Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Defense Lawyers for Jesus


There is a mode of reasoning about Jesus and other religious matters that is a seductive mistake.  Our inquiries into some matter can be oriented towards defending a belief, or they can be evidence driven by and receptive to whatever conclusion is best justified.  The difference is that we often approach the world with pre-formed conclusion or preference already in mind and that guides our investigation.  Then as we consider new information that is relevant to that cherished doctrine, we are receptive to the arguments, evidence, and reasoning that corroborate it and we are hostile to arguments that run counter to it.  The exercise of our reason is separated from truth as the goal, and it is co-opted in the service of some particular belief that might be deeply mistaken.  Consider a lawyer with great rhetorical and analytical skill whose sole purpose is to defend a mob client, without any real concern for truth or justice.  The lawyer’s intellectual powers for reasoning, constructing arguments, and answering objections have been detached from the goal of drawing the correct or true conclusion.  But the defense of the client, or the skeptical analysis of the evidence against the client, can be complex, carefully reasoned, penetrating, and seductive.  Here the conclusion or goal-- get the client off—constrains the reasoning.  Reasoning is subjugated to a particular end result.  Its critical function is confined to constructing rationales for rejecting any considerations that might show the defendant’s guilt. 
By contrast, we can attempt to make an objective, balanced, and non-prejudicial approach to the relevant body of information, keeping the truth as our goal.  Ideally, we do not let our preference for one outcome or some priori prejudice skew our gathering and evaluation of the evidence.  And we are resolved to accept whatever outcome that evaluation supports.  The conclusion is open during the search and evaluation phase.  And the investigation determines the conclusion at the end instead of the prior belief constructing the investigation from the start.  Here it is the evidence that directs us to the resulting conclusion and we are prepared and committed to accepting whatever result that is.  The inquiry determines the belief, not the other way around. 
We are all guilty of lapsing into rationalizing some preferred conclusion instead of pursuing the second model.  With God beliefs, the problem is much more pronounced.  People often acquire their religious beliefs when they are young and receptive to supernatural thinking.  Some people are among the part of the population with strong or hyper-religious tendencies.  The beliefs hold deep emotional, social, and psychological appeal.  For many people, the promise of eternal life hangs in the balance.  To make matters more difficult, there is a growing scientific consensus that evolution has wired us to be religious.  Religious beliefs are at the center of a perfect storm of neurobiological, evolutionary, emotional, social, and psychological forces that make them some of the hardest matters in our lives for us to reason clearly about. 
Some believers dedicate themselves to constructing rationalistic defenses of their doctrine.  The doctrine itself is the unquestionable starting point, or the presupposition.  The purpose of the apologetic or polemic exercise is to then expose flaws, or generate objections to any world view that differs from that doctrine.  Reasoning has been subordinated to religious belief; its use is confined to constructing defenses and corroborations of the belief.  But the acceptability of the belief itself is not responsive to reasoning.  No reasoning is permitted to raise legitimate doubts about its fundamental legitimacy.  The domain of reasoning is restricted just as the lawyer’s application of her rhetorical and argumentative skills have been wholly subordinated to getting her client off the hook.  The question of guilt is left aside.   Nicholas Wolterstorff says,
The religious beliefs of the Christian scholar ought to function as control beliefs within his devising and weighing of theories. . . Since his fundamental commitment to following Christ ought to be decisively ultimate in his life, the rest of his life ought to be brought into harmony with it.  As control, the belief-content of his authentic commitment ought to function both negatively and positively.  Negatively, the Christian scholar ought to reject certain theories on the ground that they conflict or do not comport well with the belief content of his authentic commitment.  (Reason Within the Bounds of Religion, 72)

In this light, Wolterstorff and William Lane Craig are defense attorneys for Jesus.  Their explicit goal is to evaluate everything with regard to whether it supports their beliefs about Jesus.   Reason must be subordinated to faith.  Here is Craig in making some candid remarks about his focused pursuit of belief in Jesus at all costs. 


He has a “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit” in his heart in which he knows that “Christianity is true “wholly apart from the evidence.”  With enough diligence and time, any new information can be made to conform to that which cannot and should not be doubted. 
What’s particularly chilling and frustrating about Craig here is the tight, and inpenetrable circle that he has constructed.  First, reason must be subordinated to faith.  Nothing can be allowed to controvert Jesus.  Suspend all questions and doubts, no matter how legitimate, until you can devise a way to engineer or rationalize them into conformity with the prior belief.  The “right” picture of the evidence is defined as the one that conforms with Christianity.  No other outcome is permitted.  If you have doubts, “cultivate your spiritual life, engaging in spiritual disciplines, like prayer, meaningful worship, Christian music, sharing your faith with other people, being involved in Christian service, so that you will foster the witness of the Holy Spirit in your life so that you will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Doubting is an enemy to be denied, rejected, or coerced into conformity with the “incontrovertible” belief.  Doubting is the evil work of Satan.  (Note that in a genuine intellectual investigation with truth as its goal, doubt is best and only tool we have.  Doubt is the welcome antidote.)  And finally, when you find a way to engineer an analysis of a doubt that can bring it into conformity with the Jesus belief, it “leaves you with the conviction that Christianity does indeed stand intellectually head and shoulders above every “ism” or philosophy that it might compete with.” 
See the circle?  Put Christianity first and make all of your reasoning support it.  Suspend all doubts, and then employ your reasoning where you can, only to corroborate Christianity.  Then you will find that Christianity is superior to any other “ism,” or position.  Christianity is right.  Suspend any doubts that might lead you to think that Christianity is not right.  Then only use your reasoning to defend Christianity, and then you will be satisfied that Christianity is right.      
What’s disturbing about the strategy that Craig has constructed to insure that Christian belief is always vindicated is that it can be used to defend any view.  Here’s some verbatim quotes from Craig, with only a few key terms changed:    

