This is the third weekly post on Moser’s book The Elusive God.
There are many things Moser says, and I will not provide a comprehensive summary. Many of the things he says can be personally challenging if one takes them to heart.
In 3.1, I took Moser to be presenting an interesting argument that belief in naturalism is not rational. (It’s not obvious that he’s doing this, but see below.) In 3.2, I took him to be emphasizing that it is God who decides how we should come to believe in God. In 3.3, I took him to be talking about how we should have filial knowledge of God, which is not something one gains by way of spectator evidence or natural theology. It is knowledge of God as loving Father and as a moral authority in our lives. In 3.4, I took him to be explaining what is involved in “cognitive idolatry”, and how God should be the supreme cognitive authority in our lives.
Here. Graham complains about the structure of the work but seems to like the individual essays for the most part. The complaints concern the notion of analytic theology, in particular how it is different from plain old philosophical theology. Worth a look.
Graham ends the review by claiming:
In his essay Oliver Crisp employs the ancient dictum of “faith seeking understanding”. This is not the same as faith seeking truth. Given its “ineradicable pluralism”, however, philosophy is not plausibly interpreted as seeking truth anyway. What it seeks is a distinctive kind of understanding, a profoundly intellectual one that can only be gained through an exercise of strictly intellectual virtues.
I applaud the idea that truth is not the only goal of cognition, and also the focus on understanding, but I also note problems here. This passage has a bad argument (inferring that philosophy isn’t seeking truth because of a pluralism explained earlier as involving ineradicable disagreement), but that’s not my central concern. Nor is the second mistake in the passage my primary concern: it is simply false that understanding can only be gotten through the use of the intellectual virtues (it can be a “gift of the gods”, one would expect, given a decent account of what understanding is). No, my real concern is about the purported contrast between truth and understanding, since if philosophy isn’t after truth, it’s going to have trouble getting understanding. There is of course the affective side of understanding, involving the wonderful feeling of seeing things finally falling into place, but that alone isn’t sufficient. Understanding is factive when propositional and quasi-factive when objectual, and I hear there are some neat arguments available in print for such a view! (Lamarck understood his own theory quite well, but he didn’t understand how the inheritance of characteristics works, since he was wrong about that.)
First, thanks to Matthew Mullins and the other Prosblogion contributors for setting up and participating in this online book club. The second part of Moser’s equivocally named chapter 1 (“Doubting Skeptics”, where “Doubting” refers both to skeptics’ doubting of God’s reality and Moser’s doubting of skeptics’ having discharged their epistemic obligations) consists of four sections: “5. Volitional Knowing”; “6. Skeptical Tests”; “7. Trust and Distrust”; and “8. Voice Lessons”. Since each of these sections is part of chapter 1, I shall also refer to them as “1.5”, “1.6”, etc. Anyway, below the fold are my summaries and critiques of Â§Â§1.5-1.8.
[Oops, that wasn’t ready. I published a stub by accident. Here’s the finished post–CL]
I have only the first four sections of the first chapter of Moser’s, The Elusive God, so I think this will be brief as it seems that Moser is setting the stage at this point.
Moser’s religious skeptic is concerned with theistic religious commitment and that skepticism might either take the form of someone who doubts the reality of God or doubts that an affirmation of God’s reality has positive epistemic value (32). Moser thinks that the religious skeptic’s view is not nearly as compelling as some philosophers (including some of my favorites, I’m guessing) would have us believe. He reminds us (rightly) that the religious skeptic cannot be satisfied with showing that some particular individuals lack adequate evidence for believing that God exists as the skeptic wants to show that people in general lack adequate evidence.
In response to the allegation that we all lack adequate evidence for God’s existence and thus ought to doubt the reality of God, Moser does not follow the lead of the fideist in saying that we don’t need evidence for religious commitment but instead wants to say that on the right sort of understanding of “adequate evidence” the skeptic is right to suggest that this is something we need but wrong in thinking that it is not something that can be had.
How should we understand the demand for ‘sufficient’ evidence? Moser suggests that some religious skeptics demand cognitive reproducibility, that we can exert a kind of control over the evidence whereby we can reproduce the evidence again for ourselves or for someone else. This is implausible. He remarks, “Much of the inferred original evidence in cosmology, astrophysics, and geology … is neither under our control nor reproducible by us” (34). He then suggests that the lesson to be drawn from this is that we ought to reject this stricture, “if evidence of God’s reality isn’t reproducible by us, then it isn’t genuine evidence” (34). It’s hard to take issue with this. I doubt there’s anyone who thinks that all evidence must be under our control and reproducible, so unless there’s some reason to think that there’ s something special about evidence for God’s existence, I can’t imagine a religious skeptic making much of this.
