contingent. It’s more than just mere origins of the universe, but also its very existence and nature. A very fine philosopher, Alexander Pruss, wrote a paper on Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments (a.k.a Argument from Contingency) https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html

      Who said the universe is contingent? Let’s say everything in the universe is contingent. That still wouldn’t prove the universe as a whole is contingent. To make that claim would require the use of the “fallacy of composition” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/composit.html

      There might be a way to prove the universe is contingent, but it’s not obvious. What I had to say was a direct rejection of that idea.

      James Gray writes, “Sixth, even if a first cause must explain the origins of the universe, it might be a deistic god or a non-god.”

      It could, but as I said above, philosophers of religion (whom most are Christian) don’t just argue for a deistic-God, but make arguments in closing the “gap” from Deism to bare-Theism then to Christian theism. All of this is known as closing the Gap Problem. One philosophy, Josh Rasmussen, does work in closing the gap. Thomas Aquinas in his Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae does so as well, and Robert Koons has solutions in closing the gap. Richard Swinburne has solutions in closing the Gap Problem in his book The Christian God>/i> and The Resurrection of God Incarnate. Epistemologist, Bayesian theorist, and confirmation theorist, Timothy McGrew, along with his wife, Lydia McGrew, wrote a paper A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. that helps close the gap. All of these things help close the Gap from theism to Christian theism.

      What about it? I never said that this was impossible. These arguments are all very contentious and uncertain. They are not plausible to the extent of being “nearly established.”

      Philosophy of religion is mainly for Christians (of various stripes), but there are non-Christian philosophers who have their own beliefs as well. I don’t know how much agreement Christians tend to have within philosophy of religion, but there are naturalistic theists out there, and some are Christians. Some atheists also say they are Christians. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_M._Price

      James Gray writes, “Seventh, atheistic philosophers aren’t all naturalists. There are supposedly views somewhere between naturalism and supernaturalism. For example, some philosophers endorse something like Platonic forms. Platonic forms are not necessarily supernatural.”

      Yes, not all atheists are naturalists, but most naturalists (metaphysical naturalists) are atheists. It was you who wrote that the naturalist world-view offers such a rich understanding of the universe. I noted many would strongly disagree with that, and quoted/paraphrased Trent Dougherty, and noted Mike Rea’s book World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism.

      I think I was clear in what I said. I already responded to this concern.

      James Gray writes, “Eighth, many theistic philosophers are naturalists now, and many were naturalists a long time ago. This even includes the Stoics from 2,000 years ago. What I said concerning theism in the piece was not against theistic naturalism. Just a quick web search brought this up, which looks relevant: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/docs/Barnes.html

      I think your conflating scientific/methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. Yes, many theists can and do adopt the former (Christians when doing science [e.g. Christopher Isham] can allow for scientific naturalism), but not the latter. Being a Christian and metaphysical naturalist is basically an oxymoron–a contradiction (they would have to be some pantheist or something of that sort).

      I didn’t conflate anything because it wasn’t clear what kind of naturalism you are talking about. Some theists are materialists and I expect that many are epistemic naturalists as well. I don’t see why theists would reject epistemic naturalism more than atheists other than just to say revelation counts for something. As far as actual philosophy is concerned revelation is pretty much already distrusted. I think Thomas Aquinas said that revelation was for “theology” rather than “philosophy.”

      The top philosophers of religion, who are Christians, are not metaphysical naturalists. If they are they have redefined naturalism so broadly that it allows supernaturalism, which, of course, would be silly.

      That might be true, but I don’t know what your point is. I was talking about what the experts think and what they consider to be contentious and uncertain. If they are uncertain about their arguments, then we will be as well. If their beliefs are highly plausible and almost “established” then we are dealing with the kind of argument from authority that religion has thrived on throughout history.

      Comment by James Gray — March 27, 2011 @ 5:47 am | Reply

  6. James Gray writes, “Right, I don’t have to know exactly where to draw the line, but right now the religious experts aren’t taken seriously by their own religions. I think they will have to be taken more seriously. That might require more persuasive arguments and greater certainty.

    I might be wrong. Maybe they are taken more seriously than I think and religions will continue to thrive for that reason.”

    I’m not a sociologist, but it seems like people are taking a more vested interest in Christian apologetics. I think more and more people are reading and learning about these Christians who do philosophy of religion. Certainly Christianity will continue to thrive for many more years. It is growing rapidly around the world. Especially in the East. Not only that, but liberal Christianity is dying out and Orthodox/Conservative Christianity is actually growing. I think as the religion grows you will naturally have people who are going to want to read up on the arguments and truth claims for their religion.

    James Gray writes, “Maybe total unanimity was never reached, but it was pretty close in many time periods in many locations. The Catholic religion was pretty much verified as true by the experts of the time, for example. These experts were taken very seriously. A lot of what the experts had to say determined what the religion would be about. Augustine is a good example of an authority within the Catholic church.”

    The problem is that back then the world was not as globalized and connected as it is now. So, it really doesn’t matter about the experts. If the world was as interconnected back then as it is now then who knows what the “experts” would have said. I’m sure the experts in another country could very well have said that particular religion is not correct. Here’s a good analogy: we could do a study and say, that in Utah that the experts there say Mormonism is correct. It’s not until we expand outwards where more and more are non-Mormons do we get experts to start disagreeing. I think this goes for just about any particular belief system. I don’t see this as a huge problem.

    James Gray writes, “Experts are those who are authorities within their field of research. Philosophers and scientists should be taken seriously by religious people and religion should take the best philosophy and science seriously. If no sufficiently plausible science or philosophy is available, that is a problem for the religion.”

    I agree, experts in philosophy and science should be taken seriously. I also think scientists and philosophers who don’t specialize in philosophy of religion should take those philosophers seriously as well. I think very few scientists and philosophers (non-PoR) don’t read much of philosophy of religion.

    James Gray writes, “How does it hurt the topics? Philosophy has very little to do with culture or everyday living right now. Is Aristotelianism or Stoicism in danger because of the diversity of opinion? Of course, there are very few Aristotelians or Stoics alive right now and they have a negligible impact on society.”

    I’m actually in agreement with you and you’re making my point. My point is that just having a lot of diverse opinions on a particular subject is not some huge detriment for that object. There’s a whole array of opinions just on conservatism in politics, but that doesn’t mean conservatism doesn’t have a foot to stand on.

    However, I’m in total disagreement when you say that philosophy has very little to do with culture and everyday living. You don’t think religion to be a philosophy, especially given Catholicism. With Aristotelian-Thomism being the biggest philosophy of that belief system. We can also agree religion is a moral philosophy as well–virtue ethics, deontology, divine command theory, etc. All of this certainly shapes culture and everyday living.

    James Gray writes, “There are probably some very plausible philosophical truths that people should know about and take seriously, but that isn’t happening right now because the experts have help educate society before there can be a philosophical influence. However, there are certainly well-known scientific facts that are very important to everyone in everyday life because we are educated about them.”

    I can agree with this.

    James Gray writes, “Yes, “philosophy of religion” is mainly a term used for “Christian philosophy.” That doesn’t mean all theistic philosophers are into “philosophy of religion.” They can be interested in all kinds of things.”

    Certainly. Plus lets be honest that most Christian philosophers of religion also have other areas of studies. For example, metaphysics, language, time, and etc.

    James Gray writes, “Yes, and philosophers will have to do something if they want philosophy to have a greater impact on culture. Right now the philosophical impact is pretty much dead. The religious impact can also die off if nothing is done.”

    I’m with you here. I wish more people took philosophy more seriously.

    James Gray writes, “That sounds like a misinterpretation of epistemic naturalism. It is quite possible that empirical/nauturalistic philosophy can answer why questions (based on observation). In fact, I don’t think someone would be an epistemic naturalist if they thought naturalism couldn’t possibly answer philosophical questions. That’s pretty much the whole point of the position The theist claim tends to actually be against materialism, a sort of ontological naturalism. I think that fails as well.”

    I distinguish between two types of naturalism. First one being scientific/methodological naturalism (which even Christians scientists engage in like Christopher Isham or George Ellis). Scientific/methodological naturalism simply entails when one does ‘science’ that you just assume that there can be no supernatural entities involved. The other naturalism is metaphysical naturalism (a.k.a ontological naturalism). This is the position that says there is only natural things and also there is no supernatural entities (i.e., God, angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, etc.)

    BTW, (with regards to the why questions) if you know a naturalist that has an explanation for the existence and nature of this contingent world, please let me know!

    James Gray writes, “You are throwing around big words without defining them and there are ambiguities involved. There can be confusions due to the ambiguity.”

    Hopefully, I cleared some of this up.

    James Gray writes, “Who said the universe is contingent? Let’s say everything in the universe is contingent. That still wouldn’t prove the universe as a whole is contingent. To make that claim would require the use of the “fallacy of composition” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/composit.html

    I think Robert Koons was able to answer this without having to worry about the fallacy of composition. If there is even one part of the universe that is contingent then it shows that the universe is not necessary. (One need not commit the fallacy of composition. Also, the fallacy of composition is only an informal fallacy.) Therefore is succumbs to the Leibnizian argument and therefore still needs an explanation of its existence. Look are Alexander Pruss’ paper here: https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html

    Even further to get away from the fallacy of composition, Koons (who has worked with Alexander Pruss) formulated the argument for the contingency of the universe as a mereological argument. To quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia about Koons’ argument, “If something is contingent, it contains a contingent part. The whole and part overlap, and by virtue of overlapping, have a common part. Since the part in virtue of which they overlap is wholly contingent, the whole likewise must be contingent.”

