[this is cross-posted at Newapps] Richard Dawkins has argued several times (e.g., here) that bringing up your child religiously is a form of child abuse. I think his argument that religious upbringing in general is child abuse has little merit (after all, Dawkins himself is the product of a traditional Anglican upbringing and calls himself - rather proudly - a cultural Anglican, hardly the victim of child abuse). However, his claim in the linked article is that parents who attempt to instill things like Young Earth Creationism (henceforth YEC) in their children are doing something wrong, or are somehow overstepping their role as parents. This question, I believe, is worthy of further attention.
Recently in Religious Belief Category
A fairly common position in philosophy of religion is that religious experience can provide justification for religious belief of a sort that cannot be transmitted by testimony. (We here use the term 'religious experience' non-factively; that is, we leave open the possibility that these experiences might provide misleading evidence.) This is not necessarily to deny that testimony of religious experience can provide evidence in favor of religious belief; it is just to say that, no matter how credible the testimony, this won't provide the same sort of justification as actually having the experience oneself. Often it is thought that at least some mystics gain justification which is not only different in kind than the justification that can be got by testimony, but greater in degree. (I use the term 'mystic' to refer to anyone who has religious experience; I take it that this group is far larger than just the famous mystical writers and those directly influenced by them.) On this view, no matter how much testimony of religious experience from sincere, apparently sane, people one collected, this could never add up to as strong a reason for belief as that possessed by (say) Julian of Norwich on account of her experiences.
I've just re-read Paul Griffiths' and John Wilkins' inspiring paper on evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) for religion (it is a very influential paper on cognitive science of religion and evolutionary debunking, despite its not having appeared in print yet) for a chapter of a monograph I'm writing. Using Guy Kahane's debunking genealogical framework, they argue that natural selection is an off-track process, i.e., one that does not track truth: it produces beliefs in a manner that is insensitive to the truth those beliefs. From this, they conclude that the beliefs that are the outputs of evolved systems are unjustified.
Causal premise. S's belief that p is explained by X
Epistemic premise. X is an off-track process
Therefore, S's belief that p is unjustified
When we apply this argument in a generalized manner, where X stands for "natural selection", this looks like a bad strategy for the naturalist - ultimately, it leads to self-defeat in a Plantingesque manner that most proponents of EDAs would like to avoid. G&W's position is more subtle: they don't want to treat truth-tracking and fitness-tracking as competing explanations (as Plantinga seems to do), instead, they argue that fitness-tracking and truth-tracking operate at different explanatory levels. In many cases, tracking truth *is* the best way of tracking fitness, especially given (1) that cognition is costly (brains consume a lot of energy), (2) your beliefs influences how you will behave, (3) your behavior influences your fitness. They propose "Milvian bridges", which link truth-tracking and fitness-tracking, in order to salvage commonsense and scientific beliefs.
Nagel's review is well-written and charitable. He covers much territory by summarizing large swathes of Plantinga-philosophy in succinct paragraphs, all without sacrificing accuracy. (He even appears to have carefully read footnotes from Plantinga's other works.) His only objection seemed to be that Plantinga does not consider naturalist theories of mental content. Plantinga doesn't cover them in this book, but he deals with a number of them in a recent PPR paper.
So, as one very familiar with Plantinga's work, I was impressed with Nagel's review.
A few months ago, I met a grad student who has a prominent philosopher of religion (X) in his department. The graduate student was a theist when he started grad school, but soon realized that this is a minority position in philosophy. Disparaging remarks about theists (and specifically Christians) fueled his insecurity. Although there are no longitudinal surveys on this, it seems that atheism increases as people climb the academic ladder. For example according to the PhilPapers survey, in philosophy, only 14.6% of philosophy faculty believe in God. When postdocs are included, this percentage rises to 16.3%. Graduate students have the highest percentage of theists, 20.8%. So it seems plausible to me that at least some graduate students lose their faith as a result of the majority opinion in academia.
As the graduate student and I discussed X and what a wonderful scholar she is, the graduate student said that one important reason he is still a theist is the fact that X is a theist. He said "X is one of the smartest academics I know. The fact that X is a theist, even though she considered counterevidence carefully (like the problem of evil), is for me strong evidence for theism, and for me it's a good enough reason to remain a theist". Is the graduate student rational?
In a previous post I threw some primate feces into a rotating blade after reading an article which had the following properties. 1. The story was about religious belief. 2. The story was on the impact of some "scientific" study on religious belief. 3. It was terrible reporting. 4. The headline had an implication, entailment, or assertion that was unsupported by the data. 5. The implication, entailment, or assertion in the headline was just what a CDR (cultured despiser of religion) would *wish* to be true.
I think that, in general, trait 1 is highly correlated with trait 3, but when traint 2 enters, things only get worse. I have now had the misfortune of seeing yet another article which displays these five qualities in spades. In this case, though, I want to focus not on how ridiculously bad the reporting is, but on an important item of religious epistemology it highlights.
I've just returned from a wonderful 2-day philosophy of religion workshop at Glasgow organized by Victoria Harrison, who put together a diverse and high-quality program. One of these exciting papers was by Joshua Rollins' (U of Oklahoma) on the common consent argument.
Roughly speaking, in its crudest form, the Common Consent argument (CCA) goes as follows:
- Most people believe in God
- Therefore, God exists
UPDATE: I want to clarify one thing here. My principle target was not the authors of the study (which I have no intention to read, as I judge that doing so has negative expected utility). Rather, my principle target was the editors of SA. The author of the article is a minor target (its bad reporting) but she probably gave the editors what she had every right to expect they wanted. Here is what I would have said in a calmer moment:
"People have been implying that the content of this article casts aspersons on the rationality of religious belief. I assert that that is false and confused. I dare (double dog dare) anyone to construct a cogent argument from the content of this article which casts aspersions on the rationality of religious belief. I assert that it cannot be done. I also find the article greatly misleading in multiple ways and perhaps culpably so."
