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MS Quixote and Occam on the Rationality of Theism

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  • MS Quixote and Occam on the Rationality of Theism

    The format is as follows.

    Resolution: "Resolved: It is reasonable to believe in a god."
    Affirmative: MS Quixote
    Negative: Occam

    Speeches:
    1. Affirmative Opening Statement: MS Quixote gives a 1,500 (or less) word defense of the resolution.
    2. Negative Opening Statement: Occam gives a 1,500 (or less) word attack on the resolution.
    3. Affirmative Rebuttal: MS Quixote gives a 1,500 (or less) word rebuttal.
    4. Negative Rebuttal: Occam gives a 1,500 (or less) word rebuttal.
    5. Affirmative Closing Statement: MS Quixote summarizes the debate and explains why he won in 1,500 words or less.
    6. Negative Closing Statement: Occam summarizes the debate and explains why he won in 1,500 words or less.

    Time: One week or less per speech.

    MS Quixote is the affirmative, so he will post first.
    Last edited by Occam; 08-22-15, 01:32 AM.
    "There is no singular thing in nature that is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason."
    ~ Spinoza, Ethics, 4p35c1

  • #2
    Science, generally and roughly, professes that Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms and processes operating in a strictly naturalistic environment produced a species on this planet that ruminates about and worships gods. The scientific family bickers internally as to the precise, causal nature and identity of the means by which evolution conferred religious belief upon humanity and its constituent individual members; that religious belief was conferred by evolution runs counter to scientific consensus.

    In particular, the internal scientific squabble may be fairly summarized with these positions:

    • Religious belief is hard-wired neurologically in the human brain.
    • Religious belief is a by-product, perhaps a spandrel, of other mechanisms that conferred selective advantage.
    • Religious belief evolved genetically.
    • Religious belief evolved directly from selective advantage.
    • Religious belief evolved selectively under primate sociology.
    • Religious belief emerged from the limbic system.
    • Religious belief is a meme that perpetuates itself through the human population.

    There exist other competing theories, most, if not all, of which could be categorized above, but current Science holds that evolution conferred religious belief on humanity and human individuals, and presumably through selective advantage of some sort or another. We are here, and we are ubiquitously and universally religious throughout all times, geographies, and cultures.

    The breadth and depth of human religiosity is staggering and evidential to the highest reaches of scientific confidence. Archaeology has characterized human prehistory as religious, as late as 30,000 years ago and possibly as early as 100,000 years ago and before. Within recorded history, beginning with the Sumerians, every known culture has professed religious belief of one variety or another. Man might indeed be properly termed homo religiosus.

    Based upon scientific thought and the accepted evidences, then, we may address the affirmative resolution of this debate it is reasonable to believe in a god syllogistically:

    -If evolution has conferred religious belief upon humanity and individual humans, it is reasonable to believe in a god.

    -Evolution has conferred religious belief upon humanity and individual humans.

    -Therefore, it is reasonable to believe in a god.

    Because the above is a valid, deductive argument, it will only be necessary to address the soundness of the premises, whether they are more plausible than their denials, or not. Premise two, as discussed in the introduction, rests upon scientific consensus. If my interlocutor wishes to deny Evolutionary Science, this will indeed prove a most interesting debate.

    On to premise one, then. Because the dependent clause of premise one, as stated, represents the deliverances of current Science, I’ll focus on the remainder: it is reasonable to believe in a god. Is a rational agent within her epistemic rights to believe in a god based upon the conferment of evolution?

    The first consideration is whether religiosity is consistent with a belief in a god. This seems to me to be obvious. While there are systems of religiosities absent of formal god belief, religious practice throughout history featuring belief in gods or a god rises far above any conceivable evidential threshold.

    Is it reasonable, though? Because one of the stated qualifications for this debate was familiarity with academic philosophy, I will assume as given an understanding that the truth or falsity of a proposition is independent of an agent’s justification or reasonability in relation to the proposition. Thus, it seems to me, the deliverances of evolution to the individual’s psyche, brain, emotional output, thought processes, cultural influences, and societal strictures, among other things, in the absence of known defeaters, constitute an overwhelmingly powerful schema of god belief and religiosity in the average human individual that rises to the level of reasonability.