    James Gray writes, “What about it? I never said that this was impossible. Most people just don’t find it plausible. It doesn’t convert very many atheists, but it might help theists maintain coherent beliefs. If theism is true, then these arguments might eventually have enough evidence to succeed, but I’m not convinced that they are entirely persuasive right now.”

    We just don’t know how many atheists actually read what the Christian philosophers of religion are producing. But there is no denying what philosophy of religion has contributed. Even Dawkins admitted to John Lennox in their debate that is was reasonable to believe in God (albeit a deistic God). Also atheist philosopher of religion, Keith Parsons, (who’s a very strong atheist) said that it’s rational to believe in God. So, we see contributions being made. Just more and more need to actually read the material and become familiar with the arguments and the debate. Also, we can very well be psychological reasons why some might reject the arguments for God’s existence (even if said arguments are valid and sound). Though this sword cuts both ways.

    James Gray writes, “Philosophy of religion is mainly for Christians (of various stripes), but there are non-Christian philosophers who have their own beliefs as well. I don’t know how much agreement Christians tend to have within philosophy of religion, but there are naturalistic theists out there, and some are Christians. Some atheists also say they are Christians. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_M._Price

    Certainly, philosophers all have their own takes and views on certain subjects. Christians, like any other philosophers, debate on all types of things as well. For example, Alexander Pruss is a Thomist and rejects Bill Craig’s Molinism. Dean Zimmerman (an up-in-comer) is an open-theist and his argument for open theism are attacked from others. So forth and so on.

    To call Robert Price a Christian is like calling Christopher Hitchens a Christian. Price has a book out called the Case Against the Case for Christ. He believes in the Jesus myth. It’s silly for him to call himself a Christian.

    James Gray writes, “I think I was clear in what I said. I already responded to this concern.”

    Just to be crystal clear, many would take exception at that the naturalist world-view offers a rich understanding of the universe. Many would say it offers a deficient understanding of the universe. That’s why there are a good number of atheist who reject naturalism.

    James Gray writes, “I didn’t conflate anything because it wasn’t clear what kind of naturalism you are talking about. Some theists are materialists and I expect that many are epistemic naturalists as well. I don’t see why theists would reject epistemic naturalism more than atheists other than just to say revelation counts for something. As far as actual philosophy is concerned revelation is pretty much already distrusted. I think Thomas Aquinas said that revelation was for “theology” rather than “philosophy.”

    Sure some Christians are materialist (they are a small minority). I just don’t know how many Christians are actually epistemic naturalists. That seems too restrictive for obtaining knowledge that a Christian would be trying to achieve. They might engage in it, but it’s not their only source of knowledge.

    I’m confused about you citing Aquinas and revelation being for theology and not philosophy. Aquinas adopted and added to Aristotelean philosophy into his theology. There are two types of revelation: divine and natural. Philosophers don’t distrust natural revelation (though they might distrust divine revelation). But natural theology works only with natural revelation, so there should be no problem.

    James Gray writes, “That might be true, but I don’t know what your point is. I was talking about what the experts think and what they consider to be contentious and uncertain. If they are uncertain about their arguments, then we will be as well. If their beliefs are highly plausible and almost “established” then we are dealing with the kind of argument from authority that religion has thrived on throughout history.”

    I think a big point is we don’t know just many of these “experts” actually have read the top philosophers of religion. It seems over and over experts confuse terminology or make straw-mans out of theistic arguments. Also, some of the top philosophers of religion say believing in God is rational, but they have such a high standard of persuasiveness and convincibility that basically no arguments will convince them. This is the line of thought from Graham Oppy in his book Arguing about Gods.

    What matters is are the arguments valid and then are the premises sound. It doesn’t matter if the arguments are not extremely persuasive or that it will no convince everybody.

    Comment by Jarrett Cooper — March 27, 2011 @ 8:22 am | Reply

    • I’m not a sociologist, but it seems like people are taking a more vested interest in Christian apologetics. I think more and more people are reading and learning about these Christians who do philosophy of religion. Certainly Christianity will continue to thrive for many more years. It is growing rapidly around the world. Especially in the East. Not only that, but liberal Christianity is dying out and Orthodox/Conservative Christianity is actually growing. I think as the religion grows you will naturally have people who are going to want to read up on the arguments and truth claims for their religion.

      I would need more evidence about that. It might depend where you are in the world.

      The problem is that back then the world was not as globalized and connected as it is now. So, it really doesn’t matter about the experts. If the world was as interconnected back then as it is now then who knows what the “experts” would have said.

      I agree that isolation probably played a role, but that doesn’t help make religions more plausible now. Just the opposite.

      James Gray writes, “Experts are those who are authorities within their field of research. Philosophers and scientists should be taken seriously by religious people and religion should take the best philosophy and science seriously. If no sufficiently plausible science or philosophy is available, that is a problem for the religion.”

      I agree, experts in philosophy and science should be taken seriously. I also think scientists and philosophers who don’t specialize in philosophy of religion should take those philosophers seriously as well. I think very few scientists and philosophers (non-PoR) don’t read much of philosophy of religion.

      It’s hard to take philosophy of religion seriously when you’re not a Christian and it’s almost exclusively about Christianity. I’m not sure how much Christian philosophers tend to know about Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish philosophy for similar reasons–although all three monotheistic religions have had philosophical dialogue because they are similar in many ways.

      J

      ames Gray writes, “How does it hurt the topics? Philosophy has very little to do with culture or everyday living right now. Is Aristotelianism or Stoicism in danger because of the diversity of opinion? Of course, there are very few Aristotelians or Stoics alive right now and they have a negligible impact on society.”

      I’m actually in agreement with you and you’re making my point. My point is that just having a lot of diverse opinions on a particular subject is not some huge detriment for that object. There’s a whole array of opinions just on conservatism in politics, but that doesn’t mean conservatism doesn’t have a foot to stand on.

      We need to know why we should trust a specific religion. Appeal to authority is one of the most common methods of justification used when we aren’t an expert–and experts have the ability to persuade. The appeal to authority is much more convincing when the experts can prove that something is probably true or “nearly established” as true. That’s why disagreement can be destructive to religion. We have relatively little reason to trust a religion with no basis in expertise. Historically, I think diverse opinion has been destructive to religion when it loses a strong philosophical footing of this type. I can’t say that religion is already on its way out for sure, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption seeing what’s happening and comparing it to history.

      However, I’m in total disagreement when you say that philosophy has very little to do with culture and everyday living. You don’t think religion to be a philosophy, especially given Catholicism. With Aristotelian-Thomism being the biggest philosophy of that belief system. We can also agree religion is a moral philosophy as well–virtue ethics, deontology, divine command theory, etc. All of this certainly shapes culture and everyday living.

      It might be that some ancient philosophers had an influence and that influence might still have an impact, but most people don’t know much about that now. If what the experts say now is so different from the “appeal to authority” used by religions now, that’s a problem. Who are the new Catholic philosophers who are taken so seriously by the religion now? Whose opinion is respected enough to change the dogma?

      James Gray writes, “Yes, “philosophy of religion” is mainly a term used for “Christian philosophy.” That doesn’t mean all theistic philosophers are into “philosophy of religion.” They can be interested in all kinds of things.”

      Certainly. Plus lets be honest that most Christian philosophers of religion also have other areas of studies. For example, metaphysics, language, time, and etc.

      Right, I was merely making a small point there.

      James Gray writes, “That sounds like a misinterpretation of epistemic naturalism. It is quite possible that empirical/nauturalistic philosophy can answer why questions (based on observation). In fact, I don’t think someone would be an epistemic naturalist if they thought naturalism couldn’t possibly answer philosophical questions. That’s pretty much the whole point of the position The theist claim tends to actually be against materialism, a sort of ontological naturalism. I think that fails as well.”

      I distinguish between two types of naturalism. First one being scientific/methodological naturalism (which even Christians scientists engage in like Christopher Isham or George Ellis). Scientific/methodological naturalism simply entails when one does ‘science’ that you just assume that there can be no supernatural entities involved. The other naturalism is metaphysical naturalism (a.k.a ontological naturalism). This is the position that says there is only natural things and also there is no supernatural entities (i.e., God, angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, etc.)

      Actually, you can’t assume that there is no supernatural entities, even under methodological naturalism. What we call “epistemic naturalism” in philosophy is pretty much the idea that scientists attain knowledge the way we should always attain knowledge. This is often taken to be synonymous with empiricism, but an actual study of scientific methodology could show that scientists are not actually empiricists. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-naturalized/

      BTW, (with regards to the why questions) if you know a naturalist that has an explanation for the existence and nature of this contingent world, please let me know!

      I already gave one explanation. A more detailed and philosophical approach to this issue can be found by Quentin Smith here: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/smith_18_2.html

      One problem here is that the question might be a form of begging the question. To ask the “explanation” for the universe seems to assume that it has to have a cause.

      James Gray writes, “Who said the universe is contingent? Let’s say everything in the universe is contingent. That still wouldn’t prove the universe as a whole is contingent. To make that claim would require the use of the “fallacy of composition” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/composit.html”

      I think Robert Koons was able to answer this without having to worry about the fallacy of composition. If there is even one part of the universe that is contingent then it shows that the universe is not necessary. (One need not commit the fallacy of composition. Also, the fallacy of composition is only an informal fallacy.) Therefore is succumbs to the Leibnizian argument and therefore still needs an explanation of its existence. Look are Alexander Pruss’ paper here: https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html

      First, even if everything was contingent, that wouldn’t mean everything has a cause. Although it is normally a good assumption that everything has a cause, we can’t be certain about that fact. He calls that the “principle of sufficient reason,” but I don’t think he proved it to be true. He showed that it’s plausible, but it’s hard to say that it’s anything like being “established.”

