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Richard Carrier Carrier Wanchick Wanchick2

Wanchick’s First Rebuttal (2006)


Basic Argument for Naturalism (BAN)

It’s hard to make sense of Carrier’s opening argument. He aptly labels it his basic argument for naturalism (BAN). Unfortunately, its lack of depth apparently stems from his failure to justify its premises. P1 says propositions entailed by reliable methods trump those supported by less reliable ones. By this Carrier seems to mean if a certain worldview is better substantiated by science, history, and “critical investigation” (whatever that means), that’s what we should believe. This, however, begs the question as to why these disciplines would be the “most reliable methods” for inquiry. If another worldview were better vindicated than CN in other areas, why not believe that?

Moreover, P1 presupposes a peculiar epistemology: only beliefs for which we have reliable evidence or good arguments should be strongly believed. Ironically, Carrier provides no evidence for this evidentialism. In fact, such a theory of knowledge is quite controversial. Many philosophers hold that we can often be rationally justified in holding beliefs that have little or no evidence, or which even contradict the evidence, as long as those beliefs are properly basic and have enough warrant to overcome defeaters.[1] Unless Carrier can prove his epistemology true or most plausible, P1 has nothing recommending it, making BAN unsound. Finally, why believe P2? Carrier asserts that “CN is the only worldview that follows from the findings of the most reliable methods,” and offers as evidence that there have been “millions” of cases where these methods allegedly confirmed naturalism over supernaturalism. But what millions is he talking about? He only specifies three. Oddly, however, they do nothing to confirm naturalism over theism. For classical theism doesn’t hold that lightning, disease, or the order/maintenance of the solar system are generally products of direct supernatural intervention.[2]

Alas, far from millions, I can’t recall even one instance where scholarship confirmed naturalistic predictions over theistic ones. I can recall, though, myriad examples of the reverse: the discovery of the universe’s origin, life’s incalculable complexity/order, the lack of transitional fossils and sudden appearance of animal kinds in geology, the universe’s delicate fine-tuning, the recalcitrance of mental and moral properties to materialistic explanation, the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, etc. The winning bet appears, then, to be theism. BAN, at least, does nothing for CN’s cause.

Basic Argument to Naturalism as the Best Explanation (BANBE)

In his second syllogism, Carrier attempts to overcome naturalism’s embarrassing intellectual history by arguing that since CN successfully explains more of the world than does any other worldview, it alone reigns as the true hypothesis.

BANBE (which resembles a mere restatement of BAN), however, presupposes the same unestablished epistemological theory as BAN does. For P3 says any worldview that explains the world best should be believed over any worldview that doesn’t. But, again, such an idea is unpopular among epistemologists. For P3 to be believed, he’d have to show his epistemology superior to that of Plantinga and others, or show that theistic belief can’t be properly basic.

Nevertheless, even if P3 were true, this would still leave Carrier the challenging task of establishing the dubious P4, which he attempts in the form of additional arguments for CN.

Argument from Divine Inaction (ADI)

Carrier’s ADI contains a plurality of problems beginning with P6. It says Christianity entails a set of duties for “every moral person”: feed the hungry, etc. This is inaccurate, though, since Christianity never demands that every person do these things, but only those in the correct context or circumstance. One should not, for instance, feed the hungry if he must kill his kids to do so. As it stands, then, P6 is false as it fails to understand the nuances of a Christian meta-ethic.

P8 also falters. What “evidence” is Carrier looking for? He never explains. But if we don’t know what to look for, how do we know it’s not there? He never even justifies his call for evidence. If God is morally perfect, why expect evidence of this? The premise is doubly question-begging.

Perhaps from P6 and P7 he’s inferring if God exists, He would always heal the sick, etc. and there’d be no evil or suffering. The lack thereof would be the “evidence.” But this is problematic, first, because P6 is false, and second, because ADI would then amount to the defeated logical argument from evil.[3] For the theist can just say that possibly, God has a sufficient reason to allow evil. A theistic world containing evil, therefore, could possibly exist.

