A recent commenter on my blog post asked to use philosophical arguments as evidence for the existence of god. I said no, I’m not interested. I gave a sort of reason why but I wanted to expand on that.
Philosophy is a useful tool. Hell, it is the “Ph” part of the academic achievement “PhD,” or “Doctor of Philosophy”, so obviously it is a key part of not only higher education but in mastering a body of knowledge. But note that I said it is a useful tool. The person with a PhD is equipped to think about problems in a logical manner. But at the end of the day, they have to go forth and do the thing they say can happen, or produce what they say can be produced, or effect things the way they say it will have an effect. This is why I said “show me the goods”. The “goods” are the vindication of the philosophical model.
Let’s say our PhD is an entomologist (insect biologist). Based on their extensive knowledge of the creepy-crawly, the PhD attempts to explain a certain phenomenon by hypothesizing a certain set of conditions. Let’s say there is a dramatic shift in the demographics of certain bugs, and lets further say the entomologist believes it is due to an invasive species. By using logic and the existing set of facts, the hypothesis is entirely plausible. And that is great. But that doesn’t make it true. The PhD, after working up this hypothesis, must actually go out and demonstrate it is true. They must show the goods.
The “philosophy” part of the job is to help the PhD find a starting point and build the model. It helps them know where to look. It helps them know what to expect if they are correct, and also what to expect if they are wrong. But it doesn’t actually confirm anything. They could still be wrong. For one thing, their input data could be wrong, such as a change in method of counting the bugs that has resulted in bad data. There could be another factor not yet considered that is actually causing the result, such as pollution or other human activity. Therefore, the hypothesis can be, and is assumed to be, wrong until it is demonstrated otherwise.
Showing the goods is how we measure the effectiveness of any particular PhD, such as reviewing how many peer-reviewed papers they have published. They had an idea (they philosophized a hypothesis), then they tested the hypothesis. And then they did the most important part of science, they let other people check their work. PhDs that write books, but don’t publish peer-reviewed papers, are not seen as successful in their field. This isn’t to say they can’t author books, but if the ideas in their books are not based on their testing and peer-reviewed papers, then they are not engaged in science. Instead, they are engaged in attempting to sway public (mostly people ill-equipped to understand the subject or faults in the argument) opinion.
This isn’t even limited to the hard sciences. Philosophizing about sociology, economics, or political science helps the experts (PhDs) think through the effects of laws, policies, banking regulations, treaties, and nation building. But once again, there has to be a demonstration of the goods. We don’t propose an interest hike and then just sit back and call it a day. No, we keep an eye on data and statistics, which by the way, are data and statistics that are collected specifically to help those PhDs confirm their model is working.
We don’t say that socialism is a failure because we just don’t like it much, we call it a failure because it has not worked. Socialism sounds really good in theory, and most especially when described by someone that believes in the system. But no, it doesn’t work. And we even know why it doesn’t work. Meanwhile, Alexander Hamilton philosophized a US banking system that although many grumbled about, and still grumble about, has been an overwhelming success. Hamilton didn’t just dream it up, he did it. He showed us the goods.
Arguing for god based only on philosophical arguments is literally to say that you have assembled a hypothesis, but are uninterested in testing that hypothesis. You are asking me to agree that if the argument is assembled correctly, the results are assumed. You know what happens when you ASS-U-ME, right?
And let’s face it, any philosophical argument for god that I’ve ever heard is a horrible argument in the first place. For starters, they are usually logical fallacies piled on top of more logical fallacies. But not only are they poor arguments in structure, they are poor arguments for even formulating a coherent hypothesis. As I noted in my article Playing Tennis without a Net, you can’t set up the audience to believe you are going to demonstrate your specific religious claim, then assemble a philosophical argument that, if true, barely even qualifies as an argument for something we don’t understand yet.
“Philosopher” and apologist William Lane Craig is famous for re-hashing really, really bad arguments. They are fallacy-riddled dumpster fires, wrapped up in pretty language. But even if we pretend that his argument was 100% correct, he has demonstrated nothing at all like the thing he is proposing. This is most notable when he spends an inordinate amount of time finally managing to logic together an entity that is timeless, and in the next sentence says that since he managed to do that, it must be the specific god that he believes in that fucked a 12 year old girl and had a baby that was himself that he would kill to save us from himself.
So come on, apologists. You make a lot of very specific claims about your gods. Your gods allegedly do things in the real world, be it change things, affect conditions, enact punishment, move things, help people, etc. You have dreamed up all sorts of very specific cause/effect relationships between your gods and us humans.
Spend your philosophy time proposing specific hypotheses, and then show me the goods.
The Spartan Atheist