Jeff Lowder is the Devil in Disguise

I have a great deal of respect for Jeff Lowder as the co-founder of Internet Infidels, who has also put together a very impressive group of writers for The Secular Outpost. Who doesn't? But lately he's been dogging my steps so to speak, first by commenting on Vincent Torley's response to a post of mine, saying: "It seems to me that Torley clearly has the upper hand in this exchange so far. As a debate judge, I would 'flow' the entire 'debate' to Torley up to this point." What exchange? An exchange demands a response then counter-response. Up until that point I had merely written one blog post. And just as I counter-responded that Torley couldn't even read, neither could Lowder. What gives? Now he's over at Randal Rauser's blog playing the "devil's advocate" against me. Let me state for the record that I despise the devil and his advocates. The devil should advocate for himself.

So I want to respond to Lowder and issue an open challenge to him. Victor Reppert once placed my approach between the extremes of PZ Myers (a new angry atheist) and Jeff Lowder (an old respectful atheist). I think Reppert is right. I am the golden mean between two extremes. I'm golden ya see. ;-) And I want to pull Lowder in my direction in what follows.

First off, what seems to matter most to Lowder is that he's respected by both believers and atheists. He wants to appear objective to both sides. He's a unique one-of-a-kind guy. He probably thinks of himself as a dispassionate educator in a classroom of students. However, in order to appear objective he just might feel the need to distance himself from others, like me. I don't know his motivations though. What I do object to is someone who plays the devil's advocate against me on a Christian apologetics site, and he did that recently.

Look, Lowder either thinks religion harms people or he doesn't. He either thinks faith based processes are unreliable or he doesn't. To the degree that he does then to that same degree he should become more passionate about ridding the world of religion. Perhaps in his own way he thinks his approach is best. I think not, just as I think PZ's approach isn't the best. Mine is, surprise! ;-)

I aim to show how ridiculous Christian apologists argue their case because faith harms people and because faith based processes are always unreliable. Lowder apparently doesn't think so, or at least, not sufficiently enough to more passionately take up the charge.

I do think Lowder is an important ally in our common fight, just as I consider PZ a common ally. I just want to nudge him a little farther toward the golden mean.

Previously I had briefly argued against Rauser that the size of the universe leads to atheism. Lowder disagrees with me. Now disagreement isn't what I'm talking about. It's a good thing. What I object to is playing the devil's advocate on a Christian apologetics site like Rauser's against me.

Here's our exchange:

Loftus to Rauser:

The size of the universe does undercut the belief that there exists a personal god with a body who exists in time, or any of these beliefs independent of one another. It certainly undercuts what we find in the Bible, that's for sure.

Loftus to Rauser:

My claim is that a certain conception of God is undermined by the size of the universe, yes, the kind we read in the Bible that informs your theology. I also argue that certain types of theologies are undercut by the size of the universe, yours.

Jeffery Jay Lowder:

It isn't obvious to me at all that "the size of the universe undercuts the belief that there exists a personal god with a body who exists in time." Why do you suppose it undercuts that belief?


Jeff, an argument does not have to be convincing in order for it to be a good one. You've read my chapter on this topic in my self-published book and you disagree. So? [I sent my chapter to Jeff at his request via email and we had a brief exchange about it.]

Jeffery Jay Lowder:
This reply has me scratching my head. I agree and never said otherwise, so I'm not sure why you think this is even relevant to my question. I said that your claim wasn't obvious to me. The fact that it isn't obvious to me does not mean that I think your argument is weak. It literally means just what it says: the truth of the claim isn't obvious to me. I don't have enough information yet to evaluate your argument. I'm still very interested in learning why you think "the size of the universe undercuts the belief that there exists a personal god with a body who exists in time." Please take my original reply at face value. It is a question, albeit a skeptical one, written in response to your comment on this page, nothing more. There was no response to anything you've written anywhere else.
Loftus: At this point I linked to the above post on the topic.

Then Lowder translates what I wrote in that post into one comment:
Thanks, John. I'm not sure I follow the argument at that link. If I am reading you correctly -- and I'm not sure that I am -- you seem to be relying upon what Stephen Wykstra calls a 'noseeum' argument.


John Loftus sees no way that God could be omnipresent in a universe of our size.

Therefore, there is no way that God could be omnipresent in a universe of our size.


