William Lane Craig is an Epistemological Solipsist

Several people have asked me whether or not Craig sincerely believes, or whether he goes through the motions, so to speak, since he is surely fully aware of the objections we skeptics offer to his faith. I maintain he's sincerely deluded. He sincerely believes, but he's deluded. And I think I've found the reason why he can continue on in the face of what I consider to be the powerful objections of the skeptics.

If you've seen any of Craig's debates that I post here at DC, in every single one of them he says, in so many words, that he has personally experienced God and that others can too. I think his position reduces to Epistemological Solipsism and subject to all of the same criticisms. Let me explain.

In his signature book, Reasonable Faith, Craig has written about this topic. We find him saying things like...
We know Christianity to be true by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit.
What does he mean by this?
I mean that the witness, or testimony, of the Holy Spirit is its own proof; it is unmistakable; it does not need other proofs to back it up; it is self-evident and attests to its own truth.
And this as quoted in my book (p. 214)...
the testimony of the Holy Spirit trumps all other evidence.
And this...
A believer who is too uninformed or ill-equipped to refute anti-Christian arguments is rational in believing on the grounds of the witness of the Spirit in his heart even in the face of such unrefuted objections. Even such a person confronted with what are for him unanswerable objections to Christian theism is, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, within his epistemic rights—nay, under epistemic obligation—to believe in God.”
In his debate with Austin Dacey he says...
You can know that God exists apart from any arguments simply by experiencing him....For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.
Now let's put this into perspective. When Craig is asked to defend his view of the self-authenticating witness of the Spirit, he cannot sufficiently answer my questions and must resort to saying that the propositional content of this witness is "vague" or "ambiguous," and turns the tables on me with a red herring, seen here.

Now here's my point. If Craig thinks this inner witness trumps all evidence and arguments to the contrary, which he claims, then even if he cannot sufficiently defend his notion of the inner witness of the Spirit, it doesn't matter to him. He claims he knows Christianity is true irrespective of all the arguments and evidence to the contrary, even his arguments on behalf of the inner witness of the Spirit! That is, even if he cannot sufficiently defend the arguments on behalf of this inner witness, he still maintains he has it, and because he has it, he can believe despite the fact that he cannot sufficiently argue for it, and despite all evidence to the contrary.

This seems to me to be nothing more nor less than Epistemological Solipsism when it comes to the existence of God, and subject to the same kinds of criticisms.

89 comments:

James F. McGrath said...

Religious experience is extremely powerful. Those of us who have had such an experience can at the very least empathize with Craig's point.

My own view is that this experience of being "born again" is one that I need to make sense of in terms of how I view the universe and the meaning of existence. But (and this is where I differ from Craig) it doesn't allow me to bypass matters of historical evidence where historical questions are concerned.

I can tell you about my experience. That doesn't make my testimony inerrant (obviously). I am sure that some Biblical authors had these sorts of experiences too, but that doesn't make them inerrant either.

Tyro said...

No doubt the experience is powerful but we have reasonable naturalistic explanations and because this experience is shared with people of all faiths even those that are incompatible with Christianity we know that the experience itself can not be used as evidence for or against any theological position. The apologist is reduced to defending the position that God exists for them which is a perverse usage of the word "exists".

Solipsism is a very good description.

John W. Loftus said...

Another way to view this is to ask Dr. Craig what would count decisively against his faith? No argument or amount of evidence is sufficient to do this, not even if his arguments on behalf of the inner witness of the Spirit are shown to be false. The only thing he has left is a subjective mind-state that he claims has veridical power. Solipsism is the belief that “my most certain knowledge is the contents of my own mind — my thoughts, experiences, affects, etc." And this knowledge takes epistemological priority for Craig over anything and everything else when it comes to the existence of God.

Mark D. Linville said...

Thanks for the invitation to comment, John.

Plantinga has an example somewhere that goes something like this:

I am accused of a crime, say, breaking into Guitar Center and stealing a new Gibson Les Paul. Six different witnesses pick me out in a lineup. The description of the getaway car matches mine precisely. It is known that I have an affinity for Les Paul guitars. And I cannot offer an alibi. However, I have a clear and distinct memory of having spent that time poring over the Plantinga-Tooley debate, and I have no memory whatsoever of anything having to do with the theft of a guitar.

