Warren-Flew Debate, Part 2

I considered devoting the second part of this review to further examination of Warren's points. But that is such an unappealing task that I'm going to just skip on to Flew's positive argument for atheism.

In my
previous post, I lamented that neither side addressed what it means to know. Still, Flew made some observations which deserve comment.

On Knowledge

That is to say we have to start from and with our common sense and our scientific knowledge of the universe around us.

Yes, we all have to start somewhere. But we need to establish criteria on how we know we've arrived. With common sense, Flew fails to establish whether the majority view (theism) or the minority view (atheism) is the "common" one. One can do an internet search for "humans hardwired religion" and see the arguments for and against. The argument against says that humans are hardwired for pattern recognition, but this misses the point. After recognizing patterns, we seek teleology. And we are wired for teleology - we have to be - but
atheists suppress this aspect of being.

As to scientific knowledge, scientific knowledge is incomplete and sometimes wrong. This is not to disparage science; it's just the nature of the thing. Too, scientific knowledge contains descriptions based on empirical induction, and descriptions from empirical induction are probabilistic. That means that there is some point where we consider a probability high enough to be trustworthy - whether it's 50.1%, 75%, or 99.9999%. And this leads to the necessity of what it means to trust Nature and whether or not Nature is trustworthy. Note that the same considerations apply to questions about God.

Of equal importance is the trustworthiness of our intuitions. Feynman gives an idea of inability of intuition to grasp quantum mechanics. In his hour long lecture "
The Character of Physical Law - Part 6 Probability and Uncertainty", he begins by saying that the more that we observe Nature, the less reasonable our explanations of Nature become. "Intuitively far from obvious" is one phrase he uses. Within the first ten minutes of the lecture he says things like:

We see things that are far from what we would guess. We see things that are very far from what we could have imagined and so our imagination is stretched to the utmost … just to comprehend the things that are there. [Nature behaves] in a way like nothing you have ever seen before. … But how can it be like that? Which really is a reflection of an uncontrolled but I say utterly vain desire to see it in terms of some analogy with something familiar… I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics… Nobody knows how it can be like that.

Neither Flew nor Warren acknowledged the problem of intuition getting in the way of apprehending truth, nor possible approaches for dealing with it. We'll see how this problem affects Flew's Euthyphro argument.

About the law of the excluded middle: in general surely it can only be applied to terms and contrasts which are adequately sharp.

This is quite true. Logic, and computation, are based on objects that are distinguishable. This means that if two things can't be distinguished, then we can't accurately describe them. This means that God is beyond reason and logic, because He is not made of distinguishable parts, yet we talk about Him as if He is. At the heart of the Christian concept of God is what is to us a paradox: what God says is the same as what God is (because both are immaterial and unchanging), yet what God says is somehow different from what God is. Flew doesn't mention if this difficulty - that God is beyond reason - is one of the things that enters into his affirmation that there is no God.

My first and very radical point is that we cannot take it as guaranteed that there always is an explanation, much less that there always is an explanation of any particular desired kind.

Bravo, except that this shouldn't be radical. We know that empirical knowledge is incomplete (we'll never experience the interior of a black hole, at least not in any way we can talk about it) and, ever since G
ödel, we know that knowledge based on self-referential logic is incomplete.

You can not argue: from your insistence that there must be answers to such questions; to the conclusion that there is such a being.

This. A thousand times this. Explanations are "just so" stories of which there can be no end. "Just so" stories that actually describe reality are much harder to devise.

For in the nature of the case there must be in every system of thought, theist as well as atheist, both things explained and ultimate principles which explain but are not themselves explained.

Note that Warren says the same thing: "God is the explanation which needs no explanation." In the final analysis, both sides end up with
what they start with! Flew starts with "no god" and ends with "no god"; Warren starts with "god" and ends up with "god". Everything else in between are flawed arguments. I hope that once you see this happen, time and time again, that you see that what passes for a lot of "apologetics" are vain attempts to prove what has been assumed as true!

