Of course, De Rose is correct that the cosmological argument does not really "establish its conclusion". Which would be near impossible in any case since quantum mechanical models (e.g. T. Padmanabhan, ‘Universe Before Planck Time – A Quantum Gravity Model, in Physical Review D, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 756) show the cosmos can come into existence on its own via quantum fluctuation.. Once physical models exist then one doesn't need supernatural explanations and should refrain from invoking them. See also:
DeRose is also wise not to buy into the 'sufficient reason' bollocks because numerous philosophers, e.g. Mario Bunge (cf. Causality and Modern Science, pp. 33-34, 1979) , have shown it is defunct. A much more fruitful path is to present necessary and sufficient conditions for one's claims. The criteria of necessary and sufficient conditions was actually invoked originally by Galileo to replace the concept of efficient cause (ibid., p. 33). In this regard, it was recognized from early on that "efficient causation" was often too limited or narrow a concept to be practical or workable.
Robert Baum, in his textbook, LOGIC, p. 469-70, correctly observes that n-s conditions are practical replacements (in logic) for causes. In other words, instead of saying or asserting "x caused y", one stipulates that a, b are necessary conditions for x to exist at all, and c, d are sufficient conditions for y to have been the sole effect of cause x.
Baum’s reasoning is clear (ibid.): because “cause” (generic) can be interpreted as proximate or remote, or even as the “goal or aim of an action” and is therefore too open-ended, ambiguous and construed in too many different ways. Thus, “cause” is too embedded in most people’s minds with only one of several meanings, leaving most causality discussions unproductive and confused. If my “cause” and your ‘cause” in a given argument diverge, then we will not get very far. Also, if we confront a disjunctive plurality of causes, we may be at moot dead ends using a naïve causal paradigm.
Anyway, DeRose Goes on:
Gutting next asks him:
"How about an argument against God’s existence?"
Here, DeRose is quite wrong that the "argument can't stand up to scrutiny to the extent someone can reasonably accept it". In fact, examined from one definition of the deity (and bear in mind DeRose has carefully avoided defining the God to which he refers) it's abundantly evident how and why it fails. This definition is provided we allow the attribute of "design" along with one of the omni properties: omniscience.
Then we can treat first natural evil, then human evil and trace it back to the designer. If the former is emphasized, such as the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that took out 240,000 people - or the Haiti 2010 earthquake, then it doesn't beg the question to ask whether in fact the world was not properly designed for humans ab initio. I mean, if it was then we'd not see such enormous disasters with vast loss of life. If the world wasn't properly designed then whose fault is that? It must be the designer's, the same as it's the automotive designer's fault for a GM car that won't brake properly or accelerates when one puts the keys in the wrong way.
But perhaps mass killer earthquakes, tsunamis, killer hurricanes etc. are no one's fault since no designer exists that would or could have made a habitable planet without them. The same applies to human evil, which actually inheres in the structure of the human brain itself, e.g.
In other words, if a designer God is responsible for fashioning the human brain then he must be ultimately responsible for human evil. But....it could be the brain is simply the product of evolutionary accident, in which case we'd expect the hodgepodge tossing together of ancient atavistic regions (e.g. R-complex) with newer ones (neocortex).
This leads the rational skeptic to conclude that both forms of evil (natural and human) mean that either the world (and cosmos by extension) is not the product of a “designer” at all (in which case no God exists by one set of criteria) OR: the world and cosmos is the product of a putative, supra-physical agent that is likely incomplete and whose actions are constrained by being manifest in an incomplete, evolving universe. (This is the Socinian deity first advanced by Socinus, which posits a creative intelligence that can never know more than the most advanced of its created, conscious "wetware".)
In the former case, we’d more likely side with Leibniz, who opined that "natural disasters aren’t the result if any divine punishment for sin” but simply the foreseen (or better, foreseeable) consequences of a regulated and overall consistent system of natural laws.
In the latter case of the limited but supra-physical agent it was the philosopher N.M Wildiers who first observed:
“Evil is part and parcel of a world in evolution, an incomplete world.”
Meaning that in an imperfect world governed by evolution, we must expect evil as essential to an incomplete natural order. We must therefore not expect divine intervention because the supra-physical agent version of God himself is “working things out” amidst a sea of polarities in the relative domain of physical reality. (This is also part of the "God Theory" of Bernard Haisch).
