• A reply to Rauser on Loftus, God or Godless?, and evidence for God (pt 2). And some.

    So Randal has responded to my response to Part 1 of his response to my review of his book. But I have not yet had the chance to respond to his Part 2 of his original response to my review of his book.

    Or something.

    Anyway, this will combine responding to his Part 2 and commenting on his further reply.

    When it comes to morally problematic depictions of Yahweh in the Old Testament Jonathan writes:

    “Is Randal a Marcionite? A heretic who would drop the immoral Old Testament for its vengeful demiurge deity ruling parochial Israel with a vicious iron fist? He jumps from implying a maximal God to believing in Yahweh. But he only cherry-picks the good bits. Any bad bits are rejected as errant. So what epistemic right does he have to believe the good bits? Why are they more historically sound than the bad bits that John points out with aplomb? Double standards, methinks.”

    Jonathan wears his ignorance of the history of hermeneutics on his sleeve in this passage. When that is combined with his fundamentalist “literal where possible” approach to reading the Bible, the predictable result is disaster. Keep in mind four things:

    First, from the beginning the norming norm in Christian hermeneutics has been Jesus Christ. In other words, Christians read the Old Testament through the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. One sees this, for example, in Christian interpretations of Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 53. I follow the same Christocentric hermeneutic here. For Jonathan to label such hermeneutical proposals as “Marcionite” simply shows his ignorance of hermeneutics.

    To quote a commenter on my own blog post:

    “But even John Dominic Crossan, one of the most recognised members of the Jesus Seminar, admits to the chaos that is historical Jesus studies today. Note his remarks, which also serve as a historical summary of historical Jesus research in the last four decades:

    There is a Jesus as a political revolutionary by S.G.F. Brandon (1967), as a magician by Morton Smith (1978), as a Galilean charismatic by Geza Vermes (1981, 1984), as a Galilean Rabbi by Bruce Chilton (1984), as Hilelite or proto-Pharaisee by Harvey Falk (1985), as an Essene by Harvey Falk (1985), as an eschatological prophet by E.P. Sanders (1985)…. But that stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment. It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history, to do autobiography and call it biography.

    We might also mention Kathleen Corley’s feminist portrayal of Jesus, given how androcentric Jesus research has been”

    Randal can’t seem to see his circularity. He is reading the Bible through the Jesus hermeneutic, but how does he define such a hermeneutic? Through reading the Bible…

    Second, Christian hermeneutics has always accommodated a diversity of perspectives in interpreting morally problematic passages of Scripture. Typological, allegorical and anagogical proposals have often guided Christians in their readings of passages like Deuteronomy 20 and Joshua 6-11 and provided a way for them to reconcile these texts with faith in Messiah Jesus. Once again, my proposal fits well within this 1800+ year old tradition.

    These passages weren’t always morally problematic, a problem which Randal seems not to allow for. Which means that approaches had to change and adapt to changing moral zeitgeists. It depends upon what era of moral philosophy Christians lived in as to how they read the Bible. He still has the problem of showing that these individual interpretive methods are indeed correct and not just ad hoc.

    Third, general revelation and reason always inform one’s reading of scripture, and it is only the naïve Biblicist who thinks otherwise. That’s why, for example, most Christian theologians have believed God is atemporal and impassible. Moral knowledge and knowledge of God as that being than which none greater can be conceived thus informs my reading as well.

    As I stated, the OA used to establish a maximally great being through which all suffering and seemingly contradictory evidence MUST be harmonised. But in the book Randal did nothing to prove this argument or show it’s apparent truth. He used it as a given premise upon which to build his chapters.

    Fourth, John Loftus has no objective moral law on which to base his moral indignation at the text. Does Jonathan Pearce?

    A massive question before which one must closely define objective. It is also not relevant to Randal’s predicament.

    As for Jonathan’s claim that I predicate arguments on the ontological argument, I really have no idea what he is referring to. Perhaps he could explain himself by providing textual evidence that I appeal to the ontological argument as substructure for other derivative arguments, because this is news to me.

    I don’t have the book handy just now. Suffice to say that any mention of a necessary being in conjunction with maximal properties will evoke ideas of the ontological argument. But let’s just refer to a quote from his reply as stated up above:

    “That’s why, for example, most Christian theologians have believed God is atemporal and impassible. Moral knowledge and knowledge of God as that being than which none greater can be conceived thus informs my reading as well.”

    I am editing this now, so have the book. Here are implied reference to the OA and God’s necessity:

    p.34, p.42, p. 136-139 as I can garner from a quick skim.

