The Elusive God, Chapter 1, Sections 5-8
June 29, 2009 — 20:19

Author: Robert Gressis  Category: Books of Interest Existence of God  Comments: 16

First, thanks to Matthew Mullins and the other Prosblogion contributors for setting up and participating in this online book club. The second part of Moser’s equivocally named chapter 1 (“Doubting Skeptics”, where “Doubting” refers both to skeptics’ doubting of God’s reality and Moser’s doubting of skeptics’ having discharged their epistemic obligations) consists of four sections: “5. Volitional Knowing”; “6. Skeptical Tests”; “7. Trust and Distrust”; and “8. Voice Lessons”. Since each of these sections is part of chapter 1, I shall also refer to them as “1.5”, “1.6”, etc. Anyway, below the fold are my summaries and critiques of §§1.5-1.8.

1.5. Volitional Knowing

The goal of “Volitional Knowing” is to explicate “volitionalism”, the
view that the human will is an avenue through which we can have
“conclusive evidence and knowledge of God’s reality” (59-60). Moser
contrasts volitionalism to pure rationalism, which claims that “human
reason is the source of knowledge of God’s reality”, and pure empiricism, which holds that “human (sensory or perceptual) experience is the source of knowledge of God’s reality” (59-60, Moser’s italics). (I assume that Moser holds to volitionalism, not pure volitionalism–that is, he thinks that the will is part of the way we come to know God, but so too are human reason and sensory experience.)

The problem with pure rationalism/empiricism is that both aver that
the only evidence regarding God’s existence and nature is “spectator
evidence”, which is (generally) publicly available and
non-challenging–in coming to know something via spectator evidence,
you can analyze it, discuss it, and just, well, look at it, all from a
safe distance. If pure rationalism/empiricism were true, then the only
way to come to know God would be natural theology, testimony, and
religious experience (the kind where you can just sit back and let it
wash over you, I suppose). None of these ways of coming to know about
God challenges us.

By contrast, on the volitionalist model, God provides us with
perfectly authoritative evidence–“evidence demanding that we yield our
wills to (the will of) the divine source of the evidence in question”
(46). God wants to provide us with authoritative rather than spectator
evidence because His ultimate goal is for us to come to live with Him
in loving fellowship; and the way to reach that is to noncoercively
have us come to know Him in a way that changes our wills for the
better. (If God coerced us into fellowship, not only would it not be
true fellowship, but it would depersonalize us (57).)

Why doesn’t God use both authoritative and spectator
evidence to move us to come to know Him? Because having spectator
evidence could actually interfere with God’s goals of having us come to
be in loving fellowship with Him: “Spectator evidence of God’s reality
would … allow for volitionally casual access to God, with no demand
on our wills relative to God’s will to call us to repentance and
divine-human fellowship. It would thereby neglect God’s
exalted status as perfectly and thus supremely authoritative for us in
terms of the direction of our wills
” (56, boldfacing in all
passages from Moser is my own). If I understand Moser correctly, he’s
arguing that spectator evidence for God’s existence, at least to
unredeemed creatures like most of us, would make us think of God in
non-authoritative terms–thinking of God as a being whose existence is
to be proved by allegedly neutral considerations could tempt us into
thinking of God as just one being among others, rather than a being
that is supposed to be authoritative over us. (Even if you had an
ontological argument that proved to your satisfaction that God is the
greatest conceivable being, such an argument would not of necessity
challenge your volitions in the same way an authoritative call
would–you could easily accept such an argument while still sinning in
the same ways you did before encountering the argument.)

One worry for this claim is that devils, if they exist, presumably
believe in God’s existence without being redeemed by Him. That is, they
have spectator evidence for God’s existence without accepting
authoritative evidence from Him.

Perhaps devils, though, are unredeemable, in which case neither
authoritative nor spectator evidence will get them to endorse God as
authoritative over them. Thus, allowing them spectator evidence will
not interfere with God’s goal of recruiting them into fellowship with
Him. Moreover, if retributivism is right, then devils’ having constant
reminders of the existence of a being sovereign over them might be part
of their punishment.

