dimanche 30 janvier 2011

The Secular Outpost: science and religion

These points eviscerate theism1


Why believe or disbelieve in God. Wiithout evidence for His attributes of omniscience and such and His referents as Grand Miracle Monger, Grand Designer and so forth, we ignostics proclaim that no more than can a square circle, He cannot exist!
Let us lead an enlightening  discussion!

A confab with the faithful « Why Evolution Is True

jeudi 27 janvier 2011


Yes, know God = no God!

The Life You Can Save

We have strict criteria for recommending organizations to which you should give. We support the work being done by GiveWell, who have to date reviewed approximately 400 charities and have recommended only 13 of them. (Of these 13, 3 work only in the U.S., so only 10 have a focus on the world’s poorest people.) All of GiveWell’s highest ranking charities are recommended below (in ranking order):

A relatively small and young organization that aims to improve the logistics - particularly tracking and distribution of supplies - for health systems in rural areas in Africa. Top-rated by GiveWell. - donate to it

An international partnership that aims to increase access to life-saving tuberculosis treatment. GiveWell estimates it saves lives at a cost of less than $1000 each. - donate to it

Regarded by GiveWell as “extremely transparent”, the Against Malaria Foundation provides insecticide-treated nets (for protection against malaria) in bulk to nonprofits which then distribute them in Africa, saving infant lives at a cost of less than $1000 each. - donate to it

Population Services International promotes and distributes materials, particularly condoms and bednets, to save lives and improve health throughout the developing world. GiveWell estimates that it saves lives, and prevents HIV infection, at a cost of less than $1000 per life saved or HIV infection averted. - donate to it

Founded by Paul Farmer to assist his clinic treating the rural poor in Haiti, Partners in Health now also does similar work in other poor countries, and was rated by GiveWell as highly effective. - donate to it

SEF offers microloans in some of the poorest regions of South Africa. The loans go mostly to people who are very poor and there is evidence that they benefit from the loans. GiveWell was very impressed by its concern to collect information, evaluate its work, and be transparent. - donate to it

VEF is a relatively small organization that seeks to empower the rural poor in Africa by providing cash grants, usually of $150, to trained groups who apply for the grant to start a business. In 2010, VEF trained and funded about 2000 businesses. GiveWell praised VEF for its clear targeting of extremely poor clients and its commitment to evaluating the impact of its work. - donate to it

Chamroeun offers microloans in Cambodia. It has a strong focus on collecting the information necessary to assess its social impact. GiveWell ranked it above every other microfinance institution it has reviewed, except the Small Enterprise Foundation, for its commitment to self-evaluation. Its clients expressed a very high rate of satisfaction with the service provided to them. - donate to it

This is a very large fund designed to fight the above diseases, all major killers in poor countries. GiveWell comments: “GFATM's commitment to transparency is outstanding, and its activities are mostly proven and cost-effective.” - donate to it

10. Pratham

Pratham is a large Indian organization that runs a wide variety of programs aiming to improve education for children in India. Several aspects of its work have been assessed by the Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and have shown to have a positive impact. If you wish to support education in developing countries, no other organization has been evaluated as rigorously. - donate to it

For more details, please go to givewell.org.

You may also like to look at Toby Ord’s recommended charities on his website, www.givingwhatwecan.org. Like GiveWell, Ord recommends Stop TB Partnership and Against Malaria Foundation. He also recommends:

This organization also combats neglected tropical diseases, but in particular on the four that can be treated most cost-effectively. It is particularly strong on rigorous evaluation of its results.

This charity focuses on the seven most prevalent neglected tropical diseases, of which schistomiasis, a parasitical disease that is very widely spread in Asia, Africa and South America, is just one.

Deworm the World was developed following a series of rigorous impact evaluations showing its cost-effectiveness by Innovations for Poverty Action (a non-profit organization) and the Jameel-Poverty Action Lab (a center at MIT).

Both IPA and J-PAL create and evaluate solutions to social and development problems and work to promote the scale-up of successful ideas, such as chlorine dispensers, remedial education, commitment savings accounts and bed net distribution.

Innovations for Poverty Action has also created the Proven Impact Fund to direct attention and resources to interventions backed by evidence of their success. Proven approaches are identified based on the results of rigorous impact evaluation and currently include a variety of solutions to improve outcomes in education, finance and entrepreneurship, health, agriculture and water and sanitation. IPA withholds no overhead, so that as much money as possible goes to the organizations to do their work. You can support the research work of Innovations for Poverty Action, and scale-up of projects with proven impact here.

The fact that a charity does not get a recommendation from GiveWell, Giving What We Can, or Innovations for Poverty Action does not mean that your donation will not be effective. Rather, it means that your donation has not been demonstrated to be effective, to the satisfaction of either GiveWell, Giving What We Can, or Innovations for Poverty Action. Large and complex charities are especially difficult to evaluate, but we believe some work that cannot easily be evalutated may still deserve support. Hence here we list some organizations that we consider still deserve support.

Supports the extraordinary work done by Catherine Hamlin in Ethiopia to treat this obstetric injury that ruins the lives of young women but can easily be repaired by modern surgical techniques.

A $50 donation to this foundation can restore the sight of a person who could not otherwise afford the surgery.

This low-overhead organization works with a local group in India to provide sanitation services to some of India's urban poor.

Connects donors with community-based projects in all regions of the world. Not all are directed at reducing poverty, but there are many to choose from in this category.

For those who believe that there is no solution to poverty without direct efforts to reduce population growth.

Performs life-changing surgery for those with deformities and disabilities.

Jolkona works with partner organizations to find opportunities for you to make a low-cost, high-impact gift. The idea is to usher in a new era of giving, in which donors can get better feedback on the difference their gift is making, and charitable organizations can find a larger donor base.

Supports the Millennium Villages Project, led by Jeffrey Sachs, and designed to show that the Millennium Development Goals can be met in rural areas at a modest cost.

Led by former mountain climber Magda King, this organization helps people  in remote rural areas to build and run schools for children who would otherwise have no opportunity to get an education, and then assists those communities to become self- sufficient through sustainable development.

A microcredit organization of which GiveWell has a positive opinion.

Oxfam (originally the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) is one of the leading organizations combating poverty in developing countries. (Peter Singer donates much of what he gives to Oxfam.) Oxfam International is the umbrella organization for all the national Oxfams, which are listed separately below. To donate to Oxfam, if you live in one of the countries listed, contact your national Oxfam organization.
- Oxfam America
- Oxfam Australia
- Oxfam-in-Belgium
- Oxfam Canada
- Oxfam France - Agir ici
- Oxfam Germany
- Oxfam GB
- Oxfam Hong Kong
- Oxfam India
- Oxfam Ireland
- Oxfam México
- Oxfam New Zealand
- Oxfam Novib Netherlands
- Oxfam Québec
- Intermón Oxfam Spain

Provides books, libraries, schools and scholarships to children who would otherwise not be able to read or go to school.

