What is the problem of divine hiddenness?
August 24, 2010 — 17:23

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism  Comments: 15

As a friend of mine recently put it: “*What* problem of divine hiddenness? Almost everybody believes in God!”
Well, it does seem true that most people believe in the supernatural. If you sum the Abrahamic faiths, it’s probably true that most people alive today believe in YHWH. The diachronic picture probably isn’t much different, but it’s hard to say when you should start the clock and our theological past is clouded by various issues. So it seems if there’s a God, he’s not *too* hidden. Also, more and more studies seem to show how instinctively religious we are as a species. (For a good study, see this book by my colleague C. Stephen Evans (http://amzn.to/9jCIA8).
One way to go is this:
DHE The existence of a single individual S–who’s intellectually and morally fit–such that there is some time t at which S doesn’t believe in God is incompatible with (or is overwhelming evidence against) the existence of God.
This seems to be the tree Schellenberg is barking up, and Ted and I have responded to that here. http://bit.ly/aCJ89Y
And I don’t think a more moderate approach is going to do much better.
DHM The existence of a moderate sized group M–who are intellectually and morally fit–such that there is some moderately sized set of times T during which the M’s don’t believe in God is incompatible with (or is overwhelming evidence against) the existence of God.


Divine Hiddenness More Basic Than Problem of Evil
August 24, 2010 — 16:21

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism  Comments: 6

I’d think this would be a common thought.
If problem in Problem of Evil is a problem for belief in God, then how could there be such a problem if God were sufficiently present. E&(God is present) is a hard way to argue against the existence of God. No Pr(God is present/E) might be low, that’s fine. What I’m saying is, if it were clear to one that God were present, then there’d be no problem of evil as we usually think of it.
What we’d have would be a more traditional problem of evil like that Augustine struggled with, i.e. evil suggested a finite god or some kind of Manichean dualism.
It’s no part of my thesis that the alleged fact of divine hiddenness wouldn’t be a piece of token evidence for the evil-based atheologian. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
This suggests to me that the problem of divine hiddenness is more basic than the problem of evil, and that we ought to get clear on what the problem of divine hiddenness is.

Philosophy and Faith in the NYT
August 6, 2010 — 16:12

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Religious Belief  Comments: 38

Garry Gutting has a nice piece on faith and philosophy in a recent New York Times article. An excerpt:

The standard view is that philosophers’ disagreements over arguments about God make their views irrelevant to the faith of ordinary believers and non-believers. The claim seems obvious: if we professionals can’t agree among ourselves, what can we have to offer to non-professionals? An appeal to experts requires consensus among those experts, which philosophers don’t have.
This line of thought ignores the fact that when philosophers disagree it is only about specific aspects of the most subtle and sophisticated versions of arguments for and against God’s existence (for example, my colleague Alvin Plantinga’s modal-logic formulation of St. Anselm’s ontological argument or William Rowe’s complex version of a probabilistic argument from evil). There is no disagreement among philosophers about the more popular arguments to which theists and atheists typically appeal: as formulated, they do not prove (that is, logically derive from uncontroversial premises) what they claim to prove. They are clearly inadequate in the judgment of qualified professionals. Further, there are no more sophisticated formulations that theists or atheists can accept — the way we do scientific claims — on the authority of expert consensus.
In these popular debates about God’s existence, the winners are neither theists nor atheists, but agnostics — the neglected step-children of religious controversy, who rightly point out that neither side in the debate has made its case. This is the position supported by the consensus of expert philosophical opinion.

Those with an interest in social epistemology might find some of Gutting’s comments of particular interest. Thanks to Stephen Grimm for passing this along.

Simon Conway Morris Links with Application to the Fine-Tuning Argument
July 18, 2010 — 23:39

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Books of Interest Concept of God Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 4

Sometimes I wish I lived in the UK. I can’t imagine such a rational and fair discussion airing in the states, not even on NPR maybe.
Interview on Australian ABC affiliate.
Article in the Guardian on the old “New Atheists.”
Morris’s cool book _Inevitable Humans_.
A summary of some of his ideas from Wikipedia.
Simon Conway Morris’s homepage in the Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge U.
He’s well known for his work on evolutionary convergence, the fact that certain features seem to evolve independently and almost inevitably. This has lead him to make the controversial claim–for which he however makes a good case based on the convergence data he’s famous for in his field–that if there were life on other planets, it wold likely resemble life on Earth to a remarkable degree.
There are two potential applications of his work (at least) concerning the design argument. One is that it would settle a dilemma posed in this paper by Dougherty and Poston: “A User’s Guide to Design Arguments.” I.e. it would show that there is possibly a good fine-tuning argument for God’s existence, but not a good biological design argument.
Second, it would go some way toward defeating the “strange alternative forms of life” objection to the fine-tuning argument.
I welcome both these results.

