First, he points out something I hadn’t quite considered in this way before: We at PEL complain about how difficult and tedious it is (or would be) to write something fit for a peer reviewed journal. On the one hand, there’s no substitute for a qualified professor to kick your ass and make you revise something 90 times until it’s right. But the sheer amount of second-guessing involved, of making sure you’ve read and incorporated anything anyone ever has written about what you’re trying to express: it makes it nearly impossible to express anything and surely saps the passion out of the endeavor. Ganssle points out that even in the case of the only bona fide philosopher among the group, Dan Dennett, all of these guys are taking the role of “public intellectual,” taking their message directly to the people instead of putting through the academic publishing process (Dennett is a well established philosopher, but does not publish in academic philosophy of religion journals). For some reason this way of phrasing it makes me like them a bit more, maybe because it’s comparable to what we’re trying to do with the podcast.
Ganssle covers some of the same ground we covered in our two episodes, providing what sounds like an academically respectable (as opposed to apologetic) response. He discusses the ontological argument not as establishing the existence of God, but of providing support for the claim that if God exists, He must be a necessary being. Towards the end he gives an unconvincing response to the pluralism argument (there are lots of religions; why would you buy into yours and not the others) that amounts, I think, to the admission, that both theists and atheists of any variety have to have reasons for their positions (he doesn’t seem to recognize here any epistemic difference that introducing “faith” might have).
One of the points in Dawkins that he picked up on that we didn’t emphasize is an analysis of “fitness” as increasing the probability of atheism. We discussed this as refutation of Paley’s design argument: because we have the explanatory power of natural selection at our disposal, we no longer have to see apparent design as implying actual design. Dawkins further argues that the amount of bad, inefficient design that natural selection results in argues against the probability of a God designer, and Ganssle buys this. Ganssle is accepting the claim (that both Mackie and Swinburne made central in their arguments) that it’s sensible to talk about probability in the matter of God’s existence. He then uses this to argue back that, yes, while in isolation, the lack of fitness observed does support atheism more than theism, other issues like the existence of consciousness lend probability to theism instead.
This was exactly the point that we (under the battering of Wes) seemed to deny on in our discussion. On a strict Kantian line (stricter than Kant’s, actually), we simply can’t say anything either way about the ultimate metaphysical causes of things, so while evidence about appearances should feed into our theories of evolution and of mind respectively, neither of these is ultimately relevant to whether there’s a God or not. It’s not that accepting the existence of God has no experiential consequences whatsoever (it provides a framework for interpreting the whole of experience), but God is not a hypothesis for explaining the kinds of appearances explained by science, and when people try to use the concept that way, they’re imposing on science’s domain and generally giving a very pisspoor concept.
Part of this divide between empirical science and speculative metaphysics implies that probability judgments are going to be grounded in the first instance and not in the second. To dip back into the discussion of miracles for a moment, any predictions and judgments we make about the empirical have as their only possible source of grounding other observations of the empirical (either made directly by us, or more often, gathered through the sum of human observation). We can use our understanding of baseline probabilities to make calls on how likely something is to be in the future. We could always be wrong about these baselines, but any unexpected occurrences can feed into and alter these, making future predictions that much more accurate. In the metaphysical realm (the beginning of time, the smallest and the biggest things, the underlying ground–if any–of existence, experience after death, etc.), we’re out of our depth: we have no baselines to argue from.
The best we can do is make analogies: we expect a designer of the universe would be like a designer of something familiar, and thus have motivations that we could speculate about, and so charge God with the problem of evil or ask about apparently bad designs. On the other hand, we have no experience of intentions without a brain apparently hanging about which relates to said intentions in a certain way and somehow transmits them via nerves, etc. and through the physical world to make things happen; this is an argument contra Swinburne that the idea of a divine actor not restricted by physical reality makes any sense. For a strict Kantian, I think both of these analogies are utterly baseless. They are artistic endeavors rather than any attempt to get knowledge. For William James, our choices about some things (i.e. whether we’re going to embrace beliefs that affect our life) are forced; we have to, or at least we often do, leap ahead of the evidence in some cases even when our epistemic standards are not met. In such a case, these probability judgments aren’t justifications, but they can serve as psychological post-hoc rationalizations. They’re all bullshit, and though one bit of bullshit may be easier to swallow than another, there’s no objective difference in quality between the two.