A second worry for this claim has to do with people in the past. As
legend has it, our more primitive ancestors believed in God (along with
countless other spirits) as much as any of us believe in unobservable
but mathematically robust scientific entities. Why did so many of them
have these beliefs? The worry is that they had lots of spectator
evidence for God’s existence, which would run counter to Moser’s thesis
that God isn’t interested in providing such evidence to people who
haven’t started to be significantly volitionally changed.

Perhaps, though, a lot more of them than us accepted purposively intended authoritative evidence, and so a lot more of them were
volitionally better than we. Alternatively, maybe what they believed in
was not God, but a false God–say, spirits much more like them than
like God, or the God of the philosophers. What about a third
possibility, though–they thought they had spectator evidence of the
same kind of God that Moser thinks exists and that skeptics should
believe in, and they believed in God because of that alleged evidence,
but it turns out they really didn’t have it. In such a case, we should
ask: what conditions made them think they had such spectator evidence,
and are such conditions compatible with what a loving God would permit,
given that spectator evidence can harm God’s goals for us?

1.6. Skeptical Tests


“Volitional Knowing” explains why we should think that our receiving
evidence of God’s existence would depend on the disposition of our
wills. “Skeptical Tests” explains how to test whether this putative
evidence is reliable, i.e., why we should treat it as evidence to begin
with.

Moser plausibly claims that we shouldn’t endorse cognitive norms
that make evidence of a worship-worthy God inadmissible simply because
it isn’t spectator evidence. So, tests that rely on the principle that,
say, the only things that we can justifiably say exist are things that
are publicly observable by means of our senses are illegitimate.

So what tests are admissible? Moser lists two. First, there
are tests based on a baseline set of expectations about God’s
character, namely, that anything that fits the title, “God”, is worthy
of worship. Thus, you can be sure that, if “a call promotes hate toward
people, it isn’t from a perfectly loving God” (65).

This first test raises some questions. First, what role does
interpretation play? Can’t it happen that I misinterpret a call of God
into thinking He is promoting hate, when really there is something in
me that disposes me to interpret it that way? And if so, is Moser OK
with this possibility? If he’s not, then perhaps he can say that to be
able to receive a call from God you have to be volitionally changed in
such a way that you aren’t tempted to promote hate while thinking that
you are obeying God’s call.

Second, how can we be sure what is and isn’t in God’s character? The
Bible includes many passages that some see as hateful and that others
see as evidence that our culture is now morally corrupt. And Moser
himself writes, “humans, with their very limited cognitive and moral
resources, would be in no position to serve as reliable judges over a
perfectly loving God” (60).

Let’s get to the second test. This is a test of us. Moser lists four conditions that we need to meet before we can dismiss a purported revelation of God as illusory:

(1) Are we willing to receive a perfectly
loving God’s authoritative call to us for what it is intended to be,
including a challenging call for enemy-love and enemy-forgiveness? (2)
Are we willing to engage in the attentive discernment
integral to receiving with due care and respect a perfectly loving
God’s authoritative call? (3) Having received God’s authoritative call
for what it is intended to be, are we willing to be correctively judged and then remade by the power of a perfectly loving God’s unselfish love? (4) Are we willing
to let a perfectly loving God be God even in our own lives, that is,
the Lord whose will is perfectly authoritative and supreme for us
regarding our own attitudes, actions, and lives? (65-66)

If I’m not mistaken, Moser reasons like this: you can be a skeptic
about God’s existence, but in order to do so in good cognitive
standing, you have to meet a few demands: in a nutshell, you have to
seek out God, not in the hopes of disproving Him, but in the hopes of
serving Him. If you seek but do not find, then you can legitimately be
a skeptic about God’s existence. How, though, can you be sure that you
were ever really
willing to serve God? And if you are seek and don’t find, then does
that undercut my evidence for God if I seek and do find? And how should
a person who has no evidence but who has not sought react to you?

Those are the two tests of the reliability of authoritative
evidence. But it is worth saying something about what it is like to
receive authoritative evidence. “One’s firsthand experience of what is
evidently God’s authoritative call … would be experiential
acquaintance, involving attention-attraction, with what is evidently
God’s authoritative call on a person’s life, via that person’s
conscience” (65). Authoritative evidence appears to a person to be
evidence of a kind of reality that makes demands on you to improve your
behavior; it is not surprising, then, that this evidence should appear
to you as a tug on your conscience to do something you think of as
right and as so far left undone by you.

