Scientific Naturalism and Its Discontents

In this paper, I want to argue that atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg’s subjunctive conditional (which is shared with William Lane Craig (WLC)[1]) “If God does not exist, life is objectively meaningless” is true. So, I want to begin this paper by defining key terms and thereafter outline Rosenberg’s thesis with respect to the status of naturalism and its implications. Then, I will display eight arguments against scientific naturalism given by WLC in his debate with Rosenberg and how, if they are right, scientific naturalism is false and leaves open the possibility of theism as the best explanation for the data of human experience.

I will now define many key terms which I will be using throughout this paper. I take the term ‘naturalism’ to metaphysically denote the view according to which only nature exists [2]. As such, I shall take the epistemological theory ‘scientism’ to be the view according to which only science can provide knowledge. Thus, I will take ‘scientific naturalism’ (Rosenberg’s position [3]) to be conjunction of ‘naturalism’ and ‘scientism’. The term ‘theism’, as I will be using it, is the belief that God exists. The ‘God’ I am referring to is minimally a monotheistic conception of God as a Personal, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent Creator and Designer of the universe. With clear terminology, I shall now proceed to explore Rosenberg’s conception of scientific naturalism as entailing the objective meaninglessness of life.

In Rosenberg’s book The Atheists Guide to Reality (2011), he specifies very early in the book his central conception of the entailments of scientific naturalism in the form of a series of questions and answers:

Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Why am I here? Just dumb luck.
Does prayer work? Of course not.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance!
What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them.
Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.
Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.
What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.
Does history have any meaning or purpose? It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.
Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.” [4]

So, while this picture of reality may be unfavorable (and I agree it is), it is the honest implication of scientific naturalism. The hardest, most pressing questions of human existence are easily answered, says Rosenberg, once scientific naturalism is adopted. In my view, he gets every question wrong; but, what is significant is that theists and atheists alike agree on the same subjunctive conditional: If God does not exist, life is objectively meaningless. Rosenberg’s list faithfully attests to the truth of that subjunctive conditional. Given these implications, though, the question becomes the following: Is scientific naturalism true?

While the literature on this question is seemingly endless, I believe that scientific naturalism is plausibly false and thus I believe the questions of human experience receive, contra Rosenberg, a quite different answer. I shall reiterate, then, WLC’s eight arguments against Alex Rosenberg’s scientific naturalism in his debate with him here:

“First is the argument from intentionality:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then I cannot think about anything. That is because there are no intentional states.
  2. But I am thinking about naturalism. From which it follows,
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

So, if you think that you ever think about anything you should conclude that naturalism is false.[23]

Second is the argument from meaning:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then no sentence has any meaning. And he says that all the sentences in his own book are in fact meaningless.
  2. But, premise (1) has meaning. We all understood it.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Third is the argument from truth:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then there are no true sentences. That is because they are all meaningless.
  2. But, premise (1) is true. That is what the naturalist believes and asserts.
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Fourth is the argument from moral praise and blame:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then I am not morally praiseworthy or blameworthy for any of my actions because, as I said, on his view objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. But, I am morally praiseworthy and blameworthy for at least some of my actions. If you think that you have ever done something truly wrong or truly good then you should conclude:
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Fifth is the argument from freedom:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then I do not do anything freely. Everything is determined.
  2. But, I can freely agree or disagree with premise (1). From which it follows:
  1. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Sixth is the argument from purpose:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then I do not plan to do anything.
  2. But, I planned to come to tonight’s debate. That is why I am here. From which it follows:
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Seventh is the argument from enduring:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then I do not endure for two moments of time.
  2. But, I have been sitting here for more than a minute. If you think that you are the same person who walked into the room tonight then you should agree that:
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.

Finally, the argument from personal existence – this is perhaps the coup de grace against naturalism:

  1. According to Dr. Rosenberg, if naturalism is true then I do not exist. He says there are no selves, there are no persons, no first-person perspectives
  2.  But, I do exist! I know this as certainly as I know anything. From which it follows:
  3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.” [5]



These are eight arguments against Rosenberg’s metaphysical naturalism (what I call “scientific naturalism”) which, if true, show that “metaphysical naturalism is absurd.” Further than that, metaphysical naturalism “flies in the face of reason and experience and is therefore untenable.” However, if God exists, He is the source and foundation of objective meaning and the fundamental questions of human existence receive a wholly different set of answers than Rosenberg imagines. On theism, there is a God, a soul, objective morality, freedom of the will, an afterlife, love, purpose, meaning (both of human lives and history), value and so forth. Life becomes entrenched and infused with meaning. For many, this conclusion sounds like wishful thinking; I suggest that the data of human experience, the arguments for the existence of God and against scientific naturalism all suggest this to be an objection without any content. Minimally, though, the implications of Rosenberg’s thesis is two-fold. First, if Rosenberg’s thesis is right (that if there is no God, life is objectively meaningless) it is a significant question as to whether or not God exists. Secondly, if Rosenberg has accurately listed the implications of scientific naturalism, refutation of a single implication of scientific naturalism constitutes a reason to deny scientific naturalism. For instance, if one thinks that persons do have freedom of the will and that history has meaning, one ought to think that scientific naturalism is false. Or, to take a different example, if one thinks that love has more to do with the metaphysics of persons and the God who is love (John 4:8) than the evolutionary history of human beings, one ought to conclude that naturalism (of any sort) is false too.