If Carrier is merely saying that suffering, etc., would be far less in a theistic universe, he’s begging the question, for nothing in his preceding discussion or premises proves that claim. From the mere fact that God is perfectly good, it doesn’t follow that He won’t allow evil.

Furthermore, P8 is false, since we do have evidence of God healing the sick, protecting people, etc. People have always testified that God acts in human lives in the ways Carrier details. As such, P8 contradicts millions upon millions of testimonies throughout time, and is overwhelmed by contrary inductive evidence. Note that these testimonies don’t have to be proven in order to defeat P8; their mere existence is an undercutting defeater of P8 that Carrier must disprove.

Alas, even if P8 were true, ADI is invalid since C4 doesn’t follow from the preceding premises. For the alleged fact that we don’t see God acting consistently with D doesn’t imply that there’s no evidence for theism. For instance, a sound version of the argument from desire would supply evidence for theism, even if we had no evidence of God’s moral acts. C4 would follow only if evidence of God’s moral action is a necessary condition for having evidence for theism, which is false.

P9 too has problems. Why believe that ignorance, misery, etc., would predominate in a naturalistic world? Indeed, if CN is true, why would we even expect a universe, a life-permitting universe, a life-producing universe, a universe with sentient life, one with self-conscious beings, or one with beings who can experience misery or suffering? As I note in my opening statement, the fine-tuning of the universe is overwhelmingly improbable on CN. In his opening statement, Carrier admits that the origin of life is vastly improbable given CN.[4] But then, of course, since fine-tuning and life exist, CN is vastly improbablenot to mention the essentially zero probability that humans would arise on CN.[5] Moreover, why isn’t the universe more pleasant if CN is true? Or why isn’t it more hideous? P9 is thus both unsupported and false.

As my discussion of P6 and P8 makes clear, P10 is never established by Carrier. If we wouldn’t expect misery, ignorance, and injustice given theism, Carrier hasn’t demonstrated why. Thus, Carrier’s first argument fails since it contains both unestablished and false premises.

The Argument from Mind-Brain Dysteleology (AMBD)

AMBD quickly derails itself too, as Carrier claims that God could’ve created us with immaterial “brainless minds” (BMs). This entails that human minds are disembodied in some possible world (PW); consequently, human minds are possibly disembodied in every PW. But if anything can possibly exist disembodied, it is not a material substance, since material substances can’t exist without matter. Therefore, human minds are immaterial substances. But since CN requires that consciousness arises only from a “complex physical system,” CN is false and theism is bolstered.

Moreover, there’s no reason to believe P11. Carrier’s attempted support for it is that BMs could be unharmed by disease, etc., and thus will always be superior to embodied minds (EMs). But this seems false, since there could be invincible EMs. Would most people choose an invincible EM or BM? Carrier presents no reason to think they’d choose the latter, and I don’t know how he’d know it if they did. Thus, P11 is without justification and AMBD is invalid.

Moreover, even if most humans would want a BM, why believe God would want this? Indeed, on Christian theology, God (Christ) has a body. So, the Christian God wouldn’t eschew embodiment.

Carrier could alter the argument and say most people adhering to the golden rule (GR) would give all children a perfect mind (PM), whether EM or BM. Since God adheres to GR, He would do this. But since Carrier is not permitted to bring up new arguments in later rebuttals, and AMBD is defeated, neither it nor its offspring can play a further role in this debate.

Furthermore, Carrier fails to see that GR doesn’t apply in God’s creative act. GR says we should do to others as we would want done to us. But, of course, because God is necessarily uncreated, it makes no sense to say He would want to be created with a PM. For that would be equivalent to God saying, “If I didn’t exist, I’d like to have a BM,” which is incoherent. And an omniscient God doesn’t affirm incoherent statements.

Finally, Carrier again fails to understand that moral principles are inapplicable in certain contexts. Different persons can act morally in different ways depending on their respective circumstances. Thus, while a doctor is obligated to perform emergency surgery, a mailman isn’t. So if allowing a person to suffer an illness leads to a greater good than healing him would (e.g., salvation), then God has a morally sufficient reason not to heal him. Therefore, even if it were true that God would prefer to give humans PMs, theists can merely maintain that possibly God had a morally sufficient reason not to do so. To defeat this objection, Carrier must show that this is false or implausible.