So there is a great deal of objective and condemning evidence that suggests my guilt. All that I have to the contrary is my apparent memory of having been elsewhere at the time.

Yet, assuming that my memory is functioning properly, I know that I am innocent, and I know this despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Why is it any different in Craig’s case? If he is correct in his belief that he enjoys the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, then it would seem that he has his belief as the result of a belief-producing mechanism that is functioning properly and is truth-aimed. In that case, he is warranted. And if knowledge just is warranted true belief, then he knows that his belief is true. To insist that he be able to offer a clear account of the propositional content of this witness is, it seems to me, to assume internalist criteria against the sort of externalism that might well be implicated. After all, on externalism, it is possible to know P without knowing how you know P. Consider my memory example. All I have to counter the apparent evidence of my guilt is this apparent memory. But what I am suggesting in that case is that my memorial belief is warranted even if I draw a complete blank in the face of the question, “How do you know that your memory belief is the product of a properly functioning mechanism?”

Perhaps there are objections to the sort of externalism that seems to be implicated here. But I suggest that criticisms of the sorts of claims that Craig has made cannot avoid discussing the internalism/externalism debate. (And I am convinced that some variety of externalism is indeed called for in warranting many beliefs that we take as basic.)

Now, Plantinga offers his account of warranted Christian belief along such externalist lines, so that, possibly, belief in God is "properly basic." But he allows that such beliefs are in principle defeasible. I should be surprised if Craig does not think the same thing.

By the way, in reply to one of the bloggers who appeals to undercutting naturalistic explanations for religious experiences, one or another of those undercutting explanations is likely the correct one in the event that the experience is non-veridical. I mean, if God either fails to exist or to make his presence known in the way that Craig implies, then, clearly, the belief is the product of some malfunction in Craig's system. But it is question-begging to assume against Craig that the potentially undercutting explanation is to be preferred. Why think that? This is the point that Plantinga makes rather forcefully in WCB: de jure objections are themselves unwarranted apart from the force of de facto objections.

Mark D. Linville said...

A couple more points....

Distinguish between a view that appeals to religious experience as evidence and one that maintains that some experience or other is, or can be, the non-inferential grounding for a warranted belief.

Craig is not, I think, suggesting that some argument may be had that appeals to religious experience as one of its premises:

(1) I have an apparent experience of O.

(2) If I have an apparent experience of O then, probably, O exists.

(3) Therefore, probably O exists.

Rather, the suggestion (I think) is that no inference whatsoever is involved. My belief in the external world seems to come in this way. I don't infer people and trees from my apparent perception of such. Rather, the perception carries with it, spontaneously and non-inferentially, the belief in such things.

Reid argued against Hume that such beliefs are warranted just in case they are the product of our constitution and that everything is in good working order. Plantinga is essentially doing the same thing in the case of belief in God.

Finally, knowing that P seems to be compatible with the in principle defeasibility of belief that P. My belief in an external world is defeasible in principle. Consider The Matrix Hypothesis as an alternative explanation for my present experiences. But, so say I, this does nothing to diminish the fact that I know where I am at present.

And so to suppose that Craig's claims to an immediate source of knowledge need not be taken as some bizarre assertion of in principle "inerrancy."

Kevin H said...

Mark said much of what I would say. BTW, Bill gets more questions on this than about anything else.

Norm Geisler claims to disagree with Bill on this approach but I think they agree more than they realize.

The poor uneducated farmer in rural Arkansas can respond to God's revelation apart from having read a single apologetics text.

Bill would say this is how most of the world comes to faith in Christ.

Norm would say that the farmer still responded to evidence (nature, intuition, etc.). Bill would generally agree but deny a hardcore evidential presentation is necessary for the farmer's response.

The fact that certain educated intellectuals like C.S. Lewis and Augustine reasoned to the truth of Christianity does not negate the farmer. God is not limited in his approach.

As John pointed out, I maintain that learning various evidences is part of the maturation process for a full-orbed faith. Be faithful in little, you'll be given more.

It makes sense to me that evidential arguments offer support for faith but not an all-encompassing basis for faith.