    Evolution instilled god belief in us by the identical processes with which it instilled the false, but altogether reasonable, rational, and justified, habit of seeing tigers in the bush where there are none. The ability to question the future, or any other higher function of the human brain is similar in this regard, and this holds for any scientific theory of consciousness, whether or not it’s an emergent property, determinative process, or else. Regardless of which deliverance of current Evolutionary Science one adheres to above, they are all adequate to provide resources leading to reasonability, rationality, and justification as it relates to the resolution.

    To term this proper function of noetic faculties produced by evolution is not required to meet the standard of reasonability; hence, I will refrain from terming it as the endpoint normative for every rational agent. There are those for whom experience, argumentation, or evidence has been compelling enough to deny God’s existence, and I do not intend to claim they are unreasonable or irrational.

    Nonetheless, for the great majority of people of all cultural, geographic, and chronic backgrounds, these evolutionary factors prima facie are stout enough to deliver rationality. It’s our natural state, so to speak. In the absence of defeaters, how could we do otherwise, and how could it be rational or reasonable to do otherwise?

    Certainly known and agreed upon evidence bears this out. Given evolutionary theory, we could predict the following:

    • Human societies and people would be saturated with religiosity and god belief; non-religious societies and people would be comparatively rare or non-existent.
    • Religious societies would be more successful than non-religious societies.
    • Religious societies and people would produce more evolutionarily successful offspring than non-religious societies and people.

    These predictions accurately describe our world as far as the past up to the present is concerned, in light of the historical evidence. If evolution has not delivered religiosity unto humanity and human individuals as a survival advantage, the negative respondent owes an account of why the world has been so thoroughly—to the point of overwhelming, full-to-overflowing—religious and saturated with god belief. It appears it’s just what evolution intended, if you’ll forgive the personification.

    But perhaps what the negative respondent will have in mind is the future.

    The debate, then, devolves to whether a 21st century, philosophically and scientifically exposed individual living in an advanced culture in possession of sophisticated, comprehended arguments against the existence of a god and the reasonability of belief in a god (successful defeaters) can overcome his evolutionary heritage. There are a few things to be said about this….

    First, it centers on a glaringly small percentage of the world’s population. Most, for better or worse, somewhere in the ninety-five percentile neighborhood, do not fit the description above. What this means is that the negative respondent must concede that for the greater part that her argument is more a response that says it will not be reasonable to believe in a god. At some point in the future, it will not be reasonable. Or, evolution is currently selecting against belief in a god, now that we’ve progressed. Or, some such, non-demonstrable, non-empirical position. At present, the evidence says otherwise for ninety-five percent or better of the world’s population.

    Secondly, to overcome evolutionary conditioning, the evidence presented must be of an extraordinary type. I hate the phrase and believe it is demonstrably false, but because it will be familiar and believed by many who read this, I’ll invoke it: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that one should discard the adaptive advantage conferred unto humanity by evolution and conclude that it is unreasonable is extraordinary. The evidence ought to be powerful and unassailable. I’m in possession of sophisticated arguments of this type, I’m involved daily and intimately with hard science, and none of this in my estimation, obtains. But my interlocutor’s task is to demonstrate this…

    Thirdly, given the above, in the absence of clearly dispositive evidence and argumentation for or against the existence of God, which always seems the case in debates of this kind, the affirmative response to the resolution is overwhelmingly probabilistically favorable given the truth of evolution, and must be tentatively affirmed by every rational agent until further evidence emerges. To see the force of this argument, consider the following: if evolution has bestowed religiosity upon humanity and human individuals, and it has, then the probability of a negative response to the resolution obtaining is less than even the probability of the cumulative truth value of various forms of naturalism being true. Even if the particular naturalist maintains a high truth value probability, a negative response to the resolution remains necessarily below the truth value probability of the conjunction of the various forms of naturalism, and significantly below the conjunction of the various forms of naturalism and various systems of god belief, through both of which evolutionary theory provides reasonability of god belief.

    Thus, in the absence of compelling evidence that God does or does not exist, the aware rational agent must conclude that the probability that it is reasonable to believe in a god is higher than the probability that it is not, assuming the truth of evolutionary theory.