      Second, the argument as you stated it here seems flawed because if one part of the universe isn’t contingent, then the universe is clearly not contingent. We don’t know everything in the universe right now if we take it to be the totality of all being.

      I have not read the argument here in it’s entirety, and you can point me to where he thinks he proved that the universe is contingent. That is a highly ambitious claim to make. Many people don’t think we can even know about modalities like that.

      Even further to get away from the fallacy of composition, Koons (who has worked with Alexander Pruss) formulated the argument for the contingency of the universe as a mereological argument. To quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia about Koons’ argument, “If something is contingent, it contains a contingent part. The whole and part overlap, and by virtue of overlapping, have a common part. Since the part in virtue of which they overlap is wholly contingent, the whole likewise must be contingent.”

      How does he know that? Sounds a lot like the fallacy to me.

      My point was not that it’s impossible to prove that the universe is contingent. I just think it’s ambitious and controversial. Not everyone is convinced based on the arguments involved.

      We just don’t know how many atheists actually read what the Christian philosophers of religion are producing. But there is no denying what philosophy of religion has contributed. Even Dawkins admitted to John Lennox in their debate that is was reasonable to believe in God (albeit a deistic God). Also atheist philosopher of religion, Keith Parsons, (who’s a very strong atheist) said that it’s rational to believe in God. So, we see contributions being made. Just more and more need to actually read the material and become familiar with the arguments and the debate. Also, we can very well be psychological reasons why some might reject the arguments for God’s existence (even if said arguments are valid and sound). Though this sword cuts both ways.

      Right, my point was not clearly stated. The point should be merely that these are contentious issues and even theist philosophers shouldn’t think they’ve established anything resembling certainty. They tend to attempt to prove that theism is plausible enough to be rational rather than attempt to prove that nontheist views are irrational or implausible.

      I could be wrong, but my actual research has confirmed this belief so far. The arguments for God tend to be “reasons to believe” and “part of a coherent understanding of reality” rather than proof of God’s existence.

      James Gray writes, “I think I was clear in what I said. I already responded to this concern.”

      Just to be crystal clear, many would take exception at that the naturalist world-view offers a rich understanding of the universe. Many would say it offers a deficient understanding of the universe. That’s why there are a good number of atheist who reject naturalism.

      My point isn’t that it’s fully satisfying. My point is merely that naturalism (of both kinds) are serious worldviews that compete in philosophy right now, and they have come up with “possible answers” to just about any major concern. I don’t know if I fully endorse naturalism of either variety. Once we admit that atheists can have a plausible worldview–and naturalism is probably the most modest worldview possible insofar as it is elegant–then we have a serious concern about the plausibility of the supernatural. We don’t generally like supernatural entities to be used in our speculative explanations, and the plausibility of naturalism shows that we have at least one more reason to reject a supernatural god. Everything in the universe might be exactly the same without its existence.

      James Gray writes, “I didn’t conflate anything because it wasn’t clear what kind of naturalism you are talking about. Some theists are materialists and I expect that many are epistemic naturalists as well. I don’t see why theists would reject epistemic naturalism more than atheists other than just to say revelation counts for something. As far as actual philosophy is concerned revelation is pretty much already distrusted. I think Thomas Aquinas said that revelation was for “theology” rather than “philosophy.”

      Sure some Christians are materialist (they are a small minority). I just don’t know how many Christians are actually epistemic naturalists. That seems too restrictive for obtaining knowledge that a Christian would be trying to achieve. They might engage in it, but it’s not their only source of knowledge.

      I don’t see why a Christian would be more worried than an atheist about limitations in knowledge. I’ve written a couple things about epistemology recently and you can let me know what you think if you want to take a look.

      I’m confused about you citing Aquinas and revelation being for theology and not philosophy. Aquinas adopted and added to Aristotelean philosophy into his theology. There are two types of revelation: divine and natural. Philosophers don’t distrust natural revelation (though they might distrust divine revelation). But natural theology works only with natural revelation, so there should be no problem.

      Right, when I said “revelation” I might have been referring to “divine revelation” then. I forgot that there was some ambiguity there.

      James Gray writes, “That might be true, but I don’t know what your point is. I was talking about what the experts think and what they consider to be contentious and uncertain. If they are uncertain about their arguments, then we will be as well. If their beliefs are highly plausible and almost “established” then we are dealing with the kind of argument from authority that religion has thrived on throughout history.”

      I think a big point is we don’t know just many of these “experts” actually have read the top philosophers of religion. It seems over and over experts confuse terminology or make straw-mans out of theistic arguments. Also, some of the top philosophers of religion say believing in God is rational, but they have such a high standard of persuasiveness and convincibility that basically no arguments will convince them. This is the line of thought from Graham Oppy in his book Arguing about Gods.

      This is an important issue and I can’t answer it at this point in time. I can’t prove that there are “worthy” experts concerning religion, but I see that as a greater problem for religion than anything else. If our experts are untrustworthy, then we might want to do something about that.

      I think we also need to keep in mind what I said earlier about establishing that a religion is plausible vs that a religion is “probably true” or “almost established as true.” There’s a huge difference between the two and it would be incredibly amazing to find out that the second was proven. That would be a very ambitious argument indeed. If the second has been proven, then religion could certainly be saved by educating people about the arguments. So far I haven’t seen any that I find so convincing.

      What matters is are the arguments valid and then are the premises sound. It doesn’t matter if the arguments are not extremely persuasive or that it will no convince everybody.

      There is a connection between the two. An argument can establish the truth of a proposition to a high level of probability. We could then say it’s “probably true.” We could also prove that one proposition is more likely true than any of the alternatives. We can say that an argument is rationally “convincing” if it meets the right criteria. It might not be “psychologically convincing” to everyone, but we are interested in the truth and are often rationally convinced by arguments.

      Also, the concern that religion could go extinct is related to both rational and psychological persuasiveness because they are both related. What is rationally persuasive is going to end up being “more persuasive” psychologically in the long run.

      Comment by James Gray — March 27, 2011 @ 9:30 am | Reply

  7. James Gray writes, “I would need more evidence about that. It might depend where you are in the world.”

    More evidence about what? That more are reading apologetics books. (Don’t really know how to prove that, other than there seems to be a interest in apologetics.) I can better prove the rapid growing of Christianity around the world. Is that what you want? Either way, Christianity is surely not out the window.

    James Gray writes, “I agree that isolation probably played a role, but that doesn’t help make religions more plausible now. Just the opposite.”

    I agree that any belief system that becomes interconnected with the rest of the outside world makes it appear less plausible. This goes for religion, social values, political views, etc. What matters are arguments for and against the belief systems.

    James Gray writes, “It’s hard to take philosophy of religion seriously when you’re not a Christian and it’s almost exclusively about Christianity. I’m not sure how much Christian philosophers tend to know about Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish philosophy for similar reasons–although all three monotheistic religions have had philosophical dialogue because they are similar in many ways.”

    That’s not true. Many arguments argue for a theistic God with the basic attributes of a monotheistic God. Also there is many arguments that answers the problem of evil and divine hiddenness. This should certainly be taken seriously because these are the most common objections to belief in God. Also theists focus and emphasize the fact that scientism is self-defeating and positivism (verificationism) is also deficient. I see so many smart men (mainly scientists) who are logical positivists. It’s apparent they haven’t read much philosophy of science to understand what science can and cannot answer.

    Also Christian philosophers of religion have much to say about ethics, which should be taken seriously.

    Christian philosophers of religion are definitely aware of Judaism and Islam, and argue that the credence of Christianity is much higher than those two religions. (However, a Christian would not say Judaism is false, but that rather that it is lacking.) These arguments are especially done through historical analysis. Furthermore, Christian philosophers of religion have arguments against polytheism, pantheism, and so forth and so on.

    James Gray writes, “We need to know why we should trust a specific religion. Appeal to authority is one of the most common methods of justification used when we aren’t an expert–and experts have the ability to persuade. The appeal to authority is much more convincing when the experts can prove that something is probably true or “nearly established” as true. That’s why disagreement can be destructive to religion. We have relatively little reason to trust a religion with no basis in expertise. Historically, I think diverse opinion has been destructive to religion when it loses a strong philosophical footing of this type. I can’t say that religion is already on its way out for sure, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption seeing what’s happening and comparing it to history.”

    The thing is you keep talking about appeal to the experts for justification, and the fact is just how many experts these days study philosophy of religion? Not many, and the ones that do say it’s rational to believe. What hurts the theist is, for example, people like Graham Oppy who have such a high standard of what an argument should be to persuade and convince people, so it’s very hard to convince him.

    I don’t think religion is on its way out, especially Christianity.

    James Gray writes, “It might be that some ancient philosophers had an influence and that influence might still have an impact, but most people don’t know much about that now. If what the experts say now is so different from the “appeal to authority” used by religions now, that’s a problem. Who are the new Catholic philosophers who are taken so seriously by the religion now? Whose opinion is respected enough to change the dogma?”

    You didn’t respond the the fact that religion is a philosophy and that it does shape culture and everyday life. Even though most Christians don’t know about essences and existence, act and potentiality, they do believe in such things as sin and evil and believe they have the ‘philosophy’ to combat such things.