Question:  Some of us who wish to subscribe to a belief in unicorns have our doubts.  When we go to college, they raise issues that seem to undermine the belief that unicorns are real, magical creatures who give us delight.  What is your advice? 
Answer:  First, they need to understand the proper relationship between faith in unicorns and reason.  The way in which I know that unicorns are real is on the basis of the witness of the magical Unicorn spirit in my heart.  And this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that unicorns are real wholly apart from the evidence. . . If I were to pursue this with due diligence and time, I would discover that the evidence, if I could get the correct picture, would support exactly what the witness of the magical Unicorn tells me.  It’s very important to get the relationship of faith in the magical unicorn and reason right, otherwise, what that means is that our faith in the magical unicorn  is dependent upon the shifting sands of evidence and argument which change from person to person,. . . whereas the magical Unicorn and his testimony gives every generation and every person immediate access to a knowledge of him that is independent of the shifting sands of time and place and person and historical contingency. . . and finally, the secret will be to cultivate your magical unicorn spiritualism, engaging in spiritual unicorn disciplines, like praying to the magical unicorn, meaningful worship of the unicorn, magical unicorn music, sharing your faith with other unicornists, being involved in Unicornist service, so that you will foster the witness of the magical Unicorn in your life so that you will be filled with it. . . then it will leave you with the conviction that Unicornism does indeed stand head and shoulders above every “ism” or a-Unicornist philosophy. 

It is possible to implant, sustain, and foster a belief in anything with this strategy.  And since the only permitted employments of reasoning are those that support the belief, it cannot be reasoning that originally justifies the conclusion.  The strategy for deealing with doubts insures that the dogma is conserved, immune to any considerations that might lead to its reasonable rejection.  Unicorns are silly and somewhat harmless, but the framework for building a mind-consuming cult that Craig has outlined here works for UFO suicide cults, the Branch Davidian, the Jonestown suicide cult, Shoko Asahara’s Aum Shinrikyo group, the Raelian UFO church, Scientology, Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, Falun Gong, the Church of Bible Understanding, and thousands of others. 
Here’s a kind of enslavement far more dangerous than any physical chains.  Get some young people interested in your movement.  Teach them that your central dogma must be first and central in their lives.  Tell them to suspend all of their doubts unless they can construct a rationalization that refutes the doubt and confirms the central dogma.  Urge them to surround themselves with other believers and exploit any means possible to foster positive and poignant feelings about the central dogma.  Encourage them to feel vindicated that their cult is superior in every way to all other worldviews. 
In a healthy arrangement, one’s faculties of reasoning would be engaging in evaluating competing hypotheses by their respective conformity to a broad, objective body of evidence.  That is, the vital role of reasoning is to raises doubts that undermine some conclusions, leaving those that fit the best.  But doubts that cannot be subjugated to Christianity have been excluded from play for Craig, and reasoning can only be employed with the explicit purpose of corroborating a particular, prejudicial conclusion.  Our general predicament is that with enough ingenuity, cleverness, and time, people can construct rationalizations for anything, and then raise doubts and figure out objections to any contrary view.  So when you’re deep in it with Craig, it can really feel like you’re reasoning carefully and critically from premises to conclusions.  But  9-11 conspiracy theories, global warming deniers, Holocaust deniers, Birthers about President Obama’s citizenship, Illuminati theorists, and countless other examples show how far ill-founded rationalizing can take people from the truth. 
Craig’s and Wolterstorff’s revelations here put their arguments for God in a new light.  When Craig presses the Kalam argument, or any other argument for a religious conclusion, what we see now is that he doesn’t really mean it.  He has openly resolved to reject any other argument no matter what its merits if it doesn’t have the right conclusion.  The acceptability of any argument is determined solely by whether it gives him the conclusion he already favors.  Trying to argue him out of that conclusion is doomed to fail because the only legitimate function that reasoning can be put to, as he sees it, is in support of Jesus.  There are no considerations, reasons, pieces of evidence, or arguments, even in principle that could possibly dissuade him.  That would presume that his conclusions about Jesus were arrived at on the basis of reasoning, and not the other way around. 
That means that we must attach an asterisk is any pseudo-reasoning or faux-arguments that they present for their conclusions.  Without knowing how Craig’s meta-rational convictions actually undermine any rational discourse, you might be fooled into thinking he’s engaged in authentic reasoning and evidence analysis.  We should be careful to not confuse a sophisticated rhetoric in the service of a predetermined conclusion for real critical analysis or a genuine appeal to reason to justify a claim. 
Ultimately, I think we must treat this sort of choice to enslave oneself to religious belief as arbitrary, groundless, and without principle.  If all reasoning is subordinated to the goal of defending the doctrine, then it cannot really be that sound reasoning supports and justifies the doctrine.  The defender has constructed a polemical castle in the sky that has no foundation.  Ultimately there can be no reasoned preference for the belief that justifies adopting some other ideology that happened to co-opt one’s thinking.  If he was motivated, a clever apologist could construct a comparable framework of justifications and rebuttals with a belief in The Great Pumpkin or fairies at the center that is just as impressive.  And when it’s UFO suicide cults, or Jim Jones, the results are disastrous.  Despite the fact that they seem to employ sophisticated and careful reasoning to defend their beliefs, we have to conclude that they have left the playing field of rationality.  If you’ve been seduced by one of these rationalizations, or by something like Christian apologetics, you’ve been sold a bill of goods.  

