In What can she know Lorraine Code argues for a feminist epistemology, in which our situation, community, position in society, matter to what we can know. Knowledge mainly available to men is implicitly regarded as gender-neutral; meanwhile knowledge traditionally associated with women is regarded as not knowledge at all. Consider the practices of some Catholic Latina women in the United States, who fend off the evil eye (especially of infants) with eggs, bury statues of saints like Mary and Joseph in their front yard when the saints refuse to grant requests, and dig them up again once the request is granted. As Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado details, this sounds rather irreverent, but the practice just illustrates how intimate the relationship is between the Latino community and the saints they revere. Home altars with pictures of Mary and the Saints are the territory of Latina Catholic women. Do these practices contribute to religious epistemology? If so, how?
The council of Trent wanted to eradicate these practices of saint reverence and fending off the evil eye, in which women prominently figured as practitioners and experts. However, it did not destroy these practices in Latina women. Neither did it destroy them entirely in European women, such as my grandmother. My grandmother was a devout Catholic woman who taught me the first things about religion such as the significance of the host, the meaning of infant baptism, how to pray. She had a wooden black statue of Mary (there is a tradition of revering Black Mary in Medieval Europe, and my grandmother’s home town had a tradition that still kept this alive), to whom she talked and prayed. When Mary refused to grant her requests, she would be unceremoniously turned facing the wall until Mary changed her mind.
By the time I was 12, I dismissed her practices as superstitious folk beliefs of an old woman who had not moved with the times, and as just plain silly. Her beliefs, I thought, were wrong also within her own epistemological framework of Christianity, given that statues aren’t actually the figures they represent (but in Latina culture, and my grandmother’s practice, they were), and Mary cannot autonomously grant requests but is assumed to intercede with God on our behalf (but for my grandmother, she clearly could do all sorts of things on her own). However, I am now wondering if it is true that my grandmothers religious beliefs (aka superstitions) were really inconsistent with the epistemology she held. After all, her epistemology was not the official teaching of the Catholic church, but something that was informed by her own practices.
Very few philosophers of religion discuss how specific religious practices can foster a religious knowledge that more cerebral thinking about God cannot. Sarah Coakley has some work liturgy as a form of doxastic practice (a tantalizing term she borrows from Alston, who did not do much with the concept, but fortunately, Sarah has and I hope to elaborate it in work further on in a talk I’ll be giving at Texas A&M). Coakley argues that the physical, multi-sensory experience of worship can mediate spiritual experience. Howard Wettstein argues along similar lines about Jewish practices like blessings. He argues these practices provide access to a religious way of life even if there is no doxastic commitment to metaphysical claims about God. Do religious practices provide us with religious knowledge? Even practices that seem contrary to claims generally accepted in philosophy of religion?
I would claim that if we assume that perfect being theology in western philosophy of religion is correct, and if the main theological claims are correct, my grandmother and the members of the Latino community Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado studied can have knowledge. It is hard to say if any theological claims are true, and of course, if naturalism is true, my grandmother’s views, and those of theologians are not knowledge; I am just here assuming the traditional theological views because practices like my grandmother’s are in this framework dismissed as superstitions without any epistemological value.
If my grandmother has knowledge of Mary, it is knowledge by acquaintance, afforded by intimate second-person interactions (manipulating the statue of Black Mary, speaking to her). This sort of knowledge isn’t available to people who do not engage in practices like this. In When God talks back, Tanya Luhrmann explains how this works for Evangelical Christians, but Gonzalez Maldonado offers another perspective (Yet another one is offered by Eleonore Stump on how reading scripture can give us second-person insight). I would like to think more about how embodied practices in religion, so often downplayed by mainstream churches as an embarrassment and relic of the past, can contribute to epistemological questions in philosophy of religion.
[this blogpost is inspired by a talk by Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado at the Annual Academy of Religion; in the talk Gonzales Maldonado discussed Latino religious practices in relationship to Luhrmann's work on Evangelical spirituality]
What do philosophers think about religious disagreement? This is a brief survey (takes about 5-10 minutes) to find this out. The survey is aimed at academic philosophers, by which I mean people who hold a PhD in philosophy or are graduate students in philosophy. If you fit these criteria, please consider participating. Participation is fully anonymous.
The format of the study is a multiple choice questionnaire. I will ask some personal questions, amongst others about your religious views, but your name will not be asked. To further take care that your anonymity is preserved, I will not report on individual responses but report statistical patterns. There are a few places where you can provide an open response (optional). I will publish at most one open response per participant, making sure that there is no identifying information within your response. The full dataset will remain confidential and will not be shared with anyone. I will report the preliminary results on Prosblogion and two other websites.
The study is designed and carried out by Helen De Cruz, postdoctoral fellow of the British Academy at the University of Oxford. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact helen.decruz- at – philosophy.ox.ac.uk. To participate, please click here or paste this link in your browser: https://surveys.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_9TFkp1QkxnZkdTL
You are invited to participate in a survey organized by Helen De Cruz and John Schwenkler. The purpose of this study is to explore to what extent you agree with a series of religious (theological) teachings.