Elsewhere on the web…Atheists and Agnostics to battle!
July 6, 2010 — 21:47

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism  Comments: 12

Non-philosophy-based writing on religious epistemology mostly confuses me and frequently frustrates me. This article on Slate.com definitely confused me. But it’s an opportunity to make a point. Consider this excerpt.

“Agnosticism doesn’t fear uncertainty. It doesn’t cling like a child in the dark to the dogmas of orthodox religion or atheism. Agnosticism respects and celebrates uncertainty and has been doing so since before quantum physics revealed the uncertainty that lies at the very groundwork of being.”

Apart from the ad hominem and the fact that though quantum mechanics is pretty fundamental it’s still pretty far from the “very groundwork of being,” the thing that bugs me is this idea that religious believers have any particular interest in certainty. “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
I’ve been pretty forthcoming about my own undulating credences here (enough so that some folks have asked me to send them my Spreadsheet (yes, I keep one)). Religious publishers catalogs abound with books embracing the consistency of faith and some limited but real doubt. There might be some fundamentalist sombitches out there who espouse certainty, but their getting all the press gets old. I’ve blogged a good bit on my Catholic blog about a *species* of certainty faith includes, but it’s not the kind of certainty these kind of people are talking about.
Now Brian Leiter lauds a comment on that story which includes this:

“Atheism is NOT the certainty that there are no gods. It is NOT a conviction that science will one day answer all questions. Atheism is the refusal to believe in gods in the absence of evidence for their existence.

Some of my Christian Evidentialist colleagues at Rochester–there’s a small colony of us emanating from there now–were discussing this and it was noticed that we counted as atheists according to this! After all, we refuse to believe *anything* in the absence of evidence!
Another problem with this definition is that it makes metaphysically impossible irrational atheists who disbelieve in God in the *presence* of evidence. And I have evidence that such persons are possible (it involves the lemma that the actual is possible). 🙂

Hey, Remember _God and Other Minds_?
June 19, 2010 — 15:25

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Concept of God Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 19

[This post is not wholly unrelated to this one, which is a point I’ll be harping on for, oh, say, the next 30 years. It’s also not wholly unrelated to my recent confession concerning naturalism.] So Al is retiring as we know, and many people have been reminiscing about various aspects of his career. One thing that I think needs remembering is the brilliant and simple argument of _God and Other Minds_.
That argument, in brief, can be sketched as follows.
1. The case for the existence of other minds and the case for the existence of a Divine Mind are on a par (w.r.t. formal arguments).
2. If 1, then affirming one of them is rational if and only if affirming the other is rational.
3. It is rational to affirm the existence of other minds.
4. So it is rational to affirm the existence of the Divine Mind (supernaturalism).
My only quarrel is that I think the *philosophical* case for God is better than that for other minds, but let’s let that go. Here’s why it’s important to me to bring this up now. During grad school, I met many more people who had come to believe in God during or just prior to grad school than who lost their belief. But those few who did all seemed to suffer from the same kind of bad epistemology, something very much like what Al calls “evidentialism”: needing a pretty much indesputable argument for God’s existence to believe. (N.B. all, please, PLEASE, that this is not what evidentialism is in epistemology, the latter is a supervenience thesis about propositional justification).
Forget that this standard is not applied consistently. My point is that, yes, design arguments and cosmological arguments have disputable points (though it’s awfully hard to dispute the premises of Koons’s or Pruss’s arguments). But unless one starts out as an “antecende” naturalist (which, unfortunately, many do), then theism is the only game in town. And, naturalism is in shambles. It’s the Metaphysical Shrug. I think Hume is totally with me on this. Unlike Hume, I think we can go on to give more content to supernaturalism, but that’s a different matter. That’s the discussion we should be having.

What Is It Like to Have an Experience That Grounds a Properly Basic Belief in God?
February 18, 2010 — 11:49

Author: Robert Gressis  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 36

[Note: An incomplete version of this post published earlier. Sorry about that!]