    Third, general revelation and reason always inform one’s reading of scripture, and it is only the naïve Biblicist who thinks otherwise. That’s why, for example, most Christian theologians have believed God is atemporal and impassible. Moral knowledge and knowledge of God as that being than which none greater can be conceived thus informs my reading as well.

    This is explicit acceptance that he uses rational conclusions to inform his interpretation of evidential data.

     “No, my point was that John was approaching the issues evidentially (empirically) and Rauser seems to have taken very much a rationalist approach. Now, there is nothing wrong with throwing this philosophical argument into the mix, but again it comes down to establishing the OA. John is well within his rights to look at the biblical evidence and find it wonting.”

    Hmm, so when Jonathan says John appeals to evidence, he in fact means John appeals to empirically derived evidence. Too bad he didn’t say that at the outset to avoid confusion. It sounds like Jonathan is working from the post-Hegelian breakdown of pre-Kantian philosophy as consisting of empiricist and rationalist schools. However, that helpful typology has been widely abandoned. To take one example, while Locke is often taken to be the poster-child for empiricism, his philosophy was also highly rationalistic. And my point on theory-laden interpretation is completely apposite here. John isn’t neutrally acquiring empirical data to ground his argument. Rather, he’s selectively collecting and interpreting evidence from the world based on certain axiomatic starting points. And I appeal to evidence from the world as surely as I appeal to intuitive axiomatic starting points. So Jonathan’s division of John and I into empiricist and rationalist camps dissolves as surely as it did for the pre-Kantians.

    Wow, talk about trying to impress people with philosophy here and failing. Randal is just wrong here. The rationalist vs empiricist debate is fundamental to epistemology. See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry here.

    Even more contradictory to his high-falluting-sounding claims are the actual beliefs of modern philosophers as set out in the biggest philosophical survey ever done:

    Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?

    Other 346 / 931 (37.2%)
    Accept or lean toward: empiricism 326 / 931 (35.0%)
    Accept or lean toward: rationalism 259 / 931 (27.8%)

    Split. No, the typology has not been widely abandoned. This is not to say one cannot inform another, or one cannot utilise both. But I think the OA is a great example of a rationalist approach, and the EPOE is clearly empirical, and this seems to be representative of the two approaches in the book. Just look at how the arguments are set out! Look at the titles!

    Jonathan continues:

    “I do not deny that we all have baggage. But one should establish that baggage. I don’t think the burden of proof is on John to disprove the OA, and thus disprove God. So he should and does approach the arguments and the Bible using his Outsider Test For Faith (OTF) approach. Again, we get back to this idea that no matter what evidence John produces, Randal can wave it away using the notion, unproved, that God is necessary, and that the evidence MUST fit with the logic (unproven).”

    Once again, it appears Jonathan is confused because here he equates “ontological argument (OA)” with “the notion, unproved, that God is necessary”. This is confused on two counts. First, the ontological argument isn’t simply an ungrounded assertion, or as Jonathan says, “the notion, unproved”. Rather, it is an a priori argument which aims to demonstrate that if it is possible that God exists then God must exist. Second, the argument isn’t simply “that God is necessary”. Rather, it is an argument that proposes it is possible that a being with the maximal set of compossible great-making properties exists, and since necessary existence would be part of that set of properties, if this being possibly exists then he necessarily exists. Jonathan’s reconstruction of arguments is surprisingly sloppy and careless.

    This is where Randal misunderstands me and the semantics used. Apologies if I wasn’t clearer, though I think I was plenty clear enough. I did not claim that the OA is ungrounded. I am claiming that Randal used its conclusion as a given without setting out the argument. It was unproven in Randal’s cumulative case throughout the book. It may well be grounded, but Randal did nothing to show this to be the case. That is what the unproven was referring to.

    I didn’t reconstruct the argument – in fact, I have not formally or even informally set it out at all, I merely referred to Randal’s implicit and fairly explicit use of it without him setting the argument out himself. So this diatribe is way off the mark!!!

    Moreover, note how Jonathan asserts that if I did present an ontological argument for God’s existence, John Loftus would not have a burden of proof to defeat the argument. Did you get that? In a book where two parties are debating whether God exists, Jonathan asserts that the atheist is not obliged to rebut the theist’s argument for God’s existence. Well isn’t that convenient!

    Again, Randal misunderstands me, though this could be my less than explicit writing. The quote is this:

    “I do not deny that we all have baggage. But one should establish that baggage. I don’t think the burden of proof is on John to disprove the OA, and thus disprove God. So he should and does approach the arguments and the Bible using his Outsider Test For Faith (OTF) method.”

