A Thought Experiment

Thought experiments are often useful at revealing hidden biases and inconsistencies in our reasoning. Here’s one to consider.

Imagine a child is born. This child has a rare genetic defect, such that his cognitive capabilities are severely diminished. His parents, being of poor financial means, put him up for adoption. Due to recent legislation, the couple who adopts him can claim a hefty tax exemption. They adopt the child for this reason and this reason only – not out of a desire to care for a less fortunate child.

As the child matures, the specifics of his impairment become more obvious to the parents. While he’s able to communicate in some form, he definitely cannot learn any real language. All he can do is, on occasion, express desires via non-language sounds. He’s also unable to learn any higher reasoning skills, such as counting. He can, however, learn (with some difficulty) the locations of a few important objects around the house. He can feed himself, but not cook or use silverware (and when he does feed himself, things can get pretty messy). Finally, he can express some basic emotions – most notably, happiness and fear. Higher-level emotions though, such as love or anticipation, seem completely foreign to him.

Now imagine that these parents, finally getting fed up with the difficulties of raising this childs, bring him over to your house. “Here, take him!”, they say. They don’t want anything to do with him anymore, and if they’re being honest, they don’t much care what happens.

Now, you have a choice. You could care for the child yourself, or you could find someone else to care for him. Or, you think in a moment of wild speculation, you could just knock him unconscious, slit his throat, and throw him in the oven.

If you’re like me, that last option horrifies you. It would horrify any rational person. But this thought experiment is strongly analogous to how society treats animals raised for food every day; and the child, with his severely diminished cognitive capacity, is strongly analogous to a pig.

The disabled child and the pig may seem very different at first glance, but consider carefully what exactly those differences are. They’re both alive, in the sense that they’re both biological organisms with metabolic processes. But this isn’t morally relevant – plants and bacteria also have this trait. They also both have similar cognitive capacities.

There are differences, but these differences aren’t ones that are morally relevant. For example, the pig and the child look different – but so what? Furthermore, they have different DNA; but again, so what? Whether something has human DNA isn’t relevant to how we should treat them. A corpse, a skin flake, and a blastocyst also have human DNA, and we don’t think we should treat them in the same way we treat adult humans (some people will disagree with me on that last one, but oh well. that’s a different debate).

In these cases, the morally relevant feature is nothing but cognitive capacity. We don’t strive to treat corpses and skin flakes as moral agents or moral patients whose rights need to be respected, because they don’t have any cognitive capacity at all. Likewise, we do strive to respect the rights of the other members of our society – because they have cognitive capacity.

In the case of the child, we do in fact think there are rights that need to be respected – and perhaps, since the child is so unfortunate as to have cognitive capacities, but ones far less than our own, we might even go above and beyond in caring for this child. We wouldn’t ever dream of killing and eating this child, even humanely, simply to satisfy our own desires – desires which can be satisfied rather easily by other means.

But if that’s the case, then we should treat animals the same way. Unless, of course, you think it’s permissible to eat the child.

Profile of an Ancient Deity

I’ve been reading up on ancient religions lately, and I’m finding it fascinating. Specifically, I’m working through a book detailing the religious beliefs and practices of a small tribe in the ancient near east.

The deity they worshipped is highly interesting. Early on in the history of this people, their deity was sometimes viewed as a storm god. He’s said to have split the seas and defeated an ancient monster while creating the world. He hurls lightning at his enemies, and his voice sounds like thunder. Other times, however, he’s viewed as an agricultural deity, and depicted in their art as a bull. Like most ancient deities, he was even sexually active, and had a female companion (this reminds me quite a bit of the greek deity Zeus).

But like most ancient deities, the mythology changed throughout history. In addition to the storm god and the bull god, these people also later on portrayed their deity as an ancient being with long white hair sitting on a throne. By this point, his home was said to be on top of the tallest mountain in the region, although sometimes he resided temporarily in sacred tents built by worshippers. Occasionally, he would even take physical form and interact with priests and prophets.

These people weren’t strictly monotheistic, though. Like ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, they believed in a pantheon of deities, although most people preferred one over the others and would worship their patron deity nearly exclusively. Followers of this deity would routinely make sacrifices to it, usually in battle. Of course, since that doesn’t actually affect a battle, losses would be explained away with their opponents also making sacrifices to their own deities.

