God’s Existence and My Suspicion: Delusions of Knowledge
July 12, 2013 — 10:02

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Existence of God Religious Belief  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 72

(I thought some Prosblogion folks may find this essay interesting, because it touches on and connects with several interesting philosophical and metaphilosophical issues, and also some interesting issues about the role of faith in the religious life. I don’t mention faith in the essay: that’s one of the “connected” issues that isn’t actually touched on. But it’s interesting to me to see how some theists can be very disturbed at the suggestion that they don’t know that God exists, while others shrug it off with some thought along the lines of “Well, that’s what faith is for.”)

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I know many people who claim to know whether God exists. In each case (individually), I suspect they’re wrong about their having such knowledge. In fact, I suspect that they are all wrong. That is, I suspect that nobody that I know knows whether God exists. So I suspect that delusions of knowledge about this matter run rampant among folks I know. Not a particularly nice suspicion to harbor, I realize. But I thought I’d express and explain that suspicion here, describing my grounds for it.


But first, a bit of background about this suspicion and why it might be of interest to some.
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I’m Not Particularly Skeptical
I imagine some readers might be thinking I’m just generally stingy about counting people as knowing things. That’s not so. And those who know about some of the work I’ve done for my day job might be wondering about my contextualism and what standards I’m using for knowledge here. In short: ordinarily low/moderate standards, that we very often meet concerning other matters. To quote the late philosopher (and my fellow contextualist) David Lewis, I too would say:
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We know a lot. I know what food penguins eat. I know that phones used to ring, but nowadays squeal, when someone calls up. I know that Essendon won the 1993 Grand Final. I know that here is a hand, and here is another.
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We have all sorts of everyday knowledge, and we have it in abundance. To doubt that would be absurd. At any rate, to doubt it in any serious and lasting way would be absurd; and even philosophical and temporary doubt, under the influence of argument, is more than a little peculiar. It is a Moorean fact that we know a lot. It is one of those things that we know better than we know the premises of any philosophical argument to the contrary.
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Besides knowing a lot that is everyday and trite, I myself think that we know a lot that is interesting and esoteric and controversial. We know a lot about things unseen: tiny particles and pervasive fields, not to mention one another’s underwear. Sometimes we even know what an author means by his writings. (Lewis, “Elusive Knowledge,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1996): 549 – 567; p. 549)

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I’m down with all of that. Well, not the bit about Essendon winning the 1993 Grand Final: I don’t know that. (I don’t even take myself to know that after reading it in Lewis’s paper, not because I think we generally can’t come to know things just by reading them and trusting the source, but because I think of Lewis as having been just enough of a prankster–and the Australasian Journal of Philosophy at the time to be just enough inclined to go along with the joke–that he really might have intentionally put in a falsehood here as a joke. But wait: Wouldn’t I have heard of it by now if this were a joke? Maybe this is a close call. Maybe I do know.) But allow me to substitute: I know that the Chicago Bulls won the 1993 NBA Championship. That’s clear. And, well, I couldn’t go with “squeal” on the telephones nowadays. I mean, a few of them can still be said to “squeal,” but I couldn’t make the general statement now. But otherwise … Well, you get the idea.

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The point is, I’m not generally skeptical. (Not by the epistemic standards I am here using, and tend generally to use.) Despite thinking that I and others know a lot of facts, including some things that are “controversial” (as for instance, that the Earth is much more than 10,000 years old, which I suppose is in some good sense sadly controversial even today), I still suspect that when it comes to the matter of whether God exists, no one I know knows either way.
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I Know Some (Relatively) Excellent Candidates
One piece of background you should understand about my suspicion is that I know lots of people–and some of them I know very well–who would be excellent candidates for folks who would know whether God exists, if anybody does. For reasons that will become clear later, I think the best candidates for knowledge about this matter are all on the pro-God’s-existence side of this issue. And, as I said, I know lots of relatively excellent candidates. Not just churchy people, who seem extremely confident about the matter, but also missionary-types (well, including outright missionaries) who live their confidence to an impressive degree.
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I’m Not Particularly Hostile Toward Those Who Think They Know
And I like and admire many of these excellent candidates. My suspicion seems not to be born of hostility of animus. Being just a suspicion, I do take there to be a substantial chance that it is wrong. And I’m pretty sure I would prefer it if some of these folks I know turn out to really know that God exists. This is a case where I think–but you can never be too sure about these things!–I can be correctly described as sincerely hoping that I’m wrong.
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Why My Suspicion Might Be of Interest
So, if you’re one of those people who takes themselves to know that God exists, I guess this all suggests that if I were to get to know you, then even if I came to like and admire you, I would likely also suspect you to be under a delusion of knowledge about this matter. (And those whom I already know are here informed that I already suspect such of them. And while I’m at it, I’ll also express a suspicion that concerns a largish group of people, many of whom I barely know at all, and so is based on fairly general grounds: I suspect that none of my facebook friends knows whether God exists.) Of course, what I think or would think of you may well be of little interest to you in itself. But I think it quite likely that others around you harbor similar suspicions about you. My hope is that expressing that suspicion and my grounds for it may perhaps advance the cause of mutual understanding here. You know: I’ll say why I think (and why others may well think) that you don’t know. Perhaps then you can explain (or be positioned to better explain) why you think you do know. Maybe some others will listen in on the whole exchange. Maybe peace, love, and mutual understanding will break out. Or, well, maybe just a bit of that last item. Who knows? At any rate, there might be some interest here, for at least some people, in knowing that and why someone who knows and likes many excellent candidates and who is not particularly skeptical in general–and who is a fully credentialed epistemologist to boot!–might harbor such a suspicion about those who take themselves to know whether God exists.
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The Arguments for and against God’s Existence
While it’s not my main area, I do have a strong teaching interest–that occasionally becomes a writing interest–in the philosophy of religion. (And I suspect I’ll be working in that area more in the future, D.V.) So I know the philosophical arguments for and against God’s existence pretty well, and have taught the main ones quite a few times. And I’m not going to go into this all that much here, and will have nothing to say here about any particular arguments, but I feel quite confident that nobody knows whether God exists on the basis of any philosophical argument. They’re just not good enough to produce knowledge of their (theistic or atheistic) conclusions.
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I do think some of these arguments (on both sides) are pretty good so far as philosophy goes. But generally, that doesn’t go very far, and doesn’t make it anywhere near to knowledge. Some of these arguments are relatively good at accomplishing what philosophical arguments generally do, and, in particular, some of them are successful at showing how someone might reasonably believe the conclusions of the arguments.
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But as it generally goes with philosophical arguments, they don’t produce knowledge of their controversial conclusions about substantive philosophical matters.
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As happens in other areas, sometimes when engaged in philosophical argument, we easily slip into talking as if, and it very much feels as if, we know that our position is correct. But really we don’t. That’s how I feel generally about philosophy. Which is not to put philosophy down. Philosophy is wonderful–and in large part precisely because it deals with questions where we can’t yet know what is right. (I think there’s something to the idea that once we get to the point that philosophy is producing actual knowledge about a topic, then the area of philosophy that deals with the area is likely to break off and no longer be thought of as philosophy.)
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So my skepticism about coming to know whether God exists by means of philosophical arguments is very much of a piece with my general thoughts about the limitations of such arguments. Nothing in particular against theists or atheists here.
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Since atheists’ only real hope of knowing that God doesn’t exist would be through some kind of philosophical argument (perhaps some argument from evil), their knowing that God doesn’t exist doesn’t seem to me a very serious possibility. If anyone is going to know whether God exists, it will have to be theists, knowing that God does exist. And they will have to do it by some means other than through philosophical arguments. But how, then?
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When Mahalia Jackson (yes, many others have performed this song as well, but for me, this song totally belongs to Jackson) sings (you hear it here):
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There are some things I may not know
There are some places, oh Lord, I cannot go
But I am sure of this one thing
That God is real
For I can feel Him in my soul

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The song is much more effective than it would be if the last line above instead went:
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For I have found a version of the cosmological argument that is clearly enough sound

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(Why I think atheists don’t have a corresponding serious possibility of knowledge of God’s non-existence through (ir)religious experience turns out to be something that gets way too complicated way too quickly for me to address here.)
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Religious Experience
So the more serious possibility for knowledge here has always seemed to me what “My God Is Real” actually seems to base its assurance on: religious experience. Perhaps some theists have religious experiences that provide them knowledge that God exists?
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What basis I have for believing in God’s existence comes from this source. But in my judgment, my own religious experience has been far too meager to give me knowledge of God’s existence. It’s far too serious a possibility from my vantage point that what may be an experience of God is actually not coming from God at all. Without going into the nature of my experience too much (something I hope to take up at another time), my relevant experience consists of what I take to be small, gentle nudges toward belief that don’t fit into a coherent body of experience to nearly the extent needed for knowledge (even if I were to outright believe in God’s existence on their basis and this belief turned out to be true). I take the nearest version of myself who does know that God exists to be one who has had the kind of religious experience that would be knowledge-producing. I take myself to have some ideas about kinds of religious experience that would produce knowledge of God’s existence–though I’m sure that God, if God indeed exists, has much better ideas about how such knowledge could be produced. But, for better or worse (though since this is God we’re talking about, I guess it would have to be for better), God, if God exists, doesn’t seem to be in the business of jumping through the hoops needed to make me a knower. Of course, God being God, there would be good reasons for leaving me in the dark here–and I think I have even have some inkling of what some of these reasons might be.
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One big problem with supposing that people I’m familiar with know that God exists on the basis of their religious experiences is that when they describe the basis for their supposed knowledge, while their experiences often (but strangely, not always) sound more impressive than mine, they still don’t sound like the kind of things that would produce knowledge of God’s existence. It seems like it should be too serious a possibility from these believer’s vantage point that what they’re taking to be an experience of God is not coming from God at all.
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Often (as with the testimony expressed in the lyrics of “My God Is Real”) those relating their experience of God will state that their experience produced great assurance or knowledge of God. This raises the possibility that their experience has a character that isn’t being well captured by the descriptions given by the experiencers, and that does make it knowledge-producing. I mean, they seem so sure. They say (often) that they then knew that God was real, or the like. Isn’t it reasonable to think that they are responding accurately to the nature of their experience in taking themselves to know, even though it may be hard for them to adequately convey in words what their experience was like? Why not accept their self-evaluation?
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Well, as I’ve said, I do take there to be a substantial possibility that some of these people really do know. To explain why my suspicion is that they do not, it will be helpful to start by saying a bit about my own personal experiences, and those of some of the fascinating folks I’ve been able to talk to.
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My Own History
I’ve said that I take the nearest version of myself who does know that God exists to be one who has had different and better religious experience than I’ve actually had. But the nearest version of myself who acts as if he knows just goes with the very meager experiences that I’ve actually had–which, as I’ve said, seem to me to fall far short of being knowledge-producing–but acts as if he knows, anyway.
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This version of myself came very close to being actual. In fact, a version of myself that sometimes did act as if he knew was actual. Though I never got to the point that I consistently acted as if I knew that God exists, when I was younger, I would do so occasionally, in certain settings. Yes, it could sometimes feel a little phoney. But it was complicated. It wasn’t–or at least didn’t feel like–pure phoniness. People around me, whom I was encouraged to think of as my teammates, were acting as if they knew, and acting-as-if-I-knew-behavior was produced in ways that at least seemed fairly natural. And I could point myself to what religious experiences I did take myself to have had, and play those up to myself. Was it really all that meager? It was in fact fairly easy to find myself singing along, as it were (and sometimes literally singing along to the likes of): “But I am sure of this one thing: That God is real, for I can feel Him in my soul.” And it could feel in ways almost sincere. And when I acted as if I knew, and especially when I could make it seem sincere, there was strong positive feedback that did much to encourage further confident behavior. There seemed to be a future for me that was not only possible, but would be easy to fall into (and perhaps would in ways take active resistance to avoid) in which I put myself more and more into circumstances that would elicit such acting-as-if-I-knew behavior, stop trying to resist acting as if I knew, identify more with the inclinations to act certain, and I would eventually find myself acting fairly consistently as if I knew. Or at least it seems like that would have been the likely result. But it seems to me that that version wouldn’t really know, though he would act at least fairly consistently as if he knew, and might even start to seem to himself to know. I would have developed a delusion of knowledge about this matter; I was already in the early stages of developing it.
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Those Who Have Given Up the Faith
Of course, so far, that’s just me, and as I admitted, I never got to a point in which I was acting as if I knew that God exists on a consistent basis. (Well, I suppose that at a very young age–like maybe around age 5–I consistently talked as if I knew, and took myself to know, that God exists. At that time, that was one of the many things I had been taught by the adults around me, and I didn’t have any sense that it was something denied by many. For those brought up to believe, much seems to depend on how those who believe differently are introduced to one’s thought. But at any rate, it’s from my teenage years on that I never acted on a consistent basis as if I knew that God exists, though through much of my teenage years, I would so act on an occasional basis.)
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However, over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with some people who did get to the point–often for years, during adulthood–of acting and talking as if they knew that God existed, but who later “gave up the faith,” as it’s often put (often by their disappointed relatives and/or former colleagues in the faith), becoming atheists or self-described agnostics. They of course didn’t take themselves to know that God existed at the post-crash time that I talked with them, but what I found most interesting was asking them what they now thought of their past selves. Did their past selves sincerely take themselves to know that God existed? This tends to get complicated quickly. Though there are important differences among people I’ve talked to, they usually thought that there was some element of insincerity, lack of genuineness, or even phoniness, in the certainty they had earlier projected to the world. But it generally doesn’t seem to have been cases of straightforward deceiving of others: they often think that they themselves had been deceived about what was going on. That their earlier selves had been under a delusion of knowledge about God’s existence fits in quite well with the picture that many of these people have of their earlier, confident-sounding selves. Often, their becoming atheists or agnostics was a process of becoming aware of the possibility (though some seem to think that deep down they always had this worry, in which cases the process seems to have begun by coming to face a possibility they had always been dimly aware of) that the certainty they seemed to feel was not an honest or genuine response to what experience of God they might have had, but was largely motivated by the desire for their experience of God to be genuine and/or was driven by social forces involving identifying with the believers (or at least folks they took to be believers) around them, and then that suspicion growing to the point that they felt the honest response was just to admit that they don’t, and never did, have any genuine knowledge of God’s existence.
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Putting It Together
So, what’s mainly behind my suspicion, as I said a few sections back, is that when people who seem to be confident of God’s existence on the basis of their experience of God describe the experiences that supposedly produced their confidence, these experiences don’t seem from the descriptions to be the kind of experiences that would give one knowledge of God’s existence. It sounds as if it is or at least should be, from these people’s point of view, too serious a possibility that their experience came from some other source for them to know that it was a genuine experience of God. But I realize that there are some worries or suspicions some might have about my suspicion. I’ll get to two fairly advanced worries some no doubt have a bit later.
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But the previous two sections are needed to answer what is perhaps the most pressing worry many people will have about my suspicion, which can be expressed in this question: Since the people themselves seem so confident that their experiences are genuine experiences of God, and judge themselves to know that God exists on the basis of those experiences, shouldn’t I accept these people’s own evaluations, perhaps deciding that their experiences may well have features that do make them knowledge-producing, but that the descriptions given of the experiences fail to convey?
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Now I am able to better explain why I doubt the self-evaluations of these people who sound so confident. Basically, it’s because I’ve seen similar confidence (or at least what looks for all the world like similar confidence) go bust–and go bust in ways that cast doubt on whether there was ever knowledge there. Some of the people I’ve talked with who have “lost the faith” also would have struck me or anyone as excellent candidates for those who would know that God exists if anyone does. But their later, negative evaluations of their earlier, confident selves are very convincing. It seems fairly clear in their cases that they never really knew that God exists. Of course, there could be crucial differences in the experiences of God that were had and how they were processed that might result in some people I know having genuine knowledge of God even while others, who seem very much the same from the outside, don’t have knowledge at all. And perhaps there is a good explanation for why these crucial differences seem not to be well conveyed by people’s descriptions of their experiences. But in short, based on the evidence I have (which I imagine is quite similar to the evidence had by other observers–or at least others who have had the opportunity to talk with many who once seemed to know that God exists but have since ceased to believe), the best explanation for what all is going on here seems to me to be that those who take themselves to know and present themselves as knowing are under a delusion of knowledge much like the delusions that were had by some who later came to see themselves as having never known. My judgment that this is the best explanation is no doubt to a significant extent based on my awareness of the subtle forces that can yield knowledge-like behavior on the basis of experiences too meager to produce knowledge. Some of those who currently take themselves to know will likely also later come to judge that they never knew. Others likely never will. But my suspicion is that everyone I know who takes themselves to know whether God exists, whether or not they ever come to reverse that judgment, is wrong to think they know.
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Acting Certain of (Way) Too Much
While the above is what is mainly behind my suspicion, it is worth very briefly mentioning another ground for it: The case of many would-be knowers of God’s existence is not advanced by their habit of also seeming supremely confident about all manner of theological details that go well beyond the matter of God’s existence. (This of course does not apply to all who would claim to know that God exists. Apply this shoe only where it fits.) Of course, one of the problems here is that the details presented as known vary in conflicting ways from one supremely confident religious believer to the other, so they can’t all be right about what they’re so confident about. There’s at least a lot of apparent confidence that would present itself as knowledge that is not knowledge at all (since you can’t know what ain’t so). This makes it much easier to suspect that delusions of knowledge run rampant through the fields of religious beliefs. In fact, that delusion of knowledge run rampant there would seem fairly clear, and so would go beyond being just a suspicion. The questions that remain and that leave room for mere suspicions have to do with just how extensive is the range of such delusions.
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Two (Relatively Advanced) Worries about my Suspicion
(This section can be skipped by those who don’t have these relatively advanced worries.)
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Some might worry that, despite my claim to subjecting theistic belief to just moderate standards for knowledge that we very often meet in other areas of life, I am in fact holding it to impossibly demanding standards that even our simple perceptual beliefs do not meet. I have said that the possibility that my religious experience comes from a source other than God is just too substantial from my point of view to allow it to produce knowledge in me of God’s existence, and I’ve expressed my suspicion about others in terms of it seeming to me, as best I can tell from those others’ descriptions of their experiences, like it should be too substantial a possibility from their vantage points that their experiences are coming from some other source. This may lead some to think that my suspicion is based on the thought that for an experience to produce knowledge of its object, the experiencer must first be able to explicitly rule out all accounts of how that experience was produced that are rivals to its having been produced in a way that involves its (putative) object. And that may seem to some to be the employment of a standard that our simple perceptual beliefs cannot meet: If my current perceptual experience of my laptop can give me knowledge of the presence of my laptop only if I can first explicitly rule out accounts of that experience that appeal to deceiving demons, tinkering brain scientists, or the like, rather than my laptop itself, in explaining how my experience arose, then even such simple perceptual beliefs would be in deep epistemic trouble.
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So, let me say that I don’t think one has to be able to explicitly rule out all rival accounts of how one’s experience arose in order for an experience to give one knowledge of its object. I do know that my laptop is present, despite my inability to first explicitly rule out various skeptical hypotheses about how my experience is being produced.
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But that’s because my belief in the presence of my laptop has some very nice features that any belief I might have formed about God’s presence would have lacked, if it were produced by the kinds of religious experiences I’ve had. I don’t want to get too bogged down here in what those features are, but briefly, as it seems to me, the main thing is this: My beliefs about the presence of my laptop fit in remarkably well with (display a remarkable degree of positive coherence with, where “positive coherence” denotes not just a lack of conflict, but a positive hand-in-glove-like fitting in well together–a “dovetailing,” to use what seems to be the mandatory term here) other spontaneous beliefs I have been led to form by my perceptual experiences. It’s largely because of this coherence that my beliefs about my laptop have with the larger picture of the physical world and my place in it that I’m so highly justified in believing in my laptop, even without my being able to first explicitly rule out skeptical accounts of how my experiences of my laptop arose–justified in a sense that is crucial to these beliefs, if true, amounting to knowledge. And any beliefs I would have formed about God’s presence on the basis of the religious experiences I have had would not have displayed anywhere near that degree of positive coherence with one another and with other parts of my picture of the world and my place in it. In large part, that’s why my religious experiences, and so far as I can tell from their descriptions of them, the religious experiences of others, aren’t in the relevant sense sufficiently justified to amount to knowledge. (Though it’s aimed primarily at the question of justification rather than knowledge, I explain my thoughts here a bit in my paper, “Direct Warrant Realism” [available here], especially in its last section.)
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The second worry some might have is that many of the people’s experiences did produce in them certainty of God, and that might be, in itself, an important feature of their experience that could allow it to produce knowledge, even in the absence of the kind of positive coherence I write of above.
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I am myself very open to the thought that if God directly “zapped” you with certainty of God’s existence (so you felt certain that God exists), such an experience might produce knowledge of God’s existence, even in the absence of the kind of positive coherence our perceptual beliefs display. (This seems close to the account of religious experience often used by Alvin Plantinga in his book Warranted Christian Belief, at least as I understood him. See section 5 of these remarks of mine on Plantinga, where I admit it’s plausible that one could know of God’s existence through such experience. But also see note 9, where I express some misgivings about my understanding of Plantinga’s account.) This is a tricky call for me, but as I said, I am open to the idea. But that would be in the case of God directly zapping one with a high degree of certainty. My suspicion, though, is based on the underlying suspicion that what subjective certainty is reported by these people is not produced by such direct divine zapping, but is generated in ways that run through such things as peoples’ desires for their experiences to be genuine, and certainty generated in such ways would not seem to generate the kind of justification needed for knowledge, whether or not certainty generated by a direct divine zapping would produce knowledge. That is of course a very tricky call to make, especially when I am relying on the people’s own description of their experiences. And indeed, that trickiness is largely why I’m so tentative in my suspicion. But in discussion, it starts to sound as if the roots of their felt certainty is very similar to that of the people’s who later came to recognize that certainty as arising from forces that rendered it suspect.