I still think it is worth recording my initial reaction, though, so that friends who posted this article in ways that implied that it did cast aspersions on the rationality of religious belief--there were too many to write individually--can see the palpable frustration with which such misdirection causes people like me: Christions living in a very secularized environment where people they really like often say or do things very hurtful (though not intentionally, of course). There are many ways in which it is not easy to be a Christian in academic philosophy. Being an unprotected minority is frustrating, anxiety-inducing (I received threats as a result of this post), and sometimes deeply discouraging. [Any other Christians who feel this way should redouble their efforts to reach out to other minorities and simply set aside in good faith the fact that those minorities have advocates in a way that we do not, for we have our own Advocate.]
That venerable publishing outlet of the Secular-Industrial Establishment the Scientific American at least once had decent journalism and intelligent writing. That started to slide at least a decade ago, and though there are still some occasional gems, there is also plenty of tripe. To wit: this article called--utterly misleadingly--"How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God: Religious belief drops when analytical thinking rises.
Rarely have I been so annoyed as by this piece. And it is a token of a type that is all too prevalent. I judge, and hope I do not regret it, that the removal of the snarkiness would not be worth the effort. I don't like being drawn into such rhetoric, but it is not irrelevant that the piece made me *angry*. Anger is an emotion that can be appropriate or inappropriate and upon reflection, I think anger is an appropriate emotional response to this nonsense. #notproofread #lateforconference
A1: God exists
A2: Plantinga has successfully argued for one of his big conclusions in Warranted Christian Belief: that if God exists, then belief in God is likely to be warranted.
Now, suppose Smith has a properly basic belief that God exists. Smith has also read WCB and believes the conclusion of Plantinga's argument on the basis of that argument. Can Smith appropriately reason as follows?
1) God exists
2) If God exists, then my belief that God exists is likely to be warranted.
3) Therefore, my belief that God exists is likely to be warranted.
Granted, there is some circularity going on here. Smith is using his belief that God exists as a premise in his reasoning to prove something about the epistemic status of his belief.
But many epistemologists have come to be okay with such circular reasoning. (For example, Mike Bergmann would probably be okay with it so long as Smith had no significant doubts about God exists or it's not the case that he ought to have. And I don't think anybody's provided a good criticism of Bergmann's defense in the literature.)
Q1) Is Smith's reasoning okay? (granted my assumptions)
Q2) Anybody know of any literature that assesses the sort of reasoning Smith is engaging in (w/r/t theistic belief)?
[AUTHOR'S EDIT: MY FIRST COMMENT BELOW, IN RESPONSE TO THE NATES, MAKES IT MUCH MORE CLEAR WHY I THINK THAT THERE IS EPISTEMIC CIRCULARITY GOING ON. PLEASE READ THAT IF YOU PLAN ON RESPONDING TO THIS POST.]
A former student of mine wrote to me with a query on about how institutional Church authority could co-exist with the authority of individual conscience. She argued that ultimately my conscience will decide whether the authority is to be trusted, and quoted Anscombe as saying that one cannot help but be one's own pilot.
This made me think a bit more about conscience and authority. I had recently been reading about the Charles Bonnet and Musical Ear syndromes. In these, visual or hearing loss, respectively, apparently causes the brain to confabulate visual or auditory data, respectively, to fill in the sensorily deprived blanks. In Charles Bonnet Syndrome, the sufferers see things like colored patterns, faces, cartoons, etc. In Musical Ear Syndrome, they are apt to hear music. The significant thing about both syndromes is that the sufferers are quite sane and fully realize that the incorrect sensory data they are receiving is mere hallucination (that the hallucinations are limited to a single faculty must help there). They may, however, be distressed due to worries that they are insane, particularly if they are misdiagnosed by a psychiatrist, as in a case I recall hearing of.
A reasonable sufferer from one of these two syndromes will accept the testimony of reliable others that what she visually or auditorily perceives isn't there. In so doing, she is genuinely being her own pilot. Indeed, if she were to uncritically accept the visual or auditory data, she wouldn't be being her own responsible pilot: she would be replacing considered judgment with the flow of experience. Likewise, my colorblind son defers to the color judgments of others; an object may look light green to him, but when others testify that it is light pink, he accepts their judgment, and in so doing exercises his epistemic autonomy.
One of the striking results from my survey on natural theological arguments is that most philosophers of religion are theists. Even if I restrict my count to a subsample consisting only of those people who are philosophers, who have listed philosophy of religion as one of their areas of specialization, and who are faculty or non-faculty with PhDs, the sample is overwhelmingly theist. Of this select subsample (N = 118), 70.3 % are theists, 16.9% atheists and 12.7% agnostics (the rounding explains why we are not at exactly 100 %). As you may recall, the percentage of theists slightly higher (around 73%) in my general sample philosophers of religion, which also includes graduate students, undergraduates and those outside of academia. Given that the PhilPaper survey gave a similar result, we can be highly confident that about 7 in 10 philosophers of religion are theists. One of the discussions of my preliminary results on Prosblogion is whether we should accord any evidential weight to this (i.e., should we defer to the expertise of those who are studying the existence of God), or whether this should lead us to an increased skepticism about philosophy of religion as a discipline.