[Oops, that wasn’t ready. I published a stub by accident. Here’s the finished post–CL]
I have only the first four sections of the first chapter of Moser’s, The Elusive God, so I think this will be brief as it seems that Moser is setting the stage at this point.
Moser’s religious skeptic is concerned with theistic religious commitment and that skepticism might either take the form of someone who doubts the reality of God or doubts that an affirmation of God’s reality has positive epistemic value (32). Moser thinks that the religious skeptic’s view is not nearly as compelling as some philosophers (including some of my favorites, I’m guessing) would have us believe. He reminds us (rightly) that the religious skeptic cannot be satisfied with showing that some particular individuals lack adequate evidence for believing that God exists as the skeptic wants to show that people in general lack adequate evidence.
In response to the allegation that we all lack adequate evidence for God’s existence and thus ought to doubt the reality of God, Moser does not follow the lead of the fideist in saying that we don’t need evidence for religious commitment but instead wants to say that on the right sort of understanding of “adequate evidence” the skeptic is right to suggest that this is something we need but wrong in thinking that it is not something that can be had.
How should we understand the demand for ‘sufficient’ evidence? Moser suggests that some religious skeptics demand cognitive reproducibility, that we can exert a kind of control over the evidence whereby we can reproduce the evidence again for ourselves or for someone else. This is implausible. He remarks, “Much of the inferred original evidence in cosmology, astrophysics, and geology … is neither under our control nor reproducible by us” (34). He then suggests that the lesson to be drawn from this is that we ought to reject this stricture, “if evidence of God’s reality isn’t reproducible by us, then it isn’t genuine evidence” (34). It’s hard to take issue with this. I doubt there’s anyone who thinks that all evidence must be under our control and reproducible, so unless there’s some reason to think that there’ s something special about evidence for God’s existence, I can’t imagine a religious skeptic making much of this.
Moser also notes that it is inappropriate to demand proof as there are many things believed without proof but believed with adequate evidence (35). The upshot is that even if it can be shown that we can’t prove God’s existence, this does nothing to encourage skepticism. Again, I think there’s no question that Moser is right on this point.
Evidence for God’s existence is, according to Moser, “a truth-indicator for the proposition that an authoritatively and morally perfect agent worthy or worship actually exists” (37). He takes Russell to task for saying that if he met God after his death, he would tell God that he gave us insufficient evidence. Moser’s response:
Insufficient for what? For Russell’s highly questionable expectations of God? … a humbled Russell, unlike the actual Russell, would have asked: “God, what purposes of yours led to your being subtle and elusive in the purposively available evidence of your reality?” It’s astonishing and regrettable too, that Russell … gave no indication of being aware of such a compelling and important question for a rational truth-seeker” (37).
See, I was right! One of my favorite philosophers does come in for some abuse.
Were Russell’s expectations unreasonable? Someone like Russell would say that the existence of Klansmen and fascists have always seemed to me to be precisely the sort of thing we wouldn’t expect to see if God existed. As the details are coming later, there’s not much to say on this point. It seems that Moser thinks that Russell is ignoring something important: he’s neglected the question, ‘If God exists, what parameters for the evidence would God observe?’ (I’m not sure Russell’s ignored it, but maybe he didn’t think sufficiently hard about it.) The kind of evidence we’ll get, suggests Moser, is not the kind of evidence we would prefer but the sort of evidence that God prefers us to have. To determine what sort of evidence a morally perfect being worthy of worship would give us, Moser suggests that we would have to know what such a being would think is in our best interests and what this being intends for this world. That being said, he concedes, “If … we were to face a world of nothing but unrelenting pain and suffering we would have significant evidence against God’s reality. We would then have significant evidence against the reality of a God who truly cares for all humans, and we would have no positive indication of the reality of such a God” (38). He adds, however, “The actual world … is clearly not a world of nothing but unrelenting pain and suffering” (38). Not for me, at least. There’s an interesting question about the scope of Moser’s claims. If we were to face a world including subjects whose lives were pretty much nothing but unrelenting pain and suffering, does Moser concede that this is strong evidence for the non-existence of a God that cares for this subject? Moser is right that the actual world contains its silver linings (e.g., Mother Teresa reaching out to the poor), and that means that this world is not one of unrelenting pain and suffering but it is consistent with there being individual lives that are filled with pain and suffering with little relief. Can the religious skeptic say that the evidential situations of those who live miserable lives strong evidence either for God’s non-existence or God’s lack of concern for some individuals?
Moser clarifies that his discussion will not assume that the God of traditional theism exists of the God of some specific tradition exists, but he will hope to show that we have pretty much what we’d expect to have in terms of evidence if in fact a morally perfect God exists. It is then that we can ask whether our evidence actually points in favor of God. The advantage of such a project seems to be that we can ask whether our evidential situation is the evidential situation we would expect if there were a Jewish or Christian God that comes to us with authoritative evidence, “evidence demanding that we yield our wills to the divine source of the evidence in question” (47). Arguments for religious skepticism that assume that we will receive spectator’s evidence (i.e., evidence that we can receive without bending our wills to the will of the source of the evidence) are the sorts of arguments that Moser will argue are unconvincing even if they show convincingly that there is little evidence for some sort of God that would do little to challenge us. The kind of evidence we would expect to have on the hypothesis that the Jewish or Christian God exists is not necessarily the sort of evidence that we could gather simply by investigating nature (48). Moser is skeptical that we can, by means of our own resources, come upon sufficient evidence for God’s existence. I guess I have a vague concern about this. If God doesn’t provide adequate spectator evidence but might be concerned to provide adequate authoritative evidence, those with flawed characters (Russell? Me?) will likely never receive evidence that could rationalize a commitment to the God of Judaism or Christianity. Is this a tragic situation? Is the loss suffered by those who can’t come to know God (in some sense of ‘can’t’) proportional to the failings of character that prevent them from (allegedly) coming to know God to exist? It seems that a morally perfect being would not want these sorts of tragic situations to arise (i.e., for the degree of loss to be highly disproportional when we take account of the subject’s vice or irresponsible conduct), but if that’s right, then why should we expect there to be a huge gap between authoritative evidence and spectator’s evidence since it seems on its face that relatively minor sins can leave someone in the position of a rational agnostic.
There’s not much I can say at this point. The project is really interesting, Moser’s points thus far seem perfectly correct, so I can’t wait to see how this all plays out in the chapters to come.