The worry, though, is that Moser doesn’t distinguish evidence of God‘s
making a call on you from your own highest values making a call on you.
Take a look at Moser’s description of a concrete example of God’s
calling you:

I have, let’s assume, a hard time loving my enemies, especially those I have to face directly in my life.
In the imagined case … I have no indication either that I am calling myself to repent or that I even want
to repent; nor do I have any indication that the call to repentance is
coming either from my own history or from some other merely human or
worldly source. … In addition, I evidently am in a volitional
interaction, an experienced give-and-take of wills, where my will is
being challenged repeatedly by a morally superior will that calls for
perfect love even for one’s (including my) enemies. (69)

Now, Moser says that God’s pulling on your attention does not feel to
you either as a call by you to yourself to repent or as a desire to
repent. Does my conscience confronting me with my failure to live up to
my obligations, or imploring me to read the Bible, especially when I
don’t want to think about or do either of these things, count as God
calling me? If not, then I can’t think of what it would be–does it
feel like being taken over by an alien force? If so, I’m skeptical that
I’ve ever experienced, even in a glimmering way, being moved to do
something by an alien force that is clearly not part of me. So I think
Moser must mean what Kant would call “the moral law within me” (note
that Kant, who I see as operating in the Pascalian tradition Moser
commends, said we must always experience our moral obligations as
divine commands, so I don’t think I’m putting an obviously
absurd view into Moser’s mouth here). If that’s true, though, why think
of this as a command by God instead of a person’s confronting herself
with her own highest values? (This has always confused me about Kant as
well, I should note.)

Moser addresses this question, or some close variant: “Is there
really a divine agent who calls one to repentance and fellowship, or,
alternatively, is the call in question illusory?” (67) Moser’s answer
is that “if I have no indication whatever that ‘some buried element of
[my] own early life’ is now generating my religious experience, I’ll
lack evidence that the experience is illusory on that basis
regarding divine reality, even if the experience is illusory. … In
the absence of any indication of an illusory experience, I can’t
justifiably infer that my experience is illusory.” (68) In response to
this, I should note that most of Moser’s readers have grown up in a
Christian, or a post-Christian, culture with the concept of a divine
call. Moreover, many of us have read parts/all of the Bible and/or been
exposed to it in various contexts. Given these facts, how could you
ever conclude that those facts aren’t responsible for your experience
of a divine call, especially if that divine call felt the same as your
experience of being confronted in your conscience by your moral
obligations? (One way would be to grow up in an atheistic culture that
doesn’t even worry about a God to the point that it has to deny Him,
and yet still to feel a divine call. But obviously few of us are in
this position.)

However the above is resolved, one of the upshots of Moser’s
discussion of authoritative evidence is that non-propositional evidence
of God’s existence is foundational, and the way people would come to
know a worship-worthy God. Consequently, people don’t need an argument
to have justified belief in God; they can simply rely on the
authoritative evidence they have, though that foundational evidence can
be supplemented by abductive arguments for God’s existence (see 64 for
more on this).

1.7. Trust and Distrust


1.5 forwarded the claim that evidence of God can come to us only if our
wills are open to it; 1.6 described a test we can use to determine the
authenticity of any purported revelation from God (i.e., is it
compatible with what a worship-worthy being would want?), as well as
tests we need to apply to ourselves before we can legitimately claim
that there is no evidence for God’s existence. 1.7 appears to begin, at
least for argument’s sake, from the position that we have authoritative
evidence of God’s existence and moves to the point of asking about the
attitude we’re supposed to have to the being for whose existence we
have authoritative evidence. Moser concludes that we’re supposed to
have an attitude of trust towards God.

What are we supposed to trust God with, though? “God, if real, could be trusted for what God has actually promised,
in keeping, of course, with God’s perfectly loving character” (71). And
what has God promised? According to Jews and Christians, he has
promised “to remain forever in fellowship with God’s human children who
are willing to be in such fellowship as God frees them deadly idols by
bringing them into volitional conformity with God’s self-giving
crucified and resurrected human Son, Jesus” (71).

