Saturday, 10 August 2013

Atheistic counters to theistic arguments

This is an useful way of thinking about naturalistic counters to theistic arguments.

In order for the naturalist to counter a theistic argument which uses p as a premise, she must do one of the following:

1. Locate p within naturalist ontology (Reconciliation),
2. Eliminate p by denying its independent existence (Error), or
3. Admit that the naturalist cannot account for p, but nor can the theist (Inadequacy).

I found this in Victor Reppert's essay on the Argument from Reason in the Blackwell. He mentioned this in reference to a particular family of arguments, but maybe it can work for other arguments as well. It's obvious that it would work for the Argument from Consciousness, in fact J. P. Moreland uses this in his essay.

I think it works well for the Moral Argument as well. The theist proposes objective morality (p) as a premise for her argument. The naturalist has to respond in any of the following ways:

1. By locating morality within naturalist ontology e.g. by explaining it in terms of desires, utility etc;
2. By denying the existence of objective morality e.g. by appealing to a radical form of ethical relativism;
3. By admitting that naturalism has no place for objective morality, but then again neither does theism e.g. Euthypro's Dilemma.

Maybe it works for Fine-tuning as well:

1. Reduce fine-tuning to naturalist explanations (e.g. multiverse, weak anthropic principle, life isn't special etc),
2. Deny fine-tuning (Victor Stenger),
3. Claim theism does no better in explaining fine-tuning than naturalism (Sean Carroll I guess).

Kalam Cosmological Argument (uses the beginning as a premise):

1. The universe's beginning can be explained in natural terms (it didn't require a cause),
2. The universe never had a beginning (showing the plausibility of actual infinites, denying the truth of temporal becoming etc),
3. Theism does no better than explaining the beginning (I saw an interesting example in a blog: while creation by nothing and from nothing is impossible, but so is creation by something but from nothing. A cabin spontaneously appearing in the middle of the woods is just as impossible as a lumberjack making the cabin appear without any material cause)

Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (uses contingent facts as a premise):

1. Contingent facts need not be explained (PSR is false, infinite regress of causes etc)
2. There are no contingent facts (weird)
3. Theism does no better in explaining contingent facts...

I noticed the more controversial the premise p is, the easier it is to apply the 3-pronged counter approach. KCA and LCA deals with more or less uncontroversial large-scale facts (beginning of the universe/existence of contingent facts) and the application becomes a bit problematic.

Maybe this can be improved by conjoining it with other modes of countering theism, like the four-pronged counter Alex Pruss suggested in the context of cosmological arguments (Glendower problem, Regress problem, Taxicab problem and Gap problem); and also with the earlier post I made about the two broader ways of knocking down theistic arguments (demonstrating some general fallacy with theistic arguments or critiquing each individually).

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