Phil Torres’ Compendium of Internet Atheist Ignorance

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A few weeks ago Phil Torres asked me if I would review his book A Crisis of Faith, which he said would present a strong case against the existence of God. I agreed to take a look at it. I appreciate opportunities like that. I had high hopes for the book, in view of the fact that he (reportedly) did a year of graduate (?) study in philosophy at Harvard.

He divides the book into short chapters, of which I read thirteen before I realized that there he had adopted a pattern that was never going to alter. The book (as far as I got into it) is a nicely readable but painfully predictable compendium of Internet Atheist straw men, circular reasoning, red herrings, and misrepresentations of Christianity.

I was hoping to be able to say something more positive than that, but then he wasn’t really inviting it himself. He calls not only for rejection but for actual elimination of religion. The reasons he gives (starting on page 105) are tendentious with respect to “the rights of homosexuals” and hugely historically inaccurate with respect to the rights of women. He gets downright kooky when he posits cybernetic “cognitive enhancement” with the suggestion that a world full of people with million-power accelerated brains will be a world of atheists.

If you think it’s unfair for me to simply call that “kooky” without explanation, I admit it and agree. Torres deserves it, at least once. He did precisely the same thing on page 45, calling Richard Swinburne’s explanation for the necessity of the Trinity (a discussion having to do with God’s eternal loving nature) “nutty, confused, inane” without even a hint of what he thought was wrong with it. (I’m willing to bet Swinburne made his case more rationally than Torres describes it.)

Back to the beginning: On page 1 he distorts the definition of “faith.” Maybe he doesn’t realize he’s doing that; it is after all, the standard definition provided by people who don’t experience faith, don’t encounter faith in real people who have faith, and don’t read the definitions written by people who are actually explaining what we mean when we use the word “faith.” It is the standard Internet atheist definition, in other words: “beliefs that one accepts in the absence of facts or in the presence of facts which contradict those beliefs.”

That’s page 1. It’s a very poor beginning. Faith in God is actually a fact-based confidence or trust in him as a person, that he will be for me today and for all in the future the same God that he has been for me and many others in the past. It is trust that God will continue to be a promise-keeper, as he has done in the past. It is confidence built on an awareness of genuine love–factual awareness.

On page 4 he parrots the standard Internet Atheist meme of pulling OT verses out of context concerning punishments for homosexuality. This is the approach by which atheists tell believers what we think, and complain that we must be stupid for not thinking what we think, while ignoring the reasons we give for thinking what we actually think instead of what they tell us we think.

On page 9 he writes,

The best answer that philosophers have come up with [for how we can know what we know, and know it with justification] … is that good reasons consist of evidence…. This position is called evidentialism. It follows that a belief based on faith will always be unreasonable.

I was very surprised to hear that evidentialism has won the day among epistemologists. How much evidence can anyone adduce to show that evidentialism is true?

I’ll skip a few pages so as not to bore you with all the possible examples I could provide. Here’s a smattering from the next several chapters.

On page 19 he falsely claims that religious evidence is generally (entirely?) subjective. That’s just false. It’s ignorant. Sorry, Mr. Torres, but there you go.

On page 20 he shows his ignorance of how Paul’s “revelation of Jesus Christ” was carefully and independently confirmed at the time.

On page 22 he notes the various religious views and says it’s statistically likely that any one of them must be false, therefore they’re all false. He forgets that atheistic naturalism fits into the same set of statistically testable worldview. If his argument were valid (which it isn’t) it would prove atheistic naturalism false.

On page 22 he picks on the most easily rebutted Intelligent Design claims and calls it the strongest. Ignorance on display.

On page 44 he seems to be illustrating incoherence in the concept of God: Can God create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it? The answer is that this that this is laughably easy to answer. What was Torres thinking?.

On page 52 he takes a naturalistic perspective on neuroscience and free will and concludes that it’s impossible for God to have imparted free will to his creatures. Bulletin to Phil Torres: if you assume the world is the way it would be if there is no God, it will indeed be impossible to fit God into that world. If you assume there is no God, in other words, you have effectively assumed there is no God. That’s called begging the question.rable in scientific terms, and we have addresses it to the best of our ability in other terms.

On page 66 he displays a desperate ignorance with respect to how details in the Gospels are harmonized.

Throughout Chapter 13 he makes a big deal about textual problems that actually mean nothing whatsoever with respect to theology. I repeat: a big deal about absolutely nothing.

I gave up reading after Chapter 13. Enough is enough.

Phil Torres opened his book saying “I provide a wide range of arguments that, when combined, produce an overwhelmingly convincing case that belief in the supernatural is unreasonable and, in our technologically advance world, profoundly dangerous…. the route I take to arrive at these conclusions is, I hope, somewhat original.”

No, the route he took was familiar, hackneyed, yawn-producing. You can find it anywhere (everywhere, really) on the atheistic Internet. And his “overwhelmingly convincing case” is riddled through and through with fallacies, misinformation, and utter ignorance of answers theists have provided to his supposedly insoluble problems.

He and I exchanged emails en route to my agreeing to look at his book. It was a pleasant interchange. I would like to have said something more positive. The most positive I can say to him now is it would do him real good to learn his subject matter before he attempts to write about it—and that he won’t learn it from Internet Atheists who don’t know it either.

46 Responses

  1. Tom Gilson says:

    My reply to your reply, Phil:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think the charge of silliness sticks.

    On the definition of faith, perhaps we can make this the topic of further debate. I don’t deny that the definition you’ve employed is one way the word is used. What I object to is that it’s one of many definitions, prejudicially chosen from the range of possible definitions, and it doesn’t describe faith as I and other Christians practice and experience it, even though you say it is the “religious sense” of the term.

    So you can demonstrate to me all day long that what you’ve set forth really is a definition of faith, and I’ll agree with you all day long. But you will have missed the point. That, by the way is precisely where you went wrong with the Stanford Encyclopedia article, and why I said you quoted it out of context. You picked out the one rendition of “faith” that most serves your purposes, regardless of whether it fully or accurately describes that which you are criticizing.