    My point was that in the absence of Randal making an explicit OA argument, it is not incumbent upon John to spend time in the book disproving the OA. This means that his evidential approach stands on its own. Randal, on the other hand, IS making rational claims about the ontology of God without justifying them, so the burden here is on Randal. John’s use of the OTF should mitigate as much as possible any baggage such that he is rightfully and appropriately sceptical of any claim.

    Jonathan continues his confused and unreliable reconstruction of the book:

    Thanks for the kind words.

    “What this does, from Randal’s position, is assert God as ontologically necessary, and then massage the evidence, or appeal to ignorance, in order to make the evidence fit to the asserted God. “On the other hand, John, using the OTF, approaches the J-C God as he would any other god-claim of the world – with a warranted skepticism. Even given the OA’s conclusion, John is critiquing the J-C God. The OA makes no claims on what a maximal God would actually do and how it would manifest itself and communicate, past asserting that whatever it does, it does it maximally.” I won’t bother responding to this except to say that Jonathan still seems to be equating “ontological argument” with the bare assertion that God necessarily exists. Or perhaps he’s objecting to the fact that the concept of God is of a being that exists necessarily. If that’s his objection then he apparently doesn’t even understand the most basic rudiments of what the term “God” means in academic discourse.

    I discussed this earlier, and no I do not think the OA is a bare assertion in the sense that he means.

    Or perhaps he’s objecting to the fact that the concept of God is of a being that exists necessarily.” I could be, but since he does nothing but actually assert God’s necessity, then it is rather moot. The assertion here is Randal’s as HE is asserting things, namely God’s necessity and maximal characteristics without doing the necessary groundwork. Perhaps this should have been his first chapter! I point out that while Loftus invokes the rhetoric of belief on probabilities, he never justifies it by establishing any probabilities. This is how Jonathan replies: “Well, we could look at prior probabilities of the God claim as being true based on all the other god claims throughout history. Since the Christian would agree that these are false, then the low priors, using Bayesian analysis, would have to be countered with high consequents. In other words, the most extraordinary claims of the Bible would have to be supported with extraordinary evidence. The Bible is not extraordinary evidence, and is not even corroborated by extra-biblical sources.” This is a great passage because it begins with Jonathan implicitly conceding my point! Note how he never says “Oh John establishes the probabilities on pages 56 and 123″ (or whatever) because he obviously recognizes John never does this. Instead Jonathan suggests ways that John could begin to defend his claim about the probabilities.

    In one sense I agree with Randal entirely, which is why I stated the above. In another sense, John doesn’t need to set out the exact probabilities to propose the argument THAT Randal is appealing to possibility and not probability.

     To say the least, Jonathan’s proposal is half-baked.

     This appears to be another baseless assertion.

    Next, Jonathan observes:

    “In other words, one usually has to presuppose the existence of God and faith in Jesus in order to assess the value of the evidence in the Bible. This then leads to confirmation bias (which the OTF seeks to diffuse) which applies unwarranted evidential value to the Bible which then leads to a firmer belief in God and Jesus (remember, all Jesus is God, but all God isn’t necessarily Jesus, or some such ‘coherent’ idea). The whole idea is terribly circular. As I pointed out here.”

    This is a genuine face-in-palm moment. Of course for evidential purposes you begin by establishing the existence of God. Once you’ve done that you can move on to establishing Christian claims about God. This doesn’t of itself lead to “confirmation bias”. Rather, it reflects a step-wise progressive approach to academic debate and dialogue. If the OTF is supposed to help people avoid confirmation bias, it sure ain’t doin’ Jonathan any favors in this review.

    But the point being made is that, given the existence of God, Randal is finding his narrow version of God through a circular approach, and one which he does nothing to refute here. Just more obfuscation and rhetoric. Faith in JESUSGOD (as opposed to DEISTGOD) is used to find historical reliability and plausibility in the claims of the NT which then validates JESUSGOD. And so on. Randal is here equivocating on god and J-C God which I think I was clear enough about detailing.

    In my first response I observed:

    “I also offer concise evidentialist rebuttals of Loftus’ claims including his ill-begotten canine “argument” against aesthetic facts and his failed appeal to the problem of evil.”

    Jonathan replies:

    “I am unable to find substantiation for either of these claims.”

    Of course he’s unable. So let me help. John replies to my argument for God from objective aesthetic value by observing that dogs like to smell “butts”. I rebut this, er, “argument” on page 130. Later John appeals to Schellenberg’s argument from divine hiddenness. I rebut premise 2 of this argument on page 171.