Imagine the man who determines he will embrace belief in God only after getting a doctorate in Philosophy, another in Theology, another in World Religions, and after reading every work on the subject.

Imagine further the man who tells a woman he'll marry her only after he gets a degree in Family Counseling, Sociology, Psychology, and Biology, then dates every other woman in town to make sure she's the right one! She'd be long gone!

That's not necessary and in fact absurd! I think faith in Christ is not a leap, but a step in the right direction. And, If God is God, humility is required in approaching him.

brian_g said...

John W. Loftus says:

"Several people have asked me whether or not Craig sincerely believes, or whether he goes through the motions, so to speak, since he is surely fully aware of the objections we skeptics offer to his faith. I maintain he's sincerely deluded. He sincerely believes, but he's deluded. And I think I've found the reason why he can continue on in the face of what I consider to be the powerful objections of the skeptics."


Why is it that when people disagree after discussing the evidence, that one must psychology for answers? This is just as bad as when Christians say "atheists really know that God exists deep down, but don't want to admit it."
Why think that they really know that God exists? Why not conclude that deep down they really don't know that God exist?

Atheists hate it when Christians say things like this. It's stupid on the part of the Christian. However, atheists need to recognize that it's just as stupid when they do it. I'm not just picking on you John, I've seen other atheists do this as well. I saw this at the "Beyond Belief" conference. Intelligent atheists trying to understand why so many other intelligent people believe in God -- even scientists.

Why can't a person just accept that there will probably always be intelligent people who take the opposite position as them? Why do we need to explain how they went wrong?

Blue Devil Knight said...

These arguments are a double edged sword. It is based on such arguments that I became an agnostic, as when I searched my soul for what I believed, I balked at the thought that a man was raised from the dead. Thanks to the Campus Crusaders for Christ that provoked me to look into my heart to find what I truly believed. :)

Tyro said...

Why can't a person just accept that there will probably always be intelligent people who take the opposite position as them? Why do we need to explain how they went wrong?

When a large number of people adopt a position in the face of contradictory evidence, then yes as people interested in increasing our understanding of human thought we should seek to explain how they went wrong. If you have a problem seeing this for Christians, then think "death cult member", "conspiracy theorist" or "naturopath", whatever popular but unsubstantiated/damaging belief you wish.



Mark,

All that I have to the contrary is my apparent memory of having been elsewhere at the time.

I think I understand what you're getting at with this analogy but I'm not sure. Are you saying that there may be some powerful circumstantial evidence that God does not exist or that Christian experiences are illusory but because Christians do experience God they're justified in believing that God exists, much as you are justified in believing you didn't steal the guitar because you remember being somewhere else at the time?


I many problems with this sort of analogy-as-answer. The biggest one is that it presumes that God exists and that what Christians describe as the "experience of God" is actually an experience of God. If you were being more sceptical or honest, you would not start with the presumption that God exists and you would accurately describe the experience without jumping to conclusions. There was a powerful subjective experience but was it euphoria, tranquillity, a voice, an unexpected urge to do some act, actually seeing something or what? Saying "I experienced God" says nothing at all. We can say that we saw a table or a tree because we all understand this shorthand but anyone that has been to a magic show will know what sort of troubles we get into if we say "the magician cut the woman in half" instead of "the woman crawled into a box and the magician passed a saw through the centre." The former jumps to conclusions and leads us to fallacious conclusions.

Saying that someone "experienced God" and this is sufficient grounds for belief in spite of contradictory evidence flies in the face of what we know about other human experiences. We all have false memories, jump to conclusions. Our minds and eyes play tricks on us. And yes, sometimes we see things that aren't there or remember seeing something that wasn't there.

All of these well-understood and common experiences must be brushed aside in order to claim that the "experience of God" is a rational ground for belief.


We can test this easily. If this claim isn't special pleading and can in fact lead to knowledge then the simple observation that this process leads to mutually incompatible conclusions tells us the methodology is irreparably flawed. There is no means of distinguishing between the subjective experience of the Christian God, Aztec gods, Hindu gods, the Muslim God or even the Scientology Thetans. They cannot all be true simultaneously yet your process leads to the conclusion that all exist. Unless, as the OP said, we resort to solipsism and claim that the Christian God exists "for me", which sounds like rank nonsense.

brian_g said...