    Your wooden literalism is another prejudicial and stereotyped distortion of Christian belief, when you say, “Jesus will one day return to Earth and people will literally fly up into the clouds to meet him (it’s funny to think how this might happen given that the earth is spherical).” It’s almost as if you think no Christian has ever thought about that before! Unbelievable how you believe that of all the Christians who have ever lived, none of us has ever thought through what that might really mean in contrast to your comic-book depiction. Can you really think that your fellow human beings are that mindless? Can you really think that of Augustine, or Aquinas, or Brahe, or Kepler (to name just a few)?

    What that amounts to is a potshot. But unless you yourself, or your audience, have a completely inaccurate picture of Christians in history, you must know that it misses by, well, the distance between a rocket taking off vertically from New York and one from Brisbane.

    Evidentialism has not won the day in epistemology, in spite of what Butler or any one source might say, and in spite of what you say. The problem is that at the end of the day there’s no evidential basis to demonstrate evidentialism’s foundational premises. Obviously no one denies that we acquire knowledge through evidence, if, as you say, “good reasons consist of evidence,” then what is the evidence that provides good reason to believe in evidentialism?

    Perhaps you will admit philosophical reasoning into your evidence mix, along with the more commonly included empirical data. That would help. But then there are evidences for theism. Objective reasons, in fact.

    On that note, you complained that I brought forth no argument against your claim that evidences for faith are entirely subjective. I really didn’t think it was necessary. It shouldn’t have been necessary. I mean, what’s subjective about Aquinas’s Five Ways, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the historical support for the New Testament, the archaeological support for the NT, Leibniz’s Contingency Argument… ? You should know better.

    If you think you can answer, “I wasn’t saying all evidences are subjective, I was just evaluating the so-called evidence from religious experience,” then I would challenge you to show where you treated any other kind of evidence for Christianity seriously in your book.

    Regarding your statistical argument on p. 22, I have no idea why you have no idea what I was talking about. You wrote:

    Given the equal sincerity of people receiving “truths” from the divine, and given the radical inconsistencies of these “truths,” it follows that divine revelation is a highly unreliable means of acquiring knowledge about reality. Notice that this would be the case, for purely statistical reasons, even if one of these revelations were true.

    I’ll grant that I stretched things in applying this to atheism, since atheism doesn’t call on “divine revelation.” But your statistical methods are weak. If one revelation were truly divine, then its success rate would be 100%. All the other “revelations” would be non-divine. Thus divine revelation, if it exists, is not so nearly worthless on any measure as you imply that it is.

    You’re careless with your terminology, in other words. There is that which claims to be divine revelation, which has a sorry record for accuracy, I’ll grant. But if there is divine revelation in reality, then it is accurate. You can’t conclude just on probabilistic grounds that all claims of divine revelation are on an equal footing.

    But again, let’s take this on a different level, and instead of “divine revelation,” speak in terms of “understandings of the nature of reality.” This would include atheism, on equal probabilistic terms with religions for purposes of determining which would be the most likely to be correct if chosen by a roll of the dice.

    A roll of the dice, you ask? Sure. That’s what probability can tell you: your odds of getting it right by chance. But we have better means than that of determining what’s true. Your probability argument is quite irrelevant for that reason. It gets us nowhere in determining whether atheism is true or false. It gets us nowhere in determining whether any particular religion is true or false. One view of ultimate reality is much more nearly true than all the rest (I am a realist about such things). The purely probabilistic odds against any one view being so much more nearly do not prevent it from being much more nearly true.

    Going on, you wrote,

    Tom writes: “On page 22 he picks on the most easily rebutted Intelligent Design claims and calls it the strongest. Ignorance on display.”

    Yes, ignorance on display! The version of the ID argument that I chose is the “inference to the best explanation” version. Tom can read about it here (once again, the SEP provides an outstanding overview). Honestly not sure to say on this point other than that Tom’s “ignorance” accusation reveals his own nescience (what a lovely word in this context) of ID and its various forms.

    I committed a typo; this was on page 25. But I did not commit the act of ignorance you said I did. I was not referring there to IBE but to something else. You spoke of the “most convincing form of this argument…” and went on to speak of an ID argument that could be rebutted by evolutionary theory. Now, this version of ID, the counter-evolutionary form, was what you called “most convincing;” it was what I said you had called the “strongest.” (I think “most convincing” and “strongest” are near synonyms in this context.) But I think everyone involved in this discussion knows the counter-evolutionary aspect of ID is the one that is most easily rebutted, compared to the OOL argument, the argument from information, and the Fine Tuning argument.

    So you were accusing me of ignorance that does not apply to what I wrote. Sorry.

    Continuing: what were you thinking, when you wrote about the rock so heavy God can’t lift it? I’m still wondering. You see, that’s been answered centuries ago: God’s omnipotence means that he has the power to do anything that power can do. God’s internal faithfulness and truth means that he cannot contradict himself. No power can cause God to contradict himself. So theism has an answer to this; it’s not a riddle; he cannot create a rock so heavy he cannot lift it. Why did you think that was a problem? It’s been solved for ages.

    On a related note, no, it does not pose a Euthyphro-like problem to suppose that God is subject to a higher law of logic. It’s just an expression of the reality that God is God, he is never not-God, and his purposes, his will, his intellect, and his actions are never mixed up as humans’ can be. So he is perfectly internally consistent.

    You say I misread you on page 52 when I wrote, “On page 52 he takes a naturalistic perspective on neuroscience and free will and concludes that it’s impossible for God to have imparted free will to his creatures.” Now, recall that this is what you wrote there, approvingly:

    In the words of one neuroscientist, “There is simply no description of mental and physical causation that allows for [the] freedom that we habitually claim for ourselves and ascribe to others.

    Granted, you only said, “There are very good reasons for thinking that free will is an illusion.” You didn’t land there, claiming it as your own belief. But you did use it as one leg in your argument against the Free Will Defense to the problem of evil. That, my friend, is a circular argument, whether you personally adopt its premises or not, and even if you don’t assume a naturalistic perspective. For the conclusion that there is no free will depends on the truth of naturalism. If you assume naturalism in the premises of an argument, you cannot use that argument to do anything more powerful with respect to theism than to counter-assume it. There’s no proof, no argument, only assumption. (See this recent post of mine for more.)