The Hunger Project encourages poor people in rural areas to believe in their own capacity to work their way out of poverty. It assists a villaqe for five years, by which time the local people should be able to sustain themselves, and then moves to another area to repeat the process. Currently engaged in extensive outside evaluation of some of its projects.

For those who see the campaign against corruption as crucial to the fight against poverty, this is an organization to support.

The United Nations Childrens Emergency Fund does anti-poverty worked aimed at children in many developing countries. It has offices in more than 30 countries. For the full list, please click here.

Providing for the treatment of fistula in poor African countries, the Fund estimates that it costs about $450 for surgery that will restore the hopes of a young woman who without the surgery would have a miserable existence in front of her.

Provides funds for self-supporting sustainable food projects and safe drinking water, in ways that do not exploit animals or the environment.

We're open to listing other organizations, if we have sufficient evidence that they are effective. Here you can find organizations suggested by visitors to this website - feel free to add your vote for or against those listed, comment on them or add one you favour and don’t see there.

Join Dr.Peter Singer to alleviate extreme poverty and practice the planetary ethic of Dr.Paul Kurtz,p;ease!

The Life You Can Save

The Life You Can Save

mardi 25 janvier 2011

CSI | The Belief Engine

CSI The Belief Engine

Debunking Christianity

Check out this website I found at debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com

Christinsanity, Muhammad's Fits, Moses's Follu [ no Moses!]

Why we believe what we believe | Digital Bits Skeptic

Digital Bits Skeptic

Why we believe what we believe

2008 March 15

By Science, Reason & Rationality
Article ID: 1211

Let’s go back through time. Remember when you were a child, when your parents or guardians introduced you to a certain belief system. Do you remember your reaction? Was there no reaction at all? It probably seemed like another daily lesson or some kind of extra education from the adults.

Children are information absorbing machines. Their minds are fresh and ready to download new information: good, bad, reality, fantasy, you name it. How children are programmed depends on what their parents think is best for them. Science, reason and rationality may not be the most important thing. The child’s morals, ethics, beliefs, values and everything else are those of their parents. They’re like a brand new computer, eager and waiting to download new programs. This brand new computer – this young innocent child – was every one of us.

Today, we as adults have many beliefs. They’re based on what we think is right as defined by our parents. Some of us grew out of this unquestioned trust in authority. Many more of us have not. My focus is more on religious beliefs and the supernatural because these have caused more problems and differences in the world than any other kinds of beliefs.

Imagine your parents had a different belief system than they do now. What religion or belief system do you think you would have today, defending it to the death? It’s quite obvious: your parents’ belief system came from their parents, who got their beliefs from their parents, who got their beliefs from their parents, who got their beliefs from their parents and so on, going backwards in time to the originator of the belief.

How do we know the originator (the god, holy prophet, holy book or creation legend) of a belief system is real? If it is real, how do you know the facts surrounding it are true? Is  something true because a scripture or a book says so? Is something true because my mom and dad say so? Is something true because my minister, priest or rabbi says so? Is this enough for you to accept a belief without the need to further inquire or investigate?

If your answer to any of the above questions is “yes”, then you should understand why people believe what they believe, why you believe what you believe, and why people don’t believe your beliefs and why you don’t believe their beliefs. Make sense?

How many of you have ever questioned your parents and the belief system they’ve uploaded into your brain? How many of you questioned, but were instead threatened with punishment? How many of you wanted to question, but since you got bribed with additional rewards for obeying, you just let it go?

Children grow up in their parents’ belief system, and repeat the same cycle with their own children, claiming that their own belief system is the right one. This is the only “Universal Truth”: all religion and belief systems proclaim, “WE’RE RIGHT! EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG! WE’RE BETTER THAN YOU!”

You also have problems and differences within a same religion because of this kind of thinking. Thus, several denominations pop up everywhere like mushrooms, each claiming their way is the “right way” and the one and only “true way”. For example, the Catholic Church may say they are the one true church guided by the Holy Spirit, while the Protestant Church are guided by an Evil Spirit. The Protestant Church may say the same thing about the Catholic Church. Currently there are 38,000 Protestant Christian denominations and growing, each claiming their church is the one “true church” guided by the Holy Spirit, and the others are simply lost because they are under the influence of Evil Spirits.

Poor critical thinking skill leads to pre-determined answers

Some people haven’t developed healthy critical thinking skills: after they grow up, they are still as credulous as children. Though children start life as information absorbers, they shouldn’t remain as one. They should receive lessons from adults on how to grow up as inquirers. Only then can they become a new generation of adults who will enlighten their children to become inquirers as well, instead of being absorbers forever.

“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.” ~ Bertrand Russell

Most people think they already have the answer to something. That’s how their parents taught them to think during early childhood. This is the wrong approach to find the truth. You can’t start with an answer or a conclusion, and work backwards to find facts and evidence to support it. By doing so, you put yourself in a deluded position: you’ll only be interested in evidence confirming your pre-determined belief. So, you start picking and choosing what supports your position while rejecting the rest that goes against your position. If something supports your position, you’ll be quick to accept it, though it could be wrong, misinformed or misinterpreted. And if something doesn’t support your position, you reject it, ignore it, or even go to the point of attacking it further. There is no interest to inquire, or to have a healthy and honest debate.

“Do you believe in God?” is not a simple question

There is a funny thing about religious practitioners. They may ask, “Do you believe in God?” If your answer is no, they condemn you! If your answer is yes, the next question from them may be, “Which God do you believe in?” If your answer is any other God but theirs, they will still condemn you! It’s not just a matter of whether you believe in a God, but it’s a matter of whether you believe in MY God.

“I contend we are both Atheists, I just believe in one fewer God than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible Gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” ~ Stephen F. Roberts

I have been a participant in numerous debates in the past with believers of religion and the supernatural. When there are no more excuses to give, my opponent then says they simply don’t care no matter how much evidence I have given them, they still want to believe. They still keep their faith even though I just spent the week providing evidence that their religious scriptures have too many contradictions and errors in order to be taken seriously. Some say, “So what if the scripture is faulty, that doesn’t mean God, angels and demons don’t exist!” I get similar responses from those who believe in ghosts and the supernatural.

