Monday, February 05, 2007

An atheist critique of the Great Divorce

From the Ebon Musings website. What do you guys think?

22 comments:

jules said...

I agree with most of his points. To me, one of Lewis' most bizarre assertions is that "the gates of hell are locked from the inside" - obviously implying that atheists are so arrogant or hostile that they will not bow to god's will. It displays an utter lack of understanding of someone who has truly thought out his position and become an atheist. It is the complete LACK of evidence that convinces us to become atheists. We don't bow to god's will because we don't believe there is a god to bow to. In fact, many of us are convinced that there is good evidence against the existence of any sort of god.

Of course theists like to argue that nothing would convince the die-hard atheist. That argument, of course, allows the theist to justify his own irrational and baseless belief in a set of ancient myths.

steve said...

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/02/great-divorce.html

Victor Reppert said...

I can't figure out what atheists mean when they say there is a complete lack of evidence. To me there is a boatload of evidence for theism, evidence from the existence of reason, the evidence of consciousness, the evidence of objective moral values, the evidence of man's inherent desire for God, the evidence supporting Christ's resurrection, the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament, the evidence for miracles in the present day, the evidence of the beginning of the universe, the evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe, the evidence of religious experience, the direct experience of God on our personal lives, etc. etc. etc.

I can understand someone saying this isn't enough, or the nature of our claims requires a special standad of proof that hasn't met. In which case I would just ask "What would it take?" But to say that there is no evidence??? You've got to be kidding.

Ebonmuse is mistaken in assuming that his portrait of the Epsicopal Ghost represents atheists in general. Read That Hideous Strength and do a character study of a man named Hingest if you doubt me. MacPhee is the more obvious case, and look up Trumpkin the Dwarf in Prince Caspian also. Lewis explicity said that the unbelief of John Stuart Mill will be forgiven and healed.

Mike D said...

Ebonmuse got off to a bad start when he began with the view that the purpose of The Great Divorce was "to combat the universalist notion that everyone will be saved in the end." Most orthodox Christians are uncomfortable with TGD because it seems to promote universalism, or at least a second-chance opportunity for saving faith after death. Lewis offers a refreshing alternative to strict Calvinism by emphasizing human responsibility and choice.

Ebonmuse lost some credibility when he totally missed the point of salvation by grace. He misrepresented it as a 30-second statement of faith. Lewis would not agree with this characterization.

By failing to understand Lewis' positions, Ebon is not able to come through on this promise: "As will be shown later on, this crack in his theology provides a suitable place to insert a wedge that will split the entire system open".

I am also of the opinion that Lewis' audience for his apologetics was more often wavering Christians than strident atheists. TGD is a powerful message to believers who are in need of some character adjustment in the here and now
.

jules said...

Victor,
Your arguments don't make any sense to me. If they are formal arguments, I've not come across them before but I'll try to answer as best I can. To the atheist, anything that can more plausibly be explained in naturalistic terms ought to be explained that way vs. supernaturally (i.e. "god did it")

evidence from the existence of reason, the evidence of consciousness

That we have reason and consciousness is a natural "miracle". Animals are also conscious and can reason to a lesser degree. I don't see this as anything but a difference in degree. Is it your contention that evolution occurred but god was the agent of change that gave man his superior intellectual powers? If so, at what point in the evolutionary process do you postulate this occurred? Austrolopithecus? Homo erectus? Homo sapiens sapiens?

the evidence of objective moral values, the evidence of man's inherent desire for God

Many atheists would argue that there is no such thing as "objective moral values." I tend to agree if you mean by "objective" imposed by some external agent, although there are values that people tend to hold in common for social reasons. Similarly, I do not agree that man has an inherent desire for god - for one thing, I think this is generally learned. For another, I think the desire for god has a variety of psychological components and drivers. But even if some men do desire god, this does not demonstrate anything to me except wishful thinking. If you have an inherent desire that fairies exist (as millions of people do) does that prove that fairies in fact exist?

the evidence supporting Christ's resurrection, the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament

Outside of the bible, I know of zero evidence. Inside the bible, the evidence is debatable and problematic (see (The Jesus Puzzle and others). The new testament is so fraught with problems, contradictions, and errors that I could spend an hour writing on this, but as others have done so extensively, I can only assume that you reject the evidence for reasons of your own.

the evidence for miracles in the present day

Huh? Aside from wishful thinking, zero. Find me an amputee whose leg has been restored through prayer and then we'll talk. All controlled unbiased studies of prayer I know of show zero results of prayer. Give me real-life examples of miracles.

