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On Apologists

By Paul So ~

When my dad was driving with me back home from the library he was listening to a lecture by a religious apologist (I do not remember his name). I knew he was a religious apologist given that I know that my dad listens to a lot of religious programs and that the speaker was talking about philosophy. Furthermore, I already knew the conclusion of the religious apologist (no, this was not in hindsight I literally predicted it). I could make this prediction because by listening to the apologist’s lecture for five minutes I already could tell what he would say since within those five minutes he was talking about the history of philosophy/science with the constant theme of the limits and fallibility of human knowledge. The conclusion I predicted he would make is that human attempts to explain the origin of the universe will ultimately fail because ultimately God created the universe. The conclusion I made was roughly correct. The argument the apologist made was the following:
  1. Any theory we present to explain everything can be questioned as to why that theory is true rather than the alternative theory.
  2. Current theories of cosmology (i.e. string theory, M-Theory, etc) are subjected to such question “why is that true instead of the alternative”.
  3. God is an exception to the “why” since we need faith in God
  4. therefore God exists
This is the rough formulation but that’s the basic reasoning behind his lecture; he does not really give his argument in this exact manner but I think it’s roughly accurate representation of his basic reasoning. The conclusion of the argument (3) is a non-sequitur (in logic this means “conclusion does not follow”) because the first two premises does not establish that God exists and the third premise does not explain why God is the exception to the “why” (it’s also because the conclusion is irrelevant to the premises, the premises do not really talk about God at all ; In logic you have to make sure that your premises and conclusion are relevant to each other by sharing the same key terms or concepts). I can also object to the conclusion with a question: “Which God? God of Islam? God of Judaism? God of Neoplatonism? God of Zoastrianism? God of Hinduism (i.e. Brahman)? God of Spinoza? God of Hegel? God of Christianity?”. If the apologist responds “God of Christianity” then I can easily point out to him that if I strictly follow the reasoning of his first premise then I can ask “Why God of Christianity is true? Why not the alternative theory such as God of Islam?”. He can respond that God is not just a theory but I can point out to him that theory means explanation in both science and philosophy of science, if that’s the case then to say that God created the world is already presenting God as a theory. He also doesn’t explain why God is the exception to premise 1, it doesn’t seem very convincing; He didn’t exactly say faith but I reasonably assumed that that’s probably the most plausible interpretation (given that he is a religious apologist), so I added the reason in premise 3. But if that’s the case then I can use the reasoning of premise 1 to show that premise 3 is arbitrary: I can ask “why God x is the exception, why not God y be the exception?”. Throughout the lecture the religious apologist expressed skepticism of M-Theory and String theory by appealing to authority: Stephen Hawking. I was annoyed at this because while Stephen Hawking is a renown cosmologist his opinions may not always reflect the consensus of the scientific community of physics.

There is another religious apologist who made an argument for presuppositionalism but I think it’s a very horrible argument. Here’s the gist of the argument and I will show why it’s a bad argument:
  1. God is omnipresent, immaterial, necessarily existing, and eternal.
  2. Logic is universal (omnipresent), immaterial, necessarily existing, and eternal
  3. Therefore Logic is explained by God
There are two problems with this argument. First, assuming that premise 1 and 2 are true, just because God and Logic share similarities does not warrant the conclusion. This becomes obvious when I try to make an analogous argument:
  1. Dogs are mammals with four legs, a tail, a whisker, and two eyes
  2. Cats are mammals with four legs, a tail, a whisker, and two eyes
  3. Therefore, Dogs explains Cats.
Obviously the conclusion does not follow from the first two premises since Dogs and cats are pretty different (as well as having different common ancestors….); This is analogous to the former argument because just like the argument for presuppositionalism the latter argument compares Dogs and Cats together and comes to an erroneous conclusion that a Dog explains the existence of a cat. The second reason why the argument is horrible is because it commits a fallacy of associative thinking also known as associative fallacy; just because two things share similar qualities does not mean that they must be related to each other by explanation (or other things); such form of thinking employs something called representative heuristic which assumes that if two things are similar they one of them must be the cause of the other, but this way of thinking is not very reliable (i.e. bees having wings but so do bats, but they do not relate to each other); Also the argument demonstrates a poor understanding of what constitutes an explanation: You have an Explanan (which does the explaining) and the Explanandum (that which is being explained by Explanan), it is possible that both Explanandum and Explanan may not share the same properties but the relation between them still holds; after all Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity explains Gravity with Space-time fabric, neither of which necessarily share the exact same properties. So it is possible that god and logic share the similar properties but still remain the case that God does not explain logic.

This is why I get tired of religious apologists: they use their rudimentary background knowledge in philosophy, logic, theology, and science in order to serve their theological agenda and exclude anything else proposed by science to explain how the world works without recourse to supernatural explanation. To me this is very self-serving and intellectually dishonest, but even worse the arguments the religious apologists made is pretty bad argument as I have demonstrated. Over a period of time I grow less and less interested in rebutting philosophical arguments for the existence of God because not a lot of them are very good since most of them are made by cheap religious apologists who are mostly intellectual cons-men. I might make exceptions for philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga who made very challenging arguments for the existence of God but I suspect that ultimately his arguments for the existence of God won’t stand up to rigorous scrutiny. Aside from Plantinga, most religious apologists are very self-serving and employ bad arguments. Even worse, when they start criticizing the theory of evolution or big bang as if they have scientific credentials then I immediately lose my respect for them (this gets worse when they make arguments for intelligent design or fine tuning). Even then this may not be enough since apologists like William Lane Craig who accepts evolution and big bang theory goes beyond his theological/philosophical expertise to misrepresent scientific theories to say that God exists; When I watched his debate with Shelly Kagan I was annoyed at how Craig can play dirty on occasion: Craig argued that naturalism cannot account for free-will if determinism is true, but Kagan showed that Craig is being misleading since compatibalism is a possible alternative; Craig used this as an opportunity to demand Kagan to explain why compatibalism is true but Kagan does not commit himself to compatibalism and the argument for it is already deviating from the subject of debate.

I’m more interested in philosophy of mind, free-will, philosophy of time, and other philosophical subjects but I pay less attention to arguing with religious apologists since it’s a waste of time. Rarely do religious apologists show any interests to be charitable and intellectually honest. They usually distort the other side, employ bad arguments, and use useless rhetoric. Maybe I will return to the debate on the existence of God on occasion but I see myself doing so less often than before. What disturbs even more is how many people actually fall for religious apologists and think to themselves that the religious apologist’s argument must be irrefutable or true. It gets on my nerves because when they think that way they lose the opportunity to think outside the box and see why the argument can be flawed in multiple ways. It also just simply reinforce what they already believe. This very fact alone already tells me that much of the churches in Christianity is intellectually bankrupt and shallow.