In this paper I have displayed Rosenberg’s scientific naturalism and its implications, shared eight arguments against it by WLC and hopefully have shown both that scientific naturalism is false and that the question of God’s significance is infused with meaning inasmuch as He is the ground of all meaning.

[1] See Alex Rosenberg and William Lane Craig’s debate at Biola University in 2013 here: Retrieved April 12, 2016. As a side note, I present in this paper WLC’s eight arguments against scientific naturalism with no corresponding rebuttals from Rosenberg. I do not do this out of confirmation bias; rather, this paper is not designed to give a full scope of the debate, rather, the paper is designed to give my thesis and to defend it. For a full view of the debate (which really is a great debate), see the video (above) and/or read the transcript (in Footnote 5).

[2] This is, philosophically, a very vague definition—I am fully aware of that. However, for spatial considerations, I will leave terminological debates aside and refer the reader to the work of Tyler Journeaux who has dealt with this definitional issue. See his “Naturalism and Supernaturalism” at Retrieved April 12, 2016.

[3] WLC has characterized Rosenberg’s view as both ‘epistemological naturalism’ and ‘metaphysical naturalism.’ In my view, ‘metaphysical naturalism’ can be taken synonymous with ‘scientific naturalism’ (but the latter entails scientism—so it entails both Rosenberg’s theses into one, not two theses).

[4] Alex Rosenberg. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011. Print.

[5] This quote was retrieved from the official transcript of the debate found at: Retrieved April 12, 2016. Footnote [23] (footnoted by WLC) reads “1:05:00”.

Jeanette Winterson and Ontological Commitment from Language?

In this paper, I want to challenge a notion I have come across in the preface of Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry [1], namely, that “The Hopi, an Indian tribe, have a language as sophisticated as ours, but no tenses for past, present and future. The division does not exist” to which Winterson asks the reader “What does say about time?” My thesis (and answer to this question) is thus: nothing. In this paper, then, I want to explore the metametaphysical notion of ontological commitment and the problem of making ontological commitments from language; after having brought up problems with respect to ontological commitment, I want to refute a positive answer to Winterson’s question by consulting the work of metaphysician Peter van Inwagen in his essay “Being, Existence and Ontological Commitment” [2] which poses, in my view, a reductio ad absurdum of the argument which thinks that one can read ontology off language.

Ontological commitment refers to the metametaphysical notion of committing oneself to the existence of a given entity. For instance, when one asserts that ‘the sun is hot’, it is natural to think one has ontologically committed themselves to the existence of ‘the sun’ or ‘heat.’ But, there are examples in ordinary language where this is problematic. For instance, in thinking of sets, properties, functions, relations and the like (all of which are abstract objects—if they exist), it is common to assert that these things ‘exist’ but not in an ontologically committing sense, but, rather, in some other non-ontologically committing sense [3]. I shall leave this debate here as it is and just note that it has caused problems for those thinking of the foundations of metaphysics as well as those doing ontology (and so the question of ontological commitment has a history). However, I want to introduce what Peter van Inwagen has called the ‘Martian language’ in his essay “Being, Existence and Ontological Commitment” and show how if his thesis is correct with respect to the ‘Martian language’, a positive answer to Winterson’s question begets absurdity.

In van Inwagen’s essay, he writes the following:

There are in Martian no substantives in any way semantically related to ‘ˆetre’ or ‘esse’ or ‘existere’ or ‘to on’ or ‘einai’ or ‘Sein’ or ‘be’ or ‘am’ or ‘is’. (In particular, Martian lacks the nouns ‘being’ and ‘existence’. More exactly, the noun ‘being’ is to be found in the Martian lexicon but only as a count-noun—in phrases like ‘a human being’ and ‘an omnipotent being’—and the present participle ‘being’ occurs only in contexts in which it expresses predication or identity: ‘being of sound mind, I set out my last will and testament’; ‘being John Malkovich’.) There is, moreover, no such verb in Martian as ‘to exist’ and no adjectives like ‘existent’ or ‘extant’. Finally, the Martians do not even have the phrases ‘there is’ and ‘there are’—and not because they use some alternative idiom like ‘it has there’ or ‘it gives’ in their place. [4]

