Craig/Law debate: Argument map

An exercise in argument mapping:


If Atheism, wither moral facts? (Or moral faculties?)

Part 9 in 20 Atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t

12. How do we account for conscience?

13. On what basis can we make moral judgements?

Short answer: Evolutionary psychology for one, and naturalist can take moral realism or plump for anti-realist accounts and it’s no big deal.

Longer answer: Ethics and atheism are seldom considered natural bed-fellows, and morality is a common stick to beat atheists with. So how (and how much) is morality a problem for atheism? Continue reading “If Atheism, wither moral facts? (Or moral faculties?)”

If most people believe God exists, shouldn’t you?

Part 11 in 20 atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t.

How do we account for the nearly universal belief in the supernatural?

Short answer: In a similar way one would account for the majority belief that Christianity is false: widespread error.

Longer answer: Atheism/agnosticism/’nones’ remain a minority of the population in the developed world (albeit one which is growing). If we look worldwide, and across history, we see that almost all people thought there was something supernatural. Is this evidence against naturalism? Continue reading “If most people believe God exists, shouldn’t you?”

Why believe our minds work, on atheism?

Part 6 in 20 atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t

9. How is independent thought possible in a world ruled by chance and necessity?

Short answer: I’ll tell you once you’ve finished beating your wife. (Evolution selects for truth-directed faculties, so it is no surprise we get them on naturalism).

Longer answer: The argument here is twofold. Firstly, that atheism cannot account for our sense of having independent thought (and so this is evidence against it), and secondly that ‘independent thought’ is some pre-requisite for having justified beliefs, and naturalism undermines that. The first line of argument I’ll deal with consciousness and free will later. The second argument is a not-very-strong version of the evolutionary argument against naturalism. So let’s talk about that instead. Continue reading “Why believe our minds work, on atheism?”

What explains the fine tuning of the Universe?

Second in series 20 Atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t.

2. What explains the fine tuning of the universe?

Short answer: There’s no rigorous way to define fine tuning that’s hospitable to a fine tuning argument. Even if there were, a multiverse ensemble would be about as good an explanation as Theism.[ref] Another move atheist could make is to ‘trump’ fine tuning with an argument from evil. For even if it is the case that a fine tuned universe alone would support theism, it might be that further knowledge (it is fine tuned but has lots of evil in) will support atheism, in a similar way that knowing the accused was in the house at the time of the murder is some evidence for his guilt, but finding out he was locked in the basement is evidence for his innocence. (cf. Draper’s work on this). [/ref]

Long answer: The fine tuning or teleological argument has had a long and august history, and it has a new lease of life due to modern scientific discovery. For a variety of parameters (the gravitational constant, the cosmological constant, and so on) any slight deviation from their actual values would, as far as we can work out, lead to a universe where intelligent life is impossible. So surely this is a cosmological watch for want of a watchmaker? Continue reading “What explains the fine tuning of the Universe?”

What caused the Universe?

First in series “20 Atheist answers to questions they supposedly can’t”

  1. What caused the universe to exist?

Short answer: Dunno. But God isn’t any better an explanation.

Longer answer: My understanding of early universe cosmology is limited, but we don’t have a fully tied up account of the early picoseconds of the universe. Perhaps one day we will, as well as an explanation of what ‘kicked off’ the big bang. However, that will just push the problem one step back: what caused the cause of the big bang? etc. Continue reading “What caused the Universe?”

Should the prior probability for gratuitous evil be high?


The discussion of the problem of evil has developed from a logical disproof, to an inductive argument, to a abductive inference. Here an even more modest approach to using evil is suggested: that evil shows that the prior probability of Theism must be very low, prior to any further investigation. This approach sidesteps the standard defences to the problem of evil, and thus indeed permits Atheist to adopt a more defensive strategy. All they need to do is show that the balance of arguments that may be offered do not shift this prior assignment. Here the field is briefly surveyed, the new approach is defended from two more obvious lines of attack. Continue reading “Should the prior probability for gratuitous evil be high?”

Does the moral argument undercut the argument from evil?

Adam: It is often wondered whether evil gives reason to believe there is no god. There are many such responses to this idea. One is to suggest that although at first appearance suggests that evil ‘counts against’ god, further sober enquiry reveals that this is no evidence at all. Theism can provide a similarly good explanation. In a sense, we give ‘God’s alibi’ to the prosecution to the argument from evil.

Alternatively, and more recently, a popular response is that of sceptical Theism: Namely, the principle that we simply aren’t in a position to judge whether the evils we observe really count against God. We simply aren’t able to judge the matter. Instead of God’s alibi, we simply show that our trial could never reach a safe verdict in the first place.

Also, one can simply accept that the balance of evil in the world really does, taken alone, suggest there is no God. However, this only considers evil alone. Considering the rest of the available evidence, we observe that there are much greater reasons in favour of God.

However one common objection, amongst popular sources at least, is to appeal to morality itself to ‘trump’ the argument from evil. When Atheist offers an argument from evil, Theist says some variant of “Well, to run the argument from evil in the first place, you need some account of what good and evil is. Yet the only plausible source of value is God.”

Charles: I think this argument could just be another argument like fine tuning or whatever else designed to rebut the argument from evil: “Okay, so there’s a problem of evil, but I’ve got an argument from morality which is even better.” However, I think when this sort of response is offered, it’s more an undercutting defeater: that, until Atheist gives a good answer to the moral argument Theist poses, Theist need not worry about answering the problem of evil. Continue reading “Does the moral argument undercut the argument from evil?”

Fine tuning, a dialogue

Revised from this:

Scene setting

Charles: Consider our universe. It seems to be precisely tuned for life. Were its initial parameters even slightly different, the universe would have no stars, or no matter, or collapse in on itself a moment after it arose, amongst many other life denying fates.

It would be strange if this ‘just so happened’ in a purposeless, undesigned way. That out of all the possibilities, we landed on the one that permitted life. Theism (and other more ‘anthropocentric’ hypotheses, admittedly) provide a much more plausible explanation for the data. Because God wanted living beings, he would make a life-permitting universe. It makes a much better fit for the facts.

Debbie: How are you constructing this sort of inference? I can see ways you can do it, but what do you have in mind? Continue reading “Fine tuning, a dialogue”

A simple ontological argument for Atheism

Modern (Modal) forms of the ontological argument go something like this (modal moves in brackets).

  1. Possibly, God exists (◊G)
  2. If God exists, necessarily God exists (G → □G)
  3. Possibly Necessarily God exists (◊□G, From [1] and [2])
  4. Necessarily God exists (□G, from [3] and S5)

God exists

The modal logic works (even if you find S5 unintuitive), and generally one stipulates God such that it has the property of necessarily existing.

The key premise is [1]. Although colloquially it seems obvious God is possible, it is probably best thought of as possible in an epistemic sense: for all we know it is possible that God exists (even if we don’t think it likely). Yet that is distinct from saying it is a metaphysical possibility: that there really are possible worlds in which God exists. And it is this claim which is needed to drive the OA.

So what, though? We can conceive God’s existence without contradiction, seems to be well-formed proposition, etc. etc. So all of these epistemic reasons appear to give warrant to the metaphysical claim via Yablo conceivability or similar measures. What’s the problem?

The same applies to God not existing! Continue reading “A simple ontological argument for Atheism”