    I think the current Joseph Ratzinger–Pope Benedict XVI, to be a Catholic philosopher, theologian, and scholar that people listen to. His philosophical and theological books make good sales and he’s respected (even by Protestants like Craig Evans and Ben Witherington III). There are several good Catholic philosophers and theologians. R.R. Reno, a Catholic theologian (and contributer to First Things), says Bruce Marshall (http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/FacultyAcademics/DirectoryList/Marshall.aspx) is one of the most important theologians training doctoral students today. Alexander Pruss, a Catholic, has several papers about sexual ethics and love, and various other things relating to Catholicism, such as transubstantiation. See Pruss’ CV here: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/ap85/cv.html

    James Gray writes, “Actually, you can’t assume that there is no supernatural entities, even under methodological naturalism. What we call “epistemic naturalism” in philosophy is pretty much the idea that scientists attain knowledge the way we should always attain knowledge. This is often taken to be synonymous with empiricism, but an actual study of scientific methodology could show that scientists are not actually empiricists. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-naturalized/

    Actually, yes, you do assume no supernatural entities exist when engaging in scientific/methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism “excludes a priori the use of supernatural agency as an explanatory principle in science.” Paul Kurtz says, “First, naturalism is committed to a methodological principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations. On this ground, to invoke an intelligent designer or creator is inadmissible.”

    I would hope most scientists do not believe in the epistemology of scientism, or logical positivism.

    James Gray writes, “I already gave one explanation. A more detailed and philosophical approach to this issue can be found by Quentin Smith here: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/smith_18_2.html

    You’re confusing lacking a cause with lacking an explanation. The link from Quentin Smith does just that. He’s merely criticizes that the universe does not need a cause and does not go into the explanation of why the universe is. This is where the Leibnizian cosmological comes into play. Also Smith is wrong with his analysis.

    To quote physicist, James Sinclair, and co-author of the Kalam Cosmological Argument in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology says, “There is no reason whatsoever to take quantum phenomena as intrinsically random. All but one of the non-instrumentalist quantum interpretations are deterministic. The one that isn’t explicitly deterministic – Copenhagen – nets you an an extra-universal observer to collapse the universal wave function; thus you get the Kalam conclusion through another route.”

    James Gray writes, “One problem here is that the question might be a form of begging the question. To ask the “explanation” for the universe seems to assume that it has to have a cause.”

    This is where one needs to study the PSR and its variations. The PSR says things do need an explanation, even if one could show that the object being explained is even uncaused.

    In fact, Alexander Pruss wrote a book entitled The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) (http://www.amazon.com/Principle-Sufficient-Reason-Reassessment-Philosophy/dp/0521184398/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301251779&sr=8-1)

    James Gray writes, “First, even if everything was contingent, that wouldn’t mean everything has a cause. Although it is normally a good assumption that everything has a cause, we can’t be certain about that fact. He calls that the “principle of sufficient reason,” but I don’t think he proved it to be true. He showed that it’s plausible, but it’s hard to say that it’s anything like being “established.””

    Again, it makes no difference if what is being explained in uncaused, it is still going to require an explanation, given the PSR. I think Pruss showed more than it (PSR) being plausible. And why care if such and such has not been established. Many philosophical issues are not established! So what? What matters is the argument itself and not if the philosophers can come to some consensus on it. Philosophers strongly disagree even over minute things. If you’re interested in the PSR check out Pruss’ book from above. Also in Pruss’ Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments, in section 2.2. Why should we believe the PSR? he explains why we should accept the PSR. Here:(https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html)

    Do you or do you not accept the principle of sufficient reason? If not, why?

    James Gray writes, “Second, the argument as you stated it here seems flawed because if one part of the universe isn’t contingent, then the universe is clearly not contingent. We don’t know everything in the universe right now if we take it to be the totality of all being.”

    No, there is asymmetry here for the argument. It can only work if there is one part in the universe that is contingent, then it shows the universe is contingent. If there is one part in the universe that is not necessary, as Koons’ mereological argument shows that the universe is, therefore, contingent. With the argument being asymmetrical doesn’t allow it to work the other way around. For example, there is asymmetry with prime numbers and odd numbers. It’s necessary for prime numbers to be odd number, but this is not true the other way around.

    James Gray writes, “I have not read the argument here in it’s entirety, and you can point me to where he thinks he proved that the universe is contingent. That is a highly ambitious claim to make. Many people don’t think we can even know about modalities like that.”

    Alexander Pruss gets some of his work from Robert Koons (both have worked together). All that is needed for the Leibnizian Cosmological argument to work is that there exists one contingent fact. Surely you believe there are contingent facts?

    For the proof by modality of contingent facts and the universe being contingent here’s Roberts Koons paper on the Cosmological Argument.(http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/arn/koons/cosmo.pdf).In Section 6 The Cosmological Argument Koons has a sketch proof of his argument for contingent facts and the mereological argument making the whole contingent.

    James Gray writes, “How does he know that? Sounds a lot like the fallacy to me.

    My point was not that it’s impossible to prove that the universe is contingent. I just think it’s ambitious and controversial. Not everyone is convinced based on the arguments involved.”

    See above. All that is needed is there exists one contingent fact/truth for the Leibnizian (Contingency) Cosmological argument to be addressed by the PSR.

    James Gray writes, “Right, my point was not clearly stated. The point should be merely that these are contentious issues and even theist philosophers shouldn’t think they’ve established anything resembling certainty. They tend to attempt to prove that theism is plausible enough to be rational rather than attempt to prove that nontheist views are irrational or implausible.

    I could be wrong, but my actual research has confirmed this belief so far. The arguments for God tend to be “reasons to believe” and “part of a coherent understanding of reality” rather than proof of God’s existence.”

    Many people find the Leibnizian Cosmological argument very persuasive and say it gives a high credence to the existence of God. There’s many that criticize the world-view of atheism and naturalism as incoherent and deficient. Recall Mike Rea’s book World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism.

    I think many philosophers of religion are just not merely giving reasons to believe, but are actually giving arguments the the existence of God. For example, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology has several arguments for the existence of God. Different cosmological arguments (Leibnizian and Kalam), fine-tuning arguments, ontological arguments, moral arguments, arguments from reason and consciousness, arguments from miracles (the resurrection), and so forth and so on.

    James Gray writes, “My point isn’t that it’s fully satisfying. My point is merely that naturalism (of both kinds) are serious worldviews that compete in philosophy right now, and they have come up with “possible answers” to just about any major concern. I don’t know if I fully endorse naturalism of either variety. Once we admit that atheists can have a plausible worldview–and naturalism is probably the most modest worldview possible insofar as it is elegant–then we have a serious concern about the plausibility of the supernatural. We don’t generally like supernatural entities to be used in our speculative explanations, and the plausibility of naturalism shows that we have at least one more reason to reject a supernatural god. Everything in the universe might be exactly the same without its existence.”

    That’s why the naturalist needs to bring forth good arguments that the theist finds deficient. As said before, the most notable is the explanation (not necessarily cause) of the universe. This all deserves good debate. The debate lies in which world-view has the best explanatory power and scope.

    Theists believe without a necessary being, the world would not exist. This is part of the Leibnizian Cosmological argument.

    James Gray writes, “I don’t see why a Christian would be more worried than an atheist about limitations in knowledge. I’ve written a couple things about epistemology recently and you can let me know what you think if you want to take a look.”

    It’s not about Christians being worried about the limitations in knowledge, but rather it’s the fact that no Christian is going to endorse a particular mode of epistemology and only get their knowledge that way when that mode of epistemology they are using doesn’t address the supernatural! It would be bizarre indeed if the epistemology of a Christian be scientism when this mode of knowledge doesn’t address morality, aesthetics, miracles, the fallenness of man and how to obtain salvation, and etc. You see a Christian will not adopt those types of epistemologies because they are too restrictive for the Christian. They don’t address other things they believe in.

    James Gray writes, “Right, when I said “revelation” I might have been referring to “divine revelation” then. I forgot that there was some ambiguity there.”

    Yes, Christian philosophers of religion are doing natural theology (they look at ‘nature’ and argue given certain features of the world that God exists) when arguing for the existence of God. It would be next to useless to simply use Scripture and have that be your argument to persuade the other side.

    James Gray writes, “This is an important issue and I can’t answer it at this point in time. I can’t prove that there are “worthy” experts concerning religion, but I see that as a greater problem for religion than anything else. If our experts are untrustworthy, then we might want to do something about that.

    I think we also need to keep in mind what I said earlier about establishing that a religion is plausible vs that a religion is “probably true” or “almost established as true.” There’s a huge difference between the two and it would be incredibly amazing to find out that the second was proven. That would be a very ambitious argument indeed. If the second has been proven, then religion could certainly be saved by educating people about the arguments. So far I haven’t seen any that I find so convincing.”

    Throughout these post I’m not really concerned with the “experts.” I mean who are they and are they really even experts\? What matters is are the arguments valid and are they sound. Some arguments may be more persuasive than others and others some may be less sympathetic to.

    I think it’s important to note that for many (most) Christians is it’s not so much about the philosophical arguments for God’s existence (that makes them convert) but it’s the fact that when the Gospel is preached to them they experience that what the Gospel says is true (also knowing the testimony of other Christians and how it changed their life). The majority of people, and this is applied to all areas of life, not just religious ones, don’t really care if all the “experts” agree on this or that subject.