31 comments:

Reginald Selkirk said...

Amen. When Craig presents mathematical or scientific arguments in his defense of the Kalam cosmological argument, it may appear sophisticated to those without the specialized knowledge to evaluate his presentation. But to those with a thorough familiarity with the relevant subject matter, it is clear that Craig and his ilk present a very selective, distorted view in order to make their case.

For example, if one had a knowledge of current cosmology that was both broad and deep, one might notice the shortcomings in the presentations of Craig et al which are pointed out in this video: Against the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Likewise, if one has a thorough knowledge of mathematics, Craig's pronouncements on infinities and probabilities will be seen not to make the grade.

JS Allen said...

Seems that Craig is channeling Plantinga's famous lecture on the topic.

I think you would have made your case much more effectively by simply letting Craig's confession of lack of objectivity speak for itself. I mean, he freely admits that he's not objective.

By tacking on your unrelated pastiche of tired and cliched arguments for atheism, you sort of distract from the main point of the post (Craig's lack of objectivity), and come across as an eager prosecution lawyer who is not "evidence driven by and receptive to whatever conclusion is best justified".

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for the comment and the link JS. There's no argument for atheism here. I think you're missing the point of my comments. There is a deep internal problem to adopting a circular and self-sustaining position of this sort, that's all. Atheists can be just as guilty of the inversion as anyone else. But few people are as candid about it as Craig or Wolterstorff.

JS Allen said...

OK, I might have misunderstood you. I was reacting largely to this part:

"With God beliefs, the problem is much more pronounced. People often acquire their religious beliefs when they are young and receptive to supernatural thinking. Some people are among the part of the population with strong or hyper-religious tendencies. The beliefs hold deep emotional, social, and psychological appeal. For many people, the promise of eternal life hangs in the balance. To make matters more difficult, there is a growing scientific consensus that evolution has wired us to be religious. Religious beliefs are at the center of a perfect storm of neurobiological, evolutionary, emotional, social, and psychological forces that make them some of the hardest matters in our lives for us to reason clearly about."

If you're saying that all of these things cut both ways, that they muddy the waters for people on both sides of the issue, then I apologize. It sure sounded to me like you were saying, "Theists are especially susceptible to bias because of all of these factors".

All 5 or 6 of the things you listed are pet peeves of mine, because both sides throw them out as proof, but neither side seems interested in actually doing the hard work of collecting empirical evidence.

For example, when faced with empirical evidence of an innate propensity to believe, Plantinga immediately concludes "sensus divinitatus!", while others claim that it's proof that theism is a cognitive defect. Seriously? Why don't people just calm down and do some actual research, run some models, and get a clearer picture of how these things work?

Or take belief in the afterlife. The idea that there is a heaven will provide deep emotional appeal for accepting Christianity, but convincing oneself that there is no hell will provide deep emotional appeal for rejecting Christianity. Both sides claim that the other side is allowing desire to trump reason. Again, it's a tragedy, because it would be easy enough to fill in the holes in our empirical knowledge. Why is nobody filling in the empirical holes? Maybe it's because both sides have already made up their minds and don't care whether the data support their conclusions.

Or how about upbringing? The empirical data about upbringing's effect on belief would be easy to collect, but I don't think I've ever seen a dispassionate analysis from the fanboys on either side of the issue. The studies I've seen seem to indicate that culture and genetics are more important than parental upbringing (and the idea that the imprint of belief or skepticism is due to youthful "gullibility" is highly suspect). But they barely scratch the surface. Let's compare people raised in an official atheist culture like Russia or China with people raised in a strong culture of belief like Saudi Arabia.

As far as I'm concerned, these are all wide open questions that aren't even close to being compelling for either side. And there is no need for speculation -- we could easily be augmenting our empirical knowledge if we wanted to.

Matt DeStefano said...

