James R. Henderson

MS Mathematics, University of Arkansas (1990),
Ph.D. Philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo (2003),
Associate Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh at Titusville.

Published on the Secular Web

[ Published in: Kiosk Article ]

On the Existence of Barbers and God

A popular advocacy video on YouTube attempting to rebut arguments from evil has been disseminating among Christian religious organizations for about a decade. In an attempt to show that arguments from evil for the nonexistence of God fail, the video likens them to arguments from (human) longhairs to the nonexistence of barbers. In this article, James R. Henderson refutes the suggested theodicy that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God allows apparently gratuitous evils to occur because God wants more human beings to come to Him of their own free will.

Two Varieties of ‘Possible’ and the Ontological Argument

The ontological argument for the existence of God has a long and well-discussed history. First clearly articulated by St. Anselm in 1078, it almost immediately generated lively debate, debate that continues to the present day. Attacks on the argument have been launched by Gaunilo, St. Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and others, and those attacks have forced supporters of the argument (including, but not limited to, Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, and David Bentley Hart) to present different formulations of it. This has sharpened the lines of demarcation between the two sides and made the issues involved clearer. In this article, James R. Henderson addresses an aspect of the debate that has been largely neglected—exactly what it means to “exist in the mind” in Anselm’s sense. Henderson ultimately concludes that the coherence of the concept of God needs to be established before the ontological argument can be given any weight.

Teach the Controversy?

Stephen Meyer tries to make the case for “teaching the controversy” between Darwinian evolution and intelligent design by arguing (1) there is, in fact, such a scientific controversy, (2) voters support the idea of teaching the controversy, (3) the Constitution allows for and encourages the idea of teaching the controversy, and (4) that it makes good pedagogical sense to teach the controversy. I show that each of these points is either false or irrelevant. Further, Meyer charges the scientific community with censorship in keeping intelligent design out of textbooks and the classroom. To show this charge is false, I consider the lengthy evolution of continental drift/plate tectonics from novel concept to scientific orthodoxy.

The Moral Argument for God’s Existence

Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli advocate a version of the moral argument for god’s existence that relies on the proposition that objective morality can have no objective basis for the physicalist. They argue that the physicalist must claim morality (if it exists) is based on matter and motion that is blind to all human striving. I argue that this mischaracterizes the options of the physicalist and that objective morality can be sustained by the physicalist. If this is the case, their argument fails.

Baseball and the Fine-Tuning Argument

Robin Collins argues for the existence of god based on the alleged fine tuning of the universe for life. To do so, he invokes the “Prime Principle of Confirmation.” This principle is necessarily broad so that Collins may smuggle in supernatural agency as an explanation of the organized complexity of the universe, but it is so broad that all manner of completely implausible theories are deemed “supported by evidence.” Further, the principle may be used to undercut parts of Collins’ own argument.

In Praise of Ham

Many believe Job is the most long-suffering human ever to have lived. If my theory of the Noah’s Flood story is correct, that title may actually belong to Ham, Noah’s youngest son. I discuss some of the problems with taking the Genesis 8 account literally and argue that confronting young-earth creationism is still an important activity.

The Argument from Degrees of Perfection: Less Than Perfect

“Aquinas’ Fourth Way of proving god’s existence, the Argument from Degrees of Perfection (ADP), has a long history and dates back at least as far as Augustine of Hippo. It’s crucial premise, that all sequences that may be ordered are embedded on a scale that has least and greatest elements, is called into question. I argue that this premise is stronger than is necessary for the ADP to carry the day, but even if one grants the truth of it, the ADP goes nowhere in showing that anything like a god as commonly conceived actually exists. Concentration is given to a modern form of the argument given by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli.”

Undermining the Argument from Common Consent

“Peter Kreeft defends the Argument for Common Consent by claiming it is not an illicit appeal to the masses. While it is true that some appeals to the majority are legitimate, Kreeft fails to show that the Argument from Common Consent falls into this category. Given this, I argue that the argument carries no weight and adds nothing in the way of establishing god’s existence.”

Faith and Evidence

Ambrose Bierce takes faith to be “belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” Richard Dawkins terms ‘faith’ “belief that isn’t based on evidence.” Sam Harris says “Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith.” The word ‘faith’ is badly in need of rehabilitation.

Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism

“I’m not sure how I would prove that my cousin’s unicycle isn’t a god; perhaps it is inscrutable and isn’t showing its powers right now. The same goes for the carton of grapefruit juice sitting in my refrigerator right now. When the definitions are wide open, when gods are allowed to be careful not to leave fingerprints, agnosticism looks like it’s forced on us.”

Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? is not an Argument

One will sometimes hear theists “argue” for god’s existence by posing the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (I am treating the case where the theist is not giving the cosmological argument but rather simply trying to get this question to do all of the existential work). The atheist’s inability to give a naturalistic explanation is taken to be proof of god. I argue that this is no argument at all. Rather, it is the identification of a problem that requires explanation. God, of course, is one explanation, but then evidence must be marshaled to support god’s existence (or whatever explanatory principle one invokes), and that evidence must go beyond the mere existence of the universe—the thing to be explained cannot be evidence for the explanatory principle.