The Elusive God, Chapter 3, Sections 1-3
August 3, 2009 — 9:04

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Afterlife Books of Interest Christian Theology  Comments: 8

We return this week to Moser’s book The Elusive God. In these three sections Moser addresses God’s intervening Spirit, the acquaintance with the power of God’s intervening Spirit, and the split between Jerusalem (philosophy) and Athens (theology). While there are a number of places in which I wanted to agree with Moser, I found the arguments scarce, the explanations often confusing, and some of the claims simply repetitive. Perhaps this is because this section marks more of a turn to theology rather than philosophy, but nonetheless I still expected more clarity.
1. Spirit
As we’ve seen to this point, Moser certainly doesn’t think it is sufficient to have propositional knowledge of God. His claim is that a perfectly loving God is going to offer a distinctive kind of purposively available evidence. A kind of evidence that has been widely overlooked by philosophers and theologians. This evidence is that divine self-revelation of God’s imparted Spirit to humans. With the imparting of God’s Spirit, humans receive the power to be transformed towards God’s moral character.
I’m far from an expert on these matters, but from the small sample of theology I’ve read it doesn’t seem to me that the imparting of God’s Spirit and it’s transformative power have been much neglected. Perhaps I’ve just been reading all the right stuff, but I doubt it. Examples like this, and the repeated kicking at natural theology, keep me thinking that I wished Moser would just make the case for his positive argument without trashing the practice of philosophy and theology along with their practitioners.
In any case, Moser makes a number of appeals to the writings of Paul in making the case for how the imparting of God’s Spirit gives us two things, (1) a new noncoercive power that is felt by the recipient and observable by others, and (2) directly self-authenticating firsthand veridical evidence of God’s reality. One thing that get’s confusing is that it often isn’t clear on the first reading who power is supposed to be evidence for. On the one hand we can have knowledge of God’s Spirit via our conscience, but we can also have knowledge via the evidence of new power. Of course both of these are also supposed to serve as evidence for others, at least if the have “eye’s to see”.
I’ve read this section about 15 times and it still isn’t clear to me what the Spirit is supposed to be. I suspect that if one didn’t grow-up Christian, or spend a good deal of time reading theological literature, one could easily get lost or confused about the Spirit. Here are a few candidates for what Moser means when he talks of Spirit:

  1. Spirit = Holy Spirit (i.e. third person of the Trinity)
  2. Spirit = God (e.g. God is Spirit and he’s imparting himself)
  3. Spirit = gift of spirit

Moser could have meant any of these, or he could have meant none. The matter is complicated by his remark that the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but when talked about this way it sounds more like team spirit. I think I want to agree, at least to some extent, on the power of the Spirit. However, I want to make sure that Moser and I are thinking of the same thing, and that simply isn’t clear to me.

2. Acquaintance With Power
Moser points out that one can of course come to know that someone exists, but such knowledge falls far short of what would be desired by a loving God. Moser goes on to point out that for the sake of pleasing a perfectly loving God, propositional knowledge of God’s existence should go along with firsthand filial knowledge of God as Lord and Father. This filial knowledge is supposed to include love toward God, which I take it means that in addition to the first hand evidence we have of God, we should also actively love God. We come to recognize God as an agent, and respond to God as one would agent. All be it an extremely powerful and authoritative agent.
When we stand in this kind of relationship to God, as owned children, the recipients of divine self-revelation, there is a superhuman power imparted to us. This power gives one the ability to do things a “natural man” wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own. Namely the God knower becomes unselfishly loving, or at least she’s on her way to this. This power also yields fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, …. which serve as further evidence to the individual and to those willing to recognize such evidence.
There is an objection in the offing that Moser anticipates. Hey lots of religious groups claim to have a divine intervening spirit. Moser’s response is that we should test such individuals to exclude imposters. Great, but how should we go about testing such persons? Moser’s answer seems to be that if you have willing eyes you’ll be able to discern the difference.
3. Jerusalem and Athens
Moser’s been spending a fair amount of time jumping between philosophy and theology. In this section he attempts to characterize the two and talk about the relationship between the two fields. To call the two Jerusalem and Athens is surely a familiar refrain. Jerusalem represents the seat of Judaism and Christianity, while Athens is the traditional cradle of philosophy. Moser claims that two come together in answering yes to the following three questions:

  1. Do they share intellectual purposes?
  2. Do they share means to achieving their intellectual purposes?
  3. Do they share anything significant at all?