Tyro said:
"When a large number of people adopt a position in the face of contradictory evidence, then yes as people interested in increasing our understanding of human thought we should seek to explain how they went wrong. If you have a problem seeing this for Christians, then think "death cult member", "conspiracy theorist" or "naturopath", whatever popular but unsubstantiated/damaging belief you wish."


And of course many look for psychological reasons for why people reject the clear evidence for God:

1) "They deep down really believe in God."

2) "They had a bad relationship with their father as a child."

3) "They don't want to live moral lives."

Maybe some people find psychological reasons for belief or non-belief interesting. I don't personally find them helpful. I think when people try to identify psychological causes they tend to think that they've disproven the belief or non-belief. Second, it discourages rational discussion of evidence.
If I believe that your atheism is caused by a bad relationship with your father, then I ought to help you to come to terms with that bad relationship, rather then showing you positive evidence for God. Likewise, if you believe that my belief in God is purely psychological, then you ought not to show me my mistake, but instead show me the way to a shrink.

Tyro said...

Brian,

While I appreciate that it is even a little insulting to ignore a person's stated position and arguments in favour of psychoanalysis, that isn't happening here. John has dealt honestly and directly with any argument and shown how weak the evidence is. Christian Apologists such as Craig and Plantinga have essentially stopped dealing with evidence and instead focused their efforts on dismissing it or arguing that mere evidence is irrelevant. They've abdicated a defence on rational grounds and it's worth asking why they still cling to the position when all they have is special pleading and wishful thinking. No, it's not useful in a debate and no it won't convince any theist but it's important to understand it nonetheless.

I think when people try to identify psychological causes they tend to think that they've disproven the belief or non-belief. Second, it discourages rational discussion of evidence.

God has essentially been disproven. All positive arguments for God are fallacious and there are several positive arguments against God which have not been addressed or refuted. As I've said, even apologists tacitly acknowledge this. Within a debate I'm all for a rational discussion of the evidence but when apologists such as Craig (as we're discussing here) focuses his efforts on arguing that evidence is irrelevant, then what is left to do? It would be wonderful if we could discuss the evidence as you say but what do you do with Craig? He has long ago dismissed rational argument or examination of the evidence.

John W. Loftus said...

Dr. Mark Linville is a friend of mine and I invited him to comment. His comments are a clear and forceful reminder that these beliefs will survive my objections. But I still object. Mark compares Dr. Craig’s claims with the claims of memory. According to him, and Plantinga, and Craig, they are analogous. Are they?

I think not. Over the years have I developed a great deal of assurance that my memory, especially my short-term memory, is very accurate--unless alcohol or drugs are involved. I know, for instance, that I awoke at 5:30 AM today. Why? Because I trust my memory. It has been proven to be accurate in a multiple number of contexts, and I can corroborate it by asking my wife, for instance, or in checking my email account when I sent my first email this morning.

But there is no corresponding corroboration check on Dr. Craig’s claim to have the inner witness of the Spirit. Where is the corroborating test that shows Craig can trust his inner witness of the Spirit in the same repeated way that I can check the accuracy of my memory in a multiple number of contexts? He has no other experience to test it like I can with my memory.

Craig even indicates he believes based on this inner witness even if all evidence is to the contrary. I do not claim this in regard to my memory, because my memory can and does fail me. I could be wrong. Someone might have slipped a drug into my first cup of coffee. So I must always check my memory with the objective evidence, and in some extreme cases, like the one Mark provides, I would have to re-evaluate whether I remembered correctly, passed out, was dreaming, or drugged.

So on the one hand, we have a claim by Craig that his inner witness of the Spirit is surer than our memories. It is so sure he doesn’t need any corroborating evidence. This witness is sure even if he may not be able to sufficiently argue on behalf of it, and even though there is no other occasion where this witness of his has been tested. While on the other hand, unlike Craig, I claim to have verified my memory in multiple number of contexts. I claim that the objective evidence must corroborate my memory, otherwise I should question my memory, and that I can sufficiently argue for trusting my memory. [If Mark wants to say we have no reason to trust our memories, that is another story entirely which undermines a whole lot more than he wants to claim].