Comments:
  • Keith:
    I don’t know how this affects your points, but for some of us who think we know, the belief that we know central religious truths need not be the result of a personal evaluation of our own degree of certainty and the strength of evidence. It may, rather, be a consequence of our accepting as a doctrine of faith that, at least normally, Christian faith is a kind of knowledge (this seems to be the view behind what the First Vatican Council says on faith and reason) and accepting on faith that God’s existence can be easily known (the First Vatican Council is explicit on that, and Paul seems to think something like this in Romans 1). I think the claim faith is a kind of knowledge is the predominant view of faith in the Christian tradition.
    This claim of faith that Christians normally know may or may not put serious constraints on one’s account of knowledge. For instance, it may or may not force one to be an externalist (e.g., one might hold that the Holy Spirit is in fact the cause of faith, and that this is central to making the faith be a case of knowledge) or an evidentialist, etc. But I’ll leave that to the real epistemologists to figure out.

    July 13, 2013 — 2:50
  • Keith DeRose

    Thanks, Alex. Since it isn’t my position, I hadn’t thought through what conclusions should be reached by those who accept as doctrines of faith things that would imply (well, in the relevant circumstances) that they and many others to whom my suspicions apply really do know. (I’ve actually engaged in a good deal of the study of Scripture on just such issues, and found that quite inconclusive, but potentially quite friendly to widespread lack of knowledge here. I myself don’t have much loyalty to the rulings of councils.) It’s a very interesting question. My initial inclination is to think that if a commitment to widespread knowledge here were a “control belief” of mine, that could likely have a very big (and pernicious, from my actual vantage point–but of course it would be seen an improvement if that were really a control belief!) influence on my epistemological views. It could be a very interesting project: coming up with the best epistemology that would make good on that (hypothetical, for me) control belief.

    July 13, 2013 — 12:02
  • Kenny Pearce

    Alex – I don’t know Vatican I very well, but I can say this. Some early modern writers (not the philosophical ‘greats,’ but writers like Edward Stillingfleet, Peter Browne, and John Sergeant) have the following confusion. A lot of earlier Latin writers, including Aquinas and Calvin, say that faith is a kind of cognitio of God. Now ‘cognitio’ is objectual knowledge. These early modern writers think, however, that this implies that faith must be a kind of propositional knowledge, something more like scientia. Peter Browne actually writes, “the Christian Faith may be called Knowledg … because we are obliged to believe nothing, but what we have infallible proof for” (Letter in Answer to Christianity not Mysterious (1697), p. 63). (He moderates his view some in Faith distinguish from Opinion and Science (1716); in fact the use of the word ‘science’ in the title suggests that he has, to some extent, recovered from the confusion I am talking aobut.) But it is a confusion to think that objectual knowledge of God necessarily supplies ‘infallible proof’ of any proposition at all. I tend to think (without having made a careful study of the theologians) that it is a pretty mainstream view in the Christian tradition to think that faith is (or at least ought to be) based on some kind of direct encounter with God, so that the believer can be described as ‘knowing God’ (as the believer frequently is in 1 John) while at the same time denying that the doctrines of the faith have the kind of propositional justification necessary for propositional knowledge. This certainly seems to me to be a plausible reading of the kind of gnosis discussed in 1 John. On this view the believer knows God, but does not know about God.
    On the other hand, I suppose you might think (and Plantinga seems to think) that the kind of objectual knowledge I am talking about will provide an adequate basis for propositional knowledge. That position has some plausibility. On the one hand, certainly objectual knowledge is consistent with being badly mistaken about a lot of the features of the thing known (believing a lot of false propositions about it), but on the other hand there is some pull to the idea that objectual knowledge always confers some propositional knowledge. This gets to be even more plausible if, in opposition to most early modern thinkers, we are fallibilists about knowledge.
    By the way, although I don’t really talk about the objectual knowledge point, I discuss the views of these issues that were floating around in early modern England and Ireland in “Berkeley’s Lockean Religious Epistemology”. Many of these views were, as a historical matter, explicitly framed in opposition to Catholicism, so the paper is not very ecumenical in approach, but it discusses the idea of faith as probable belief in Locke (and, I argue, in Berkeley) in opposition to those who wanted to defend the claim that faith was knowledge.

    July 13, 2013 — 12:03
  • Kenny Pearce

    I should add that, of course, Locke and Berkeley think that the existence and some of the basic attributes of God are demonstrable; their view of faith as probable belief applies to the revealed doctrines of Christianity.

    July 13, 2013 — 12:08
  • Hi Keith,
    I came here following a link from Frank Wilson’s blog: Hmm
    Good essay. It is interesting to read your trouble with feigning surety in God, versus being disingenuous. You identified with and identified others who displayed levels of surety that seemed like blind faith, which would lead to unconvincing preaching and relating–if all this is fair paraphrase, without the depth.
    From one who does have faith, and through religious, specifically mystical experience, this displays our proclivity or capacity for belief. It’s like sitting in a car, hearing tales of how fast it goes and how it corners, going, “Vroom Vroom” feeling some truth to potential races, but never having the key. Without that or ever having witnessed first hand a car on the road, the pragmatic conclusion would be that cars don’t go anywhere, that they are props of some sort.
    The explanation for our having the inclination to belief in a god or gods, then gets explained as a throwback to earlier times when religion was used for explanations and to organize people, which would allow us to function within more powerful social groups. From the other side of faith, I can agree, and say, “Okay sure,” but that does not rule out that it can also be what it seems like it is, something to take us home.
    Once you would have the religious experience that is obviously there to take you home, all the past preparations, what seemed at times disingenuous, the struggles with different aspects that different people of faith and levels of faith seemed to be struggling with, apparently sincerely or not, even tall tales from wishful thinkers, those aspects then fall into your lap once again. Only this time, you run with it.

    July 13, 2013 — 12:17
  • Keith DeRose

    (I should add to my response to Alex’s comment that while I focused on the likely effect of adopting the control belief I mentioned on the epistemological principles I brought to bear on the issue, I realize that it could also and/or instead impact one’s factual beliefs about what the situation is like.)

    July 13, 2013 — 12:19
  • Aaron Bartolome

    Very nice essay! Question: What do you think about Paul Moser’s recent contributions to religious epistemology? He thinks that there are good arguments for God’s existence, but these arguments have premises in the first-person which refer to one’s both (i) having been morally transformed over time, away from selfishness and towards agape, including love of one’s enemies, and (ii) having received apparent divine calls or invitations to repentance, trust (in the divine caller), and love for others. This sets the standard pretty high as regards having justification-conferring evidence for God’s existence, since it requires awareness of certain facts about one’s moral character, namely that one loves and is willing to forgive enemies. This account may fit well with your suspicions because these kinds of religious experiences are (apparently) very rare!

    July 13, 2013 — 12:54
  • Thanks Keith for sharing your thoughts. Very interesting essay.
    Two things I’m not clear about which I thought you can clarify:
    1. I spotted in your essay a few different ways in which you describe the difference between religious experience and sense experience. First, you say religious experience is “meager”. Second, if I may use my own way of putting it, alternative explanations of religious experience are a very live option (in the Jamesian sense), not so with sense experience. These two issues I understand, although I believe more can be said to explain. But you also say that religious experience lacks coherence. Here I’m not sure what you mean. I assume there’s no issue of logical inconsistency with religious experience. So what kind of incoherence do you mean?
    2. I’m wondering how you understand the relations between justified belief, certainty and knowledge. Here’s how I think you would fill in the details: It seems to me that you think of justified certainty as a necessary condition for knowledge, but not for justified belief. So you take yourself as having a justified belief that God exists, but not knowledge, because you lack certainty. And you argue that those who think they have knowledge, even though they may psychologically feel certain, lack knowledge because their certainty is unjustified. Did I get you right?
    Thanks,
    Dan

    July 15, 2013 — 2:24
  • Vasco Gama

    I don’t know about you (and if you belief in God or not, and how is it so), but I can try to explain why I became ultimately convinced that God exists.
    It would be nicer if things did happen otherwise, but that was not the case, and this can be a weak argument, as it was not something I witnessed myself, it is more, something that someone told me to have witnessed a long time ago.
    My father was the one, who was the witness of this, and he told me this story, more than once, however, for a long time, I did not pay much attention to it, as it seemed to be just a funny curiosity, that always made smile for a while, and, even now, that I am about to tell you this story, it makes me smile, however I am not sure it is meaningful, anyway, I must tell you this story, I heard sometimes some time ago.
    My father was an officer in the Portuguese army, a Captain, and by 1962, he was in the placed in the Central Head Quarts in Luanda (capital of Angola, by then a Portuguese colony). He had been in a significant stress that was related with his work in the Information Service, as by then there was a war between the Portuguese army and the nationalist movements, he was in a bad shape and he had just finished a very important report for his General. In view of his fatigue the doctors advised him to rest for a while, however he felt that he had to finish whatever he had to do before accepting the break.
    My father was a going church type of person, as most people from his generation, but he never had taken religion very seriously, he just kept following the catholic rituals. By then someone casually asked him if he was interested to participate in a sort of retirement (or reflection, I do not remember exactly what it was). This unexpected invitation was slightly disturbing for my father, as he acknowledges know, religion did not seemed to take an important part in his life, but has he said latter, telling this story, he found himself perplexed and confused, asking to himself is there a God?
    One of those days, he went to beach called “the island” that is a long stripe of sand, just close to Luanda that separated from the city by a small bridge. Some natives, mostly fisherman live in this island that extends for 3km, occupying the first third. While he was crossing the street that goes to end of the island, still puzzled by those issues that seemed to haunt his life, he realized that there was a small chapel in the middle of the fisherman’s houses (huts), he stopped the car and decided to enter, presumably to pray or to meditate. And so he did, the chapel was dark and quite, and he thought he would be alone, and so it seemed, he sat on one of long chairs available, and stayed alone immersed on his metaphysical concerns, debating with himself if after all there is God, or not. After a while someone else entered as well, it was of the villagers that should live in the vicinity, one black fisherman with ragged clothes, with nothing noticeable, a simple man, probably poor and ignorant. After this minor distraction my father turned again to his problems. But he was disturbed again, although there was only another occupant in the chapel, he started to hear someone arguing, after a while, he realized that the fisherman was by the side of an image of Jesus, and that he was arguing with someone he could not see that was above them (of course there wasn’t anyone else present, as the fisherman seemed to address himself to someone he could not see, the black fisherman was speaking in one of the local dialects and my father did not had a clue what was that was all about, he just understood that the conversation was about a problem with a chiken (or various that was never clear) that was the only word he could understand. One other thing he could understand was that the fisherman was afraid of his interlocutor, as, more than once, during the argument he was trying to protecting himself (his face?) with his arms in the air, as asking for clemency. After, the discussion was over the fisherman left with a respectful attitude. As for my father, this episode solved his doubts.
    Latter in life he told me this story several times (it always amused me), and once I was guessing about God’s existence, it also solved my doubts (I guess that God talks to us, we, however, are not able to hear Him, most of the time, somehow we managed to convince ourselves that this is not possible).

