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Arguing About Gods 1: Preliminary Considerations

01/11/2012

Oppy has quite a main argument here that her presents. ” there are no successful arguments about the existence of orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods – that is, no arguments that ought to persuade those who have reasonable views about the existence of orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods to change their minds.”

Oppy appears to believe this because he thinks that people can reason in different orders, have different evidence available to them, and have different sets of reasonable priors. Is that all the case? If one comes to conclusions based on much less information than another person, is the person with less information still acting reasonably? Also, wouldn’t engaging in discussion of relevant points even out the information gap? Lastly, what even counts as a reasonable prior? There may be way too much wiggle space in that if we’re not careful.

Oppy has a good section defending a weak agnostic position, “the view that is sustained by the thesis that it is permissible for reasonable persons to suspend judgement on the question of the existence of an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god.” He appeals to the principle of conservatism that “one is justified in continuing fully to accept something in the absence of special reason not to.” And this justifies a belief that there are parallel cases in evil God’s or other Gods that are incompatible with theism. Similarly though, Oppy thinks that a theist is reasonable in saying that parallel Gods are not similar enough to the God of theism. How the heck do we figure that one out? Shouldn’t the take the existence of parallel Gods that are equally entailed by theistic proofs to be a reason to be more skeptical of their beliefs?

Kindle Notes:

The main thesis that I wish to defend in the present book is that there are no successful arguments about the existence of orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods – that is, no arguments that ought to persuade those who have reasonable views about the existence of orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods to change their minds.progress.

I am very firmly of the belief that there are no supernatural entities of any kind; a fortiori, I am very firmly of the belief that there are no orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods. I am also pretty firmly of the belief that, even by quite strict standards, those who believe in the existence of orthodoxly conceived monotheistic gods need not thereby manifest some kind of failure of rationality.

(1) an account of rationality and rational belief revision; (2) an account of arguments; (3) an account of rational argumentation amongst rational agents; and (4) an account of the difficulties that arise as a result of the fact that we are not perfectly rational agents. Plainly, this is no small task; and I cannot pretend that I shall do justice to this topic here. Nonetheless, I propose to sketch my answer to the question of what we should suppose is required of a successful argument; I shall make use of this answer when we come to consider various arguments for belief in monotheistic gods in subsequent chapters.

seems to me to be plausible to think that reasonable people can disagree. Indeed, it seems to me to be more or less platitudinous that there are propositions that p such that some reasonable people believe that p, some reasonable people believe that not p, and other reasonable people are agnostic or indifferent in one way or another.

Moreover, there is a substantial body of psychological research that suggests that our ‘reasonableness’ is actually quite imperfect – that is, even at the best of times, we are prone to all kinds of lapses from ideal rationality (especially when it comes to statistical and probabilistic reasoning). However, there are at least two other sources of disagreements among reasonable people that are equally significant. One is that we all have different bodies of evidence – we draw on different bodies of information – that we obtain in all manner of different ways. Even if – perhaps per impossibile – we were perfectly rational, it would still be possible for us to disagree provided only that each of us had different partial bodies of evidence.

The other source of disagreement among reasonable people is that there is no one set of ‘priors’ that any reasonable person must have.

However, I am prepared to suppose that there are unique rational revisions.) I see no reason at all why it could not be that a single piece of evidence leads you to believe that p and me to believe that not p, even though we both act with perfect rationality. And even if that claim is too strong, it seems pretty clear that what one ought to come to believe under the impact of any given evidence depends upon what one already believes.

an argument that takes as premises propositions that those to whom the argument is directed do not accept is a failure,

of agnosticism. On the one hand, there is strong agnosticism, that is, the view that is sustained by the thesis that it is obligatory for reasonable persons to suspend judgement on the question of the existence of an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god.

weak agnosticism, that is, the view that is sustained by the thesis that it is permissible for reasonable persons to suspend judgement on the question of the existence of an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god.

agnosticism is, I think, best defended via an appeal to a principle of doxastic conservatism, along the following lines: one is rationally justified in continuing to believe that p unless one comes to possess positive reason to cease to do so. In the third and fourth parts of this section, I attempt to make a case for weak agnosticism, and to defend this case against objections. Since the strength of this case depends upon the underlying principle of doxastic conservatism, I shall also provide some assessment of the merits of this kind of approach to epistemology.

Even if we are inclined to think that our existence is an incredible stroke of luck, the postulation of creators cannot be guaranteed to explain that luck. For it would seem to be equally a matter of incredible luck that they were disposed to create our universe rather than one of the possible alternatives. Moreover – and more importantly – we have no idea whether ours is the only universe, and hence don’t know whether it is appropriate to think that our existence is an incredible stroke of luck.

In sum: strong agnosticism fails because it does not respect the tenets of methodological conservatism. There cannot be an obligation on reasonable persons to believe only what is required by suitably independent evidence – for, under this obligation, subjects would not be able to believe all kinds of things that it is quite clear they ought to believe. Moreover, there is no way for the strong agnostic suitably to motivate her response to the threats posed by various kinds of scepticism and by the possibility of appeals to simplicity and Ockham’s Razor – for, once the demand for external evidential motivation lapses, the plausibility of the claim that these responses are externally motivated simply evaporates.

Principle of Conservatism: One is justified in continuing fully to accept something in the absence of special reason not to. An important subsidiary tenet is that one should subscribe to the Principle of Positive Undermining – namely, that one should stop believing that p whenever one positively believes one’s reasons for believing that p are no good

There is no more reason to believe in an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god than there is to believe in god*. (Every consideration that can be adduced in favour of an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god counts equally in favour of god*; and every consideration that can be adduced against an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god counts equally against god*.) But in circumstances in which there is no more nor less reason to believe in an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god than there is to believe in god*, it would be positively irrational to believe in an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god. So it is wrong to believe in an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god – there ought to be no theists.

Note: Argument from parallel cases (evil God).

(There are notoriously difficult questions about criteria for simplicity, criteria for determining when explanations and theories have been gerrymandered, reasons for thinking that unbelievability is a good ground for ruling out hypotheses, and so on.)

it may well be the case that theism and non-theism are both reasonable responses to the evidence that people have, and yet that any case that theists put forward for the existence of an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god can be ‘paralleled’ by cases for the existence of other gods about which: (i) theists reasonably judge that the cases are not genuinely parallel (but often for reasons that they have not yet, and perhaps that they shall never have, successfully articulated); and (ii) non-theists reasonably judge that the cases are genuinely parallel (where this judgement is typically a natural expression of – or companion to – their view that there is insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god).

won’t the acceptance of some kind of principle of credulity require one to regard these reports as prima facie evidence that such people have veridical perceptions of God? No. The reported content of these experiences is compatible with ever so many hypotheses about the nature of the creators of the world, including hypotheses involving neglectful or deceptive creators, and hypotheses on which there are no creators.

(It should also be noted that principles of credulity must be carefully constrained: reports of experiences of alien spacecraft landing in suburban backyards surely should not be taken to constitute even prima facie evidence that there have been alien spacecraft landing in suburban backyards.)

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