Other than their childhood brainwashing, what keeps people believing in such things? Why else are people so credulous?

I leave you with videos of neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, the author of “Why we believe what we believe”. He explains why people could so easily believe in God(s) and the supernatural. This gives a better understanding why people can believe in God and the supernatural with limited or no evidence.

Andrew Newberg, MD., on God, reality and everything in-between:

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God of the Gaps 1 of 2:

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God of the Gaps 2 of 2:

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This video was created by a YouTube member who explains what “God of the gaps” means:

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“Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing, yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen! If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.” ~ Dan Barker

Finally, see the videos below – from the original author, they are the video version of this same article:

Part 1 of 4:

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Part 2 of 4:

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Part 3 of 4:

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Part 4 of 4:

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Why we believe what we believe | Digital Bits Skeptic

Why we believe what we believe Digital Bits Skeptic

Evolutionary science and creationism: A skeptical response to Duane Gish’s “Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics” | Digital Bits Skeptic

Evolutionary science and creationism: A skeptical response to Duane Gish’s “Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics” Digital Bits Skeptic

Evolutionary science and creationism: A skeptical response to Duane Gish’s “Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics” | Digital Bits Skeptic

Digital Bits Skeptic

Evolutionary science and creationism: A skeptical response to Duane Gish’s “Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics”

2008 November 2

Podcast: Download

By Matthew Green
Article ID: 1258

Controversy over creation and evolution persists. For most secularists, the battle was won long ago. It began with the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and the ensuing debates between Darwin’s defenders and his opponents. Creationism persists today for a simple reason: fundamentalism persists today. Creationism is nothing more than Christian apologetics attempting to validate the historical inerrancy of the creation accounts of the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Genesis. Creation “scientists” such as the late Henry Morris, Duane Gish, Jonathan Sarfati, and others use whatever “facts” to support Genesis, while rationalizing away anything to the contrary as a result of sloppy thinking or dishonest ulterior motives. They say that skeptics have more to do with “misotheism” (hatred of gods) or “compromise” than with honest scientific objectivity. These creationists believe that skepticism or disbelief is more from a desire to avoid a “relationship” with Jesus Christ and an existential involvement with the gospel. These pathetic attempts to construct a “science” out of creationism are attempts to present Christianity as intellectually respectable to the modern world. This ensures that the gospel isn’t dismissed out of hand by a more educated public. What it all comes down to is evangelism. Apologists are doing what they can to make the Bible look scientifically inerrant so they can have an easier time convincing people to become Christians.

This article shows that:

1) Creationists use Karl Popper’s universally accepted concept of “falsifiability” as a valid criterion for what constitutes a scientific theory.

2) Creationists do not seem to realize that evolution meets this criterion.

3) Creationists cannot pass this criterion on theological grounds because it is inconsistent with the nature of the Christian God.

Karl Popper’s criterion of “falsifiability”

Karl Popper was a science philosopher who proposed the criterion of “falsifiability” as a necessary ingredient of science. Falsifiability means that that an assertion can be proven false by observation or experiment.

This is the biggest criterion used to demarcate authentic science from pseudoscience. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says this about Popper’s criterion of “falsifiability”:

“It is easy, [Popper] argues, to obtain evidence in favour of virtually any theory, and he consequently holds that such ‘corroboration’ … should count scientifically only if it is the positive result of a … prediction, which might conceivably have been false. For Popper, a theory is scientific only if it is refutable… Every genuine test of a scientific theory, then, is logically an attempt to refute or to falsify it, and one genuine counter-instance falsifies the whole theory. …In a word, an exception, far from ‘proving’ a rule, conclusively refutes it.

Every genuine scientific theory then, in Popper’s view, is prohibitive, in the sense that it forbids … particular events or occurrences. As such it can be tested and falsified, but never logically verified. Thus Popper stresses that it should not be inferred from the fact that a theory has withstood [testing and has been verified]; rather we should recognize that such a theory has received a high measure of corroboration and [is] the best available theory until it is finally falsified … or is superseded by a better theory.”

So the hallmark of a genuine scientific theory is “falsifiability”. It has to be capable of being refuted or falsified in order to truly qualify as a scientific theory. A theory is scientific only if it is refutable. This can be an observation, an experiment, or any other empirical test that can decisively refute it. Theories cannot be verified but they can be refuted and the failure of experiments, observations, or any other empirical test gives scientists greater confidence that the hypothesis or theory is, in fact, true.

Creationists accept this criterion as well. But they do so at a fatal cost.

Creationists accept Popper’s criterion of “falsifiability”

Creationists accept Popper’s criterion of “falsifiability”. A particularly excellent example of a creationist book which accepts falsifiability is Duane Gish’s Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics. Here Gish describes how he considers science. He writes on page 32:

“What is science? Loosely defined, one could say that science is what a scientist is doing when he is thinking. Of course, science, properly defined, would exclude much of the thinking done by scientists. Strictly defined, empirical science is our attempt to observe, understand, and explain events, processes, and properties that are repeatedly observable. On the basis of such theories predictions can be made concerning related natural phenomena or future natural events. Thus, experiments can be conceived and performed to test the theory and which may possibly show that the theory is wrong, if it is wrong. This property of potential falsification is an important element of a true scientific theory.”

Thus Gish accepts Popper’s criterion of falsifiability. But Gish feels that it’s necessary to distinguish between “operational science” and “historical science”. Gish writes on pages 32-33:

“Theories about origins, whether creation or evolution theories, are of necessity basically very different from empirical scientific theories. There were no human witnesses to the origin of the universe, to the origin of life, to the origin of a single living thing. These events were unique, unrepeatable, historical events which happened in the past. No one has ever seen a worm, a fish, or a man created. Neither has anyone ever seen a fish evolve into an amphibian or an ape evolve into a man. Furthermore, one cannot go into the laboratory and test a theory on how a fish might have evolved into an amphibian or how an ape might have evolved into a man. Creation and evolution are inferences based upon circumstantial evidence. They are attempts to explain events which have taken place in the past. Evolution theories do attempt to employ processes still acting today to explain how evolution may have occurred, but the time spans required to see if such ideas are correct involve tens of thousands of years, even millions of years, so no test of the theories is possible.”

On pages 34-35, Gish says:

“…it seems difficult, if not impossible to conceive of an observation or an experiment that could ultimately falsify the general concept of special creation. The details of the general concept can always be modified to accommodate new facts. We hasten to add that precisely the same can be said to be true of the general model … of evolution.”

