Skip to main content

van Inwagen's Critique of Russell's Teapot Argument

Here.




Comments

Steve Maitzen said…
Van Inwagen's critique turns on the claim that the prior probability of Russell's Teapot is "essentially zero" whereas the prior probability of God isn't essentially zero. Disputes about prior probability are notoriously hard to resolve, so any argument depending on a claim about prior probabilities inherits that problem. For instance, I don't think van Inwagen assigns enough weight to the fact that philosophers have long challenged the internal coherence of the concept of God, whereas no one has challenged the internal coherence of the concept of Russell's Teapot. Likewise, philosophers have spent centuries devising (bad) arguments for God's existence but no time at all devising (bad) arguments for the Teapot's existence. If they had, the waters might now be muddy enough that the prior probability of the Teapot's existence wouldn't seem to us to be essentially zero.
Matt McCormick said…
There is some research now that casts an interesting shadow on the issue here. Philosophers tend to think of the major issues surrounding prior probability being related to internal coherence or real plausibility, etc. But if you expose someone to an idea repeatedly, even if it's patently false, her estimation of its plausibility, even its probability, will rise. The Source Amnesia problem is related. We often retain an idea even when we have heard it disproven, but we forget the source. That's why such a large percentage of Americans still have their doubts about whether Obama is a Christian, or whether he is a US citizen. Repeat the controversy enough times, like they do on Fox News, and the false claim gets treated as fact. With the huge influx of zombie movies, books, and culture, people now place a higher plausibility on a zombie apocalypse, even though all of those portrayals are fictional. Repeat any outrageous claim enough, and it becomes normal, even common sense. THAT'S why van Inwagen and his like are prone to place such a high prior probability on the God concept. But when you wrench the idea out of its typical, familiar context, it becomes jarring and foreign. Sometimes I'll ask Christians: "So you think there is a giant, invisible sky being with a zombie son who reads minds and grants wishes? And once a week you gather with other followers to eat his skin and blood?" The prior probability of that, I submit, is very low, van Inwagen's protests notwithstanding. As you point out, Ex, arguments against God have lowered the prior probability for sensible people, but people's spending so much time playing make believe in church has artificially elevated the prior probability of nonsense.
I'm disappointed. In those few lines that van Inwagen quotes, Russell clearly does not make the argument van Inwagen accuses him of making. Nobody, it seems, has ever made the argument van Inwagen is critiquing.

Popular posts from this blog

Epicurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 
A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.
Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.
It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a co…

CfP: Inquiry: New Work on the Existence of God

NEW WORK ON THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
In recent years, methods and concepts in logic, metaphysics and epistemology have become more and more sophisticated. For example, much new, subtle and interesting work has been done on modality, grounding, explanation and infinity, in both logic, metaphysics as well as epistemology. The three classical arguments for the existence of God – ontological arguments, cosmological arguments and fine-tuning arguments – all turn on issues of modality, grounding, explanation and infinity. In light of recent work, these arguments can - and to some extent have - become more sophisticated as well. Inquiry hereby calls for new and original papers in the intersection of recent work in logic, metaphysics and epistemology and the three main types of arguments for the existence of God. 


The deadline is 31 January 2017. Direct queries to einar.d.bohn at uia.no.

Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good. 0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this see…