    Again, who is to say that such and such is plausible, probably true or established as true? There’s relatively few experts who can speak with confidence on philosophy of religion, the historicity of certain religions, and to speak with confidence about the theological commitments that religions have. For example, you can have experts who are non-religious who say that a particular religion is plausible but they will not go so far out as to say it’s probably true. For that person this could be because of the fact that they might not believe in sin. So, any religion that talks about sin is basically a no-go for it being probably true. There’s just a whole array of things like this. I say who cares! You have very few non-theist philosophers of religion, and even many of those say it’s rational to believe! I say that’s plenty good. As long as you have intelligent non-theist philosophers of religion on the other side saying this position is rational then you will continue to have rational people adopt the theistic position. It doesn’t matter if they (non-theists) don’t go out and say it’s established or that it’s probably true.

    James Gray writes, “There is a connection between the two. An argument can establish the truth of a proposition to a high level of probability. We could then say it’s “probably true.” We could also prove that one proposition is more likely true than any of the alternatives. We can say that an argument is rationally “convincing” if it meets the right criteria. It might not be “psychologically convincing” to everyone, but we are interested in the truth and are often rationally convinced by arguments.

    Also, the concern that religion could go extinct is related to both rational and psychological persuasiveness because they are both related. What is rationally persuasive is going to end up being “more persuasive” psychologically in the long run.”

    Yes, there is a distinction that an argument can be persuasive and it convincing. The thing is I find some arguments persuasive and then say the the conclusion is probably true. Another person can look at the same argument and even agree with the validity and soundness of the arguement, but nonetheless not give a very high credence the probability of the conclusion (basically they are not convinced). There’s several psychological factors in play here. The best the theistic philosophers of religion can do is continue to make the arguments valid and sound and to overtime somehow make them persuasive and convincing to the secular public.

    Comment by Jarrett Cooper — March 27, 2011 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

  8. James Gray writes, “It’s hard to take philosophy of religion seriously when you’re not a Christian and it’s almost exclusively about Christianity. I’m not sure how much Christian philosophers tend to know about Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish philosophy for similar reasons–although all three monotheistic religions have had philosophical dialogue because they are similar in many ways.”

    That’s not true. Many arguments argue for a theistic God with the basic attributes of a monotheistic God. Also there is many arguments that answers the problem of evil and divine hiddenness.

    Like that God isn’t omnipotent or isn’t omnibenevolent? Or that there is no evil? There are answers to the “problem” but the answers aren’t necessarily plausible and don’t necessarily embrace the traditional view of God.

    This should certainly be taken seriously because these are the most common objections to belief in God.

    I agree, but the main issue that I raised against God is there is something wrong with using supernatural entities to explain things in general and we shouldn’t do it unless it’s necessary. It’s not clear that God is necessary. That requires us to debunk every other possibility.

    Also theists focus and emphasize the fact that scientism is self-defeating and positivism (verificationism) is also deficient. I see so many smart men (mainly scientists) who are logical positivists. It’s apparent they haven’t read much philosophy of science to understand what science can and cannot answer.

    I agree that logical positivism has pretty much been debunked. Yes, verificationism is self-defeating.

    Also Christian philosophers of religion have much to say about ethics, which should be taken seriously.

    I’m sure that Christian philosophers have a lot to offer, but it’s not easy to convince non-Christians that the Christian worldview has much to offer.

    Christian philosophers of religion are definitely aware of Judaism and Islam, and argue that the credence of Christianity is much higher than those two religions. (However, a Christian would not say Judaism is false, but that rather that it is lacking.) These arguments are especially done through historical analysis. Furthermore, Christian philosophers of religion have arguments against polytheism, pantheism, and so forth and so on.

    Again, the arguments against these views will tend not to be conclusive. Rather, they tend to be about various implausible elements of the views and a comparison of pros and cons will have to be made. If I was a theist, I would probably endorse a worldview more like the Stoics.

    James Gray writes, “We need to know why we should trust a specific religion. Appeal to authority is one of the most common methods of justification used when we aren’t an expert–and experts have the ability to persuade. The appeal to authority is much more convincing when the experts can prove that something is probably true or “nearly established” as true. That’s why disagreement can be destructive to religion. We have relatively little reason to trust a religion with no basis in expertise. Historically, I think diverse opinion has been destructive to religion when it loses a strong philosophical footing of this type. I can’t say that religion is already on its way out for sure, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption seeing what’s happening and comparing it to history.”

    The thing is you keep talking about appeal to the experts for justification, and the fact is just how many experts these days study philosophy of religion? Not many, and the ones that do say it’s rational to believe. What hurts the theist is, for example, people like Graham Oppy who have such a high standard of what an argument should be to persuade and convince people, so it’s very hard to convince him.

    Maybe it is rational to believe. I am undecided on that issue and it’s not my primary interest.

    I don’t think religion is on its way out, especially Christianity.

    Think about the history that is at issue. Christianity was taken to be established as true, now it’s not. Many countries in Europe are akready much less religious. The USA is a very religious nation but I think we have a good reason to think we might be next. The claim that religion will remain strong here would be in need of explanation. What makes the USA so different?

    James Gray writes, “It might be that some ancient philosophers had an influence and that influence might still have an impact, but most people don’t know much about that now. If what the experts say now is so different from the “appeal to authority” used by religions now, that’s a problem. Who are the new Catholic philosophers who are taken so seriously by the religion now? Whose opinion is respected enough to change the dogma?”

    You didn’t respond the the fact that religion is a philosophy and that it does shape culture and everyday life. Even though most Christians don’t know about essences and existence, act and potentiality, they do believe in such things as sin and evil and believe they have the ‘philosophy’ to combat such things.

    I responded that religion is not philosophy. Religious people tend to know very little about what arguments are all about and so on. Yes, religion has philosophical elements and philosophers.

    I agree that many Christians think there are “experts” who can combat objections. That’s exactly why experts are so important. However, I think that we are finding that many people who actually ask the questions aren’t getting the satisfying answers they want in part because the religions aren’t taking their own philosophers seriously and in part because their religion isn’t established as true any longer. The most educated people are the most likely to find out about their religion’s deficiencies and have good questions that don’t have satisfying answers. The religion needs these educated people to help find out if any religion really is plausible — and/or which is most plausible rather than just worry about tricking people into believing in a religion. There are already some people working on this issue now, but I still think the current situation is a threat to the existence of the current religions.

    I think the current Joseph Ratzinger–Pope Benedict XVI, to be a Catholic philosopher, theologian, and scholar that people listen to. His philosophical and theological books make good sales and he’s respected (even by Protestants like Craig Evans and Ben Witherington III). There are several good Catholic philosophers and theologians. R.R. Reno, a Catholic theologian (and contributer to First Things), says Bruce Marshall (http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/FacultyAcademics/DirectoryList/Marshall.aspx) is one of the most important theologians training doctoral students today. Alexander Pruss, a Catholic, has several papers about sexual ethics and love, and various other things relating to Catholicism, such as transubstantiation. See Pruss’ CV here: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/ap85/cv.html

    Thank you for sharing this information. I think some religious philosophers sincerely want to know the truth and think their religion is plausible — and the most plausible. Their arguments are part of a valuable debate and quest for knowledge.

    Actually, yes, you do assume no supernatural entities exist when engaging in scientific/methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism “excludes a priori the use of supernatural agency as an explanatory principle in science.” Paul Kurtz says, “First, naturalism is committed to a methodological principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations. On this ground, to invoke an intelligent designer or creator is inadmissible.”

    I don’t care what he says. This is an equivocation of epistemology and metaphysics. They are not the same thing. We can study to see how effective prayer is and see if the prayers of one religion in particular are effective. That would provide at least some evidence of the supernatural. The supernatural could very well have real-world consequences that can be measured and observed.

    James Gray writes, “I already gave one explanation. A more detailed and philosophical approach to this issue can be found by Quentin Smith here: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/smith_18_2.html”

    You’re confusing lacking a cause with lacking an explanation. The link from Quentin Smith does just that. He’s merely criticizes that the universe does not need a cause and does not go into the explanation of why the universe is. This is where the Leibnizian cosmological comes into play. Also Smith is wrong with his analysis.

    I find his criticism to be unpersuasive at this moment in time. I see no reason to endorse his premises. We are dealing with highly abstract premises that are not obvious.

    To quote physicist, James Sinclair, and co-author of the Kalam Cosmological Argument in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology says, “There is no reason whatsoever to take quantum phenomena as intrinsically random. All but one of the non-instrumentalist quantum interpretations are deterministic. The one that isn’t explicitly deterministic – Copenhagen – nets you an an extra-universal observer to collapse the universal wave function; thus you get the Kalam conclusion through another route.”

    I don’t know how any of this is relevant.

    James Gray writes, “One problem here is that the question might be a form of begging the question. To ask the “explanation” for the universe seems to assume that it has to have a cause.”

    This is where one needs to study the PSR and its variations. The PSR says things do need an explanation, even if one could show that the object being explained is even uncaused.

    Yes, but we don’t know that PSR is true.

    In fact, Alexander Pruss wrote a book entitled The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) (http://www.amazon.com/Principle-Sufficient-Reason-Reassessment-Philosophy/dp/0521184398/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301251779&sr=8-1)

    Thanks for the information. If you can tell me exactly how we can prove PSR based on that book, I think people will be interested to know about it.

    James Gray writes, “First, even if everything was contingent, that wouldn’t mean everything has a cause. Although it is normally a good assumption that everything has a cause, we can’t be certain about that fact. He calls that the “principle of sufficient reason,” but I don’t think he proved it to be true. He showed that it’s plausible, but it’s hard to say that it’s anything like being “established.””