Nonetheless, there is no parity between the analogy of memory to the so-called inner witness of the Spirit.

Point of fact is that there is plenty of objective evidence to the contrary when it comes to Craig’s claims. And there are plenty of other testimonies to having veridical experiences with ghosts and the Mormon God too, which are considered conflicting claims. If Mark sees a rocking chair and another person sees a desk and still another person sees nothing at all, then we are facing the same scenario that I claim Craig faces.

If we just listen to what Craig is saying, he’s telling us that this inner witness needs no corroboration. It needs no evidence. It needs no argument. It doesn’t matter that he claims the evidence helps to corroborate his inner witness. That’s not the issue. The issue is that he claims the Spirit is its own testimony, it is self-authenticating, and it trumps all contrary arguments and evidence. So there might as well be no material world! It wouldn’t matter to him, according to what he says. And this is Epistemological Solipsism.

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, Okay, maybe I'm stretching the boundaries here, but this is where Craig's arguments lead, I think, if I understand them correctly.

Steven Carr said...

What religious experience did Craig have?

Did he hear voices?

Has he ever described it? Did he receive transmissions through his false teeth?

What did he experience?

If other people , in other religions, have these 'self-authenticating experiences' do they have to be authenticated by Craig before they can be considered authentic?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi James [McGrath],
You wrote, "I am sure that some Biblical authors had these sorts of ['born again'] experiences too."

Your phrase, "some" had "these sorts" leaves plenty of wiggle room.

William James distinquished between "born twice" and "born once" Christians, pointing out that people raised Christian often don't recall having a "born again" experience, and many Christians, including Catholics, portray being "born again" as PART OF A LIFELONG ONGOING PROCESS, not an instantaneous act. I've read that the "born again" experience as understood today, viz., "accepting Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and savior, and noting the day and time," actually originated within strains of German Protestant pietism fairly recently (so far as "recent" history goes).

But even more importantly, as Tyro pointed out, Christians have been arguing for millennia over who is (or is not) "saved," or, over who is "really a Christian," based on a host of divergent claims and criteria.

Therefore, claims of having "these sorts" of similar spiritual experiences, has not brought agreement.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Craig's claim is no better than that of the claim emblazoned on the back cover of copies of The Book of Mormon. It's a citation from the Book of Mormon itself that says, if I may paraphrase from memory, "Pray to ask God if what's in this book [the book of Mormon] is true, and He will answer."

John W. Loftus said...

Mark, if what I said doesn't adequately deal with your arguments have you seen Keith De Rose's article? Exapologist just now told me about his criticisms.

Cheers.

J.L. Hinman said...

when are you going to let me see these "powerful objections" you mention? why don't you use some on the blog?

I can blow your argument away, but, and I say this in all sincerity, you will have to wait until my book comes out.

seriously, I'm not making fun of you John, that's what the book is about!

Mark D. Linville said...

Tyro said:

Christian Apologists such as Craig and Plantinga have essentially stopped dealing with evidence and instead focused their efforts on dismissing it or arguing that mere evidence is irrelevant. They've abdicated a defence on rational grounds and it's worth asking why they still cling to the position when all they have is special pleading and wishful thinking.

But this simply is not true. Consider, for instance, Craig's new edited volume, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (due out in April). This volume revives the classical arguments and each is given a rigorous defense (each of the 11 essays is around 35,000 words). A lot of people will likely criticize this volume and its authors for being overly rational.

Craig has gone out of his way lately in arguing that it is simply false that we live in a "postmodern age" where rational argument is to no avail. He argues that we are still very much in the grip of Enlightenment thought, that this is presupposed by the so-called "new atheism," and that careful argumentation is called for.

And Plantinga really goes on the attack against naturalism in his exchange with Tooley.

There has been no retreat whatsoever. It is a much more subtle and sophisticated point of epistemology, and I think that evidentialist critics who hear such claims in the context of apologetics are often ignorant of the higher-level epistemological issues that are involved.

I think that a lot of critics of Plantinga's (and Craig's) view miss the point that this appeal is never offered as a substitute for evidence.