Now, obviously such ancient people routinely believed things that are completely at odds with reality, and we just reject them outright, because we now realize that a world filled with anthropomorphic tribal deities just isn’t the world we live in. I mean, imagine if someone seriously tried to argue that there was a way to save greek mythology from all the blatantly false claims! The sort of religion we have now, though it may end up being false, is far more sophisticated and grounded in ideas that could at least possibly be true. No more silly storm gods for us! Except, well…..

This deity’s name was Yahweh.

More on Mark 16

Blogger Stephen J. Graham has written an excellent critique of my previous post here. In light of these criticisms, let’s take a deeper look at what’s going on in Mark 16.

First, Stephen writes:

But before I consider alternatives it’s worth noting that even if it is the case that Mark made a mistake here little would follow from that fact, and yet SF seems to suggest that the entire story must then be rejected as unhistorical. But why? Ancient historians routinely have to deal with sources of mixed quality and varying reliability when they attempt to reconstruct past events, but they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting an entire account because there’s a possible minor discrepancy. Moreover this is a principle that we find all the time in the legal world: testimony does not need to be infallible before it can be accepted as reliable.

I don’t agree that little would follow from the fact that Mark made a mistake here. If the women in 16:8 really “told no one”, then whence cometh the story in the first place? It is true that most of Mark would be unaffected – specifically, chapters 1-15. But here I’m only concerned with the single account of one event provided in 16:1-8. the previous chapters could very well be extremely reliable – but those chapters don’t include an account of Jesus’ resurrection.

Stephen then writes that I may have created a false dichotomy, and there’s another possibility – namely, that of Mark 16:8 being a literary device. I’ll admit – this is a strong point, especially considering that the gospels are filled with metaphors in other places. The only way I can think of to resolve this and figure out whether Mark was writing literally is to go look at the original Greek – but I don’t know Greek, so I’ll put my original argument on the backburner until I can do more in-depth research.

However, let’s look again at the rest of Mark; at verses 9-20. Stephen admits that if Mark originally did write more beyond verse 8, we don’t have that ending. The “traditional” Mark 9-20 which is not the actual ending of Mark includes Jesus’ appearance to the 11 disciples and the great commission.

If we eliminate verses 9-20, then we’re eliminating one of the sources for these events. Not only that, we’re eliminating one of our earliest sources. Like my previous post, this doesn’t defeat the argument for the resurrection, but it does weaken it.

As a final thought, here’s a more general point. It’s often argued that there are a lot of sources for facts that need to be explained by the hypothesis that Jesus was resurrected. But in reality, these sources are not always sources for the same specific events. Jesus’ appearance to the 500, for example, is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians. And Jesus’ appearance to Paul is mentioned in only two sources – Acts and 1 Corinthians (possibly also in Galatians, but I think that’s disputable). Furthermore, the “two-source hypothesis”, if accurate (and most scholars think it is), is going to further reduce the number of sources for many of these events. So in conclusion, while the case for the resurrection isn’t nonexistent, it is overstated.

Mark 16 and Apologetics

This is a first draft of an argument. Please poke holes in it.

I find Mark 16 rather interesting. The chapter consists of 20 verses; however, only the first 8 are included in our earliest copies. The verses which are not found in our earliest copies include Jesus’ post-death appearances to Mary Magdalene, two unnamed disciples, the great commission, and Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Since they aren’t there, these verses (at least in this book) shouldn’t be used in an argument for the resurrection.

Here are the first 8 verses:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

That last verse gives me pause. If they “said nothing to anyone”, as the text claims, then how was this event recorded? There’s a problem here – either Mark is mistaken about whether the women said anything, or verses 1-8 are not recording an event that actually happened.

If the latter is the case, then the argument for the resurrection of Christ is going to take a hit. Mark is the earliest dated gospel, and no previous chapters deal with post-resurrection events. So if chapter 16 is removed, then that eliminates one of the precious few sources for post-resurrection events, as well as one of the earliest. This by itself does not completely defeat the resurrection argument, but it does weaken it somewhat.