    Again, it makes no difference if what is being explained in uncaused, it is still going to require an explanation, given the PSR. I think Pruss showed more than it (PSR) being plausible. And why care if such and such has not been established. Many philosophical issues are not established! So what? What matters is the argument itself and not if the philosophers can come to some consensus on it. Philosophers strongly disagree even over minute things. If you’re interested in the PSR check out Pruss’ book from above. Also in Pruss’ Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments, in section 2.2. Why should we believe the PSR? he explains why we should accept the PSR. Here:(https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html)

    First, what is “nearly established” can be taken to be what philosophers show to be “probably true.” That is of great importance because many people won’t choose to have a religion if they don’t think it’s “probably true.”

    I’m not saying that theistic philosophers have to prove that a religion is probably true, but being too soft could be the end of the current religions.

    Second, PSR has to be proven to be extremely plausible because it’s used in highly ambitious arguments. The more ambitious the argument, the more evidence we need. Otherwise the argument’s conclusion is just a “maybe.” The conclusions of arguments are supposed to be proven, even if they are merely about what might be true.

    Do you or do you not accept the principle of sufficient reason? If not, why?

    I don’t have a strong opinion about it. There are different versions of it. For example:

    “For every proposition p, if p is true, then there is a sufficient explanation why p is true.” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_sufficient_reason

    I think this formation is probably false. Explanation probably comes to an end at some point. Not every question we can ask necessarily has an answer.

    J

    ames Gray writes, “Second, the argument as you stated it here seems flawed because if one part of the universe isn’t contingent, then the universe is clearly not contingent. We don’t know everything in the universe right now if we take it to be the totality of all being.”

    No, there is asymmetry here for the argument. It can only work if there is one part in the universe that is contingent, then it shows the universe is contingent. If there is one part in the universe that is not necessary, as Koons’ mereological argument shows that the universe is, therefore, contingent.

    We can’t just assume this is true in every case. What is true of one part is not always true of the whole. One cell of my body is invisible, but that doesn’t man I am invisible. Why should I think this is true of the contingency of the universe?

    If you think that one contingent element of the universe would make the universe contingent, then why not think that one necessary element of the universe would make the universe necessary?

    James Gray writes, “I have not read the argument here in it’s entirety, and you can point me to where he thinks he proved that the universe is contingent. That is a highly ambitious claim to make. Many people don’t think we can even know about modalities like that.”

    Alexander Pruss gets some of his work from Robert Koons (both have worked together). All that is needed for the Leibnizian Cosmological argument to work is that there exists one contingent fact. Surely you believe there are contingent facts?

    I don’t have a strong opinion concerning contingency, but I agree that it is an intuitive idea. What exactly we can know about contingency is where things get very ambitious.

    For the proof by modality of contingent facts and the universe being contingent here’s Roberts Koons paper on the Cosmological Argument.(http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/arn/koons/cosmo.pdf).In Section 6 The Cosmological Argument Koons has a sketch proof of his argument for contingent facts and the mereological argument making the whole contingent.

    I’m not seeing the argument there.

    He says, “Lemma 3: If there are any contingent facts, C is a wholly contingent fact” and “definition 2: Let C be the aggregate of all wholly contingent facts.” The universe is not necessarily C.

    Another confusing argument: “Lemma 4: If there are any contingent facts, C has a cause. Proof. An immediate consequence of Lemma 3 and Axiom 7, the Universality of Causation” and “Axiom 7 expresses the universality of the causal relation: every wholly contingent fact has a cause.”

    This is an axiom, so it isn’t proven. I see no reason to accept it.

    Many people find the Leibnizian Cosmological argument very persuasive and say it gives a high credence to the existence of God. There’s many that criticize the world-view of atheism and naturalism as incoherent and deficient. Recall Mike Rea’s book World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism.

    Those sound like extremely strong claims against naturalism. Feel free to elaborate.

    My understanding is that naturalism is considered to be serious philosophy with at least some level of plausibility. A claim that it totally lacks plausibility would completely debunk a very lively group of philosophers.

    I think many philosophers of religion are just not merely giving reasons to believe, but are actually giving arguments the the existence of God. For example, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology has several arguments for the existence of God. Different cosmological arguments (Leibnizian and Kalam), fine-tuning arguments, ontological arguments, moral arguments, arguments from reason and consciousness, arguments from miracles (the resurrection), and so forth and so on.

    An argument for the existence of God doesn’t necessarily prove that God exists once and for all. It can prove minimal plausibility or that God is merely the most plausible explanation for a phenomena, etc. Let’s say there are 10 known explanations for a phenomena with minimal plausibility. 9 explanations can have a 9% chance of being true and theism could have a 19% of being true.

    James Gray writes, “I don’t see why a Christian would be more worried than an atheist about limitations in knowledge. I’ve written a couple things about epistemology recently and you can let me know what you think if you want to take a look.”

    It’s not about Christians being worried about the limitations in knowledge, but rather it’s the fact that no Christian is going to endorse a particular mode of epistemology and only get their knowledge that way when that mode of epistemology they are using doesn’t address the supernatural!

    That could be begging the question. We need to know what epistemology is best to know what to believe and not say, “The supernatural obviousuly exists, so epistemology better make believing in the supernatural a reasonable belief.”

    It would be bizarre indeed if the epistemology of a Christian be scientism when this mode of knowledge doesn’t address morality, aesthetics, miracles, the fallenness of man and how to obtain salvation, and etc. You see a Christian will not adopt those types of epistemologies because they are too restrictive for the Christian. They don’t address other things they believe in.

    First, there’s the begging the question issue. Second, we need to know whether or not naturalism can account for the facts, assuming there are supernatural facts.

    James Gray writes, “This is an important issue and I can’t answer it at this point in time. I can’t prove that there are “worthy” experts concerning religion, but I see that as a greater problem for religion than anything else. If our experts are untrustworthy, then we might want to do something about that.

    I think we also need to keep in mind what I said earlier about establishing that a religion is plausible vs that a religion is “probably true” or “almost established as true.” There’s a huge difference between the two and it would be incredibly amazing to find out that the second was proven. That would be a very ambitious argument indeed. If the second has been proven, then religion could certainly be saved by educating people about the arguments. So far I haven’t seen any that I find so convincing.”

    Throughout these post I’m not really concerned with the “experts.” I mean who are they and are they really even experts\? What matters is are the arguments valid and are they sound. Some arguments may be more persuasive than others and others some may be less sympathetic to.

    Yes, the idea of expertise has more to do with what I think leads to the success of religion. If good arguments exist, but no one knows about them, that’s another problem.

    I think it’s important to note that for many (most) Christians is it’s not so much about the philosophical arguments for God’s existence (that makes them convert) but it’s the fact that when the Gospel is preached to them they experience that what the Gospel says is true (also knowing the testimony of other Christians and how it changed their life). The majority of people, and this is applied to all areas of life, not just religious ones, don’t really care if all the “experts” agree on this or that subject.

    That’s an argument for God’s existence based on testimony, personal experience, and/or practical benefit. That’s quite an important argument, but it’s not necessarily the most rationally convincing and it might not stay persuasive if every religion has equal evidence in this area. The argument has been used for every religion including Scientology.

    Again, who is to say that such and such is plausible, probably true or established as true? There’s relatively few experts who can speak with confidence on philosophy of religion, the historicity of certain religions, and to speak with confidence about the theological commitments that religions have. For example, you can have experts who are non-religious who say that a particular religion is plausible but they will not go so far out as to say it’s probably true. For that person this could be because of the fact that they might not believe in sin. So, any religion that talks about sin is basically a no-go for it being probably true. There’s just a whole array of things like this. I say who cares! You have very few non-theist philosophers of religion, and even many of those say it’s rational to believe! I say that’s plenty good. As long as you have intelligent non-theist philosophers of religion on the other side saying this position is rational then you will continue to have rational people adopt the theistic position. It doesn’t matter if they (non-theists) don’t go out and say it’s established or that it’s probably true.

    There might be no experts, but the main issue is whether or not theistic religion might go extinct (or even other current religions), and the lack of experts who can formulate a strong understanding of the universe can be the end of religion.

    Comment by James Gray — March 27, 2011 @ 11:45 pm | Reply

  9. James Gray writes, “Like that God isn’t omnipotent or isn’t omnibenevolent? Or that there is no evil? There are answers to the “problem” but the answers aren’t necessarily plausible and don’t necessarily embrace the traditional view of God.”

    I don’t follow. There are theistic arguments that says God is omnipotent. For example Jorome Gellman’s argument for oneness and omnipotence. Even Alexander Pruss in his Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments noted this. There are also arguments for the Goodness of God. Thomas Aquinas’ argument from Goodness.

    I don’t know of any theist that says there is no evil. Who’s saying these theistic rejoinders to atheistic objections to theism are not necessarily plausible and don’t necessarily embrace the traditional view of God?

    James Gray writes, “I agree, but the main issue that I raised against God is there is something wrong with using supernatural entities to explain things in general and we shouldn’t do it unless it’s necessary. It’s not clear that God is necessary. That requires us to debunk every other possibility.”

    One example is–Christians don’t believe there are acceptable natural explanation that explain the empty tomb of Jesus, post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and origin of the disciples belief about the resurrected Jesus. There’s some people so opposed to theism that they will come up with all types of contrived and ad-hoc things to sweep away these historical evidences. I believe, along with other Christians, that this calls for a supernatural case.

    One should invoke supernatural entities when it best fits the evidence, it doesn’t always have to be the case that it’s necessary to do so. There could be naturalistic alternatives, but if the supernaturalic alternative is better than we should go with it. Just the problem is some are so opposed to the supernatural that they will never embrace the supernaturalistic explanation over the naturalistic one.

    James Gray writes, “I’m sure that Christian philosophers have a lot to offer, but it’s not easy to convince non-Christians that the Christian worldview has much to offer.”