    July 15, 2013 — 12:03
  • Aron Wall

    I notice you don’t say a word about Historical Arguments based on ancient or modern miracles. But surely if certain people have seen miracles (and I think they have), then these people are excellent candidates for people who know that God exists—or at least who know that materialistic naturalism is wrong.
    Furthermore, I assume that you believe that at least some historical events are supported by sufficient testimonial evidence, such that we can know that they happened. So one doesn’t need for the philosphical/experiential evidence to be an absolute clincher. It just has to be strong enough to allow one to read the historical texts without a strong bias against the supernatural. Then one can know e.g. that the Resurrection occurred, the same way one can come to know that Julius Caeser was assassinated.
    This may also help explain why religious believers have a “habit of also seeming supremely confident about all manner of theological details that go well beyond the matter of God’s existence.” At least for Christians, these theological details largely come from the historical record of the New Testament rather than from philosophical argument or personal experience.

    July 15, 2013 — 13:25
  • Keith DeRose

    A clarification (I know the terminology can go differently, and I didn’t specify): In this post (& in particular, in the section on “The Arguments for and against God’s Existence”), “philosophical arguments” should be construed as including the historical arguments you are have in mind. That is, those historical arguments are among those I meant to include when I wrote “I’m not going to go into this all that much here, and will have nothing to say here about any particular arguments, but I feel quite confident that nobody knows whether God exists on the basis of any philosophical argument. They’re just not good enough to produce knowledge of their (theistic or atheistic) conclusions.”
    Re your third & final paragraph: One of the main worries about the supreme confidence that many (not all, of course) believers display in various theological details is that all too often the details different believers seem so confident about conflict with one another. And of course, that happens not just between believers of different religions, but also from one Christian to another.

    July 16, 2013 — 9:39
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I think I understand why philosophers think “knowledge” is such a big deal – many consider it to be the philosophical Holy Grail. But actually you can do beautiful philosophy without using the concept of knowledge even once. Just speaking about beliefs and what they mean, why one thinks they are true or false, how much confidence one feels in them being true or false, and why – strikes me as quite sufficient.
    David Lewis does want to use the concept and says: “I know that here is a hand, and here is another.” But if subjective idealism is true, and I happen to think it is, then what most people mean when they say “here is a hand” is in fact false.
    Now some might object to the above and argue thus: “My saying ‘I know here is a hand” doesn’t entail any fancy metaphysical baggage. When I say “here is a hand” I mean something simple and basic, namely that the world does not make any sense to me unless I hold that “here is a hand” is a true proposition, and in this sense I know that here is a hand.
    Which is fine, but then by the same measure I know that God exists (or, to be more precise, that that reality is God-structured). For otherwise the world makes no sense to me. Without God I can’t make sense of my sense of freedom, of my sense of love, of my sense of beauty, of my sense of goodness, indeed of my sense of rationality and what “making sense” means. Even more strongly, without God I can’t make sense of my sense of God: I sense the mind of God being there in the whole of my experience of life as I sense the mind of my wife being there in my experiencing her when she is near, and sometimes also in my experiencing her when she is far.
    “It’s far too serious a possibility from my vantage point that what may be an experience of God is actually not coming from God at all.”
    That’s always a possibility. Naturalism may well be true, for there is a logically possible naturalistic world in which all experiences (and thus on some epistemologies all warrant for knowledge) are identical to ours.
    “the kind of religious experience that would be knowledge-producing.”
    Given that there is a logically possible naturalistic world in which that kind of experiences also exists, one would say they are not knowledge-producing. Unless one creates some rather ad-hoc epistemology, for which it would seem one has no warrant.
    “Though I never got to the point that I consistently acted as if I knew that God exists”
    I don’t see any problem in that. Most people know that smoking will harm them but consistently act as if they didn’t know it. Myself I virtually never choose to act as if God exists. (I do think about God as if God exists – does this count as acting?)
    “And I could point myself to what religious experiences I did take myself to have had”
    This sounds a little complicated. If theism is true then all experiences we have are religious experiences, whether we realize it or not. We often experience something without knowing what it is. People watch sunsets without knowing that the sun is an ongoing nuclear explosion. Indeed people may watch the sun holding almost exclusively false beliefs about it.
    “That God is real, for I can feel Him in my soul.”
    Again, on theism that’s true. When we see something that is beautiful we are actually directly experiencing God. And when we love in a certain selfless way we partake in God’s very being. We do feel God in a many ways.
    “And any beliefs I would have formed about God’s presence on the basis of the religious experiences I have had would not have displayed anywhere near that degree of positive coherence with one another and with other parts of my picture of the world and my place in it.”
    Interesting. How then do you fit your sense of freedom, beauty, love, goodness, reason, etc in a non-theistic/naturalistic world?
    As I pointed out above, my sense of them fits perfectly well, hand-in-glove-like, with theism. Which is not surprising considering that on theism all of them are directly grounded in God’s nature. On the other hand they don’t fit at all with naturalism. It is true that I can imagine a naturalistic world which would produce in me all the respective experiences and thoughts and confidence about theism etc. But in such a naturalistic world freedom, beauty, love, goodness, reason etc would all be “illusions”. Not merely in the sense that they don’t exist in that world, but in the much stronger sense that they are meaningless. Most of what I actually mean when I say “I” doesn’t just lack existence but even lacks meaning in a naturalistic world. Which is as bad a fit as it practically gets.
    A final point. You speak a lot about the feeling of confidence. Even though I find the concept of “knowledge” not very useful, what I have read about it seems to imply that it has little if any relation with feelings of confidence. That is, one may know something and feel grave doubts about it, and also one may hold a false belief and feel extremely confident about it. Indeed the latter is a rather common occurrence.

    July 16, 2013 — 16:23
  • Heath White

    Keith,
    I appreciated this post very much. A couple of thoughts:
    1. My first thought was that you have the bases of philosophical argument and personal experience covered. However, a lot of people would say they have religious knowledge by testimony. (“For the Bible tells me so” or the less euphonious “For the infallible Magisterium tells me so.”) Maybe Alex falls into this category. How does the possibility of knowledge by testimony affect your argument?
    2. Ex-believers will recognize that at one time they were very confident of their theistic beliefs, and they also cannot endorse this confidence. As a result, they have to tell themselves an error-theory narrative. Doesn’t this weaken the argument from the self-understanding of ex-believers?
    3. I have had a very prominent philosopher (Catholic, BTW) tell me he has never had any doubts about the truth of his religious beliefs. What should we say about philosophically sophisticated and yet theistically confident believers? Are they fooling themselves too?
    4. The connection between psychological certainty and epistemic justification is not obvious. Ideally, I suppose, the former tracks the latter. But some people are certain of what they lack justification for, as you point out, while others may be uncertain of what they possess justification for. Just because a lot of reflective theists are not psychologically certain that God exists does not immediately entail that they lack knowledge. What assumptions are you making about the relationship between certainty and knowledge?
    5. One possibility, which at points you seem to have some sympathy for, is that a typical experience goes like this. A person starts out their spiritual life (perhaps typically young, but not necessarily so) with a lot of confidence in God’s existence. Time goes on, and they become more aware of what we could generically call potential defeaters for this experience: possible sociological explanations for their earlier enthusiasm, or more awareness of evil in the world, or whatever. Their confidence then drops off, maybe to zero if they become an atheist. But for this to show that they didn’t have knowledge to begin with, you have to have a view that the existence of potential defeaters prevents knowledge even if (i) the person has an otherwise justified true belief and (ii) they are not aware of the defeaters. That is a pretty stringent conception of knowledge. Is it yours?
    6. On the same scenario, it is not totally obvious that the later lack of confidence shows that the later individuals do not possess knowledge. It would show this if either (i) awareness of the potential defeaters I mentioned actually defeated one’s other justifications for belief in God (rather than: the person mistakenly believes they actually defeat them), or (ii) the belief that they were defeated was itself sufficient to prevent knowledge. Is either of those right?
    My own experience, in capsule form, is something like this. I was raised in a very insular evangelical environment and did not entertain any doubts about Christianity until graduate school. At that point, atheism became a “live” option for me, in a way it had not been earlier, and I had a lot of doubts. It took me some years to work through that and I now view myself as older and wiser. Wiser, mostly, in understanding the fragility of my own faith: but for the grace of God, it might go off the rails again. I do not think that says much about the character of the justification (experience, argument, testimony, all rolled together) I do possess for it.

    July 16, 2013 — 16:28
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Vasco Gama,
    I once had an experience in a church quite but not completely unlike your father’s, which you might be interested in hearing:
    Once, when I was a student in a foreign city, the conviction rose in me that since Christ is risen and present, and since in His justice He would not make favors to people like Peter or John or Thomas which He would deny any of us including myself, I would just ask to see Him in the flesh. So I went to an empty church, sat down on a pew, and prayed hard for Christ to appear to me. After only a few minutes I heard distinct steps approaching me from behind. Turning back I saw that an old cleaning lady had entered the church and had started to sweep it. I distinctly remembered that I didn’t feel disappointed but only kind of foolish, and so I left the church. Only much later did the thought occur to me that I hadn’t asked that lady if she was Christ.

    July 16, 2013 — 16:40
  • Aron Wall

    Keith,
    You can call the Historical Argument a philosophical argument if you like—there’s a sense in which all arguments involve philosophical considerations. But tha doesn’t at all affect the strength of the argument, and I don’t think it can be as easily dismissed as you suggest.
    Parsing supposed eyewitness testimony for credibility seems to me to involve a very different set of techniques then the ones used to evaluate e.g. the Cosmological Argument. And in general History seems to be more reliable on average than Philosophy; at least, I am much more confident of the truth of certain historical events than I am confident in most of my purely philosophical positions.
    Partly I’m surprised because you separated out religious experience for special consideration. But it seems totally obvious to me that witnessing a (naturalistically inexplicable) miracle in reponse to prayer would be much better evidence for the existence of God than almost any amount of “I can feel Him in my soul” would be.
    Maybe you don’t know anyone personally who has witnessed a miracle, but you probably don’t know anyone personally who has been struck by lightning or bitten by a shark either. Yet we all know that these happen. (I suspect that miraculous healings are in fact more common than shark bites.) Unless you are a skeptic about History in general, I don’t see why the usual methods of transferring knowledge from eyewitnesses to historians wouldn’t also apply to the case of those who have witnessed supernatural events.

    July 16, 2013 — 17:57
  • Helen De Cruz

    Even if we do not construe the historical argument as an argument, I think Keith’s general point holds. We do not know on the basis of historical eyewitness testimony that God exists (or in the specific case of the historical argument in Christianity) that Jesus rose from the dead. At most, assuming theism, it is reasonable to accept this eyewitness testimony, but it also seems to me perfectly reasonable for someone without a prior theistic views to doubt the testimony.
    I know the historical argument has recently received a lot of attention (see the paper by the McGrews in the Handbook of natural theology), but I don’t think the argument is strong enough to be knowledge-producing. For example, the current argument from miracles depends to some extent on the interpretation of New Testament scholars of eyewitness testimony in the gospels – this seems reasonable, after all, we – as non-New Testament scholars are not in a good position to evaluate this evidence. Many NT scholars believe the empty tomb narrative. However, many NT scholars are theists. Those who are atheists often reach different conclusions (e.g., James Crossley, a prominent Mark expert, doubts the empty tomb narrative). If it’s true that the interpretation of NT scholars depends on their religious views, then bias is at work and we can’t take their results at face value.
    Other claims, such as the reliance on women as eyewitnesses, or the fact that the apostles were willing to die for their beliefs again constitute – in my view – reasons for a Christian to reasonably believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but they do not provide us with *knowledge* that Jesus rose from the dead. The conditions of knowledge from testimony aren’t met in the case of the historical argument, where there seems – even within the community of experts on this issue, i.e. NT scholars – a llot of room for how to interpret the testimony.

    July 17, 2013 — 2:44
  • For a Christian, the historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus is important for the immediacy of the baptismal or conversion experience, which is both experiential and spiritual, thus received mystically. The role of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, for instance, is to put out there, not that there is a final argument that, yes, Jesus died and rose from the dead, but that it is possible in the historical sense, and that non-believers or atheists should not get too sure of themselves.
    Any argument for God or for any aspect of spiritual living is empty in and of itself, and ought to leave the reasoning ponderer ultimately unconvinced, not “getting” it. It’s difficult enough for a spiritually based person to maintain consistent belief, what, with the trappings of the world—and this goes for monks in relative seclusion too—without expecting a thinker to do so.
    The arguments for God are a chess game, where the believer plays white and the devil’s advocate has black. Someone of some culture has the mystical experience and it therefore follows that the arguments for physicalism are false. So, the argument begins, either by putting out there that physicalism or even an atheistic spiritualism is not necessarily true, or the positive assertion in an argument for God.

    July 17, 2013 — 9:31
  • Trent Dougherty

    FTR, I think I do know that Jesus is the Messiah and that God exists, and I also think that I know that I know that. I also think that the arguments are sufficient to produce knowledge. I just don’t want people to infer the wrong thing from what I am about to say.
    Keith,
    1. PROPER BASICALITY
    I was really surprised that there was not much (anything?) regarding one of the most dominant views of the last 40 years: the idea that belief in God is properly basic (to officially cancel the implicature, I think this has always been a major view.
    It seems to me that all you say applies to belief in other minds.
    Q1 Do you believe you know that there are other minds?
    Q2 How about that Russell’s “five minutes” hypothesis is false?
    I worry that contextualism will cloud the issue here, so I stipulate that my question is something like “Is there any context in which you know these things” or whatever it needs to be to obviate obfuscation.
    2. TESTIMONY
    I think Aquinas was right that the arguments are sufficient to produce knowledge ( also think that in addition to this being Catholic doctrine it is also taught in Scripture (Rom 1:20), but that he was also right that one can know by accepting the testimony of one who knows.
    Q3 Do you think that Jesus knew that God the Father exists?
    If you do think so, then we have the testimony of one who knew, and no good reason to doubt his testimony, so we should know via testimony, right?
    My being an evidentialist and advocate of natural theology and apologetics doesn’t prevent me from realizing that most people’s knowledge that God exists and knowledge about him comes via testimony and some kind of Reidian faculty of common sense. But you don’t say much about these.

    July 17, 2013 — 15:30
  • Mike Almeida

    Kenny, you write,
    I tend to think (without having made a careful study of the theologians) that it is a pretty mainstream view in the Christian tradition to think that faith is (or at least ought to be) based on some kind of direct encounter with God, so that the believer can be described as ‘knowing God’ (as the believer frequently is in 1 John) while at the same time denying that the doctrines of the faith have the kind of propositional justification necessary for propositional knowledge.
    I like this distinction. Objectual knowledge is, in your use, something like knowledge by acquaintance or something like knowledge de re? Or, something else? It’s a very interesting question whether knowing someone (knowing God, say, in this way) does or doesn’t entail at least some propositional knowledge.