Moser also notes that it is inappropriate to demand proof as there are many things believed without proof but believed with adequate evidence (35). The upshot is that even if it can be shown that we can’t prove God’s existence, this does nothing to encourage skepticism. Again, I think there’s no question that Moser is right on this point.
Evidence for God’s existence is, according to Moser, “a truth-indicator for the proposition that an authoritatively and morally perfect agent worthy or worship actually exists” (37). He takes Russell to task for saying that if he met God after his death, he would tell God that he gave us insufficient evidence. Moser’s response:
Insufficient for what? For Russell’s highly questionable expectations of God? … a humbled Russell, unlike the actual Russell, would have asked: “God, what purposes of yours led to your being subtle and elusive in the purposively available evidence of your reality?” It’s astonishing and regrettable too, that Russell … gave no indication of being aware of such a compelling and important question for a rational truth-seeker” (37).
See, I was right! One of my favorite philosophers does come in for some abuse.
Were Russell’s expectations unreasonable? Someone like Russell would say that the existence of Klansmen and fascists have always seemed to me to be precisely the sort of thing we wouldn’t expect to see if God existed. As the details are coming later, there’s not much to say on this point. It seems that Moser thinks that Russell is ignoring something important: he’s neglected the question, ‘If God exists, what parameters for the evidence would God observe?’ (I’m not sure Russell’s ignored it, but maybe he didn’t think sufficiently hard about it.) The kind of evidence we’ll get, suggests Moser, is not the kind of evidence we would prefer but the sort of evidence that God prefers us to have. To determine what sort of evidence a morally perfect being worthy of worship would give us, Moser suggests that we would have to know what such a being would think is in our best interests and what this being intends for this world. That being said, he concedes, “If … we were to face a world of nothing but unrelenting pain and suffering we would have significant evidence against God’s reality. We would then have significant evidence against the reality of a God who truly cares for all humans, and we would have no positive indication of the reality of such a God” (38). He adds, however, “The actual world … is clearly not a world of nothing but unrelenting pain and suffering” (38). Not for me, at least. There’s an interesting question about the scope of Moser’s claims. If we were to face a world including subjects whose lives were pretty much nothing but unrelenting pain and suffering, does Moser concede that this is strong evidence for the non-existence of a God that cares for this subject? Moser is right that the actual world contains its silver linings (e.g., Mother Teresa reaching out to the poor), and that means that this world is not one of unrelenting pain and suffering but it is consistent with there being individual lives that are filled with pain and suffering with little relief. Can the religious skeptic say that the evidential situations of those who live miserable lives strong evidence either for God’s non-existence or God’s lack of concern for some individuals?
Moser clarifies that his discussion will not assume that the God of traditional theism exists of the God of some specific tradition exists, but he will hope to show that we have pretty much what we’d expect to have in terms of evidence if in fact a morally perfect God exists. It is then that we can ask whether our evidence actually points in favor of God. The advantage of such a project seems to be that we can ask whether our evidential situation is the evidential situation we would expect if there were a Jewish or Christian God that comes to us with authoritative evidence, “evidence demanding that we yield our wills to the divine source of the evidence in question” (47). Arguments for religious skepticism that assume that we will receive spectator’s evidence (i.e., evidence that we can receive without bending our wills to the will of the source of the evidence) are the sorts of arguments that Moser will argue are unconvincing even if they show convincingly that there is little evidence for some sort of God that would do little to challenge us. The kind of evidence we would expect to have on the hypothesis that the Jewish or Christian God exists is not necessarily the sort of evidence that we could gather simply by investigating nature (48). Moser is skeptical that we can, by means of our own resources, come upon sufficient evidence for God’s existence. I guess I have a vague concern about this. If God doesn’t provide adequate spectator evidence but might be concerned to provide adequate authoritative evidence, those with flawed characters (Russell? Me?) will likely never receive evidence that could rationalize a commitment to the God of Judaism or Christianity. Is this a tragic situation? Is the loss suffered by those who can’t come to know God (in some sense of ‘can’t’) proportional to the failings of character that prevent them from (allegedly) coming to know God to exist? It seems that a morally perfect being would not want these sorts of tragic situations to arise (i.e., for the degree of loss to be highly disproportional when we take account of the subject’s vice or irresponsible conduct), but if that’s right, then why should we expect there to be a huge gap between authoritative evidence and spectator’s evidence since it seems on its face that relatively minor sins can leave someone in the position of a rational agnostic.