    No, I think non-theists understand just how much Christianity offers (if it were true). What’s hard is convincing non-theists that there is a God, and that God is personal, and even further that God revealed himself history. I think non-theists understand if Christianity were true then their world-view changes dramatically.

    James Gray writes, “Again, the arguments against these views will tend not to be conclusive. Rather, they tend to be about various implausible elements of the views and a comparison of pros and cons will have to be made. If I was a theist, I would probably endorse a worldview more like the Stoics.”

    Are you not a moral ethicist? I’m sure much of what you write and believe are not conclusive. Not much in life is.

    To note one example, I believe when the historian notes the fact that the Quran, written 600+ years after Jesus, has a very different view of Jesus than the Jesus that appears in out earliest and most reliable sources (i.e., The Gospels). To me that gives a much higher credence to believe Christianity than to Islam. There are other arguments that are more philosophical than historical.

    You like the Stoics. I like the medieval scholastics. 🙂

    James Gray writes, “Maybe it is rational to believe. I am undecided on that issue and it’s not my primary interest.”

    I can understand this.

    James Gray writes, “Think about the history that is at issue. Christianity was taken to be established as true, now it’s not. Many countries in Europe are akready much less religious. The USA is a very religious nation but I think we have a good reason to think we might be next. The claim that religion will remain strong here would be in need of explanation. What makes the USA so different?”

    With Christianity growing, I don’t see it as on its way out. Maybe in many, many, many years. But not anytime soon. There are articles that I read that says Christianity is rebounding in parts of Europe, and that it is definitely booming in the East. Christianity is also strong in America. One reason to say USA will remain Christian for some time is because America’s ideology is built on the Judeo-Christian values (just reflect on the huge impact the tea-party is having) and is deeply embedded into our culture. Also, there is the fact that many immigrants are coming from the south of the border and they are very much religious, with most being Catholic.

    James Gray writes, “I responded that religion is not philosophy. Religious people tend to know very little about what arguments are all about and so on. Yes, religion has philosophical elements and philosophers.”

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree there. I believe religion is very much a philosophy. Religion is a world-view and religions help explain various actions one should take in life, and how to live one’s life.

    James Gray writes, “I agree that many Christians think there are “experts” who can combat objections. That’s exactly why experts are so important. However, I think that we are finding that many people who actually ask the questions aren’t getting the satisfying answers they want in part because the religions aren’t taking their own philosophers seriously and in part because their religion isn’t established as true any longer. The most educated people are the most likely to find out about their religion’s deficiencies and have good questions that don’t have satisfying answers. The religion needs these educated people to help find out if any religion really is plausible — and/or which is most plausible rather than just worry about tricking people into believing in a religion. There are already some people working on this issue now, but I still think the current situation is a threat to the existence of the current religions.”

    There was some confusion here. When I talked about Christians believe in sin and evil and that they have the ‘philosophy’ to combat the aforementioned, I meant they have their religion. Christians have the power of Christ to flee temptation, and the grace from God to love and in doing so defeat evil.

    But back to your point. I think having intelligent people that can combat opposing views and defend certain views is important. The apostle Paul was an apologist and a debater. The reason there are Christian apologists is because the Bible, especially the apostle Paul, admonishes fellow Christians to be prepared to give answers for those who ask (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

    James Gray writes, “Thank you for sharing this information. I think some religious philosophers sincerely want to know the truth and think their religion is plausible — and the most plausible. Their arguments are part of a valuable debate and quest for knowledge.”

    No problem.

    James Gray writes, “I don’t care what he says. This is an equivocation of epistemology and metaphysics. They are not the same thing. We can study to see how effective prayer is and see if the prayers of one religion in particular are effective. That would provide at least some evidence of the supernatural. The supernatural could very well have real-world consequences that can be measured and observed.”

    No, this is no equivocation. All the philosophers I know and read and the things I’ve read have all said that methodological naturalism a priori rules out the supernatural. In the soft and hard sciences, when one engages in methodological naturalism, they assume a priori that supernatural entities are off the table. (For example, if a historian is doing research and sees a claim of supernaturalism, he leaves it aside.) Even Christian historians and scientists engage in this methodology. Ontological, or Metaphysical, or Philosophical naturalism is a world-view, and it is not the same as methodological naturalism. I’ve noted this before. All the literature I’ve read speaks of this.

    I agree supernaturalism can have real-world consequences. I believe in miracles.

    James Gray writes, “I find his criticism to be unpersuasive at this moment in time. I see no reason to endorse his premises. We are dealing with highly abstract premises that are not obvious.”

    What exactly don’t you agree with? You don’t find his arguments compelling? What part of his reasoning do you disagree with?

    James Gray writes, “I don’t know how any of this is relevant.”

    It’s relevant because the link you used did not offer an explanation of the universe. Also, the link was wrong to propose that the Hartle-Hawking model gives reasons for the cause of the universe by postulating the wave function of the universe. It does no such things and in fact this benefits the theist.

    James Gray, “Yes, but we don’t know that PSR is true.

    Thanks for the information. If you can tell me exactly how we can prove PSR based on that book, I think people will be interested to know about it.”

    I think Pruss gave poignant and persuasive reasons as to why to believe the PSR. Pruss as a section 2.2 entitled Why should we believe the PSR.

    James Gray writes, “First, what is “nearly established” can be taken to be what philosophers show to be “probably true.” That is of great importance because many people won’t choose to have a religion if they don’t think it’s “probably true.”

    I’m not saying that theistic philosophers have to prove that a religion is probably true, but being too soft could be the end of the current religions.”

    What matters is the fact of the argument being valid and sound. People will maintain and accept religions even if it’s merely plausible and not probably. (This can be because of several physiological reasons.) I notice that when it comes to more existential issues that people are willing that take a more of a ‘risk’ even if it’s not established as probably true. For example, you have cancer and you are told about this new experimental drug that might possibly save your life. Giving your existential circumstance, you’ll more than likely take the drug. This can be the same for believing in religion. Religions offer so much existential rewards that even if not established as probably true, people will be willing to embrace it. These are serious psychological issues that are being neglected. (I personally and subjectively believe Christianity is probably true, highly so.)

    James Gray writes, “Second, PSR has to be proven to be extremely plausible because it’s used in highly ambitious arguments. The more ambitious the argument, the more evidence we need. Otherwise the argument’s conclusion is just a “maybe.” The conclusions of arguments are supposed to be proven, even if they are merely about what might be true.”

    I think Pruss does a very good job in explaining why we should accept the PSR. Here’s Pruss’ version of the PSR, “The PSR states that every fact, or every contingent fact, has an explanation.” As a moral ethicist you should accept the PSR. As Pruss said for one who rejects the PSR cannot distinguish the moral relevance with one who redirects a speeding trolley from a track on which there are five people onto a track with only one person; with the scenario that it is not right to shoot one innocent person to save five. If you reject the PSR then you say there is no explanative difference between the two actions. You would just have to say it’s a brute contingent fact. In one world torture is wrong, but in another world, exactly alike the previous one in every other aspect, torture is a duty. Why (Pruss asks), Oh no reason, just contingent brute fact, with no explanation.

    Pruss gives, I think, gives much more persuasive reasons to accept the PSR.

    James Gray writes, “I don’t have a strong opinion about it. There are different versions of it. For example:

    “For every proposition p, if p is true, then there is a sufficient explanation why p is true.” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_sufficient_reason

    I think this formation is probably false. Explanation probably comes to an end at some point. Not every question we can ask necessarily has an answer.”

    Yes, there’s some weaker and stronger versions of the PSR. Here’s Pruss’ version of the PSR, “The PSR states that every fact, or every contingent fact, has an explanation.” I think Pruss does very well in arguing for accepting this version of PSR.

    James Gray said, “We can’t just assume this is true in every case. What is true of one part is not always true of the whole. One cell of my body is invisible, but that doesn’t man I am invisible. Why should I think this is true of the contingency of the universe?”

    I’m fully aware of the fallacy of composition. All that is needed is to show there at least one contingent fact, and that is all that is needed to be be subjected to the PSR and the Leibnizian Cosmological argument.

    If you can prove to me part of the universe is necessary I’d certainly give it a thought. Just I think one would argue there is asymmetry between the two. Maybe not.

    James Gray writes, “I’m not seeing the argument there.

    He says, “Lemma 3: If there are any contingent facts, C is a wholly contingent fact” and “definition 2: Let C be the aggregate of all wholly contingent facts.” The universe is not necessarily C.”

    Koons is saying, that the cosmos (which he does not say is the same as the universe) is the totality of universes (he defines universe as a spatio-temporally complete, casually isolated histories). He goes to show why C (the cosmos) is wholly contingent.

    James Gray writes, “Another confusing argument: “Lemma 4: If there are any contingent facts, C has a cause. Proof. An immediate consequence of Lemma 3 and Axiom 7, the Universality of Causation” and “Axiom 7 expresses the universality of the causal relation: every wholly contingent fact has a cause.”

    This is an axiom, so it isn’t proven. I see no reason to accept it.”

    In reading Koons paper he writes, “The evidence for Axiom 7 is essentially empirical. Every success of commonsense and science in reconstructing the causal antecedents of particular events and classes of events provides confirmation of Axiom 7. . .I have two principal responses. First, it is hard to see why the abundant success of empirical science in finding causes for contingent facts does not provide
    overwhelming empirical support for the generalization to all contingent facts. The category of wholly contingent facts is not an unnatural, gerrymandered kind like `grue’ or `bleen’. Are we to believe that it is merely a coincidence that time and time again we find causes for contingent facts?