I have two questions about this: first, how are we supposed to
establish that Christian and Jewish takes on what God has promised are
the ones we’re supposed to believe? Second, why do we have to trust God
only for what He has actually promised? Couldn’t I conclude,
based on God’s character, that he would ensure x, y, and z and so trust
Him to provide x, y, and z? Moser thinks not, on the basis that God is
not a divine vending machine set up to satisfy our fleeting desires–if
He did so, that wouldn’t move us into a loving fellowship with Him
where we are ready to yield our will to His. But this just raises my
earlier question: how can Moser be so sure that a perfectly good being
would be enemy-loving and -forgiving, but not that such a being could
be counted on to provide x, y, and z?

At any rate, our trust in God should have two features: it should be
“purposively ultimate” and “cognitively ultimate”. Here’s what Moser
says about purposively ultimate trust: “Purposively ultimate trust in God would be trust in God, but wouldn’t be merely a means to another end. … It would be trust in God as an end in itself, for its own sacred value owing to God’s sacred value. Such trust would exclude trusting in God solely
as a means to another end, and accordingly would give God the honor
worthy of God inherently in the area of human trust” (74). I don’t know
what this means. My guess is, it means that we should foster an
attitude of trust in God, not because such an attitude gets us
anything, but because that attitude is good in itself. I suspect it’s
supposed to be seen as good in itself because it displays the attitude
appropriate to a worship-worthy being.

I think we have cognitively ultimate trust in God when our belief in
God is based on acquaintance with Him rather than on arguments for His
existence (see 74-75). We should have such trust, I take it, because
this is the way in which God wants us to first come to know Him, and
moreover having such trust transforms our wills in the direction of
God’s.

1.8. Voice Lessons


“Voice Lessons” appears to be about how to recognize God’s call. Moser
says that, since God is loving, the call would be for us to repent of
our selfish ways and to join in fellowship with Him. Also, since God is
perfectly authoritative, the call would be one that would appear to a
person (barring some cognitive defect) as having authority to her will.

Since this is the nature of God’s call, it will be unpleasant for those of us not
in fellowship with God, for those of us not in fellowship with God will
ultimately privilege their own desires over God’s. Consequently, many
people will claim not to have heard God’s call, not because they didn’t
hear it, but because it was unpleasant for them; so they wrote it off
as coming from somewhere else (77-78).

Moser deals with an important objection in this section: aren’t
people who receive authoritative evidence of God biased in favor of
theism? After all, they take the question of God’s existence seriously,
they have to seek out God, and finally, they must be willing to obey
Him should they find Him. The worry is that such people invent, rather
than receive, evidence of God’s existence.

Moser replies, “skeptics in question would need to argue that
willingness to submit to God’s will yields a tendency to fabricate
evidence of divine reality in the absence of such evidence. [However,
r]eligious frauds are typically unwilling to submit to a
perfectly loving God’s will. They characteristically put themselves
first, and their god … becomes just a means to their own selfish
ends” (80). This is true, but it seems misdirected. The worry is not
that people who find evidence of God’s call are liars, but
are self-deceived, or wishful thinkers. The real question is: is a
tendency to fabricate evidence of divine reality incompatible with the
tendency to submit one’s will to that of a perfect being’s? The answer
to this doesn’t seem obvious to me.

Concluding Summary

Since this is a long post with a lot of criticisms, I think it will be helpful to lay all the criticisms out:

Diabolical Question: Do devils have spectator evidence of God even though their wills are irredeemably bad?

Primitive Peoples’ Question: Since people in the past more
likely to believe in God than we are today, does this mean they were
better people, or had more spectator evidence, than we do, or were they
not in fact more likely to believe in God than we are today?

Interpretation Question: How susceptible is God’s call to our own interpretation of it?

God’s Character Question: Given our meager cognitive and moral resources, how can we be sure what is and isn’t in God’s character?

Trustworthy Seeker Question: If you fail to have authoritative evidence of God, can you ever be sure that you really looked for it?

Phenomenological Question: What’s the phenomenological
difference between God’s calling you and your being confronted by your
own conscience with your inadequacies?

Bible Question: What is the basis for believing Jews’ and Christians’ claims about what God has actually promised?

Promise Question: Why should we trust God only for what He
has actually promised rather than for what we conclude a worship-worthy
being would do?

Wishful Thinker Question: Is a tendency to fabricate
evidence of divine reality incompatible with the tendency to submit
one’s will to that of a perfect being’s?