On the other hand, if Mark is mistaken and the women did talk about what happened, then why does he say that they didn’t? This seems especially odd considering that he’s relating the very story that he claims was never mentioned to anyone. Perhaps there is some interpretation of verse 8 that resolves the problem, but if there is I cannot think of it.

Smoke and Vapor

Imagine you have a friend that, when he was 17, became an alcoholic. Over the years, he’s gained a lot of weight, so he can’t really run anymore; he gets winded walking up stairs. His alcoholism has caused many other health problems too. He sweats a lot, and if you’re being honest, he smells bad. He spends a good portion of his disposable income on alcohol, and he’s always carrying around a flask so he can have a drink every half an hour. The worst part is that everyone who knows him realizes that he’s slowly killing himself. Eventually, his liver will give out, and he’ll drop dead. He knows this, and he does want to quit, but alcohol has a powerful hold on him.

Now, imagine that one day a company comes out with a new product designed to help alcoholics quit drinking. To alcoholics, it’s practically a miracle product. It’s extremely effective at controlling cravings for alcohol, it doesn’t make one intoxicated, it doesn’t damage your liver, and even better, it’s more delicious than any alcoholic drink. If you switch from drinking alcohol to drinking this product, then you’ll save money, you’ll stop smelling bad, and over time, your body will repair the damage that alcohol did. You’ll lose your beer gut and be able to climb stairs and run once again. And finally, the product packaging just looks awesome, and you feel cool drinking it.

And now…imagine that some people started actively opposing this product, merely on the grounds that there’s a small chance that it might, possibly, have some very minor negative health effects. it is after all a new product, and long-term effects can only be guessed at. Nevermind that the ingredients of this product are all well-known, so the chances of any serious health problem on par with alcoholism are extremely slim. I, for one, would be extremely angry with anyone opposing this product.

But this is the reality when it comes to electronic cigarettes. A year ago, I had my last “analog” cigarette. I lit up for the last time. Since then, I’ve been using an electronic cigarette, and I absolutely 100% do *not* regret it. I can physically feel how much healthier I am.

I was quickly headed for some very serious health problems. I couldn’t even take a deep breath anymore, after years of pack-a-day smoking. And of course, everyone could tell I was a heavy smoker as soon as I walked into the room. But when I switched, I had regained most of my natural lung capacity within a week. I could feel more energy coursing through my body – where before I was admittedly a bit lazy because I didn’t want to to be short of breath, now I wanted to get up and move around more than I had in years. And now, if I pass a smoker, I can smell it, and it smells awful. Now, the air around me smells like mint and vanilla.

But apparently some people aren’t happy with this. They tell society that my electronic cigarettes are “untested” and might turn out to cause health problems. You know what? I don’t care if they do, because any health problems they end up causing will end up being not nearly as bad as the certain health problems caused by burning tobacco day in and day out (not to mention the financial* and social problems that electronic cigarettes don’t have). These people want to regulate electronic cigarettes heavily and tax them like tobacco cigarettes, on the grounds that they *might* cause health problems, and that the flavors are an attempt to market to children. This is, quite frankly, bullshit. It angers me that I might have to pay much more for my electronic cigarette supplies, and that I might be severely limited in when and where I can vape. Do these people want me to go back to burning tobacco, and die an early death?

So, please – don’t oppose electronic cigarettes. They literally saved my life.

*There’s potential to spend much more on electronic cigarettes than one ever did on smoking. Electronic cigarettes have attracted hobbyists, who purchase many different devices and enjoy modifying them. But this spending is of a very different nature, and is entirely optional. It’s analogous to computer hobbyists, who enjoy buying the latest video cards and processors and overclocking them. For the “regular user”, it’s far cheaper than cigarettes.

God, Deontology, and Slavery

Throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh acts like a deontologist. Here are some passages where God hands down categorical prohibitions against various behaviors (all passages are ESV. bold mine).

Leviticus 20:6
If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.

Leviticus 20:13
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Deuteronomy 14:19
And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten.

Deuteronomy 23:24
If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag.