So, van Inwagen presents a language in which there are certain verbs i.e., ‘to be’ and ‘to exist’ which do not themselves exist. But, one might be skeptical as to how this would fair out in ordinary language. Van Inwagen presents examples of ways in which the Martians are able to get around typical English-like ways of speaking language:

 Let us consider some examples. Where we say, ‘Dragons do not exist’ they say, ‘Everything is not a dragon’. Where we say ‘God exists’ or ‘There is a God,’ they say ‘It is not the case that everything is not (a) God’. Where Descartes says ‘I think, therefore I am,’ his Martian counterpart says ‘I think, therefore not everything is not I.’ [5]

I shall presuppose the viability of van Inwagen’s characterizations here for the sake of argument. It is from this that I want to apply a positive answer to Winterson’s thesis. Supposing that in the Hopi tribe there are no temporal distinctions i.e., past, present and future, if one, from that, supposed that these temporal distinctions therefore do not exist, van Inwagen’s argument would show that existence and being themselves do not exist—which is absurd.

I am not sure what pedagogical implications follow from teaching this novel without exploring the philosophical implications of Winterson’s quote; at any rate while the Hopi tribe and their language is interesting from a literary perspective, it does not mean much in the realm of ontology. If my thesis is correct, affirming the ability to read ontology from language entails a reductio ad absurdum (unless one wants to deny ‘being’ and ‘existence’ themselves?).

[1] Jeanette Winterson. Sexing the Cherry. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1992. Print.

[2] Peter van Inwagen, “Being, Existence and Ontological Commitment” in Metametaphysics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

[3] By ‘non-ontologically committing sense’, I mean any theory of ontological commitment which would preclude being committed to abstract objects via the usage of language.

[4] van Inwagen, 478.

[5] van Inwagen, 478.

Does Counterfactual History Need to Deny CCP?

In this paper, I want to show how counterfactual history (a branch of history exploring what would have happened if things had been different) needs the denial of CCP (Causal Closure of the Physical). This essay is merely for the counterfactual historian who wants to explore possibilities in the context of history and who accepts that “although some HE (historical event) occurred, if HE had not occurred, then HE* would have resulted.” If my conclusion is correct, it is fascinating that an entire form of history requires this heavy of a presupposition. As such, I will explain what CCP is and explain why, for two reasons, counterfactual history should deny it. Secondly, if my argument is correct, I will show one implication of my view, namely, philosophical arguments generally should not be taken to be plausibly false if they rest on a controversial premise.

CCP is the view that reality is a system of inter-locked events with the implication of causal determinism [1]. Broadly, what happens i.e., HE, happens necessarily. For instance, suppose that

(1) Hitler died April 30, 1945

is a true proposition. If CCP is true, (1) is necessarily true (it is not possible for Hitler to have died any other time than 1945). But, if (1) could not have been different than it is, it follows that all history is the inevitable consequence of causally determined laws which preclude any form of possibility beyond what the laws allow. Not only would this imply that counterfactual history is mere make-believe (since any ‘if-then’ other than what happens in the actual world cannot happen in principle), but it rids history of any moral significance (taking the assumption that on determinism (with respect to persons) entails not having moral responsibility). So, my view is that the counterfactual historian should deny CCP for two reasons: (i) history, on CCP, is without moral significance and (ii) without denying CCP, any counterfactual (if P were the case, then Q) is a working of the imagination—there are no counterfactuals which are true in other possible worlds (unless they were exactly like the actual world—in which case one would be talking about the actual, not possible world—which is just describing our world).

One could argue against this and say that although CCP is true, it is possible that there could have been a different world than ours which was actualized (and thus the actual world can have necessarily occurring events while remaining open to counterfactual possibilities). To this I would respond that although this might pose a problem for the person who wants to deny any other counterfactuals than the ones of the actual world, my argument simply says that in the actual world the counterfactual historian is interested in some historical event being different in virtue prior conditions and not in some other possible world (the counterfactual historian wants to know whether nor not in the actual world things could have been different). Here is an example. Suppose that a historian Prof. Lydia, wants to inquire whether (1) could have been different and so

(2) Hitler died on December 1, 1946

would be (possibly) true. This would be irrelevant if (2) was only true in another possible world. Presumably if the historian wants to accept that things could have been different, it is for a reason which is relevant to this world and not another possible world. So, if one wanted to know whether or not WW2 could have been prevented, it is not significant whether or not in some other possible world this is true (inasmuch as the other possible worlds are unactual)—it is in the actual world that it matters.

If my thesis is correct, there exists sufficient motivation for the counterfactual historian to reject CCP and to accept any framework i.e., an indeterministic one, which does not preclude counterfactuals describing the actual world. While philosophically denying CCP is a heavy presupposition for an entire discipline, denying CCP is epistemologically favorable given that counterfactual history gives (minimally) possible true conclusions i.e., if Hitler had not existed, WW2 would not have happened, or something like that and moral significance to history (we can learn from history i.e., WW2 and change the future i.e., prevent something like WW2 from happening).