Comments:
  • I have not actually acquired this volume, but I did read as much as I could at Cambridge University Press, Amazon, and Google Books. I also went through all of the papers that Moser has posted at his website (http://www.luc.edu/faculty/pmoser/idolanon/relWrit.shtml#mose), which together cover a lot of the same ground.
    Perhaps I missed something, but I was not under the impression that Moser denies any and all “spectator evidence” of God’s existence. I took his position to be more along the lines that it is insufficient by itself, and therefore should not be sought to the exclusion of “authoritative evidence”.
    Moser’s discussion of “spectator evidence” as the outcome of both empiricism and rationalism brought to my mind Bernard Lonergan’s contention that these philosophical systems both make the mistake of viewing knowledge as the result of merely “taking a look”. Of course, Moser then goes in a rather different direction from Lonergan, who advocated critical realism as the result of attentive experience, intelligent understanding, and reasonable judgment.
    Moser’s approach has been insightful for me in dealing with atheist and agnostic arguments from divine hiddenness. Some claim that their own nonbelief is proof that an all-loving God does not exist. Others more modestly argue that if God does exist, he simply must not care enough about whether they believe to give them the evidence that he knows would convince them. One person even went so far as to suggest that the consequences of nonbelief must be minimal, because an all-loving God would not punish an honest mistake that he was capable of overcoming.

    June 29, 2009 — 22:16
  • Robert Gressis

    Thanks for your comments, aletheist. I don’t think Moser “denies any and all ‘spectator evidence’ of God’s existence.” I think rather that his view is something like this: We start with authoritative evidence of God’s existence, experienced through a call in our consciences. Then, the more we listen to this call, the more we can see nature and ourselves qua God’s handiwork. That’s just a guess, though; there are passages that suggest that there is positively no spectator evidence of God’s existence, to wit: “As suggested above, we can’t give spectator evidence of divine reality (free of a volitional challenge) to any other humans” (72).

    June 30, 2009 — 0:51
  • I am not sure that Moser would say that we start with authoritative evidence. Here is a quote from his booklet, Why Isn’t God More Obvious?, which is posted on his website.
    “Proper knowledge of the Hebraic God is inherently ethical and practical rather than simply reflective. Spectators complaining from the far bleachers may in fact remain out in the bleachers, by their own self-isolating choice. Knowing God requires one’s apprehending a call to come in from the remote bleachers and gratefully join God’s plan of gracious salvation. This plan is no mere intellectual puzzle for philosophers or theologians. God is more serious than our mental gymnastics, for our own good.”
    So, anyone can observe and evaluate the spectator evidence, but if that is all that we do, we will maintain a “safe” distance from God. His desire, by contrast, is to draw us into a personal (Moser says “filial”) relationship, which requires voluntary participation on our part. This is not “safe”, because it inevitably requires volitional transformation; but for that very reason, it is “saving”.

    June 30, 2009 — 9:43
  • Matthew Mullins

    One thing I’ve been worrying about is whether there is a tension between what Moser calls perfectly authoritative evidence and the demand that our knowledge of God be non-coercive.
    I take it that as a matter of God’s goodness and justness, he wouldn’t coerce us into a relationship with him. One line of response to the problem of divine hiddenness is that God doesn’t fully reveal himself because such a revealing would compel belief/recognition/worship. If one grants that God does choose to keep himself hidden, then it would be odd that when God does choose to make himself known it would be in a fashion that compels belief/recognition/worship. Nonetheless, when Moser talks of “evidence demanding that we yield our wills” that sounds mighty coercive.

    July 1, 2009 — 14:42
  • Matthew Mullins

    Aletheist
    I’m in some way reminded of PvI’s line from his autobiographical Quam Dilecta.
    Of course, PvI goes on to talk about what it was the brought about those beliefs. The thing that interests me is that what brought PvI to this point, that is the point of being able to receive private evidence, was the spectator evidence. PvI’s story is far from unique. I’m sure we probably all know someone who could tell a similar story. So, if Rob’s reading of Moser is correct, then it seems like the order of priority is reversed.
    We can then distinguish two things, knowledge of God and knowing God. Spectator evidence will get you the former, while private authoritative evidence gets you the later. I wouldn’t want to claim that spectator evidence is necessary, but I wouldn’t want to dispense with it either.