They can both say yes to these because they aim to achieve truth. This aside, they do differ and fear one another Moser claims. I don’t know that they fear one another so much as they find each other mystifying at times.
Moser does some curious characterizing of the roots of philosophy, which includes an odd split with sciences in this section, but I want to set that aside since it doesn’t get to the core of the issue.
What sets philosophy and theology apart is that the former is a wisdom movement while the later is a power movement. As a wisdom movement philosophy aims to provide an explanatory model of human cognitive and moral aims in pursuit of the good life. As a power movement Christianity offered people bodily, moral, and spiritual redemption, but perhaps most importantly it held out the offer of bodily resurrection. Philosophy can’t offer such hope for a lasting life. Absent a strain of strong theism all philosophy can offer to theology is the skeptical challenge, “But how do you know your thoughts of redemption aren’t just wishful thinking?”. Moser thinks theology has a ready response, “Because I know the Giver?” (I suppose God’s a reliable testifier if anyone is.) I think the philosophers will be left cold by such a response and I’d be surprised if philosophers recognized themselves in Moser’s characterization.

  • Adrian Woods

    Jerusalem (philosophy) and Athens (theology)
    You have a typing error. Jerusalem goes with Theology and Athens goes with philosophy. It is from Tertullian. Athens at the time representing Plato and Aristotle.

    August 5, 2009 — 23:50
  • Adrian Woods

    Given the context of Evidence, I am not aware of a lot of Philosophers of Religion making reference to the Holy Spirit – if you could reference some that would be great. I am officially studying Theology so I can speak from that perspective that Pneumatology (in Systematic Theology: the Study of the Holy Spirit) is certainly a neglected inquiry – a simple survey of the major Systematic Theologies are evidence for this. Modern Systematic Theology since Schleiermacher through Barth has certainly been preoccupied with Prolegomena. Even so, I’m not familiar with a Pneumatology being used as Evidence as Moser suggests.
    The philosopher Alva Noe in his new book, Out of Our Heads (MIT) makes a pithy comment in the beginning about there being absolutely no evidence for God. It would seem that sense Hume and Kant and after Schleiermacher made his move to a Feeling of Utter Dependence, Christians have given up on the notion of Evidence for God. Given Moser strong commitment to Evidentialism (see his Knowledge and Evidence), I think Moser raises a good question about the reception of the Holy Spirit as Evidence for God (Note: Moser’s new book, The Evidence for God), and I for one would like to see Prosblogion address it.

    August 6, 2009 — 0:47
  • Adrian Woods

    I’m going to give it a shot. In Knowledge and Evidence Moser Zero’s in on Propositional Evidence. The question for Moser is: What makes P more probable than Q? By way of Contrast, for McDowell the only things that can justify a belief are things within the ‘Space of Reasons’ – that is Conceptual. Moser submits that only non-conceptual content will do here. Why?
    “[O]nly the nonconceptual component of an experience can be an unconditional probability-maker. A non-conceptual experience is relevantly different from a proposition and a propositional attitude since it is not essentially related to a propositional object in need of a probability-maker.” 88, K & E
    Now as I understand him, what justifies P is that P is a better explanation of C than Q, making C an evidential probability-maker for P.
    “Subjective non-conceptual contents, C, are occurrently a minimal unconditional probability-maker for a proposition, P, for a person, S = df. (i) S is presented with C, (ii) P is an explanation of C for S, and (iii) S Has no uncontravened direct of indirect contravening of P’s being an explanation of C.” 106, K&E
    Whatever you think of explanations, is there any reason to prima facie discredit the reception of the Holy Spirit as evidence for S and by extension deny S with knowledge of God? The only thing I can think of is to reject it on account of privatization. But as far as I can tell there are no internalist requiring public access to the awareness which justifies belief.
    I for one am suspect of explanation’s but maybe there is something to the fact that Moser has constrained himself to the justification of Propositions. However it might be that he needs something stronger in response to McDowell and Sellars “Space of Reasons.” Perhaps Moser needs some sort of Causal Theory of Perception as suggested by David Sosa in Perceptual Friction. So what makes P justified is that the properties of C cause the properties of belief [bracket Disjunctivism for the moment].
    On second thought, I’m not sure it much matters, what matters is whether or not some one is going to have a sufficient reason for prima facie rejecting the Holy Spirit as Evidence.