Gish feels the need to call both creation and evolution “models” and feels that because of evolution’s time scale, it isn’t science. Yet Gish feels that both are testable, at least indirectly. It’s impossible to test the general concepts of creation and evolution directly, but each do have subsidiary hypotheses which can be tested directly. Gish fully accepts falsifiability as a criterion of science. Gish even seems to accept that creationism is scientific. He writes:

“Creation scientists maintain that modern science does enhance Genesis 1 by providing positive supporting physical evidence for creation.” (Page 230)

“One of the most important criteria of a scientific theory is the ability, on the basis of the theory, to predict the results of experimental tests, or what may occur in the future.” (Page 232)

So Gish accepts that falsifiability is a criterion of science and thinks that science supports the creation stories of Genesis by providing physical evidence for creation. But is Gish right? Is creationism a scientific concept even if it cannot be empirically tested? The answer is a resounding no.

Evolution is Fully Scientific

Our biological theory of evolution is fully scientific. Gish thinks that because evolution involves vast time scales, it cannot be tested and isn’t directly scientific. This is false. Scientific theories are both predictive and retrodictive. Scientific theories make predictions about what will occur in the future. They also make retrodictions, or what we should infer about the present if something happened in the past. Evolution is a scientific theory because it makes both predictions and retrodictions. Evolution’s grand prediction is explained by paleontologist Niles Eldredge. In his excellent book The Triumph of Evolution: and the Failure of Creationism, Eldredge discusses the scientific nature of evolution and its predictive power. He writes:

“Creationists are fond of pointing to the obvious fact that events that happened in the past are not subject to experimental verification or falsification, or to direct observation. After all, goes the creationist cry, no one was there at the beginning of the Cambrian Period to witness firsthand the supposed initial burst of evolutionary activity leading to the rapid evolution of complex animal life. How can we study something scientifically that has already happened? Creationists also note that few reputable biologists seem willing to predict what will happen next in evolution. And after all, says the creationist, if evolution is truly a scientific theory, it must be predictive- in the narrow sense of “making statements about what the future will hold”… According to this creationist interpretation of science, that biologists neither can nor will predict the evolutionary future is strong evidence that the very idea of evolution isn’t really scientific at all.

All this fancy rhetoric beclouds the simple meaning of ‘predictivity’ in science. All that ‘predictivity’ really means is that if an idea is true, there should be certain consequences-certain phenomena that we would expect – predict - to find if we looked. We should be able to go to nature-to the physical, material world – to see whether or not these predicted phenomena are really there. So in this spirit, we simply ask, if the basic idea is correct that all organisms past and present are interrelated by a process of ancestry and descent that we call evolution, what should we expect to find in the real world as a consequence? These observable consequences are the predictions we should be making – not guesses about the future.

Prediction 1: The very idea of evolution – descent with modification – implies that some species are more closely related to each other than they are to more distant relatives. Therefore, we would predict that the living world is organized into groupings of closely similar species that are in turn parts of larger groups of more distant relatives that share fewer similarities, that are in turn parts of still larger groups with definite, if fewer, similarities. Eventually, the largest grouping of all – all of life - should be united by the shared possession of one or more characteristics. In other words, if evolution is true, the living world should be organized in a hierarchical fashion of groups within groups – a direct reflection of how closely related to one another each organism is.” (Pages 25-26)

So, according to Eldredge, living organisms can be arranged into groups within groups within groups, until all of life can be organized hierarchically into one major group, with subgroups and subgroups, down to the species level and lower. Eldredge is right that this is a prediction of evolution but he could’ve gone further. A hierarchical grouping of organisms forms a nested hierarchy and a nested hierarchy is exactly what evolution predicts. This is not just a prediction of evolution but it’s also a retrodiction of evolution. If evolution happened in history, then a nested hierarchy is what we should expect to observe in the present. This is evolution’s grand retrodiction. If evolution is happening now, then we should expect to observe a nested hierarchy in the future.

Eldredge continues with his discussion of the predictive nature of evolution:

“In a very real sense, this prediction was discovered to hold true long before the idea of evolution was commonly accepted as the explanation for how the living world is organized. For at least a century before Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, in 1859, biologists had recognized that life is organized into distinct groupings arranged in a natural, hierarchical fashion. The famous Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne (1707-1778) – more familiarly known simply as Linnaeus – established a natural system, before the idea of evolution had been generally accepted. (Linnaeus, like most other biologists before Darwin, was himself a creationist). Linnaeus saw natural groupings of different kinds of plants within his Kingdom Plantae, and of different kinds of animals within his Kingdom Animalia. Biologists since Linnaeus’ time have greatly refined his work, cataloguing hundreds of thousands of additional species and adding to the categories of Linnaeus’s original classification scheme, but the basic hierarchical structure of Linnaeus’s scheme remains, as it is simply a reflection of how biological nature is organized. Darwin came along and simply showed why the Linnean hierarchy exists- why it must be there if life has evolved. The Linnaean hierarchy, even though its rudiments were recognized almost a century before Darwin’s epochal book, is a necessary consequence – a prediction - of what the structure of the living world must look like if all of life has descended from a single common ancestor.

Let’s look at this prediction from a different perspective-literally from the bottom up: Because there are a lot of differences between, say, bacteria, pine trees, rats, and humans, if evolution has actually happened, it must be the case that as new species arose from old, changes in the genetic, anatomical, and behavioral properties or organisms appeared from time to time. Later descendents would inherit these changes, while ancestors (whether survivors to the present, or found as fossils) would, of course, lack these new features. Because there are millions of species on the planet, we know that if evolution has occurred, there must be a process of lineage splitting – diversification – going on. There more recent the evolutionary diversification, the more similarities ought to be shared by organisms.” (Pages 26-27)

Elredge acknowledges that the Linnaean hierarchy existed before Darwin’s time, but Darwin explained why the hierarchy exists. But Elredge can go further though and argue that evolution both predicts and retrodicts a nested hierarchy. If evolution happened in the course of earth history, then a nested hierarchy of living organisms is what we should expect to see as a consequence today. If evolution is happening right now, then a nested hierarchy is what we should expect to observe in the future. If we could travel to the past, say, to the Cambrian period, and observe the living organisms present as well as the processes underlying evolutionary change, we could make a prediction about what scientists would be able to observe in the 21st century: a nested hierarchy. Living as we do in the 21st century, a nested hierarchy is exactly what we do find. And when evolution happens today, a nested hierarchy – changed because of the evolution of new species – will exist in the future. Scientists will be able to observe and categorize all living organisms into one hierarchy.

Another book by Elredge, The Triumph of Evolution: and the Failure of Creationism is an updated version of his earlier book The Monkey Business: A Scientist looks at Creationism.