    Second, the denial of the universality of causation as a descriptive generalization constitutes a very radical form of skepticism. All of our knowledge about the past, in history, law and natural science, depends on our inferring
    causes of present facts (traces, memories, records). Without the conviction that all (or nearly all) of these have causes, all of our reconstructions of the past (and therefore, nearly all of our knowledge of the present) would be groundless. Moreover, our knowledge of the future and of the probably consequences of our actions depends on the assumption that the relevant future states will not occur uncaused. The price of denying this axiom is very steep: embracing
    a comprehensive Pyrrhonian skepticism.”

    James Gray writes, “Those sound like extremely strong claims against naturalism. Feel free to elaborate.

    My understanding is that naturalism is considered to be serious philosophy with at least some level of plausibility. A claim that it totally lacks plausibility would completely debunk a very lively group of philosophers.”

    Mike Rea in his book World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism argues that, “naturalists are committed to substance dualism, antirealism about material objects, skepticism about other minds, and the suspension of judgment about idealism. His hope is that supernaturalism, which carries none of these unattractive commitments, will prove appealing by contrast.” Rea also notes that there is no precise formulation that has gained acceptance with regards to naturalism.

    This is from Troy Cross’ review of the book. He agrees with Rea given the hard line naturalism he’s critiquing but also strongly notes there are many types of naturalism and the weaker and more moderate ones can hold substance. The question is when will these naturalist philosophers agree on the naturalism they wish to hold. It’s hard to critique a position when there is no precise definition or formulation.

    Book review here: http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=1368#1

    James Gray writes, “An argument for the existence of God doesn’t necessarily prove that God exists once and for all. It can prove minimal plausibility or that God is merely the most plausible explanation for a phenomena, etc. Let’s say there are 10 known explanations for a phenomena with minimal plausibility. 9 explanations can have a 9% chance of being true and theism could have a 19% of being true.”

    Technically you can only prove mathematical propositions. What is shown in math comes from necessary premises. What a theist philosopher, or any philosopher, would say is that we have an argument, and not necessary a proof (such as in mathematics). A theistic philosopher of religion will come up with arguments for belief in God, and try to give high credences to such beliefs.

    James Gray writes, “That could be begging the question. We need to know what epistemology is best to know what to believe and not say, “The supernatural obviousuly exists, so epistemology better make believing in the supernatural a reasonable belief.”

    First, there’s the begging the question issue. Second, we need to know whether or not naturalism can account for the facts, assuming there are supernatural facts.”

    For the Christian it’s not begging the question for them to reject a mode of epistemology that rejects supernaturalism (or moral truths, aesthetics, etc). Especially, when the theist has reasons the believe in the supernatural. Now it would be if the Christian is trying to force his epistemology onto others (without any argumentation). I’m sure you reject some modes of epistemology because they would reject some beliefs you hold, even though you reflect on those other modes of knowledge.

    James Gray writes, “Yes, the idea of expertise has more to do with what I think leads to the success of religion. If good arguments exist, but no one knows about them, that’s another problem.”

    I think there are many things that lead to the success of religions. Having people who can defend and articulate basic tenets of the religion is but one of them. Having a high birth rate is another example.

    James Gray writes, “That’s an argument for God’s existence based on testimony, personal experience, and/or practical benefit. That’s quite an important argument, but it’s not necessarily the most rationally convincing and it might not stay persuasive if every religion has equal evidence in this area. The argument has been used for every religion including Scientology.”

    I can agree with this. Fortunately, for Christianity there has been many great authors who helped Christianity by their prose. There’s many people who don’t like all the technical aspects of the religion, but want the beauty, majesty, and awe of it all. That’s why so many like C.S. Lewis. I remember when reading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and what happened at the end was just beautiful. I don’t wish to give it away if you had not read it, but a great deed was committed. A very touching ending indeed. (If you’re not a convert reading it can surely make you want to.) But I wouldn’t downplay the non-technical side of religion and how many are persuaded to belief based of these other considerations.

    James Gray writes, “There might be no experts, but the main issue is whether or not theistic religion might go extinct (or even other current religions), and the lack of experts who can formulate a strong understanding of the universe can be the end of religion.”

    I personally think as long as, at least for Christianity, the Bible exists that Christianity will continue to exist. There doesn’t even need to be experts. As long as the Bible is being read, then you will continue to have Christianity.

    Comment by Jarrett Cooper — March 28, 2011 @ 5:46 am | Reply

  10. I wonder if you have any references supporting your claim that experts are leaving the supporting ranks of theism. I think the Catholic church is probably the most easily identifiable entity which with serious philosophers have identified themselves. Is there any evidence that the Catholic church is suffering from such a shortcoming?

    Comment by James — May 6, 2012 @ 7:31 pm | Reply

    • A long time ago (during the middle ages) there was no serious debate concerning the existence of God. Now there is. There was no serious debate concerning whether or not Jesus is God. Now there is.

      At one point in time scientists and philosophers agreed that God is the best explanation for all sorts of important questions that they no longer think is true. Scientists do not even talk about God much anymore. There is no scientific hypothesis that mentions God that’s taken seriously by scientists.

      At one point in time just about all philosophers and scientists were theists. That is no longer the case.

      From the Philosopher’s survey:

      God: theism or atheism?
      Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
      Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
      Other 117 / 931 (12.5%) (http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl)

      From wikipedia:

      A study has shown atheism in the West to be particularly prevalent among scientists, a tendency already quite marked at the beginning of the 20th century, developing into a dominant one during the course of the century. In 1914, James H. Leuba found that 58% of 1,000 randomly selected U.S. natural scientists expressed “disbelief or doubt in the existence of God” (defined as a personal God which interacts directly with human beings). The same study, repeated in 1996, gave a similar percentage of 60.7%. Expressions of positive disbelief rose from 52% to 72%. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism)

      Comment by JW Gray — May 7, 2012 @ 7:46 am | Reply

  11. Sorry – for some reason (maybe the closing sentences in your argument) I thought you were describing a very recent change, whereas the recent activity I’ve noticed seems to include a resurgence in theistic philosophers bolstering and improving on arguments for the existence of God (to which I suppose the extended back and forth on this post regarding Pruss’ arguments seems to attest).

    I guess my perception is that, despite this decline in uniformity regarding theism among the ‘great minds’, the percentage of atheists or non-religious among the general population appears to be shrinking. My experience, especially among protestant Christians, is that there isn’t much reliance on solid philosophical arguments for conversion, it’s often very personal experiences that seem to convince people to convert.

    Comment by James — May 8, 2012 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

    • It might be okay to convert people using personal experiences as long as it’s eventually backed up by authoritative philosophy — hopefully somewhat uncontroversial sorts of philosophy that we should all agree with. Right now we can’t say one religion is true because the philosophers agree with it.

      Comment by JW Gray — May 8, 2012 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  12. By the way, for James Gray – any chance you have the bandwidth for a post on an evaluation of Pruss’ arguments regarding his reevaluation of the PSR?

    Comment by James — May 8, 2012 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

    • Is there a website where I can read his arguments? I don’t have his books.

      Comment by JW Gray — May 8, 2012 @ 11:29 pm | Reply

      • I know very little about Pruss’ arguments beyond what Jarrett Cooper claims and provides links for above. From here (http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/ap85/papers/index.html) it seems that his full treatment of PSR is now only available as a paperback or hardcover book from Amazon.

        Comment by James — May 9, 2012 @ 3:13 am

  13. I realize I’m late to the party, but Cooper above makes several assertions about the solidity of both Koons’ cosmological argument and Pruss’ PSR. I have not come across any evaluations of Pruss’ PSR argument, but there has been rather a lot of back and forth in philosophical journals on the cosmological argument, including Koons’ formulation. Just a few links that might be of interest:

    Objection to Koons’ formulation:
    http://philpapers.org/rec/OPPKCA

    Koons’ response:
    http://www.secure.pdcnet.org/faithphil/content/faithphil_2001_0018_0002_0192_0203

    Objection to Koons’ response:
    http://www.secure.pdcnet.org/faithphil/content/faithphil_2004_0021_0002_0242_0249

    Pruss’ cosmo argument:
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=2DBDF01DC47E9DE803286EEDAF550CD3.journals?fromPage=online&aid=26987

    Objections to the argument:
    http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/J/Neal.D.Judisch-1/New%20Cosmological%20Argument%20Undone.pdf
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=57039
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=91273

    Response to the objections:
    http://philpapers.org/rec/GALART-3

    Comment by James — May 9, 2012 @ 10:07 pm | Reply

  14. forgive me for skipping all the comments and responses – it seemed tedious to find my point amongst them. I find that religion has always been used by a small educated and wealthy minority to keep the population under control, while the educated were killed or converted. it is only now that expert opinion exists outside the church, creating a disagreement. The uneducated believers have been surrounded on all sides by growing evidence of their own ignorance, but respond by creating a conspiracy against the church due to their unwavering loyalty.

    to say that educated people are needed by religion is to ignore the fact that intelligent people are less likely to follow orders and dogma. the ruling powers must be intelligent, while everyone else must stay as stupid and gullible as possible, all the while clinging to the false hope and comfort that is provided by their religion.

    Comment by superjesus — August 5, 2012 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

    • It is hard to say if the intellectuals genuinely agree with theism when they can be killed for disagreement. They accused Socrates of both worshiping the wrong gods and being an atheist. Not sure what the punishment is supposed to be for that in ancient Greece, but he was executed for whatever he was found guilty of.

      Comment by JW Gray — August 5, 2012 @ 9:06 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: