It seems that it is often the case that when I read works from atheists or talk to atheists one primary objection to the existence of God is “There’s not enough evidence.” A question I ask in response is “What kind of evidence?”
For many atheists (generalizing here, and I realize this), the assumption is that the scientific method is the only way to yield truth. But, assuming for the sake of argument that God exists, how would the scientific method show God exists? It seems to me that the scientific method cannot do so. There could be ways to see traces of God’s influence on the natural world (such as Intelligent Design theorists have claimed), but the God of Classical Theism is Spirit–this God is not part of nature, but created nature. Thus, God is transcendent to nature. God can interact with nature, but is, Himself, not nature.
But then there is a quandary. If I take it that the scientific method (hereafter E for empiricism) is the only way to yield truth, then I have no means by which I can even investigate the truth claims of Theism (hereafter T). For E, at best, can only perhaps give traces of T, but these will not be sufficient for evidence of T on their own. Thus, if I take E to be the only way to investigate reality, I am, a priori, ruling out even the possibility of T, for I am ruling out any means by which I could discover T to be true.
So again the question is “What kind of evidence does one want to show God exists?” Sensory experience could be one reasonable demand, but this seems question begging, as Classical Theism generally doesn’t claim that God interacts on such a sensory (i.e. auditory, visual, etc.) level except in extremely special circumstances (as in the Call of Moses, the Call of Elijah, etc.). What kind of evidence would convince someone to believe in God? Perhaps we could grant that not just E, but also philosophy and logic (hereafter L) are means by which we can yield truth (I believe that this is not an unreasonable suggestion at all, given that science is governed by logic). This opens us up to the possibility of considering arguments for and against the existence of God.
But, at most, L could demonstrate T, but such claims could be ignored, denied, etc. It seems that L could not get one to an understanding of T that would lead to belief. Let’s be honest here, would a good argument really convince anyone that God exists? I sincerely doubt it–for reasons outlined below (and here).
It seems to me that the existence of God necessarily involves one’s will. For if T is true, then the entire world is completely different than it would be if ~T were true. If T is true, then there is a God who created, sustains, and is personally involved with the universe. This includes every person in that universe, every creature, and every object. All of these have their origins in God. But if such a proposal is true, then it seems as though one would have to think, act, and live very differently on T versus ~T. One would be obligated to think about God, to act according to God’s will, and to live daily as though God exists–interacting with God in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, exhortation, etc.
So it seems to me that if T is true, it is not just a matter of seeing enough evidence. I can believe all sorts of things and not have them mean anything to me in actuality. For example, I believe that turtles hatch from eggs. This doesn’t change my behavior. Rather, it is simply factual knowledge. But would that kind of knowledge about God be enough? Let’s say that I have some overwhelming evidence, call it x, that God exists. Is x going to be regarded by me on the same level of the proposition that turtles hatch from eggs? Obviously not, for if x exists, then T is true, and then my entire life should be different. Thus, when asking about evidence, one should realize that such evidence absolutely involves not just belief but also life. Because of this, it seems to me that God could and would make evidence of His existence “purposively available“.
So who is asking for the evidence for God’s existence? Is it someone willing to change his/her life based on the answers? Is it someone who is ruling out the possibility to begin with? Is it someone willing to submit to this God, if this God exists?
Therefore, I return to the question: “What kind of evidence?” and even this question seems to miss the point. Perhaps the answer to the assertion that “There’s not enough evidence to believe in God” or “What evidence is there for belief in God?” should be “Who’s asking?”
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.
Ok, I don’t have lots of time to comment, and I hate leaving quick comments that say very little. However, just wanted to say that I liked the post. The issue of the will is a big deal.
Thanks for the quick comment! It’s encouraging to know others are reading and enjoying my site. I, of course, read yours avidly and enjoy it very much! Thanks for taking the time to read!
As we recently discussed om my blog – I think the overwhelming issue is an unwillingness to accept evidence, regardless of its validity.
This comes through most clearly in the way that an individual will quite happily accept equal or inferior evidence for any issue that does not have direct theological implications…
Indeed. It is, I suggest, more a matter of a priori assumptions and implicitly aligning of the will against God than it is a “lack of evidence”… again, unless one decides the only evidence could be scientific… which seems to be begging the question.
Hi J.W. Wartick- I just found this post from apologetics 315 and thought I’d let you know that I really enjoyed it.
I’ve found especially of my own personal experience that theism is something that not only involves detached analysis and acceptance of if (T) is true, but that a person’s life, heart, and will is involved. Also, I believe that there are many psychological states which can lead us away from belief in God or prevent us from getting there in the first place. (And when I say God, I don’t even necessarily mean Christ, interestingly, I mean even a Deistic type) There have been times when I found myself not able to emotionally accept the idea of a minimalistic idea of God because I was plagued by a psychological state which altered my will and my thoughts and quite literally forced skepticism upon me.
These are some psychological states and tendencies which I think have quite a bearing upon our decision making abilities when it comes to skepticism and religious doubt: Emotional aversion, Lack of interest, Pride, Relationship with parents, and level of Happiness (with/without) God- In the area of religious doubt- yet again, pride, lust, lack of prayer, discouragement, depression, and also, “the dark night of the soul” psychological states.
I think its very true that theism, based on its implications for our daily lives and even the way we view the world, is never a matter of just cold logic and reason. All the same though, then the religious believer could be accused of believing in God for psychological reasons. I think that we need to make efforts to prevent our emotions and desires from influencing our spiritual searches, even though many times it is hard to recognize whether or not you are truly objectively viewing something, or if your heart is deceiving you.
Anyways, Great post. I’m going to try and figure out how to follow you from blogspot.
But, assuming for the sake of argument that God exists, how would the scientific method show God exists?
The answer will partly depend on what God one is positing. For example, it would be impossible to find scientific evidence in support of an omnipotent God who deliberately created and governed the world in such a way as to make people think the world was purely natural.
On the other hand, if science had found evidence that the universe is 10,000 years old and that a worldwide flood had occurred, that prayer can, at least occasionally, result in severe facial burns instantly healing, and that highly specific, detailed prophecies that aren’t self-fulfilling or otherwise naturalistically plausible come true, and so on (you have an imagination and can fill in other examples, I’m sure), we’d have pretty good scientific confirmation of theism (and possibly of a particular religion’s theism–depending on the specifics of the evidence involved).
It would be, quite obviously, a trivial matter for an omnipotent being, even if transcendent, to demonstrate his existence in such a way that doubting it could not be considered remotely reasonable.
But we don’t live in a world where that happens. Instead, we live in one where apologists must instead come up with excuses and rationalizations to explain why they are left to sustain their belief in the rationality of theism on such intellectually thin gruel as abstract philosophical arguments, dubious miracle claims, and internal religious experiences. All the while accusing the nonbelievers of hard hearts and a bad relationship with their daddies.
It seems to me you’re making some assumptions about what theism is necessarily tied to. First, many theists don’t believe the earth is 10,000 years old (one can view the series of posts on my site called “The Life Dialogue” for some exploration of this). Second, aren’t you placing empirical restrictions and limitations on how God operates? Why should God have to work in such ways as to be scientifically discoverable. Paul Moser has an excellent discussion of such assumptions in his “The Elusive God”. Third, many believe that prayer does do such things, and that prophecies have come true (unsure of your qualifier of “highly specific… aren’t self-fulfilling–seems question-begging to me). Fourth, what kind of evidence is it that you want? It seems you are indeed asking for science to be the exclusive means of exploring the world. What an assumption! Such an a priori assumption is staggering to me.
It seems to me you’re making some assumptions about what theism is necessarily tied to.
Did you not read my very first sentence? I said it depends on the God one is positing. The God of young earth creationism was presented as just one of the most obvious examples of a version of God which would have allowed for science to uncover compelling evidence (had that theism been true).
Second, aren’t you placing empirical restrictions and limitations on how God operates? Why should God have to work in such ways as to be scientifically discoverable.
And now you seem to have missed my second sentence. I didn’t say God has to do that. On the contrary, I specifically pointed out that it’s possible for him to NOT do that.
Paul Moser has an excellent discussion of such assumptions in his “The Elusive God”.
The very term he uses makes my point for me. God, if he exists, seems to be careful to leave only very inadequate evidence. So the criticism that atheists are nonbelievers on primarily nonintellectual grounds is rather difficult to support—and seems to say more about the biases of the theists making the accusation than it does about the psychology of atheists.
Third, many believe that prayer does do such things…..
Excellent! Then let’s examine the evidence of instantly healed burn victims. The argument from miracles (if good evidence that the miracles actually occur) would be one of the best arguments against naturalism and I’d be delighted to find out that they occur. Of course, just because I’d like it to be true doesn’t mean I’ll set the bar any lower than I would for the claims of psychics, homeopaths and other paranormal claims. It’s precisely where we’d most like a claim to be true that the rational person must be most cautious not to allow wishful thinking to shape his evaluation of the evidence.
and that prophecies have come true (unsure of your qualifier of “highly specific… aren’t self-fulfilling–seems question-begging to me).
A claim of prophetic foreknowlegde, to be credible, needs to meet certain sensible standards.
For example, if I predict that I get an A in calculus and I work hard and get the A this isn’t exactly compelling.
A. It’s self-fulfilling (something I choose to make happen by my own efforts).
B. It’s not exactly earthshaking anyway. One could guess and have a good chance of being right (there are only 5 options: A, B, C, D, E; so I have a 20% chance by pure luck).
Specificity is important because the less specific the claim the more likely it is to happen as a result of chance or to be something one could interpret a wide variety of claims to fit.
The oft-quoted statement that we are probably living in the last days, for example, by citing that there will be “wars and rumors of wars”. Something that could be said of almost any point in human history.
This sort of sensible criteria is what I apply to people today claiming to be psychics as much as to people claiming their religion’s scriptures or prophets predicted the future accurately. The author of the ebon musing website has a good summary of the sort of sensible criteria necessary to have reasonable basis for believing claims of foreknowledge by non-natural means:
No points are awarded under any of the following conditions:
* If the prophecy is vague, unclear or garbled (like Nostradamus’ ramblings, for example). It must be detailed, specific and unambiguous in its prediction and wording.
* If the prophecy is trivial. Anyone could predict that it will be cold next winter, or that this drought/plague/flood will eventually subside. The prophecy must predict something surprising, unlikely or unique.
* If the prophecy is obviously contrived for other reasons. No official seer or court astrologer ever predicted that the king he worked for would be a brutal, evil tyrant who would ruin the country.
* If the prophecy is self-fulfilling; i.e., if the mere fact of the prophecy’s existence could cause people to make it come true. The Jewish people returned to their homeland in Israel just as the Bible said they would, but this isn’t a genuine prediction – they did it because the Bible said they would. The predicted event can’t be one that people could stage.
* If the prophecy predicts an event that already happened and the writing of the prophecy itself can’t be shown to have preceded the event.
* If the prophecy predicts an event that already happened and the happening of that event can’t be verified by independent evidence. For example, Christian apologists claim that Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, but the authors of the New Testament obviously had access to those prophecies also; what would have prevented them from writing their story to conform to them? The extra-biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus is so scanty that it is impossible to disprove such a proposal.
* And finally, if the prophecy is the lone success among a thousand failures. Anyone can throw prophecies against the wall until one sticks. The book or other source from which it comes must have at least a decently good record on other predictions.
These conditions, I think, are eminently reasonable, and are only what would be expected of a true prophet with a genuine gift.
Fourth, what kind of evidence is it that you want? It seems you are indeed asking for science to be the exclusive means of exploring the world. What an assumption! Such an a priori assumption is staggering to me.
First, that I might hold an opinion that empirical evidence is the only good means of verifying claims of the existence of God, angels, an afterlife, (or reincarnation, that trees have souls, and other claims of other religious/supernatural traditions) is not evidence that this opinion is an a priori assumption. That’s merely an assumption YOU made without bothering to ask why I hold that opinion. In fact, it is NOT an a priori assumption—just the opposite. It’s the result of careful examination of all the other approaches proposed (and, originally, I had high hopes for mystical experience as a path to true knowledge—but concluded, to my disappointment, that this was just bad epistemology). So far as I can tell, none of the other proposed means of deciding the issue would have a good chance of distinguishing true claims from false ones.
But I’m more than willing to be convinced I missed something if you have a good argument for why some other method would work well.
I will respond initially with something I noted upon reviewing your comments. How would any of even the empirical evidences you demand demonstrate God’s existence? They would, at most, seem to show actions which could be attributed to a deity. But if one took your criteria for the existence of God, one could come up with any number of reasons to get around such evidences. Take a prophecy which is non self-fulfilling. It seems to me as though a virgin birth could fulfill this criterion. Note that I’m simply picking this out as an example for evaluation–not making any claims. Now it seems to me as though a prophet could make a prophecy similar to “There will be born to the virgin a son.” Assuming God exists, He could bring this event about. Thus, a woman who is a virgin has a son. But would skeptics really take this to be proof of anything? They could simply deny that the woman was a virgin. They could argue the prophecy was made after the child was already conceived. They could question the validity of the procedure used to test whether the woman was a virgin prior to conception. There are any number of ways people could deny such a prophecy.
But we could strengthen this case further and say that the prophet stated “There will be a son born to a virgin named X, who will herself be born tomorrow.” Because this prophet is seen as one in good standing with a religious group, a team of scientists takes this claim seriously and immediately puts every girl named X born the next day under scientific scrutiny for their entire lives. One of these women does indeed conceive, despite no detection of her ever having intercourse. She has a son, which validates the prophecy. It still seems to me that this would not really prove empirically God exists. One could argue that it could show the effects of a divine being–virgins do not conceive children. But they could also argue someone managed to give her an in vitro fertilization, someone managed to sneak past the monitors, etc. I suppose my case could be strengthened to make it airtight, but even if this were the case, would the fulfillment of a prophecy be taken by empiricism to be proof of God? At best, one could infer that it showed the actions of God. Thus, it seems to me as though God is beyond the investigative power of empiricism. At best, empiricism could attempt to discover his actions, but it could not effectively demonstrate God’s existence. Thus, in order for someone to honestly try to determine the existence of God, other methods must be employed.
These could include willful volition–actively participating in worship, prayer, etc., philosophical inquiry–studying non-empirical evidences for the existence of God such as the ontological argument, and other means. But to take empiricism as the only way to investigate reality limits a worldview to excluding God entirely in an a priori way. You argue that empirical evidence is the only good means of verifying such claism as angels, God, etc. I have no idea how one could even begin to do so using the empirical method. Most theists hold that God is immaterial. How could a method that is limited to the material realm manage to discover the immaterial? Of course, you argue that you have examined the other approaches to evidence. But any approach is going to be circularly justified, epistemologically speaking. Take empiricism, which claims to discover truths about observed things. This can only be done, however, but assuming that our observations are in some way trustworthy to begin with. We must trust sense perception in order to take empiricism seriously, but empiricism limits itself to that which can be discovered through sense perception. Ultimately, such means are going to be circular.
Take mystical experience, however. Clearly not everyone has mystical experiences. I see no reason as to why this should somehow rule out mystical experience as a way of discovering reality. William P. Alston argued in “Perceiving God” rather convincingly that religious/mystical experience can indeed discover some kind of reality. But it is a way so radically different than those ways we are used to–smell, taste, touch, etc.–that we don’t often get it right, and don’t always experience such a reality. Of course, in order to take mystical experience seriously, one has to assume the validity of such ways of experiencing reality, but this is no different than the kind of justification (in the epistemological sense) utilized to back sense experience or empiricism.
Now let’s reexamine prayer. I don’t know exactly what your “bar” is for showing that prayer is useful, but I also don’t see any way that prayer can be utilized empirically to demonstrate its efficacy. Take the experiments in which subjects are either prayed for or not prayed for by study groups. They are sick. Those prayed for don’t show any difference than those not prayed for. But this precludes the fact that many people (myself included) pray daily for all the sick. Thus, any experiment of this type cannot even establish a control group, as they are all being prayed for. Thus, it seems obvious that there would be no difference, even if God did exist, for all people are being prayed for. Again, I suppose we could attempt to make such an experiment air-tight, but even if it were the case that there were some difference in those people being prayed for and those who were not, it would not demonstrate the existence of God, but merely, and only possibly, lead to an inference of divine action. Would everyone make this inference? I sincerely doubt it.
Ultimately, I believe, it boils down to the will of the believer/unbeliever. Those who ask for sufficient evidence are rebelling exactly against that which God demands–a contrite, willing heart, and faith (the unquestioning faith of a child, no less) in Him.
I will respond initially with something I noted upon reviewing your comments. How would any of even the empirical evidences you demand demonstrate God’s existence?
I’m not asking for demonstrative proof. I’d be more than happy with, and convinced by, just having decent evidence.
But if one took your criteria for the existence of God, one could come up with any number of reasons to get around such evidences.
It’s almost always logically possible to hold onto a belief by revising other beliefs no matter what new evidence comes along without contradicting oneself. That doesn’t make it reasonable and that’s not the standard I’m setting. Again, I’m not demanding absolute proof. Just good evidence.
Take a prophecy which is non self-fulfilling. It seems to me as though a virgin birth could fulfill this criterion.
A prophecy needs to meet ALL the reasonable criteria. Not just one of them. And there’s an obvious problem with this one:
Note that I’m simply picking this out as an example for evaluation–not making any claims. Now it seems to me as though a prophet could make a prophecy similar to “There will be born to the virgin a son.” Assuming God exists, He could bring this event about. Thus, a woman who is a virgin has a son. But would skeptics really take this to be proof of anything? They could simply deny that the woman was a virgin.
If we don’t have good evidence the woman was a virgin when the child was conceived we don’t have rational basis for accepting the prophecy as substantiated.
They could argue the prophecy was made after the child was already conceived.
Why would anyone feel the need to do that? The claim that the mother was a virgin is impossible to verify—the claim that the prophecy of good evidence of the truth of Christian theism fails on that point alone. There’s no need to bring in anything else.
You really need to pick a better example than that some particular woman was a virgin when her child was conceived. No one could prove it wrong. No one could prove it true. I don’t think you could have picked a worse example of fulfilled prophecy to defend.
Thus, it seems to me as though God is beyond the investigative power of empiricism. At best, empiricism could attempt to discover his actions, but it could not effectively demonstrate God’s existence.
Science doesn’t demonstrate. Demonstrative proof is for math and matters of pure logic. You seem completely unfamiliar with even the most basic ideas in philosophy of science. Again, I’m not setting the bar so high as demonstrative proof of God’s existence.
But to take empiricism as the only way to investigate reality limits a worldview to excluding God entirely in an a priori way.
No it doesn’t. If the Bible is true then it records certain people having had empirical evidence more than sufficient for them to have had rational warrant for belief in God (and if we have sound basis for believing these stories to be historical fact then we do to).
You argue that empirical evidence is the only good means of verifying such claism as angels, God, etc. I have no idea how one could even begin to do so using the empirical method.
I’ve already given several examples. And your own Bible has dozens of others others (you could do worse than to start with the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal—which describes what amounts to an experiment to test which god, Jehovah or Baal, was real).
Take empiricism, which claims to discover truths about observed things. This can only be done, however, but assuming that our observations are in some way trustworthy to begin with. We must trust sense perception in order to take empiricism seriously, but empiricism limits itself to that which can be discovered through sense perception. Ultimately, such means are going to be circular.
Again, I’m not setting up a standard of absolute proof—for theism or anything else. I’m curious as to why you raising the idea of demonstrative proof as a standard when I’m only asking theism to meet a standard far, far below that (which, even then, it doesn’t come close to).
Besides which, I find your objection pretty disingenuous. If you were serving on a jury would you be much impressed by a defense attorney who objected that the jury cannot assume it’s sense perception is reliable—it’s clearly a last-ditch move of the most desperate sort imaginable.
Regardless, if theism IS true then we live in the world God created with the senses he gave us and he would be able to manifest all manner of strong empirical evidence of a miraculous sort. But that doesn’t happen. We live in a world with, as your Paul Moser put it, an “elusive God”.
Take mystical experience, however. Clearly not everyone has mystical experiences. I see no reason as to why this should somehow rule out mystical experience as a way of discovering reality.
It doesn’t. The problem with mystical experience isn’t that only some people have it. It’s that the experiences are as well explained by the hypothesis that it’s all from the person’s own mind rather than from a supernatural source. In fact, the former hypothesis fits the evidence better since these experiences so often involve mutually incompatible truth claims—a fact which pretty obviously better fits the psychological explanation.
William P. Alston argued in “Perceiving God” rather convincingly that religious/mystical experience can indeed discover some kind of reality.
Yes, he does argue that. I’ve read him. His argument is pretty terrible. We can discuss it if you like.
Of course, in order to take mystical experience seriously, one has to assume the validity of such ways of experiencing reality, but this is no different than the kind of justification (in the epistemological sense) utilized to back sense experience or empiricism.
Actually, it’s very different. All people have sense experience and all people, excepting damage to some of their sense organs or the parts of the brain processing some sensory input, have pretty much identical sensory experiences to quite a high degree of precision.
Mystical experience is nothing at all like that.
That’s a complex topic and a discussion in it’s own right though. I won’t go into further detail until you decide to actually present, at least in outline, an argument for the reliability of mystical experience.
Now let’s reexamine prayer. I don’t know exactly what your “bar” is for showing that prayer is useful, but I also don’t see any way that prayer can be utilized empirically to demonstrate its efficacy.
Well, if Muslims prayed that Allah would strike down all who draw images of Muhammed and then every cartoonist who had done so spontaneously burst into flames that would pretty well do it.
The problem is prayer doesn’t actually seem to have any dramatic, or even demonstrable effect—except psychologically.
They are sick. Those prayed for don’t show any difference than those not prayed for. But this precludes the fact that many people (myself included) pray daily for all the sick. Thus, any experiment of this type cannot even establish a control group, as they are all being prayed for. Thus, it seems obvious that there would be no difference, even if God did exist, for all people are being prayed for
So you admit, apparently, that the evidence based on prayer is pretty paltry.
Ultimately, I believe, it boils down to the will of the believer/unbeliever. Those who ask for sufficient evidence are rebelling exactly against that which God demands–a contrite, willing heart, and faith (the unquestioning faith of a child, no less) in Him.
It is, indeed, true that it comes down to either requiring actual, good evidence or just having the unquestioning perspective of a child.
As to my heart, it’s perfectly willing to believe once good evidence is available. I am not a child. Nor are you. It’s no virtue to have standards of evidence equivalent to those of a child.
It seems to me as though you’re doing exactly what I’m discussing in this very entry: demanding evidence from God. That seems to me to be, frankly, ludicrous. The point of my post which you are responding to is that the assertion that there’s not enough evidence wholly misses the point of who God is. God is personal, and therefore relational. God isn’t an empirical entity that should be discovered through test tubes or other means of figuring out whether He exists or not. God is not a hypothesis put forward to explain the universe. God is personal, and therefore anyone who objects to the existence of God on the basis of “not enough evidence” wholly misses who and what God is. As I stated in my post, it is plausible, and even probable (I believe, anyway), that God would make evidence of His existence “purposively available” in the sense that such evidence would be available to those who are willing to accept what exactly that means.
To approach the existence of God with a mindset of “Oh, well if such and such happens, then I’ll believe” is completely against who God is. God is not some vending machine in the sky dispensing miracles. God is not a natural law or entity composed of natural parts. God is personal, immaterial, transcendent, and holds all authority. One’s attitude, one’s will, makes all the difference in determining the existence of God. It’s not a matter of weighing various evidences in a sterile setting. If the God of classical theism exists, then His existence demands a response of worship–as I suggested in the post you’re responding to–a response of praise and thanksgiving. A theistic deity is a different creature from that you seem to think it would be. I still see absolutely no reason to even come close to submitting to the scientific method as a way to test theism. I frankly think it is ridiculous to do so, when one considers what theism means. And this is exactly the point of my post. I hope I’ve clarified it, as I’m not going to argue over ways to test God any more. I realize the conversation thus far has completely missed the very point I was making, so I’ve tried to bring it back.
God is not going to be tested by empiricism. To demand such a means of inductively reasoning to God is to utterly miss who God is. That was my point, and I’m not deviating any longer.
It seems to me as though you’re doing exactly what I’m discussing in this very entry: demanding evidence from God.
Not at all. What I’m doing is discussing under what conditions belief that God exists is reasonable. That’s another matter entirely.
To give a fairly analogous example, suppose someone claimed that aliens exist, are aware of earth and have left devices here to study us which are very difficult (maybe impossible) for our technology to detect.
If I discussed with the person making this claim what would be sufficient grounds for reasonably believing the claim it would not constitute a demand for the aliens to reveal themselves openly.
The same applies here.
God is personal, and therefore relational. God isn’t an empirical entity that should be discovered through test tubes or other means of figuring out whether He exists or not.
It’s a poor excuse for a “relationship” when one of the participants is indistinguishable from an imaginary friend.
Of what, specifically, does your relationship consist and what characteristics does it have that one would not expect of someone “relating” to an imaginary deity?
God is not going to be tested by empiricism.
You are contradicting the Bible. According to it, God did precisely that in the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal.
You’re ignoring the issue that is at hand in your responses. The claim I’ve made is that God would make evidence purposively available (see the other post I linked in my entry above). Distinguishing God from an “imaginary friend” is quite simple, but evidence like that often comes after faith, not prior to it. Also, if you are claiming that empiricism is the only grounds for justifying belief, that is an entirely different matter. I would simply refer you to “Warranted Christian Belief” by Plantinga for a wonderful exposition on that topic. Of course, that is again getting us off topic. My claim is that God doesn’t give the kind of evidence you want to those who aren’t already in a relationship with Him, a relationship that necessarily involves an entire shift in attitude, will, and lifestyle. God is not to be tested in a sterile environment. You frequently like to cite Baal with Elijah, but that is an extraordinary case–which is exactly what I said in my post. I’m not sure if you’re simply willingly ignoring what I’m saying or missing it.
see the other post I linked in my entry above
I believe Moser is on the right track when he argues that God’s purposes in revealing Himself are very important when discussing His existence. Thus, God would not coerce us into belief.
Yes, that’s one of the most popular rationalizations for the weakness of the evidence for God’s existence. Which entails, of course, that we skeptics are right in saying the evidence is, in fact, weak. But let’s turn to the heart of the argument:
So how do we answer the question of God’s existence? Moser makes an argument for the existence of God that is essentially an argument from religious experience….
And you too seem to be taking the position that religious experience is what provides sound basis for belief in God. So let’s examine the argument you present in your essay:
1) The question “Does God exist?” must be asked in such a way that we humans acknowledge that if God does in fact exist, the question of His existence involves, necessarily, a life-changing, “creating anew” (2 Corinthians 5:17) that is the work of the Holy Spirit, which is a gift of God, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is because i) if God exists, then, necessarily, His existence would apply to every aspect of all things (specifically, our lives).
2) Evidence of God’s existence thus entails an entirely life-changing event that is the work of God and not of ourselves (e.g. baptism). It can thus be seen (Moser’s words) as “purposively available evidence”–evidence with the purpose of justification/creating a new [see 1) above].
3) God allows people to reject such life-changing evidence
4) We humans are often in rebellion against God and refuse to acknowledge 1), 2), and 3)
5) If we are in rebellion against God, then we reject the life-changing gift as seen in 2)- faith worked by the Spirit
6) Therefore, God’s existence may indeed be justifiably inaccessible to humans who are in rebellion against God, for the most powerful evidence of God’s existence can be found in 2)–the life-changing gift of the work of the Holy Spirit, and humans who are in rebellion against God reject such evidence, despite its being (purposively) available.
Basically, put more plainly:
If God exists he reveals his existence through what William Lane Craig referred to as the “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit” rather than through empirical evidence.
And all of us will experience this if we are open to it.
It follows then, if the above is true, that nonbelievers have closed themselves to the experience and are in rebellion against God.
The problem with your “argument” is that you present no reasonable grounds for believing those first 2 assertions to be true—for how we could distinguish a true experience of the Holy Spirit from imagining that one’s experienced the Holy Spirit. The closest you come to an attempt to do so is this:
If there is purposively available evidence that is available and life-changing (read: applicable to every aspect of everything, specifically our lives), then God exists.
But what grounds do you have for thinking a mistaken, even delusional, belief can’t be life-changing. Surely you see that this must be addressed before the argument can claim any merit?
It seems to me as though you are unwilling to acknowledge that if God does exist, the world is radically different than if he does not. By setting a standard of empirical evidence, you are setting a human standard on what (if God exists) is a divine being. As I’ve said before, I find this ridiculous.
I actually find the evidence for God quite compelling–I believe the ontological argument (Plantinga/Parrish’s versions) is sound, the teleological argument has some weight, the kalam cosmological argument is sound, the moral argument is sound, the argument from religious experience is sound, the argument from consciousness is compelling and sound, the argument from reason is sound. Further, I find the alternative (naturalism, that is) quite lacking–especially in light of the fact that it is self refuting (see Plantinga’s EAAN).