    This is my first bleat, then. Evolutionary Science provides the epistemic materiel of reasonability for belief in a god.
    Last edited by MS Quixote; 08-22-15, 06:17 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      Negative Opening Speech

      My opponent has put forward the following argument.

      Originally posted by MS Quixote View Post
      -If evolution has conferred religious belief upon humanity and individual humans, it is reasonable to believe in a god.

      -Evolution has conferred religious belief upon humanity and individual humans.

      -Therefore, it is reasonable to believe in a god.
      I don't think that either premise of this argument is justified. I will address the second premise first, since the first premise depends on it to some extent, then move to the first premise.

      Premise 2: "Evolution has conferred religious belief upon humanity and individual humans."

      My opponent's evidence for this premise is that all of the theories on offer to explain the origin of religion allegedly account for it as the product of evolution, and lists seven competing theories that account for religion in evolutionary terms. I have several objections to this reasoning.

      First of all, it is not true that every theory on offer to explain the origin of religion accounts for it as the product of evolution. For example, one theory that is frequently put forward is that religion originated in a desire to explain puzzling natural phenomena, justify the existing social order, and provide moral guidance and inspiration. My opponent acknowledges the existence of a theory like this himself when he cites the theory that "religious belief is a meme that perpetuates itself through the human population." We might speculate about the presence of evolutionary mechanisms that produce this desire, but it is not necessary to do so to use it as an account of the origin of religion. The origin of religion can be accounted for without positing the existence of a module that evolved for the sake of producing religious belief.

      Second, the entire approach of evolutionary psychology, which my opponent is relying on, is deeply controversial. In fact, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on evolutionary psychology, "There is a broad consensus among philosophers of science that evolutionary psychology is a deeply flawed enterprise." One reason why evolutionary psychology is so controversial is well illustrated by some of the arguments my opponent puts forward: he asserts that most societies have been religious, and then infers that this is evidence for the existence of a module that produces belief in God in humans. But of course, this fails to distinguish between a belief produced by evolution and a belief that has been spread and maintained by means of culture.

      Third, even if we accept the account of the origin of religion that certain evolutionary psychologists put forward, this does not provide evidence that belief in gods as traditionally conceived is produced by evolution. The evolutionary psychologists who work in this area generally define a god so loosely that a ghost would count as a god. For example, from Justin Barrett's book Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (p. 21):
      By 'gods,' I mean broadly any number of superhuman beings in whose existence at least a single group of people believe and who behave on the basis of these beliefs. Under this definition, I do not discriminate between ghosts, demons, chimeras (such as centaurs or satyrs), or the supreme gods of religions. Even space aliens may count.
      So, if my opponent's argument works for the reasonableness of belief in gods as traditionally conceived, it also works for the reasonableness of belief in ghosts, demons, chimeras, and space aliens.

      I will now move on to the first premise.

      Premise 1: "If evolution has conferred religious belief upon humanity and individual humans, it is reasonable to believe in a god."

      This premise is striking since it seems so obviously untrue, but we will try to examine why that is in detail.

      There are a number of obviously false beliefs that evolutionary psychologists have attempted to explain as the product of evolution. For example, a number of researchers have given evolutionary explanations of group dynamics like prejudice against people outside one's group and racism. Unless my opponent wishes to claim that this makes prejudice against people outside one's group and racism reasonable, he should concede that the fact that there is an evolutionary explanation for a belief does not make it reasonable.

      The deeper reason why we shouldn't treat the alleged fact that evolution conferred religious belief on us as a reason to think that believing in God is reasonable is that we should base our beliefs on reasons to think they are true. A statement about what beliefs we evolved does not provide a reason to think that those beliefs are true, it just tells us that we evolved those beliefs. The task of justifying the beliefs in question still lies ahead of us.

      My opponent makes a couple of attempts to justify his first premise, so I will discuss those.

