Saturday, February 14, 2015

A critique of Everitt's argument from scale

Here. 

22 comments:

Dan Gillson said...

I think that a problem that exists on both sides of the theist/atheist divide is that it is taken for granted that the God of Classical Theism is the God of Christian Theism. That is, both sides assume that if theism is true, then Christianity is as well, which just isn't the case. The fathers of the early church knew they had to prove that the God of classical theology was the same as the God of Christian revelation. They didn't just take it for granted in the same way that both sides do now. The question of theism is separate from the question of Christianity.

Dan Gillson said...

I say that because both Everitt, (at least according to Mr Lee) and Mr Lee conflate the questions.

im-skeptical said...

"... does an appeal to the Christian scriptures support the claim that humans are the most important element of God’s creation?. Given what’s been said, the answer to this is question rather clearly appears to be “no.” Even if (unknown to us) it happens to be true that humans are the most important objects of creation, the texts appealed to by Everitt simply do not give us any reason for claiming such a thing to be true or essential to traditional Christian theism. The upshot, then, is that Everitt has engaged in a rather cagey use of the straw man fallacy"

Are you kidding? This guy creates a straw man of his own: "According to Genesis, God calls the creation of humans very good.", which he then proceeds to blow down. At the same time his ignores what Genesis actually DOES say: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." This passage clearly supports the notion that humans are the most important element of God's creation.

So for part 1 of Lee's critique, I'd call it an epic fail.

Mr. Green said...

Well, Lee notes that Everitt apparently means something like "Christian theism" and goes from there. But if this is supposed to be a serious argument from a real philosopher, it's embarrassing. Nothing about it makes any sense, not even the supposedly evident claim that the universe is too big: I'm much bigger than the rest of the universe, and that's not even counting the rest of mankind!

Sloan Lee said...

Dr. Reppert, I appreciate your link to my article. Thanks, Dr. Lee

Sloan Lee said...

Dan Gillson,

I certainly appreciate your point that the God of Christian Theism is not equivalent to the God of Classical Theism. You say that I conflate the two, but that would be incorrect. I merely responded to Everitt's argument as he presented it. However, it does not follow from this that I also harbor the same conflations as Everitt. A careful reading of my response to Everitt shows that I keep a keen eye on that very distinction -- given that I wrote: "In discussing traditional theism, it becomes rather clear that Everitt really has in mind something like Christian theism or Biblical theism." So, as one can see, my article operates on the assumption that Classical Theism (or Traditional Theism) is not equivalent to Christian theism.

Best Regards.

Sloan Lee said...

im-skeptical,

I assure you that I am most certainly not kidding. You say that Genesis supports the idea that humans are the most important thing in the universe -- and as evidence of your claim, you quote the following passage:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

Unfortunately, the passage you quote does not support the dubious idea that humans are the most important thing in the universe -- even if it does (somehow) show that humans are more valuable than fish, birds, cattle, real estate and crawly-things (that is, the kinds of things actually mentioned in the passage). Nowhere in this passage does it say that humans are the only creatures in the universe created in God's image -- and, thus, it leaves open the possibility that other creatures may bear that image as well (but I certainly don't know one way or another and I see no reason to make one presumption over the other -- even assuming the passage you quote from Genesis is correct). By Everitt's own admission, the universe is unimaginably large, so there might be lots of places for creatures of that sort to be (and we wouldn't know anything about it).

However, even if I am wrong about this, Everitt's argument is still not successful, because (as you would have found in part 2 of the article) Everitt would need to establish that humanity is the only thing of value in the universe. Unfortunately, the passage from Genesis that you quote is even less capable of showing that humans are the only thing of value in the universe than it is of showing that humans are more valuable than anything else in the universe.

If you wish to show that my argument is an "epic fail," then please bring better evidence to the table.

Best Regards.

im-skeptical said...

Sloan Lee,

As I was reading part 1 of your article, I was struck by the fact that your main argument against Everitt consisted of a straw man. It completely ignores the traditional view of creation, which holds that man is the "paragon of animals", the crown of creation. Man's creation in God's image is precisely what distinguishes him from all other creatures over which he has dominion.

But then I was stunned to see that you finished the post by accusing Everitt of engaging in "a rather cagey use of the straw man fallacy".

This is indeed an epic fail. You need to bring better evidence to the table.

im-skeptical said...