the evidence of the beginning of the universe

The universe may have begun, or it may have always existed. Scientists are divided on this as best I know. If it did in fact begin, we do not know how, that is true. There could be a naturalistic explanation, or there could be a supernatural being involved. Given everything else I see around me, I incline toward the latter. But even if there were a god involved, what would give me reason to expect that it was anything like the Christian notion of god? In fact, the Christian god hypothesis has a huge disconnect with reality. If you are honest with yourself, you know this, even if you want to believe in this god and you believe your doubts are normal and not disproof of anything.

the evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe

Cannot imagine what you mean by this.

the evidence of religious experience, the direct experience of God on our personal lives

All subjective experiences that reflect human nature. I won't argue against a certain spirituality, in fact, it's one of my beefs with atheism is that it focuses almost exclusively on the material and does not pay enough attention to the mental/spiritual (by which I mean one's personality/character, etc, and not a dualistic spirit or soul) world of human beings. But that that spirituality is part of our nature suggests nothing about a Christian god.

JD Walters said...

Jules,

Clearly you have not given much thought as to what constitutes either a naturalistic or a supernaturalistic explanation, if you think that supernatural explanation=God did it. We must be careful with statements of our position here. In particular, it will not due to equate scientific explanations with naturalistic ones. Contrary to popular opinion, they are not the same thing. Naturalistic explanations for the arguments that theists give, qua naturalistic, are question-begging and cannot be used in the positive defense of naturalism. The question we are asking is, what sort of Universe would one expect to find if it is the Creation of an all-powerful, all-loving yet mysterious God? And the theist would argue that we would expect something very much like this Universe, i.e. with creatures who can reason intellectually and morally, which appears to be fine-tuned for life, with 'rumors of transcendence' in religious and artistic experience (even outside the Christian tradition), etc. So the world can plausibly be interpreted as the creation of a loving God. Of course it is also plausible to interpret it otherwise. The point I am making is that theism does not rely on God-of-the-Gaps arguments. The fact that reason is studied scientifically in no way counts against the evidence that its existence gives for the existence of God.

jules said...

I disagree but I tire of beating this dead horse. Theism does in fact rely on the god of the gaps argument. And I can't believe this is the sort of universe you'd expect if you've studied astronomy or biology suffiently.

You see what you want to see, though.

stunster said...

I too am perplexed by Jules' insistence on there being no evidence for theism. If he's right, then most of humanity has no grasp of the concept of evdence.

For most of the world's population, for most of history, the idea that the universe, life, consciousness, reason, morality, beauty, meaning, love and so forth all just happened by the chance interplay of intrinsically meaningless, purposeless, mindless material forces is has been seen as a ridiculous worldview. All of these data as well as more explicitly religious experiences have been routinely taken as evidence for the existence of a divine reality.

Theism, to most people, has been and still is a vastly more plausible explanation of cosmic order, and of all the phenomena associated with rationality and value, than atheistic materialism.

When atheists are reduced to consigning most human beings to idiocy, from Augustine, Leibniz and Kant to Kurt Godel and Michael Dummett, they ought to suspect that perhaps they're missing something, not that they're smarter than most.

JD Walters said...

Jules: "I disagree but I tire of beating this dead horse. Theism does in fact rely on the god of the gaps argument."

Ooh, I'm convinced! Jules has said it in a very condescending and patronising voice! What need is there for further argument?

And I HAVE studied astronomy and biology (studying neuroscience now at Princeton University). I find much to admire and wonder at in what science has discovered about the world.

And what if I turned that "we see what we want to see" argument right back at you? You might object that you would never WANT to see something which indicates that no loving, all-powerful God exists. Which would reveal a lack of understanding of how human psychology actually works. We certainly don't have to want something to be the case in order to see it, and we don't have to not want something in order not to see it.

stunster said...

Jules wrote: Find me an amputee whose leg has been restored through prayer and then we'll talk.

And what you would say, I suspect, is this was a case of 'spontaneous limb regeneration' (akin to spontaneous cancer remission or some such).

And if you had a vision of the Risen Christ (I've met someone who had one), you'd attribute it to hallucination or something equally at home in a naturalistic worldview).

That worldview, in other words, is doing all the work here. It operates by ensuring that nothing is allowed to count as evidence for theism, for you.

