Nicholas Everitt—The Nonexistence of God
Considered by themselves, Everitt contends, the arguments for theism all suffer from serious deficiencies. But maybe if they are taken collectively, the non-ontological arguments for theism make it more probable than not. If a defendant has a motive, is implicated by eye-witness reports, left the country immediately after the crime, and so on, all of these factors might indicate his guilt, even if one of them by itself would not be sufficient.
But there are three problems. First, these arguments give only weak support for their conclusions. The teleological argument, at most, might weakly indicate some designing force, the cosmological argument might suggest a first cause, and so on. Second, there is no reason to think they refer to the same being or force. And third, there is no reason to think that the arguments collectively indicate the same singular, omni-being, that is, God.
Does Occam’s Razor suggest that we should prefer one God here? But this is a misuse of Occam’s Razor. If the phone rings on Monday, there is a letter in the mail on Tuesday, and a knock on the door on Wednesday, Occam’s razor doesn’t suggest that they must all be the same person.
What about the ontological argument? No current version of the ontological argument is sound, Everitt argues (as have many others.) And Frege’s analysis of existential statements shows that there is no prospect for any future version of it succeeding if we take “exists” to be a defining predicate of God. So theism is not currently rational on the basis of the ontological argument.
Furthermore, there are substantial logical objections to theism: We have no plausible account of omnipotence. Being eternal is incompatible with omniscience, personahood, and creatorship.
There are substantial empirical objections to theism: The scale of the universe is vastly larger than what we would expect to find from a God with anthropocentric goals. And science has established that nothing has infinite duration. The existence of so much suffering isn’t reconciled with God; incompatibilist freedom is mistaken, it is unclear why freedom is valuable enough to justify it, and a huge amount of animal suffering remains unaccounted for.
So Everitt concludes that atheism is justified because the empirical evidence tells against theism, and theism is a self-contradictory doctrine.
Richard Gale: On the Nature and Existence of God
Gales says that he cannot answer the general question of whether there are any good arguments for or against believing in God because he is not addressing inductive arguments such as those based on design, beauty, or evil.
Atheological arguments have probed “the internal consistency of the theist’s conception of God, often with the result that the theist msut go back to the drawing board and redesign the particular divine attribute(s) that is the focus of the argument.” (3) As a result the idea of God has undergone a dialectical unfolding over time. But the challenge has been to preserve some semblance of the ordinary, personal and religious concept with the highly metaphysical and technical account of God that has come out of the philosophical discussion between theists and atheists. The goal will be to sketchout how we can redesign out concept of God without changing reference. This will open the way for the development of new atheological arguments.
There are a few interesting developments along these lines:
“My two arguments against the possibility of 51 [“There exists a necessary being, N, who determines that the universe or the infinite succession of dependent beings exists.”] constitute ontological disproofs of the existence of the very sort of being whose existence is asserted in the conclusion of every version of the cosmological argument, thereby showing that these arguments are radically defective.” (284)
Gale is negative about the prospect for religious experience: “It will be argued that religious experiences, although possibly veridical, could not be cognitive. Even if it were possible that their apparent object exist and be the right sort of cause of the experience, we could never know on the basis of these experiences either that this object exists or that the experience is caused in the “right way” by it. I shall go on to argue that a religious experience also could not qualify as a veridical perception of an objective reality, even if its apparent object were to exist and be the cause of the experience.” (287)
He is inconclusive about moral and prudential arguments for believing.
Since he does not address inductive arguments, “only the hypothetical conclusion can be drawn that if the only available arguments were the epistemological and pragmatic arguments examined before, faith would lack any rational justification.”
Martin—Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. The Santa Principle
In general, you can’t be justified in thinking that some X doesn’t exist unless you have looked. If you haven’t considered the available evidence and reflected on the sources or areas where evidence for the thing’s existence would occur if it was real, then it would be premature to conclude that there isn’t one.
Of course, once you have looked in all the likely places, or explored the relevant concepts, principles, and ideas, if you find evidence in favor of X’s existence, then you should accept that it is real, all other things being equal. So in order to conclude that there is no X the available evidence has to be inadequate in support of it.
But what if the X that we are seeking isn’t the sort of thing that would be manifest by evidence? If it is not the sort of thing that shows itself, then searching in all the right places and then not finding anything wouldn’t be sufficient to justify concluding that it isn’t real.
Roughly, Martin’s principle is:
A person is justified in believing that X does not exist if
(1) all the available evidence used to support the view that X exists is shown to be inadequate; and
(2) X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then there is a presumption that would be evidence adequate to support the view that X exists; and
(3) this presumption has not been defeated although serious efforts have been made to do so; and
(4) the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined; and
(5) there are no acceptable beneficial reasons to believe that X exists.
There’s no question that the concept of God has been exhaustively investigated for centuries. So the fourth condition is met. Martin then engages in a broad, and careful analysis of the putative evidence, empirical, logical, and conceptual, that God exists. He finds those arguments, the ontological, cosmological, teleological, experiential, and prudential to failures in one form or another. So condition 1) is satisfied. Furthermore, arguments to the effect that we should not expect God to manifest himself in some comprehensible fashion are inadequate. We should expect to find evidence for God, so condition 2 and 3 are met. And Martin argues that the pragmatic arguments alleged to justify belief are unacceptable. Therefore, it is reasonable on the basis of the principle to conclude that God does not exist.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Nicholas Everitt—The Nonexistence of God