Be sure to check out Goodness Over God, the counter-apologetics podcast hosted by myself and philosopher Michael Long!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Robin Collins' restricted principle of indifference

In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (2009), Robin Collins presents an argument for the existence of God from the fine-tuning of the constant parameters of our physics models. I see several great problems with the argument, but in this blog entry I want to focus on just one family of problems having to do with his invokation of the controversial principle of indifference (hereafter POI). Philosophers know quite well from a slew of paradoxes dealing with the principle that it is inconsistent in its most general form, and generally avoid appealing to it. However this has not prevented some from developing more rigorous forms of it which they believe are useful and intuitive. Robin Collins has followed in this tradition, and so he presents in Blackwell his own "restricted" version of the principle (hereafter RPOI):

Monday, November 21, 2011

clarification on "mixing models"

[NOTE: This is a post on Pastor Seger's argument. For the discussion with Sye Ten Bruggencate, go here.]

This past Thursday Michael Long and I sat down to have a taped conversation (over Skype) with Sye Ten Bruggencate and Pastor Dustin Segers about the existence of God. We all had a great time, and plan to perhaps do it again at some point in the future. In the mean time, I'd like to clarify some comments I made.

Not surprisingly, they appealed to their "assumption" that God exists, and boldly asserted that God somehow "grounds" the so-called "laws of logic" (among other things). Michael and I expressed our concern, however, that they don't have a coherent idea of what it means for logic to have a "ground," and we asked them to explain how they took God to serve this purpose. (We're also rather skeptical that they have a clear notion of what they're talking about when they refer to "laws of logic," but unfortunately we didn't have much time to get to that in the podcast.) Towards the end, though, Pastor Segers told us that he took the laws of logic to be "necessarily existent thoughts" and suggested that a "ground" for the laws of logic consists of the mind or minds which contain(s) those thoughts. In particular, he said:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

a discussion with Sye Ten Bruggencate

This post originally consisted of an entirely different topic. However the comments for the post took on a life of their own, and so I'm re-posting the original topic here, and leaving this post open for further discussion on Sye's view. It comes after we interviewed him on the Goodness Over God podcast this past Thursday.

To summarize, Sye wants to know how we justify reason itself, and hence our subjective view of the world which we base on our reason. However I take justification to be a part of our reason, and so this is akin to asking, how does a person justify justification? My position is that we don't need justification for using any particular standard of justification as long as that standard is consistent with itself, and with its own application. While this situation may not satisfy us completely, it's the best we have available to us, since any would-be justification for our standard of justification must necessarily have a circular character.

In Sye's view, though, not all circular reasoning is bad, or "vicious." According to him, we should instead use a good or "virtuous" kind of circular reasoning involving the existence of the Christian God. Recall from the podcast (~48:00):

SYE: We're saying that we have a justification---revelation from God.

BEN: Part of what we mean by justification is to satisfy our reason. How could you have a non-circular argument given that that's what we mean by justification?

SYE: We're not saying that our argument isn't circular. We're saying that it's virtuously circular in that God can justify reasoning.


So that's the background to the following discussion. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

an argument for agnosticism

Let us take inductive inference to consist in extrapolating the broadest-according regularities of our experience to universal laws, each within some larger domain or context than the experiences themselves. On a small scale this is easy to envision, and we can appeal to such canonical examples as the inference that all swans are white from a large random sample of uniformly white swans. However, we must also take inductively-inferred laws to "accord broadly" with all of the regularities of our experience. For instance despite the fact that we have only ever personally encountered white swans, perhaps we have heard from a reliable source (wikipedia?) that there exist black swans. To infer that all swans are white under these circumstances might accord narrowly with our first-hand experiences of swans, but not broadly with our other non-swan experiences, namely the experiences which lead us to decide that our source for information on black swans is reliable. So inductive inferences must in this sense comport with the "big picture," so to speak, which is to say that wherever the narrow regularities of our experience conflict, induction must follow the most well-evidenced, i.e. the most well-represented, of these.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

more on the burden of proof for god's existence

In debates over the existence of God, we often find atheists accusing Christians of having "the burden of proof." Defectivebit of choosinghats.com wants to remind negative atheists such as myself that we do indeed make positive claims, and according to him this leaves us with our own burden of proof. Now, in a very trivial sense, it is quite true that we must make a certain claim when identifying ourselves as negative atheists. Namely, we are making the claim that we do not believe in God. Furthermore, this seemingly benign statement draws on various concepts, which in turn suggests that by identifying as negative atheists we must take up the positions that they are collectively (and possibly also individually) meaningful. For instance it appears we must assign some positive meaning to the concepts of belief, God, the self, and so on, if we want to truthfully identify as negative atheists. Further still, what appears to me the usual context of accusations of "burden of proof" on the part of negative atheists involves the notion that negative atheism has a sort of "default" epistemic status, i.e. that we should all be negative atheists unless we have reason to adopt an alternative position, and this view will obviously require a defense if challenged.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pruss' grim reaper paradox

Philosopher and mathematician Alexander Pruss in 2008, and again in 2009, discussed on his blog the following paradox: Consider an infinite collection of grim reapers indexed by the positive integers n=1,2,..., where the nth grim reaper is scheduled to kill Fred at 11:00am + 1/n minutes, and where Fred's life is otherwise safe during that period. By hypothesis, he dies from the hand of a grim reaper, say the kth grim reaper. However the (k+1)th grim reaper visited Fred before the kth grim reaper, which means that Fred must already be dead by the time the kth grim reaper visits him. This is a contradiction, and we conclude that there is a logical error in the construction of this unusual and hypothetical situation.