I have had two quite extraordinary experiences of God. In consequence I believe I have excellent evidence for God's existence. You have to interpret my experiences as purely natural psychological phenomenena because otherwise you can't retain your naturalistic worldview. But of course, it's that worldview which is at issue. Hence your interpretation is question-begging in the extreme. As I said, it's your worldview which is doing all the work.

For any phenomenon, you're already committed to saying, 'Matter did it.'

Hence regardless of any phenomena anyone adduces as evidence for theism, you simply won't count it as evidence for theism.

Michael Rea pinpoints this stumbling-block in his recent book, World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism .

jules said...

I was a theist for 45 years. It's not that I don't understand your position. It's that I examined all the evidence and came to the conclusion that "god" was an erroneous hypothesis.

Scary, huh?

Subjective experiences are not evidence. Some people think they are in mental contact with aliens from outer space, too. Those subjective experiences are just as real to them as your (and my) experiences of god. They're just not real in any meaningful sense.

stunney said...

Something I wrote a while back.....

"There's no evidence for God"

Atheists often say such things.

What do they mean? Do they mean, they personally don't have evidence for God? Or do they mean, nobody, anywhere, at any time ever has evidence for God?

If it's the latter, then this, it seems to me, is simply false. The two most powerful, memorable, transformative experiences I've ever had have been experiences of God. I have met and known a number of other people who would say the same thing.

I reckon Saint Paul, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Augustine et al might have said the same thing if they'd been asked. Certainly they all wrote about them. And there'd be many non-Catholic theists who would say similar things, and have written similar things.

Now, I'm not suggesting that this 'proves' that theism is true. But I'm trying to get a handle on what it would mean to say that I, and all other theists who have had extraordinary experiences of God, don't have any evidence for the existence of God. And if we do have such evidence, doesn't that mean that it is simply false to say, as atheists are wont to say, that there is no evidence for God?

I mean, suppose there was a rare species of polar bear, which only a few Inuit had ever encountered. Would it be true that there is no evidence that such a species existed? Seems to me there would be evidence, even though it was not directly available to everyone.

Now, the objection might be that there is no scientific evidence for God, but there could be scientific evidence for the rare polar bear species. But theism says that God is not a physical entity, so it would not be surprising in the least that there is no scientific evidence for God (if that's the case, which I'm only conceding here for the sake of the argument).

If there is a God, then God is not a physical object. So insisting on God being subject to the kinds of evidence that we have for physical things would be to miss the point, and to beg the question. The question at issue is whether there are realities other than physical ones, and kinds of evidence for the existence of such realities other than physically experimental evidence. So insisting systematically on providing scientific evidence for God would be a clear case of the logical fallacy of begging the question. But the absence of physical experimental evidence for God is consistent with there being tremendously good evidence for God.

Let's imagine, for a moment, that Saint Paul had a profound encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, such that nothing else would be as convincing to him as that experience. Then, St Paul would have a way of knowing, or reasonably believing, that materialism (if he knew what that was) was false and that Christianity was true. But no scientific procedure would be able to establish this. Yet someone (St Paul) would know it. He would have great evidence, from his perspective, of the truth of Christianity. But that would entail that "there's no evidence for God" is a false proposition.

"Ah, but we must use the term 'evidence' in such a way that it is independent of anyone's perspective".

Well, there seems to me to be two problems with this. It seems to me that an attempt is being made yet again to insist that the concept of evidence be restrictively defined to mean evidence yielded by natural scientific method---in other words, to beg the question again. But let's just ignore that for a moment and ask instead, is St Paul's evidence (or mine) purely perspectival? It seems to me that if you placed anyone in St Paul's shoes (or mine), and if anyone had the experiences that St Paul (and me) had, then that would count as evidence for them too---just as much as it would count as evidence for St Paul, me, and anyone else that there is a rare species of polar bear if you placed us in the shoes of the Inuit who had experienced that species. Just because St Paul, me, and most other people would not, ex hypothesi, have actually been in the shoes of those Inuit, surely doesn't entail that there is no evidence for the existence of that rare species of polar bear.

In other words, two points: 1) the concept of evidence is a logically broader category than the concept of evidence deriving from natural scientific method; 2) the concept of evidence is a function of experience. Given the right sorts of experience, then anyone will have the right sorts of evidence.

