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Richard Carrier Carrier Wanchick Carrier3

Carrier’s Second Rebuttal (2006)


Wanchick Gets It Wrong

Basic Argument for Naturalism (BAN)

Wanchick thinks I “beg the question” when claiming scientific methods are the most reliable ones known for resolving questions of fact. Evidence of the superiority of science in ascertaining the truth in every matter of fact is so vast and undeniable that I find his rejection of it bizarre. Does he really believe there’s a better way for discovering the facts of biology, astrophysics, and psychology? There’s no evidence confirming any better method. No university teaches one. If scientific methods soundly confirm all disease is caused by germs, by what method could we justify believing that, nevertheless, all disease is still caused by demons? If it were caused by demons, science would have found that out by now. So, too, for any other fact.[1]

Wanchick claims I think “only beliefs for which we have reliable evidence or good arguments should be strongly believed.” But I only said that something inferred from methods known to be more reliable cannot be disbelieved on the findings of less reliable methods. I didn’t say we shouldn’t believe the conclusions of less reliable methods when they don’t contradict science. Unless Wanchick can demonstrate some nonscientific method justifying disbelief in the established findings of science, he cannot claim any such method exists. Yet he hasn’t even proposed one. We can’t have “properly basic beliefs” contrary to the findings of science, for example, because the findings of science derive from our basic beliefs (and thus cannot even in principle contradict them), and it remains a historically established fact that scientific methods are the most reliable known for ascertaining what can be concluded from them.[2]

Wanchick then claims my examples “do nothing to confirm naturalism over theism,” but I said they represent cases where naturalism was confirmed over supernaturalism. If no form of supernaturalism (not even theism) has been vindicated by science, but naturalism has been consistently vindicated countless times in every field of inquiry, that argues for naturalism. Unlike naturalism, no claims uniquely implied or entailed by BT have been confirmed scientifically.[3] That’s why Wanchick must refute P2 before we can believe theism over naturalism. Otherwise, scientific methods have never found a nonphysical mind, nor confirmed the universe was created or can be acted upon by any supernatural will. All it has ever found, when able to look, are natural materials and forces. Even if BT doesn’t contradict those findings, it still doesn’t follow from the findings of the most reliable methods known, whereas CN does.[4] Thus, whenever BT contradicts CN, we have more reason to believe CN.

It doesn’t matter that “classical theism doesn’t hold that lightning, disease,” etc., are caused by God. It used to, and only abandoned those theories when they were refutedwhich is my point: its horse kept losing. But what matters is that in every case when any supernatural theory went up against a natural one, and the most reliable methods known were applied, the natural theory won, without exception. Therefore, CN has vast support from the most reliable methods known, while BT doesn’t. Therefore, we presently have more and better reason to believe CN is true than BT. Wanchick does claim “examples of the reverse,” which can only mean examples of the best known methods confirming a supernatural theory over natural ones, but none of his examples qualify. For instance, “the discovery of the universe’s origin,” “life’s incalculable complexity,” and “the universe’s delicate fine-tuning” don’t tell us whether the causes of these things were natural or supernatural.[5] Nor do any gaps in the fossil record contradict the predictions of naturalistic evolution.[6] And neither “the recalcitrance of mental and moral properties to materialistic explanation” nor “the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection” are conclusions established by scientific methods, but rather by dubious or inferior methods.[7]

Basic Argument to Naturalism as the Best Explanation (BANBE)

Wanchick claims the principle that “any worldview that explains the world best should be believed over any worldview that doesn’t” is “unpopular among epistemologists.” I don’t believe that. Wanchick fails to show that even Plantinga has abandoned this principle, and doesn’t name any relevant philosopher who does (much less show that most do). Nor has he articulated any good reason for us to abandon it. In contrast, I don’t have to “show that theistic belief can’t be properly basic.” What “can” be the case is irrelevant. If Wanchick wishes to assert that BT is a properly basic belief, then let’s see him do so. Otherwise, his objection is irrelevant to BANBE.