    July 17, 2013 — 17:44
  • Scott Hagaman

    @Trent,
    First, on proper basicality. Let us here distinguish between properly basic knowledge, properly basic knowledge-level warrant, and properly basic (foundational) justification. Let’s also note that you claim to be an evidentialist. As an evidentialist, I would expect you to be able to point to evidence which grounds either properly basic knowledge, properly basic knowledge-level warrant, or properly basic justification. To the extent that you cannot do this, I will be suspicious of the claims that your religious beliefs are in any sense properly basic.
    Of course, that you can’t convincingly explain why your religious beliefs are properly basic or point to evidence that plausibly underwrites them (and I doubt you can) doesn’t show that they aren’t. Perhaps they are? But what reason have we to believe this? To be sure, IF a certain kind of deity exists, we might expect that your religious beliefs are properly basic (in some sense). But knowing that conditional provides one with no reason to believe that your religious beliefs are properly basic in any sense. At best, I think most reasonable philosophers will be worried about the possibility that your religious beliefs could be properly basic, but absent having reasons to believe this particular sort of God exists, it’s not something they’re going to take very seriously. So what then are the reasons for believing that this particular sort of God does exist?
    I think matters are complicated if these philosophers happen to be, like you (and myself), *evidentialists*. (I think non-evidentialists will have an easier and cheaper go at defending the proper basicality of religious beliefs.) But if you are an evidentialist, then you think the proper basicality of your belief is underwritten by evidence. To the extent you can’t convincingly produce that evidence, an evidentialist will have good reason to doubt that you have it. I am sorry, but the experience of wonder and awe one has when one gazes upon the starry heavens above is not plausibly a religious experience which constitutes evidence for any kind of religious belief. (For sake of brevity, I will here stomp my feet an insist on this point. I will insist upon the same point when it comes to introspective awareness of the moral law within.) But perhaps you may want to appeal to non-experiential “evidence”? If so, what is that? Can you give me a good reason to believe that you have non-experiential evidence which underwrites your religious beliefs?
    On to other minds, etc… I don’t think that any initial belief there are other minds is properly basic (or foundational) in any sense. I think this initial belief is probably justified or known on the basis of an inference to the best explanation. Of course, beliefs which are initially justified or known on the basis of IBE may become, in ordinary practice and over time, beliefs which can be non-inferentially justified or known. I find it plausible that we develop cognitive heuristics which permit beliefs which may not be initially non-inferentially justified or known to turn into the sort of beliefs which can be non-inferentially justified or known. As a small child, I can’t know in a basic way that the thing who looks and behaves like a person has a mind. As an adult, I can know in a basic way that the thing which looks and behaves like a person has a mind.
    Regarding testimony, I don’t think that Jesus knew that God the Father exists. I would only think Jesus knew this if I thought that God the Father exists *and* thought that Jesus had some awesome epistemic access to this fact. I have no reason to believe either of these things. But in any case, I don’t have Jesus’s testimony. At best, I have reports of his testimony which may or may not be reliable. Worse, I think all reasonable parties here should allow that they have no clue whether or not they are in possession of or aware of Jesus’s testimony when they read Scripture. I probably don’t need to remind you of the fact that several people testified to the fact that they had seen the golden plates delivered by the angel Moroni despite never having done so.
    I am very, very sympathetic to Keith’s remarks, and I find few, if any, problems with them. I would perhaps even extend them a bit. I don’t think that any serious philosopher is even justified in believing that God exists. I also don’t think that you, Trent, are among the folks here. With Keith, I don’t think you know that God exists. But moreover, I don’t think you’re even justified in believing that God exists. And while I allow that it is *possible* that you know or justifiedly believe that God exists, I don’t think I have any reason to think that is remotely likely. And I find it hard to see what reason you have to think it likely.

    July 17, 2013 — 18:30
  • Kenny:
    I don’t know about the moderns, but it’s pretty clear that Aquinas includes propositional knowledge in the knowledge given by faith. For Aquinas, the difference between faith and scientia rests in that scientia proceeds by reasoning from principles, and hence involves understanding of what is known, while faith involves something else–testimony and divine illumination, and hence need not include understanding.

    July 17, 2013 — 19:02
  • @Scott
    A few of questions. Well, first, one clarification. Can we think of ‘minds’ as ‘people’? So, e.g., when we say (if we say) that belief in other minds is properly basic, what we’re saying is that our belief in other *people* is properly basic. Is it okay with you if we think of it like that?
    Here’s why I ask (and here’s my first question). Do you think that belief in other *people* is a case of IBE? That doesn’t seem plausible to me; for, I’ve never–so far as I know–formed the belief that all these other bodies walking around are people on the basis of inference. I think I just find myself believing that all these other bodies are people, and never even give it serious thought. But maybe that’s nothing more than an anecdote.
    Second, do you think that any serious philosopher is justified in *disbelieving* in God (and here I don’t mean withholding belief about God)? If so, why so? What sort of evidence is there that would justify that kind of belief?
    Third, what sort of evidence is there *against* the belief in God that would make it the case that a serious philosopher who *does* believe in God is unjustified in doing so (i.e., is irrational in doing so)? I’d think there’d have to be a ton of evidence against a belief like this in order to make said belief unjustified/irrational. I dunno.
    Or were you just presupposing your version of evidentialism?

    July 17, 2013 — 19:40
  • Aaron Bartolome

    @Trent: “Q3 Do you think that Jesus knew that God the Father exists?” —I know you were asking Keith, but it sounds like a Moorean paradox to both deny that one knows P and assert that others know P. Someone with Keith’s suspicions could claim that Jesus had excellent justification for believing that God exists without paradox, however.
    @Mike: “It’s a very interesting question whether knowing someone (knowing God, say, in this way) does or doesn’t entail at least some propositional knowledge.” —I think Andrew Cullison argues that knowing someone (de re, second-personal knowledge) does not require believing in that person’s existence. Suppose my doctor convinces me that I am schizophrenic and that my friend Peter does not exist; I have a relationship with Peter, but I do not believe that he exists.
    @Scott: “To the extent you can’t convincingly produce that evidence, an evidentialist will have good reason to doubt that you have it.” —A person’s inability to reproduce the evidence she has to other people does not give other people a good reason to doubt that she has good evidence/justification. (Of course, this inability does not give other people good reason to think that she does have good evidence either.) I currently have pain in my toe, and I remember what I ate for breakfast last week. I can’t reproduce the evidence that I have and somehow give you my evidence. (George Mavordes says that reasons aren’t always like apples; I can’t give you my reason for believing P in such a way where it now becomes your reason for believing P.) Nevertheless, my inability to give you my evidence does not, by itself, give you a good reason to doubt that I am in pain or that I ate Captain Crunch cereal last week.

    July 17, 2013 — 22:13
  • Keith DeRose

    Trent: One of the papers (this one unpublished) that I link to in the post, “Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic?” [ http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/basic.htm ], is all over proper basicality, and the other one I link to, “Direct Warrant Realism” [ http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/DWR.pdf ], esp. in its last section (though that’s set up by the rest of the paper) addresses Alston’s old parity argument in a way that, at least wrt perception (but I think the story would be similar elsewhere), should pretty directly answer your worries that my skepticism should spread to other areas where we agree we do have knowledge.
    So, some of my answer is that I’m not sold on the proper basicality story (even on perception, but also on theological proper basicality). But another part of my answer is independent of that skepticism. In perception, we can often know quite directly through experience: you just look and see that there’s a barn. I suspect more is going on here that’s epistemologically important, like that we’re sensitive to how well our experience is fitting in with our broader course of experience, in such a way that we’d be suspicious, and not so damn certain, if that fitting in were absent. And that’s the part of my worry that involves questioning proper basicality. But still, it seems, and is in a good sense, quite direct. But — and here comes my other worry — you can’t just look and see that there’s barn and thereby come to know that there’s a barn there when you’re in a really nasty Land of Fake Barns. I’m not talking a mild LFB, where there are some fakes somewhere around that someone *might* have seen, but have caused no errors yet. I’m talking actual mistakes all around you. (So I’m talking of a fake barns scenario as modified here: http://certaindoubts.com/?p=842 ). When you’re in SNLFB (Super-Nasty Land of Fake Barns), you don’t know if all you’ve done is looked from the road. And if you’re aware of your nasty surroundings, you’re not justified in your belief. And the thing is, with theistic beliefs, we’re in a SNLFB. It’s not just littered with false beliefs (as we can tell by the conflicts among them), but with false beliefs that seem to be held with great fervor and certainty. Of course, with sense perception, we get patches of LFB-like trouble, and we still end up knowing a lot by perception. That’s because we have ways of isolating the trouble so knowledge (& justification, even where we’re aware of the troubles) can happen in good stretches of our perceptual beliefs. I don’t see that happening to the needed extent in the theological realm; that’s partly tied to our theological beliefs not fitting together to form the amazingly rich and coherent body that our beliefs in other areas where we do have knowledge — but this time that relative lack of positive coherence is playing a very different role than in my other worry: here it’s limiting our ability to handle a problem that comes up (big-time).
    So, of course, there are ways of overcoming Fake-Barn-problems, and we could wrangle over whether they’ve likely been sufficiently overcome by some of theists in the scope of my skepticism. I’ve been around that block quite a few times, and remain skeptical, but who knows?, maybe someone can point out something new to cheer me up. But, anyway, whether these probs have been overcome (by some) or not, they are problems, and show why “Hey, why just not say it’s Properly Basic?” just won’t cut it, at least for me.

    July 18, 2013 — 8:50
  • Thursday

    Are you aware of the work being done on psychology of religion? All religion seems to be based on the perception of personality out in the world, and appears to be strongly related to our urge to personify everything.
    I have no doubt that many people who say they know God exists fit your description. However, there are other people who experience the world as being intensely personal. They cannot not believe in God’s existence, because, for them, he’s right there. If you doubt me, there are studies where researchers have religious believers talk to God and they use exactly the same part of the brain as if they are talking to a friend.
    Now, in our modern world, people with such strong religions perceptions appear to be in a minority, but that is how they experience the world.
    The best place to start with all this is Stewart Guthrie’s Faces in the Clouds, though you will quickly want to get into Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, and Jesse Bering. Your colleague at Yale, Paul Bloom, also does work in this area and can get you up to speed.

    July 18, 2013 — 12:13
  • Thursday

    I have had a very prominent philosopher (Catholic, BTW) tell me he has never had any doubts about the truth of his religious beliefs. What should we say about philosophically sophisticated and yet theistically confident believers? Are they fooling themselves too?
    This is an example of what I am talking about.

    July 18, 2013 — 12:17
  • Hi Keith,
    I tend to be with you in what you are saying. But the fake barn problem seems to backfire on your premise. Should we then say that we do not believe in barns, that we ought to be abarnistic, or that we ought to be unsure, agbarnostic?
    Let’s apply this to a problem among mystics, whether sitting in a lotus position and meditating, creates an inspired mystical experience. I use the term “inspired” to differentiate. To a mystic, all experiences are mystical, in the sense that all experiences of atheists are mystical as well. “Inspired” here should mean “touched by deity” (a deity who might send footsteps during prayer).
    So, you are going to work one day, and whammo, you have a Saul-to-Paul conversion experience. Oh, cool, you think, or maybe, why me?, like John Denver in Oh God. Your approach, however, is not to convert others with the good news. Instead, you want to replicate the experience. So you sit in a lotus position expertly practicing meditation to get the experience back and to have other possibly similar experiences. Let’s say you are successful. Troubled, you ask yourself, “Are the experiences contrived during meditation inspired?” You discuss this with your atheistic biology professor friend who, just for you, develops a pill that you can take, that gives you the same experience, as much as these experiences can be similar to each other, as much as barns can be similar to each other.
    Let’s relook at the barn experiences. We would not say that just because Henry experienced fake barns that there are no such things as barns. In fact, according to the yarn, there is one among the 40. I’d like to take Henry a step further to mention that if he is the Henry I know, he is Canada’s chief barn inspector general, the one who knows more about barns than anyone else in North America. And yet, even he could be fooled 39 times.

    July 18, 2013 — 14:15
  • Keith DeRose

    Rus: No, as it is, we shouldn’t be agnostics about barns. But *if we were in the Land of Fake Barns*, then we should and (unless the fact that there were fakes were hidden from us) would be agnostics about barns. Well, we would be unless something happened like communities arose with great investments in some barns being real (each such community picking different barns), and people brought up in or later brought into such communities experienced subtle but pervasive pressure of various sorts to act and feel certain that, say, barn #59 was the real one, get taught how important it is to contend for their faith in 59-ism, how to present themselves so as to show others that 59 is the one, get taught accounts of what lies behind the errors of those who equally confidently chase after other barns, etc. Then there’d be folks who would not identify as, and in most good senses wouldn’t be, agnostics about barns. But they still wouldn’t know — not even the ones who were right. Well, unless they had something going on that I haven’t yet included in the story. It’s that something else that I’ve been looking for – and not finding – in the accounts of various theists.

    July 18, 2013 — 15:42
  • Keith DeRose

    “I have no doubt that many people who say they know God exists fit your description. However, there are other people who experience the world as being intensely personal.”
    The people I’ve spoken with include many of the type who experienced the world in that way. They would have described themselves (before their certainty went bust) every bit as much as others as experiencing God as if God had been “right there,” immediately with them. It’s later, looking back on it, that *some* of them claim to have always had nagging (but often suppressed) doubts.
    “What should we say about philosophically sophisticated and yet theistically confident believers? Are they fooling themselves too?”
    And indeed, many of those I’m reporting on had been extremely philosophically sophisticated before their certainty went bust. (This is not surprising: Since I’m a philosophy professor, and a lot of the people I meet are students I get to know while I’m on the job, and many of them philosophy students, those who had been philosophically sophisticated confident believers are no doubt severely over-represented in my experience.) So, those who had been very philosophically sophisticated confident believers are very much included among those I wrote of who later came to think they had been fooling themselves. Talk to enough of them, and you’ll naturally start having doubts about those who are currently philosophically sophisticated confident believers, esp. if they don’t explain what’s behind their confidence in a way to break your skepticism (and the skepticism of those who had earlier looked for all the world as if they were in the same position).

    July 18, 2013 — 15:57
  • Scott Hagaman

    @Roger First, I think persons are immaterial minds. (If you were trying to dress up the case so that it could appeal to a naturalist, I’m not one of those.) But in any case, I suspect that belief in other minds is foundationally justified at this point in my life. Such beliefs are grounded in experience and well-developed cognitive heuristics. Was it always so? I suspect not, but I can’t really recall anything about the first time I came to believe that there were other people in the world.
    I think serious philosophers *are* justified in disbelieving in the existence of the classically conceived (and the standard Christian conception of) God. Michael Tooley is an example of one such philosopher. I think evidential arguments from evil and arguments from divine hiddenness easily get one this far. However, I do not think any serious philosopher can plausibly claim to know (or even justifiedly believe) that there was no very powerful creator of much of the stuff that exists. I would distinguish between justification and rationality. The former is stronger than the latter. It might not be *irrational* to believe in the Christian God, but I think no *serious* philosopher is justified in so believing. I think many ordinary folks probably are justified in holding these beliefs. I think I covered all your questions for me.
    @Aaron When I said “convincingly produce” the evidence, I didn’t mean that you had to do anything obviously impossible. You can easily produce the evidence you have for their being a pain in your toe. You can tell me a little about your painful experience. This kind of fingering the evidence, gesturing at it, and so on is good enough. Now if you told me you had a pain in your toe, and I asked you why you believed that, and you said that a little voice in your head said it made sense for you to believe this, then I would have taken you to failed to have produced any good evidence for that belief.