Have there ever been experiences that count as the 'right sort' to qualify as evidence for the existence of God? Sure there have! I've had a couple, and it seems I'm not alone. Nobody would have heard of St Paul if he hadn't had the right sorts of experiences. It doesn't prove theism to everyone's satisfaction. But an 18th century Inuit couldn't have proved the existence of that rare species to everyone's satisfaction. He'd still have damn good evidence, though, that there was such a polar bear species. And maybe St Paul and I have had damn good evidence that theism is true. And I think this means that the proposition, "There's no evidence for God" is straightforwardly false, unless one insists on committing the logical fallacy of begging the question in favor of scientific naturalism's definition of evidence. Which is a logical fallacy and an error of reasoning...

The difficulty I'm having with an a priori commitment to a universal reliance on naturalistic scientific method is that we have no really solid a priori or experimentally verified reason for thinking that, as science progresses, it will be able, in principle, to uncover the truth about these matters---the truth or otherwise of theism, or Christianity specifically---as long as the above-described scenario regarding Saint Paul seems logically possible (which it strikes me we have every reason to suppose it will always appear to us to be). But what if, it won't be able, even in principle to uncover the truth about these matters by means of using the natural scientific method, and yet St Paul is right, and as justified as he could possibly be (given the nature of his experiences) in thinking that he had met the Risen Christ and that materialism is false and Christian theism is true. Wouldn't that mean that there is evidence that God exists, even though, as in the case with the rare species of polar bear, not everybody had the evidence, or was in a position to experience that specie of bear. (Let's assume that the Inuit and bear species in question all died out 150 years ago).

It seems to me, in other words, that the rational thing to do is to be open to the possibility that science might not be the only way of knowing things, or even the best way, and that science itself may well be systematically incapable of discovering this, and that there may be other ways of discovering it, which a rational person may have access to, or even have had access to in the past. In fact, not only do I think that one should, rationally, be merely open to this possibility. I think it's actually rather plausible that it is the case.

Some will say that we can't even count religious experiences as evidence for theism, because lots of people have strange experiences which are later shown to be associated with certain kinds of cognitively non-veridical brain states. But how does this show that all religious experiences are merely the products of cognitively non-veridical brain states? Isn't that another blindingly obvious logical fallacy? "Some things of type A are the products of F. Therefore all things of type A are products of F." Yup, a fallacy alright.

'Ah, but it's more reasonable to think they are products of F, because being a product of F is more conformable to the worldview of scientific naturalism." Yet again, the objection is logically invalid, because it begs the question at issue---the question being, whether theism, as against scientific materialism, is the correct worldview.

And please name ANY human experience that does not involve some brain event/process or other. There are none? Fine!

Would you then infer that that every human experience was therefore illusory, or non-veridical?

Many years ago, hominid brains evolved in such a way as to enable humans to experience watching a bird fly in the sky, the taste of ice cream, the sound of music, the sound of words, the emotion of fear in the face of wild animals seeking to eat us, etc. That fact says PRECISELY NOTHING about the veridicality of those experiences. Why should a qualitatively similar fact concerning brain processes say any more than PRECISELY NOTHING about the veridicality of religious experiences?

Hence this type of argument---all religious experiences are caused by brain-states, therefore all religious experiences must be non-veridical---is, not to put too fine a point on it, utterly IDIOTIC.

It also has a name. It is called the Genetic Fallacy. See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_fallacy

JD Walters said...

Stunney,

you make some very good points. A very impressive post.

Anonymous said...

"If there is a God, then God is not a physical object. So insisting on God being subject to the kinds of evidence that we have for physical things would be to miss the point, and to beg the question."

I'm in complete agreement. Unfortunately, many Christian theists then turn around and claim that this non-physical being is doing all sorts of activities in this physical universe: the sorts of activities that one normallly attributes to physical objects.

Personally, I'm rather open to the real possibility of God. But religions like Christianity and Islam contain so many absurd ideas about this God I find it difficult to understand why rational people would take those faiths seriously.

JD Walters said...

The fact that God is immaterial does not mean that He never leaves any traces in the material world. The link between these traces and their original cause, however, is much harder to establish on neutral ground than, say, links between animal footprints and the animal that produced them. A person must already be in a certain receptive state in order to recognize these divine traces. And of course this makes the issue open to dispute. It does not mean that the link does not exist, by any means, or that just because inter-subjective agreement cannot be established that these traces do not give good evidence for God. For a good discussion, see John Cottingham's "The Spiritual Dimension".

stunster said...

Unfortunately, many Christian theists then turn around and claim that this non-physical being is doing all sorts of activities in this physical universe: the sorts of activities that one normallly attributes to physical objects.