Hey JS, I have a question about two of the issues you brought up. I certainly agree that polarization is rampant and it often stifles progress, but I'm also curious as to how one would go about furthering empirical research in these regards.


For example, when faced with empirical evidence of an innate propensity to believe, Plantinga immediately concludes "sensus divinitatus!", while others claim that it's proof that theism is a cognitive defect. Seriously? Why don't people just calm down and do some actual research, run some models, and get a clearer picture of how these things work?


Even if we had a perfect picture of how religious belief has evolved in the brain, what would that mean for either side? I would imagine Platinga would still offer up the fact that God engineered us for belief, while others like Dennett would still paint it as a hallucinatory side effect of human evolution. I'm skeptical that a complete picture would move the issue in any direction.


Or take belief in the afterlife. The idea that there is a heaven will provide deep emotional appeal for accepting Christianity, but convincing oneself that there is no hell will provide deep emotional appeal for rejecting Christianity. Both sides claim that the other side is allowing desire to trump reason. Again, it's a tragedy, because it would be easy enough to fill in the holes in our empirical knowledge. Why is nobody filling in the empirical holes? Maybe it's because both sides have already made up their minds and don't care whether the data support their conclusions.


I'm unsure as to what type of data Christians could use to support the existence of Heaven, or if there would be any data that would definitively disprove the Heaven thesis. If it is a physical place, we certainly have not found it, and especially have seen no evidence for people leaving Earth to Heaven. If it's spiritual, I don't think that science will offer anything in the way of tangible evidence for a spiritual residence.

Matt McCormick said...

That's a much more thoughtful and constructive arg, JS. And much of it I can get behind. Despite their slogans and mantras, I don't see that atheists as a whole are more typically objective and thoughtful about the God question. When I speak to those groups I end up explaining the fallacies in atheist args and presenting more charitable theistic args than they have considered.

One difference for the theist is that evolution does not appear to have built us to disbelieve. So the believer has his more of his neurobiology to worry about. Our brains work against our objectivity.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Can you honestly say that you are truly open to the possibility that God exists? Do you have any presuppositional beliefs, such as naturalistic materialism, that makes the possibility of God’s existence untenable? Do you think that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are truly open to the possibility that God exists? When you are “Proving the Negative” aren’t you essentially just doing what William Lane Craig does, but in the negative form? Just as there are some theists that want God to exist, aren’t there some atheists, such as Thomas Nagel, who do not want God to exist? Is it even possible to be truly free from emotions and presupositional beliefs when it comes to evaluating God’s existence?

I think you are making a straw man out of what Craig said. Craig believes that the various arguments for God’s existence, taken together, show that God’s existence is probable. He knows that an absolute proof of God’s existence is not possible, given our current background knowledge, but he believes that there are arguments that can persuade some rational people to believe that God’s existence is likely. However, he believes the Holy Spirit testifies to believers that God’s existence is true. This is more of a sense that God exists. This sense that God exists and is interacting with believers is taken on faith.

Keith Rozumalski said...

This is more of a side issue, but your example of equating the defense of the existence of unicorns with the defense of the existence of God is a false analogy because we can use the Santa Principle to determine that unicorns don’t exist on the earth. The second is that unicorns are not necessary beings while God is.
The Santa Principle says that a person is justified in believing that X does not exist if all of these conditions are met:

1. the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined, and
2. all of the available evidence that X exists is inadequate, and
3. X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then it would show.

So, using premises one and two we can say that unicorns don’t exist on earth because we have never seen any evidence of them. Since unicorns are said to be physical beings we should have found some evidence of them by now. Even if you assume that they are hiding in some very remote region then we should have at least found a unicorn skull that verify their existence. However, we haven’t found any evidence of them so we can say with near certainty that unicorns do not exist on earth. Notice, however, that the Santa Principle says that the, “Area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined,” so we can’t say that we have searched the entire universe for unicorns. It could be possible that a planet 1,000 light years away has unicorns running around on it. Now, when we turn to using the principle to test whether God exists there are problems. God is said to be an immaterial being who does not reside on the earth. Since we currently do not have the ability to perceive immaterial beings we can’t say that the area where God exists has been comprehensively examined. God could very well exist in heaven, but we simply do not have the capacity to see him.

The second difference between unicorns and God is that the existence of unicorns is not necessary while the existence of everything is dependent on God. Unicorns, if they exist, would just be like lions, bears or humans in that nothing is dependent on their existence, so unicorns could conceivably exist or not exist. If unicorns didn’t exist then the universe and the earth would still exist. However, God is said to be an immaterial, eternal omnipotent being who must exist if the universe and everything in it is to exist. God is the uncaused cause that formed the universe and sustains it. Without God noting would exist. If unicorns were to exist then they would be dependent on God too. They would need to live in a universe on a planet, things that would not exist if God did not create and sustain them. As a material, biological beings unicorns would also be ultimately be dependent on God. Unicorns would be dependent on organs to survive and those organs would be dependent on cells and those cells would be dependent on elements and those elements which would be dependent atoms and so on, but we would get to point where subatomic particles would need to be dependent on something to exist. If there is something in the chain of being that is dependent on something that doesn’t exist then that thing couldn’t exist and then that means that everything in the chain of being that depends on that thing wouldn’t exist either. This means that all material and beings are dependent on God who is the uncaused cause--an agent of pure act.

