Forthcoming Series on Apologetics


Objective: It is my intent to show that the formal arguments for the existence of God embodied in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Fine Tuning Argument, the Argument from Morality, and the Argument against Naturalism all fall prey to lack of empirical grounding and fallacious reasoning.

Disclaimer: As a person who doesn’t set stock by blind faith, I still say that there are elements of faith in God which cannot be formally debunked. Arguments from personal divine revelation, for example, represent highly subjective, anecdotal experiences that make few formal claims and therefore do not lend themselves to formal critique. Whereof one does not know, thereof one must be silent. The Divine Simulation argument may also represent an acceptable basis for supporting theism.

A Preliminary Note on Ontological Arguments

Many apologists attempt to prove the existence of divine beings or divine influence using Ontological Arguments. Ontological arguments are intended to draw an a priori inference about the existence of a real-world entity. These are typically constructed by taking a few basic premises believed to be true about the state of the world and using them to logically infer that a real-world entity must or must not exist.

Truth and validity are two different properties of a logical argument, and in practice, correct ontological arguments only demonstrate their own validity. This is because ontological arguments typically cannot demonstrate that there is no situation under which their conclusion could be untrue. In other words, valid ontological conclusions must be warranted in order to be convincing. It is because of this issue that ontological arguments are often not even addressed by philosophers- they are viewed as uninteresting exercises in world-building, not undeniable arguments which warrant addressing.

An ontological argument for the existence of God often takes the form of an explanation. Typically, the goal of the arguer is to make the case that a particular characteristic about the world can only be explained by invoking God. The arguer must show that God is absolutely warranted, and that no other possible explanation is warranted.

Few ontological arguments for divinity are “pure” ontological arguments. Most include significant a posterioribacked reasoning in order to disprove other possible explanations in favor of leaving God as the sole warranted explanation. Unfortunately, many such arguers either misapprehend modern scientific explanations or commit fallacies in the process.

Contradictions

There exists an interesting contradiction that I’ve recently seen emerging in the world of religious debate.  If I were to formulate the core evangelical position as a proposition, it would look something like this:

A god who would let us prove his existence would be an idol, but individuals ought to believe in God because evidence exists for both God’s existence and God’s involvement in the universe.

So which is it? This conversion tactic is obviously contradictory. On one hand, proving God with evidence is declared a fruitless exercise that fails to convey “true” trust and thus is largely irrelevant to salvation. On the other hand, it is thought that people ought to believe in the scant evidence for God’s existence (because then, I suppose, they can be saved), and that those who don’t are irrational.

A post addressing the debate itself is forthcoming.

Belief and Choice

There is a certain sort of ideology which views belief as a fully conscious choice. That is to say, there are those who believe that a person could potentially wake up one morning and make the fully conscious choice to believe that elephants can fly (should it suit their fancy to believe such a thing). Belief, in this view, is as much a choice as deciding what clothes to wear.

I’ll leave the whole “free will vs. determinism” debate at the door; it complicates the terminology, and in this scenario we’re only talking about whether belief is a conscious mechanism. That is to say, we’re talking about whether the act of believing in information presented by another person is a simple decision. 

Take a moment, and try to believe something for which you have no precedent to believe.  You could try my earlier elephant example, or you could come up with something else. Either way, it must be something that does not already exist within your worldview. Can you do it? Is it easy? Or do you still know, on some level, why it doesn’t mesh with your reality?

When I used the words “your reality”, I am not, of course, embracing some sort of subjectivist New Age philosophy. I believe that objective reality exists, even if not all aspects of reality are easily comprehensible. When I say “your reality”, I’m talking about your internal model of the way the world works. I’m talking about the way you rationalize and support the things you believe. You might rationalize your attraction to the ground by invoking the well-documented concept of gravity. You probably base your views about personal success on the priorities you have developed over the course of your life. You support your religious beliefs (if you have them) with religious education and personal experiences.

All of this represents a large, complex intellectual infrastructure which composes and supports your view of the world. Lack the intellectual infrastructure necessary to believe in something, and you’ll find that it is very difficult to convince yourself to “just believe”. Conversely, if you possess the intellectual infrastructure supporting a particular belief, you’ll find that it is very difficult to simply throw that belief away. It is for these reasons that altering a deeply-entrenched belief is often a long, arduous, and only partially-voluntary process.

Example: 9/11 Truther Conspiracies. What sorts of things would you already need to believe if you wanted to believe in a 9/11 conspiracy? Well, first, you would need to believe that the government, for all of its bureaucratic incompetence, is capable of planning an attack on America in perfect secrecy. You’d need to disbelieve the overwhelming evidence that radical Islamists and political dissidents perpetrated the attack. You’d need to believe that the government was capable of perfectly coordinating its response to make it appear that they were just as surprised  as we were. You’d need to believe that the extensive evidence in the 9/11 Commission Report, written and reviewed by hundreds of independent experts, was fake. Do you see what it takes to believe such a thing? Your entire worldview must be very well-coordinated,  while simultaneously ignoring all opposing evidence.

Belief is not a trivial act. It’s act that requires an entire complementary worldview. People don’t believe (or disbelieve) ideas because they want to; they believe (or disbelieve) ideas on the basis of having (or not having) the intellectual infrastructure necessary to support the ideas. Certainly it is true that emotions and personal preferences play into belief, but liking or disliking an idea tends to only manifest as confirmation bias. That is to say, the like or dislike of an idea tends to make it easier to cement acceptance of an already-believed notion, deny an already-disbelieved notion, or seed doubt in a shaky belief. Preference alone does not change belief. It simply makes you more (or less) amenable to belief.

No doubt that the religious would like to believe that we could all choose belief in their respective religions if we just made the choice to accept their god(s). No doubt that conspiracy theorists would like the believe that the evidence is all obvious, man, you just have to accept it and draw the obvious conclusion! No doubt that scientists would like the believe that scientific concepts are universally (and easily) acceptable notions, for the same reasons as the conspiracy theorist. But none of this true. Until we all understand the psychological complexity of belief, we won’t be able to properly persuade others about controversial issues (or understand why they refuse to believe) without a great deal of frustration and argument.