All the above is meant to show how crucial definitions are when one discusses the possible existence of God. Even a tiny change in definition in terms of the attributes assigned can totally turn the discussion or debate in one or other direction. Yet DeRose steadfastly refuses to provide anything to work with, leading me to conclude his avoidance of defining "God" must be intentional. It allows him to be evasive and prevents Gutting from pinning him down. (Aside: some may aver here that "God cannot be defined" in any case, which in one philosophical context is true. BUT...if we are going to debate or discuss claims for God's existence that won't do. Since a logical treatment involving existence claims presumes the use or acceptance of propositions bearing defined objects, then we must provide the definitions. If we refuse to then we need to take the Buddhist way out and say: "No discussion (or interview) is possible because the reality is beyond the use of words to limit or parse it". This means all claims for it are as well.)
Prof. Gutting does his best to press DeRose further:
De Rose replies:
Here, at least, DeRose comes closer to parsing the meaning of agnostic - but not completely. In fact, an agnostic atheist is exactly someone who withholds belief until there is evidence for a claim. A pure agnostic is one who asserts there is an impossibility of ever knowing enough to confer belief. He subscribes to the tenet that our brains are simply not up to the capacity to ever be in such an ultimately knowing position. Thus, the belief that an agnostic is simply someone who refuses to take a stand on an issue is wrong. De Rose is correct that there are "important goals in taking stands on issues" but this has nada to do with being an agnostic. One will "take a stand" if s/he is able to parse necessary and sufficient conditions for a claim (including a defined deity) and then see that the claim is inconsistent with the conditions set out. One would not simply "take a stand" out of an emotional or simply belief position.
But DeRose again misses the point that the areas he references generally require the adoption of views based on logical analyses - and this almost always entails examining the necessary and sufficient conditions. If those aren't met, one rationally won't "take a stand". One doesn't take a position merely out of an emotional incentive or "feeling" or having watched "Fox and Friends".
For example, I take a position to reject unregulated market capitalism because I understand that the resources of the planet are inadequate to fuel and support the level of growth market capitalism demands. If one then runs the numbers, this becomes evident. It isn't a matter of simply "taking a stand" without any basis.
In politics, I take a position to reject money as "free speech" because it automatically puts voters in an inferior position and owners of capital (and corporations) in control of our political process.
In philosophy, I take a position to reject Ayn Rand's Objectivism because it simply can't work. Taking 66 million seniors immediately off of Social Security and Medicare will not make the nation better, or make people better, only create an additional vast poverty class. This is apart from the fact that there simply don't exist the decent paying jobs to support such a move, nor will there ever be. (15 million citizens even now remain under-employed and the monthly jobs numbers, such as they are, barely reach population replacement level- estimated at 200,000 per month.)
Yes, one can "take a stand" but there must be a logical, rational basis to do so.
Prof. Gutting again:
This no doubt creates special dangers. But it also seems that a life of religious faith can lead us to special values we can’t find elsewhere. At any rate, this too is a philosophical issue. In light of all that, I would not want to make any blanket pronouncement, either about philosophers or people generally, that the most reasonable stance on the existence of God is to stay on the sidelines."
DeRose does at least get it right that discussions of philosophical issues such as God's existence are fraught with enormous emotional overtones and baggage - including a need for existential security. No one denies here that a profound need to believe in a higher power exists, and for the majority of human brains the very idea of cosmic isolation - or a universe without higher purpose - is unthinkable. But this emotional driver alone is not sufficient to justify philosophical claims for existence.
I may feel, for example, more comfortable in the cosmos if intelligent extraterrestrials also existed within it. But I can't make a claim for their existence unless hard evidence is forthcoming - at least intercepted radio signals which bear a definite mathematical pattern such that they could only have been produced by intelligent aliens.
In the same way, though people may feel "God gives meaning to their lives" - they can't just make a claim for such without providing evidence, or at least proposing necessary and sufficient conditions for the Being they want to exist. I am not saying here that the cosmos is not imbued with a higher consciousness or intelligence, it well might be (as I indicated in my book, 'Beyond Atheism, Beyond God'). What I am saying is that you cannot arrive at any objective truth for such an entity merely by invoking emotional appeal or needs.
It is a pity that DeRose himself didn't deliver more substance - as opposed to ambiguous rhetoric - in his interview with Prof. Gutting.