John Loftus sees no way that God could be a personal agent without a center for his personality in it.

Therefore, there is no way that God could be a personal agent without a center for his personality in it.

Ditto for the next two statements...


Such "noseeum" inferences, in that form, seem weak to me. But, again, I may not understanding you correctly.


Turning to the size of the universe, you write:
I also wondered how he could care about life on this pale blue dot of ours that exists on one spiral arm in the Milky Way galaxy.
To play devil's advocate, why should the fact that we exist on one spiral arm in the Milky Way galaxy even be relevant to whether God, if He exists, cares about us? On the assumption that theism is true, (1) God is an unembodied being; (2) God created the universe; (3) God is able to causally interact with the universe, despite being an unembodied being. Taken together, these three propositions seem to undercut the point.
"What kind of God could exist given this universe? How could he interact with parts of it several billions of light years away when a light year is a measurement of both time and distance?"
Theism posits an omnipotent, omniscient, unembodied being who created the universe and designed its physical laws. On the assumption that theism is true, I don't see why God would have any problem interacting with any or all parts of the universe. You write as if God is a finite, embodied being on the opposite end of the galaxy and is subject to the laws of physics. But that isn't the hypothesis of theism. At best, you have an argument against Superman or Green Lantern interacting with a part of the universe several billions of light years away.
"I had already come to think God was located in time in some sense, ever since the creation. So how could such a God act in the present here on earth and also several billions of light years away in a different part of the universe? Does that even makes sense?"
It makes conceptual sense to me; I just don't think it happens. On the assumption that there exists a supernatural person who is not a part of "nature" but who is able to causally interact with nature, I don't see any conceptual difficulty with said person causally interacting with multiple spatial locations simultaneously, even if such locations are billions of light years apart.
Jeff, noseeum arguments (i.e. "inferences") are good ones since we must understand enough about God to know he exists and that he cares, especially since we know how God could have done differently. That's why skeptical theists exist in the first place, because even though they understand the noseeum objection it doesn't help them to see things differently.

Basically then, the noseeum objection is arguing from ignorance in the face of the omniscience escape clause, a clause that all believers use to escape the evidential force of problems to the contrary, leaving them impervious to reason. Since theists don't let other theists off the hook when using that escape I see no reason to let any of them use it.

Jeffrey Jay Lowder:
1. Noseeum arguments are inductive, not deductive. Thus a "good" noseeum argument can only mean a strong inductive argument.

2. Whether or not a noseeum argument is strong depends on whether we would expect to "see" the thing in question, on the assumption it exists.

3. It's not obvious to me that the noseeum arguments in your article are strong. Can you defend the inference from "I don't see X" to "X doesn't exist" in the examples I quoted in my last reply?

Remember Jeff, I was arguing against a specific kind of God and the theology behind it. Yes, I think we should see the requisite reasons based on the kind of God I'm speaking of. I cannot conceive of how a God in time can act in separate places in the universe. If in time then he's subject to time. And I cannot conceive how a omnipresent God in time is everywhere in the universe either. Nor can I conceive of how a God can be a person who doesn't have a center of personality. In fact, I don't think there is a consistent conception of such a God at all give the size of the universe. What you need to do is show such a conception of God is plausible. You haven't done that. All you have done is to assert that you can. Assertions don't cut it.


This ends our exchange so far. I've written a lot about these subjects so consult them for more. What I want to know is why Lowder is playing the devil's advocate. He either thinks religion harms people or he doesn't. He either thinks faith based processes are unreliable or he doesn't. I can only suppose he doesn't think so, or at least, not to the degree I do.

So I respectfully challenge Lowder to tell us if he thinks religion harms people, and if so, how much he's alarmed by it. I also challenge Lowder to tell us whether faith based processes are unreliable, and if so, how unreliable they are.


Joel Lim said...

Honestly I think the point about being everywhere is good and I can see why Jeff has an objection to the argument but I don't think he is playing the devil's advocate. I also don't see how God cannot intentionally create a relatively big universe and have a purpose for seemingly irrelevant humans. It makes it ridiculous but it's not contradictory. The point that God cannot be conceived to be at different places at the same time is a valid point. We'll always being seeing God in the past. Which means that there's no free will. The universe is such that whatever can happen is whatever that will happen.