How often and when, when you make a claim to know something or other, do you undertake or expect to be construed as undertaking to provide a supporting demonstration of the kind which Dr. Warren so vigorously and so often challenges me to provide? Certainly when we claim to know anything, we do lay ourselves open to the challenge to provide some sort of sufficient reason to warrant that claim. But that sufficient reason can be of many kinds. And, although it may sometimes include some deductive syllogistic moves, the only case I can think of offhand in which a syllogism is the be-all and end-all of the whole business is that of a proposition in pure mathematics. Clearly that is not the appropriate model in the present case.

Again, Flew is right. The problem is that he doesn't say what the appropriate model is. He doesn't provide the testability criteria that he demands must be present (covered in the the
next post).

The other way, which is the interesting one which I want to consider, is to urge that whereas we who have not enjoyed the revelatory experiences vouchsafed to the believer cannot reasonably be required to accept his claims, this believer himself is in a sure position to know.

Flew is basically saying that the "deaf" don't need to trust the "hearing". Here, Flew says "I haven't heard". Later, he will say, "I don't see." While he admits these things, he then needs to show that the theist is hallucinating and examine whether or not his presumption of atheism is the cause of his not hearing or seeing. As anyone who does puzzles knows, changing how you look at the puzzle can enable you to see things previously missed.

Flew gets positive marks for trying to lay a foundation of what it means to know; but negative marks for the incompleteness of his presentation. Having reviewed these points, the next post will examine Flew's three arguments.

Warren-Flew Debate, Part 1

In my post "On the Knowledge of God", I wrote: "I have come to the conclusion that neither side [theist and atheist] has any arguments that aren't in some way fundamentally flawed. One day, I will make this case in writing." I guess today is the day to get started (but not, yet, to finish). One problem, of course, is which side to address first and which arguments within each side to address. I could, for example, consider the debate between Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, and John Lennox of which a transcript of the debate is here. I could, for example, cover Feser's "Five Proofs of the Existence of God". I could review "On the Existence of Gods" by Saltarelli and Day. I could ignore what everyone else is saying and present my own case. But even when I do get around to that, I'll still want to include answers to objections, which means covering the traditional arguments.

Somewhere, in a place that I can no longer find
1, I remember reading that Antony Flew was the "most important atheist you've never heard of." On the other hand, Flew may have abandoned atheism in favor of deism in 2004, six years before his death. One side says the switch may have been the result of senility - a charge which Flew denied2. Still, up until that point, he had an impressive pedigree. And in 1976, he debated Thomas Warren over a period of four nights in Denton, Texas where he argued for the affirmative position that there is no God. The debate is available on Youtube and in print.

My primary goal will be to examine Flew's arguments. My secondary goal will be to dissect Warren's responses to Flew. I have to admit that my sympathies -- but not my worldview -- are with Flew in the debate. My impression is that, of the two debaters, he is the more careful craftsman. He is trying to paint a picture with careful brush strokes while Warren is firing a paint gun. Flew is wielding a scalpel, while Warren is using a chain saw. Both have their uses, even though Flew removes the wrong organ and Warren cuts down the wrong tree.

Because my sympathy is with Flew I will deal with his arguments last. First, I want to show where Warren's responses to Flew fall flat. First, Warren makes the claim that Flew has to hurdle seven walls; escape seven cages, to "know" that God does not exist. Warren presents his chart number 9 (manually recreated with minor edits):

Note that, with one exception, Warren is in the same place. Where Flew must show the eternality of matter, Warren must show the creation of matter. After that, at least according to Christianity, Warren must answer the same questions. Genesis says that we are made from "rocks and dirt" (Gen 2:7). Since the "dust of the earth" is unconscious, the same transition must be made. Conscience, i.e. morality, must also enter into the picture. And so on. If Warren could go back in time, what would he see? Would he see dust forming into a human shape which then begins to move? If so, what would intermediate shapes, if any, look like? How long would it take? Would it happen in an instant? Would it happen in minutes? Would it happen over millions of years? How long would the operation to make Eve take? Seconds? Minutes? Hours? What does Warren think he would see? The only difference between Warren and Flew's position on "life from rocks and dirt" is time scale and the presence, or lack thereof, of agency. Since Warren can't go back in time, how does he know what he claims to know? He may answer, "because the Bible says so," but that is an appeal to authority which, in any other undertaking, would require additional support.