    I don’t know what to say about “the best scholars at the tippy-top of their fields,” except that you chose them according to whether they were scholars who agreed with you. Many, many of the best scholars at the top of their fields would say that these supposed NT contradictions are easily resolved. But just as in the case of the definition you chose to use for “faith,” you quoted only that which supported your position.

    So all of your complaints about what I wrote turn out to be misdirected. All of them. Your accusations of my “silliness” have no force behind them.

    Why then did I use the term “Internet Atheist” to describe you? Because even though you made reference to a few philosophers and textual critics and so on, you echoed only the themes that are common among the atheists I encounter on the ‘Net; where arguments are very much incompletely informed, where sources are selected prejudicially, where arguments are often circular, where atheists go on with reality-disconnected “discoveries” like, “Oh, my, can you believe they haven’t even thought of how it’s impossible for everyone to go up to meet Jesus from a round earth?!”

    In other words, you echo all the anti-theistic memes and modes of debate that believers find to be poorly informed and poorly argued among atheists on the Internet.

    But enough of this. It’s ranging too far and broad, and I have no need to continue this way. We have exchanged emails relating to a proposal to a more topic-disciplined form of debate. I’ll be in touch with you again on that.

  2. JAD says:

    In his latest reply to Tom, Torres writes:

    “Furthermore, I do not assume a naturalistic perspective. I couldn’t care less whether naturalism turns out to be true or false.”

    Really? This is a typical ploy used by internet atheists and trolls. Never be truthful; never be honest; never really commit to a position; and when making an argument, always present a moving target. (sigh…) We’ve seen it before.

    If Torres explicitly denies super-naturalism then he must believe that natural causes are sufficient to explain the world and human existence. How is that not naturalism?

    If we think logically what an appeal to natural causation can explain, I think we have three options:

    1. Natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence.

    2. Natural causation is sufficient to explain some things about the universe, life and human existence.

    3. Natural causation cannot explain anything about the universe, life and human existence. For example we live in some kind of virtual reality, so what we perceive as natural causation is just an illusion.

    Philosophical (metaphysical) naturalists believe in #1. Theists accept position #2. And, philosophers talk about position #3 as being something that is logically possible. However, I don’t know anyone who seriously accepts (or believes in) this position– though there may be.

    However, notice the corner the naturalist paints himself into when he tries to defend position #1. In maintaining such a position he is making a universal claim. Universal claims cannot be established inductively (or by an appeal to empirical evidence)

    For example, if I begin observing swans and find that all the swans that I have (or other people have) observed are white I am never justified claiming that all swans are white, or all swans must be white. (BTW in the late 17th, or early 18th, century a species of black swan was discovered in Australia.)

    In other words, the only way that the naturalist can hold to position #1 is by making a leap of faith. It is not self evident and it cannot be established by the evidence. According to Torres faith is irrational. If that’s the case then naturalism is a self refuting position.

    Ironically, position #2 is the one that can be established empirically or evidentially, because it is not making a universal claim. (Assuming, of course, the world out there is real an not an illusion.)

  3. JAD:

    This is a very bad misinterpretation of my position. A few points regarding the following:

    “Really? This is a typical ploy used by internet atheists and trolls. Never be truthful; never be honest; never really commit to a position; and when making an argument, always present a moving target. (sigh…) We’ve seen it before.

    If Torres explicitly denies super-naturalism then he must believe that natural causes are sufficient to explain the world and human existence. How is that not naturalism?”

    First of all, why does everyone on this website so enjoy putting down those who (tentatively, in my case) disagree with them as “internet atheists”? The fact is (and I have surveys / studies to prove this) the most educated and intelligent individuals around the world tend to be secular. Atheists also know more about world religions than any other group in the world, according to one recent (and very big) study. I have a whole couple of chapters on these facts in my book; please, take a look! (A caveat: of course, none of these data mean that atheism is TRUE. They merely indicate that smart people are disproportionately more likely to, for example, reject faith as a respectable epistemic attitude.)

    Never be truthful? Never be honest? There are, of course, people on all sides of the issue who are dogmatic and care more about winning a debate than being correct about their views. (Note that one doesn’t have to be correct to win a debate — one just has to be good at making others look wrong, even when they’re not.) But you really shouldn’t generalize to everyone as you have. Three chapters into A Crisis of Faith should make it clear that I have absolutely no desire to be untruthful or dishonest, and that I’m wide open to changing my view (as I’ve done several times in my life, in response to the best evidence available to me).

    Never commit to a position? JAD, this is a crucial point: if there is no compelling reason to commit to a position, then one shouldn’t commit to any position! Do I believe that the universe began with a singularity? I am profoundly agnostic on this point, because the evidence just isn’t in. My position is thus non-committal — and indeed it should be, given the current epistemic situation in cosmology. If one wanted to argue about the singularity, would I be presenting a moving target? No. There just isn’t any target to hit yet.

    Furthermore, if you read A Crisis of Faith you’ll see that naturalism is NOT a starting point for me. I have a whole chapter on beliefs being “destinations” rather than “points of departure.” There are also chapters on how certainty is impossible with respect to evidence-based claims about how reality works and what it’s like. For me, naturalism is precisely this sort of a belief, and so far, there are no known phenomena that definitely require non-physical causes for their explanation. (Or rather, there are no especially compelling arguments that non-physical causes MUST, given years of research and loads of failed theories, be invoked to account for X; see also the “God of the gaps” phenomenon.) It is entirely for *this reason* that I am a (tentative) naturalist. If at some point, say, consciousness proves itself to be absolutely impossible to explain without positing some sort of non-physical phenomena, then I’ll be very happy to adopt non-naturalist position.

    (At the moment, though, the only non-physicalist theory of mentality that any philosopher of mind / cognitive scientist takes even a little bit seriously is property dualism. And this is a far, far cry from the substance dualism that most Christians accept — although, as I discuss in A Crisis of Faith, MANY *theologians* in the twentieth century have abandoned the idea that we have immortal souls in favor of a materialistic metaphysics. Seriously. Not making that up.)

    If I were a butt-head, I might resort to dismissing your comment as just more ignorant “internet believer” nonsense. But that would be an unnecessary personal put-down, so I’ll avoid it.

