Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Common arguments for God's existence and their best defenders

Here's a list of the most common (and to my mind, the most persuasive) arguments for God's existence, and their single best defenders and their work.

1. Cosmological Argument(s)- Alexander Pruss, no doubt about it. This (very underrated) metaphysician has developed Leibniz's cosmological argument from contingency to terrifying detail. Each of the premises in his version of the argument gains their support from multiple contributing lines of evidence. Most impressive is his thorough, uncompromising defense of (some version of) the Principle of Sufficient Reason (basically a nuanced form of the causal principle- all things that can have causes do have causes), to which he has dedicated an entire book. To put this in perspective, William Rowe- one of the leading atheist philosophers of the current generation, famous for his 1979 formulation of the evidential argument from evil- said the only weakness of the cosmological argument is that the PSR isn't well-defended enough. I wonder if Rowe has read Pruss' book since then?

Pruss' long essay in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology deals with virtually all objections that can be thrown at the contingency argument, and- in my opinion- summarily disposes of them.

That's not all, however. He has a new book coming (co-authored with another illustrious defender of the cosmological argument, Joshua Rasmussen) entitled Necessary Existence where the authors argue for the existence of at least one Necessary existent concrete being. In addition, he has also started working on a book which debunks the claim that all contingent reality can be explained by a chain of contingent events extending infinitely back into the past. This, by the way, happens to be the key

I should also mention Emanuel Rutten's PhD thesis. This book deserves mention because the author takes on particularly difficult objections to the cosmological argument, and provides rather out-of-the-box solutions for them. His work incorporates a lot of insights gleaned from mereology, based mostly on Kathrin Koslicki's work. The perfect demonstration of the cosmological argument would emerge if it were possible to merge Rutten and Pruss' work into one beautiful, thorough, coherent thesis.

2. Fine-tuning argument- Robin Collins, very little doubt about it. What makes Robin Collins' work impressive is his uncompromising incorporation of both heavy-handed physics/cosmology as well as cutting-edge philosophical insights. His essay in the aforementioned Blackwell Companion is widely regarded as the best defense available for the fine-tuning argument. He calls this essay a "highly abridged" version of the much-awaited forthcoming book-length treatment of the argument. There was supposed to be one book, but he decided to write two books- the first one on how the fine-tuning evidence is better explained on theism compared to the single-universe hypothesis, the second one dedicated only to the multiverse hypothesis (here are some of his articles on both topics).

A significant feature to take note of is Collins is making a cumulative case design argument based on two discrete lines of evidence- the habitability of the universe, and the discoverability of it. In other words, his argument is not only that many of the universe's constants are fine-tuned for life, but also that many of its features are fine-tuned for us to do science. The universe is anthropically user-friendly. Does this seem reminiscent of the Qur'an's appeals to the sun, the moon, and the stars being created for, among other things, keeping track of time and knowing directions at night?

The only thing about his argument one can bat an eyelash at is the fact that his argument is inductive, as opposed to deductive. They adopt a variation of the "inference to the best explanation" scheme- by ruling out naturalistic single- or multi-universe hypotheses, the only real contender are theism, deism or axiarchism of some form. People who are more fond of deductive argument schemes may be a little perturbed by this. The only scholar that I know of to make a deductive argument mechanic to run the fine-tuning argument is William Dembski. William Lane Craig in his formulations of the fine-tuning argument seems to adopt his argument scheme. I haven't studied this scheme in much detail (I'm not a math person), but it definitely needs to be looked into. Perhaps one reason why it hasn't received serious philosophical attention is because it has been used in the defense of intelligent design arguments, something philosophers tend to steer clear of due to the embroiling controversy. Just as a trivia, Robin Collins is critical about the design inference scheme, but Dembski claims to have put his concerns to rest in his book No Free Lunch. I have read neither sides of this debate so can't really tell who's got the better side of the argument.

I think I should also mention Luke Barnes in connection to the fine-tuning argument. His treatment of the more common objections to the fine-tuning argument demonstrates an admirable level of clarity. People looking to get an introductory taste of the argument from fine-tuning is welcome to listen to this podcast episode. There might even be a book on the way...

3. Argument from religious experience- Just to be straight, this is not an argument for theism, or even deism. All this argument purports to show is that there is a supernatural realm beyond this sticks-and-stones physical reality (i.e. naturalism is false). I believe the best defense comes from Stephen Braude. As is the case with Robin Collins, his work is impressive because he incorporates insights from both parapsychological/paranormal investigations as well as stone-cold philosophy. This combination is unique when it comes to the paranormal, where the popular authors are more interested in throwing data out in the open without classifying, categorizing, or responsibly interpreting it. Braude's treatment of the topic is very, very careful and, as far as I can tell, philosophically airtight. I'm currently reading his book ESP and Psychokinesis: A Philosophical Examination, where he examines different kinds of paranormal phenomena and writes about their philosophical import. Another interesting book by the same author is Immortal Remains, which is a long, sustained argument for the reality of life after death. This interview is a nice brief introduction to his work.

4. Arguments from biological design- As I see it, there are lots of great material on the arguments from biological design, but they are scattered all over the place. Both books (Signature in the Cell and Darwin's Doubt) by Stephen Meyer are very well argued. There are also well-researched works that disprove the standard Neo-Darwinian narrative, e.g. the ones by James Shapiro and Marcello Barbieri). Papers in the Bio-complexity journal seem like really good material as well. What's lacking here is synthesis. There needs to be a concerted effort to synthesize all the myriad forms of biological design arguments, and defend this synthesized version with sufficient philosophical rigor. This synthesis also needs to work as a research program for biological design features, because new data about biological design just seems to accumulate. There needs to be a research scheme or structure to incorporate all this data. That, I think, is the major shortcoming (as well as the holy grail) as far as biological design arguments are concerned.