The question is simply "Is it possible for the belief to be warranted without its having been inferred from some other and more basic belief?" Plantinga and Craig (and I) say yes. And I have suggested above that the epistemology involved is in step with what we probably should say in general about basic beliefs.

I believe you asked about my analogy to memory. Would I, in principle, reject whatever contradictory evidence came my way and cling to faith? Well, I've said that even such basic beliefs--like nearly all beliefs--are in principle defeasible. Suppose that after the guitar theft, I am shown a photo taken of me with the guitar. And my memory of having been reading the Plantinga-Tooley stuff is challenged when my wife says, "Honey, you were gone all day and you left that book on the table here. I wondered where you were," etc. It would be time to reassess my own assumptions about the reliability of my memory. Similarly, it is relatively easy to imagine certain historical counter-evidence for, say, the resurrection of Jesus (ancient documents are discovered that credibly claim a conspiracy. Another tomb, named in those documents, is opened and....), or I might simply be confronted by a compelling argument from evil or an argument designed to show that the concept of God is hopelessly incoherent. Then might be a good time to take seriously some one or other of the various social science explanations for the beliefs that I have held.

And I suppose this stuff admits of degrees so that I have more confidence--in the face of contrary evidence--in some beliefs than in others and would thus be more resistant to that evidence. The respective degrees of confidence need not be the same in order for the analogy to work.

Here's another basic belief of mine that I'm prepared to hold on to in the face of one hell of a lot of alleged counterevidence: it is wrong to strangle babies just to watch their faces turn blue. It is a belief that seems to wear its truth on its sleeve, so to speak. To entertain it is to believe it. I do not infer it from some more basic or more certain belief. And, indeed, I am inclined to think that it is more basic than whatever is involved in arguments offered for thinking otherwise.

There is a very interesting parallel to all of this in the literature on metaethics. Gilbert Harman has argued that we are not warranted in believing in moral facts because we can always explain things by appeal to relevant non-moral facts. Nick Sturgeon has replied, convincingly, I think, that we should be convinced by Harman's argument and look for the non-moral explanation only if we have already abandoned the belief in moral realism--the belief, that is, that there are objective moral facts. Harman's argument begs the question against moral realists like Sturgeon in precisely the way that Freud's explanation of religious belief as "wishful thinking" begs the question against the theist. (See my discussion of Harman and Sturgeon in "The Moral Argument," Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, forthcoming.)

J.L. Hinman said...

btw I give you hint. It can't be solipsism if it's inter-subjective. One the criteria of my epistemic judgment argument is that religious experince is inter-subjective. I have proved that. so it can't be solipsism.

Mark D. Linville said...

A personal note:

I remember sitting in John's office at the Illinois church where he ministered. We were having a friendly argument. He was defending Plantinga's idea that beloief in God is properly basic. I was holding out for a dyed-in-the-wool evidentialist view!

For good or ill, it has taken me years to come around to that view. Some of this is due to the more rigorous case that Plantinga has offered in the past few years (i.e., the Warrant trilogy).

Cheers.

;-)

John W. Loftus said...

Yes Mark, I remember that too. Seems like old times in reverse, eh?

John W. Loftus said...

Let me correct that. To be sure, I'm not exactly an evidentialist now either.

Cheers.

Tyro said...

Mark,

Re Craig & wishful thinking/special pleading:

I'm sorry I don't have access to this unpublished work you cite, nor am I that interested in reading it. Pointing out specific instances where Craig has acted rationally does nothing to the argument that he actively seeks to undermine rationality to support his beliefs. We can start with the points I raised earlier, that Craig defends a method which leads to mutually inconsistent conclusions. Any method which can take true propositions and derive falsehoods must be discarded. Craig must attack these basic principles in order to defend his pre-selected conclusions.


And Plantinga really goes on the attack against naturalism in his exchange with Tooley.

There has been no retreat whatsoever.


I think you misunderstand me. Just because a person attacks another it doesn't mean they have backed off on issues. Plantinga's attacks on naturalism, what I've read of them, are just the sort of special pleading that I've been talking about. If he is correct then anything goes and any god is as valid as any other, but since this means we can conclude that mutually incompatible gods exist the method is useless. It certainly can never be used to defend a specific position or belief as it can never reach a specific conclusion so Plantinga & Craig's beliefs are unsupported and irrational, even using their own methods.