Recently, California State University, Sacramento philosopher Matt McCormick recorded an interview with Luke Muehlhauser in which he discussed atheism. A lively debate broke out in the comments section, and there Matt challenged defenders of reformed epistemology (RE) as follows:
“Maybe you all can just help me understand what this immediate, direct, non-inferential, basic apprehension of God is, exactly. I’m not really interested in theoretical interpretations or descriptions that are couched in abstract theological babble. I just want to hear some descriptions of the actual phenomenology of these moments, experiences, or apprehensions. Describe the sorts of feelings, sights, smells, or apprehensions that are occurring when one is having this direct hookup with God. For analogies, we have the Jodie Foster contacts aliens example and a guy who knows he didn’t commit a crime because he recalls being at home watching TV on Saturday night and not robbing a liquor store, or whatever. But obviously, one’s encounters with the almighty creator of the universe and master of all reality aren’t really going to be like either of these in any shape, manner, or form. So what exactly are they like? And what is it about them that engenders such profound confidence and such strong ontological conclusions?”
I decided to respond to the challenge.
You can find what I wrote, as well as Matt McCormick’s response, at Matt’s blog, but in case you don’t want to read my rambling comment, I’ll summarize the relevant portion:


Puddleglum’s Wager
October 20, 2009 — 10:10

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 41

We’ve been listening to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles on CD. I read them when I was about ten years old, and I never got around to re-reading them, so some of it is almost as if I’m experiencing them for the first time. When I got to the following scene from the Silver Chair, it struck me as a strange argument, sort of like Pascal’s Wager, but something rubbed me the wrong way about it. The main characters were in the Green Witch’s underground domain and had fallen under her influence, which was causing them to lose their belief in the above-ground world. Puddleglum the marsh-wiggle then gives the following speech:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.

What rubbed me the wrong way was that it sounded as if he didn’t care whether the world was real. He was going to believe in it anyway, because it’s more pleasant to believe in it. How can the upper world be so much better than the underground world that its mere finite value of being better would be worth believing in a lie if it’s not true?
When I raised this issue with a friend, he said, “But it’s Pascal’s Wager!” I said, “No, it’s not!” He insisted that the upper world is Aslan’s world, which I’d been thinking of as the place at the end of the world that they went to in the previous book, and the upper world was just Narnia, which is the analogue of Earth. But we were interrupted and never managed to finish the conversation.
I realized later, when teaching Pascal’s Wager, what Lewis must have been up to, and it’s actually a neat trick. If he was seeing Narnia as a placeholder for the eternal reward of Pascal’s Wager and the underworld as a placeholder for this life, then you have an interesting argument that isn’t quite Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager concedes for the sake of argument that life in this world is more pleasant if you don’t believe in God but then argues that the chance of eternal reward in heaven compensates for that in terms of rational decision theory. You shouldn’t even need 50% likelihood of God’s existence for the wager to be worth it given that the reward is infinite and the cost merely finite if you bet wrong. But Lewis’ Wager is different in exactly one way: it doesn’t make the concession. It takes the finite value of life in this world to be better if you believe in God than if you don’t. So life is finitely better if you believe in God, and the afterlife is infinitely better if it turns out there is one. Therefore, it’s a no-brainer. You might as well believe in God. If it turns out you lose the bet (i.e. God doesn’t exist), you still end up finitely better off, and if you win (i.e. God does exist) then you get an infinitely better result.
One interesting result of Puddleglum’s Wager is that it easily avoids the problem Mike Almeida raises against Pascal’s Wager. Mike’s problem (which I’m not taking a stand on at this point) relies on its being better in this life not to believe.
[cross-posted at Parableman]

The Elusive God, Chapter 2, Sections 5-8: Divine Hiddenness, Attunement, and A New Argument for God’s Existence
July 14, 2009 — 0:55

Author: Joshua Thurow  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Books of Interest Christian Theology Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 2

Moser does three main things in sections 5-8 of chapter 2:
1. He gives an explanation for divine hiddenness
2. He gives a deeper explanation of purposively available divine reality using the notion of attunement
3. He gives an argument for God’s existence.
I will briefly describe these three things and raise a few questions along the way.
1. Divine Hiddenness
Moser provides a handful of possible explanations for divine hiddenness, distances himself from two popular explanations, and then makes a move that is quite analogous to the skeptical theist response to the problem of evil.
Moser calls his reply to the problem of divine hiddenness the Divine Purposes Reply, which states, “God would restrain divine manifestations, at least for a time, to at least some humans in order to enhance satisfaction of God’s own diverse perfectly authoritative and loving purposes regarding humans” (110). Furthermore, there isn’t one particular purpose that God’s hiding satisfies. Moser suggests the following as some of God’s purposes:


Pascal’s wager and infinity
July 6, 2009 — 9:55

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism Hell Religious Belief  Comments: 14

(Cross-posted to my own blog.)