There’s not much I can say at this point. The project is really interesting, Moser’s points thus far seem perfectly correct, so I can’t wait to see how this all plays out in the chapters to come.
I just finished writing a review of a wonderful new collection, Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology. A draft of the review is here, though the official copy may be shortened due to constraints of the journal.
I think that many of the readers of this blog will be intersted in the book, as its chapters contain a little something for everyone. Rather than reproduce the entire review here, let me just note that, at the very least, you should read Mike Rea’s introduction.
Beginning the week of June 22nd we will start up our summer reading group for Paul Moser’s recently published book, The Elusive God. Each week a different contributor will take responsibility for kicking off each section with a post. We’ve broken the book up into eight sections by dividing the first three chapters in half. This should help keep the readings for each week easily manageable.
Our own Jonathan Kvanvig had this to say about the book:
“I found The Elusive God to be the most profound and interesting work I have read in the past twenty years at the intersection of philosophy and theology. Instead of beginning with a demand for evidence of the existence of a divine being, the author argues that we should expect any intrusion into our lives of the sort that would convince us that God exists to be authoritative evidence that calls us not only to a cognitive viewpoint but also to a surrendering of our wills. The result of such an investigation is a re-conceptualization of the epistemological landscape relevant to the possibility of the knowledge of God.”
This promises to be an interesting, and perhaps provocative, read. If you want to participate in the reading group, head over to your university library or go on-line to grab a copy of the book.
A new reprint edition of The Many-Faced Argument: Studies on the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God (edited by John Hick and Arthur C. McGill) has just been published by Wipf and Stock.
This book contains John’s well-known paper that introduces the distinction between factual necessity and logical necessity in response to the modal ontological argument. I had the honour to write a brief foreword for this new reprint. John has arranged for the royalties from the book to go to Arthur McGill’s widow, Lucy, now living in Florida.
This is one of two excellent anthologies on the ontological argument. (The other is Alvin Plantinga’s The Ontological Argument: From St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers, which, unfortunately, has been discontinued.)
Hi everyone. This is my first post on the Prosblogion. Thank you Matthew for letting me join this exciting group.
I just received from Palgrave Macmillan a copy of New Waves in Philosophy of Religion, an anthology that I edited with Erik Wielenberg.
Here is what we say in the introduction: “As part of the New Waves in Philosophy series, this volume aims to gather together papers written by some of the best philosophers of religion of the new generation. The quantifier ‘some’ is important here because we do not claim to have collected papers by all the best philosophers of religion of the new generation. The impossibility of such a task is a consequence of the healthy state of contemporary philosophy of religion.”
Bradley Monton has completed a book MS on Intelligent Design. I’ll paste some of his introductory remarks here with a link to the originating page and to his blog, which I highly recommend Prosblogion readers take a look at.
I’ve known Brad for years now and have discussed confirmation theory and philosophy of religion with him a lot, including at various conferences. Along with Erik Wielenberg, Bradley is one of the great young guns of contemporary analytic philosophy of religion on the non-theist side. These guys are great philosophers who take the arguments seriously and advance the state of the art. Dawkins and Dennett just distract (and detract) from the real work, but these guys are the real thing. Please check out Bradley’s blog here: http://bradleymonton.wordpress.com/
Here’s his description of the book. For an annotated bibliography go to his page here: http://spot.colorado.edu/~monton/BradleyMonton/ID.html
“The doctrine of intelligent design has been maligned by atheists, but even though I’m an atheist, I’m of the opinion that the arguments for intelligent design are stronger than most people realize. The goal of this book is to try to get people to take intelligent design seriously. I maintain that it is legitimate to view intelligent design as science, that there are somewhat plausible arguments for the existence of a cosmic designer, and that intelligent design should be taught in public school science classes.”
Over at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, George Mavrodes has a very nice, rather involved (at least, compared to what is typical at NDPR) review of the Louise Anthony-edited volume, Philosophers without Gods.