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There is an old Soviet joke. A visitor arrives in the Soviet Union and by the airport he sees two workers with shovels. The first digs a hole. Then the second covers up the hole. He asks the workers what they are doing. They say: “The worker who puts the trees in the holes didn’t show up.”
The joke illustrates this fallacy of practical reasoning:
- I have good (very good, excellent, etc.) reason to make p hold.
- A necessary condition for p is q.
- Thus, I have good (very good, excellent, etc.) reason to make q hold.
There is good reason to plant a tree. Digging a hole and filling in a hole are necessary conditions for planting a tree. But that only gives one reason to dig the hole when one expects a tree to be put in, and it only gives one reason to fill in the hole when the tree has been inserted.
One’s reason to make p hold transfers to a similar weight reason to make the necessary condition q hold only when it is sufficiently likely that the other conditions needed for p will come to be in place.
We can call inferences like (3) instances of the Necessary Condition Fallacy.
Now consider this familiar line of thought.
- If God exists, then for each sufficiently epistemically rational person x, God has an overriding reason to bring it about that x enters into a love relationship with him.
- A necessary condition for a sufficiently epistemically rational x‘s entering into a love relationship with God is that x will believe that God exists.
- A necesasry condition for a sufficiently epistemically rational x‘s coming to believe that God exists is x‘s having evidence of God’s existence.
- So, a necessary condition for a sufficiently epistemically rational x‘s entering into a love relationship with God is that x have evidence of God’s existence. (5 and 6)
- So, if God exists, for any sufficiently epistemically rational human x, God has an overriding reason to bring it about that x has evidence of God’s existence. (4 and 7)
- But what God has an overriding reason to do always happens.
- So, if God exists, every sufficiently epistemically rational person has evidence of God’s existence.
- But not every sufficiently epistemically rational person has evidence of God’s existence.
- So God doesn’t exist.
But the derivation of (8) is a clear instance of the Necessary Condition Fallacy.
So the question now is whether there is a way of deriving (8) without making use of this fallacy. If it were the case that
- every sufficiently epistemically rational creature would be very likely to enter into a love relationship with God upon receiving evidence that God exists,
then (8) would have some plausibility. (I say “some”, because I am not sure the overridingness transfers from (4) to (8) given merely a high probability of success in producing a love relationship.) But (13) is not particularly plausible, especialy given that it seems likely that there are people who rationally believe in God but don’t love him. (One thinks here of the line from the Letter of James about demons who know that God exists and tremble—but surely don’t love.)
Objection: Even if God sees that a person is unlikely to enter a relationship with him, why wouldn’t he at least try, by providing the person with evidence of his existence? What does God have to lose here? (This objection is basically due to Heath White.)
(i) It’s generally intrinsically worse when someone who knows about God’s existence doesn’t love God than if someone ignorant of God’s existence doesn’t love God. Moreover, it can be instrumentally worse: when someone who knows about God’s existence doesn’t love God, that bad example can make it harder for others to have a good relationship with God (hypocrisy is harmful). So there is something to be lost by giving someone knowledge that God exists when the person is unlikely to love God.
(ii) It’s likely that there are some cases where the probability of ultimately loving God is higher if instead of revealing himself at t1, God waits until t2 for the person to mature morally and/or psychologically before revealing his existence. For instance, living longer without believing in God might lead the person ultimately to become more firmly convinced that there is no happiness apart from God. And ultimately loving God can be much more important–infinitely more important, if people live forever–than the benefits of the extra love of God between t1 and t2 should God reveal himself earlier. Given eternal life, God has reason to optimize the time at which belief in God starts so as to optimize the chance of ultimately coming to love God.
Granted, one might wonder how widespread cases like (i) and (ii) are. I suspect they’re not very rare. But in any case the argument from hiddenness is supposed to hold that if God existed, then no epistemically virtuous agent could ever lack evidence for God’s existence. And to cut down that claim, all that’s needed is for (i) or (ii) to be logically possible.
Final remark: It could also be that some people if they come to believe and have a relationship of love with God at t1 are more likely to lose that relationship than they would be if they matured more prior to believing and entering into the relationship. One thinks here of Jesus’ parable of the house built on sand.
Associated with Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion are two prize competitions: The Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion (SPPR) and the OSPR Graduate Student Essay Prize (GSEP).
The winning entries for 2014 are:
SPPR Winner: Ross Inman, St. Louis University, “Omnipresence and the Location of the Immaterial”
GSEP: Dustin Crummett, University of Notre Dame, “Sufferer-Centered Requirements on Theodicy and All Things Considered Harms”
Congratulations to both on these well-deserved recognitions!
Trent’s interesting post about evil and hiddenness has reminded me of the following draft that I wrote some time ago:
The problem of evil challenges theism by raising the following question: if God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why is there evil in the actual world? Theists have proposed many responses to the problem, such as the free will response, the soul-making response, the greater good response, and so on. Whether any succeeds has been debated for hundreds of years.
