Thursday, November 22, 2012

FacePalm of the Day - Debunking Christianity: Two Scenarios From Dr. Matt McCormick and His Conclusions

John Loftus posted an article from Dr Matt McCormick's blog where Dr McCormick discusses the implications on atheism and agnosticism  from the Divine Arguments argument. Loftus quotes the following.

Scenario A: God isn’t real and we fail to find good evidence for supernatural beings.

Belief in situation A: irrational.
Agnosticism in situation A: irrational.
Disbelief in situation A: reasonable/rational.

Scenario B: God is Real, but Hiding.

Belief in situation B: irrational.
Agnosticism in situation B: not an epistemically responsible position.
Disbelief in situation B: reasonable/rational. Enjoy.

McCormick's whole argument is assuming that the Hiddeness of God is something that given weight falls and leads to atheism. There are many formulations for the idea but let's stick to McCormicks and examine if this philosophical idea holds any weight.

I’ve been thinking about the arguments for atheism from divine hiddenness.  Here’s a way to argue for atheism in that vein with some similarities to Drange and Schellenberg and with several improvements on the argument of my own. 
I've often thought about "divine hiddenness" and I don't think it squares with the Bible or observation. 

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. - Romans 1:18-20

The Bible does not tell us that God is hidden in the slightest. In fact it tells us the opposite. The idea of hiddenness comes from people who like to think they have an excuse for why they don't experience God the way they think they should if God exists. This thinking is backward. God reveals Himself to us on His terms not ours