Argument from Divine Inaction (ADI)

Wanchick strangely claims I haven’t “demonstrated why” we “wouldn’t expect misery, ignorance, and injustice given” BT. That’s exactly what the ADI does demonstrate. Wanchick presents no valid rebuttal.

He argues moral rules have exceptions, so “one should not, for instance, feed the hungry if he must kill his kids to do so,” but that’s not a valid objection to the ADI. Wanchick hasn’t demonstrated that God is in any such circumstance, and he certainly cannot presume he isany more than a jury can “presume” the defendant had a really good excuse for killing his wife, though he doesn’t provide any and they can’t think of one. But even if Wanchick demonstrated that some excuse applies, that still wouldn’t be relevant to any premise in the ADI, because he still would have no evidence of God acting morally; yet he must in order to refute the ADI.

Wanchick seems to think the ADI’s conclusion does not follow from its premises because the fact that “we don’t see God acting consistently with D doesn’t imply that there’s no evidence for theism.” But the ADI is not formulated against “theism.” It’s formulated against BT, and Wanchick’s own definition entails “evidence of God’s moral action” is “a necessary condition for having evidence” of BT. Hence the ADI concludes “there is no evidence that a BT God exists.” Evidence of a God without evidence of his moral character would be evidence for a non-BT God, but there would still be no evidence of a BT God, as the ADI concludes. Indeed, when Wanchick claims not to know “what to look for,” he is admitting he can find no evidence of a BT God.

Likewise, refuting the ADI doesn’t require proving there is “no evil or suffering” at all. All it requires is proof that God acts as BT requires.[8] Wanchick has provided none. His appeal to alleged evidence of “God healing the sick, protecting people, etc.” does not survive examination, for none of this includes the one thing required: evidence that God was the responsible agent. Wanchick doesn’t even cite a single actual case for us to examine. In contrast, Wanchick claims not to know why “ignorance, misery, etc., would predominate in a naturalistic world,” as if it wasn’t obvious: on naturalism, apart from human intervention, goods and ills will be distributed blindly without regard to merit (other than the merit of brute survival). Likewise, asking “why isn’t the universe more pleasant” or “more hideous” is irrelevant to the ADI, which only refers to the general state of things, not their precise degree.

Finally, Wanchick asks, “if CN is true, why would we even expect” a “universe with sentient life” that “can experience misery or suffering?” By definition, CN proposes that “everything everyone has observed” has natural causes.[9] Therefore, the existence of the life we observe is entailed by CN. The only question is whether CN is true, which here comes down to whether CN’s explanation of that life coming to be is more probably true than BT’s. The ADI says yes. For the evolution of a sentient ability to feel misery has demonstrable survival value, and its gradual development through the animal kingdom can be traced scientifically.[10] And in an uncaring universe, that entails a lot of misery for any conscious being evolved to feel it and not consistently able to avoid it. BT has nothing like that excuse.

Wanchick also claims “the origin of life” and humans “is vastly improbable given CN,” therefore “CN is vastly improbable,” but this is a non sequitur, as I have already explained.[11]

The Argument from Mind-Brain Dysteleology (AMBD)

Wanchick claims if “human minds are disembodied in some possible world” then they’re “possibly disembodied in every” world, but that’s a non sequitur. Being possible requires the underlying ontological architecture, which by definition not all possible worlds share. For example, given what we know, it’s not possible to travel faster than light in this worldit would only be possible in worlds structurally different from this one. We may be mistaken about the structure of the world we’re in, but we can’t assume we are. Wanchick hasn’t shown that our world is structured to allow disembodied minds, nor has he shown that any such world exists or even could exist. The best evidence so far suggests that we don’t live in such a world, or that humans don’t have such minds even if something else does.[12]

Wanchick also claims “if anything can possibly exist disembodied” then it can’t be material and therefore “human minds are immaterial substances,” but that’s also a non sequitur. That something could be red doesn’t entail that it can’t be green. Likewise, even if some mind could be disembodied, that doesn’t entail all minds are, or even that any are. Just as a computer can be made from circuits or metal gears, so could a mind be made of flesh or an immaterial soul (if such a thing is even possible). Thus, whether any given mind is made of flesh or soul is an empirical question, just as whether any given computer is made of gears or circuits. Science has found the only minds we know to be flesh.