Duane Gish, in his book Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics makes a weak attempt to answer Elredge. Gish writes:

“The history of biology, however, flatly contradicts Elredge’s story. The fact that living organisms can be arranged into a hierarchy consisting of nested groups was known long before the time of Darwin, long before his theory of evolution had been spawned. The modern system of taxonomy, which groups organisms into species, genera, families, orders, classes, and phyla, was devised by Carolus Linnaeus, whose work preceded the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species by 100 years. How can one say that this was a prediction of evolutionary theory, when it was commonly known 100 years before Darwinism burst upon the scene?” (Page 234)

Gish doesn’t realize that most scientific theories make both predictions and retrodictions. Just because the nested hierarchy was discovered a century or so before Darwin’s publication of The Origin doesn’t mean that a nested hierarchy is not a consequence of evolution. Consider for instance the theory of “plate tectonics“. Plate tectonics was proposed as a theory about how to explain why the continents move. That the continents once fitted together was proposed as a serious theory by Alfred Wegener in 1915 with his publication of The Origins of Continents and Oceans.

The notion of a jigsaw-puzzle-like fit of all the continents had been noted before Wegener but Wegener was the first to provide observations and arguments in favor of this fit of the continents and their subsequent separation. Wegener documented significant climatological and fossil evidence in favor of the concept. But scientists didn’t take his theory seriously because Wegener had not proposed a plausible mechanism for why “continental drift” was supposed to have occurred. It wasn’t until decades later that a scientific mechanism was proposed by Harry Hess, that of seafloor spreading. The Atlantic Ocean, it was proposed, is expanding and the Pacific Ocean is shrinking. Old oceanic crust is consumed in the trenches; new magma rises and cools off to form new crust. This theory of plate tectonics makes both predictions and retrodictions. It makes the retrodiction that all of the continents were once fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. It makes the retrodiction that in the past, the Atlantic Ocean was smaller and the Pacific Ocean was bigger. It makes the prediction that continents are moving apart, the Atlantic Ocean is expanding outward, and the Pacific Ocean’s area is shrinking.

Gish’s argument that the classification hierarchy does not support the notion of evolution is like arguing that because Alfred Wegener and others before him proposed that the continents fit together in a jigsaw puzzle-like fashion, then this provides no support for the modern theory of plate tectonics. Scientific theories both predict and retrodict; plate tectonics retrodicts the jigsaw puzzle-like fit of the continents and evolution retrodicts the existence of a hierarchical grouping of living organisms. Plate tectonics predicts that the seafloor spreading will continue, the Atlantic Ocean’s size will expand and the Pacific Ocean will shrink. Likewise, as evolution continues, it predicts that new species will evolve, other species will go extinct, and the nested hierarchy will change over time.

Another example comes to mind of a scientific theory that both predicts and retrodicts: atomic theory. Modern atomic theory is informed by quantum mechanics, studies in radioactive decay, and other experiments on the nature of light. All of modern chemistry is based upon modern atomic theory. In chemistry, we learn about two kinds of compounds: ionic and molecular. Ionic compounds such as sodium chloride have an ionic chemical bond between the two elements. Molecular compounds (like water) have covalent chemical bonds. Modern atomic theory both predicts and retrodicts that water will always have the same chemical formula, H2O. All water found in earth’s history and in the far reaches of space will all have this chemical formula, and the chemical bonds between the oxygen and hydrogen atoms will always be a covalent chemical bond. As long as water existed in the past, modern atomic theory retrodicts that all molecules of water have involved covalent chemical bonds between one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms. The existence of liquid water in the future will always have covalent chemical bonds between one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. Scientific theories like modern atomic theories, plate tectonics, and evolution all make predictions and retrodictions.

Creationists are wrong to try to separate “empirical” science from “origins” science. Modern scientists see no reason to make such a distinction. Making creationism and evolution methodologically equivalent is a dishonest ploy by creationists. If evolution is scientific, they argue, then so is creationism. If creationism is unscientific, then so is evolution. But this ignores a key fact: creationism, while making “retrodictions”, does not make predictions. Assume a creator does exist and has acted in the past by creating life forms. This creator has a will and isn’t a slave to any law that says that it must periodically create new life forms. Nor are such acts observable by any scientific means. Creationism doesn’t predict, for example, a new living organism will be created at a given time in the future. A creator isn’t bound to any repeatable and predictable action. No creator’s action can be found upon which scientists can observe, measure, and perform experiments.

Creationism fails on another ground. Whether as “operational science” or as “origins science”, arguing that creationism is falsifiable in any sense is to pose a serious theological problem from which creationists cannot escape.

Falsifiability and the problem of God’s honesty

Most creationists are Christians of one stripe or another. As Christians, particularly fundamentalists, they believe that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God. They believe that God is perfect and cannot err. God is a morally perfect and morally necessary being. God, according to the Bible, cannot do anything wrong. If God could do wrong but simply chooses not to, God would be a morally contingent being like us. Human beings are “morally contingent” or “morally imperfect” beings: we can do wrong if we so choose. God cannot do wrong even if he wanted to. Christians argue that he cannot even desire to do wrong. This definitely has support from the Bible. There are numerous passages in the Bible which lend support to this view of God as morally perfect and necessary. Consider, for instance, Hebrews 6:18:

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.”

The New Testament epistle of James 1:13 says the following:

“When tempted, no one should say ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”

These two passages lend support to the concept of moral perfection or moral necessity. Moral perfection and necessity is a required attribute of God. God cannot lie. God cannot be tempted. It’s not the case that God could be tempted to do evil but simply resists the temptation. No, it’s impossible for God to lie, impossible for him to be tempted by evil to do evil. It’s impossible for him to do anything wrong. This is because God is a morally perfect being. Christians gladly agree with the following but may have trouble understanding the problem this poses for trying to make creationism scientific in any sense. The reason should be obvious by now: if God says he created the heavens and earth in six days (Exodus 20:11), then it is true. It cannot be false. So if Exodus 20:11 affirms that the Genesis story is meant to be taken literally, then to suggest that creationism is scientific is to suggest that creationism can be falsified. If creationism can be tested and is capable of being refuted, this suggests that creationism is only probably true, not necessarily true. To suggest that creationism (and the Genesis creation story) is capable of being tested and refuted by science is to suggest that it’s possible that God lied. If creationism can be tested scientifically in any sense is to suggest that creation is possibly false but in all likelihood true. By trying to subject the creation stories of Genesis to scientific testing (and making them potentially falsifiable), creation “science” makes it possible for the Christian God to be a liar. According to Hebrews 6:18, it is impossible for God to lie. So which is it? Is it impossible for God to lie, thereby making creationism unscientific on theological grounds, or do creationists make creationism “scientific”, thereby refuting the theological truth that their God is morally perfect? In other words, if creationism is scientific, then Hebrews 6:18 is in error, the Bible is not the inspired word of God, and the Christian God as popularly defined doesn’t exist.