      First, he says that "the truth or falsity of a proposition is independent of an agent’s justification or reasonability in relation to the proposition." This is clearly false, though, since the whole point of justifying one's beliefs is to make sure that they are true. To be sure, a justified belief can turn out to be false in certain unusual cases, but that doesn't mean that justification and truth are independent to the extent that being justified just means following some set of arbitrary rules - say, believing whatever evolution ended up programming you to believe.

      Second, he says that religious belief arose by similar processes to the "justified habit of seeing tigers in the bush where there are none." But if so, this should be a reason to be skeptical of religious belief. Looking into the bushes and guessing that there is a tiger there might be necessary in a situation where seconds matter and you have to make a quick decision, but it is not actually a particularly well justified belief. There is virtually no time pressure on the decision of whether or not to believe in a god, and the belief is important enough that it should be based on reflective reasoning and gathering of information.

      My opponent next notes, correctly, that what we are discussing is "whether a 21st century, philosophically and scientifically exposed individual living in an advanced culture in possession of sophisticated, comprehended arguments against the existence of a god and the reasonability of belief in a god (successful defeaters) can overcome his evolutionary heritage." The question would be better phrased in terms of whether he should reject belief in a god, not whether he can, since clearly many such people do reject theism. At any rate, my opponent makes several points in response to this.

      First, he says that there are not very many such people. Frankly, I don't see how this is relevant to the discussion. We are not discussing whether some yak herder in Uganda is reasonable in believing in a god and all of the other superstitious beliefs he holds, we are discussing whether belief in a god is reasonable in light of the information we possess. If my opponent is going to claim that this debate is about the yak herder, then I think he is clearly interpreting the resolution unreasonably.

      Second, he says that we would need extraordinary evidence to reject belief in a god, because belief in a god has conferred an evolutionary advantage on us. I don't know what the actual evidence is that belief in gods has given us an evolutionary advantage (and if it did then, would it still do so now?), but at any rate I think that the fact that a belief has conferred an evolutionary advantage on us is pretty clearly not a reason to consider it any more likely to be true. Epistemically, it should get treated just like any other belief. Otherwise, by similar reasoning, we would need extraordinary evidence that racists are wrong to reject racism, as I mentioned earlier.

      Third, he says that I need to provide "clearly dispositive" evidence against the existence of God, since "if evolution has bestowed religiosity upon humanity and human individuals, and it has, then the probability of a negative response to the resolution obtaining is less than even the probability of the cumulative truth value of various forms of naturalism being true." I don't see why he thinks this. Even if evolution has disposed us to believe in gods, that doesn't give anyone a reason to think that theism is true. We need an actual reason to think that theism can be justified reflectively, as opposed to accepted unreflectively due to some sort of alleged innate bias, since the latter is not a form of rational justification.

      Overall, my opponent's argument depends on an unreflective concept of justification that would vindicate any number of absurd and superstitious beliefs and depends on focusing on the beliefs of people without access to the relevant resources to properly evaluate the claim that a god exists. I conclude that my opponent has not met his burden of proof for the claim that it is reasonable to believe in a god.
      Last edited by Occam; 08-24-15, 11:14 AM.
      "There is no singular thing in nature that is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason."
      ~ Spinoza, Ethics, 4p35c1

      Comment


      • #4
        Format Change

        MS Quixote and I have agreed to change the format of the debate. I will next post a direct response to the resolution, and MS Quixote will post a response to my response to the resolution, and then we will both summarize.

        So, the order of speeches will go like this:

        1. Affirmative Opening Statement: MS Quixote gives a 1,500 (or less) word defense of the resolution.
        2. Negative Rebuttal: Occam gives a 1,500 (or less) word rebuttal to MS Quixote's opening statement.
        3. Negative Opening Statement: Occam gives a 1,500 (or less) word attack on the resolution.
        4. Affirmative Rebuttal: MS Quixote gives a 1,500 (or less) word rebuttal to Occam's opening statement.

        5. Affirmative Closing Statement: MS Quixote summarizes the debate and explains why he won in 1,500 words or less.
        6. Negative Closing Statement: Occam summarizes the debate and explains why he won in 1,500 words or less.

        The changes are bolded.
        "There is no singular thing in nature that is more useful to man than a man who lives according to the guidance of reason."
        ~ Spinoza, Ethics, 4p35c1

        Comment

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