    August 6, 2009 — 9:05
  • Andrew Moon

    Hi Adrian,
    The Holy Spirit plays a huge role in Alvin Plantinga’s view on how Christian beliefs can be warranted. His account is in his well known book Warranted Christian Belief, particularly, chapters 8 and 9. We also discussed this during last summer’s reading group on Plantinga and Tooley’s book Knowledge of God. See here: and the surrounding posts.
    However, since this post is on Moser’s book, I’d rather not have a discussion on Plantinga’s work here. If you are interested in more, let me know, and we can e-mail exchange.
    “Christians have given up on the notion of Evidence for God.”
    This is VERY far from true, and you only need to look at some of the many posts in the last year by Josh Rasmussen and Alex Pruss. Most of Richard Swinburne’s books are devoted to cataloguing the evidence for God’s existence. Maybe the reading list here will help, since you seem to have read mostly theologians, and not many contemporary philosophers of religion.

    August 6, 2009 — 13:54
  • Adrian Woods

    When Michael Rea (philosopher at Notre Damn) says that the Trinity is a neglected subject, he does not mean that in the past 30 years philosophers and theologians have not been writing profusely on the subject, because they have. What he means, and I think he is right, is that in the broader view of history, it is a neglected subject.
    Now, after Hume cleans house on Science and Religion and after Kant starts putting pieces back together again, Schleiermacher steps in with the Feeling of utter dependence. I guess you could make the case that Schleiermacher is making an evidential case for God but I doubt it. I don’t know what you are going to do with Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. Then you have the reign of logical positivism – and this is not to discount the likes of Basil Mitchell and Austin Farrer. Unless you think that philosophy of Religion begins with Plantiga and Alston, it seems we have a case for the neglect of evidence and particularly the neglect of the Holy Spirit as evidence for God.
    All of that is beside the point that Moser is making of the Holy Spirit as Evidence for the existence of God. I further want to add that I think in the backdrop are people like J. L. Schellenberg (Prolegammena to a Philosophy of Religion, Wisdom to Doubt, and Will to Imagine) who also seems to think that there is no evidence for the existence of God – but even more importantly thinks that given God’s ‘Hiddeness’ we have reason to doubt. Note: the title of Moser’s book – The Elusive God – the context is important.

    August 6, 2009 — 15:55
  • Andrew Moon

    oh, Bill Craig’s article is a nice summary of the major arguments for God’s existence and their proponents here: .

    August 6, 2009 — 16:24
  • Matthew Mullins

    Thanks for pointing out the typo! Plenty of people have talked about the roll of Holy Spirit in the non-evidentialist context. e.g. Plantinga, Alston, Wolterstorff, Craig. I think William Abraham has talked about this in evidentialist fashion, and I think C Stephan Evans had a paper on internalism/externalism that touched on the HS. I suspect there are other evidentialist religious epistemologists who have something to say about the HS, but an evidentialist like Dougherty could speak to this better. The HS as evidence is certainly going to play a prominent role for theologians in the charismatic movement, though I don’t think it is restricted to such individuals. That reformed theologians from Schleiermacher to Barth have ignored the HS evidential role wouldn’t surprise me in so much as they are reformed.

    August 6, 2009 — 16:44
  • Critiquing philosophy as not offering eternal life is curious to me, as theology is a discipline and also does not offer eternal life. Both theology and philosophy are about things, and are not the things themselves. I see no obvious reason why both cannot address eternal life in their own ways. (It’s even sloppy to say “Christianity” somehow offers eternal life).
    It seems like much of Moser’s work depends heavily on there being well-demarcated entities called “philosophy,” “theology,” “skeptics,” “spectator evidence,” etc. It’s possible he is too trigger happy regarding these kinds of generalizations. I’m not exactly sure what the generalizations have in common, but there’s something there. I frequently find myself thinking thoughts like:
    1) “But philosophy does deal with X.”
    2) “But theology doesn’t do that.”
    3) “But there are plenty of skeptics who exhibit trait X”
    4) “But no evidence has to be exclusively ‘spectator evidence’.”

    August 8, 2009 — 14:35