Evolution is a scientific theory. Scientific theories depend on Karl Popper’s criterion of falsifiability to qualify. As quotes from Duane Gish’s book demonstrate, even creationists accept this. Scientific theories such as the theory of evolution, the theory of plate tectonics, and modern atomic theory are both predictive and retrodictive. Evolution both predicts and retrodicts a nested hierarchy and the predictions and retrodictions will be observed. Creationists like Gish argue that origin theories are not empirically scientific but are capable of being falsified. Empirical scientific theories are directly falsifiable because they make predictions.

But making creationism scientific runs into seriously fatal theological problems. New Testament verses like Hebrews 6:18 lend support to God being a morally necessary being. God cannot lie. It’s not the case that God could lie if he wanted to but simply chooses not to; no, God cannot lie being a morally perfect being. This runs into problems with trying to make creationism sound scientific as making creationism scientific in any way refutes the notion that God cannot lie and is morally necessary. But if God is a morally perfect being and told the truth in Exodus 20:11, then the creation story of Genesis one is a necessary truth and cannot be false, and cannot be falsified. To be subjected to scientific testing is to suggest that it can be falsified. If creationism is scientific, then creationism, contrary to biblical doctrines about God, is capable of being false and it’s perfectly possible that God lied but probably told the truth because it’s possible that creationism is false but in all likelihood true. If creationism is scientific, then that refutes the moral perfection of God, and therefore the Bible cannot be inspired, and therefore the Christian God doesn’t exist.

Evolution wins not just because the evidence supports it, but because the attempt to make creationism look “scientific” is a tactic that backfires on creationists who use it.

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Other articles related to this topic:

2008 November 2
Immanuel Zorg permalink

I like the “broken logic” loop. That’s a new concept to me.

2008 November 6
Sandra H permalink

Great article! It took a tact I hadn’t heard of before – that god is lying. You just can’t beat that horse dead enough for creationists.

Comments are closed for this entry.

dimanche 23 janvier 2011

Carneades: Edge: 36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD —  By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

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Let's build up an excellent discussion of arguments about God! What do you opine about these and their refutations?
Show you high-mindedness!

mardi 18 janvier 2011

Thank You Jesus!

Thank You Jesus!

Paul K. Moser - The Evidence For God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined - Reviewed by Thomas D. Senor, The University of Arkansas - Philosophical Reviews - University of Notre Dame


Paul K. Moser

The Evidence For God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined

Paul K. Moser, The Evidence For God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined, Cambridge University Press, 2010, 280pp., $25.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780521736282.

Reviewed by Thomas D. Senor, The University of Arkansas

Taking up where 2008's The Elusive God left off, The Evidence for God is Paul Moser's second book in his attempt to reorient religious epistemology. As with the earlier volume, The Evidence for God is daring and provocative. Among the important topics it deals with are naturalism, fideism, natural theology, and the role that volition plays in our ascertaining evidence of God's existence.

The book begins with a parable around which the entire monograph revolves. Imagine that you are hiking in a vast and remote wilderness area that is accessible only to hikers. To your great dismay, you discover that you are hopelessly lost: you have no method of determining either your exact location or a promising route back to civilization. The woods are filled with dangers (e.g., poisonous snakes, hungry carnivores, and potentially freezing temperatures) and you have no means of communication with the outside world. Worse still, you have only a meager supply of food and water. You've had one bit of good fortune: you've come across an old, dilapidated shack that contains a barely functional ham radio. The battery in the radio still has a bit of juice, although you doubt it will last long once the radio is turned on. In short, your situation is dire but not hopeless. What is your best bet for survival?

According to Moser, what is needed is a trustworthy guide. Merely finding maps won't get you out of your predicament since you don't know how to place yourself on them -- you don't know where you are. To increase the chances of success, the guide should be capable of interacting with you as you are making your way out of the wilderness since you will likely make a wrong turn somewhere and you'll need to be put straight.

Given your predicament, Moser claims, you've got four primary options.

Option 1: Despairing

Seeing the hard road in front of you with at best a chance of rescue, you might just decide to give up. To do this is to be a practical atheist regarding a rescuer.

Option 2: Passively Waiting

Another option is not to give up hope but to stay put and simply wait for rescue. You could just bide your time and hope to be discovered. Being reasonable, you don't believe you'll be saved but you don't disbelieve either. As such, you become a practical agnostic about a rescuer.

Option 3: Leaping

The leaping option involves picking a path or direction, following it, and hoping for the best. One might focus on the goods involved in following a trail that other hikers have trod rather than on the result of rescue. In any event, the key here is action without evidence that the action will lead to the ultimate, desired end. Moser calls one who leaps a "practical fideist."

Option 4: Discerning Evidence

As opposed to the first three options, the fourth involves rationing the available food supply and taking a hard, rational look at your situation. Within the "discerning evidence" camp, two rather different approaches may be detected:

1. Purpose-neutral discerning of evidence: look for evidence of how to best find rescue that doesn't involve or presuppose the purposes of any potential rescuer.

2. Telic discerning of evidence: look for evidence that seems purposive. For example, whereas purpose-neutral evidence might be the shapes, lines, and textures of a map of the region, telic evidence would be markings on the map by an agent with an intention to guide the lost to safety.

Moser's idea is this: humanity is lost in a figurative wilderness: here's how Moser puts it:

we all face the prospect of ultimate physical death and social breakdown. From the perspective of our species overall, our food and water supplies are threateningly low, with little hope of being adequately replenished. On many fronts, our relationships with one another are unraveling, and have resulted in selfish factions and fights. The factions and fights often involve race, religion, nationality, or economic class but they sometimes cut across familiar lines. Selfishness transcends common categories, always, of course, for the sake of selfishness. We have become willing even to sacrifice the minimal well-being of others for our own selfish ends. As a result, economic injustices abound among us, wherever a sizeable group resides. Accordingly, genuine community has broken down on various fronts, and, in the absence of a rescuer, we shall all soon perish, whether rich or poor. (12-13)

The possibility of a rescuer for humanity depends on the possibility of a being both capable and willing to save us. The primary matter of the book is to "use the wilderness parable to examine, without needless abstraction, the main approaches to knowledge of God's existence" (15).