Some people, I think, are still under the impression that the infinities in Pascal’s wager create trouble. Thus, there is the argument that even if you don’t believe now, you might come to believe later, and hence the expected payoff for not believing now is also infinite (discounting hell), just as the payoff for believing now. Or there is the argument that you might believe now and end up in hell, so the payoff for believing now is undefined: infinity minus infinity.

But there are mathematically rigorous ways of modeling these infinities, such as Non-Standard Analysis (NSA) or Conway’s surreal numbers. The basic idea is that we extend the field of real numbers to a larger ordered field with all of the same arithmetical operations, where the larger field contains numbers that are bigger than any standard real number (positive infinity), numbers that are bigger than zero and smaller than any positive standard real number (positive infinitesimals), etc. One works with the larger field by exactly the same rules as one works with reals. This is all perfectly rigorous.

Let’s do an example of how it works. Suppose I am choosing between Christianity, Islam and Atheism. Let C, I and A be the claims that the respective view is true. Let’s simplify by supposing I have three options: BC (believe and practice Christianity), BI (believe and practice Islam) and NR (no religious belief or practice).

Now I think about the payoff matrix. It’s going to be something like this, where the columns depend on what is true and the rows on what I do:

BC 0.9X-0.1Y 0.7X-0.3Y -a
BI 0.6X-0.4Y 0.9X-0.1Y -b
NR 0.4X-0.6Y 0.4X-0.6Y c

Here, X is the payoff of heaven and -Y is the payoff of hell, and X and Y are positive infinities. I assume that the Christian and Islamic heavens are equally nice, and that the Christian and Islamic hells are equally unpleasant. The lowercase letters a, b and c indicate finite positive numbers. How did I come up with the table? Well, I made it up. But not completely arbitrarily. For instance, BC/C (I will use that symbolism to indicate the value in the C column of the BC row) is 0.9X-0.1Y. I was thinking: if Christianity is true, and you believe and practice it, there is a 90% chance you’ll go to heaven and a 10% chance you’ll go to hell. On the other hand, BC/I is 0.7X-0.3Y, because Islam expressly accepts the possibility of salvation for Christians (at least as long as they’re not ex-Muslims, I think), but presumably the likelihood is lower than for a Muslim. BI/C is 0.6X-0.4Y, because while there are well developed Christian theological views on which a Muslim can be saved, these views are probably not an integral part of the tradition, so the BI/C expected payoff is lower than the BC/I one. The C and I columns of the tables should also include some finite numbers summands, but those aren’t going to matter. A lot of the numbers can be tweaked in various ways, and I’ve taken somewhat more “liberal” (in the etymological sense) numbers–thus, some might say that the payoff of NR/C is 0.1X-0.9Y, etc.

What should one do, now? Well, it all depends on the epistemic probabilities of C, I and A. Let’s suppose that they are: 0.1, 0.1 and 0.8, and calculate the payoffs of the three actions.

The expected payoff of BC is EBC = 0.1 (0.9X – 0.1Y) + 0.1 (0.7X – 0.3Y) + 0.8 (-a) = 0.16X – 0.04Y – 0.8a.

The expected payoff of BI is EBI = 0.15X – 0.05Y – 0.8b.

The expected payoff of NR is ENR = 0.08X – 0.12Y + 0.8c.

Now, let’s compare these. EBC – EBI = 0.01X + 0.01Y + 0.8(b-a). Since X and Y are positive infinities, and b and a are finite, EBC – EBI > 0. So, EBC > EBI. EBI – ENR = 0.07X + 0.07Y – 0.8(b+c). Again, then EBI – ENR > 0 and so EBI > ENR. Just to be sure, we can also check EBC – ENR = 0.08X + 0.08Y – 0.8(a+c) > 0 so EBC > ENR.

Therefore, our rank ordering is: EBC > EBI > ENR. It’s most prudent to become Christian, less prudent to become a Muslim and less prudent yet to have no religion. There are infinities all over the place in the calculations, but we can rigorously compare them.