    July 1, 2009 — 15:08
  • Matthew:
    I think that the evidence can be “authoritative” and “demanding” without necessarily being coercive. Consider the stereotypically tough boss; his browbeaten underlings always have the option to quit. Human laws are certainly authoritative, and often demanding, but I can still disobey them; there just will likely be unpleasant consequences–as is the case for those who reject God’s call.
    Your last paragraph is right on the money–propositional knowledge (from spectator evidence) vs. personal knowledge (from authoritative evidence). I find it highly unfortunate that English does not have different words for these two concepts, like German (wissen vs. kennen) and Spanish (saber vs. conocer).

    July 1, 2009 — 22:39
  • Andrew Moon

    Robert,
    First off, I want to say what hasn’t been said yet; I think that you presented in your opening post a very good summary and discussion of your sections of Moser’s book. I bet it took a lot of time and effort, and it sets a high bar for other contributors (which I may not be able to meet because of certain time constraints!).
    Nobody’s really responded to your questions, but I don’t think it’s because they’re not interesting. (Perhaps others, like me, are behind the reading schedule!) Here, I’ll engage some of them. Since I’m limited on time, I may have not properly probed your post; my responses might therefore reveal that I didn’t read some part of it carefully enough. Just point me to the relevant sections if necessary.
    Trustworthy Seeker Question: If you fail to have authoritative evidence of God, can you ever be sure that you really looked for it?
    Like any question about one’s motives for ANYTHING, it’s hard to know. But we can test our behavior: have we genuinely prayed regularly for God’s presence in our lives, have we engaged in church (or synagogue or whatever) activities, have we begun to act out the things we believe that God would want her to do (perhaps a change in lifestyle which includes sacrificing money to help the poor, or perhaps different sexual activities, etc?). These would go a ways toward being sure; I know this doesn’t totally answer the question.
    Phenomenological Question: What’s the phenomenological difference between God’s calling you and your being confronted by your own conscience with your inadequacies?
    Here’s my take. It seemed like Moser was saying that, in the beginning, we just feel our conscience calling us, and then we begin to sense an interpersonal relationship by way of interaction with divine reality.
    Perhaps the phenomenological difference is that, in the beginning, it doesn’t seem to us that someone is on the other side of the call, and as time persists, it does seem to us that we are responding to the call of someone else. Actually, the latter is how it is to me, when it seems to me that God wants me to do something.
    Promise Question: Why should we trust God only for what He has actually promised rather than for what we conclude a worship-worthy being would do?
    Did Moser say “only”? I don’t remember him restricting God to his promises?

    July 2, 2009 — 10:16
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Aletheist,
    You wrote, “So, anyone can observe and evaluate the spectator evidence, but if that is all that we do, we will maintain a ‘safe’ distance from God. His desire, by contrast, is to draw us into a personal (Moser says ‘filial’) relationship, which requires voluntary participation on our part.”
    This is certainly a plausible reading of what Moser wrote, but first, there is still the messy matter of the quote I gave above, in my first comment in this thread, where Moser seems really to suggest that God wouldn’t give us spectator evidence, at least not any that we could access without first getting into a personal relationship with Him. Second, while your reading is one plausible reading, I don’t think it’s the only one. Just because people are sitting in the bleachers watching the game doesn’t mean they have spectator evidence of God. It could instead just reflect their attitude to the game (where “the game” is seeking God); they think, “eh, I’ll let Him find me.”

    July 2, 2009 — 22:15
  • Robert Gressis

    Matthew wrote, “If one grants that God does choose to keep himself hidden, then it would be odd that when God does choose to make himself known it would be in a fashion that compels belief/recognition/worship. Nonetheless, when Moser talks of “evidence demanding that we yield our wills” that sounds mighty coercive.”
    Even if God does reveal Himself in a way that demands consent, I take it that “demands” in this case refers to what appears to the human being to be how he is supposed to respond to the evidence God gives him. That is, the human receives evidence where it is written on the evidence (so to speak) that one assent to it. I think this is more or less what Aletheist says.
    Second, even if it is coercive, that might not pose a problem for Moser’s view–it could be that God gives coercive evidence only when the human has changed his character enough that he is permanently committed anyway.