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. - Acts 17:24-27

Add this one.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. - Hebrews 11:5,6
We need to be like Enoch and remember that God is not hiding from us. We hide from Him.
Imagine two scenarios, both where it would appear that God is hiding. 
Scenario A:  God isn’t real and we fail to find good evidence for supernatural beings.
Suppose that beings humans find themselves in this situation: 
There is no supernatural being of any sort.
 a.  there are no empirical indications of a supernatural beings
No proof of that. We have creation,
b.    none of the conceptual arguments for supernatural beings are compelling
 Says him
c.    we have made substantial efforts to uncover supernatural beings. 
Like what? How about seeking God with a whole heart?
d.    none of our attempts to discover supernatural beings have succeeded
What are they?
e.    the available evidence concerning supernatural beings are inadequate.
So he admits that there is some available evidence but how does he know it is inadequate?
f.     there is a presumption that supernatural beings are the sort of entity that, if one were to exist, then it would manifest in some fashion that is detectable by beings with our cognitive faculties. 
This is a presupposition that God has not revealed Himself that is detectable to us. Not true.
g.    the presumption that supernatural beings would manifest in some way has not been defeated.
Yes it has because that is what God has done. 
h.    naturalized models of supernatural belief formation are well justified by the evidence and they provide a better alternative account of the origins of supernatural beliefs.   
I wouldn't agree to that all. Asserting it does not make it true. 
Question:  What is the reasonable conclusion to draw about supernatural beings in this situation? 
Would non-belief be epistemically inculpable in this situation?  That is, if humans  conclude that there are no supernatural beings, would that conclusion be unwarranted?  
What about believing in a supernatural being?  And would being an agnostic be epistemically culpable or inculpable in this situation? 
It seems to me for a number of reasons that disbelief in supernatural beings would be justified.  Disbelief would not be epistemically culpable.  Furthermore, believing in a supernatural being in this situation would be epistemically culpable and irrational.  I even think that being agnostic in this situation, particularly given the point in h., would be unreasonable/culpable.  
That is:
Belief in situation A:  irrational. 
Agnosticism in situation A:  irrational. 
Disbelief in situation A:  reasonable/rational.  
If McCormick's assumptions were true then I would agree with his conclusions. Unfortunately they are not and we have no reason to accept them. 
Scenario B:  God is Real, but Hiding
Suppose that humans find themselves in this situation: 
God exists and possesses the power and the knowledge to make himself known to humans. 
Yet for reasons unknown to humans, God insures that: 
a.    there are no empirical indications of God
b.    none of the conceptual arguments for God is compelling
That is true about all the concepts outside the Bible.
c.    we have made substantial efforts to uncover God,  
“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. - 1 Chronicles 28:9
Just follow the command Solomon got. 
d.    none of our attempts to discover God have succeeded
Maybe none of his, but there are a lot of people would beg to differ. 
e.    the available evidence concerning God is inadequate
The more we learn in science and technology the more we find  evidence concerning God.  
f.     there is a presumption that God is the sort of entity that, if God were to exist, then God would manifest in some fashion that is detectable by beings with our cognitive faculties.  
And God does exactly that. 
g.    the presumption that supernatural beings/God would manifest in some way has not been defeated.
The fact that there is a universe rather than nothing defeats the idea that there is no God. 
h.    naturalized models of supernatural belief formation are well justified by the evidence and they provide a better alternative account of the origins of supernatural beliefs.    
Naturalized models are not justified or explain all of our observations better than God's revelation of Himself. 
Question:  What is the reasonable conclusion to draw about supernatural beings in this situation? 
Would disbelief be epistemically inculpable in this situation?  That is, if humans  conclude that there are no supernatural beings, would that conclusion be unwarranted? [yes] Notice that the evidential situation for humans is exactly the same in both scenarios. [No it isn't, because God has revealed Himself]  So the answers to our questions about what is the reasonable conclusion to draw must be the same, with some interesting side notes. [Only if make the same mistaken analysis]  Ironically, despite the fact that God is real in this situation, it seems to me that disbelief, given the evidential situation would be justified.  That is, the atheist in the world where God is real but hiding, would have a well-justified but false belief. [God is not hiding.] We couldn’t find epistemic fault with the conclusion that this atheist has drawn.  The apocryphal story about Bertrand Russell is relevant.  After a lecture about atheism, a member of the audience asked him, “Prof. Russell, what are you going to do after you die and then in the afterlife you show up at the Pearly Gates and God and Saint Peter are all there and it’s obvious how wrong you are?”  Allegedly without missing a step, Russell said he’d say to God, “Not enough evidence, God!  Not enough evidence!” 
Only thing is Russell would never be able to say that because standing before God he would have to admit that claiming a lack of evidence would be a lie.  And don't forget that Russell has indeed gone on and I can't imagine that this excuse worked.  It won't work for anyone.
Furthermore, if someone were to believe in God in this situation, it would be irrational and unjustified.  Ironically, she would happen to get it right.  That is, she’d have  a true belief.  But her evidence did not justify her conclusion.  Her belief would have all the virtue of thievery over honest toil, to quote Russell again.  She’d be like a psychic who accidentally predicted the winning lottery numbers.  Her getting the numbers right by accident doesn’t vindicate her method or improve the reliability of her method of derivation.  
One one hand this is something one would want to be right about and wouldn't care if they were right for the wrong reason.  God has not really left this option open for us because God has plainly revealed himself to us. We are not left without evidence or witnesses. Therefore if you are wrong about God's existence you have no excuse.
Furthermore, if agnosticism was unreasonable and unjustified in scenario A, it would be here too.  That is, the agnostic who suspends judgment in scenario B, where a-h are also true, would be unjustified.  
The interesting question here concerns the reasonable limits to agnosticism.  Under what circumstances should one be an agnostic.  It seems to me that a-h, if they are true, are enough to warrant moving from agnostic to atheism.  Some other examples are suggestive:  Suppose we insert Bigfoot or Leprechauns into scenario A. 
Suppose there are no Leprechauns.  And suppose further that we have searched diligently, no compelling evidence in their favor has been found, Leprechauns are the sorts of things that would be revealed in some way to our cognitive faculties if we were to search and encounter them, and furthermore, we have other natural explanations of why people have believed in Leprechauns.  In that situation, you should not be agnostic.  Being agnostic would be irrational.  
If you search for God with your whole heart you will find God and God will not cast you out or ignore you. So being an atheist or agnostic is irrational. 
Many agnostics have the view that God is not like Leprechauns, so there is a disanalogy here.  God is unlike Leprechauns in ways that require us to be agnostic about him, but atheist about the Leprechauns.  I think there could be a plausible argument here, but I’m not sure.  The central issue for these agnostics, I think, would be to deny that condition g. has been met in the case of God.  There are good reasons to think that the presumption about God’s manifesting to our cognitive faculties in h. is defeated in the case of God but not in the case of Leprechauns.  
 God does condescend to us to have a relationship with God so the presumption is flawed.
The really interesting question to me right now is, what are those reasons that defeat the presumption?  Why should we think that God is not the sort of thing that would be manifest to our cognitive faculties in any of the relevant ways? 
 Because God does come to us. We can't go to him on our own. In short that is what the incarnation is all about and why all of history hinges on Jesus.
 Pretty clearly, on lots of theistic hypotheses, God is the sort of thing whose existence or non-existence makes some manifest difference in the world.  The world or the arguments, would look different if there were no God in some way that we could discern.  The existence of gods of that sort is undermined by this argument.  But if there were a supernatural being whose presence or absence would not be manifest to our cognitive faculties, then our not finding any manifestations would not be adequate grounds to conclude that no such being exists. 
I'd like to see some proof that God has not interacted with us in a way our cognitive faculties can recognize Him,  
This agnostic might argue for this thesis:  There may yet be some sort of supernatural being that we can have no cognitive access to and that we can form no positive thesis about.  We should be agnostic about that being because the absence of evidence for it isn’t indicative either way about its existence.  
Does not fly. God has not left that open to us. 
My question here is this:  What exactly are we being agnostic about in this case?  Which hypothesis am I suspending judgment about?  Is it this:  there may yet be some truths about which I can form no idea, I can have no comprehension, and that elude my cognitive faculties altogether.  
Agreed. But that does not describe the God of the Bible. 
It doesn’t seem to me that suspending judgment is the right way to describe the attitude we should take about those proposals.  We should suspend judgment, it seems to me, about whether there are extra terrestrial forms of life in our universe.  That is a clear proposal about which our evidence is split or about which we do not have enough evidence yet to draw a conclusion.  The mercurial transcendental entity that the agnostic proposes is utterly unlike alien life.  We have no access, and we can have no access, perhaps in principle, to such an entity.  It would seem that we cannot hope to form any sort of propositional attitude at all about it, not even enough to suspend judgment about it. Furthermore, it is relevant to point out that this agnostic is taking a conservative attitude about the possibility of something that is utterly unlike any of the divine beings that are typically proposed or believed in.  This agnostic seems to have tacitly agreed that in situation A or B, the only reasonable conclusion is to be atheist, not agnostic, about the overwhelming majority of the gods that humans have believed in.  This agnostic is a very wide atheist, but not quite as wide as the widest atheist.  It just not clear to me that suspending judgment in this case even makes sense or is the epistemically responsible position. 

Options A and B are flawed. But McCormick is correct that suspending judgement is not open to us either - not if you want to be both truthful and rational. So if hiddenness is off the table, how do we understand why some people seem to have no access to God? They don't hear Him and they experience Him? Why? Simple. The Bible gives us the answer.

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. - John 3:19-21

Debunking Christianity: Two Scenarios From Dr. Matt McCormick and His Conclusions
Enhanced by Zemanta