    July 18, 2013 — 16:14
  • Hi Keith,
    From a personal standpoint, my conversion took a series of religious experiences. I was kept in the conversation to the point that I could no longer deny that there was a conversation.
    Getting to that “other side” of faith as a young father a few decades ago, one question became how to prepare my children, who are now all grown and smarter than me, to accept or be prepared for God. What do I teach? What would you teach?
    59-ism might not be a bad way to go. At least they would be familiarized with barns, so that when their own barn experience might come, they would have some lore, something to learn from, to fill their barns with, the lessons and wisdom from the Book of #59. I tried to watch that they would keep an open mind, and note that I also looked into 35-ism and 60-ism as well.

    July 18, 2013 — 16:16
  • Trent Dougherty

    Keith,
    1. So it is an instance of a more general skepticism. Thought so.
    2. Your interesting articles notwithstanding, I still find _God and Other Minds_ more persuasive.
    3. Like many epistemologists (I once had a list of big names I was going to “out” on this), I don’t buy for a second that I don’t know in fake barn country. I think knowledge is intrinsic in a way analogous to causation (and in part because of the causal nature of knowledge). So if I look at a barn that appears to be a barn and it’s a barn and believe its a barn on the basis of the fact that it looks like a barn (and it’s a barn) then I know there’s a barn. I couldn’t care less about who is living next door.
    4. So, in general, I think (uncontroversially, I take it) that your views on religious epistemology are determined by two or three or four specific theses in epistemology generally (all of which I reject). This is one reason why I encourage people interested in philosophy of religion to do dissertations in epistemology instead.
    PS – If anything sounds snarky, it’s just due to only having time for bare-bones reply.

    July 18, 2013 — 17:00
  • Keith DeRose

    “Like many epistemologists (I once had a list of big names I was going to “out” on this), I don’t buy for a second that I don’t know in fake barn country”
    Trent: I’m like totally on the team that’s skeptical about the intuitions appealed to in the fake barn case. That’s what that blog post I’ve linked to is all about. (And I’m totally out in real pubs about it, too. — that’s *publications*, though I’m pretty sure I’ve been open about it in drinking establishments, too. So maybe I’ve got a claim to being captain of that team, in virtue of being really out in print on the skepticism. Oh, wait, no: the captain totally has to be Ruth Millikan.) That’s why I changed the case. But when you change the case, so that like Henry has actually made 20 barn identification mistakes, then encounters the one real barn, then makes 20 more mistakes, so that his one case of getting it right is awash in a sea of errors, and he wasn’t like esp. confident in the one case he got right (to him, it was just like all the rest: “Oh, *another* damn barn”), *then* it really is highly intuitive (where are those x-phi people when you need them?!) that he doesn’t know in that one case where he’s right. And it’s even clearer that if he becomes aware of the fakes, and like that he was 1-for-40 in barn recognition (but he’s not told which was the real one, yet he bizarrely continues to believe in each case that it’s a real barn), in cases where he wasn’t esp. confident or anything like that in the 1, then he’s no longer justified in believing that it’s a real barn in the one case where he happens to be right (The modification not only makes it highly intuitive that Henry does not know, but also responds directly to the basis Millikan, the ur-questioner of Goldman’s supposed intuition, gives for not going along.)

    July 18, 2013 — 17:24
  • Keith DeRose

    59-ism can be totally cool, even if/when its adherents don’t know that it’s right

    July 18, 2013 — 18:21
  • Keith DeRose

    & of course 59-ism can be true, even if/when its adherents don’t know it to be so.

    July 18, 2013 — 18:23
  • Aaron Bartolome

    @Scott —My point was that my failure to give you the evidence that I have for the truth of my belief that P does not, by itself, give you good reason to think that I do not have good evidence for P. Having good evidence does not require being able to describe/show/produce that evidence to anyone else. How can you claim that “no serious philosopher” has a justified belief that God exists, especially if you don’t have access to every serious philosopher’s evidence (including the subjective contents of their experience)?

    July 19, 2013 — 1:02
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Helen,
    Perhaps there is a way to estimate the upper bound of the strength of the historical argument from the resurrection of Jesus:
    Consider all logically possible worlds in which all current human experience obtains (including of course the books of the Gospels and other relevant writings that have reached us from the past). Remove all worlds which contradict what educated people think they know, for example all worlds in which the Earth came into existence five minutes ago (in which case ancient Palestine did not even exist). Similarly remove all worlds which contradict our accepted knowledge about human psychology or our knowledge of ancient Palestine’s history and culture. But allow both theistic and non-theistic worlds. This leaves as with a set S of, let’s call them, “rational worlds” which fit with all the evidence we have and with all the knowledge we think we have.
    Now define R as the proposition that the resurrection story is true, and T as the proposition that theism is true. The probability p(R) is the proportion of worlds in which R obtains among all the words in the set S, and the probability p(T) is the proportion of worlds in which theism obtains. The historical argument for theism succeeds if p(R) is large and p(T|R) is large.
    Given that we don’t have access to S and thus cannot really count the R-worlds and the T-worlds, what other means does the theist have for arguing that p(R) and p(T|R) are large? In order to demonstrate that p(R) is large theists typically argue that the standard resurrection story is more probable (since it’s the better explanation) than any alterative story without resurrection. I think that’s true but also insufficient, since every alternative story without resurrection may be extremely unlikely in comparison to some resurrection theory, but the total number of such stories may be so large that p(not R) > p(R). In other words: p(R) = p(R1) + p(R2) + … p(Rn) where Ri is a particular theory with resurrection in it, that is compatible with all accepted knowledge, and which would lead to all the available evidence. Similarly p(notR) = p(notR1) + p(notR2) + … + p(notRm) where notRi is a particular theory without resurrection in it. To prove that p(R) is large it is not sufficient to show that there is a Rx such that p(Rx) is much larger than p(notRi) for all i – one would have to also show that m is not larger than n. I haven’t seen such a demonstration and I can’t imagine how it would go since n and m are inscrutably large numbers.
    But even if one could successfully demonstrate that p(R) is large, it is not blindingly obvious that p(T|R) is large. Among all worlds in which R obtains there are a few where naturalism is true, but more importantly there are many in which magical things rarely obtain and in which T is false. We don’t know that miracles never obtain, not even rarely. By the same measure we don’t know that magical events never obtain, not even rarely – and therefore are not justified in removing these worlds from S.
    Given the above considerations I think one should conclude that the upper bound of the strength of the argument from history is low.
    But suppose I am wrong and that there exists a powerful argument from history which proves that both p(R) and p(T|R) are large. How large should they be for the argument to be “knowledge producing”? 0.9 and 0.9 is enough? Or should we need 0.999 and 0.999? And what could possibly produce knowledge about which probabilities are knowledge-producing (since, surely, we don’t have any basic beliefs about this issue)? In particular, at what point do we have knowledge that ours is not among the rare worlds where R did not happen, or that it did happen but T is nonetheless false?
    My point is not only that there the argument from the resurrection is not very strong now and that we have reason to believe that it can’t be made very strong, but that even if it were made very strong it would still not be clear that it is knowledge producing, at least according to epistemologies which base the knowledge on the power of arguments. (My larger point is that preoccupation about “knowledge” is not apt to produce something useful.)

    July 19, 2013 — 2:38
  • Roger Turner

    @Scott: No, I don’t care about giving a naturalistic account of human persons; that’s why I was hoping you’d agree that we can use ‘minds’ and ‘persons’ interchangeably. It surprises me, though, that you don’t think you were always justified (from early child-hood on, I guess) in your belief that there are other people besides yourself. I’d think that this is just one of (perhaps a good number of) the basic sort of beliefs we just find ourselves having from our earliest belief-forming days on.
    I think, though, that my confusion stems from your wanting to distinguish between rationality on the one hand, and justification on the other. That sounds odd to my ear. I think that any belief I have that’s rational is, thereby, epistemically up to snuff (you might say). Which, in turn, means that that belief is justified. And vice versa. So, it’s very difficult for me to see how my belief that there are other people (even from my earliest belief-forming days) hasn’t always been justified.
    Good, so, we agree that there are justified disbelievers in God. But, you deny that there are justified believers in God. Given that you think there’s a distinction between justification and rationality, do you think that there aren’t any justified believers in God because there aren’t good enough arguments for God’s existence to justify the belief? If not, then I gotta think you have some super strict criteria for ‘justification’ (whatever htat means on your account). But, let’s suppose that your account of justification (whatever it is) isn’t unreasonable. Would the arguments for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus be good enough to provide justification for the serious philosopher in her belief in the Christian God, in particular?
    If not, then I’d think one of two things is the case, here. Either 1) you haven’t sufficiently looked at the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection or 2) your account of justification *really is* too strong.
    But, again, I’m not at all sure what you mean by ‘justification’; so, maybe your idea of justification isn’t super important in discussions about Christian belief (or theistic belief more generally). I’d think what’s important is whether or not anyone (serious philosophers included) believes in God rationally.

    July 19, 2013 — 8:22
  • Aaron Rizzieri

    Keith,
    Do you think that “nobody knows that Christianity is true” is evidence against Christianity? Perhaps this depends on which version of Christianity is under discussion. The following perennial Christian teachings appear to be undermined by your claim:
    1. We have an obligation to believe in Christianity.
    2. The Holy Spirit is busy at work revealing God to people.
    3. Christians have an obligation to share the gospel (the knowledge norm of assertion is relevant here.)
    I would love to hear what you think about this.

    July 19, 2013 — 14:24
  • Scott Hagaman

    @Roger I recommend seeing my dissertation advisor’s excellent book _Rationality and Religious Commitment_ for more on rationality. I take merely rational belief to be a kind of epistemic status much weaker than epistemic justification. I also find it plausible that there are degrees of rationality. As a quick argument a minimally rational belief will be a rational belief, but it won’t be a belief that has all that much going for it. =) I’m happy to allow that theistic belief can be rational. In fact, I allowed that *some* people have justified theistic beliefs. I just don’t think *serious* philosophers do. I think they’ll be subject to deontic defeat.
    I’m not really interested in starting a debate over historical arguments for Jesus’s resurrection here. I was only interested in Trent’s proper basicality concerns. But I will say that I don’t find any of them remotely convincing. But even if I did, they still wouldn’t get one to a justified belief in a tri-omni deity (and I was explicit that this was one of my target conceptions of God).
    @Aaron Is it your position that there is some kind of special religious experience out that that somehow supports belief in a very specific sort of being but which is completely ineffable? Does it have phenomenal characteristics, or are the phenomenal characteristics of this experience mysteriously totally indescribable? Does the experience have representational content? If so, what is the content?
    You’re correct that the *mere* fact that someone refuses to finger the evidence they have doesn’t give me a good reason to believe they don’t have it. After all, I might have a good reason to believe that they are obstinate or stubborn, etc…
    But I think we know enough now about the nature of religious experience, given that not everyone who appeals to it is obstinate, to say that religious experiences typically provide only prima facie justification for holding rudimentary religious beliefs. I say typically, because there could be something like a booming voice in one’s head that said: “I am the Lord your God, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who was made flesh incarnate in Jesus Christ and who died for your sins on the cross! Here me and know that I, the Lord your God, am omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient! There is no other God but me!”
    Now *that* sort of religious experience might provide one with prima facie justification for believing in the God of Christianity. But I don’t think anyone is going to appeal to that, and, of course, the justification is still only prima facie. It is subject to defeat. And given what we know, I think *serious* philosophers would, ordinarily, have defeaters here. They should probably also wonder whether someone had slipped them a mickey. Of course, if I had such an experience repeatedly, I’d probably start to think that I should become a Christian and that maybe God really is a Five Point Calvinist.
    Ordinary religious experiences, which aren’t obviously ridiculous (I’ve had friends tell me they’ve seen amputated limbs regrow before their very eyes in response to petitionary prayer), don’t, at least on my view, support the content of beliefs the Christian would need them to support in order for the Christian’s belief in a specific kind of deity to count as properly basic.
    There is no question that I am working with epistemological assumptions and within a certain epistemological framework. That’s partly why my response was directed at Trent, who is an evidentialist. Plantinga’s epistemology happens to be very neatly designed (whether intentionally or not ;-)) to fit with his antecedently held religious beliefs and to help him defend them. If you are a Plantinginan proper-functionalist, well, nothing I have said will be convincing. But I wasn’t trying to interact with Plantinga’s views. I’m a card-carrying evidentialist.

    July 19, 2013 — 16:25
  • It’s hard enough to have something useful to say about the reference class problem for the barn case. It’s going to be super-hard to come up with principled and relevant reference classes for the cases relevant to the theism debate to make these cases seem like barn cases.

    July 19, 2013 — 18:16
  • Aaron Bartolome

    @Scott: I agree with much of what you said in your last comment. I was trying to challenge one of your claims–the claim that no serious philosopher has a justified belief that God exists. I think you were relying on the dubious assumption that a person’s inability to describe/show/produce her evidence (for the truth of P) to others gives others a good reason to think that she doesn’t have good evidence (and hence that she has an unjustified belief that P). Notice, however, that I wasn’t trying to positively convince you or anyone else that some serious philosophers do in fact have justified theistic beliefs. But if you’re curious, yes I do think that serious philosophers can have justified beliefs in God’s existence. Here’s one way: I experience an apparent divine call or invitation, perhaps several times (e.g. “I am the God of Jesus. Repent, trust in me, follow me. I am displeased with your hatred towards your brother Andrew. Forgive him, pray for him, love him. Allow me to change your heart,” etc.). Over time, I realize that my deepest motivations are being transformed. Before, I was very selfish, but now I forgive my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Among all the propositions that I understand, the proposition “God has changed my heart” best explains some of my experiences. Thus, my belief that God has changed my life is justified (on an evidentialist account of justification!). The experience of receiving an apparent divine speech act can provide prima facie justification for theistic belief, but this justification is also (relatively) easily defeated, as you’ve rightly pointed out. But when combined with an awareness of drastic change in one’s moral character over time (especially awareness of having enemy-love!), theistic belief becomes much more resilient or defeater-resistant. If experiences like these can’t justify theistic belief, then I don’t know what could! For more, see Paul K. Moser’s The Elusive God and The Evidence for God.

    July 19, 2013 — 21:59
  • Roger Turner

    @Scott. Cool, yeah I’ll have to check that out sometime (when I’m not swamped with other things! :-)).
    Well, okay. I guess I wasn’t asking whether or not you thought that the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection were convincing. I’m not sure it matters whether or not they’re convincing to you. I guess what I wanted to know is if you think that a person’s believing in the existence of the Christian God on the basis of such an argument justifies a person (in your sense of justification) in their so believing? I mean, I don’t find any of the arguments *against* God’s existence at all convincing, but they still seem to me strong enough to justify a person’s disbelieving in God’s existence. Maybe my account of justification isn’t strong enough for your taste?
    Lastly, I’m confused by this bit:
    “But even if I did, they still wouldn’t get one to a justified belief in a tri-omni deity (and I was explicit that this was one of my target conceptions of God).”
    Wasn’t your target conception the Christian God? If so, and Jesus is the Christian God, then…
    Anywho, maybe it’s not important anymore given that, as you say, you were targeting Trent’s bit about basicality. I couldn’t help asking; your views are interesting to me!

    July 19, 2013 — 23:30
  • Kien

    Hi Keith. Very nice essay. I agree I don’t really know for sure if God exists for the reasons set out in your essay. Yet I think I do believe in God. How I can believe in someone I cannot know for sure exists? I’m not sure but perhaps “belief” is a matter of emotions whereas “know” is a philosophical question. Imagine a child growing up with an absent father. The child is told she has a father who loves her very much but is away on a long journey. He will one day return. She is told he is a good father who provides for her. She even occasionally gets letters who she is told is written by her father. Can she know if her father exists? Arguably not. But it seems plausible she believes her father exists and even feels that she can know something about her father. That he loves her and cares for her. One day when she is older, she may discover she never had a father. Perhaps her mother conceived her through in vitro fertilisation. She might even refuse to believe that “lie” and insists she knows her father exists.
    What do you think? I feel my believe in God is like that of the little girl.