    July 2, 2009 — 22:19
  • Robert Gressis

    Andrew,
    Thanks for your kind words on my post. It did indeed take a lot of work.
    Second, your answer to the Trustworthy Seeker Question is the same as the one I would give. This then brings up the interesting question: what if someone S goes through all the motions, and seems, to him and to us, that he genuinely wants to know God, but doesn’t find Him? If we think we have found God, does that give _us_ any disconfirming evidence? Moser thinks not, but I wasn’t that convinced by his answer. Here’s what he says:
    “Even if a person were to lack conclusive evidence for God’s reality, this person would have no ready way to generalize to the truth of skepticism about God for people in general. Salient undefeated evidence of God’s reality possessed by nonskeptics wouldn’t be challenged at all by there being an individual (or even a group) lacking such evidence (as long as the evidence is purposively available to the latter). More specifically, the fact that one person lacks a religious experience doesn’t challenge (the veracity of) the religious experience had by others. It seems just desperate or cognitively confused to suggest otherwise, and this would signal cognitive weakness that hinders good judgment.” (81, italics Moser’s, boldfacing mine)
    I’m certainly not saying that if a skeptic seeks and doesn’t find, then all Christians should give up their Christianity. However, I think it’s too strong to say it poses no challenge at all to Christians. If God wants us to be transformed into nonselfish people, and someone desperately wants to be such a person, and so tries to listen for the call in himself, and we and he have no reason to think he’s confabulating, then I think this gives us some disconfirming evidence of God’s existence, for the simple reason that it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose of God’s to hide from this person, especially if this person tries for something like ten or twenty years to become a Christian or Jew before, after much work, declaring himself for skepticism. Obviously, it may be cognitively arrogant of me to suggest that–what do I know of God’s purposes, after all?–but I think we want to avoid this reply to some degree, because then it undercuts our confidence in claiming what a worship-worthy being would do at all.

    July 2, 2009 — 22:33
  • Robert Gressis

    Andrew asked:
    “Promise Question: Why should we trust God only for what He has actually promised rather than for what we conclude a worship-worthy being would do?
    Did Moser say ‘only’? I don’t remember him restricting God to his promises?”
    I don’t think Moser said “only.” I attributed this view to him on the basis of the fact that after asking what we should trust God for, Moser said, basically, “for what God has actually promised.” It’s compatible with this that we should also trust God for what He hasn’t promised, but the implication is that this is not the case.

    July 2, 2009 — 22:58
  • David Slakter

    As an answer to the Primitive Peoples’ Question, one could say that they were not more likely to believe because they had more spectator evidence, but because they had fewer defeaters for their belief. I would take the hypothesis that they were better people to be a non-starter, but I wouldn’t expect universal agreement on that score.

    July 3, 2009 — 8:49
  • Robert Gressis

    I worry that, if spectator evidence is actually bad for you–and I’m not yet positive that Moser thinks that, though there seems to be substantial evidence for attributing that view to him–then having undefeated spectator evidence for the existence of God or gods amounts to being in a worse situation than we are, who have all these ways to defeat or undercut at least some theistic explanations of things. I don’t know if that’s something to worry about or not.
    Still, perhaps they weren’t in a worse situation overall because (a) they were more open than many of us to the possibility that God was calling them; and (b) there may be other challenges to faith in the Christian/Jewish God that we in the industrialized world have to deal with that they didn’t (e.g., more kinds of competitions that make people feel great pride in their ability to master their environments; more material possessions that make us feel as though we don’t need any outside help, etc.).