  4. Btw, I agree with Tom that some of these issues should be discussed in a more focused manner. But, for whatever it’s worth, I did respond to some of his latest criticisms here: http://www.acrisisoffaiththebook.com/2012/08/thinking-about-reasonableness-of-being.html

  5. Melissa says:

    Phil,

    Just a couple of points that you may want to consider.

    The fact is (and I have surveys / studies to prove this) the most educated and intelligent individuals around the world tend to be secular.

    Did you include in your analysis the data from Australia that suggests regular church attenders have higher levels of education than the general population – 23% having university or post-graduate qualifications as compared to the general population with 13%. Some denominations (baptists, anglicans) have as high as 28% of the population have at least university level education.

    http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=141

    (At the moment, though, the only non-physicalist theory of mentality that any philosopher of mind / cognitive scientist takes even a little bit seriously is property dualism. And this is a far, far cry from the substance dualism that most Christians accept

    You have omitted another possibility, that being hylomorphic dualism. Considering that a very large number of Christians are Catholics and many Catholics would follow Aquinas, plus if we add in the many non-Catholic Christians that also reject substance dualism, on this question I think you overstate your case.

    Three chapters into A Crisis of Faith should make it clear that I have absolutely no desire to be untruthful or dishonest, and that I’m wide open to changing my view (as I’ve done several times in my life, in response to the best evidence available to me).

    I present the couple of points in this comment in the hope that you will consider them as evidence (along with the prior points of Tom on our understanding of the nature of faith, against biblical literalism etc) that you are not as well informed on some of the issues as you need to be to make the kinds of claims you are making. As an argument against the kind of faith and Christian belief you experienced as a child your book may have merit, but that is a very narrow, culturally specific subsection of the Christian faith.

  6. Melissa:

    Thanks for your response. Two points:

    (1) The study you mention says nothing about atheism. In contrast, the studies that I mentioned explicitly concern the relation between IQ and education level, on the one hand, and the belief in Allah, Vishnu, Joseph Smith’s revelatory claims, a three-in-one God, a unitary God, the existence of landing pads on Venus, Hare Krishna, and so on. Furthermore, the other study I mentioned was explicitly about atheists knowing more about religion in general. The study you mention just does not address these issues per se. (Although it would certainly be interesting to have another study done in Australia looking for any such correlations.)

    Furthermore, an important question to ask is what *sort* of education one is talking about. Fields like philosophy and science require constant questioning of assumptions, beliefs, and so on, and they typically impose very strict stands of epistemic justification. In contrast, degrees like those in Business and Finance don’t involve this sort of intellectual honesty, truth-seeking, and so on. So, when talking about one group being “more educated” than other, it’s important to note what sort of education that is.

    (2) Hylomorphism? Read what I wrote again. I said that the only non-physicalist theory that pretty much *any* philosopher in *any* department around the world takes seriously is property dualism. (And many still find that pretty repugnant, given all that we currently know in neuroscience, physics, and so on.) I stand by this claim because it’s absolutely true!

    In sum: maybe hylomorphism does turn out to be the correct position. But virtually no experts today thinks it is.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, what conclusions do you draw with respect to the direction of causation between this observed education/intelligence level and religious belief?

  8. Melissa says:

    Phil,

    The study you mention says nothing about atheism. In contrast, the studies that I mentioned explicitly concern the relation between IQ and education level, on the one hand, and the belief in Allah, Vishnu, Joseph Smith’s revelatory claims, a three-in-one God, a unitary God, the existence of landing pads on Venus, Hare Krishna, and so on. Furthermore, the other study I mentioned was explicitly about atheists knowing more about religion in general. The study you mention just does not address these issues per se. (Although it would certainly be interesting to have another study done in Australia looking for any such correlations.)

    Your claim was that the most educated and intelligent people around the world are secular. By secular I thought you were meaning those people that don’t practice any religion. The study I referenced does in fact have some relevance to the question specifically of whether Christians are more educated than those that do not practise a religion (at least in an Australian context). It seems though that when you wrote secular you really meant atheist.

    I am still interested in what point you are trying to make. You do realise that smart people often make very dumb decisions and scientists and philosophers are still prone to errors in basic reasoning, intellectual dishonesty, bias and ignorance of pertinent facts.

    Hylomorphism? Read what I wrote again. I said that the only non-physicalist theory that pretty much *any* philosopher in *any* department around the world takes seriously is property dualism.

    Why don’t you reread what you wrote? Your original claim was that most Christians were substance dualists, which is false, for the reasons I have given. Your have also added the words pretty much into the paraphrase above of what you say you said which I would class as intellectual dishonesty. Do you think the finance and business graduates would be impressed by your superior intellectual honesty right now?

  9. Comment says:

    Have you seen this?

    http://cara.georgetown.edu/staff/webpages/reverts2.jpg

    Only 30 % of those who are raised as atheists remain affiliated with that faith as an adult in USA. It’s the lowest rate among all faiths.

    It makes for example IQ studies as more complicated to interpret: in fact according to studies, most of people who have once been atheists change their faith during their life.

  10. Justin says:

    Mr. Torres said:

    Business and Finance don’t involve this sort of intellectual honesty, truth-seeking, and so on.

    Wow. If you are as informed about Christianity as you apparently are about business and finance, you’re in huge intellectual hot water. Go scrub a few terabytes worth of financial data to put together financial information (trends, forecasts, returns, etc.) and get back to me when you know how to interpret the data properly so as to make correct financial decisions, explain the reasons for trends accurately, make predictions, etc. No intellectual honesty required, lol. That’s funny.

    I suppose since it isn’t Ivory Glass Tower Philosophy™ or Science®, then we must be part of the ignorant and gullible unwashed masses, lol. But, many of us do the exact sort of analysis that Scientists® do in modeling and forecasting, developing and testing the financial equivalents of hypotheses. It’s just a different phenomenon that is modeled.

    I’m not sure if more intelligence leads to more valuable insight into religion, or if it just breeds blinding, mind-numbing arrogance.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Phil, you wrote,

    Read what I wrote again. I said that the only non-physicalist theory that pretty much *any* philosopher in *any* department around the world takes seriously is property dualism. (And many still find that pretty repugnant, given all that we currently know in neuroscience, physics, and so on.) I stand by this claim because it’s absolutely true!