The approaches that Moser discusses are four: nontheistic naturalism, fideism, natural theology, and his preferred "personifying evidence of God" model. Having argued against the primary claims of the former perspectives and delineating his own position, Moser concludes the book with a chapter on potential defeaters, and in particular examines the epistemic impact of religious pluralism. In what follows, I'll sketch his discussion of each of these chapters and take issue with a couple points along the way.

Chapter 1 undertakes to examine whether appeals to the findings and nature of science undermine the rationality of belief in God. If naturalism is true, and if what it is for an object to be natural is for it to be (in principle) understandable via empirical science, then there is clearly no God, traditionally conceived. But why should we think that metaphysical naturalism is true? Whether or not there are good arguments for naturalism, empirical science itself would not seem to provide them.

Furthermore, Moser argues that a thorough-going naturalism would demand that purposive explanation (i.e., explanation that appeals to the intentions or purposes of agents) be eliminated, reduced, or somehow shown to be accounted for by non-intentional, non-purposive explanations. Yet the prima facie plausibility (indeed, ubiquity) of intentional explanation makes it very hard to see how to do without it; and no good reductions are yet on the table.

Moser concludes Chapter 1 with a dilemma for what he calls "Core Scientism," which is roughly the dual claim that every real entity knowable via (a completed) science, and every epistemically acceptable way of forming and revising beliefs, is grounded in the objects acknowledged by and the methods of (a completed) science. Either Core Scientism is itself not included in the sciences or its justification depends on a proper understanding of the nature of "empirical science." If the former, then the thesis is self-defeating for it asserts that only that which is knowable or justified via science is epistemically acceptable and yet it fails to meet this condition. If the latter, then it is being laid down simply as a desideratum of the proper understanding of "empirical science," in which case it is simply stipulative and innocuous.

Moser concludes that the empirical sciences and the epistemology they employ are barriers neither to the existence of non-natural entities (e.g., God) nor to the possibility of reasonable belief about them.

In Chapter 2, Moser turns his attention in a radically different direction. If the first chapter represents the pessimism of the lost hiker who thinks there is no hope of rescue and resigns himself to his fate, the second chapter focuses on the one whose hope manifests itself in blind action. The fideist is the believer who eschews evidence and who emphasizes the importance of faith as opposed to knowledge or even justified belief. Søren Kierkegaard is the primary example that Moser offers but he also includes Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth in the fideistic camp. The fideist believes not just that it is in some important sense permissible for the believer to lack supporting evidence for the existence of God but that true faith requires an existential leap from a springboard other than a solid evidential base. The subjectivity of religious devotion requires a lack of objectivity; arguments and reason are the source of the objectivity that is rejected by faith.

Why is there conflict between faith and reason? Moser proposes that, at least for Kierkegaard, it is the content of faith that produces the tension. Faith, or at least Christian faith, is incompatible with well-grounded belief because what is believed is "inherently paradoxical, contradictory, or absurd." (101) Moser takes Kierkegaard at his word when he uses this kind of language and thinks that Kierkegaard takes the faith that he holds to be necessarily false. So the picture Moser paints of fideism is not simply the claim that religious belief without evidence is morally or epistemically or religiously appropriate, but rather the much stronger claim that reason can't have anything to do with Christian faith since the latter is contradictory (because the doctrine of the Incarnation is contradictory) and hence necessarily false.

Moser contrasts the fideistic view of faith with what he labels "Christian faith." In the second half of this chapter, and in much of the last two-thirds of the book, the discussion leans heavily in the direction of biblical exegesis rather than analytic philosophy. This is never more true than with respect to Moser's presentation of his preferred view of faith. According to Moser, the Christian view of faith is, essentially, "a willing, obedient entrustment to God that involves one's motivational heart and that therefore is inherently action oriented" (105). In calling people to faith, God seeks not only to move us cognitively and emotionally, but volitionally as well. When the believer entrusts herself to God, God works cooperatively with her to transform her from the default position of selfishness to being an expression of God's perfect love. Thus, while there is a doxastic component to faith, there is also a crucial volitional component.

The fideism chapter includes a discussion of Alvin Plantinga's Reformed epistemology, which Moser includes under the more general category of "argument-indifferent theism." Moser finds a number of things not to like in Plantinga's epistemology of religious belief. He objects that on Plantinga's view, belief in the specific claims of Christianity is "caused" by the Holy Spirit and that this is inconsistent with the New Testament perspective that faith is a gift freely offered to all who have the ability to freely accept or reject it. However, the main difficulty that Moser has with Plantinga's view is simply that it is an instance of argument-indifferent theism, and thus it does not require that the believer possess "a trustworthy truth indicator for a belief" (140).

In the end, Moser rejects fideism because he understands it to recommend an arbitrary and, in the case of the Kierkegaardian view, contradictory faith. In keeping with the guiding metaphor of the book, the best chance of getting out of the woods is not by blindly choosing a path (particularly if you can tell immediately that the path goes nowhere!) but instead by finding trustworthy evidence that the selected route will lead to safety.

Chapter 3 takes on the epistemic significance of natural theology. Moser begins the chapter with a discussion leading to the claim that God's goal is to call people into a non-coercive relationship with God that will lead to the moral development and transformation of those who heed the call. The primary problems that Moser has with natural theology are two. First, the arguments fall short of arguing for a perfectly loving God. Cosmological arguments might lead to a first cause or ultimate explanation and teleological arguments might secure intelligence, but neither of these forms of reasoning can support the claim that the intelligent cause of the universe is a perfectly loving God. Moser thinks the ontological argument fails for reasons we don't have the space to discuss. But even if it didn't have the flaw that Moser cites, he still thinks it wouldn't be adequate since the concept involved

is static in a way that the personally interactive occurrent evidence of the presence and the reality of the Jewish and Christian God is not. In particular, the evidence consisting of the content of a concept of God is not personally variable relative to the wills of humans toward God and God's will. As a result, the evidence offered in ontological arguments fails to fit with the personally interactive divine self-revelation that involves God's intermittent hiding and seeking relative to humans. (157-158)

The trouble with the arguments, then, is that they provide the wrong kind of evidence. A God who wants to enter into dynamic, personal relationships with creatures will reveal himself in a way that invites creatures to enter more deeply into the relationship. A one-size-fits-all, impersonal model of evidence is not what we should expect given what we have reason to believe are God's purposes.