And this leads to a fundamental problem. Neither side addresses what it means "to know". There is no mutual groundwork on the nature and limits of reason, empiricism, or self-evident knowledge. Warren has a way that he escapes the mutual prison cells, but I suspect he wouldn't permit Flew to use the same kind of tools. Warren says:

...the only way he can arrive at atheism is to come through all of these walls.

This simply isn't true. We know that knowledge obtained by empiricism is incomplete, if only because we can't experience everything. Thanks to Kurt G
ödel, we know that knowledge obtained by reason, if it is consistent, is incomplete3. Both Warren and Flew need to address what it means to know in the face of uncertainty.

There are some things that we just can't know. And some of the things we claim to know by reason are built upon statements that are taken to be true for no other reason than they are assumed to be true. These axioms, these presuppositions, these self-evident truths may, or may not, conform to external reality (whatever that turns out to be
4.) So while something might be logically true, it may not correspond to a correct description of Nature (cf. the "Stoddard" portion of the Spock-Stoddard Test).

Too, each system may give different answers to the same questions
5, and a question that has an answer in one system might not have an answer in another. It's important to watch for mental sleight of hand when someone argues the superiority of one system over another because their system has an answer to something the other does not. That's not necessarily a virtue. Their system will have unanswerable questions that might be answered in their opponents system.

Warren will use this technique ("my worldview has an explanation, but Flew's does not") as if this settles the matter. As above, it does not. Furthermore, wittingly or unwittingly, this leads to "God of the gaps" thinking. That is, the idea God has nothing better to do than to be an explanation for things where our knowledge is incomplete. While our knowledge will always be incomplete, the moment a particular gap in our knowledge closes, the need for God in that particular instance goes away. So much for an unchanging God.

Warren also seemed to refuse to accept the problem of the
Sorites paradox, that is, the lack of bright lines of demarcation between some objects. How many grains of sand comprise a pile? How many hairs on a head make the difference between bald and hirsute? In the theory of evolution, where did the difference between human and non-human occur? Warren states:

The truth of the matter is, the theist, who believes in Almighty God, has absolutely no trouble with the question of which was first--a woman or a baby.

Sure, but this is because Genesis gives an account where this question is answered. But, as stated before, just because there is an answer doesn't mean it corresponds to reality. The existence of an explanation is not evidence of the truth of the explanation. Warren then asks:

Have you ever seen anything that was neither human nor non-human?

Here, Warren is begging the question. What, exactly, does it mean to be human? That we have the form of a human? Clearly, the Sorites paradox comes into play, since a person who is missing limbs isn't less human than than someone who isn't. Is it based on behavior? If I lose my mind to dementia, does my humanity gradually fade? If something passes the Turing Test, can it be said to be human? Is humanity based on genetics? Neanderthal and modern humans apparently had a common ancestry. In practice, we find that the definition of human is fluid. It depends on form -- except when it doesn't. It depends on behavior -- except when it doesn't. It depends on genetics -- except when it doesn't. Warren ought to admit that our humanity is rooted in our being in the image of God -- but this has to be something non-physical. And since it's non-physical, it's hard to define. Warren is using a sharp line which his own theology has to affirm is actually ineffable.

To be continued...

[1] Possibly "
Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate", Habermas and Flew.
[2] Asking the senile if they're senile is like asking a drunkard if he's drunk, or an insane person if he's insane.
[3] G
ödel's first incompleteness theorem.
The Matrix
[5] Compare
Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries.