I realize I’m not answering the points in your posts, but that is because you are clearly not answering mine. I’ve continually pointed out that God may not work in the way you want Him to act. Rather than responding to this, you’ve made your desire for God’s actions even more limiting. I’ve asked what constitutes evidence for God, and you’ve mentioned things that would make God into a kind of miracle dispenser, at the beck and call of those who desire to determine His presence. Again, I find this quite outrageous. That’s not who God is, and that’s not the God that classical theism has ever put forth. Yet it is the God many (dare I say, most?) atheists tend to put forward as the God the want to have shown to them.
Hey David E,
I really do acknowledge the point of your arguments. I think one of the main things that they center around is the hiddeness of God, and that was something that very much bothered me while I was traveling through an excruciating period of doubts over the past 5 months. It’s a legitimate thing to wonder about, and I can definitely give you a resource to read about it if you’d like. Though its something which gives pause at first, I believe the Scriptures actually predicted it.
Isaiah makes the statement, “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.” (Now, you could of course turn that around and say that the reason Isaiah said that was because there is no God and he was just fooled by his culture, but there is another example)
Also, Christ constantly told parables in a way which were meant to hide the meanings from people. “He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” He constantly hid the meanings of his preaching from the people to whom it was not given the privilege to be a believer, because of their own rebellion.
I guess my point is that, although the Hiddeness of God is certainly something to ponder, if it meets any predictions made by any Holy Texts, it meets those predicted by the Judeau-Christian Scripture.
That’s not to say that He is not active, however. If you want to hear a podcast about God’s activity today, look up apologetics315.org and type in “Is God Active Today” and you’ll see an interview with Gary Habermas, who delves into those kinds of things. I’m not saying it will convince you, but it may lead you to check some of it out. (which i would like to eventually do…)
I think what J.W. is trying to say is that, although there are massive amounts of evidence for God, it doesn’t become compelling to the non-believer’s heart until God causes it to be. I can personally attest to that, and the effect of my own sin (pride, especially!), on my decision making abilities. I certainly don’t accuse you of that though. Though I may have been a prideful non-believer before accepting Christ, I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to claim all non-believers are blinded by pride.
I certainly don’t want to join this discussion, but I hope this helps a little bit. It’s always good to clarify. Peace to both of you!
Evan, thank you for your enlightening statements. I praise God that you were guided through your period of turmoil about God’s hiddenness. Your insights, Scriptural and otherwise, are greatly appreciated.
Thanks J.W., I’m glad God was sovereign even when I was convinced He wasn’t!
>Thus, if I take E to be the only way to investigate reality, I am, a priori, ruling out even the possibility of T, for I am ruling out any means by which I could discover T to be true.
This is a sound, valid point and it doesn’t apply only to gods. It applies to an infinitely large category of possible extra-scientific claims that includes the Easter bunny, Santa Claus and Russell’s teapot. Unless those supposed phenomena cause detectable, measurable effects in nature, even if they existed, we would not be justified in commenting on them.
Scientific naturalists limit themselves to E because to make claims without it is a form of lying. Sam Harris has pointed out that if I told you I had an even number of cells in my body, you would have no reason to believe me. That claim has a much better chance of being true (50%) than the claim that some sort of god exists (and far better than the claim that Yahweh exists) but is still not justified.
In philosophy, knowledge is defined as a justified, true belief. We can argue about what counts as justification. You can use faith and other non-scientific justifications, but you must leave science when you do it. Most people use both modes and switch between them at will.
I see no good reason to switch between science and faith at will. Further, venturing beyond E opens the door to any kind of god and any kind of idea. If you allow yourself this freedom, you must accept the ravings of other people and religions who do the same. Without scientific constraints, we live in the Medieval morass the Enlightenment offered a way out of. In other words, the world we currently live in.
Don, do you believe numbers exist? Do you believe empiricism is the only way to discover reality? Do you believe morals exist?
Your argument is a good one, for good reasons, and with good intentions. I don’t want to see medical diseases attributed to demons, or certain weather changes attributed to “the wind gods” or something of that sort as much as you don’t want to see it happening.
However, there is one fundamental flaw with empiricism, and its an almost embarrassing flaw too. It’s based on a subjective assumption which can’t be proved! Can reason be proved scientifically? Of course not! You have to use reason to prove reason. All of empiricism is based on the assumption that rationality is 1. Credible 2. Universal and 3. unchanging Can you prove any of these assumptions scientifically? So, you could say that empiricism is totally subjective and that we need to find something else to base our scientific rationality on.
Also, morale values. You can’t rightly make any judgments on something as to their intrinsic morale value unless you invoke a subjective opinion, OR, if you attribute your opinions to a transcendental morale law. Scientific, verifiable knowledge can prove that the holocaust killed many people, that it led to much sorrow and grief and harm to the Jewish, but the minute you start to make any judgements about those things, saying that they are, for instance, “bad”, or “unfortunate”, you are invoking a totally subjective opinion which is not verifiable, and therefore based on opinion.
If I raped another woman and killed her, you, claiming that the only knowable knowledge is scientifically verifiable, would only be able to say “no comment.” I don’t know you, but I have faith that you are not that kind of person and that you believe there is something more to be said to me than “no comment” if I did such a thing. How would you account for this “subjective” knowledge?
Next is the existence of other minds. Can you have scientific knowledge that anyone other than you exists? Certainly not! Because it could all be a projection on your mind. But of course, you know it is common sense that there are other people who exist and have their own minds and free will. This knowledge, however, is subjective and is not- verifiable.
I hope I’m not getting redundant, but a last problem with empiricism is the very statement “The only knowledge that we can know must be scientifically verifiable” is not even scientifically verifiable itself, and is therefore self-refuting. It’s kind of like the sentence, “All English sentences consist of three words”.
The only point I’m trying to make is that there are some things which are subjective and properly basic beliefs that simply cannot be scientifically proved. I also believed that a self-authenticating witness of the Holy spirit is one of those things which we can subjectively know, and it is a form of knowledge which is credible and conducive to Christian belief.
Peace to you Don!
It seems to me as though you are unwilling to acknowledge that if God does exist, the world is radically different than if he does not.
On the contrary, the whole issue under discussion is what detectable difference there would be between a world in which theism is true and one in which it isn’t (and, as I already mentioned, this varies depending on what version of theism is being posited).
By setting a standard of empirical evidence, you are setting a human standard on what (if God exists) is a divine being. As I’ve said before, I find this ridiculous.
Again, all I’m doing is is discussing what would constitute a rational basis for believing a posited entity exists. I’m not “imposing” anything on that entity by examining that question nor by admitting that there is no good reason to think the human “heart” has the ability to distinguish a religious experience coming from a divine source from one which the person only imagines comes from a divine source.
More later. Time for me to go to work.
The question I have for you is this: Is your way of detecting a world with theism based on how that theistic God operates, or human standards? Clearly, if you say the former, you’re question begging, for empiricism is not the way that God instructs classical theists to detect his presence (see Psalm 46:10, Philippians 2:12, Ephesians 2:1ff, etc.). Clearly there are cases where God could be taken to act in an empirically detectable way, but these are extraordinary circumstances. The God of Scripture is not to be put to the test–either metaphorically or empirically (Deuteronomy 6:16). I strongly believe you are begging the question when you utilize a human method for exploring the natural universe (one which is effective for its purposes) in order to try to discover the truth of a metaphysical, supernatural claim.