Wanchick incorrectly claims P11 is false because “there could be invincible” embodied minds, but that’s irrelevant. P11 only states that God could have given us a “brainless mind” (BM), which remains true no matter what else he could have done. Likewise, P12 only says people would choose a BM over an EM, where P11 defines EM as “the embodied mind we actually have,” not as any possible embodied mind. The possibility of invincible embodied minds is also not entailed by any proposition Wanchick or I have committed to, but the existence of disembodied minds is entailed by Wanchick’s definition of BT, and therefore he must accept their existence or abandon BT.[13]

Astonishingly, Wanchick claims God “has a body” and so “the Christian God wouldn’t eschew embodiment” of his own mind, but that contradicts Wanchick’s own definition of God, that “God is nonmaterial” and “without spatial location.”[14] If Wanchick is now claiming a BT God doesn’t exist, he has lost this debate. Otherwise, P11, P12 and P13 already answer his question “why believe God would want this?” The fact that God can’t be harmed doesn’t justify God not caring if we are harmed. Thus, no matter how different he is from us, a God who adheres to the Golden Rule would still want others to have a BM rather than an EM as defined in P11, for the same reason we would in P12. Therefore P13 remains true.

Wanchick also claims my P18 simply “assumes that we would find things as they are if CN were true,” but that’s false: P18 follows necessarily from my definition of CN, as explained in the first paragraph of the AMBD.[15] Since minds are by definition complex and organized, and complex organization is logically impossible on CN without a complex physical mechanism and cause, P18 is necessarily true for the “general characteristics” of an organ necessary for consciousness.

Finally, Wanchick claims “possibly God had a morally sufficient reason not” to act according to P13, so I must “show that this [possibility] is false or implausible.” That’s incorrect. The burden is on the claimant. Wanchick must show that God has such a reason. The mere possibility is irrelevant, since we can only draw conclusions from what we know, not what we don’t.[16] So far as we know, there is no such reason limiting God, just as there is none limiting us. Therefore, so far as we know, he is able to act according to P13, and thus C6 is true. Only when we know otherwise can we conclude otherwise.

Atheistic Cosmological Argument (ACA)

Wanchick says my P21 “asserts that if CN is true, we would expect precisely our universe.” That’s incorrect. P21 only asserts the observed “nature and scale of the universe” and “history of life” is “the only possible way we could exist that we know of.” So this is limited to what we know and to the evidence presented in the first paragraph, which was not a precise description of our universe, but only certain general characteristics of its “nature, scale, and history.” I took this as implied, but unpacking P21 and P22 would clarify it.

Otherwise, Wanchick again assumes I must “deduce” all known facts from CN, even though he cannot do this from BT, either.[17] At question is whether CN or BT provides the best explanation of what we observe, not whether they predict every detail. Neither one can. So when Wanchick says I supply “no reason to think our universe is more probable than any other given CN,” he is wrong: the ACA provides exactly such a reason, not by claiming that CN or BT predict any exact particulars, but by claiming they do or don’t predict certain general characteristics.

Thus, when I say the universe must be as old, lethal, and big as it is on CN (in general scale, not exact quantity), this follows necessarily from the definition of CN in conjunction not with what “might” be possible, but with what we know is possible. Wanchick has provided no case to the contrary, nor any reason for us to expect so old, lethal, and large a universe on BT. And we still have reason to expect otherwise: A God who created a universe for the purpose of life would most probably make a universe that was immediately and universally hospitable to life.[18] In other words, BT does not explain why the universe is like it is, but CN does.