JS Allen said...

"Even if we had a perfect picture of how religious belief has evolved in the brain, what would that mean for either side? I would imagine Platinga would still offer up the fact that God engineered us for belief, while others like Dennett would still paint it as a hallucinatory side effect of human evolution."

At a minimum, I think it would force a major change in how Christians defend belief. It would shift the argument to a more fruitful place, IMO. For example, the explanatory role of "revelation" would be very different if we could point to certain belief features as being inevitable results of an evolutionary process.

I compare it to the way that we had a lot of open questions about evolutionary biology and altruism. And then when started using computational tools to model things, informed by game theory, it changed the whole conversation.

Some interesting questions off the top of my head:

1) We're the only species we know who have religion. How might religion vary across species (and how might it stay the same)? If we kill off all of the other animals, we'll be the only species with legs, too. But that doesn't mean that legs are the only or best form of locomotion, or that our form of religion is the only one that might arise through an evolutionary process. Knowing which parts of the human experience of religion are essential cross-species and which are arbitrary (maybe all of it?) would change the conversation.

2) Religion seems to sit on top of intentionality. We can't explain intentionality evolutionarily, except by pointing out that it's a useful "stance" (Dennett's view). If we had a really strong story from natural selection to intentionality to religion, it could make a case for science being the ultimate religion. If, instead, we have to look at religion as just a stance on top of a stance, then we have to evaluate it separately.

3) Tons of interesting research could be done about "hyperactive agency detection". Autism, invisible friends, animism, etc.

"I'm unsure as to what type of data Christians could use to support the existence of Heaven"

By empirical evidence, I mean evidence to support the claim that Christians or atheists are simply believing what they want to believe. It wouldn't be difficult to test these claims and form a much more nuanced picture. Lots of people reject Christianity because Christian beliefs are unappealing. And lots of people adopt atheism even though they find Christian beliefs more appealing. Everyone (atheist and Christian alike) brags about how they were compelled by the truth to believe even though it was contrary to their nature. I don't believe any of them, and I want hard empirical evidence.

There is also the fascinating question of what people actually believe versus what they profess to believe. It's trickier, but not impossible, to measure this empirically. Until we have solid empirical evidence, both sides just claim the high ground.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks Keith. You realize that I wrote up and explained the version of the Santa principle that you are lecturing me with, right? And you realize that you're missing the point about Craig and Wolterstorff completely, right?

JS Allen said...

"One difference for the theist is that evolution does not appear to have built us to disbelieve. So the believer has his more of his neurobiology to worry about. Our brains work against our objectivity."

I think that's too broad a claim. Evolution has wired our brains to be objective and disbelieve a great many things (otherwise, we'd be wiped out), but credulous about other things. Both atheism and theism embrace certain innate human predispositions, while suppressing others in the name of "higher truth". And a great many propositions of modern theism work strongly against what people are predisposed to believe. It's easy to see how a "hyperactive agency detection" module could lead to the totemistic religions and belief in witches and ghosts -- but human DNA hasn't really evolved since then, and modern theism explicitly rejects these things. If anything, modern monotheism looks like something created by a priest with Aspergers who is trying to rid his race of innate superstition. It doesn't really look like something that would spontaneously emerge from our evolved nature.

Anyway, if we're trying to make a case that atheists are uniquely overcoming human predispositions "in the service of truth", the strongest case would be in overcoming teleological thinking. Teleological thinking is a deep-seated human impulse that is often wrong, and is often very difficult to overcome. Beyond that (which, admittedly, is pretty huge), it's not as clear to me who has the upper hand in overcoming self-delusion. BTW, I think it's completely possible to systematically analyze the question and come to conclusions based on hard data; it just doesn't seem like people care.

Matt McCormick said...

Watch the video Keith and listen carefully to what C says. He is resolved to only use arguments insofar as they can serve Jesus.

Reginald Selkirk said...

This is more of a side issue, but your example of equating the defense of the existence of unicorns with the defense of the existence of God is a false analogy because we can use the Santa Principle to determine that unicorns don’t exist on the earth. The second is that unicorns are not necessary beings while God is.

I'm not sure you've heard all the best arguments for Santa and unicorns. What is your disproof of Santa, that you've searched the entire surface of the Earth and he can't be found? OK then, he lives under the ocean at the North Pole. Visiting all the chimneys in the world would require him to move too fast? Well then, he uses a wormhole so he actually doesn't have to travel far at all. Imagine that for every argument you made against Santa, I was willing to come up with a counter, no matter how preposterous. I could point out one argument which has actually been put forward by a Bigfoot believer: Bigfoot lives in another dimension, and returns there after his forays into our world.