[1] I take CCP to entail causal determinism for one reason, namely, that if every event has a physical antecedent cause, it does not seem possible for any freedom to come into the picture. (Perhaps the CCP I am assuming here also includes physicalism). If causal determinism is true (and precludes any freedom), then it would follow that no event in the history of events could have been different in the actual world.

Why Axiom S5 of Modal Logic is not Decisive for Accepting the Ontological Argument

In this brief paper, I want to share an ontological argument made by Robert Adams without presupposing the validity of axiom S5 of modal logic. Often I hear, to be anecdotal, that Immanuel Kant was the philosopher who showed how the ontological argument failed as a natural theological argument. While I am not a logician (much less a modal logician), this might be of use to those who deny the ontological argument for the existence of God along Kantian lines (or to those who encounter people who argue along those lines). While I may not even understand the argument (as I am sure is probably the case), I will nonetheless provide a dilemma for the person who denies the ontological argument in virtue of their denying axiom S5 of modal logic. So, I will begin by outlining (extraordinarily briefly) what the ontological argument is (beginning with St. Anselm), reiterate the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s objection, and then conclude with Adams’ ontological argument which plausibly avoids his objection.

The ontological argument, simply, is a natural theological argument for the existence of God which begins with

(1) God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived (thought) (St. Anselm)

and concludes with

(2) Therefore, God exists.

Inherent in the concept of God, then, is the property of existence. While this was problematic for even St. Anselm’s contemporary Gaunilo, the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s objection was based on his denial of existence as a predicate. So, as some argue, one need not take a standpoint in the metaphysics of modality which includes the acceptance of S5.

To this, I have very little to say asides that Robert Adams, in his The Virtue of Faith, has an ontological argument without S5 that, as Alex Pruss notes, “only needs the Brouwer axiom p→LMp, namely that if p is true, it not only is possible, but it is a necessary truth that p is possible.” Pruss schematizes a version of the argument as follows:

  1. L(GLG).

Add that possibly God exists:

  1. MG.

The proof is simple:

  1. MLG. (By 1 and 2 and K)
  2. ~GLM~G. (Brouwer)
  3. MLGG. (Contraposition on 4)
  4. G. (Modus ponens on 3 and 5) [1]

So, while some may have avoided the ontological argument axiomatically from their views in the metaphysics of modality i.e., denying S5, it is open for discussion whether or not Adams has solved this problem.

[1] This was retrieved (April 10, 2016) from Alex Pruss’ philosophical blog:

Fun Epistemology Paper

Preliminary Background: This is a small philosophy essay written for my philosophy class; the question answered is, roughly: Does Goldman’s analysis of knowing provide a persuasive answer to the problem posed by Gettier cases?

In this paper, I shall argue that Goldman does succeed in providing an account of knowledge which avoids the cases posed by Gettier. First, I will outline Gettier cases. Secondly, I will briefly outline Goldman’s causal theory of knowledge. Thirdly, I will hopefully show how Goldman’s epistemology avoids the problems posed by Gettier.

Gettier cases are thought experiments which serve as a counter-example to an account of knowledge having the following structure:

(1) Knowledge =df. Justified True Belief.

From (1), there are three necessary conditions which, when taken conjunctively, constitute knowledge: (i) holding a belief, (ii) that belief’s being true and (iii) that true belief’s being justified. Gettier argues against this (roughly) as follows. Suppose Smith and Jones apply for the same job. Smith has good reason to think that Jones will get the job and that, further, Smith has 10 coins in his pocket. Presupposing this, the logical entailment of his belief that “Smith will get the job and has 10 coins in his pocket” is as follows:

(2) The man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket.

But, it turns out that Smith—not Jones—gets the job and, coincidentally, has 10 coins in his pocket. This is a case of Smith’s having a justified, true belief while he could not have been said, says Gettier, to know (2) yet Smith’s belief in (2) met all the criteria posed by (1). Given that Gettier has shown a counter-example to (1), he concludes that (1) is not an adequate account of knowledge.

Goldman proposes a causal theory of knowledge suggesting that:

(3) S knows p iff S is caused to believe p in an appropriate, causally connected way.

For example, suppose that Nietzsche, as he wrote his Genealogy of Morals, formed the belief that he was committing the genetic fallacy. Thereafter, he looked textually into what he wrote and spotted where he committed the fallacy. On the causal theory of knowledge, Nietzsche was caused to believe that he committed the genetic fallacy by looking at what he wrote and being able to find it. The causal connection was between his belief that he committed the fallacy and that fallacy actually being in the material he wrote i.e., in the first few pages. Thus, on the causal theory of knowledge, knowledge amounts to a belief formed appropriately and causally connected to reality.