P18 is similarly troublesome, since Carrier again just assumes that we would find things as they are if CN were true. But, as I noted above, there’s no reason to expect our world rather than any other given CN. Indeed, there seems to be zero probability this world would materialize.

Atheistic Cosmological Argument (ACA)

Carrier’s statement of ACA is strange, as he never justifies the crucial P21, which conveniently asserts that if CN is true, we would expect precisely our universe.

Carrier simply says that the dimensions, age, and life history of our universe are the only ones that could generate life on CN, therefore we’d expect to observe these things if CN were true. But anyone can see that the consequent in this premise doesn’t follow from the antecedent. For even if only this type of universe could generate life on CN, that doesn’t provide any reason to think such a world would materialize on CN thereby allowing us to observe it. Analogously, if God created our universe, we necessarily wouldn’t see Him, since He’s essentially invisible. But obviously from this truth, it doesn’t follow that our inability to see God in our universe proves He is its cause!

In order to show P21 true, Carrier would have to somehow demonstrate that if CN is true, we’d expect to see our universe rather than any other. But as I’ve noted, the possibilities are countless and Carrier supplies no reason to think our universe is more probable than any other given CN.

P21 is also false since both the existence of fine-tuning and the origin of any life are so improbable on CN as to be virtually impossible. And the probability that human life would arise on CN is so incalculably low as to be inconceivable. Since all of these exist, it is virtually impossible that CN is true.

Moreover, P21 also falsely claims that, if CN were true, “the history of life that we actually observe is the only possible way we could exist.” But CN is compatible with an eternal universe which has always contained life, or with a world where life develops by rapid large-scale mutations rather than “meandering” processes, or where life is just part of the furniture of the universe, and myriad other possibilities. Thus ACA is unsound.

P22 is likewise problematic. It claims that since God could make various universes with different histories and dimensions, we wouldn’t expect this one. Of course, even if P22 were plausible, it does nothing to aid CN, since as we saw, CN itself could result in countless other worlds, giving us no expectation that ours would actualize. Secondly, how can Carrier know that we shouldn’t expect such a universe from God? The mere fact that God has many possibilities does nothing to show that this is improbable. For if God prefers this world for some reason, it’s not improbable. How does he know God wouldn’t prefer this? The only support Carrier presents for P22 is that the universe wouldn’t be so big or old on theism, because allegedly God would have “no need” of a large or old universe. But God doesn’t need any universe. This, however, indicates nothing about what size or shape God would make the universe. Moreover, it makes no sense to say the universe is old and big. Compared to what is it old or big? It could be ten billions times bigger and older than it is, but from that perspective, it’s small and young and thus theism is confirmed over CN.

Additionally, Carrier’s assertion that earth history reflects CN over theism presupposes Darwinism is true. But he never presents reason for thinking so. Indeed, this theory is contradicted by many facts: the virtual impossibility of abiogenesis, the lack of transitional forms and sudden appearance of fully formed species in the geological record, the irreducible and specified complexity of life, mental events and properties, moral properties, etc. Carrier’s earlier confirmation of substance dualism also disproves it. Carrier should provide reason to adopt his origins story, rather than just asserting it. Indeed, given the actual evidence, it appears this naturalistic story is false.

Argument from Nonlocality (ANL)

Carrier’s ANL fails because he never proves that “God exists nowhere” is logically equivalent to or entails “God doesn’t exist.” Why think that nonspatial existence is impossible? The assertion is without proof.

Additionally, that nonspatial existence is impossible surely seems false. The greatest philosophers, both theists and nontheists, have believed in nonspatial realities. Many believe that laws of logic, numbers, universals, sets, propositions, or other abstract objects exist. For instance, Carrier’s fellow Internet Infidel, Jeff Lowder, has believed such things to be real.[6] Time, mental events, consciousness, emotions, love, and many other things also exist, but have no spatial location. Indeed, the Big Bang implies that the universe exists in no space.

Moreover, even if none of these things actually exist, it seems conceivable that something like them could. But then it seems possible for a being to have no spatial location. For his argument to succeed, Carrier would have to show this to be impossible.