    So the following are not philosophers, and the institutions with which they are associated are not philosophy departments?

    Richard Swinburne, Distinguished Professor Oxford University
    William Hasker, Huntington University
    Alvin Plantinga, Distinguished Professor Notre Dame University
    Stewart Goetz, Ursinus College
    Peter Unger, New York University
    Frank Dilley, University of Delaware
    Howard Robinson, Central European University
    Dean Zimmerman, Rutgers University
    E. J. Lowe, Durham University
    Brian Leftow, Oxford University
    Eleanor Stump, St. Louis University
    Charles Talliaferro, St. Olaf College
    Keith Ward, Royal British Academy
    Geoffrey Maddell, University of Edinburgh
    W.D. Hart, Univ. Ill., Chicago, ret.
    Tim McGrew, Western Michigan University

    That’s just the start of the list.

  12. Tom Gilson says:

    You are no doubt also aware of Quentin Smith’s estimate that one-quarter to one-third of academic philosophers are theists? I don’t know how many of them are substance dualists, but I’m confident the number is higher than your hard count of exactly zero. What do you think?

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    Echoing Justin: Business and Finance are among the very first fields in which the hard rocks of reality will ground any ship whose pilots are careless concerning intellectual honesty and truth-seeking. Products get recalled. Competitors outperform. Companies fail. Boards of directors get sued. All in real time.

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    The issues on the table are worth recapitulating:

    1. What is the direction of causation responsible for the correlation between atheism and intelligence? Is it possible there is a third variable involved? What do you think, Phil?

    2. How can you support your claim that there are no substance dualists doing philosophy in real philosophy departments?

    3. How can you support your claim that business and finance “don’t involve this sort of intellectual honesty, truth-seeking, etc.”?

    4. How do explain the large number of atheists leaving their (non) faith as adults?

    5. Here’s a new one: are you aware of findings out of Baylor that show non-believers are more likely to believe in UFOs, ghosts, etc.?

    Did I miss any?

  15. Victoria says:

    @Phil
    And yet, despite receiving a ‘secular’ education, there are still a large number of us who have advanced degrees in the physical and natural sciences, who are people of faith (Christians in particular). Have you ever heard of the American Scientific Affiliation (to name just one organization of professional scientists / practicing Christians, see http://www.asa3.org)?

    Did it occur to you that these studies you cite fit just as well with what Paul said in Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, for example? Did it occur to you that these studies could very well highlight the symptoms of a disease that we all suffer from, and that a secular education exacerbates and spreads it like a virus, unless a person is inoculated against it?

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    The idea that God would call for some kind of intelligence test to enter the family of God is impossible to countenance, anyway. Heaven will not be an eternal faculty lounge.

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    For your further reading enjoyment: The Waning of Materialism, written/edited by my college friend Robert Koons of the University of Texas, Austin.

    Twenty-three philosophers examine the doctrine of materialism find it wanting. The case against materialism comprises arguments from conscious experience, from the unity and identity of the person, from intentionality, mental causation, and knowledge. The contributors include leaders in the fields of philosophy of mind, metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, who respond ably to the most recent versions and defences of materialism. The modal arguments of Kripke and Chalmers, Jackson’s knowledge argument, Kim’s exclusion problem, and Burge’s anti-individualism all play a part in the building of a powerful cumulative case against the materialist research program. Several papers address the implications of contemporary brain and cognitive research (the psychophysics of color perception, blindsight, and the effects of commissurotomies), adding a posteriori arguments to the classical a priori critique of reductionism. All of the current versions of materialism — reductive and non-reductive, functionalist, eliminativist, and new wave materialism — come under sustained and trenchant attack. In addition, a wide variety of alternatives to the materialist conception of the person receive new and illuminating attention, including anti-materialist versions of naturalism, property dualism, Aristotelian and Thomistic hylomorphism, and non-Cartesian accounts of substance dualism.

  18. 1. Not sure what the direction responsible for the correlations between atheism and intelligence, or between atheism and high levels of education. Could definitely be a third factor – some have posited that good economic conditions lead to both. (E.g., in Scandinavian countries there is relative prosperity, people are highly secular, and education there is stellar. Not to mention the fact that those highly secular countries consistently rank among the happiest, the least racist, the most peaceable, etc. All of which I discuss in the book.)

    My own suspicion is that there definitely is an intelligence → atheism connection. (That is, statistically speaking. Alister McGrath is clearly a brilliant man who’s also deeply religious.) Upon careful reflection, I would argue, it’s hard to believe that a man who claimed to be able to find buried treasure using seer stones really was visited by an angel of God and told where to find some golden tablets with “reformed Egyptian” written on them that he then put in his hat and translated to discover that they are a record of Jesus’ ministry to North American tribes (for which there is no extant archaeological evidence) after his resurrection. Obviously, some smart people – like Mitt Romney – do believe such very strange things. But statistically, it seems extremely plausible to me that higher intelligence will lead one away from accepting statements like the above as genuinely true.

    2. Crack open any textbook on philosophy (esp. the philosophy of mind or metaphysics) and take a look; go to any philosophy journal and search for “substance dualism” and see how many hits you get (and what those hits say about it); read the relevant articles in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; write a philosopher in a good department and ask what percentage of philosophers today think substance dualism is even remotely plausible; write Swinburne and other modern day dualists and ask them if they are part of the tiny minority or not; take a look at any textbook on cognitive neuroscience; write a cognitive neuroscientist and ask him/her what the status of substance dualism is given all that we currently know about the brain; read the beginning of Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate by John W. Cooper, which discuses how a large number of Christ-believing theologians abandoned substance dualism in the twentieth century because of advances in evolutionary biology and, even most significantly, cognitive neuroscience; and so on. This is at least a start.