This is only a small sample of deontological statements in the O.T. But I’d like to look at one more passage:

Leviticus 25:44-46
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

So, what do various apologists have to say about slavery in the bible? Here’s a few sources.

Jesus lays down a method of interpretation that has to be taken very seriously. He makes it clear that certain Old Testament commandments were to be understood as concessions to the hardness of the human heart rather than as expressions of God’s holy character. [...] The regulation of slavery should therefore be seen as a practical step to deal with the realities of the day resulting from human fall.[...] While the Bible does not reject slavery outright, the conclusion that it actually favours slavery is patently wrong.

The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. [...] What many fail to understand is that slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. [...] In Bible times, slavery was more a matter of social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. [...] Another crucial point is that the purpose of the Bible is to point the way to salvation, not to reform society.

This sort of response is quite common. But distinctly lacking is an explanation as to why there is no categorical condemnation of slavery to be found, as there is for so many other things. Where’s the verse that reads, “You shall not keep slaves as property. This is an abomination.”?

Throughout the Old Testament, God acts as a strict deontologist. But when it comes to the issue of slavery, suddenly his attitude changes dramatically. He’s making concessions, he’s guiding the Israelites, he’s not interested in social reform. Furthermore, the answers given for all this might be somewhat satisfying with regard to domestic “slaves” (I can’t see much wrong with being legally required to work off one’s debt); but when it comes to foreign slaves, it’s clear that there’s strong similarity to the slavery practiced in the American south.

The reason that southern slavery was immoral is not just that it was race-based, although that’s certainly a major point against it. In addition, it was immoral because it was a method of treating other people not as people, but as property. If all the slaves in the American south were white, it would *still* be a morally disgusting practice. So the apologetic that OT foreign slavery wasn’t race-based doesn’t save the practice from immorality. As is clear in Leviticus 25, such slaves were treated as property, and could even be inherited.

I categorically condemn owning human persons as extremely immoral. Why doesn’t Yahweh?

Theism and Intelligent Design

The core of what is known as ‘intelligent design’ is an inference that, when interpreted charitably, can be construed as something along these lines:

Design Inference (DI):
There are certain facts about biology, and especially genetics, such that it is reasonable to infer from these facts that an intelligent agent is at least partly responsible for the diversity of life on earth.

Taken alone, this shouldn’t be too objectionable to scientists, at least at first glance. Scientists infer that things were designed fairly often – arrowheads, stone tools, etc. But of course, this isn’t a complete picture; the scientist’s job is never as simple as this. To see how, consider the design inference in the case of an arrowhead in more detail:

Imagine that you are walking along in the plains of North America, and you stumble across a stone object half-buried in the sand. Upon digging it out, you see that it’s made of stone, triangular, and has crudely sharpened edges. Given this, you conclude that it was almost certainly designed by some kind of intelligent agent. And you’d be reasonable to do so; because while it *could* have been fashioned by some natural process, you’re not aware of any that could actually do so. On the other hand, you can think of several ways in which intelligent agents could rather easily fashion such an object.

But you’re not satisfied yet. You’re a curious person; you want to know what kind of intelligent agent would make such a device, and furthermore, for what purpose. So to get things started, you rush back home and list as many potential designers as you can think of:

1. pre-U.S. native americans
2. extraterrestrials
3. modern-day humans
4. ancient egyptians
5. a perfect, supernatural, arrowhead deity

To begin narrowing things down, you first examine the object in greater detail. You look at it under a magnifying glass, and see that it’s been fashioned rather crudely, likely with primitive tools. You also notice that it’s made out of granite. With these facts in mind, you consider what sort of arrowhead design you’d expect to see given each of the potential explanations above:

1. triangular, made of granite, built with primitive tools, found in North America
2. made of some advanced metal, built with advanced technology
3. made of carbon steel, built with modern tools, razor sharp, three-bladed
4. made of granite, built with primitive tools, found in Africa
5. made of the best possible substance for making arrowheads, designed perfectly, completely unlike anything humans have made

Next, you consider why each of these potential designers would be motivated to construct an arrowhead:

1. to hunt game, or to shoot at targets
2. no reason apparent. surely, aliens would have more effective methods and devices
3. to hunt game, or to shoot at targets
4. to hunt game, or to shoot at targets
5. as a gift to its followers, so they could hunt game, or shoot at targets

From this analysis, we can conclude that probably (in fact, almost certainly), the best explanation for the arrowhead is that it was designed by pre-U.S. native americans. They had a good reason to construct arrowheads, *and* this arrowhead is the kind of arrowhead we’d expect, *and* it was found in the location we’d expect, if pre-U.S. native americans were the designers. In contrast, none of the other potential designers fit as well with the specifics.