(Edited your post to make that change for the “by”)
Numbers and morals are abstractions, but they require physical reality for their instantiation. Information of all types falls in this category.
Empiricism is the only honest way to discover reality. If we drop scientific constraints, it opens the door to all the religions and superstitions of the world, not just your kind of faith. Any idea reached via the faith mechanism thus stands on a par with your beliefs and there is no consistent way to adjudicate between them.
Science is the worst way we have to apprehend the world, except for all the others.
How do you know that “Empiricism is the only honest way to discover reality”? This smacks of verificationism, which is profoundly mistaken. As Evan rightly notes, such a claim is self-defeating. Thus, it is little more than a philosophical joke to assert such a statement as you do. There must be, necessarily, other ways to investigate reality than empiricism, for empiricism cannot itself show that it is the only way to discover reality.
E is the only honest way I have found. You could be right about the philosophical arguments. In any case, all the objections voiced by Evan and JW apply equally to E and faith. Comments like yours say “E is no better than faith” with which I technically agree. Still, they give no reason to think faith is better than E. When battling science, believers often seem to think a tie is a win. Anyway, whether E is better than faith is a matter of values.
I think it boils down to a situation more like choosing a political party. I’m in the E party because it fits my values better. I think leaving E causes great social ills and leads humanity into myriad subjective worlds that can not all be correct, with no good way to adjudicate claims.
Daniel Dennett has this to say:
“If you want to reason about faith, and offer a reasoned (and reason- responsive) defense of faith as an extra category of belief worthy of special consideration, I’m eager to play. I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenon of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith seriously as a way of getting to the truth, and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously). But you must not expect me to go along with your defence of faith as a path to truth if at any point you appeal to the very dispensation you are supposedly trying to justify. Before you appeal to faith when reason has you backed into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.
You are sightseeing with a loved one in a foreign land, and your loved one is brutally murdered in front of your eyes. At the trial it turns out that in this land friends of the accused may be called as witnesses for the defense, testifying about their faith in his innocence. You watch the parade of his moist-eyed friends, obviously sincere, proudly proclaiming their undying faith in the innocence of the man you saw commit the terrible deed. The judge listens intently and respectfully, obviously more moved by this outpouring than by all the evidence presented by the prosecution. Is this not a nightmare? Would you be willing to live in such a land? Or would you be willing to be operated on by a surgeon you tells you that whenever a little voice in him tells him to disregard his medical training, he listens to the little voice? I know it passes in polite company to let people have it both ways, and under most circumstances I wholeheartedly cooperate with this benign agreement. But we’re seriously trying to get at the truth here, and if you think that this common but unspoken understanding about faith is anything better than socially useful obfuscation to avoid mutual embarrassment and loss of face, you have either seen much more deeply into the issue that any philosopher ever has (for none has ever come up with a good defense of this) or you are kidding yourself.”
> All of empiricism is based on the assumption that rationality is 1. Credible 2. Universal and 3. unchanging Can you prove any of these assumptions scientifically?
These weaknesses have been known for a long time. Adopting E over other epistemologies is a choice based on values, not on any absolute, slam-dunk win over other ways of knowing.
>You can’t rightly make any judgments on something as to their intrinsic morale value unless you invoke a subjective opinion, OR, if you attribute your opinions to a transcendental morale law.
Invoking transcendant moral law solves nothing because you still need a way of choosing which one to follow and how to prove you have the right interpretation.
I’m not schooled in ethics, but I have no problem making moral judgments. I am a humanist. I am opposed to cruelty, I value fairness, love and kindness. And I value people over ideas. Of course, my values change from time to time because of this, but I don’t need anything supernatural to live peaceably in my tribe.
I am suspicious of those who subscribe to supposedly supernatural laws because it involves so much human interpretation and cherry-picking. And the people who really follow the Koran or the Bible are frequently cruel because of it.
Is your way of detecting a world with theism based on how that theistic God operates, or human standards?
Your question is nonsensical. The various reasons for believing the proposition “God exists” are either sound or they’re not. It’s irrelevant who is using the “standard” (I would have used the term “method”) in question—only whether that method of forming an opinion is one which will not tend to yield belief when the proposition is, in fact, false (this isn’t the only epistemological issue but it’s the one on which I think you’re making an error). The problem with your argument from religious experience is that there is no reason to expect that religious experiences wouldn’t occur even if theism is false. Which is why I don’t consider them reasonable grounds for belief.
Clearly there are cases where God could be taken to act in an empirically detectable way, but these are extraordinary circumstances. The God of Scripture is not to be put to the test–either metaphorically or empirically (Deuteronomy 6:16).
And you don’t find that suspiciously convenient? Would you accept such an answer if I said I was in telepathic contact with aliens in the Andromeda Galaxy but the aliens find tests to see if they are real and not just a figment of my imagination offensive?
If an entity exists but chooses not to provide objective evidence then fine. But don’t expect reasonable people to be believers.
I strongly believe you are begging the question when you utilize a human method for exploring the natural universe (one which is effective for its purposes) in order to try to discover the truth of a metaphysical, supernatural claim.
If you can point out an actual circularity in my position, rather than just a substantive disagreement between us regarding what constitutes sound epistemology, then I invite you to do so.
(Edited your post to make that change for the “by”)
There must be, necessarily, other ways to investigate reality than empiricism, for empiricism cannot itself show that it is the only way to discover reality.
Let’s be specific. Suppose, for example, that an acquaintance visits you and sees that you have oak furniture in your house. He is appalled. “Don’t you know”, he says, “that oak trees have souls and are just as sentient as you or I?”
What methodology should we employ for deciding the question “are oak trees sentient beings”?
In particular, we should consider two scenarios:
A. Suppose the claim is true. What would it take to confirm it? Might it be unconfirmable even though true? If so, should we then assume the proposition is true? Why or why not? Would our methods tend to have us disbelieve (or even just refrain from believing) even when the claim is true?
B. Suppose the claim is false Are our methods ones which would tend to make us refrain from belief if the claim is false? Are they ones which would tend to have us belief even when the claim is false? With what degree of reliability?
Those are far from an exhaustive list of the relevant questions, epistemology is, after all, a complex and thorny topic, but they’re a start. Feel free to bring up others. And feel free to pick an alternate topic if you prefer (reincarnation, the existence of the Gods of Wicca, whatever).
By the way, I don’t think Don was endorsing the sort of naive verificationism you assume. There are much more nuanced positions available to someone who sees empirical evidence as central to deciding whether a proposition of the form “X exists” (whether X be Thor, Osiris, Dracula, Harry Potter or Yahweh) is true.
Ah, but the terminology must be different. Now empiricism must be “central” to deciding such cases! And what non-circular argument can you present for taking empiricism to be the central means? What non-central means are there? How do you balance the non-central means with the central? Which would you take to defeat another if two conflicting reports were given? Etc., etc. These are not rhetorical questions, I am actually asking them. Verificationism is obviously false, so now that you are forced to modify your claims and try to bolster empiricism as “central”, these are the next questions which must be tackled.
Two strands of thought in this thread stand out for me.