    Randal, here, is just completely wrong. There is no other way of saying it. Those were the two pages I was referring to when I said I was unable to find evidentialist rebuttals. Randal does try to rebut them, but page 130 contains, as I originally mentioned, a claim of a logical fallacy and a rational argument predicated on pure logic as a rebuttal. Page 171 is the same rationalist approach. So I am not sure what Randal was reading. The original point remains. His use of Schellenberg invoked the logical problem of evil as opposed to the Evidential Problem of Evil. It couldn’t be more explicit.

    Next, Jonathan defends John’s failure to justify his probability appeal:

    “Randal has not shown the OA as proving God is necessary. Without doing this, then John’s probabilities, whether spelled out or not, are the more accurate portrayal of how to assess the likelihood of God existing.”

    Let’s see. If person A fails to establish p then person B can assert not-p is more probable without defending the claim that it is more probable because person A failed to establish p? Really Jonathan?

    All John needs to do is use any kind of probabilistic language and this fully implies a probability. These words carry probabilistic inferences (just google probability values of modal verbs or similar). Carrier in Proving History explains this in a Bayesian contetxt.

    Jonathan goes on:

    “Randal is deflecting John’s critiques of the Bible saying that these nasty bits are symbolic, allegorical, wrong due to human error, ironic or whatever. But he is special pleading language or assuming a proven God where there was none proven.”

    The confusion here apparently runs deep. So let me explain to Jonathan how debates work. I present positive arguments for my case and John tries to rebut them by showing they don’t establish my case. John then presents positive arguments for his case while I try to rebut them by showing they don’t establish his case.

    Consider the Bible. John tries to show the Bible cannot be divine revelation because of x, y and z. I rebut this by showing that the evidence is consistent with the Bible being God’s divine revelation. In that way I neutralize John’s objections by showing x, y and z do not constitute defeaters to special revelation. This isn’t special pleading. It’s called defeating a defeater.

    No, he appeared to make arguments predicated on an asserted premise. Even here, he claims it is consistent, but this is to claim something is consistent with an entity about which he has no knowledge of design criteria or purpose to the point of understanding why it would allow so much pain and suffering. That there could be an answer is reliant on, yet again, the idea that there definitely is a God. Because otherwise, such mounting evidence and data would tend to suggest no God, or no omniGod. It is consistent only to the degree that there ‘must’ be a reason, though we just don’t know it.

    John is looking at this data without the OA as a given – the burden of proof is not on him to disprove the OA since it has not been offered as a proof. Randal only implied its conclusion.

    Evil has not only to fit in with an omniGod but with Randal’s Christian God. But Randal’s Christian God is only partially the God of the Bible, since it appears that apparently, all the nasty things that God commanded and allowed somehow didn’t happen as reported.

    Jonathan then asks me pointedly:

    “Can ANY evidence EVER invalidate your belief in the existence of God? Craig is pretty clear on this one. He says no.”

    It strikes me as disingenuous that Jonathan should ask this question since I pointed out in my response that I wrote a chapter in Swedish Atheist on how to argue against God’s existence. I also discuss the conditions under which one might lose one’s faith at some length in You’re not as Crazy as I Think, particularly in chapter 7.

    Jonathan then acknowledge that I pointed him to the chapter in Swedish Atheist where I outlined how an atheist aim to rebut theism. His response is predictably dismissive:

    “That’s great (reading the arguments in your book), but I won’t have time to do that now, and you cannot have expected the entire readership of God or Godless? to have done that either.”

    This is a humorous point on which to end. Note that Jonathan is now complaining I didn’t outline in God or Godless how John ought to mount a case in defense of atheism! Gee I thought that was the atheist’s job!

    That’s all good and well. I wrote conclusion disproofs of God on the underside of a rock on Mars. Not much use to a readership who cannot or have not accessed that prior to me writing arguments which they later find out are based or can be defended by such Martian writing.

    NO, Randal, you must elucidate that here or in the debate book (too late, now, obviously) for them to have relevant traction. We are discussing this here and now. We are not discussing your other books. If the arguments are relevant, then let’s hear them! Your continued obfuscation and rhetoric don’t do anything to support a rigorous defence of your position; they merely support the idea that you are moving peas in a shell game.

    Category: ApologeticsGod's CharacteristicsPhilosophy of ReligionProblem of Evil

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • Daydreamer1

      Hi Jonathan,

      The famous instance of Newton describing the planets orbits, but not quite matching them (because he didn’t have/invent Pertubation Theory) has relevance to me.