The question becomes: Does Gettier cases also pose a problem for the causal theory of knowledge? I suggest that it does not. Take the Nietzsche example but instead suppose that instead of being able to find the textual location of the genetic fallacy, Nietzsche instead cannot find it. But, in being Nietzsche, he stops caring about the fallacy and publishes the Genealogy of Morals anyways. Then, after a couple months, Nietzsche begins to receive letters from prominent professors and scholars all around Germany saying that he is committing the genetic fallacy in his book. Nietzsche, puzzled by this, writes back to the respective people and asks “where did I commit the genetic fallacy?” Much to Nietzsche’s distress, though, no letter gets returned to him; instead he continues to receive letters until he gets over 1000 letters all of which are in agreement that he has committed the fallacy. Nietzsche concludes, then, that he has committed the genetic fallacy (and his belief is true (since he did commit it) and also justified (over 1000 people all agree that he did)). Little does Nietzsche know, however, that the letters were not about the Genealogy of Morals, but his earlier book Beyond Good and Evil! Hence, Nietzsche’s belief that he committed the genetic fallacy was true and justified but he cannot be said to know that he committed the genetic fallacy since his justified true belief was about the Genealogy of Morals not Beyond Good and Evil.

However, on the causal theory of knowledge Nietzsche’s belief that he committed the fallacy was not justified since there was no appropriate causal connection between the belief he held and the state of affairs in reality (i.e., there being a genetic fallacy in the Genealogy of Morals) and so Nietzsche did not know that he committed the genetic fallacy. In other words, Nietzsche was not caused to believe “that he had committed the genetic fallacy” appropriately since the causal connection was not directed at the Genealogy of Morals but at another book—Beyond Good and Evil.[1] Consequently, while Gettier can charge (1) with exemplifying examples where the criteria for knowledge is met but not constitutive of knowledge, the causal theory of knowledge prevents those problems since the causal connection must be appropriate, that is, the causal connection must connect the belief with the state of affairs in reality. [2]

I hope I have shown that the causal theory of knowledge avoids Gettier problems.

[1] A classmate has a relatively similar argument to mine that she has informally notified me of (and so I am indebted to her here).

[2] I suppose as a celebratory post, I am posting my first ever university paper graded at 90%.

Intuitions Regarding Kevin Scharp’s Critique of William Lane Craig’s Natural Theological Arguments from Probability Thresholds and Divine Psychology

Kevin Scharp (Scharp) has lodged two arguments against William Lane Craig’s (WLC) natural theological arguments I think are plausibly false.[1] First, Scharp argues that in giving a philosophical argument with premises which are theologically neutral but a conclusion that is theologically significant, there must exist independent justification for thinking that (on the Kalam cosmological argument) God would want to create a universe (if God would not want to create a universe, on his view it is implausible to suggest that God then is probably the Creator of the universe). Secondly, Scharp argues that claiming to ‘believe’ requires a context-dependent probability threshold with respect to how much confidence a person has in the belief in question. So, first I shall argue that Sharp’s first argument against WLC is plausibly false. Secondly, I will show how the desire to have probability thresholds with respect to confidence in beliefs is not significant. In conclusion, I shall suggest that Scharp’s two contentions are implausible and irrelevant.

Scharp first argues from ‘Divine psychology’ (God’s psychology) that the burden of proof lies on the theist to show that God would want to create the universe (considering only the Kalam argument for spatial considerations here). To be clear, I will outline the Kalam argument as Dr. Craig typically presents it, that is, deductively:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

Even if all three premises are correct, Scharp assumes, the argument does not yield a convincing case for the conclusion that God exists since the theist must show in addition that God would want to create the universe. While I can understand Scharp’s motivation for this claim (often we explain things from intentions i.e., the child takes the cookie from the cookie jar because he/she has the intention/desire to do so), I think his contention here is false—or minimally plausibly false. I shall illustrate this through an analogical argument.

Suppose there exists a water bottle on a desk in an office. Further, suppose that Daniel, the detective, must find out whose water bottle it is. So, Daniel takes specimens from the bottle cap to detect finger prints as well as other background information i.e., the name ‘Emily’ written on the door. So, given the specimens from the bottle cap, the name ‘Emily’ written on the door and so on, Daniel concludes that the water bottle is Emily’s. It is natural to assume, based on the evidence, that whether or not Emily forgot the water bottle, hated and so abandoned the water bottle or even intentionally left the water hoping for someone else to drink it, the fact of the matter is that the evidence points towards—with plausibility—Emily being the person who was responsible for the water bottle in the office. Now, here is the analogy. While having direct access to Emily’s private mental life i.e., seeing her intentions/desires, it might be easy to see her direct intention—in part—responsible for her leaving the water bottle in the office, Emily’s private mental live and all it entails is independent of whether or not the evidence (or arguments) point to her being the best explanation of the water bottle being in the office. Now, if a natural theological argument shows with plausibility that God exists i.e., the Kalam argument, it does not follow that direct access to God’s psychology (what Scharp calls ‘Divine Psychology’) is necessary or sufficient to show that God exists; if the evidence points towards the existence of God, God’s desire to (or not to) create the universe is independent of the conclusion of the argument. Thus, when the conclusion is reached ‘God exists’ it is both misguided and mistaken to suggest that the theist has a burden of proof to show that God would want to create the universe (since it is not clear that that has any decisive or philosophically significant role). So much for Scharp’s first contention.

