Reason & Logic and The Existence of God
A Clarification in Response to Luke Muehlhauser's "Who Designed the Designer?"
Luke, the wunderkind over at Common Sense Atheism, continues to be a tremendously salutary voice in the online conversation about God. Recently, Luke set out to kill a sacred cow, "one of atheism's most popular and resilient retorts", namely: "Who designed the designer?". This, he argues, simply is not a defeater to theistic arguments. I should add, what he offers with one hand, he takes with the other. "The problem with offering 'God did it' as an explanation is that such an explanation has low plausibility, is not testable, has poor consistency with background knowledge, comes from a tradition (supernaturalism) with extreme explanatory failure, lacks simplicity, offers no predictive novelty, and has poor explanatory scope." But returning to the more common objection, Luke points out 1) that we accept unexplained explanations in science, and 2) that if every explanation must be explained to count as an explanation, we end in an infinite regress and nothing is ever explained. It is the nature of the case that some explanations must be ultimate explanations. Both of Luke's points are well taken, and echo the responses offered by William Lane Craig and other theists to this common rejoinder. However, throughout, Luke characterizes the supposed conclusions to the natural theologian's premises as simply: "God did it". Luke undoubtedly knows that this is an oversimplification of such arguments when they are carefully articulated, that much like postulates in physics, their conclusions are of the form: some entity x exists with property p. We'll give it the name y. I do not mean to nitpick, and I understand the use of shorthand, but this distinction is critical in evaluating the appropriateness of a given explanation, the very subject matter of the post. My attempt at a constructive response follows.
Jordan Howard Sobel (Cambridge University Press: Apr 9, 2009), 676 pages.
Filled with new, interesting, and insightful observations and analyses ... a book everyone interested in philosophy of religion will want - and need — to read." ~ Graham Oppy, Monash University • "I'm often asked to recommend books on philosophy of religion from a skeptical point of view, and Mackie's The Miracle of Theism has been the only thing I could wholeheartedly endorse. Sobel's book would give me a second option. It's the best thing of its kind since Mackie's book, and in many respects, it's better than The Miracle of Theism." ~ Robert C. Koons, University of Texas, Austin • "This book is a rich resource for those interested in the traditional arguments for and against belief in God's existence ... the book is valuable not so much for the author's own conclusions in each chapter, as it is for the rich resource it constitutes ... the author has done a great service by assembling different versions of arguments for and against God's existence, by discussing the arguments intelligently and critically ... I suspect that many philosophers of religion, both theists and sceptics, will be responding to the particular arguments of this book for some time to come." ~ Ars Disputandi
Arguing About Gods (Cambridge: Sep. 4, 2006), pp. 5, 6.
If we have two valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a disjunctive argument that also entails the same conclusion. More generally, if we have a large collection of valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a multiply disjunctive argument that also entails that same conclusion. However, it should not be supposed that a 'cumulative' argument that is formed in this way is guaranteed to be a better argument than the individual arguments with which we began (even if we are properly entitled to the claim that the arguments with which we are working are all valid). For, on the one hand, if all of the arguments are defective on grounds other than those of validity — for example, because they have false premises, or because they are question-begging — then the cumulative argument will also be defective. But, on the other hand, if even one of the arguments with which we began is not defective on any other grounds, then it is a cogent argument for its conclusion, and the cumulative argument is plainly worse (since longer and more convoluted). So, at the very least, we have good reason to be suspicious of talk about a cumulative case for the claim that a given monotheistic god does — or does not — exist that is based upon a collection of (allegedly) valid arguments for the claim that the god in question does — or does not — exist. ...