On the Knowledge of God

[updated 5/21/2020 to include quote from Philosophy In Minutes]

I'm just this guy, you know?
1 One of the possible recent mistakes I have made is getting involved with Twitter, in particular, with some of the apologists for theism and for atheism whose goal is to prove by reason that God does, or does not, exist. Over time, having examined both the arguments both for and against, I have come to the conclusion that neither side has any arguments that aren't in some way fundamentally flawed. One day, I will make this case in writing (I still have much more preparation to do first). Still, the failure of one argument doesn't automatically prove the opposite case. So the failure of the arguments on all side does not mean that a good argument doesn't exist. It just means we haven't found it. Yet, once you see the structure of these arguments, their commonalities, and the problems with them, you begin to wonder if it isn't a hopeless enterprise in the first place. Hence my proposed "Spock-Stoddard Test" and "The Zeroth Commandment." To be sure, these are not based on rigorous proof, but merely on informed guesswork. But they encapsulate the notion that whether or not one believes or disbelieves in God is a logically free choice. It is primal. It is not entailed by other considerations. You either do, or you don't, for no other reason that you do, or you don't. Post-hoc rationalizations don't count.

When one is, as it were, the "lone voice crying in the desert" with an opinion that appears to be relatively rare, at least in the circles I run in, it's gratifying to find others who have come to the same conclusion. Clearly, group cohesion doesn't make my position true or false, but it does make it less lonely. Herewith are a few quotes that I've come across along the way.

He is not in the business of giving them arguments that will prove he has some derivative right to their attention; he is only inviting them to believe. This is the hard stone in the gracious peach of his Good News: salvation is not by works, be they physical, intellectual, moral, or spiritual; it is strictly by faith in him. ... Jesus obviously does not answer many questions from you or me. Which is why apologetics-the branch of theology that seeks to argue for the justifiability of God's words and deeds-is always such a questionable enterprise. Jesus just doesn't argue. ... He does not reach out to convince us; he simply stands there in all the attracting/repelling fullness of his exousia and dares us to believe. -- Robert Farrar Capon. Parables of Judgment

Jesus did not, indeed, support His theism by argument; He did not provide in advance answers to the Kantian attack upon the theistic proofs. -- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Like probably nothing else, all authentic knowledge of God is participatory knowledge. I must say this directly and clearly because it is a very different way of knowing reality—and it should be the unique, open-horizoned gift of people of faith. But we ourselves have almost entirely lost this way of knowing, ever since the food fights of the Reformation and the rationalism of the Enlightenment, leading to fundamentalism on the Right and atheism or agnosticism on the Left. Neither of these know how to know! We have sacrificed our unique telescope for a very inadequate microscope.
In other words, God (and uniquely the Trinity) cannot be known as we know any other object—such as a machine, an objective idea, or a tree—which we are able to “objectify.” We look at objects, and we judge them from a distance through our normal intelligence, parsing out their varying parts, separating this from that, presuming that to understand the parts is always to be able to understand the whole. But divine things can never be objectified in this way; they can only be “subjectified” by becoming one with them! When neither yourself nor the other is treated as a mere object, but both rest in an I-Thou of mutual admiration, you have spiritual knowing. Some of us call this contemplative knowing. -- Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance

Reformed theology regards the existence of God as an entirely reasonable assumption, it does not claim the ability to demonstrate this by rational argumentation. Dr. Kuyper speaks as follows of the attempt to do this: “The attempt to prove God’s existence is either useless or unsuccessful. -- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

Today, it is generally agreed that there can be no logical proof either way for the existence of God, and that this is purely a matter of faith. -- Marcus Weeks, Philosophy in Minutes

[1] Said of Zaphod Beeblebrox, "
The Restaurant and the End of the Universe"

The Zeroth Commandment

I sometimes despair over the existence of Christian apologists who try to prove the existence of God. Some, like William Craig Lane, who are well known, are like multi-megaton MIRV ICBMs -- all aimed directly at their feet. Very powerful but ultimately useless. It's as if they are unaware of the Zeroth Commandment:

I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other reasons before Me.


Spock-Stoddard Test

I would like to propose the "Spock-Stoddard" test for arguments presented by apologists of every kind:

It is not logical, but it is often true.
                        -- Spock, "Amok Time"

It’s logical, but I wonder if it’s correct?
                        -- Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, "Dark Shadows", #132