    3. I really didn’t articulate this point well; I think the way I put it before was very bad. Let me try again, if you don’t mind: the idea was basically that the sort of education in question matters when talking about correlations between education level and some phenomenon X. Why? Because – or so the argument would go – an absolutely core component of, for example, the liberal arts is “critical thinking.” The same goes with any field of science. A degree in philosophy is basically a degree in being able to formulate good arguments, reason as clearly as possible, interrogate assumptions, be epistemically confident in proportion to the strength of one’s arguments, and so on. A degree in something like business clearly requires cleverness and acumen(!), but it doesn’t take “critical thinking” as central the way the liberal arts do. In business school, your primary job isn’t to interrogate assumptions about the nature and workings of reality, but to learn strategies for maximizing profit, for running a good business. That’s what I was trying to get at. The point of all this? “Critical thinking” leads to atheism, as this article discusses: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6080/493 Please take a look at that.

    4. This is extremely interesting. Thanks for the link. My best guess is that – and there are other studies to back this up, which are cited in my book – kids that grow up in atheist households are most likely to be encouraged to seek out their own set of beliefs independently. I also discuss one study that found that a fairly large percentage of atheist scientists take their children to church just for the experience. So, kids in atheist households tend to have more religious mobility, so to speak, than kids growing up in Catholic or Muslim or Mormon households.

    I think it’s also very important to ask what exactly those “converts” mean by labels like “Protestantism,” “Judaism,” and so on. I’ve known many people in the academy who would consider themselves “Christian.” When I push them a bit about their beliefs, they admit that they don’t believe in the virgin birth, in Jesus’ ascension, in his return to Earth, or even in heaven or hell. My own experience with theologians is very similar: the sense of “being Christian” that they have is radically different – and radically more secular – than the sense had by most Americans. The point: I would like to see a further study ask respondents not only about their religious affiliation – e.g., “I used to be an atheist, now I am a Catholic” – but about their actual beliefs – e.g., “Yes, I believe that this is literally the body and blood of Christ.”

    All these data being mentioned, note also that people unaffiliated with religion – the “Nones” – constitute the only religion-related group that’s growing in al 50 states. Furthermore, studies project that religion is headed for “extinction” in 9 nations around the world. (Again, as I discuss quite a bit in A Crisis of Faith, these countries are some of the most peaceable, most tolerant, most charitable, least racist, most happy, and so on, places to live.) At the same time, people around the world are getting smarter and, if the scientific journals are to be believed, there is fairly good reason to think that we’ll continue to get smarter in the future. That’s Chapter 20!

    5. Not aware of those findings! I’ll check them out. I actually address the exact issue you bring up here in A Crisis of Faith. I argue that what the world needs now more than ever before, given the destructive potential of emerging technologies, is not more atheists per se. Rather, what we desparately need are more people with good epistemological footing. We need people who understand that evidence constitutes the crucial link between (a) our beliefs about reality and (b) reality itself; who recognize that the best sort of evidence is evidence that’s checkable by multiple people (to obviate the possibility of duplicity, delusion or trickery); and who constantly strive to base their beliefs about how things are and ought to be on the best evidence available.

    My FURTHER argument is that, given our *total evidence* from philosophy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, textual and historical criticism, statistics, cosmology, astrobiology, and so on, atheism appears to be more reasonable than Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Paganism, Zoroastrianism, or any other system of faith-based belief in revealed “truths” (there are so many!). As far as I can tell, believing in ghosts and UFOs is simply not warranted, given the available evidence. Are there unexplained phenomena in the sky? Probably. But is the evidence robust enough and significant enough to justify belief in aliens? No. Again, it’s important that one’s degree of confidence in a belief is proportional to the evidence available to support that belief.

  19. Justin says:

    A degree in something like business clearly requires cleverness and acumen(!), but it doesn’t take “critical thinking” as central the way the liberal arts do.

    False again. Have you ever taken a finance class? How many and what level? Have you ever attempted to use this discipline to help manage a large business?

    There are so many ways to screw up financial analysis that critical thinking is, well, critical in separating good analysis from bad. Business schools can only teach concepts, because the body of financial analysis one may have to employ in practice is far too broad. Critical thinking, especially in finance (and also economics) is what separates the good students (or practictioners) from the bad.

    In the business school I attended, and in the graduate program I attended, critical thinking was assumed in its students, not explicitly taught. This might be a weak point of business schools (i.e. adding basic logic or critical thinking training may be of great benefit to these programs), but it in no way means that you do not have to think critically to excel, or even survive, at these disciplines.

    I still am failing to see your point, Mr. Torres. So critical thinking isn’t taught. It’s surely used, however.

  20. Comment says:

    “Not sure what the direction responsible for the correlations between atheism and intelligence, or between atheism and high levels of education. Could definitely be a third factor – some have posited that good economic conditions lead to both. (E.g., in Scandinavian countries there is relative prosperity, people are highly secular, and education there is stellar. Not to mention the fact that those highly secular countries consistently rank among the happiest, the least racist, the most peaceable, etc. All of which I discuss in the book.)”

    Maybe. As a scandinavian, however, I know, that for example peace is a thing that is relative recent thing in Scandinavia. We have had several wars in our history. In USA there has not been so many wars during last 500 years.

    Education is also interest thing. Most of people have had courses in religion (most in Christianity) in school: averagely one hour per week. As late as few decades ago all school days began with some kind of Christian morning assembly. Currently not every morning, but sometimes. We don’t have many private schools; nearly all schools are public schools. Still we are very secular: we don’t speak about religion or our beliefs publicly (in Internet we can speak, but not face to face), like we don’t speak about our own salaries publicly. However, most of the people pray at least sometimes, even though only minority attends masses. In USA very different kind of things are hidden.

    Clearly the most secular country here is Estonia (it is not in Scandinavia, but near). Practise of religion was forbidden there by the leaders of Soviet Union, and it is even currently very atheistic country. However, it is also one of the poorest country in European Union, and without good heath care systems.

    What comes to racism, I’m not sure, if i read correctly. Did you claim that there is not racism in Scandinavia? It was so years ago. But not anymore. Before the elections one of the most discussed thing are nowadays foreigners: what should be done for the amount of them? How the immigrants should be selected? From what countries there should not be allowed any more immigrants? Newspapers are full of immigrant discussion. Employment rate among immigrants who come outside European countries or US is about 10 %. Immigrants don’t get jobs. Cleaning work is available for them, but not many other jobs, even though they were educated.