My point is that God proponents have gone further in their evasiveness to disproof than the Santa and unicorn proponents. Daniel Dennett points out that folk gods did not start out with immunity to scientific investigation, they all interacted regularly with the natural world in ways which should be easily detectable. As our scientific understanding and tools have advanced, God has evolved to be ever more distant, and ever more nontestable. Of course, at the same time He becomes ever more irrelevant.

Take this "necessary being" idea. That is a made-up concept to sidestep God around an attempted disproof. There is no reason to believe that God actually exists necessarily.

Explicit Atheist said...

Theological arguments are often appeals to intuition. What is intuitively correct about how the world works is invariably factually false and what is factually true is invariably non-intuitive or counter-intuitive. For example, it is intuitively correct that solids are mostly matter when in fact solids are mostly space. Intuition fails to find the factually true answers so consistently that we are justified in a priori discounting answers based solely on intuition. Theists have a tendency to do the opposite, they place appeals to intuition on par with (or even over) empirical evidence as a method for justifying beliefs about how the world works.

Some Guy said...

A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit's witness, but it does not serve as the fundamental way in which he knows Christianity to be true. If the arguments of natural theology and Christian evidences are successful, as I claim they are, then Christian belief is also warranted by such arguments and evidences for the person who grasps them, even if that person would still be warranted in their absence. Such a person is doubly warranted in his Christian belief, in the sense that he enjoys two sources of warrant. So evidential arguments on behalf of Christianity are, in my view, sufficient for knowledge of Christianity's truth but they are not necessary for knowledge of Christianity's truth.
Now the question both of you pose concerns the role of defeaters of Christian belief. Properly basic beliefs can be defeasible; that is to say, they can be defeated by other incompatible beliefs which one might come to accept. In such a case, the individual in question must either come up with a defeater for the defeater or else give up some of his beliefs if he is to remain rational. Thus, for example, a Christian who encounters the problem of evil is faced with a potential defeater of his belief in God. Christian apologetics can help to formulate answers, such as the Free Will Defense in response to the problem of evil, in order to defeat the putative defeaters.
But Plantinga also argues that in some cases, the original belief itself may so exceed its alleged defeater in warrant that it becomes an intrinsic defeater of its putative defeater. He gives the example of someone accused of a crime and against whom all the evidence stands, even though that person knows he is innocent. In such a case, that person is not rationally obligated to abandon belief in his own innocence and to accept instead the evidence that he is guilty. The belief that he did not commit the crime intrinsically defeats the defeaters brought against it by the evidence. Plantinga makes the theological application by suggesting that belief in God may similarly intrinsically defeat all the defeaters that might be brought against it.
Plantinga does not to my knowledge clearly commit himself to the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Such a thesis is independent of the model as presented. But I have argued that the witness of the Spirit is, indeed, an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against it. For it seems to me inconceivable that God would allow any believer to be in a position where he would be rationally obliged to commit apostasy and renounce Christ. It seems to me rather that in such a situation a loving God would intensify the Spirit's witness in such a way that it becomes an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters such a person faces.
Now it might be said, that God would, indeed, not permit a person to fall into circumstances where the rational thing for him to do is to apostatize and turn his back on God, but what God would do is provide sufficient evidence to such an individual so that he is able to defeat through argument and evidence the alleged defeater. I grant that such a view is possible (how could anyone who believes in middle knowledge think differently?). But as I look at the world in which we actually live, such a view strikes me as naïve.
The vast majority of people in the world have neither the time, training, nor resources to develop a full-blown Christian apologetic as the basis of their faith or to defeat the sundry defeaters which they encounter. I have been deeply moved by the plight of Christians as I have traveled abroad and seen the sometimes desperate circumstances in which they find themselves. In Europe, for example, the university

Some Guy said...