In Chapter 4 we get an argument for the existence of God that doesn't pretend to be natural theology traditionally construed. After claiming that the personifying evidence would require God's altering our volitional structure (with our permission) so that we would not remain in the condition of sin that makes our default will one of selfishness and hence unreceptive to moving in the direction of "unselfish love and forgiveness toward all persons" (204), Moser offers the following argument which he claims is for him -- and presumably others who have heeded the call -- a good argument since he has reasons for thinking that the premises are true.

1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered and receives the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative power of a divine X of thoroughgoing forgiveness, fellowship in perfect love, worthiness of worship, and triumphant hope (namely, God).

2. I have been offered, and have willingly received, the transformative gift.

3. Therefore God exists.

What is the "transformative gift"? Although the definition is rather robust, understanding the argument requires understanding it so it's worth the space we devote to it:

The transformative gift =df one's being authoritatively convicted in conscience and forgiven by X of sin and thereby being authoritatively called into volitional fellowship with X in perfect love and into rightful worship toward X as worthy of worship and, on that basis, transformed by X from default tendencies to selfishness and despair to a new volitional center with a default position of unselfish love, including forgiveness, toward all people and of hope in the triumph of good over evil by X. (200)

Given this understanding of the transformative gift, premise one of the argument is presumably secure: for one is not in a position to offer the gift unless one is capable of forgiving sin and is worship-worthy. But given just how propositionally rich the definition of the transformative gift is, the second premise will require significant justification (to say the least). For I'm justified in believing that premise only if I'm justified in believing the following conjunctive proposition: I have been authoritatively convicted in conscience & forgiven of sin & called into a volitional fellowship in perfect love & due to the previous conjuncts, transformed from selfishness and despair to a new volitional center of unselfish love and forgiveness, and hope in the triumph of good over evil & the one who has offered this to me is capable of forgiving sin and worthy of worship.

The argument is clearly valid; in fact, the conclusion follows from the second premise alone. The question then is how, on Moser's view, is premise two justified? Given what Moser said in response to Plantinga (and in keeping with his general epistemological predilections), he'll have to hold that there are internally accessible signs of trustworthiness in order for the belief to be justified. The belief's being reliably grounded, say, will be insufficient. So what kinds of grounds does he have for holding that premise two is true?

Moser writes:

I could plausibly argue for the cognitive well-groundedness, or trustworthiness, of premise 2 on the basis of its central role in an undefeated best-available explanation of the whole range of my experience and my other evidence. This role includes this premise's figuring in a best-available answer to the following explanation-seeking question: why is my experience regarding the supposed provisions of the transformative gift (including my evident change from default selfishness to a new volitional center with a default position of unselfish love toward all people) as it actually is now, rather than the opposite or at very least different? On the basis of my experiential evidence, the central role of premise 2 in answering such an explanation-seeking question can figure in its being well-grounded for me and for anyone else who has similar evidence. (205-6)

So premise two is to be justified by an inference to the best explanation of "the whole range" of the believer's experience and other evidence. But what precisely is the nature of the experience that is the ground of so significant an abductive inference? We get hints here and there but if we are looking for a robust, phenomenological characterization and philosophical exploration of the mode of evidence we receive and how it is that we are able to receive it, we'll be disappointed.

According to Moser, we can have "direct, firsthand knowledge of God's reality and character" by "being acquainted with (at least) God's personal and perfectly loving will" (201). But what is it to be acquainted with perfect, unselfish love? Although Moser has a fair bit to say about the point of contact and the effects of such acquaintance (e.g., the conscience is a focal point for receiving a direct divine volitional challenge, that being acquainted with such love is to be acquainted with "God's inherent personal character and thus with the reality of God" (201), that such acquaintance can noncoercively lead to one's will being changed from selfishness to unselfish love of others, etc.), we never get anything that looks like a philosophical account of the nature of this kind of evidence. To be clear, I'm not implying that we should be given enlightening necessary and sufficient conditions for when human acquaintance with the divine takes place. Nor am I suggesting that we should be provided with epistemically useful rules for determining when such acquaintance is achieved. But if we are to think that this experience is evidence for the existence of God, we need to know better how to conceptualize its evidential role.

A natural thought is that such acquaintance involves perceptual or at least quasi-perceptual experience. Yet except for his frequent use of "acquaintance," Moser gives no reason to think this -- there is no discussion of perception or even of mystical religious experience which might be at least quasi-perceptual. How we can have knowledge by acquaintance (as opposed to description) without having perceptual contact with that which is known is not addressed and is, to my mind, problematic.

Here is another interpretation of the experiential evidence that figures prominently in Moser's religious epistemology: the experience is the recognition of the change in one's volitional center. One sees that one is now inclined toward love for others rather than selfishness. One's will has been altered for the better in ways that seem to be unnatural -- at least in the sense that my natural default position has been moved away from selfishness and toward perfect love. This volitional change is in need of explanation and the best explanation is that it is the result of my having received the transformational gift.

Although there is no doubt that this recognition has a role to play in Moser's defense of premise two of his argument, it can't be all the experiential ("personifying") evidence that the believer has. For if it were, there would be no inclination to call a mere recognition of a volitional shift an "acquaintance" with God. This surely implies, as Moser says elsewhere, "direct, firsthand" experience of God. And if it were the only role that experiential evidence plays, then premise two will not be justified. For it surely can't be reasonably argued that my noticing a surprising change for the better in my will by itself justifies the belief that I have been offered and received the transformational gift (recall that it entails the sizable and robust conjunction described above).

Despite a long and interesting discussion of the theological and biblical account of the nature of, and challenges to, volitional change, we never do get an epistemologically illuminating discussion of acquaintance and of the personifying, experiential evidence that one gets as one positively responds to the divine offer.

The Evidence for God's concluding chapter tackles the primary potential defeaters for the justification of premise two: the problems of evil and of religious diversity. Although there is no room here to discuss the details of this chapter, I will say that Moser's discussion of diversity (which takes up most of the chapter) is bold, innovative, and nuanced. While defending a version of exclusivism, Moser argues that a God of perfect love could not make belief a requirement of salvation, and that one might yield to God's transforming call de re and fail to form any beliefs about having yielded to God or even about the existence of God.

Moser's book is an interesting read that furthers his agenda in the epistemology of religious belief. If Moser has in mind making this work a trilogy, I would suggest that he use William Alston's book Perceiving God as a model: that is, I'd like to see him lay out more explicitly the epistemology of personifying evidence and tie it in with modes of evidential justification with which we are all familiar.

Viewers, please opine!

lundi 10 janvier 2011

Gabrielle Giffords: Tragic Prophet

Gabrielle Giffords: Tragic Prophet Please no appeals to Second Amendment Rights from the right or whatever left-wing nuts have to say that could harm others!
Lamberth's Rants