    See about our racism discussion for example
    http://www.rijo.homepage.t-online.de/pdf/EN_EU_ZE_racism.pdf
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/sweden/7278532/Jews-leave-Swedish-city-after-sharp-rise-in-anti-Semitic-hate-crimes.html
    http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Poll+Majority+of+Finns+see+Finland+as+racist+country/1135269860316

  21. Justin says:

    Mr. Torres wrote:

    All these data being mentioned, note also that people unaffiliated with religion – the “Nones” – constitute the only religion-related group that’s growing in al 50 states. Furthermore, studies project that religion is headed for “extinction” in 9 nations around the world. (Again, as I discuss quite a bit in A Crisis of Faith, these countries are some of the most peaceable, most tolerant, most charitable, least racist, most happy, and so on, places to live.) At the same time, people around the world are getting smarter and, if the scientific journals are to be believed, there is fairly good reason to think that we’ll continue to get smarter in the future. That’s Chapter 20!

    The data may as well point to the fact that being surrounded by people who are more similar to you makes it easier to share empathy with them, to be more charitable toward them, etc. I noticed the Scandanavian countries did not fare so well in the World Giving Index rankings, since we’re uncritically taking singular datapoints to make childish, nonsensical arguments.

    I have also noticed that the more secular countries also have higher average age and lower average birth rates.

    So, while we’re going, let’s look at the larger picture. Perhaps evolution prefers religious belief, and while religion may be going extinct in 9 countries, that extinction may take the people along for the ride, since, with population growth not being linear, atheists and the non-religious seem doomed to be outnumbered if these correlations hold (God works in mysterious ways).

    So, it seems that when we’re functioning normally, some belief in the transcendent is part and parcel to our humanity. When populations eschew such beliefs, they simply die out, focused selfishly instead on their high incomes and enjoying sex without babies.

    The same happens when populations eschew objective, time-tested moral principles.

    You know, since we’re just uncritically speculating.

  22. SteveK says:

    Hmmm….it seems that this:

    I argue that what the world needs now more than ever before, given the destructive potential of emerging technologies, is not more atheists per se. Rather, what we desparately need are more people with good epistemological footing.

    Conflicts with this:

    The point of all this? “Critical thinking” leads to atheism, as this article discusses:

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    Not only that, SteveK, but this article on “Analytical Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief” calls from some critical thinking of its own. Phil, you asked us to take a look at it. We already have.

  24. G. Rodrigues says:

    Adding to what Melissa said, two points:

    1. Given the weak argumentation and the demonstrably incoherent thesis of many materialist philosophers of the mind (Dennett, the Churchlands, Rosenberg, etc.), their abysmal ignorance of what they propose to criticize — more often than not, straw-man caricatures of dualism — the appeal to an alleged naturalistic consensus within the academia does not, and should not, impress anyone in the least.

    One should also take into account the particularities of the specific scholarly communities. I have no hard data to show for, but just to give on example, Platonism is endemic in mathematics.

    2. Presenting atheists as if they were a monolithic block is highly misleading. Especially given that some of the most trenchant criticisms of naturalism have come from people with no theist axe to grind: Searle, Fodor, Nagel, Popper, Putnam, etc. And the criticisms do not go simply to the mind-half but also to body-half, in the sense that the very naturalistic conception of matter is itself highly problematic. This is a criticism developed by Chomsky, Russell (*that* Russell) and then by some his followers like Strawson and Chalmers.

  25. Cornell says:

    @Phil

    May I ask how many intellectuals have came out of the atheist country of North Korea in recent times?

    I also heard that Cuba is another ‘atheist state’, how are they in recent times regarding intellectualism?

  26. SteveK says:

    Here’s a title for the ‘critical thinking” article that might also fit: Analytic Thinking, When Misapplied, Promotes Extreme Awkward Spock-like Behavior and the Inability of Individuals to Function Well in Most Human Societies 🙂

  27. @Cornell:

    Phil Zuckerman has some nice articles in which he distinguishes between compulsory and volitional atheism. Honestly, the sort of dogmatism (about, in part, atheism!) exemplified by North Korea is precisely what my whole book is about.

  28. Victoria says:

    @SteveK (#29)
    Sounds more like Sheldon Cooper 🙂

  29. SteveK says:

    Yep 🙂

  30. Cornell says:

    @Phil

    You said

    “Phil Zuckerman has some nice articles in which he distinguishes between compulsory and volitional atheism. Honestly, the sort of dogmatism (about, in part, atheism!) exemplified by North Korea is precisely what my whole book is about.”

    If one is to put atheism into different categories regarding this subject, then could one also do the same with Theism?

    I’m pretty sure one could easily discern the difference of intelligence between a Theist such as Pat Robertson compared to a Theist in John Lennox who is an Oxford Don.

  31. @SteveK

    There isn’t any conflict at all. Put abstractly: I’m arguing for X. X is what I really care about. Now, that being said, I do think that X tends to lead to Y.

    Here X is being reasonable / having good epistemological footing / thinking critically. That is what I really care about. This being said, I do think this often leads to Y, namely atheism.

    No tension here at all.

  32. Cornell says:

    I also want to make note that physicalism isn’t the only game in town in academia.

    I ran a survey on PhilPapers.org and it shows that there are still about 37.2% of Philosophers with PhD’s who do not hold to Physicalism, and that 25% of philosophers reject Physicalism outright.

    http://philpapers.org/surveys/metaresults.pl?affil=Philosophy+faculty+or+PhD&areas0=0&areas_max=1&normalize=Off

    Here is another feature that shows about 54.5% of philosophers with PhD’s holding to Physicalism

    http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl?affil=Philosophy+faculty+or+PhD&areas0=0&areas_max=1&grain=coarse

    This shows clearly that the debate is far from over on this subject.