      Explaining how science continuously looks for God since intervention is obviously looked for in any data set (i.e. geologists/astronomers would see intervention as a deviation in data that matched theory prior to and after intervention – though they might not be able to conclude an intelligent intervention as opposed to unknown natural phenomena we are capable of deriving instances of intelligent intervention in equations relating to history since we do it all the time where humans have affected data sets). Randals reply was:

      I’m glad that you reject methodological naturalism. However, it remains very much the dominant position among scientists, skeptics and atheists.

      Newton hit a hurdle where this equations failed and assumed intervention. Randal seems happy with this sort of science – happier at least than if Newton had held his hands up and stated it was more likely that he had not conceived of a natural answer than God was doing it.

      I am reminded of Godel’s Theorem of Incompleteness. A book I read examined what incompleteness would look like in a mathematical theory (assuming that incompleteness would apply to our universe, and it may not). We would end up with multiple mathematical theories that all explained the data from experiments, but they would do it in different ways and we would never be able to tell them apart. Incompleteness would result in multiple Theories of Everything – one would be correct, others incorrect, but we would not be able to tell since they would all work.

      Randal is eager to jump to philosophical categorization without examining what competition works. Science is quite clearly not using methodological naturalism if any of a million datasets would show intelligent intervention if it had happened. Science daily tests for intervention – my own field of geology definitely does so, and physics does as well. Is Randal doing what Newton did and hiding assumptions within philosophy?

      Philosophy has this problem. A purely armchair rationalist approach might well be capable of illuminating the full truth about reality, but do we really think that any human has the intellectual capability to do that in a lifetime? The evidence says not. We do not even have enough time to learn everything that has been discovered to put the pieces together.

      Then there is a real issue. Einstein, who I am happy stating seemed to far exceed my own mental capacities, derived a correct formulation for the nature of space and time. He did this using thought experiments alongside the experiments and work of others. But he never claimed to know he was correct until the experiments were conducted. He surely hoped and was confident in it – perhaps even as confident as Randal in his assertions, but he did not claim knowledge.

      Philosophers make a big jump when they jump from arguing that it is theoretically possible for an intelligence of such capacity and with enough time to derive a correct formulation for the universe (assuming no incompleteness). However, taking a theoretical like that and then saying that a given human, or a given number of humans can do it/are doing it/have done it is a jump using faith.

      A strict statement that we only have our senses and can only determine what we sense is also pushing things too far. We don’t need philosophy to show this, we get more certainty just by looking at the science. The universe is comprised of many things we cannot sense. But still we have to get an input to our brains to think about things, so we build new senses – new tools. And then we think about what our extended senses tell us. Hypothetically if we can extend our senses to all reaches of the universe then we can sense all reaches of the universe – even if indirectly. Dark matter, dark energy, space time curvature, probability wave functions – we have stretched far enough to at least put pay to simple arguments about pure thought (where any human would not have claimed knowledge without experimentation). And even once people had the maths for dark matter, dark energy, spacetime, and probability functions, have any of them claimed they know it to the degree theologians have arm chaired their way to ‘knowledge’ of God?

      I say that Randal’s statements about the philosophy of (and activities of) science are very misplaced, but the direction of the misplacement hints at the underlying motivations.

      • Wow, thanks for the very fulsome reply.

        I think there is a whole issue within science AND philosophy whereby we expect dogmatic answers either way rather than factoring in the notion of hidden variables, whether they be natural or supernatural.

        We only need to suppose them as supernatural i we have good reason to. This is a sort of Bayesian approach. If the consequent probability show that the intervention (anomaly) can only reasonably be explained by ‘God’ (perhaps because God came down to earth and announced it to the whole world) then we should accept the theory with the highest probability. That will surely be naturalism. I set that out here: http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2012/11/16/naturalism-vs-supernaturalism-which-horse-wins/

        Follow the link for Jeff Lowder’s excellent analysis and argument.

        But scientists do this too. In the search for quick answers, they shy away from admitting unknowns. Take the Hesienberg Uncertainty Principle. Rather than think there is underlying causality that might be defined by a hidden variable, many rather punt to true random or similar.

        I think there is definite call for accepting gaps as humble gaps in knowledge without finding the need to plug them with the nearest reason. Hypothesise, then test. That’s how to do it.

    • David Marshall

      “Even” John Crossan admits that historical Jesus studies are a chaos? I love it when atheists quote heretics (even lovable heretics) as if they were stalwarts of Christian orthodoxy.

      But I explained why Crossan is confused, in Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could. Actually, C. S. Lewis explained the general confusion when Crossan (no spring chicken) was in grad school.