Sloan Lee,

To continue with part 2, I can summarize your argument like this: Mankind behaves atrociously, and if there are other civilizations in the universe, they would likely behave as atrociously an mankind, so it is best for the universe to be quite vast, which helps keep them separate from one another.

Wow. What a piece of work is God.

Sloan Lee said...

im-skeptical,

Thank you for responding to my comments and for engaging me as an interlocutor on ideas that I find interesting. I will touch upon four points: (i) the reading of Genesis that Everitt attempts to give, and that you seem to endorse, concerning humanity being the most important thing in the universe, (ii) the reading of Genesis that attempts to show that humans are the only thing of value in the universe -- which is an underlying assumption of Everitt's argument, (iii) the implications for traditional theism, as opposed to Biblical theism, if Everitt were right about Genesis, and (iv) the speculations I offer at the very end of my paper and their relevance to my thesis. I will address each of these issues in order.

Sloan Lee said...

First, the passage you quote in support of your claim that I am engaging in a straw-man is the following:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

Nowhere in this passage is it claimed that humanity is the "crown of creation" as you suggest. That phrase is yours, and it simply is not found in this text. If you, personally, want to read the text in that way (along with the fundamentalists), then you (and they) are free to do so. However, nothing you have said here demonstrates that the text must be read in this way -- or that this is somehow the best reading of the text. In other words, neither Everitt nor you demonstrate that Genesis should be read as saying that humans are the only creature in the universe to bear the image of God (whether or not they, in fact, bear such an image). For example, does the phrase "let us make man in our image" entail (or even make it probable) that no other creatures in the universe bear that image? I, for one, cannot see how it would do so. Thus, I can find no reason (in the passage you cite) to interpret Genesis as saying that humanity is the most valuable thing in the universe. If other creatures bear the divine image (and the text leaves that possibility open), then the strongest claim that could be made from this text is that humans are AMONG the most valuable creatures in the universe. So, given these considerations, it highly implausible that I am engaged in some sort of straw man argument.

Sloan Lee said...

Second, my argument in part 2 -- correctly and fairly summarized -- is simply that even if God (as Everitt attempts to read Genesis) created humans to be the MOST important thing in the universe, this would still not entail that the universe be created on a human scale (given that Genesis declares creation of other things to be good). To establish that, Everitt would have explain how Genesis affirms that humans are the ONLY valuable things in the universe. Of course, Everitt does not even come close to showing anything of the kind -- nor do you.

Sloan Lee said...

Third, even if you and Everitt are right about his reading of Genesis (and I do not see any good reason to think that), then this would entail nothing at all about traditional theism (as opposed to the more narrow position of Biblical theism). The most that this dubious assumption would get is that Biblical theism has a problem -- but it would leave traditional or classical western theism entirely untouched.

Sloan Lee said...

Fourth, your attempted summary of my argument is problematic -- mainly for the reason that you have not actually summarized my argument. It appears that you mistook my concluding speculations as being somehow relevant to the analysis of Everitt's position -- a mistake that I explicitly warned against in my paper when I wrote: "However, one must keep in mind that even if everything that follows turns out to be false, that will have no impact on the prior critique of Everitt’s fallacious argument. That argument has already been demonstrated to be faulty, and what follows is merely imaginative speculation." I am not sure whether you simply ignored this point or accidentally passed over it. Either way, to take my concluding speculation as being central to my critique of Everitt (as you have done) is simply incorrect.

Sloan Lee said...

Again, I appreciate your discussion on the issue here -- namely: "Has Everitt given us an argument against the existence of God that possess some merit?" Given our exchange, it is even more clear to me that he has not done so.

Best Regards

im-skeptical said...

Sloan Lee,

"First, the passage you quote in support of your claim that I am engaging in a straw-man is the following:"
- That is incorrect. The straw man argument you made was what I quoted earlier as being a straw man: "According to Genesis, God calls the creation of humans very good." This is in fact a straw man, and it seems to me the main argument you present in part 1.

"Nowhere in this passage is it claimed that humanity is the "crown of creation" as you suggest. That phrase is yours, and it simply is not found in this text. If you, personally, want to read the text in that way (along with the fundamentalists), then you (and they) are free to do so."
- This is not my personal view, and it is not a fundamentalist view. It has been the majority view of Christians for many centuries. It is very mainstream. The phrase "paragon of animals" comes from Shakespeare. Modern apologists like William Lane Craig hold that animals lack the cognitive capacity to even feel pain. WLC: "So in both the Old Testament and the New Testament we have this notion of human beings as being special and singled out as being created in God’s image unlike all of the rest of the biosphere. None of the other animals are created in God’s image." The catechism of the Catholic Church says: "Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity." What Genesis says explicitly is that MAN is made in God's image, and that MAN has dominion over all of God's earthly creation. This clearly sets man apart from everything else. Now I will admit that it doesn't rule out extraterrestrial creation, but your postulation that other animals might also be made in God's image is simply not supported by the biblical text, and definitely not accepted by the vast majority of Christians.