Now, let’s move on to looking at design in nature. For the sake of argument, I’m going to grant the design inference at the beginning of this post, and look at which sort of designer is the best explanation of said design. Here are some options:

1. extraterrestrials
2. simulation
3. God
4. time travelers (causal loop)
5. non-God supernatural being

As in the case of the arrowhead, we shouldn’t just stop at concluding “some sort of designer”. Explanations, if they are to be good explanations, need to be more robust than that. So, like the arrowhead, let’s examine the details of the designed ‘object’ – human bodies.

So what relevant features can we point out about human bodies? Well first off, they’re physical. They have a lifespan of roughly 80 years. They’re extremely vulnerable to being damaged by temperature or by physical trauma. They’re not very efficient.

Given 1, 2, and 4, we’d probably expect these things (or similar things) to be the case. Extraterrestrials would have to work with physical matter, and aren’t perfect. Given that we’re a simulation constructed by some other sort of physical being, we might expect such beings to roughly model what they’re familiar with in the simulation. And given a causal loop where a human time traveler goes back and designs life in order to “complete the loop” of his own existence, it’s *exactly* what we’d expect.

5 is a toss-up. A non-God supernatural being may or may not still have internal or external limitations that necessitate working with physical matter. But with 3, God, there are no such limitations. While it’s true that given God, we’d expect to see minds that are capable of being moral agents, physical bodies that are inefficient and easily damaged seem not only superfluous, but contrary to what we’d expect such a being to design.

So, absent some reason to think that God would want to create inefficient physical bodies that are easily damaged, intelligent design advocates should not be silent on the identity of the designer. Rather, they should reject God as said designer. But this is a large bullet to bite for the theistic I.D. advocate, as it entails that God did not create the universe with humans in mind. Thus, the design inference, if it is a rational inference to make, is evidence against theism.

Brendon Eich: What Now?

Ok, I feel like I should write a more serious piece on this. So, what happens now for Brendon Eich? Well, a few things.

First, he’s going to find work somewhere else. Given his previous positions, it’ll probably be a higher-up position; something where he has some form of decision-making power in a company. Thing is, he’s probably not going to want to work for a liberal-minded company. If he does, the same thing will happen again – the internet will put pressure on that company to fire him. That’s *if* such a company will even want to hire him in the first place. They’ll likely not want that sort of attention, it’s bad for business.

So what will he do? Probably work for a more politically conservative company. Something like Chick-Fil-A (just as an example). Here, the controversy will actually benefit them. He can be trotted out as a martyr for the religious right. And furthermore, there won’t be any pro-equality community guidelines keeping his decisions in check. Ironically, he’ll be *more* capable of discrimination than he would have been at Mozilla.

He may also get invited to speaking engagements for conservative events & news stations. That’s more money in his pocket, and more fame to his name. And this whole event will just fuel the fire of the religious right’s cries of “we’re the ones being discriminated against!” So, the boycott of Mozilla will likely turn out to be counterproductive. Good job, internet.

Mission Accomplished?

Mission accomplished, internet – Brendon Eich has resigned as C.E.O. of Mozilla. This is a great day for LGBT rights – bigotry will not be tolerated!

Mission accomplished, right? Right?

Well…no. Of course, Bredon Eich isn’t going to remain unemployed forever. Eventually, he’ll find new work, likely in the tech industry. Our outrage over his bigotry can’t end here. Keep an eye on him, and pressure his next employer just like we pressured Mozilla. And the next one, and the next one. Because bigots don’t have a right to be employed.

You don’t even have to wait for him to take a new position, internet. You see, Javascript was designed by Brendon Eich, and lots of sites use Javascript. Millions of them! It’s time for us to pressure all of our favorite websites to stop using Javascript. Because who wants to use a scripting language designed by a bigot? Anyone that does clearly isn’t supportive of LGBT rights; using Javascript sends the wrong message to the LGBT community.