Argument from Physical Minds (APM)

In his final argument, Carrier says since we have never observed a conscious intelligence operating without “required matter,” we have “no reason to believe” such intelligence exists. Unfortunately, even if we grant this inductive generalization, the conclusion doesn’t follow. For we could consistently experience only matter-related minds, but still have evidence that immaterial minds exist. This would be so, for instance, if we only experienced material minds and yet the ontological argument were sound. So APM’s conclusion doesn’t even follow inductively and therefore APM is not cogent.

Secondly, Carrier begs the question when he says all instances of intelligence we find have a “required material” basis. What if something like substance dualism is true?[7] Then matter is not required for intelligence, although the intelligences we experienced would be embodied. Carrier himself confesses this is possible when he says, “regardless of what may be possible” we never actually see such minds. Translation: While disembodied intelligence is possible, we allegedly never see it. But if it is possible, then matter isn’t required for intelligence and his premise is false.

Indeed, unless Carrier can prove that substance dualism is false or that materialism explains our inductive experience better, there’s no reason to prefer the latter over the former. Even top materialists have noted that substance dualism is the default metaphysical position on personhood and the burden falls on materialists to prove their perspective superior.[8] Carrier merely claims we have discovered that mental realities are in the brain and we are material beings. But making assertions proves nothing, and substance dualists have argued precisely the opposite. Many of the greatest thinkers from Plato to Plantinga have in fact argued so. Carrier’s inductive premise, then, is question-begging if it entails materialism. And if it allows substance dualism, the inductive facts could just as easily falsify CN, thus nullifying APM.

But in fact Carrier himself has already conceded that substance dualism is true. For we saw in AMBD that human minds are necessarily nonmaterial. But then CN is false and theism strongly suggests itself.

Moreover, even if Carrier were right that the minds we typically observe are material, this doesn’t demonstrate that probably no immaterial minds exist, for there are other plausible explanations for this fact. Similarly, we’ve never observed intelligences outside of Earth. But does this strongly imply that no such life exists? Of course not, since this lack of observance could just as easily be explained by such beings inaccessible to us. The same could be said for immaterial intelligences; perhaps they exist but simply don’t interact with us or are inaccessible. How does Carrier know his explanation is better than these?

Indeed, the only immaterial intelligence theists would ever expect to experience is God. And this supplies yet another objection to APM. Carrier asserts that we have no confirmed instances of experiencing purely immaterial minds. But this strangely overlooks the millions upon millions of people throughout time who would testify that they have experienced such minds. Whether it’s God, demons, Satan, angels, or near-death experiences, thousands of such events have occurred daily throughout history and act as counterexamples to Carrier’s claim. Theists can even allow that many in nontheistic religions have experienced such beings, since they could, for example, misinterpret an experience of God. Carrier will have to plausibly explain away all such occurrences lest his premise be undercut.[9]

[1] See: Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[2] On the science vs. theism myth, see: Robert Koons, “Theism and Science: Concord, Not Conflict” in The Rationality of Theism ed. Paul Copan and Paul Moser (New York: Routledge, 2003); Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004); Uncommon Dissent ed. William Dembski (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2004).

[3] See Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977).

[4] On the origin of life, see the various publications of intelligent design theorist Stephen C. Meyer. See also Walter C. Bradley and Charles Thaxton, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (Philosophical Library, 1984), and Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana, Origins of Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004).

[5] For such calculations see John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986).

[6] See the Lowder-Fernandes Debate available from www.biblicaldefense.org.

[7] Good defenses of substance dualism are found in: J.P. Moreland, Body and Soul (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000); Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); David H. Lund, The Conscious Self (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2005); William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Charles Taliaferro, Consciousness and the Mind of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[8] Moreland documents this in Body and Soul, for instance.

[9] Good stories of such encounters are in Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place (New York: Bantam, 1984); cf. Tramp for the Lord (New York: Jove Books, 1986). For philosophical defenses of such experiences, see R. Douglas Geivett, “The Argument from Religious Experience” in The Rationality of Theism (New York: Routledge, 2003), and William Alston, Perceiving God (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

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