I already refuted Wanchick’s argument from fine-tuning. And his claim that the origin of life is too improbable on CN remains unsubstantiated.[19] Wanchick also complains that I give no reason for believing “Darwinism” true. Though Wanchick embraced the authority of established science in his opening statement, now that it’s inconvenient he chooses to reject it. I argued we should trust the results of scientific methods over inferior methods, and nearly all biologists, and every major and respected scientific association on Earth, concludes that evolution by natural selection best explains the origin of all species.[20] No objection maintained against this conclusion has been subjected to proper scientific method. No scientific research has ever demonstrated any actual “irreducible complexity of life” or the nonevolutionary origin of any mental or moral properties, while any “sudden appearance of fully formed species in the geological record” doesn’t even imply those species didn’t evolve over time, since the chronological gap between recorded forms remains sufficiently vast.[21] Consequently, even when advocates of intelligent design (ID) defended it under oath:

Not a single expert witness over the course of the six week trial identified one major scientific association, society or organization that endorsed ID as science. What is more, defense experts concede that ID is not a theory as that term is defined by the NAS and admit that ID is at best “fringe science” which has achieved no acceptance in the scientific community.[22]

Evolution is thoroughly backed by authoritative science. ID is not. End of story.[23]

Argument from Nonlocality (ANL)

I didn’t argue that “nonspatial existence is impossible,” but that we have no reason to believe any nonspatial locations exist. So we have no reason to believe there is anything, God or otherwise, located in some place we don’t know exists. All the examples Wanchick gives, for example, have known locations, some existing throughout space-time, others in specific regions thereof, so they bear no analogy to Wanchick’s God. The universe, for example, by definition exists at every point of space and time. It therefore has location. Likewise, my love for my wife exists in the space-time region of my brain. Abstractions are potential patterns of arrangement, which exist at every space-time location those potentials obtain, including within human brains.[24] No one has proven anything to exist anywhere else. And it’s obviously tautological that if something does not exist anywhere, it does not exist at all. Just as “faeries do not exist anywhere” literally means “faeries do not exist,” so, too, for God.

Argument from Physical Minds (APM)

The “required material” in my APM is not “logically” required, but a material we’ve observed to be required for mental phenomenasuch that we have no reason to believe any minds exist without it (as we’ve never observed any). By analogy, we’ve never observed an object changing velocity without an applied force, so we have no reason to believe objects can change velocity without a force. Hence this is an empirical argument, not a logical one. Nor does it require a rejection of substance dualism (SD), since the APM is not an argument for CN but against BT. Even if SD is true, the evidence still establishes that, as far as we know, no mental phenomena exist without a certain required material.

Wanchick’s counterexamples fail. We know alien minds could exist because we know from physical and astrophysical observations that everything necessary to form them probably exists in many places in the universe. But we don’t know anything justifying a similar inference for disembodied minds. So far as we know, they don’t exist anywhere, just as, so far as we know, objects changing velocity without a force don’t exist anywhere. Finally, Wanchick’s appeal to religious experience provides no evidence of what’s required: that what was experienced was a disembodied mind. These experiences have better naturalistic explanations anyway, as I’ve already explained.[25]

[1] See “A Digression on Method” in Richard Carrier, “Why I Am Not a Christian” (2006), and my extensive discussion of how to assess the relative merits of different methods in my book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 49-62. On the supreme merits of science in particular, see ibid., pp. 54-55, 211-52.

[2] See relevant discussions of basic beliefs and the nature of warrant, particularly contrary to Plantinga, in Richard Carrier, “Defending Naturalism as a Worldview: A Rebuttal to Michael Rea’s World Without Design” (2003), and Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 43-47. See also: Evan Fales, “Critical Discussion of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief,” Nous 37 (2003), pp. 353-370; Fales, “Proper Basicality,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2004), pp. 373-383; Fales, “Reformed Epistemology and Biblical Hermeneutics,” in Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), pp. 469-90; Keith Parsons, “Plantinga and the Rationality of Theism” in God and the Burden of Proof: Plantinga, Swinburne, and the Analytic Defense of Theism (1990), pp. 19-62; Stewart Goetz, “Belief in God is Not Properly Basic” in R. Douglas Geivett & Brendan Sweetman, eds., Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology (1992), pp. 168-77.

[3] For Wanchick’s definition of BT, “basic theism,” see this debate’s joint statement.

[4] For my definition of CN, “Carrier Naturalism,” see this debate’s joint statement.