I don't believe that my mind is a purely physical thing. Yet it decided to type this comment, which I then physically did.

Anonymous said...

The fact that faires are immaterial does not mean that they never leave any traces in the material world. The link between these traces and their original cause, however, is much harder to establish on neutral ground than, say, links between animal footprints and the animal that produced them. A person must already be in a certain receptive state in order to recognize these divine traces.

Do you see how very silly that line of reasoning is?

A credible person can find "proof" of anything he wishes to find.

Victor Reppert said...

Anon: A credible person can find "proof" of anything he wishes to find.

VR: Here we go again. The ad hominem. Your position is so stupid that you have to be deluding yourself to believe it. If your case is that strong, why don't you just make it and spare us the announcement that only people engaged in wishful thinking can disagree with you.

JD Walters said...

Personally I can't understand these facile analogies between God and fairies, goblins, unicorns, etc. For the analogy to hold in any meaningful way the latter creatures have to be modified way beyond their initial cultural portrayals so that they begin to resemble an immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, etc. being, in which case the analogy breaks down anyway. Go study some real folklore before you make the asinine claim that tracking down evidence for the existence of God is in any way analogous to tracking down evidence for the existence of fairies.

stunster said...

The fact that faires are immaterial does not mean that they never leave any traces in the material world. The link between these traces and their original cause, however, is much harder to establish on neutral ground than, say, links between animal footprints and the animal that produced them. A person must already be in a certain receptive state in order to recognize these divine traces.

Do you see how very silly that line of reasoning is?


The fairies in question, do they have bodies? No.

Did they create the world and endow it to its depths with intelligible mathematical order? No.

Are they the source of all consciousness, reason, and moral value? No.

Are they the source of all beauty? No.

Are they responsible for a vast number of spiritually and morally transformative religious experiences? No.

So you see, your attempt at ridiculing theistic beleief by a purported analogy between God and fairies is risibly stupid.

It's as stupid as claiming that numbers, or meanings, or moral obligations don't exist simply because they resemble fairies in being immaterial.

And clearly, numbers, meanings, and moral obligations leave traces of their existence in human minds.

So does God.

Scarey, huh?

jules said...

Stunster, you just don't seem to get it.

The fairies in question, do they have bodies? No.
The god in question, does it have a body that I can see and touch? No. Don't cite the Bible as evidence that a myth once took place, please. Citing the Koran as evidence that Mohammed flew up to heaven on a white horse is similarly off limits as "evidence." So what do you have left?

Did they create the world and endow it to its depths with intelligible mathematical order? No.
Are they the source of all consciousness, reason, and moral value? No.

Are they the source of all beauty? No.

Are they responsible for a vast number of spiritually and morally transformative religious experiences? No.

Did god do all these things? And if so, which god? The Christian god? The Islamic god? The Deist god?

Moreover, where is your evidence? These are all simply assertions of what you think, based on your own culture, upbringing and religious brainwashing. This is not evidence in any sense of the word that you would apply to any other question of importance.


So you see, your attempt at ridiculing theistic beleief by a purported analogy between God and fairies is risibly stupid.


So you see, your attempt at refuting my analogy by restating your beliefs without actual proof is merely stupid.

Try harder next time.

Anonymous said...

Going back to the link - I think it argues that Heaven should force itself on Hell, just as adults should force medicine on a child.

My understanding is that God (In christian theology) allows something called free will which would not allow those who reject his grace in Heaven. He chose to have an apple in the garden of eden and a snake. If he wasn't going to do so - there would be no point to existance.

An omnipotent god can obviously sweep the decks clear and start again with new lives or erase the memories of existing lives and reset them without rebellion. The second wouldn't be very different from the first.

As to atheists refusing to accept any evidence... most atheists seem to be pretty arrogrant and hostile once God is mentioned to me.

As to scientific evidence, try using google. I think its mostly positive:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=scientific+evidence+of+prayer&hl=en&client=firefox-a&channel=s&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&hs=SVu&um=1&oi=scholart

Although, most atheists usually ignore this stuff or dismiss it as similar to the "placebo" effect.

Just use google scholar and try "scientific evidence of prayer"

Really, I'm pretty sure that if most atheists saw an angel they'd call a psychiatrist and say they had a hallucination. I'd have enough atheists saying I hallucinated because I had a spiritual experience.

If atheists really don't think there's any evidence, they wouldn't get so emotional about it. After all, why would you care?