One, no one is specifying which god we’re talking about. Even if JW is spot on, he still has the problem of knowing which god he’s believing in. Given his description of religious experience, I can see no way to pinpoint what his belief refers to, whether it refers to the same god as anyone else or what traits that god has. Religious experiences are real, but there is no way to know whether they point to anything real or if any two of them point to the same entity.
Two, it strikes empiricists like me as very convenient that this proposed god is not subject to any empirical test. It seems like this god idea has been designed to be irrefutable by E. This is, of course, a trivial thing to do. The Easter bunny and Santa Claus are in the same category. All I have to do is say the same things about them that JW is saying about his god. Presto, I have an airtight proposal. Here is a case, not uncommon in philosophy, where we have sound, valid arguments, but still have no good reason to take them seriously.
Then there is Dennett’s point, that placing your beliefs outside E has a cost and a very dear one. A recent ruling in the UK pertains:
“In his ruling, the judge said “religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence.” He added that to use the law to protect “a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified.””
So, you can place your god outside E and avoid philosophical problems, but you have then robbed him of any weight in human affairs, except for you inwardly.
“So, you can place your god outside E and avoid philosophical problems, but you have then robbed him of any weight in human affairs, except for you inwardly.”
Putting God outside of E does not remove him from philosophical problems. Indeed, E is absolutely limited by and governed by philosophy. That’s exactly one of the means I’ve suggested in the past in addition to empiricism–philosophical and logical inquiry can explore reality, and indeed it can explore the reality which E has no chance of discovering. Putting God outside of E doesn’t remove Him from investigation. This kind of supposition is question-begging for verificationism, which, again, is self-refuting. I simply will not allow such philosophical nonsense to stand. The view that empiricism is the only way to investigate reality is profoundly, demonstrably false by its own assumptions.
Lastly, let us not be ridiculous. Equivocating the easter bunny and santa claus with God may hold sway in everyday speaking, but it is obviously a false equivocation.
Putting God outside of E doesn’t remove Him from investigation. This kind of supposition is question-begging for verificationism, which, again, is self-refuting.
Don never referred to himself as a logical positivist nor endorsed the their verification principle. Please stop attributing to people positions they haven’t actually taken. There are other epistemologies besides that one which consider empirical evidence central to our having rational basis for belief in regard to claims about the existence of entities (including supernatural ones).
I simply will not allow such philosophical nonsense to stand. The view that empiricism is the only way to investigate reality is profoundly, demonstrably false by its own assumptions.
Lastly, let us not be ridiculous. Equivocating the easter bunny and santa claus with God may hold sway in everyday speaking, but it is obviously a false equivocation.
Fine. The let’s apply your thinking to about non-empirical grounds for justified belief to some beliefs that are commonplace today.
The god Ganesh.
Please explain for us the appropriate non-empirical methods by which one could come to a justified belief in the 4 things listed above.
I’m interested in seeing whether you’re willing and able to consistently apply your ideas about nonempirical justified beliefs and what the results of the application of your methods would be (and whether, indeed, you even have any actual method to apply or whether your rather vague comments about non-empirical approaches are just a rationalization for unfounded beliefs).
Let me get this straight, you want me to try to prove things I don’t believe in for the purpose of justifying non-empirical means of exploring reality? Don’t be ridiculous.
Further, as I suspected, you didn’t (can’t?) answer my questions about empiricism. As far as non-empirical methods. Logic, for example, is not part of science, yet yields results about reality. This can be applied to the God of classical theism (see the ontological argument [the version I subscribe to, I’ll not defend a straw man], for example).
Let me get this straight, you want me to try to prove things I don’t believe in for the purpose of justifying non-empirical means of exploring reality? Don’t be ridiculous.
What I want you to do is to test out your epistemological methods with hypothetical scenarios:
SUPPOSE ghosts really existed. If that were true what non-empirical methods/grounds for belief would be sufficient to for belief to be justified.
I can certainly do so with regard to EMPIRICAL evidence—even though ghosts (and the other 3 things I listed) are things I don’t believe in one iota.
Further, as I suspected, you didn’t (can’t?) answer my questions about empiricism. As far as non-empirical methods. Logic, for example, is not part of science, yet yields results about reality.
I never claimed that all knowledge is empirical (derived from sensory information).
For example, I know that I’m in a happy and contented state by direct introspection. Not based on information derived from my senses.
I also know certain mathematical and logical truths without recourse to my senses.
So, in a limited respect, I agree with you that some knowledge doesn’t require empirical evidence. The problem, though, is that this isn’t any help to the claim that we have non-empirical ways of having justified religious beliefs. Religious beliefs are claims about the world independent of one’s own mental state (unlike claims like “I am bored” or “I’m happy”). Nor are they logically necessary truths (there is no logical contradiction in the proposition “God doesn’t exist” or the proposition “there is no afterlife”, for example).
If you find the ontological argument sound then you probably disagree with me on that last one and I’d be happy to discuss your version of it if you’d like to present a post on that topic (I think it’s worthy of a conversation of it’s own).
Meanwhile, let’s be more specific about the topic of non-empirical methods for coming to have a justified belief in something. I’ve listed two examples above. And we know that one of our disagreements is on the question of how much one can justifiably derive from purely philosophical arguments (with no empirical components).
So far, you seem to be of the opinion, as best I can tell, that there are 2 valid non-empirical methods: religious experience and the type of philosophical arguments mentioned above.
Regarding both I’d like to ask a question we haven’t yet discussed. You seem to think we can derive theism from those two methods but you haven’t discussed how specific the claims that can be justifiably derived from them are. For example, can we conclude that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation or that the Bible is the word of God or other typically Christian beliefs from these two methods? I don’t see many apologists try to derive such specific doctrines from pure reason. Generally, the approach is to defend very broad religious claims on that ground and the more specific ones using religious experience (and often evidential grounds as well–like the apologetical arguments that we have good historical evidence for the Resurrection). Is that an accurate summary of your approach?
And, if so, what about someone who claims, based on his religious experiences that the god Ganesh exists? How would you go about criticizing that opinion? How does one distinguish a true belief grounded in a religious experience form a false one grounded in a religious experience? At least without recourse to any empirical evidence.
Ah, I see what you’re saying. The problem is that I’m not sure if non-empirical methods can be used to justify beliefs in the things you posit, again, because I don’t believe in them. Were I to encounter a good argument, I might rethink what I was saying, but I doubt such an argument exists. Of course, some theists (and I’d include myself in this mix) might grant that ghosts and other gods may actually exist, in the sense that they may appear to be ghosts/other gods, but are actually demons (Augustine specifically outlines this in City of God). Given the existence of a non-physical realm, the logical possibility of ghosts/demons/etc. is likely. Further, taking the Bible as true, it doesn’t seem unlikely that this should be the case.
But I don’t think I should be required to use my non-empirical methods to explore these claims, as, in my opinion, they would supervene upon claims like dualism and theism to begin with. Thus, if one can justify belief in theism/dualism, one provides at least some justification for belief in demons. I think such things hinge upon non-empirical arguments for theism. And if theism is true, then one must further explore the theistic faiths, etc. Theism, I believe, has a strong argument in the ontological argument, which, if sound, deductively (with certainty) demonstrates a theistic being exists. I have written about this elsewhere: here. Thus, it seems to me (at least) that theism is true.