    July 3, 2009 — 11:37
  • Trent Dougherty

    re: SPECTATOR EVIDENCE vs. AUTHORITATIVE EVIDENCE
    I’m not sure there’s any natural distinction here, but I think the points he seems to want to get across are similar to the ones Swinburne makes in the Appendix to _Faith and Reason_. There he notes the importance of DESIRE for the practical implications of evidence. I think this can help explicate phrases like the following appositive to “authoritative evidence.”
    “evidence demanding that we yield our wills to (the will of) the divine source of the evidence in question” (46)
    What does it mean for *evidence* to *demand* that something be done? I understand something of how a doxastic attitude is demanded by evidnece in that a certain doxastic attitude might be the only one which fits one’s evidence. Maybe in this sense evidence can demand a verdict (Josh McDowell joke there.) However, it doesn’t seem to make sense that evidence by itself can, say, demand that I sweep the kitchen or perform some other act.
    However, in the presence of a standing desire such actions can be demanded by the evidence in terms of practical rationality. If I have a standing desire to eat the healthiest food I can, then strong evidence that biscuits and gravy are the healthiest food ever (one can dream), then the evidence would demand that I eat biscuits and gravy. But of course that would really be a kind of synecdoche. For it would really be practical rationality making the “demand” with the evidence and the desire working hand in glove. So I think all evidence is spectator evidence, all propositional/phenomenal, but that certain *questions* are more “personal” than others. I think that’s a better way to think about it than to bifurcate the notion of evidence itself.
    I think Swinburne is more clear about this distinction than Moser, though I think Moser wants to say some similar things about how the conative primes the cognitive here. This leads me to reiterate a question asked on the last string: What good is evidence for those who wouldn’t love God? Here’s one think I think Enlightenment era evangelists had right: sometimes Deism is further from Christianity than atheism (I think they would have like slogans such as Deism Dilutes Divinity or Deism Derails Devotion (speaking of such slogans: Open Theism: Defining Deity Down)).
    The point is that it seems to me that there’s something good about setting things up to where evidence only comes to those who seek–a huge theme in Sacred Scripture–and that seems to be at the core of Moser’s point. None of this, however, requires anything other than the ordinary (internalist) notion of evidence and justification.

    July 3, 2009 — 14:32
  • Trent Dougherty

    I’d just also like to point out that all Rob’s good questions are questions that could be asked about the evidential situation regarding, say, a personally or politically loaded issue in science, like evolution or racial things or feminism or whatnot. There’s nothing about what Moser is saying that is tied to the fact that his is a theological subject. That makes it personal and very (very) important, but that’s a practical matter, not a subject-based one.
    Consider these variants:
    Diabolical Question: Do devils have spectator evidence of God even though their wills are irredeemably bad?
    Creationist Question: Substitute “Evolution” for “God” (for the Dawkinses of the world you don’t even have to make a substitution of “devils”!).
    Interpretation Question: How susceptible is God’s call to our own interpretation of it?
    Substitute “the intentions of the Framers” for “God’s call.”
    Phenomenological Question: What’s the phenomenological difference between God’s calling you and your being confronted by your own conscience with your inadequacies?
    Phenomenological* Question: What’s the phenomenological difference between your being confronted by your own conscience with your inadequacies and being the subject of a guilt trip by puritanical parents?
    Promise Question: Why should we trust God only for what He has actually promised rather than for what we conclude a worship-worthy being would do?
    Substitute “our parents” for “God” and “wise and good people” for “worship-worthy being”.
    None of these *kinds* of questions is unique to God. His being infinite makes them harder, but that puts us in the realm of analogy, not metaphor (See Swinburne’s _Revelation_).

    July 3, 2009 — 14:44
  • Matthew Mullins

    Trent,
    The spectator/authoritative distinction doesn’t strike you as being something like the distinction between knowledge by description verses knowledge by acquaintance? The former kind of knowledge can be held in the abstract, perhaps even ignored, but the later places certain intimate demands on an individual. I can look-up all kinds of information about sailing Cape Horn–read books, talk to sailors, etc–evidence which would give me some knowledge about what sailing Cape Horn is like. However, actually sailing Cape Horn is going to give me evidence that (a) can’t be easily ignored and (b) makes certain demands on me–not the least of which is to pay attention. Evidence that we experienced in such a direct way makes certain demands on us that second hand evidence may not, and this is independent of any desire on our part. If I wake up to an elephant in my room, there is little I can do to ignore the evidence I’ve been presented with, and this evidence would typically swamp any desire on my part to have, say, a tranquil morning.
    What good is evidence for those who wouldn’t love God? Isn’t there a justice response here? Having been presented with the evidence the individual at least had a fair shake at coming to love God. That the person chooses to ignore the evidence, turn away from the evidence, or what have you, still leaves the person guilty of having turned their back on God. While it’s clear to me that scripture talks of evidence coming to those that seek, it isn’t clear to me that it comes only to those who seek. However, as a textual question we may want to take this one offline.

    July 3, 2009 — 23:57