"The most that this dubious assumption would get is that Biblical theism has a problem -- but it would leave traditional or classical western theism entirely untouched."
- As I said, this is far from a "dubious assumption". This is the mainstream view. I have no idea what you define as "Biblical theism", but I wonder how much your own theism departs from the mainstream.

im-skeptical said...

"... even if God ... created humans to be the MOST important thing in the universe, this would still not entail that the universe be created on a human scale ... To establish that, Everitt would have explain how Genesis affirms that humans are the ONLY valuable things in the universe. Of course, Everitt does not even come close to showing anything of the kind -- nor do you."
- The argument you actually made in your article is somewhat different. You counter Everitt's claim that the vastness of the universe is not known to most humans with: "if the human race persists for a sufficiently long period of time and if education becomes sufficiently widespread, then most humans will become aware of the great abundance of celestial matter", and "What reason is there to think that we would need to know (or could even understand) the answer to such questions if there were a God?". This evades the issue raised by Everitt rather than answering it.

"The only way that Everitt could reach that conclusion is to say not only that humans are the most important object of God creation, but that nothing else in creation (other than humanity) is of any importance at all to God."
- Everitt doesn't defend this argument, because he never made it. This is YOUR argument, (and yet another straw man). If God did create the universe, it stands to reason that he would attach some importance to it. In fact this gets to the heart of Everitt's argument. What importance is there in making such a vast universe? This is what YOU need to answer.

"Fourth, your attempted summary of my argument is problematic"
- You made a poor argument argument against the notion that "humans are the most important thing in the universe", claiming that it has no biblical or philosophical support. This is simply not true. Not only is there support for it, but it is the traditional majority view of Christians, as I pointed out. If we move past this argument, what remains in your article is your speculative argument that there MIGHT be other civilizations in the universe. This the only argument you make that actually provides a reason for the vastness of the universe. And I think I did summarize this argument correctly. And don't forget: my purpose is not to defend Everitt's book, it is to address what YOU say about it.

Sam Calvin said...

The more the Argument From Scale is pressed, the more the Argument From Evil is diminished. Or is someone willing to argue that we ourselves are insignificant but our sufferings are significant in the overall scheme of things?

I think it's also interesting that there's been no mention of angelic beings in this discussion. That would be understandable if we were limiting the context to "restricted theism" rather than "expanded theism" (to borrow William Rowe's terminology).

im-skeptical said...

" Or is someone willing to argue that we ourselves are insignificant but our sufferings are significant in the overall scheme of things?"

The argument is not that we are insignificant. The argument assumes that we are important to God, but the universe seems much too vast be congruous with that.

cl said...

I've heard Loftus invoke variants of this argument. It's one of the lamest arguments I've heard, but most atheist arguments are pretty uncreative and lame so that's not saying much...

"The universe is bigger than I think it should be if God exists, therefore, God doesn't exist!"

And this rubbish gets upheld as "intellectual."

im-skeptical said...

And what. pray tell, is your claim to intellectual prowess?

Sam Calvin said...

>The argument is not that we are insignificant.<

“Ceci n'est pas une pipe.”

My main point, which you didn’t address, is that it’s difficult to judge the overall power of the argument since it is an argument from amount or degree, subject to questions such as “How conclusive is this argument? What does it establish? How much can be reasonably inferred from it? Does it do more than raise a suspicion?” (Other arguments from amount such as the evidential argument from evil or the fine-tuning argument are subject to the same questions.)

In its strongest form, the argument supports the claim that we are insignificant in the overall scheme of things. After all, the point of the argument is that humankind is very tiny compared to the size of the universe, very recent compared to the age of the universe, most probably an accidental byproduct of impersonal cosmic forces, etc.

In a more modest form, the argument supports the claim that we tend to overestimate our significance. We might not be utterly insignificant in the overall scheme of things, but we aren’t “special” or “favored” either.

Even in its weakest form, the argument provides good reason to think that the Miss Universe Pageant should seriously consider a name change.