    July 20, 2013 — 3:20
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Scott,
    “Does it have phenomenal characteristics, or are the phenomenal characteristics of this experience mysteriously totally indescribable?”
    Please observe that most experiences are totally indescribable. Try, for example, to describe to a blind person the experience of seeing the color blue. Or to somebody who has never tasted corn how that experience is. Or, a better example, try to describe to somebody of perfect hearing who does not understand Chinese the experience of listening to Chinese. For even though the sounds of spoken Chinese are exactly the same, they are experienced quite differently depending on whether one understands them or not. My point is that phenomenal experience is not a given but depends on one’s own cognitive state. Thus by itself it shouldn’t be at all surprising that some people do experience God and some others don’t.
    As for the first part of the question, I assume you believe in the existence of electrons. Would you say you experience them? Would you say the electron has phenomenal characteristics? Isn’t it rather the case that people who have reached a certain level of understanding of physical phenomena realize that there are electrons out there because otherwise they can’t make sense of such phenomena? (Incidentally all scientifically educated people believe in the existence of electrons, but depending on their metaphysical views they may disagree as to the nature of that existence.)
    Or take the case of something more commonplace than electrons, for example tables. What would you say are the “phenomenal characteristics” of tables? After all there is no such thing as “table qualia”. So when we say “I see a table” what we really mean is “I see a huge number of qualia I make sense of, or which I organize in such a way, as there being a table”. Well, the same goes with God. The theist says “I make sense of the huge lot of my experience of life, or I organize it, as there being God”.
    On the other hand of course, the naturalist will certainly claim that she makes sense of the whole of her experience of life without God. The primitive naturalist will only take into account her experience of physical phenomena, sometimes claiming that all subjective experiences not amenable to scientific investigation lack relevance for some reason or other. A less primitive naturalist will give a plausible account of how a naturalistic world would give rise to such subjective experiences. A more sophisticated naturalist who knows about the genetic fallacy, will point out that according to naturalism many such experiences (e.g. our experience of the good, or of freedom) are illusory, not just in the sense that they don’t refer to anything that actually exists but in the sense that they don’t refer to anything that actually makes sense.
    Which is ok. What’s so wrong with accepting that there are different ways to understand and thus to experience our life?
    I find it’s quite relaxing to realize the following: Consider all worlds that would produce the whole of our experience of life (objective and subjective experiences, what we find ourselves inclined to accept as plausible or as epistemically valid, etc). For simplicity’s sake remove all worlds which are not theistic and not naturalistic (in an informed and thus powerful sense of “theistic” and “naturalistic”). There may be interesting non-theistic non-naturalistic worldviews out there, but I haven’t seen any, and to limit the discussion to theism and naturalism is useful enough. When we come this far we recognize that both theism and naturalism are *viable* worldviews. Necessarily and for all we now know, they may both true. And since both may be true, we shouldn’t call either the theist or the naturalist irrational. On the other hand (as I will argue bellow) I am inclined to think that the naturalist has not made the smarter choice.

    July 20, 2013 — 6:21
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I would like to compare the existential state of the theist and naturalist on multiple levels, for, obviously, one’s worldview has significant existential implications. Doing this I will hopefully demonstrate that theism is the smarter choice. And lest my point be confused with Pascal’s wager, I mean the implications of one’s metaphysical views in our life here and now. Further I would like to limit the discussion to educated free-thinking people. (A similar discussion can be made for other kinds of people, say those who are educated but slaves to fashion, those who are educated badly, those who are not educated, etc.)
    The first more common level refers to the implications of one’s choice between theism and naturalism on the conceptual quality of one’s way of thinking, on one’s noetic structure. Here we find that theism is an intellectually much more pleasing view, for it makes sense of all the important things in our life. For example for me beauty is a really big thing, and to assume, as naturalists do, that there is no such thing as beauty, and that experiences of beauty are just the product of a particular kind of electrochemical reactions in our brain, is, well, distasteful. I find it painful to even consider embracing a worldview in which, say, the fact that Halle Berry is more beautiful than Winston Churchill is only a fact about the human brain’s physiology. Similarly I would find it painful to embrace a worldview in which freedom doesn’t exist, for I can make absolutely no sense of my basic experience of everyday life without the notion that my freedom to choose is real. In my judgment then, a thinker who knowing the conceptual implications embraces naturalism rather than theism is kind of an intellectual masochist.
    The second level I might call the passive level of our experience of life, the way a worldview affects one’s experience of life. Without much argument I’d like to point out the rather obvious fact that theism is a much more beautiful worldview. Again, I find it is kind of masochistic to embrace naturalism.
    The third level would be the active level, the way one’s choice of a worldview affects one’s everyday choices in one’s life. Again without much argument I’d like to point out the rather obvious fact that theism is morally empowering, and thus helps one live as one would like to live. Incidentally both this and the previous point are consistent with several statistical studies. All other factors being the same, religious people tend to be more happy and more charitable than non-religious people. The measured differences are actually quite significant.
    Up to here my argument is that since both theism and naturalism are viable worldviews, it is smarter from the existential point of view to choose theism. Some naturalists may argue that even so theism is unacceptable on purely intellectual grounds – that intellectual honesty keeps them from embracing theism. They may say that theism is incompatible with the physical sciences. Or that theism suffers from many conceptual problems (such as the various versions of the problem from evil), whereas there are no good arguments against naturalism. But all of that is false on its face. Naturalism is arguably harder to fit with the finding of modern science than theism. As for philosophical arguments in general, naturalism suffers from a great many serious problems, many of which it solves only by handwaving them away and pointing out that they do not obtain if naturalism is true. Which is akin to a theist handwaving away the problem from evil by pointing out that theism entails that there are no gratuitous evils. Anyway, my point here is not that theism is better supported by arguments than naturalism – even though I take this much as granted. My point here is that theism is the better *choice* existentially speaking. I make this distinction because the next two levels bellow refer to cognitive conditions which remove the option of choosing.
    The fourth level refers to the actual experience of God. Similarly to the case of tables, and contrary to the case of electrons, if theism is true then we have the option of directly experiencing God. We must here distinguish between two kinds of experience: If theism is true then every normal person experiences God. From how one experiences oneself down to the shade of green of every blade of grass – we see the will of God at work. When the theist or the atheist experiences something beautiful they are directly experiencing God. But this is not the sense I am speaking of here. I am not speaking of merely experiencing God, but of realizing that one experiences God. Which comes from experiencing God as a present, living, and interacting person – through a relationship that enriches us. The way we experience the living bodies of people around us as being persons (or minds), in that same way to experience in the whole of the world there being the person or the mind of God. It is perhaps at this stage where one attains knowledge of God, in the sense I take it philosophers speak of knowledge. The difference is this: To passively realize there is something in one’s experiences (be it a table, electrons, or God) leaves open the possibility of error or illusion (some naturalists believe that religion is not so much a matter of error but a natural implication of the structure of our brain as it has resulted from our socio-biological past, in the same way that, for example, our brain makes us experience some things as being more beautiful than others). But to have a relationship with another person witch fills one with joy and enriches and transforms one’s very being is not compatible with the notion of illusion. One may have an illusion when one sees a lake being there far away among the sand dunes of a desert. But if one finds one can actually drink from that lake and quench one’s thirst, or clean one hands in its waters, then it’s certainly not an illusion.
    Now probably only a small proportion of theists reaches that level of rock-like understanding, i.e. the level that comes from actually meeting God. But quite obviously if there is such an existential state and somebody is in such a state, then her belief in God is rational, justified, warranted, knowledge-producing, and has whatever other positive epistemic property a philosopher may care to speak of. Also, I assume, once that level is reached with consistency there is no way back to reasonable doubt. When theists lose their faith it can only be because they have not really reached that cognitive condition, or else have lost it for some strange reason (grave sin, loss of normal brain function, something like that).
    Before discussing the firth level which is of mystical union, let’s take a quick look back at the previous four levels. The first level is the intellectual or conceptual one, the same by which we make a realist sense of the important things in our life. It’s akin to why we find it practical to believe in the existence of electrons or of tables. The second is the passively aesthetic sense, by which we find that something is more pleasing than something else. It’s the level by which we know that we’d rather gaze at Hale Berry than Winston Churchill. The third is the active one in which one finds that some tools are more useful than others, for example that a hammer works better than a screwdriver for driving a nail into the wall. The fourth level is the actual personal level, in which one builds a relationship with God in exactly the same way one builds a relationship with other people. In the first three levels one embraces theism by choice (theism makes more conceptual sense, makes one enjoy life better, makes one a better person), but on the fourth level one actually becomes a theist. Theism is not anymore a matter of willful choice, but a matter of what one has become. (It’s I suppose what all great religious traditions call self-transformation, or “repentance” or “metanoia” in Christian-speak). One does not anymore believe in theism, one *is* a theist. Now on the ultimate level of mystical union one not only consciously experiences and interacts with God, but one becomes that what God is – what in the Christian East is called “theosis”. Which maximally good personal state God’s unlimited blessing of creation makes feasible for us to attain even in this world. If theism is true and one has is in such a state it would be kind of ridiculous to ask the mystic what evidence she has for her belief in God.
    A final comment in order to clarify what I think I am doing here. The levels I mention above represent only one possible description of the complex reality of the human condition vis-à-vis the transcendental. I don’t claim them in an argumentative way but as a description of the human condition, the truth of which can be tested directly by anybody. Further, these levels are not separate but represent a continuum – thus, for example, the beauty of the worldview (level 2) is part of what empowers (level 3). Nor are they ordered sequentially – people may reach the definitive state of a personal relationship with God without ever having considered that only theism makes sense of beauty or of freedom. Nor are the levels black or white, i.e. either you have it or you don’t. Indeed one may have some weak personal relationship with God, or even some rare and short-lived mystical experiences, and then years later within the stream of everyday troubles lose it all, slip back, and wonder if they were real. One may even completely loose one’s faith. Religious traditions recognize these difficulties and teach specific spiritual exercises for not letting oneself be carried away by everyday concerns. For it is very common to get “preoccupied with selfish misery” as the beautiful song says. And the fact remains that in order to be with God one needs poverty and humility, real poverty and real humility – which is something most of us completely lack.
    Speaking of spiritual exercises, a real easy and also pleasurable one I can recommend is to think all the time about God. It’s a kind of prayer, a kind that fits better the intellectually inclined.

    July 20, 2013 — 6:29
  • Keith DeRose

    Trying to solve the reference class problem here would just slow us down, Alex. (I remember my adviser, Rogers Albritton, telling of the time he was an alternate juror. He really wanted to be on the jury, because the case was the metaphysician’s dream: something like possession of illegal weapons, but the weapons weren’t assembled, with different parts at different locations, etc. “So they messed it up without you?” “No, they got it all right. I would have just slowed them down, insisting on formulating all the principles explicitly, etc. But it would have been fun–well, for me.” [approx quotations from memory].) But a couple of the highlights of what would emerge from a look at a lot of interesting cases and trying to discern the features in virtue of which judgments should be grouped with past mistakes for epistemic evaluation are reflected in my telling of the barns case, and also in a feature I highlight in my presentation of the sea of theological error we find ourselves in. As with (the right version of) the barn case, most folks can tell that the errors are trouble here, at least so far as the experiences (well, at least the ones I’ve talked with experiencers about) have been presented. The function of barns story is just to give a parallel case (or close enough) where there are fewer axes grinding to buttress that sense. The trouble: Based on how they’re presented, it seems that even those who get things right don’t know (and that they’re unjustified in their beliefs so far as they know of the situation). Of course, there may be features of the experiences that aren’t being well conveyed that break, say, those of the 59-ers out of the general sea of error. But it can’t be that they’re right, or that God really is (causally) behind their experiences, since that’s already baked into the judgment (that even those who are right … ). Still, as I said, there could be features of the religious experiences that do the trick. I’ve got ideas of what they could be, and, in fact, there are cases of actual people (though nobody I know) who seem to me might well have known that God exists, and more besides.

    July 20, 2013 — 10:14
  • Keith:
    I’m not much of an epistemologist (I do formal epistemology, but to a large degree that’s not epistemology, but toy-model-epistemology), but let me put some flesh on the bones of my remark.
    It’s going to be hard to find an effective way to lump the many philosophical arguments that obviously do lead astray with the theistic arguments that seem very persuasive to some of us (Aquinas, St Paul, the author of the Book of Wisdom, etc.) without losing way too much of the structure of the situations.
    There will be lots and lots of specific differences between the arguments, and the way their premises get support, and only when described at a very high level like “Valid argument from a bunch of premises that are significantly persuasive to a significant but not overwhelming number of intelligent and well-informed philosophers” will we get a single reference class. (By the way, if one’s just talking of arguments for a necessary being, the results from Josh Rasmussen’s NecessaryBeing.net experiment show that the premises are at least initially plausible to a very large majority of atheists, too.)
    Moreover, if we formulate the reference class in something like this way, we get the disagreement problem: Should arguments plausible to other philosophers but persuasive to me be in the reference class?
    After all, if I only put into the reference class philosophical arguments whose premises are significantly persuasive to me, I don’t really get anything like your barn story. I don’t think I know of forty misleading arguments equally persuasive to me as the cosmological-cum-teleological argument. In fact, when I think of equally persuasive philosophical arguments that I now take myself to have good reason to think have led me astray, the number is pretty small. There is a handful of arguments that I am no longer persuaded by that I once found very persuasive, but even in these cases, I am rarely if ever sure that they led me to a significant falsehood.
    Likewise, if I evaluate religions rather than arguments, the differences are pretty big. Suppose I look at religions that are (a) developed with a very high degree of intellectual sophistication, (b) survive Ockham’s razor, (c) are and have been persuasive over a significant amount of time to a large number of virtuous and intellectually sophisticated people, (d) provide an extremely comprehensive (ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics, etc.), well-integrated and synchronically and diachronically consistent system, (e) are sufficiently consistent with our best science and history (“sufficiently”, since our best science and history might be wrong to some degree), (f) provide a persuasive picture of deep and important facts about how life is to be lived, (g) are consistent with extremely plausible philosophical claims, (h) have a significant degree of historical confirmation (e.g., miracles). I don’t find very many that I see as plausibly meeting all of these criteria to a significant degree. In fact, I pretty quickly get down to Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Orthodox Judaism. And further argument gets it to Catholicism. 🙂
    I am not saying that these criteria all a priori must be had by a correct religion. But they do mark out a reference class nicely, and a religion that satisfies them tends to be more likely true than one that doesn’t.

    July 20, 2013 — 11:08
  • Kenny Pearce

    Sorry, I apparently got way behind on this comment thread!
    Mike: I’m not sure what exactly is the best way to think of this kind of objectual knowledge, but it certainly involves coming into experiential contact, and it’s certainly related, somehow, to propositional knowledge, though not straightforwardly. I usually think of knowledge de re as knowledge of de re propositions (knowing that this is red), so I guess I’m thinking of it as more like acquaintance.
    Alex: I’m no Medieval scholar, but here’s how I’m reading Aquinas. According to ST Iq1a2, the scientia of sacred doctrine derives its first principles from a scientia possessed not by us but by “God and the blessed.” These first principles thus come to us by revelation. In Iq1a8r2, he says, “we ought to believe on the authority of those to whom the revelation has been made.” In IIbq2a9, we read “Now the act of believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God.” Aquinas is careful in many places to say that the first principles are not subject to demonstration, though sacred doctrine can be demonstrated from the assumption of the truth of the Scriptures. Also, in IIbq2a3 he is careful to say that these beliefs are “above the natural reason.” Now, in the reply to the first objection to the same article, he says that “supernatural knowledge” is needed, but this is ‘cognitio.’ He also says, in IIbq9a1 that the ‘gift of knowledge’ (scientia) is required so that we can assent, by faith, to the right things rather than the wrong ones. But all of this is, I take it, consistent with the following interpretation: it is only by an encounter with God, wherein God, by grace, ‘moves the will’ to assent that one can have faith. This faith is or involves propositional belief, but this belief may fall short of knowledge (although these beliefs can provide the first principles of a genuine scientia of sacred doctrine). On the other hand, the encounter with God is a kind of cognitio of God. So what goes on here is getting from this cognitio of God, to reasonable belief in the first principles of faith, and from there to a scientia of sacred doctrine based on these first principles. Insofar as this scientia stems ultimately from divine grace, it is to be described as a ‘gift’ (donum scientiae).
    Again, I’m not a Medieval scholar, so it’s not unlikely that I may be missing something, but that’s what it looks like to me.