As far as Christian claims are concerned, Plantinga explored this rather thoroughly in Warranted Christian Belief. He argues–convincingly, in my opinion–that the Christian is justified in his/her beliefs due to the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. This is obviously not empirical, and it would get into a rather drawn out exposition of Plantinga’s points which I don’t really have the time to get into right now. Suffice to say, I don’t think justification for individual beliefs in Christianity would be all that difficult.
I’ll accept JW’s comments about empiricism. But I’m with David regarding applying JW’s approach to other beliefs. If JW is correct about religious experience, then his ideas can be used to justify any belief whatsoever, including Ganesh, the Greek gods or the Norse gods. In fact, it’s necessary to do so if JW is going to be consistent in the application of his approach.
This is Alston’s religious diversity problem. If we admit religious experience as a way of knowing, then we have to explain why people reach contradictory positions from its use. If JW had been born in ancient Siberia in 12000 BC, or modern-day Saudi Arabia or India, I think it’s reasonable to suppose that he would have interpreted his religious experience differently.
This amounts to a reductio ad absurdum. Religious experience is a method that produces contradictory beliefs with no good way to identify their referents or adjudicate between them. For me, this is enough to conclude that there is either something we haven’t identified that is wrong with JW’s approach or to reject it for producing inconsistent outputs.
Apologetics in general suffers from motivated reasoning. The conclusion, “God (usually a specific god) exists” is a given, then the reasoning is chosen to support it. It reminds me of the holdouts who held on to the luminiferous ether. After enough bruising encounters with experiment, there simply is no good reason to hold on to certain ideas. The arguments acquire a strained, desperate quality. JW’s solution is to declare his god idea to be immune to experiment. That may be a fair move, but it leads to the religious diversity problem.
I agree with Lawrence Krauss, that religion is just irrelevant to science. Too much ink has been spilled already trying to reconcile it with E. Scientists don’t need to reconcile with religion, but believers have to find a way to reconcile with or hide from E. JW is genetic engineer who has induced a mutation in the religious virus that allows it to burrow and hide from E. Don’t be offended by the word ‘virus’. All ideas are viral.
I am a former believer. I’ve had religious experiences and I know what it’s like to be in love with God. But I know that my senses can fool me, and that I am prone to confirmation bias, wishful thinking and comfort seeking. I am aware that E can’t prove its own reliability, but I use it to check congruence with nature and to rule illogical or inconsistent things out of my worldview. I want my inner world to match the outer world as much as possible. Proposing supernatural agencies works against that value.
If you don’t share my values, you can propose any god you wish, but there is a price. The price is the religious diversity problem and a world filled with competing interpretations of religious experiences.
Empiricism is based on Christian assumptions.
Also, I don’t think the problem of religious diversity is as big a problem as you make it out. Alston himself suggests that it could be the case that we aren’t fully capable of engaging the supernatural realm, which leads to mistakes in interpreting REs. But I don’t think that alone is a satisfactory answer. Plantinga, I think, offers better solutions in Warranted Christian Belief.
“Choosing which one to use depends on how much weight we place on consistency and congruence with nature.”
And of course empiricism will almost certainly win out in our discussion of nature. But God is supernatural. Again, begging the question.
>The view that empiricism is the only way to investigate reality is profoundly, demonstrably false by its own assumptions.
I agreed with you about this sometime yesterday. There are other ways to investigate reality, but, in my view, they all suffer from pathologies which we have discussed. At best, E and these other ways of knowing are on a par. Choosing which one to use depends on how much weight we place on consistency and congruence with nature.
And, just to be clear, I’m not intrinsically opposed to non-empirical philosophical arguments. I just don’t think any of the ones apologists employ to justify their belief in theism are any good. Be glad to hear your case for one (or more) of them. I think the ontological argument an odd choice to emphasis though. Even many theologians reject it. Still, I’m curious to see your version of it.
It seems that it is often the case that when I read works from believers or talk to believers one primary objection to the non-existence of God is “There’s not enough evidence.” A question I ask in response is “What kind of evidence?”
For many believers (generalizing here, and I realize this), the assumption is that non-scientific methods are the only way to yield truth. But, assuming for the sake of argument that God doesn’t exist, how would non-scientific methods show God does exist? It seems to me that non-scientific methods cannot do so. There could be ways to see the lack of God’s influence on the natural world (such as evolutionists have claimed), but the God of Classical Theism is invented–this God is not part of nature, but only an idea in human minds. Thus, God is dependent on nature. God can not interact with nature, but is, Himself, only nature.
This entire response is question begging. I feel no need to respond point by point.
If it is question-begging, then your original post was, too. My last response is simply your words making the opposite claim. It is meant to show that your reasoning can be used to justify any claim, including the opposite of your original claim.
This is the problem with the faith mechanism; it is too powerful. It can be used to justify absolutely any proposition whatsoever. Quine showed that any claim can be supported by choosing the appropriate web of belief. In this view, “my little finger is Elvis” stands on a par with heliocentricity. Yet, it is philosophically sound.
This is why values play a role in deciding these things. You can believe whatever you want to, but so can everyone else. This is too high a price for me. Without scientific constraints, our personal realities diverge widely, more widely than we can expect social and cultural institutions to accommodate. There is a limit to what religious tolerance can do. The Ft Hood report didn’t mention Islam. This is delusional. That shooter was motivated by his beliefs, yet it is politically impossible to say so.
I understand the religious experience. I willingly gave mine up because I saw the social cost of it.
You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe. [Dr. Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985]
.. as a philosopher, I have a right to ask for a rational explanation of religious faith. (Cicero)
Hi, all, I think you’ll like this short piece by a believer. I think it’s excellent.
I like this distinction: “when people confuse truth claims with power moves.”
”Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion specific values…it requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.”
While I am some sort of Skeptic, and the situation is very messy philosophically, I still think science is the best way to form knowledge. Here is my more careful statement of scientific superiority 😉
Scientific Naturalism, the hypothesis that there exists a real, external world we can gain knowledge of through experiment, while not free of counterarguments (what is?), has amassed an extravagantly robust track record of interconnected, reinforcing data that defies explanation by other means. Throughout human culture, empiricism is the gold standard for adjudicating claims.
Humans use other ways of forming knowledge, such as religious belief, intuition, personal revelation, reason and introspection. While these can be declared to lie outside the reach of science, all such methods suffer from the diversity problem: there is nothing preventing individuals using them to reach contradictory conclusions and there is no good way to adjudicate claims between them. Each religion, for example, makes special pleading and declares itself immune from the inquiries of other religions and nonbelievers. Since outsiders haven’t had the requisite vital, inner experience specific to that faith, they lack the authority to dissect it. Thus, we end up with a multitude of mutually exclusive, subjective realities with no way to settle the matter.
This feature is present on the frontiers of science, where intuition and creativity abound, but here it is a necessary medium for germinating hypotheses. What distinguishes science from other ways of knowing is that ideas in this zone are not yet considered ‘knowledge’. Further, there is a general process for settling out the good ideas from the bad ones. Ideas in the stable center of science are more established but never sacred. Of course, some ideas which stand for centuries are overturned; thus all scientific ideas should be considered provisional.
Science is the worst way we have to know about the world, except for all the others.
Indeed, there are different types of evidence for the existence of God. I’ve written a similar blog on this topic, focusing on how evidence and proof differ in mathematics, science, and life. I welcome your thoughts: http://mathandfaith.com/2011/04/proof-math-science-faith-life/