Honorable mentions-

- J. P. Moreland, the argument from consciousness

- I can think of quite a few other names, but I don't think they match the caliber of the scholars I've mentioned here.

9 comments:

  1. Hey man Hassan! It's Gene. I looked at this article a little bit. I'll read on more later. See the paranormal phenomena interests me but this obnoxious atheist said this(and he will probably say your other arguments too) said that this is on the level of discredited things like 9/11 conspiracy theories/9/11 truthism, bigfoot evidence, holocaust denial etc... Got I hate that guy. Well I don't but if I were a person to hate which I'm not then I would hate him. He is on Quora here: https://www.quora.com/Mark-Ferguson-28 . Can you check him out and see if he's right or if he's as low as I think he is? Can you also comment on these being the level of bigfoot etc...?

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    1. Hey there Genie,

      Sorry for late reply!

      Instead of keeping my comment restricted to the specific case, here are some general comments which might help you in the future:

      1. A really important step in learning is developing a "nose" for the right sources. Especially when it comes to religious issues, where stakes are always high and people get emotional really easily. As such, it is imperative that you only take your knowledge from credible, peer-reviewed literature. Stephen Braude, whom I've referenced in the post, is an extremely careful and thorough philosopher with wide acknowledgement of his work. If you want to know good evidence for paranormal phenomena, check his work out. Don't listen to the ramblings of random strangers of the Internet who have no achievement or accredition to show for their views.

      As the great Islamic scholar Ibn Sireen said- Knowledge is religion, so very careful who you take your religion from. God have mercy on him.

      2. Whenever you get into an argument with an atheist or anyone (I wouldn't recommend it at all though), it's a good idea to get a feel of his educational background. Is there a degree to his name? How familiar is he with the relevant literature? Has he read the best, or even moderately good, defenses of theistic/supernaturalist claims? If not, I'd recommend suggesting these books to him and inviting him to study them with an open mind. If he shows indignation after that, let him be, he's clearly not worth your time.

      I visited his profile briefly, and immediately realized this person is a village atheist. His dismissal of the fine-tuning argument by appeal to Adams' puddle has been shot down countless times by the defenders of the argument (no smart atheist uses this line of reasoning any more), his Dawkinsian argument against God based on probability is not taken seriously (read: laughed at) by any serious philosopher (theist or atheist), and his dismissal of all arguments for the existence of God as being akin to conspiracy theories is childish caricature. That's my take on the profile you linked me to.

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    2. Hey man!! Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

      On to the content... See the thing is while the atheist isn't NEARLY as educated as a theistic apologetics scholars; neither am I. How can I defend myself against atheist when I am not a scholar? I have to defend myself not as much as quoting scholars but knowing the arguments myself. Do you see my point? I am no apologetic. I don't know this nearly enough. Mark Ferguson says my reincarnation evidence(I am not that good knowing it so I can't always defend it, I only know it moderately more than theistic apologetics) is really the same as nutty things as holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, bigfoot evidence, UFOs etc... and was descredited. No it wasn't. Most scientists just ignore it. Should I feel my reincarnation evidence is less credible because most scientists ignore it? Why or why not?

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    3. Hey Gene,

      I think what you're going through here is a lack of warrant or justification for what you believe in. It's a phase all seekers of truth must go through. We're attached to a particular set of beliefs, but there comes a time in our life when we come into contact with opposing views. This gives rise to cognitive dissonance- I want to hold on to my beliefs, but what if that other person is right?

      In this situation, there's really one thing to do, which is to study. Sadly, there is no other alternative, as I learned the hard way. I had to struggle with finding a shortcut solution to my problem for over a year, until I realized that the only thing I can do to get rid of my doubts is to roll up my sleeves, and look into the material.

      Since you're not a book person, I would be happy to recommend some wonderful lectures on youtube that you can listen to and benefit from. On the point of God's existence, try these:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtfVds8Kn4s

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj_fLi_K7jA

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW6egHV6jAw

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQf29Pden30

      Also as brain candy, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4RY_Xhc5m0

      Lastly, in my experience- a very good way of regaining trust in your belief is to watch debates. I'd very heavily suggest you watch debates between William Lane Craig and...well, pretty much anyone on the existence of God, since he has this tendency to decimate his opponents. All of them are available on youtube.

      Hopefully this helps!

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    4. But Hassan how can I spend a lot of my time learning these things? It's just not for me. This is either for people who want to have a career as an apologetic/defender or a no/low-life atheist who has nothing better to do than to debate theists. I am neither. I am more into reincarnation evidence but I can't even continue study that either.

      You see I had a spiritual experience and have my own spiritual path. But I need more guidance on it. But that is something else.

      These days I am into computer programming, school and exercise. That's what I do. I think a lot about my poor health and I might be taking a new medicine soon so I'll monitor my health. That is what I do in my life.

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  2. Salam, don't you think it's quite sad that there aren't that many translated works at least of Muslim Scholars, or that many Scholars in the Western World.

    I believe God (Exalted be He) Exists on the academic proof scale via the Qur'an. It's full of arguments, and getting you to reason.

    In sha Allah soon.

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  3. Salam Alaykum,

    Is there any way to email you or send you a Private Message? There are a number of "thoughtful reasonings" which I believe you may wish to go through and respond as necessary.

    Wa Salam.

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    1. Wa 'alaikumussalam, my mail address is hassan(dot)abdillah(dot)shamol(attherateof)gmail(dot)com. Forgive me in advance if I don't reply straight off the bat.

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    2. Salam Alaykum,

      Thank you for the information, I have sent you an email entitled: "Concerning thoughtful reasonings in response to 'common arguments'". You may take time of course to answer it.

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