Scharp continues and argues that WLC must show that a person’s belief in God must meet a certain probability threshold to be a genuine belief i.e., 51% is not enough.[2] WLC has responds to this by suggesting that that it is arbitrary to suggest that confidence levels must meet probability thresholds to be beliefs  inasmuch as it is psychologically and qualitatively implausible to do so (introspectively), to which Scharp responded that it is simply a matter of context. I suggest that this is highly improbable. In order to give an accurate qualitative account of one’s ‘confidence’ of some belief, one must devise a truth-conducive method of assessing one’s confidence of the belief itself. This method will either be introspective or scientific.

The problem with introspection is that while generalizations can be made ‘I believe some belief B to be more probable than not’, it is difficult to see how—with any precision or measurable precision—one can give a percentage of the confidence from introspection i.e., ‘I believe B with a confidence of 54%.’ A further problem arises, though. What is the threshold of decimal points necessary to be given? Should it be four decimal points? Ten decimal points? Decimal points ad infinitum? Indeed, there is at work here the problem of designating arbitrary numbers for confidence in a belief (while a generalization is significantly more reliable). Thus, there must be a scientific approach to retrieving a qualitative analysis of confidence in a belief. Here, though, the problem is worse than that of introspection. For inasmuch as ‘confidence in a belief’ is a person’s orientation to that belief (or propositional attitude), it is unclear why it is possible to think that a person’s orientation or propositional attitude are qualitative notions. The burden of proof, then, lies on Sharp for providing a method.

It is also unclear whether or not the natural theological arguments should be taken disjunctively or conjunctively. For instance, even supposing Scharp’s probability threshold requirement for confidence to have a ‘belief’, it is unclear how this is interpreted in light of the plethora of natural theological arguments.[3] If one was, hypothetically, 51% sure of the truth of the premises in the Kalam argument and so ‘not believing’ in Scharp’s view, what happens when, say, two other arguments are included? But, further, suppose that one held to all three natural theological arguments with a confidence of 51%. Would that person, then, believe in God? It seems that once 51% is met, God’s existence is more probably than not (setting aside considerations of reformed epistemology i.e., Alvin Plantinga). Interestingly enough, WLC, after the debate, even notes the point I am making here with respect to taking natural theological arguments conjunctively:

“I didn’t think of this in the dialogue, so I didn’t say it. But afterwards, this is exactly right, and it occurred to me. Timothy McGrew, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Western Michigan, emphasizes that even deductive arguments that, say, make God’s existence 20% probable (that’s all, just 20%), if you accumulate these arguments – 20%, 15%, 30%, 35% – pretty soon, as you say, the cumulative probability of these independent arguments is way over 50%. This is the way a cumulative case is built in a court of law, isn’t it? No single piece of evidence might be enough to convict beyond reasonable doubt, but when you put all of the cumulative evidence together then it can be beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. So the very fact that I got around ten arguments, each of which increases the probability of God’s existence, would, I think, make it very plausible to think that this does give you great confidence that God exists.” [4]

Once a person has good reason i.e., thinks it more probable than not, that God exists, it seems that they believe that God exists. To suggest that this is not so shifts the burden of proof to the objector to come up with an adequate account of the threshold of probability for confidence of belief for the natural theological arguments taken disjunctively and conjunctively.

I think that Divine psychology and considerations of devising probability thresholds for beliefs based on confidence levels are irrelevant to natural theological arguments. [5]

[1] These comments (and the full debate) can be found at Retrieved at April, 2 2016. Also, two side notes should be made. First, while I disagree with Scharp on a host of issues (mainly assertions he made), I am restricting myself to two and not others–the laws of physics/chemistry/biology as inconsistent with miracles, for instance, I am leaving out. Secondly, many of Scharp’s arguments are, in my view, dismissive and ad hoc and so I will not deal with them here. For instance, WLC’s so-called ‘weakness problem’ is just a manifestly false understanding of WLC’s arguments. For instance, as WLC notes in the debate, the threshold of probability with respect to each premise is lowered for the sake of appealing to a wider audience; in WLC’s actual view, he thinks the premises far more probable than ‘more probable than not.’ Scharp’s response to this is to insist the weakness problem and dismiss what is, on my view, WLC’s intellectual humility. To take another example, Scharp commits a classic Appeal to Authority Fallacy in the debate so as to undermine WLC’s claims regarding confidence levels by appealing to ‘Contemporary Epistemology’ (without any reference).