[5] See my rebuttals to Wanchick’s Leibnizian cosmological argument, Kalam cosmological argument, and cosmological design argument in my first rebuttal for this debate.

[6] See the University of California at Berkeley FAQ “Misconceptions about Evolution and the Mechanisms of Evolution,” especially “Gaps in the fossil record disprove evolution.” For the science backing this authoritative response, consult the resources available in the Secular Web Library on creationism. See also my brief discussion and bibliography in Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 168-73.

[7] See argument and references in my argument from mind-brain dysteleology and my argument from physical minds in my opening statement for this debate, as well as my rebuttal to Wanchick’s moral argument and his argument to the resurrection of Jesus in my first rebuttal for this debate.

[8] See my complete discussion of the problem in Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 273-75, 277-82.

[9] See my definition of CN, “Carrier naturalism,” in this debate’s joint statement.

[10] On the evolution of mind and things like beauty and pain responses, see my discussion and bibliography in Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 168-76, 183-86, 302-12, 326-28, 337-39, 349-66.

[11] In addition to my discussion later in this rebuttal, see my rebuttal to the cosmological design argument in my first rebuttal for this debate, and my atheistic cosmological argument in my opening statement for this debate.

[12] As I explained in my argument from mind-brain dysteleology and my argument from physical minds, and as is proven by the resources in note 5 of my opening statement for this debate.

[13] For Wanchick’s definition of BT (basic theism), see this debate’s joint statement.

[14] See this debate’s joint statement.

[15] See this debate’s joint statement for my definition of CN, and my first rebuttal in this debate for my AMBD.

[16] See “A Digression on Method” in Richard Carrier, “Why I Am Not a Christian” (2006).

[17] For Wanchick’s definition of BT (“basic theism”) and my definition of CN (“Carrier naturalism”), see this debate’s joint statement.

[18] Besides the atheistic cosmological argument in my opening statement for this debate, see my relevant quotation and discussion of Hawley and Holcomb in my rebuttal to Wanchick’s cosmological design argument in my first rebuttal for this debate.

[19] See my rebuttal to the cosmological design argument in my first rebuttal for this debate, and my brief remarks in my presentation of the ACA in my opening statement for this debate. For details on the probability of a natural origin of life, see: Richard Carrier, “The Argument from Biogenesis: Probabilities against a Natural Origin of Life,” Biology & Philosophy 19.5 (November, 2004), pp. 739-64; Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 166-68; Richard Carrier, “Are the Odds Against the Origin of Life Too Great to Accept? (2000).

[20] See my basic argument for naturalism in my opening statement for this debate. For the positions of major scientific associations, see the “Statements from Scientific and Scholarly Organizations” collected by the National Center for Science Education, especially those of the largest and most prestigious, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

[21] Again, see references in note 6 and note 7 above, as well as my arguments and bibliographies regarding the evolution of moral sentiments, and the physical origin of mental properties, in Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 135-60, 173-76, 309-12, 326-28.

[22] Judge John E. Jones, “Memorandum Opinion” (PDF), Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District (20 December 2005), p. 70.

[23] On this failure of the ID movement see: Taner Edis & Matt Young, eds., Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism (2004); Mark Perakh, Unintelligent Design (2003); Richard Wein, “Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates: A Critique of William Dembski’s Book No Free Lunch” (2002); Ian Musgrave, “Evolution of the Bacterial Flagella” (2000); Kenneth Miller, “Answering the Biochemical Argument from Design” (2003); Richard Lenski, et al., “The Evolutionary Origin of Complex Features,” Nature 423 (8 May 2003), pp. 139-44; and the numerous books available on “evolution vs. creationism” in the Secular Web Bookstore, as well as the articles and resources in the Secular Web Library on creationism.

[24] Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 124-34. See also ibid., “abstraction and abstract objects” in the index, p. 415, and pp. 193-201. And see my definition of “potential” in our joint statement for this debate.

[25] See my discussion of “visions” in my rebuttal to Wanchick’s argument to the resurrection of Jesus in my first rebuttal for this debate, with references in the corresponding note 27 there.

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