Suppose now, for the sake of argument, that there is a successful theistic response to the problem of evil explaining the reason, call it X, that God has to allow evil. Unfortunately, this does not end the story because the existence of X raises a new question: If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why does He not tell us that X is the reason that He has to allow evil? A state of affairs in which we remain puzzled by not being told by God that X is the reason that He has to allow evil seems to undermine the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Let us call this the ‘second-order problem of evil’.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that there is a successful theistic response to the second-order problem of evil explaining the reason, call it Y, that God cannot tell us that X is the reason that He has to allow evil. Unfortunately, this does not the end the story because the existence of Y raises a new question: If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why does He not tell us that Y is the reason that He cannot tell us that X is the reason that He has to allow evil? A state of affairs in which we remain puzzled by not being told by God that Y is the reason that He cannot tell us that X is the reason that He has to allow evil seems to undermine the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Let us call this the ‘third-order problem of evil’.
And so on, ad infinitum.
What does this observation teach us? First, it teaches us that theists who think that they have found a successful response to the problem of evil should beware of overconfidence; such a response raises new challenges for them. Second, it encourages theists to investigate a link between evil and God’s hiddenness. The only plausible explanation, if there is any, that God does not prevent evil, does not tell us X is the reason that He has to allow evil, does not tell us Y is the reason that He cannot tell us that X is the reason that He has to allow evil, and so on, appears to be that God has to remain hidden from us; that is, God has to avoid any form of interaction with us which suggests His existence. We can see this clearly by showing that the above infinite regress does not arise for the problem of divine hiddenness, despite the fact that the problem of divine hiddenness is structurally parallel to the problem of evil. Suppose that there is a successful theistic response to the problem of divine hiddenness explaining the reason, call it Z, that God has to remain hidden from us. Unlike the case of the problem of evil, the existence of Z does not raise the following second-order question: If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why does He not tell us that Z is the reason that He has to hide Himself? If there is any valid reason that God has to hide himself then He cannot tell us that that is the reason because by telling it to us God would fail to hide Himself from us. This seems to indicate that there is a link between the problem of evil and the problem of divine hiddenness and that theists might be able to stop the infinite regress of the higher-order problems of evil by appealing to God’s hiddenness. Conversely, it might be that the higher-order problems of evil cannot be resolved without first resolving the problem of divine hiddenness.
Thesis 1: The problem of divine hiddenness is, in some reasonable sense, a “deeper” problem than the problem of evil.
Datum 1: If God were vividly present to us, we could suffer almost anything–at least the kinds of things we find on this planet–without (evidential) doubt that God exists (and also with little emotional doubt).
Caveat 1: Datum 1 notwithstanding, one clearly could have some (evidential) doubt that God existed, even if God were vividly present to them throughout the suffering. For one could have a good argument that one were hallucinating whatever experience it was in virtue of which God was present to them. In fact, if one’s prior credences were distributed in certain ways, they coud be nearly certain that they were hallucinating. It is an interesting question whether any reasonable, properly functioning individual could have such credences. I doubt that it could be so in any nearby world. (Emotional doubt (or “psychological” doubt, it you prefer) is often irrational, so it can arise under any circumstances.)
St. Stephen, Protomartyr: So my thesis, taken generically, doesn’t face a serious problem from the Proviso. My focus is on situations pretty similar to the actual world. A core example is that of Stephen. In the Scriptures (Acts 7:54-8:2), as Stephen is being stoned to death (quite unjustly as part of a terrible persecution in which Saul “dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8:4)), he says he see’s Jesus, then a bit later he asks Jesus to receive his spirit in a standard formula of acknowledging imminent death, then finally prays for their forgiveness.
The implication seems clear that the way he accepted his death is importantly related to (inspired and sustained by) his experience of Jesus being present to him (in some kind of vision, in this case). There are other similar stories both of historical martyrs and one’s I’ve heard more closely. Contrast this “peace that passes understanding” with cases where people feel “alone” during suffering and have a kind of irreligious experience (See Gellman 1992 and my enormous MS on the “Common Sense Problem of Evil) that serves as data for an argument for atheism from evil.
Caveat 2: I think that, formally speaking, the problem of divine hiddenness *just is* an instance of the problem of evil (my Routledge Encyclopedia entry on Divine Hiddenness discusses this (it’s behind a pay-wall, sorry but I’ll send it to you if you want). In light of this, I have to modify my thesis slightly (but not substantively).
Revised thesis: The “real” problem of evil *just is* the problem of divine hiddenness.
Action point: For my own part, I will be focusing much more on the reasons God hides (in the sense in which he does, I mean, almost everyone believes in God or at least the supernatural, so there’s actually a problem formulating the problem, which I also plan to work on) than on the reasons why he allows evil in general (confession: how did that ever get to be a “problem”?). I will continue to spend time on special cases like animal suffering (more to say there than appears in _The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small_, I cut three chapters and have had many thoughts sense. But I think of the following two questions
Q1: Why would God allow S to suffer *that*, X [insert horrendous evil]?
Q2: Why wouldn’t God be a present comfort to S as she goes through X?
we have more to learn by pursuing Q2 than by Q1. (Call that Thesis 2.)