Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Worldviews and Arguments

It's certainly implied in the framing of the question, which is a classic tu quoque attempt to deflect discussion away from weaknesses in one's own position. It's a "what about" argument. ("It's immoral to randomly fire rockets into civilian areas." "Oh yeah, well what about the illegal settlements!?"; "It is overwhelmingly certain that humans evolved from earlier species of primates." "Oh yeah, well what about the origin of life?")

But the framing of the OP rests on a deeper fallacy, for lack of a better word call it "worldviewism". Modern apologetics has been extremely succesful in convincing people that no challenge to any individual proposition of their faith can possibly be legitimate unless absolutely every element in their "worldview" can be given a full and complete accounting for by some rival "worldview". So no matter how overwhelming the evidence that this or that proposition of Christianity -- immaculate conception, intelligent design, zombie rabbis -- is false, they can always brush the argument aside and say "ok, that's a 'problem for my worldview', but I'm not going to accept the conclusion of the argument unless you offer a complete alternative worldview that explains the origin of life, the universe, and everything. What about consciousness?"

The atheological argument from evil against contemporary Abrahamic monotheism works if you believe in samsara, or in the Greek pantheon, or in the Aztec pantheon, or in some kooky New Age Crystal magic, or nonreductive physicalism, or reductive physicalism. "Worldviews" are not some sort of impregnable wholes that can indefinitely stave off challenges to individual tenets (like omnibenevolence, or the resurrection of the dead, or the age of the earth) by demanding that the challenger not only supply evidence and arguments that the tenet is false, but that the challenger has an entire worldview and an answer to every question about everything.

OK, I think this is based on a misunderstanding of what I said. I argued that while the argument from evil, properly developed, might provide some evidence against theism, advocates of the argument very often claim more for it. They actually think it decisively refutes theism. And I argued that this sort of a claim on behalf of any philosophical argument is rarely defensible, and that recent work on the problem seems to show that this kind of a claim is too strong. Nothing I have said could be construed as a refutation of a William Rowe or Paul Draper-style inductive argument. I also argued that I did not see why the argument from evil can be regarded as decisive and overwhelming while the argument from consciousness against naturalism (all forms of naturalism by the way, reductive or non-reductive) is not.

If we're going to have world-views, then we are going to have world-views that have problems. What I was arguing is that even if the argument from evil shows that theists have something they have trouble explaining, one can still continue to be a theist unless it is shown that other world-views have fewer or less-serious problems. That is why nice, neat, clean "refutations" in philosophy are hard to come by, (and why I like Bayesian models in which prior probabilities are subjective).


Jim Lazarus said...

Well, I just wrote up a short post that discusses what you say here. I wasn't exactly in the writing mood, but I wanted to comment on what you wrote.


JD Walters said...

What the guy you (Vic Reppert) were responding to basically says is that it's hard for him to accept that Christianity isn't as easy to refute as he thinks, that the real world is a bit more complex than the 1+1=2 logic of evangelical skepticism.