Aww, I got mentioned in a paper published in Philosophia Christi. I’m only an afterthought, brought in at the very end — the paper is primarily a criticism of Richard Dawkins — but it’s always nice to be remembered.
It is, however, a rather strange paper. Erik Wielenberg’s argument is basically that The God Delusion was not written by David Hume, and that everyone ought to go read Hume instead of Dawkins. Which is fine; Hume is devastatingly thorough. But then why am I wasting my time reading Wielenberg? Just go read Hume instead. (It’s easy, too: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is available online, and it’s shorter than The God Delusion.)
Let’s recognize it for what it is. Wielenberg is providing a brief synopsis of Hume using the hook of criticizing Dawkins. Dawkins wrote an approachable, popular treatment of part of Hume’s arguments. These are perfectly reasonable things to do. It is not reasonable to argue that we ought to just reduce every effort to communicate to a single source text. Let’s just go all Darmok and when someone recites Christian apologetics at us, we’ll all just reply, “Demea, Philo, and Cleanthes in Edinburgh.”
But OK, I’m happy to concede that Hume is an authoritative source, and I bet Dawkins would, too. Here’s Wielenberg’s summary.
We have now considered three versions of the God Hypothesis:
(GH1)There exists a contingent, physical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.
(GH2)There exists a necessary, nonphysical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.
(GH3)There exists a necessary, nonphysical, simple, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.
Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion includes critical examinations of all of these hypotheses. Taken together, these arguments suggest that (GH) is improbable, (GH2) is unnecessary, and (GH) is at best obscure and at worst incoherent. In The God Delusion what we find is essentially a fragment of Hume’s overall attack on the rationality of theism. Because Dawkins offers only the fragment of Hume’s critique that focuses on (GH), theists can easily defuse Dawkins’s Gambit simply by pointing out that traditional monotheists have typically endorsed (GH2) or (GH) rather than (GH). Therefore, Dawkins’s Gambit is not a convincing argument against the existence of God.
And then he mentions The Courtier’s Reply.
The reply does nothing to blunt the criticisms offered in this paper. A central element of my critique is that Dawkins’s Gambit provides no reason at all to doubt some of the most widely-held versions of the target of his attack, the God Hypothesis. I do not know exactly how much theology one needs to know to disprove the existence of God, but one needs to know at least enough theology to understand the various widely-held conceptions of God. In general, in order to argue effectively against a given hypothesis, one needs to know enough to characterize that hypothesis accurately. Furthermore, if one intends to disprove God’s existence, it is hardly reasonable to dismiss criticisms of one’s putative disproof on the grounds that God doesn’t exist anyway.
Eh, philosophers. He doesn’t get it. I’m not arguing that it’s a disproof, or that we should simply dismiss all theology because God doesn’t exist, but that there ought to be at least some evidence that the phenomenon under discussion actually exists before we get all tangled up in arguments about its details. Build your foundation before you start picking out the color of the shingles.
Look at his three versions of the God Hypothesis. Notice anything? He’s left off the initial premise.
(GH0)There exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.
That’s the bone of contention. Before you start wrasslin’ over whether god is contingent or necessary, complex or simple, it would be worthwhile to have some evidence that a superhuman, supernatural intelligence exists at all.
Imagine that I write a grant proposal to NIH in which I postulate that there is a global signaling molecule that controls all of development, and what I propose to do is isolate and sequence it, and identify its receptors. I could get quite grandiose in describing ten years worth of experiments, all using proven technology, and wax eloquent in explaining the importance of finding the One True Global Regulator of All Development.
And the reviewers would be all baffled and would reject my proposal. “I don’t know of any reason to believe such a molecule exists,” they would say, and “Where is your preliminary data supporting your core premise?” If only they were philosophers who could appreciate the elegance of my hypotheticals and the depth of my reasoning, instead of tedious bean-counters who care about evidence and data and mundane details.
Hume is essential if you want to address various excuses to justify belief in a deity — he’s very good at tearing apart the hypotheses about the nature of god. But sometimes you just have to sit back and demand that the other guy produce some reason to even think they’ve got a valid hypothesis in the first place, and I’ve never seen that done. God just is, they want to say, and now you have to listen to my explanation for what he wants you to do with your life, and what he looks like, and what his goals and motivations are.
I don’t accept your initial premise. Justify that, first.