[2] Scharp argues that ‘belief’ and ‘more probable than not’ are not synonymous. It is unclear what Scharp means by ‘belief.’ If it is a matter of ‘confidence’ in some proposition or states of affairs then my arguments still show that he hasn’t avoided arbitrariness. However, Scharp has offered a thought which suggests his view to be correct, namely, his ‘Hilary example’ where he says that thinking ‘Hilary will win’ with a confidence of 51% isn’t belief that she will win. I think this is implausible for two reasons. First, while a low probability of some confidence in a belief is in one sense variable and not very confident (as he himself notes), this doesn’t show that it is not a belief at all. It only shows that it is a weak belief or a non-confident belief (and if one rejects this this only exemplifies how the term ‘belief’ being vague is detrimental to Scharp’s argument). To my mind, the sentence ‘I believe, but with not much confidence, Hilary will win’ is a meaningful sentence. Secondly, there is no standard to which ‘confidence’ will be held. What does confidence consist in? Dying for the belief? Spreading the belief around in hope that people will become confident in it? It seems that confidence in a belief is not quantitative as Scharp imagines it is; this is no surprise though, it is implausible to come up with necessary/sufficient conditions and minimum thresholds for ‘belief’ if in every case ‘belief’ will be different. Another issue here that confidence is also often subjective; 51% for one person might be sufficient to believe (perhaps they have sufficient motivation to believe and thus 51% is good enough?), while others might be inclined to think it philosophically ‘not enough’ for belief i.e., Scharp. To argue that 51% isn’t enough because it is not as solid as, say, 90%, it seems implausible to suggest that confidence in a belief is necessarily connected to a certain threshold. (An interesting counter-example are people who have confidence in their beliefs despite all reasons to the contrary). Now, one might reject this and argue, for instance, that when a doctor tells the patient ‘I am confident you have cancer’, it is not a matter of the confidence that the doctor believes—it is evidence that convinces the doctor. But, I suggest that this is not always true. For instance, it is possible that a doctor might believe in miracles and so, independent of the 95% chance of the patient having cancer, the doctor believes that the patient will get better. So, it is not true that a probability threshold can (or should) be given for certain ‘contexts.’ (To avoid this and say ‘well confidence levels must, then, meet certain thresholds for each person (for belief)’, the objector here is being ad hoc and question begging in favor of thinking there is, really, a method of devising probability thresholds for each particular confidence level).

[3] The literature here is vast. It is worth citing a few pieces of literature on this topic. The natural argument from the existence of the universe comes in at least two ways: the Kalam cosmological argument and the Leibnizian cosmological argument (often called the ‘argument from contingency’). These are two cosmological arguments are defended by contemporary philosophers of religion. For a full defense of the Kalam cosmological argument, see Craig, William Lane. The Kalam Cosmological Argument. (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000). Print. For the Leibnizian cosmological argument, see Craig, William. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008), p. 106-111. The argument from fine-tuning has received much attention in light of scientific (particularly astrophysical and cosmological) evidence. For a defense of such an argument (alongside a host of other arguments i.e., beauty, consciousness, morality (axiological), providence, religious experience, et cetera), see Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), Chapters 7-14. For a defense of the ontological argument see, Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil. (Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2002), Part 2 Section c, 1-10. Plantinga also defends a thesis in positive Christian apologetics which is not natural theological per se but nonetheless still somewhat of a reformed epistemological argument for the existence of God (what he calls the ‘AC Model’), see Plantinga, Alvin. Knowledge and Christian Belief. (Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2015), Chapters 3 and 4. For a treatment on the argument from consciousness see, Moreland, J.P. Consciousness and the Existence of God. (New York and London: Routledge, 2008), Chapter 2. See also Adams, Robert. The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), Part IV, 16. Edith Stein has also applied her phenomenological and Thomistic (scholastic) philosophy to develop an argument from consciousness. See Stein, Edith. Finite and Eternal Being. Trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt. (Washington, D.C: ICS Publications, 2002). Print. It would be immodest here to fail to repeat that this list barely scratches the surface of the plethora of literature on this topic. (For I haven’t also mentioned the initial formulators of many of the arguments, i.e., St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, Aristotle, Plato, Leibniz, Al-Ghazali, et cetera).

[4] Retrieved April 3, 2016.

[5] These are just intuitions regarding two of Kevin Scharp’s claims. I do not intend for this post to be taken as exhaustive of WLC or Scharp’s full views; I am responding to Scharp from a different (but sometimes similar and overlapping) perspective. (Also, I am omitting some of WLC’s responses to Scharp for (i) spatial considerations and (ii) clarity).