    July 20, 2013 — 12:00
  • Aron Wall

    Scott writes:
    “Ordinary religious experiences, which aren’t obviously ridiculous (I’ve had friends tell me they’ve seen amputated limbs regrow before their very eyes in response to petitionary prayer)”
    Do you have a non-question-begging reason to call miraculous regrowth of limbs obviously ridiculous? I can see why the event is highly implausible on naturalism, but that’s precisely why it would count as good evidence for something else (e.g. Christianity)!
    Seems like there’s a catch-22 here. Any evidence which is sufficiently amazing that it WOULD support theism, you can dismiss as absurd for violating your intuitions about how the world works.
    “I’m a card-carrying evidentialist.”
    I think maybe you need to turn your card back in.
    Obviously, I don’t know your friends; for all I know you have other good reasons to consider them unreliable. But just judging from your curt a priori dismissal of their testimony, I suspect that you are the one who has your hands covering your eyes, lest you see something you don’t want to see!

    July 20, 2013 — 17:17
  • Scott Hagaman

    @Aron I’m not credulous enough to take verbal reports of incredibly miraculous events which can’t be or haven’t been verified in any remotely reliable manner as plausible. I find Hume’s remarks fairly instructive on this point:
    “With what greediness are the miraculous accounts of travellers received, their descriptions of sea and land monsters, their relations of wonderful adventures, strange men, and uncouth manners? But if the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common sense; and human testimony, in these circumstances, loses all pretensions to authority. A religionist may be an enthusiast, and imagine he sees what has no reality: he may know his narrative to be false, and yet persevere in it, with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause: or even where this delusion has not place, vanity, excited by so strong a temptation, operates on him more powerfully than on the rest of mankind in any other circumstances; and self-interest with equal force. His auditors may not have, and commonly have not, sufficient judgement to canvass his evidence: what judgement they have, they renounce by principle, in these sublime and mysterious subjects: or if they were ever so willing to employ it, passion and a heated imagination disturb the regularity of its operations. Their credulity increases his impudence: and his impudence overpowers their credulity.”
    I spent years of my youth in a faith-healing church. I’m very familiar with these reports, and I’m very familiar with the people who delivered them. I have excellent reasons to question their reliability in addition to those above. For example, one can press for details about how exactly the limb was restored. Was it instantly replaced, or did it sort of sprout from the nub and slowly extend itself, etc…? To make a long story short there is much they could have learned from Barney Stinson: http://imgur.com/hgE8H59
    Finally, those who share these stories know that they could do a lot better by trying to back the story up with evidence. Before and after pictures would be a good first attempt. Why can’t these ever be provided? Surely these Christians have a real interest in sharing with others in a more reliable fashion the fact that God is working amazing miracles?
    There is a lot more that could be said, but in short, I have no idea how you managed to leap to the claim that I have dismissed testimony in a purely a priori way. If you believe these reports, I think you need to do some more research on the matter. As an evidentialist, I don’t require just any evidence whatsoever in order to believe something, but good evidence. And the more astonishing the claim (it’s not a priori astonishing), the more good evidence I will require.
    I suspect your next move in this game is to try to defend the claim that God doesn’t want people to have any good evidence of the fact that He is working miracles? =)

    July 21, 2013 — 14:22
  • Scott Hagaman

    @Aaron I’ve been talking about being epistemically justified in believing a very particular sort of proposition. I gestured at two such candidate propositions. These are what I had in mind:
    (P1) God exists and is wholly good, all-powerful and all-knowing.
    (P2) (P1) and God is the God of the Nicene Creed.
    I don’t think the experience of moral development you have provided gives you a good reason to believe (P1). I also don’t think the proposition that God exists best explains this experience of moral development, and so I don’t think you have a a strong IBE argument here, but even if it did, it doesn’t get you to justified belief in (P1). I would, however, be interested in hearing about the phenomenology of the apparent divine call which has rich propositional content (if this is a real case rather than a hypothetical one). I’m always happy to talk about the nature of religious experiences with those who claim to have had them.
    As I’ve said, I think many people have justified theistic beliefs such as (P1). I just don’t think serious philosophers do. And I do think think that serious philosophers can *rationally* believe both (P1) and (P2).
    @Dianelos Some good remarks on the communicability of experiences. I haven’t yet run into anyone who claims to have had a religious experience that they couldn’t describe to at least some extent. I also haven’t run into anyone who claims to have had a religious experience that they can just tell is not the sort of thing one could possibly describe to someone who hasn’t had it. It is, of course, possible that people have such experiences. Do you take yourself to have had a religious experience which would give you a good reason to believe (P1) or (P2)?

    July 21, 2013 — 14:38
  • Hi Scott,
    I have always enjoyed the courtroom scene in the movie Oh God. In it, George Burns as God is asked as a witness, to perform a miracle in order to show he is who he says he is. He does a card trick and a disappearing act for the court. After God leaves, the question arises as to whether he was God, or was it all just a card trick, and so forth. The court’s resolution is that each individual will determine what he or she will believe.
    If God is to perform a miracle, as soon as he is done, the world will be back to normal, and everything will be able to be explained in terms of natural science. Because after he is gone, we only have the physical world for our bearings. It is only the physical phenomena that we share. We call it reality.
    What if it were heaven instead? The same logic applies, as in this poem, Blue Luge. You said to Aron, “I suspect your next move in this game is to try to defend the claim that God doesn’t want people to have any good evidence of the fact that He is working miracles?” The idea that God, if you and any good philosophers were to believe in him, allows a relationship with people outside of the realm he has you in, is miracle enough.
    If the sky opens above you, and you are quick enough to get your cellphone out while God says to you something about repenting, and you snap a photo, do you think that photo would convince anyone? Could you enter that photo into this discussion as evidence of God’s existence? Would it look any more convincing than a cloud that looks like Santa Claus to your fellow philosophers? The judge in the Oh God scene, after God leaves, chooses for himself not to believe in God, with good justification. From one who has had mystical experiences, if this happened to you, it may not be long before you would be attributing what you saw and heard to mere natural causes. All you’d need is one, just one, not-too-far-fetched natural explanation.

    July 21, 2013 — 15:35
  • Aaron Bartolome

    @Scott: Good, we have to get clear on what we mean when we say things like ‘theistic belief’ and ‘God.’ In the context of discussions about religious epistemology I prefer to use the term ‘God’ to mean “a being who is worthy of worship (worship includes trust, love, adoration, obedience, full-life commitment) and hence morally perfect.” Moral development, by itself, cannot justify theistic belief. But I think it can when combined with receiving certain kinds of apparent divine speech acts (e.g. “I want you to forgive Andrew who hates you” etc.) in the absence of defeaters (e.g. “I didn’t just drink a case of beer, I have no history of psychological illness,” etc.). If you had good evidence for the existence of a person who could communicate with you directly, who had goals/purposes that we would reasonably expect of a person who is worthy of worship (i.e. the goal of promoting agape love in people’s hearts), and who had the power to actually change your life (your selfish motives into unselfish love for others including enemies), then you would also be justified in believing what this person says. Suppose this person identified him/herself as the God that Jesus talks about in the gospels. You would then be justified in believing in a creator who is very powerful, very knowledgeable, and perfectly loving. (This might not get you the “omni” God, however.)

    July 22, 2013 — 0:55
  • Keith DeRose

    Alex: I wasn’t bringing in fake barn worries to deal with the possibility of knowing by means of philosophical arguments. They’re just brought in to help explain why it seems one can’t know God’s existence through experience.

    July 22, 2013 — 10:09
  • Keith:
    Oh, I see. That does help with the reference class issue.
    But I think it’s still there.
    First of all, unlike in your barn case, for the typical believer who believes on the grounds of a religious experience, one will have to include other people’s experiences in the reference class. I suspect that it’s not that common for a Christian who believes on the grounds of a religious experience to have a significant number of relevantly similar religious experiences that she has good reason to think are misleading. So to get something like your barn case, one will have to bring in other experiencers, mostly I would think from other religions. And then the dissimilarities between the religions may become relevant again.

    July 22, 2013 — 12:40
  • Scott

    Keith: So do your worries boil down to the problem of disagreement? And if there were less disagreement about religious matters would you agree that religious beliefs could be properly basic and/or religious experience would confer justification?

    July 22, 2013 — 12:50
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Scott,
    “I haven’t yet run into anyone who claims to have had a religious experience that they couldn’t describe to at least some extent.”
    It’s one thing to describe “to some extent” an experience – perhaps by describing its emotional impact, or perhaps by using some analogy to something similar (e.g. saying something like “corn has a fresh, crunchy, and slightly earthy taste”). But the experience itself, its phenomenal characteristics as you put it, are absolutely indescribable. I gave several examples and I notice you haven’t suggested any way to describe their actual content. I think I describe accurately the human condition when I say that all experiences can only be known by having them, i.e. by acquaintance.
    In any case, that religious experiences are real and powerful is a given. The only open question is their relevance. And that relevance cannot be reflected upon outside of the natural context. Some naturalists point out that taking a pill can produce religious experiences, as if anybody has suggested that religious experiences are unnatural things and are independent of the physical processes in our brain. But to think that one can judge the relevance of the religious experience that is induced by a pill, is similar to thinking that one can judge the relevance of loving one’s wife by taking a pill that induces that love.
    Do you take yourself to have had a religious experience which would give you a good reason to believe (P1) or (P2)?”
    Well, in my case I suppose the main experience is the realization about how badly naturalism works conceptually. I know what naturalism implies for concepts such as freedom, purpose, responsibility, morality, beauty, meaning, etc and I find the whole view so absurd that I couldn’t believe it if my life depended on it. But I see that naturalism is nevertheless possibly true, as it fits with all our experiences.
    Then come the two existential reasons I discussed above, namely that embracing theism makes life more beautiful and is morally empowering. Thus I experience theism as a much preferable choice. Theism helps people to live better.
    Some naturalists think that this is beside the point in the context of seeking the truth – but I find they are clearly wrong. Imagine we visit an alien planet, observe intelligent beings living there, but are completely unable to communicate with them so as to assert what beliefs they hold. Nevertheless we observe an alien gardener having obvious success in her garden, and another equally hardworking having very bad results. Without knowing anything at all about the propositions on gardening each holds, we know that the former gardener holds a greater proportion of true beliefs than the latter. Similarly, if we see somebody easily navigate doors and how another often bumps into walls, we conclude that the former holds more true propositions about doors and walls than the latter. By their fruit one recognizes them – as the Gospels say.
    Now by “religious experience” you probably mean the direct experience of the presence of the person of God. To really experience this one needs humility and poverty (“the pure of heart shall see God”), and I haven’t got any of these. But in an unearned kind of way I do have a weak form of such religious experiences. I mainly experience them as a kind of mental transparency and joyful peace when I think about God.
    As for God’s attributes and other dogmatic theses such as the ones included in the Nicene creed, they are important to the theologian but not to the believer. What is far more relevant is the relationship itself, as well as the great blessings it entails. I think it is true that in one’s experience of the person of God one does sense great goodness, beauty, forgiveness, etc – but I don’t think one senses the various characteristics theologians discuss, including the Trinitarian nature of God, the nature and purpose of Christ’s incarnation, etc. God in the living reality is a simple matter.

    July 22, 2013 — 14:36
  • Scott Hagaman

    This will probably be my last response in this thread. I didn’t want to have to get into everything I have (I really only wanted to respond to Trent), but it doesn’t seem fair to pop into a discussion and then leave without trying to clarify in response to legitimate questions. After this post, I think I will have adequately done that.
    @Aaron Throughout all my posts, I think I was pretty clear as to what sort of claims I was holding serious philosophers not to have epistemic justification for believing. I’ve allowed that weaker sorts of theistic claim may be the sort that can be epistemically justified (for serious philosopher).
    It looks like you seem to agree that your example experience might not get you to the claim I say it can’t get serious philosophers to having epistemic justification for believing. I also don’t think it gets you to the perfectly loving claim either. I’m sure you have an idea of some of the passages in the OT I’d cite on that score. Routes to very powerful and very knowledgable will also be problematic, but perhaps you can get that far.
    I don’t think it is a priori impossible to know of God’s existence through experience. I can imagine experiences that would fairly easily convince me that some kind of incredibly powerful and knowledgeable deity exists. It would take a lot of work for me to be convinced that this deity is perfectly loving, however.
    @Rus On that score, I wouldn’t be convinced by cheap magic tricks. But if God really wanted to give folks good experiential reasons to believe in His existence, He could start by magically terraforming planet Earth and turning it into a Garden of Eden. He could also simultaneously announce His intentions to do so to everyone on the planet before He did it. I’d consider something like this to be a good first step in God’s new plan to try to establish a relationship with His putative creatures. I have numerous other suggestions for Him, of course, and I don’t think I’d required anything THIS drastic to be able to be epistemically justified in the existence of an insanely powerful and insanely knowledgable deity. But again, he’d have a lot of explaining to do, and perhaps more miracles to work, before I’d move the belief that this being is (i) worthy of worship, (ii) perfectly morally good, (iii) the creator of the Universe, and (iv) trinitarian.
    @Dianelos You write: “Well, in my case I suppose the main experience is the realization about how badly naturalism works conceptually. I know what naturalism implies for concepts such as freedom, purpose, responsibility, morality, beauty, meaning, etc and I find the whole view so absurd that I couldn’t believe it if my life depended on it.”
    I am not persuaded. First, I am not a naturalist. I also happen to be endlessly annoyed at attempts to argue for theism by way arguing against naturalism or materialism. These are not the only games in town. Plantinga took this route in his debate with Michael Tooley (see _Knowledge of God_).
    Second, I don’t think I have any good reason to believe that naturalism has any interesting implications for purpose, beauty or meaning. I do think naturalism may have implications for freedom, morality and responsibility, but I get there through a controversial route. I think it likely that a naturalist will need to be a compatibilist, and I reject compatibilism. (This depends upon the conception of naturalism in play, however.)
    I also take libertarian free agency to be a pre-req for morality and responsibility. So I think naturalism (or some versions of it) may fair ill on this score, although this is controversial. This may have some implications for meaning as well. (But all this is, again, controversial. One could, for example, be a semi-compatibilist.)
    Imagine that God told you that naturalism is true. Suppose he revealed to you that he has set up the world in which we live so that (aside from Him) it’s a naturalistic world. Would you then immediately conclude that there is no morality, meaning or responsibility? I think not. You’d instead likely admit that you were just wrong about what naturalism implied. Did you know that Peter van Inwagen is a Christian Materialist?
    I think you will find that serious philosophers find these issues to be a lot less “clear” than you seem to think they are. And for good reason. Doing serious philosophy tends to weaken one’s views on matters as esoteric as these, not strengthen them. Or, at least, and done properly, think it should.
    I have no doubt that religious belief confers, for many (maybe even for all) numerous pragmatic benefits. I have no doubt that some people would be deeply unhappy if they were to lose their religious beliefs. Perhaps I myself am much less happy after having given up religion than I would otherwise be had I managed to retain my religious beliefs. Maybe theism does help people, or at least many people (maybe even most people) to live better.
    This is all find and good, but bears very little, I take it, on what people are epistemically justified in believing. Everybody knows that false beliefs can benefit people. In some cases, informing people of the fact that their beliefs are false can harm them (imagine informing someone in a scientific study that they are part of the control group and are taking a placebo). One might cause the same harm by telling them that they don’t have a good reason to believe they aren’t taking a placebo. Sometimes the truth hurts. I hope for a future in which truth hurts less, but false religious beliefs also cause quite a bit of harm.