Surely, everyone who was opposed to Eich being named C.E.O. of Mozilla will continue the fight against bigotry; because this is the best way to promote equality. To victory, and don’t forget to tweet about it as much as possible!

(note for the thick-headed: this is clearly a parody meant to raise a point about the internet’s reaction to the Brendon Eich ‘controversy’. If you think I’m serious, I’ll laugh at you.)

Two Roads Diverged In a Leibnizian Wood

Blogger and sombrero enthusiast Stephen J. Graham has written an excellent post about the nature of argument. This post is not a rebuttal; rather, it is a companion piece.

Stephen first comments on responses to the Kalam cosmological argument, saying that even if an atheist cannot think of an objection to either of the premises, he may still reject the argument for other reasons – one example being that he objects to the conclusion itself on the ground that it’s incoherent.

Let’s look at the Kalam for a moment:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

Now, imagine that you’re an atheist who has encountered this argument for the first time, and that you, prior to the argument, you agreed with the premises independently but disagreed with the conclusion. But now, you just cannot think of any rebuttal to the premises (and, obviously, the conclusion follows from the premises). Must you accept it? Not necessarily.

What arguments such as this are meant to do is merely to show a logical relationship between propositions. They’re *not* really useful for necessarily inclining people to accept their conclusions. Consider a list of some of the atheists’ beliefs prior to the argument:

{1, 2, ~3}

The argument, when examined correctly, should motivate one not to change one’s mind about believing ~3; but rather change one’s mind about at least one of these. That might not be ~3; it could be 1 or 2. Imagine it as a sort of “weak” reductio – “well, I didn’t realize that 1 and 2 implied 3; since I have good reasons to think ~3, I should change my mind about either 1 or 2″. The argument is essentially a starting point for examining how these different beliefs relate to each other.

Stephen points to two different approaches in responding to arguments. The first, the “high road”, is to just object to one of the premises. The second, the “low road”, is to “shift” the structure of the argument. One way to do this is known as a “Moorean Shift“. Stephen gives an example by making a counterargument to Justin Schieber’s ‘GodWorld’ argument for atheism:

(5) If GodWorld is the unique best possible world, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.
(6) The Christian God has not maintained GodWorld
(7) Therefore GodWorld is not the unique best possible world.

Let’s call this argument ‘WorldGod’. If WorldGod is sound, then GodWorld fails. And vice-versa, if GodWorld is sound, then WorldGod fails. How are we to decide which of these is the better route? First, let’s reformulate GodWorld into a simpler, three-premise form:

(1) If the Christian God exists, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.
(2) The Christian God has not maintained GodWorld.
(3) Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.

Stated like this, we can clearly see how GodWorld and WorldGod interact with each other. Notice especially that the second premise in each argument is identical. Now, deciding between these two arguments becomes much easier: which premises are you more sure of; (5)+(6), or (1)+(2)?

But how could we decide which of those sets of propositions we’re more sure of? Well – other arguments, for one. To a Christian, (3) will seem very implausible, since the Christian will think there are other arguments to motivate ~(3); and thus will reject (1)+(2). And vice versa for the atheist – he’ll reject (7) for other reasons, and thus (5)+(6).

But really, in the end, it’s going to boil down to just the antecedents of the first premises: “The Christian God exists” vs. “GodWorld is the unique best possible world”. Which of these do you think is more likely? Personally, I’ll place my bets on the latter. All things considered, the former seems to be pretty unlikely; however there are many things to consider, which is why we should never place too much stock in a single argument.

So what can we conclude from all this? Simply put, that argumentation isn’t nearly as simple as just offering a sound argument. In fact, I could go back and forth with someone examining confidences in (1) through (7) for days. In the end, it’s really just a matter of your various confidences in all the relevant propositions. So, next time you hear someone say that a conclusion “logically and inescapably follows” from some set of premises (this is especially said about the ontological argument), keep in mind that this is not the case at all. Arguments are a tool and nothing more. They don’t necessitate; they merely motivate.