culture is overwhelmingly secular and even atheistic. I met many theological students when we lived in Germany whose professors had exposed them to nothing but radical biblical criticism and anti-Christian scholarship. These students held on to Christian faith in spite of the evidence. It was far, far worse in Eastern Europe and Russia. I wish I could convey to you the spiritual darkness and oppression that existed behind the Iron Curtain during the days of the Soviet Union. I remember asking one Russian believer, "Have you no resources to help you in your Christian life?" He replied, "Well, there is an encyclopedia of atheism published by the state, and by reading what is attacked there, you can learn something. But that's about all." These bothers and sisters endured horrible oppression and atheistic indoctrination by the Marxist regime and yet did not abandon Christ. As I emphasized in my answer to Question #13, evidence varies from generation to generation and from place to place and is accessible only to those privileged few who have the education, leisure time, and resources to explore it. God has provided a more secure basis for our faith than the shifting sands of evidence and argument, namely, the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Moreover, this conclusion seems in line with New Testament teaching on the witness of the Holy Spirit. While non-believers reject New Testament teaching, Christians should take it seriously. Ponder, then, John's words:
And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. . . . If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to his Son (1 John 5:6-10).
As Christian believers we have the testimony of God living within us, the Holy Spirit, whose testimony exceeds in force all human testimony.
So in answer to your question, Kyle, I think that in fact God will not allow someone to be in a position in which the rational thing for him to do is to reject God and Christ and separate himself from God. Given that God is essentially all-loving, I'm inclined to say that such a thing will not only never happen, but that it is, indeed, impossible. It follows that Christians who have apostatized have done so in defiance of the Holy Spirit's work by quenching or grieving the Spirit, so that what they did was in the end irrational.
Does that imply, Adam, as your sceptic says, that I think "evidence is unimportant when compared with faith?" No, because he's drawing a false contrast, comparing apples with oranges. Faith is not the issue here, but the ground for faith. Must the ground for faith be evidence? That is the question. We've already seen that evidentialism is bankrupt. Many of the things we know are not based on evidence. So why must belief in God be so based? Belief in God and the great truths of the Gospel is not a blind exercise of faith, a groundless leap in the dark. Rather, as Plantinga emphasizes, Christian belief is part of the deliverances of reason, grounded in the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, which is an objective reality mediated to me from God.
What is true is that evidence, as it is defined in these discussions, plays a secondary role compared to the role God Himself plays in warranting Christian belief. Should we, then, ignore strong evidence if it shows that our faith is probably false? Of course not! My work as a philosopher exemplifies the effort to confront objections to Christian belief squarely and to answer them. But most Christians in the world don't have that luxury. For them they may have to hold to their Christian belief even though they lack an answer to the alleged defeater. What I insist on is that, given the witness of the Holy Spirit within them, they are entirely rational in so doing.

Some Guy said...

Taken from reasonablefaith.com in an attempt to point out straw men.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Yes, Matt, thank you for the Santa principle—it’s an excellent tool for disproving physical entities, or at least showing that they are unlikely.

I’m sorry if I have misunderstood what you said about Craig. My understanding of what Craig was saying in the video is that if some current evidence contradicts the testimony of the Holy Spirit then given enough time, thought and further evidence then he believes that the evidence would eventually agree with what the spirit says. I know that he said at a recent debate that there could be evidence that would make him question his faith such as a proof that Christ wasn’t really resurrected. It is true that he wrote, In Reasonable Faith that, “Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology.” However, later on he writes, “We know Christianity is true primarily by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit. We show Christianity is true by presenting good arguments for its central tenets.” How does Craig’s belief in the Holy Spirit cause his arguments to be false? Aren’t you committing the genetic fallacy when you say that we need to put an asterisk by Craig’s arguments because he believes in the testimony of the Holy Spirit? The origin of his belief doesn’t affect the force of his arguments.

JS Allen said...

"Aren’t you committing the genetic fallacy when you say that we need to put an asterisk by Craig’s arguments because he believes in the testimony of the Holy Spirit? The origin of his belief doesn’t affect the force of his arguments."

Of course it does. The fact that he is willfully abandoning objectivity doesn't mean that his conclusion is necessarily wrong, but it justifies a HUGE asterisk next to his arguments.

Try turning it around. I and a small band of cult followers claim to have been privvy to the "internal witness" of the sacred worm orobouros. This worm tells us that we are living inside a simulation of a weapon system. The purpose of the simulation is to test various initial properties (laws of the universe) within certain constraints, to see which configuration leads to maximum entropy the quickest. Any apparent sign of negentropy (life, sentience, etc.) turns out to just be even more efficient ways of generating entropy -- life accelerates death. To the extent that we recognize death, destruction, and ultimate nothingness as the purpose of existence, we will be serving the goals of the simulation. As we understand more about physics, the evidence tends to support the conclusion that the laws of the universe are optimized to generate entropy. Any life-affirming religions that appear are clearly contrary to physics and work against the purposes of the simulation.

Now, suppose that you offer me evidence against this position. I then retort, "I refuse to be persuaded. The worm orobouros would not lead me wrong. I am confident that the evidence will eventually prove me right. You cannot understand, because the worm has not spoken to you".

Do you suppose that an asterisk would be justified?

Keith Rozumalski said...

What is your disproof of Santa, that you've searched the entire surface of the Earth and he can't be found? OK then, he lives under the ocean at the North Pole. Visiting all the chimneys in the world would require him to move too fast? Well then, he uses a wormhole so he actually doesn't have to travel far at all. Imagine that for every argument you made against Santa, I was willing to come up with a counter, no matter how preposterous. I could point out one argument which has actually been put forward by a Bigfoot believer: Bigfoot lives in another dimension, and returns there after his forays into our world.

Reginald Selkirk, my main disproof of Santa is that I know that the presents under the tree at Christmas are put there by parents and not Santa. If Santa could live in the Ocean, and he wasn’t detected by the USS Nautilus back in 1958, then we could use sonar to detect his vessel, or do a visual search using subs. Our current knowledge of wormholes indicates that an entity the size of Santa would not fit in a wormhole, so your wormhole explanation is implausible.