    July 22, 2013 — 15:48
  • Scott:
    “Imagine that God told you that naturalism is true. Suppose he revealed to you that he has set up the world in which we live so that (aside from Him) it’s a naturalistic world. Would you then immediately conclude that there is no morality, meaning or responsibility?”
    The evolutionary debunking arguments against morality, meaning and responsibility don’t work if God set up the evolutionary system. So if one’s way to the conclusion “If naturalism, then no morality, meaning or responsibility” is through evolutionary debunking arguments, that fits well with your thought experiment.

    July 22, 2013 — 16:24
  • Aron Wall

    Scott wrote:
    “I have no idea how you managed to leap to the claim that I have dismissed testimony in a purely a priori way.”
    From your original comment, I got the impression that you thought regrowth of amputated limbs was ridiculous because it involved the regrowth of limbs, and not because of some additional unstated problems with the specific testimony or its documentation. I apologize if I was reading too much into a short comment.
    “I suspect your next move in this game is to try to defend the claim that God doesn’t want people to have any good evidence of the fact that He is working miracles? =)”
    No, of course not. My next move in the game would have been to recommend that you read Craig Keener’s scholarly book on Miracles. Some of the cases he refers to involve before-and-after medical documentation.
    Just because there are a lot of overcredulous people who report miracles, doesn’t mean there aren’t some cases which are supported by good evidence. One has to actually do the research on the specific cases.
    I agree with you that a somewhat hightened burden of proof is called for. But I don’t think its enough to say (with Hume), oh well religious people are gullible in general, so we’ll just set the bar for all such claims so fantastically high that it’s basically impossible to clear it.

    July 23, 2013 — 0:21
  • Mark Rogers

    Hey Keith, very nice essay! Not being a philosopher I probably should not join in here, but as someone who thinks they know God exists and you said you wanted to talk to someone who knows God exists, here I am. Now one thing I believe is that there are only one or two people in every generation who actually get to see God. So I am thinking that the chances of you ever getting to converse with one of these people is slim. But if you did run across one of these people, the question in my mind is how could they ever provide sufficient proof to you that they knew God existed so that you could say “Yes, I know, that person knows God exists.” 

    July 23, 2013 — 6:56
  • This is a fascinating essay with some fascinating responses. I find it interesting how this threads a kind of needle. The essay is clearly directed somewhere between people who say they know God exists and people who have a hunch that there is something greater at work, but can’t quite pin it on God for sure. I would say your dismissal of atheism/agnosticism is a little curt, but reading this essay it is made clear why. However, I would be very interested, perhaps in another article, to see more in depth reasoning on why atheist/agonstics can’t know for sure.
    Now, to address your article. My main question would be, why would you take the state when these people are non-believers more seriously than when they were believers? It sounds like these people were confident in both situations. Could it be possible that they still knew God existed in some way even after they ‘lost faith’ but have piled on denial? Perhaps on some intellectual level they were really convinced that their ‘religious experience’ was just a chemical malfunction in their brain, even though deep down there’s a part of them that doesn’t believe it. They just give up to their rational judgment, despite their instinct.
    To me this seems just as likely as someone who is trying to convince themselves they have faith in god when they do not. Something like ‘religious experience’ is so personal, it seems hard to me to judge what another’s might be like. Still, you make a good point.

    July 24, 2013 — 7:51
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Scott,
    “I also happen to be endlessly annoyed at attempts to argue for theism by way arguing against naturalism or materialism”
    Given the nature of worldviews I think only modus tollens applies. I.e. there is no such thing as direct evidence for a worldview, there is only evidence against the negation of a worldview. Thus, if one is comparing naturalism and theism (how probably true they are, how reasonable it is to believe in them, etc) evidence against one amounts to evidence for the other.
    Here, for example, is a path the theist can take:
    1. If naturalism is true then freedom does not exist.
    2. Freedom exists.
    3. Therefore, naturalism is false.
    4. The most reasonable worldview among the non-naturalistic worldviews we know of is theism.
    5. Therefore the most reasonable worldview among all the worldviews we know of is theism.
    “[Theism and naturalism] are not the only games in town”
    Indeed. There is also solipsism, the computer simulation hypothesis, the evil demon hypothesis, etc. But I don’t know of any non-theistic non-naturalistic worldview I’d judge to be a serious contender and worth thinking about. But perhaps I simply haven’t heard of them. Pity you don’t wish to continue the discussion and describe what your own non-theistic non-naturalistic worldview is, and how you justify your belief in it.
    “Suppose [God] revealed to you that he has set up the world in which we live so that (aside from Him) it’s a naturalistic world.”
    That’s a very problematic scenario. For starters theism is not the thesis that in an otherwise metaphysically independent reality a person such as God happens to exist. Further your scenario is highly unstable as the god-like person you describe would instantly convert the world into a properly theistic one. But let me overlook all of that.
    “ Would you then immediately conclude that there is no morality, meaning or responsibility?”
    Of course. Since I’d be part of the naturalistic part of the world, as far as I am concerned there wouldn’t be any morality, meaning, or responsibility. If I were given a defeater for my current beliefs in morality, meaning, and responsibility, then reason would move me to reject them. Or, more probably, reason would push me into some kind of dissociative mental state, in which I would believe that morality etc do not exist, but would continue to live as though they exist. We humans, naturalists and theists alike, find it very easy to live in such dissociative mental states.
    “Did you know that Peter van Inwagen is a Christian Materialist?”
    Yes, but I understand he is a materialist only in respect to human beings. One might argue that St Thomas Aquinas too is a materialist in respect to human beings.
    I am not sure what your point is. Theistic philosophers disagree about the metaphysical nature of human beings, so what? Non-theistic philosophers disagree about some of the most basic questions there are, such as whether naturalism is true or not, whether there is freedom or not, whether the universe is deterministic or not, whether there is one universe that stays put or else a potentially infinite and ever growing number of parallel universes, even whether consciousness (in the normal folk sense of the term) exists or not. Evidently, metaphysical theses leave much open to debate, on the other hand they also fix many things. For example if naturalism is true and reality is ultimately of a mechanical nature (whether deterministic or indeterministic) then freedom does not exist.
    “Doing serious philosophy tends to weaken one’s views on matters as esoteric as these, not strengthen them.”
    I find these are basic matters and not esoteric at all. I am not sure what you mean by “serious philosophy”, but as it seems to me there are some professional philosophers who tend to respond to a problem by hair-splitting and concept-loading it out of intelligibility. Something must be wrong when those who assert to greatly value epistemic justification end up becoming agnostics about about everything important there is, or become incapable to only as much as communicate with other philosophers of their own inclinations. Indeed something must be wrong when serious philosophers for centuries now discuss about “compatibilist free will”, which as everybody can easily see is a game of words since it does not refer to freedom. Above you mention semi-compatibilist freedom, but I read that John Martin Fischer who originated the term says that semi-compatibilist freedom has nothing to do with freedom. Actually this makes sense to me, since neither does compatibilist freedom. The interesting question then is this: Why do these philosophers use the word “freedom” to coin terms that refer to things that have nothing to do with freedom?
    In any case I think any pragmatically useful theory of truth must ultimately be grounded on pragmatic considerations. For it seems to me clear that there is little point in thinking about the truth value of a proposition that is entirely irrelevant to the business of living. Why not go fishing instead? Actually it seems to me that, in the first place, any theory of meaning must be grounded on matters of actual or potential experience, and thus have pragmatic implications. I say serious philosophers should be careful not be led into to trying to walk on thin air.
    “Everybody knows that false beliefs can benefit people.”
    Only in rare or even artificial cases. We can safely agree that however reality ultimately happens to be it is such that to know truths about it is in general a pragmatically useful thing. Thus, to repeat the example, if one observes A successfully navigate doors and B suffer painful runs into walls, then one already knows that A holds more true beliefs and is in general in a more valuable cognitive situation than B. Another fact about reality is that some of the most useful truths to know are moral truths, for, given freedom, without them knowledge may indeed turn to harm.
    From the agnostic’s point of view then the observational fact that religious people tend to have a better life (seem to know how to navigate reality well) than non-religious people (who seem to often kind of painfully bump into reality) is proof enough (or gives one sufficient epistemic justification for holding) that the former are closer to the truth than the latter.

    July 24, 2013 — 11:44
  • Scott Hagaman

    @Dianelos Evidence against naturalism is HARDLY evidence for theism.

    July 25, 2013 — 20:27
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Scott,
    “Evidence against naturalism is HARDLY evidence for theism.”
    I disagree.
    Suppose that in a case there are only two possible suspects, “N” and “T”. The detective uncovers some new evidence that says nothing about T but works against N. Then the probability that N did it decreases, and the probability that T did it increases by the same amount. If the new evidence works conclusively against the hypothesis that N did it then the detective has proof positive that T did it. Even though the new evidence found was only against N.
    Now consider the most general case where there is a third suspect “Non-N-non-T”. Again, if new evidence against N is discovered then the probabilities that T or Non-N-non-T did it increase. And increase proportionally. For example if the prior probabilities for N, T, and Non-N-non-T were 0.6, 0.3, and 0.1 respectively – and conclusive evidence that absolves N is discovered, then the probabilities of T and Non-N-non-T become 0.75 and 0.25 respectively.

    July 26, 2013 — 17:12
  • Mark Rogers

    Hey Keith! Do you have any way of knowing if someone has knowledge of God existence? My suspicion is that you do not. All you have are suspicions that most people do not have knowledge of God with no sure way to verify whether they do or not. Your essay was very well written and thought provoking. I know I enjoyed it. I think you have entered a kind of reverse unmodified fake barn land and you have no way of knowing if someone has knowledge of the existence of God or not. Intuitively you believe you can know if some one has knowledge of God and have surmised it has something to do with the personal experience of God. 

    July 27, 2013 — 10:04
  • Scott Hagaman

    @Dianelos I thought about modifying. For the purposes of my post, I’m using what I talk to be a fairly commonsense notion of the “evidence for” relation. Suppose we have three mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive possibilities: A, B, and C. And suppose they are currently equiprobable. Now suppose we find some evidence against C, but it’s very slight evidence. Let’s say we stumble across some new evidence and can reduce the probability we assign to C by 1%. This is not to provide evidence for A, nor is it to provide evidence for B. It might be to find some evidence for (Either A or B), but that’s a different matter. I’m also not sure that on a commonsense notion of evidence, one has evidence for something just in case it’s become every so slightly more probable for them, but this is debatable.
    As for your math, I’d say that in your case the probability of (Either T or NoN-N-Non-T) goes to 1. But I don’t see why I have to endorse your particular numbers or your rule. In fact, I think I can produce a counterexample your rule. Suppose I come to learn that naturalism is false because I come to learn that carbon atoms are fundamentally composed of fundamentally conscious non-material stuff which can, by (perhaps meager) acts of will, cause things to happen in the world. This, I take it, would fairly clearly show that naturalism is false. But if I came to learn that, I don’t think it’d raise the probability of theism at all. In fact, it would lower it.

    July 28, 2013 — 16:10
  • Mystical perception as a learned skill, and implications for religious epistemology

    In the epistemology of religion, authors like Swinburne and Alston have argued influentially that mystical experience of God provides prima facie justification for some beliefs we hold about God on the basis of such experiences, e.g., that he loves us,…

    July 29, 2013 — 14:49
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Valuable post! For what it’s worth, my sense is that if there is no God, then there are contexts in which certain philosophical arguments properly appear sufficiently strong so that on a broadly internalist epistemology, they can bring about knowledge that God doesn’t exist for some people.
    And, if God exists, then there are contexts in which certain philosophical arguments properly appear sufficiently strong so that on a broadly internalist epistemology, they can bring about knowledge that God exists for some people.
    Now you might think that the arguments would only appear strong to those who are unaware of certain important defeaters or alternative perspectives. That may be so, but in my experience, people–myself included–are often unaware of considerations that significantly strengthen this or that argument or that defeat this or that objection. Hence, we get someone like Trent, who takes certain philosophical arguments to jointly supply him with knowledge that theism is true. Maybe he is over-estimating the role the arguments play, but he’s reported to me that his strength of belief tends to actually be less confident than the strength predicted by a Bayesian calculation of the strengths of arguments from lower-bound probability estimates (conditional or unconditional) of individual premises. I find myself in a similar situation.

    July 30, 2013 — 10:22
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Scott,
    In relation to your counterexample please observe that above I wrote about the uncovering of “new evidence that says nothing about [some different hypothesis]”. As is usually the case. For example the problem of evil, which as long as it is not conclusively solved counts as evidence against theism, says nothing about naturalism. But increases its probability.
    Thinking about this matter I find that my claim above “Given the nature of worldviews I think only modus tollens applies” is perhaps too weak. First let me justify the original claim.
    As we saw modus tollens works by uncovering evidence which falsifies the negation of a theory:
    1. If not-T then not-E
    2. E
    3. Therefore, T
    We must of course avoid the common fallacy of affirming the consequent:
    1. If T then E.
    2. E
    3. Therefore, T
    Now consider the modus ponens:
    1. If E then T
    2. E
    3. Therefore, T
    If T is a particular worldview hypothesis, and since all the evidence E we have is logically consistent with different worldviews including some not-T, it is never the case that #1 is true.
    What if T is not a worldview hypothesis, but something less grand? Even then it is difficult to find a real world non-trivial scenario where evidence works directly for a hypothesis, instead as evidence against the negation of a hypothesis. Two examples:
    When the exact position of a star close to an eclipse of the sun was measured and it was proved that light is bent by gravity to the degree predicted by General Relativity, that new evidence was taken to be evidence *for* GR. But was it really? After all there are many other theories which make exactly the same prediction, and almost certainly some of them describe physical phenomena in a more general or more exact manner than GR. That evidence then falsified the previous best known theory of gravitational phenomena we had, namely Newton’s, but did not directly confirm GR. Or, rather, GR was confirmed by the evidence only to the degree that its actual or potential competitive theories were falsified by it.
    Suppose there are two suspects and reliable video evidence is discovered that clearly shows the first one committing the crime. But what does that evidence really say? Does it say that the first suspect committed the crime? No – it only says that anybody who when the crime was committed did *not* look like the first suspect did *not* commit the crime. It may be that the first suspect has an identical twin, or perhaps an actor masqueraded to be him, etc. In this case then too the evidence works negatively. Only by finding evidence against alternative hypotheses can one increase the epistemic probability that the first suspect committed the crime.
    It would seem then that the human condition is such that there is never conclusive evidence for some non-trivial hypothesis, i.e. it is never the case that if E obtains then T obtains (a trivial case would be E=T). There can only be cases where if E obtains then T probably obtains. But as we saw in the examples above such cases are really cases of hidden modus tollens: If E obtains then a range of non-T theories are falsified, and only thereby does E become more epistemically probable.
    Incidentally, even if the physical universe around us is deterministic (a very improbably assumption) are there true propositions of the form of #1 “If E then T”. Because for any T, E would have to refer to the exact state of the entire physical universe, and this is cannot be the case.

    August 1, 2013 — 7:11
  • Luke

    Many Christians claim the only way to know God and if he exists is through the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. To ignore his resurrection (as evidenced in actual history) is to ignore God’s revelation of himself.

    It seems to me that any serious philosopher must take up the historical argument if they want to maintain the integrity of their field.

    October 15, 2014 — 15:11
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