A Quick Inverted Qualia Objection to Richard Taylor’s Naturalist Foundation for Moral Rules

Richard Taylor, in his debate with William Lane Craig, says the following: “You don’t like your bones broken. You don’t want to bleed. You don’t want to be assaulted. You don’t want to be stolen from. Nobody does. That is objective. And from those objective facts, we are perfectly capable of devising rules.”[1] I have a counter-example—from the notion of ‘inverted qualia’—to this naturalist foundation for moral rules. First, I shall outline what I mean by ‘qualia’ and ‘inverted qualia.’ Secondly, I shall show how this is relevant to Taylor’s argument. Thirdly, I shall briefly respond to two objections and lastly I shall, hopefully, show how if my analysis is correct, Taylor’s argument is probably false (or at least subject to an important, defeating counter-example).

Suppose that P (some person) has inverted qualia. For definitional purposes, I take qualia to exemplify the phenomenal character of consciousness; thus, inverted qualia refers to a phenomenal character of consciousness—the felt-like character of experience—not as it normally functions, but as a malfunction (or inversion of the way qualia normally goes). So, for instance, upon seeing a pine tree in the backyard, the visual sensation of a tomato arises; but, upon seeing a tomato, the sensation of a pine tree occurs (Locke first gave examples on these lines). Or, upon what is supposed to smell like freshly baked cinnamon rolls, the sensation of tuna arises; however, when the sensation of tuna arises, the sensation of smelling freshly baked cinnamon rolls arises (and so on). So, P has inverted qualia if and only if the phenomenal character of some experience of consciousness is inverted.

Taylor’s argument can be schematized as follows:

(1) Human beings do not like x i.e., x causes suffering.

and therefore

(2) It ought to be a rule that x is prevented

I suggest that this line of argument is invalid. If Taylor’s argument is to be understood as an attempt to make an ethic objective, the ethic’s foundation cannot reside in human being’s not liking x. Here is why. Suppose that P (some person) has normally functioning qualia and P* (some other person) has inverted qualia. Now, Taylor’s ethical foundation is claiming to be objective, that is, independent whether anyone thinks it is true or false. So, here is a dilemma for Taylor. P endures some suffering S while P*, when affected by S, endures a sensation of pleasure S*. Thus, an ethic which is rooted in human suffering will be arbitrary for two reasons. First, it is arbitrary in that qualia might be different than it is. For instance, instead of feeling pain when stricken by a sword, this might be pleasurable in some other possible world. Secondly, it is arbitrary in that some human beings (in the actual world) might not have the relevant ability to feel, for instance, empathy (given a malfunction in their experiences of qualia). The problem is that when Taylor asserts that it is rooted in human suffering, he fails to recognize that if some person had an inverted qualia, they still ought to be bound by relevant moral laws. But, if these moral laws are necessarily dependent on human suffering, those with inverted qualia are not bound by the laws (or at least are unjustly so). I can anticipate two objections to my analysis.

It could be objected that I am being unfair to Taylor for two reasons. First, it might be claimed that Taylor is not claiming an objective ethic, and, secondly, it could be argued that Taylor is merely claiming an ethic which would make sense out of the relationship between suffering and moral rules. With respect to the former objection, if Taylor’s view was deflatable to subjectivism, I do not see how he can make sense out of moral responsibility. For instance, ‘you ought to do x’ is normatively taken to denote a claim which is universal and binding on all persons (not just some—unless his view is deflatable to cultural relativism (in which case my inverted qualia argument still applies)). With respect to the second objection, Taylor’s argument on this interpretation becomes, where T is some point in time:

T1 P suffers S

T2 Therefore, P (or anyone who suffers relevant sensations of pain) devises a rule to prevent S

There are two problems here. First, this is probably a false cause fallacy (or a post hoc fallacy). It is not a historical fact that human suffering was the foundation for moral values and duties (even if it provided a good reason to want to have rules preventing human suffering). Nietzsche devised such a genealogical history and was still unable to establish the historical basis of his account upon which his critique rested. So, it is probable that ethical truths are independent of persons and their respective suffering. For instance, if stealing caused some pleasurable sensation, it seems normal to assume that stealing still should not be performed. Or, if helping someone caused much distress and harm unto oneself (there are a plethora of cases like this in World War II), it would still be good independent of circumstances to help the person in need. Secondly, my argument from inverted qualia prevents this type of objection in that suffering is not a reliable source of moral rules (given that inverted qualia would change moral rules—and then Taylor’s ethical foundation cannot be seen as ‘objective).

In this paper I hope my counter-example against Taylor’s naturalistic account of the foundation for moral rules is adequate.

[1] This essay (i) ought to be taken as rough and informal, (ii) for fun—essentially, (iii) not indicative of Richard Taylor’s full view in ethics and (iv) merely intuitions regarding his informal quote during the Q&A with William Lane Craig. This passage is found at Retrieved on March 31, 2016.