In regards to your Bigfoot example, how would a hairy ape-like creature travel to another dimension? Besides time traveling in the fourth dimension, which seems incredibly implausible for a creature like Bigfoot as the challenges are immense, the fifth through the 11th dimensions are merely theoretical. The problem with all of the defenses of these material beings is that they are bound by physical laws. As material entities they are just as subject to entropy and the other laws of physics as you and I.

Your claim that the idea of a necessary being is made-up is surprising since you and I are living in a universe in motion. What causes and sustains the universe/multiverse if there is no uncaused cause or unmoved mover? The fact that we are living in a universe/multiverse (assuming a multiverse exists) that is contingent on something else is proof that a necessary being exists. Without God the universe/multiverse and everything in it would cease to exist.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Now, suppose that you offer me evidence against this position. I then retort, "I refuse to be persuaded. The worm orobouros would not lead me wrong. I am confident that the evidence will eventually prove me right. You cannot understand, because the worm has not spoken to you".
Do you suppose that an asterisk would be justified?


JS Allen, I suppose our natural tendency is to be wary of outlandish claims such as this, but it is not rational to simply dismiss someone’s arguments out-of-hand because of their background or beliefs. It doesn’t matter if someone is an atheist, agnostic, Christian, goat worshiper or Orobourosist, we still must evaluate their arguments as objectively as possible. If the Orobourosist said trust me because the worm said so I wouldn’t trust them, but if the Orobourosist presented some good evidence and sound arguments then as a rational person I would listen and evaluate their arguments, and perhaps be persuaded by them.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Reginald Selkirk, my main disproof of Santa is that I know that the presents under the tree at Christmas are put there by parents and not Santa...

Remember, the goal of this exercise is to never give up, no matter how preposterous the position gets. So here are some counters:
1) The presents are really from Santa, but he let your parents pretend to have supplied them in order to enhance their image in your eyes.
2) YOUR parents bought YOUR presents, but that doesn't necessarily apply to all the other children.

If Santa could live in the Ocean, and he wasn’t detected by the USS Nautilus back in 1958, then we could use sonar to detect his vessel, or do a visual search using subs.

I didn't say anything about a vessel, he lives in a cave under the sea floor. The entrance is very well camouflaged. If any subs tried searching, they would certainly suffer electronic failures. Santa's transit sub wasn't present at the time, or it doesn't show up well on sonar due its being reindeer-powered, or he uses stealth technology. Or Santa, as is well-known, has excellent intelligence gathering systems, and would know when search subs were around, during which time he would temporariliy move to his alternate undisclosed location.

And so on. To repeat, there need not be any evidence that such a state is actually true, the goal is simply to dodge the counter-arguments by whatever means necessary.

In regards to your Bigfoot example, how would a hairy ape-like creature travel to another dimension?

As I thought I pointed out, the 'Bigfoot is from another dimension' is not my own, that is an actual argument supplied by a Bigfoot proponent (which I am not).

link
Lapseritis said conventional Bigfoot investigators have not found the creature because they are limited in their belief that Bigfoot is "simply a relic hominid that never became extinct." "That really may be true," Lapseritis said in a telephone interview. "But in addition to that, (Bigfoot) may literally be, as I've discovered, a paraphysical, interdimensional native people that have told me and other people telepathically that they were brought here millions of years ago by their friends, the star people."

Strange indeed, but is it stranger than the claims put forward to defend God from disproof? In the case of God, we have such bizarre claims as that God is both a temporal and atemporal being (Craig).

thewarfareismental said...

Suspend all questions and doubts, no matter how legitimate, until you can devise a way to engineer or rationalize them into conformity with the prior belief.

That's a pretty bad misrepresentation.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Keith, Matt is not asserting a strawman. Craig may be bright but I wouldn't let him clean my basement: http://www.atheistmissionary.com/2010/10/why-i-wouldnt-let-william-lane-craig.html

Matt also makes an excellent point when he observes that atheists can also fall victim to cognitive biases. I would be the first to admit that I am biased against acceptance of the miracles described in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, etc. It is precisely because of this bias that I spend far more time studying apologetic arguments than arguments knocking them down.

Respectful Atheist said...

This is an excellent post Matt, spot on. Many atheists are baffled by William Lane Craig (ie. how can he not see the weaknesses in his arguments?) but I think what you have described here is THE key to getting inside his head.

The Atheist Missionary said...

For those who would enjoy watching Craig exposed for the snake oil salesman that he is, please check out his forthcoming debate with English philosopher Stephen Law on October 17,2011. The event is being hosted by Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable! program and the question being debated is the existence of God. Tickets for the event (to be held at Westminster Hall in London) are available through Premier Christian Radio's website.

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The Tame Lion said...

Happy moments, praise God.
Difficult moments, seek God.
Every moment, thank God.

Judy Weismonger said...

I find that christians are nothing more than skilled liars.

Kel said...

"Can you honestly say that you are truly open to the possibility that God exists?"
I've changed my mind on things before, and I can do it again. The problem I've found is that there's a really low standard for what constitutes a case for God, and by rejecting that I'm accused of being close-minded.

Fresh Garden said...

He who loses money loses much;
he who loses friends loses much more;
he who loses faith loses all.