  33. @Cornell:

    Yes — but you *must* take note of what people are abandoning physicalism for! As I mentioned earlier, pretty much the only non-physicalist view that any contemporary philosopher of mind takes seriously is property dualism. I myself am quite sympathetic with David Chalmers’ dualist position: I think the verdict is still very much out and that Chalmers’ thesis that consciousness involves properties that are non-physical is a rather plausible possibility. (I’m just as sympathetic with Colin McGinn’s “cognitive closure” thesis. Although people like Dennett and Churchland are clearly not idiots, I do suspect that their views are wrong.) This is a far cry from anything resembling an endorsement of immortal souls, though. Dualism of the Cartesian or “substance” variety is a moribund philosophical position that could only be correct if our current theories in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and cognitive science are deeply, deeply, profoundly wrong. (And maybe they are! But given that evidence makes beliefs more probable, and given the amount of evidence for the non-existence of the immortal soul, these theories are very likely true.)

    Just more internet atheist stuff here.

  34. Melissa says:

    Phil,

    This is a far cry from anything resembling an endorsement of immortal souls, though. Dualism of the Cartesian or “substance” variety is a moribund philosophical position that could only be correct if our current theories in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and cognitive science are deeply, deeply, profoundly wrong.

    For the third time belief in an immortal soul does not entail belief in cartesian or substance dualism. Please stop trying to foist on us positions that we have no need to defend.

    Here X is being reasonable / having good epistemological footing / thinking critically. That is what I really care about. This being said, I do think this often leads to Y, namely atheism.

    The only evidence you’ve brought to support this is the nerd equivalent of “all the cool kids are doing it”. You are not appealing to your audience’s critical thinking skills but their emotional immaturity.

  35. Melissa says:

    Just more internet atheist stuff here.

    Oh, the irony.

  36. SteveK says:

    Phil,

    I do think that X tends to lead to Y.

    Here X is being reasonable / having good epistemological footing / thinking critically. That is what I really care about. This being said, I do think this often leads to Y, namely atheism.

    So, a non-atheist (i.e. theist or agnostic) can be reasonable and have a good epistemological footing and can think critically (X) – but these characteristics won’t necessarily lead either one of them to atheism (Y).

    How then does a non-atheist get to Y if not via critical thinking? I guess I don’t understand what the point of your comment is, or maybe I am missing something else.

  37. Paulo says:

    Mr. Torres,

    If I may offer some comments of my own:

    You said:
    “As I mentioned earlier, pretty much the only non-physicalist view that any contemporary philosopher of mind takes seriously is property dualism.”

    Throughout this post you seem to put a very strong emphasis on majority view. Presumably you are not insinuating that, because (according to you) “most” philosophers take physicalism to be the most coherent view, it follows that physicalism is true? Now, this may not be your intention, but it certainly certainly appears to be so.

    It should be mentioned that there are quite a few physicalists who are STILL Christians. A physicalist conception of mind does not disprove theism or Christianity. Now, you may consider this to be a minority view within Christianity, but it is certainly not as small as you may think.

    I am concerned that you dismiss anything that is unlike property or substance dualism to be uninteresting, or worthless of study. I would be interested in developing a discussion about hylemorphic dualism, not based on the amount of people who adhere to it, but on its own merit. The works of John Haldane, David Oderberg and Edward Feser are particularly strong, in my opinion. Surely you will disagree with me right off the bat, but I wonder how much consideration you have given to their arguments? Indeed, thomists would AGREE with you that a dualism of the cartesian kind does not comport well with our current knowledge of biology and neuroscience!

    A final point regarding dualism of the modern kind. It should be noted that dualism of the kind posited by Descartes was not born out of a desire to make sense of certain theological passages. Rather, it was born out of adopting a mechanical view of the world, rather than the Aristotelian/teleological view that prevailed pre-Descartes. If you hold that the world is “nothing but” its “mechanical” components, then you are going to have a difficult time accounting for things like intentionality, personal identity, free will, mind, and so on. Surely you will disagree that physicalism leads to the abandonment of all these things, but people like Edward Feser forcefully argue that ANY abandonment of the Aristotelian/teleological view of the world will lead to incredible difficulty (if not downright impossibility) accounting for intentionality, free will, and so on and so forth.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Superstition-Refutation-Atheism/dp/1587314525/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344900050&sr=8-1&keywords=the+last+superstition

    Thanks for your comments thus far.

  38. Justin says:

    I think that being X (somewhat literate) and not understanding Z (Christianity) can lead to Y, atheism. I’m not sure that X in and of itself is sufficient. Mr. Torres has yet to demonstrate this.

  39. Cornell says:

    @Phil

    “This is a far cry from anything resembling an endorsement of immortal souls, though. Dualism of the Cartesian or “substance” variety is a moribund philosophical position that could only be correct if our current theories in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and cognitive science are deeply, deeply, profoundly wrong.”

    By this response I’m not sure you fully understand the position. Richard Swinburne for starters would define “substance” as a thing, such as the stars, or a table. He then defines a “property” as a characteristic, which belongs to one substance (such as being red or weighing 180 pounds). Or his definition could be a RELATION to substances (such as being smaller than). Then he goes into the defintions of an event which is looked at as an instantiation of a property in a particular substance or substances at a particular time (such as my computer being black on August 10th 2012).

    So basically a property of a substance is an essential property if necessarily that substance would not exist without that property.

    Have you ever read “The Evolution of the Soul” by Richard Swinburne?

    I also see a problem with leaving out the opinions of philosophers that are not affiliated with the “Philosophy of Mind”.

    I see no problem with looking at the opinion of a philosopher who is trained in other metaphysical branches of Philosophy.

    For instance take Philosopher Keith Ward, who is a fellow of the British Academy. I see no problem with looking at his book “More Than Matter” as a credible source to defend a form of Cartesian Dualism.

    In fact I believe his work on this subject shows perfectly how and why so many modern philosophers attack a strawman whilst making criticisms against substance dualism, only because don’t fully understand the POSITION itself.

    I think the power of an argument itself is more persuasive than a situation that has a number of people objection to the argument, however they attack a strawman in the process.

    I always say Quality > Quantity

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing either if alot of people hold to a position, I’m just saying that even if every philosopher in the world held to position X, that still wouldn’t AUTOMATICALLY make position X to be superior to all other positions.

  40. Cornell says:

    If you can’t get your hands on “The Evolution of the Soul”, then I suggest this piece by Tomas Bogardus in which you can look at for free.

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/10224324/Research/2%20Undercutting%20Dualism/Phil%20Studies%20Revisions/04.29.12%20Undefeated%20Dualism.pdf

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