Apologetics: September 2005 Archives

This is the the sixteenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

As with the other no-evidence argument posts in this series, some of my presentation is influenced by the chapter by John Hawthorne called "Arguments for Atheism" in Michael Murray, Reason for the Hope Within. This post in particular also takes a good deal from Peter van Inwagen's "It Is Wrong Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence" and "Quam Dilecta"), which are two different presentations of the same core paper, expanded upon differently for different audiences (I assume).

In previous posts I've tried to make the strongest case for arguing that we shouldn't believe in God, on the grounds that there isn't enough evidence. There are a number of points that I'd like to make in response. This post will look at how standard responses to skepticism of any sort can enter into this debate, given that the no-evidence argument is very much like the arguments for skepticism (see the end of the last post). I have a few other points to make after considering the responses to skepticism as applied here, and those will follow in the next post.

Unmasking the Jesus Seminar

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Lots of people have written criticisms of the Jesus Seminar, but one of the best short ones I've seen is the series Mark Roberts just finished on his blog, entitled Unmasking the Jesus Seminar. I know some of these issues pretty well, and I learned a few things in just about every post, so it's not just a rehash of some of the things I've seen before. Mark is typically one of the fairest and most congenial bloggers when it comes to engaging with those he disagrees with, but this time he's not really pulling his punches. The Jesus Seminar is an embarassment to some of the genuine scholars who were part of it, and Mark is pretty clear about why, giving a few examples that stand for wider tendencies. He's about to launch into a more thoroughgoing defense of the historicity of the gospels in a new series, so stay tuned for that.

This is the the fifteenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. As with the other no-evidence argument posts in this series, some of my presentation is influenced by the chapter by John Hawthorne called "Arguments for Atheism" in Michael Murray, Reason for the Hope Within. This post in particular also takes a good deal from Peter van Inwagen's "It Is Wrong Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence" and "Quam Dilecta" (part 1; part 2), which are two different presentations of the same core paper, expanded upon differently for different audiences (I assume).

I also want to issue a reminder that this series' material was largely written over a few years of teaching the course that these are lecture notes for, but I haven't organized them into blog posts except as I'm going. I've been forecasting how many posts are left on certain issues, and with each post in the No-Evidence Arguments section I've thought that I had one or two posts left. Then I've had to subdivide some of the posts as I've expanded some thoughts that I discuss in class but didn't have in my handouts. That's why the numbers of the posts I've predicted hasn't always matched up with how many posts I've gone on to produce.

So far I've presented the no-evidence argument in one popular form and looked at whether there is sufficient evidence for God, with some evaluation of how atheists and naturalists would view the evidence presented in favor of God. I'm now moving into the issue of what we should say if we decide that the evidence is inconclusive. Should we accept the skeptical argument against believing in God? This post focuses on the explanatory adequacy that naturalism claims for itself and the use of the principle Ockham's Razor to favor atheism rather than just agnosticism. In the next post, I plan to work through how various responses to skepticism will apply to skepticism about God. Then I expect to conclude this portion of the series with a few final thoughts. After that, I'll move on to arguments for theism that might better be thought of as arguments against naturalism, and then I'll look at the problem of evil, the second major argument against belief in God. That will wrap up the first half of the material for the course these posts are taken from, which has been on knowledge/skepticism and God, and the second half will cover free will, the nature of the mind, and personal identity.

This is the the fourteenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

In the last post I looked at an argument for atheism that requires a higher standard than will easily convince many people (one I happen to think is incredibly implausible). There is a weaker argument available to an agnostic or atheist against believing in God, given in its most famous form by W.K. Clifford. Some philosophers call this the no-evidence argument:

1. It is wrong to believe something without sufficient evidence.
2. We don't have (and shouldn't expect ever to have) enough evidence for belief in God.
3. Therefore, we should not believe in God.

As with any philosophical argument whose premises really do guarantee its conclusion (as seems true of this argument), the key work in defending the argument will be supporting each premise, and the efforts of those who criticize the argument will focus on questioning either premise (or both). In this post, I'll focus on the second premise, whether there is enough evidence. In the next post, I'll assume there is not enough evidence and see what follows.

As with the last post in this series, some of my presentation is influenced by the chapter by John Hawthorne called "Arguments for Atheism" in Michael Murray, Reason for the Hope Within. This post isn't as close to what Hawthorne focuses on as the last one was or the next one will be, but the general framework I'm working with in these posts is from him, and this post falls within that framework.

There's almost nothing in the gospels about circumcision. Jesus was circumcised. There's one appearance besides that, I believe, and it's almost a side issue to a much more specific discussion about something else. Jesus didn't seem very interested in it. That's interesting for a number of reasons, but I want to suggest one thing that we should conclude that may not be as obvious.

A number of modern scholars seek to explain most of the material in the gospels, particular Matthew, Luke, and especially John, as later developments in Christian thought that don't trace back to Jesus, with the evangelists placing these words in Jesus' mouth in order to give them more authority. In Matthew in particular, they frequently will find something Jesus is saying as being more about the situations Christians were facing with Pharisees in the post-70 Jewish world without a sacrificial system. The key distinctive of Jews without the sacrificial system was a distinctive beforehand, but it became even more significant after the temple was destroyed. That distinctive is circumcision.

Why do the gospels contain so little about circumcision? If this view of modern scholars is correct, and the gospels are primarily about what Christians and non-Christian Jews were fighting over post-70, then wouldn't circumcision play a great role in the gospels? Or is it rather that the gospels more accurately reflect Jesus' own concerns in his own time, and he just wasn't all that concerned with circumcision? There are many other reasons to reject (or at least be skeptical about) the view that the gospels are really about concerns that came much later, but I think this one alone is almost decisive against it.

This is the the thirteenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

So far I've discussed more expansive skepticisms, including skepticism about knowledge from the senses, and I've looked at particular problem raised against knowing about scientific laws. The one other particular problem I'll work through is skepticism about knowledge of religious matters, in particular knowledge of God. As I see it, there are two main types of arguments against the existence of God. The first kind is the no-evidence variety, and the second is the attempt to find a contradiction in what people say about God. The only serious one of the latter type that I know of is the problem of evil, and I'll come to that in due time, after considering three arguments for the existence of God. Before I do any of that, I'll look at the other type of argument against the existence of God, the no-evidence kind of argument. I know of two general kinds of no-evidence arguments. The one with a much stronger conclusion is sometimes called the divine silence argument, and it seeks to show that there cannot be any being like the one Christians and many other theists believe in and call God. One with a weaker conclusion simply relates to there not being enough evidence to justify believing in such a being, but that argument doesn't attempt to show that there can't be such a being. I'll spend the two posts after this one looking at the more general kinds of no-evidence arguments. In this one I'll look at divine silence.

Here is one version of the divine silence argument offered by the atheist [note: my presentation of this follows very closely the chapter by John Hawthorne called "Arguments for Atheism" in Michael Murray, Reason for the Hope Within]:

1. If a being with roughly the features of what people mean when they talk about the Judeo-Christian God exists, then such a being would make this absolutely clear to us.
2. We don't have such palpable evidence.
3. Therefore, there must not be such a God.

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