Similarly, it is relatively easy to imagine certain historical counter-evidence for, say, the resurrection of Jesus (ancient documents are discovered that credibly claim a conspiracy. Another tomb, named in those documents, is opened and....), or I might simply be confronted by a compelling argument from evil or an argument designed to show that the concept of God is hopelessly incoherent.

A good example of the sort of bamboozling leap that Craig tries to pull.

We are all familiar with the mundane events such as waking up, taking lunch, touching trees and playing guitars. We have learned through countless tests that our memories are generally trustworthy (as it turns out, our memories are less trustworthy the we believe, but that's another story). These are specific events in our lives that we have witnessed and their causes and origins are well understood. There is no debate about how guitars are made nor whether people awake in the morning. It is a reasonable conclusion to trust that our memories of waking or playing a guitar are valid until new evidence arises.

But then you try to pull a fast one and act like this is analogous to Jesus rising from the dead or a creator of the universe singling out our planet and even specific people to communicate with. We have not witnessed Jesus, we've just witnessed a book and explanations for books are as varied as they are mundane. We have not witnessed God talking, we've felt something (rarely described) but again explanations of feelings even profound ones are mundane and don't require deities.

A belief in a resurrected Jesus isn't a personal experience, it is a conclusion or an unfounded leap of faith. You can try to defend that conclusion on rational, evidential grounds but this has and will continue to fail; or you can try to argue that no evidence is necessary. Craig has his conclusion firmly in mind and then seeks to present any evidence he believes will support his case and reject anything contradictory while simultaneously trying to present arguments which undermine the need for reliable evidence. Hence the argument from personal experience.

I have read several articles from Plantinga and despite his obvious education his arguments rarely rise above the level of special pleading (why his believes don't need proper evidence) and arguments from ignorance (he can't think of any other explanation for X, Y, Z therefore it must be God).

Here's another basic belief of mine that I'm prepared to hold on to in the face of one hell of a lot of alleged counterevidence: it is wrong to strangle babies just to watch their faces turn blue. It is a belief that seems to wear its truth on its sleeve, so to speak. To entertain it is to believe it. I do not infer it from some more basic or more certain belief. And, indeed, I am inclined to think that it is more basic than whatever is involved in arguments offered for thinking otherwise.

Uh huh.

I know many many people that openly admit that they're quite happy that animals should live in pain and die for their pleasure and convenience. If suffering were such a self-evidently bad thing vegetarians wouldn't be such a small minority. It's a relief that you think it's wrong to harm infants but it seems both insular and self-aggrandizing to believe that your morals are somehow obvious and require no explanation. And again it's fine to pick uncontroversial examples like guitars or throttling babies but it's another to imply that just because we can agree that some beliefs are both obvious and likely correct that should mean that other beliefs which appear equally obvious aren't incorrect.

Personally I would be much more impressed with your moral claims if you wouldn't just dump them and say they're self-evident and unchangeable in the face of evidence. I think it's wrong to harm infants but I can think of a half-dozen arguments for why.


Still, I would be content if you are arguing that a belief in the existence of God is like a moral belief - it's an opinion which you wish others hold but which still just exists in our minds.

John W. Loftus said...

Tyro, be sure to distinguish what Dr. Linville is arguing for and what Craig and what Plantinga respectfully argue for. They seem to have their differences, if I understand them correctly. Whether or not this is so I'll leave up to Mark to say.

Tyro said...

John & Mark,

I'm not familial enough with Dr. Linville to comment on what he believes except to the extent that he has commented in this post. I have read many articles by Craig and several by Plantinga but am not an expert. My apologies if it appears as if I'm blurring the lines, I probably am. If it makes it clearer I can try to address specific comments in context.

If I'm being understood and we still disagree, then we don't need to drag out out :)

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dear Mark D. Linville and Kevin H.,

On Plantinga's analogy of the man falsely accused: Analogies do not constitute evidence or proof.

Part of what's interesting about Plantina's inventive analogy is that the accusations are based on relatively soft evidence, i.e., no hard evidence, for instance there's no evidence of fingerprints left at the scene of the crime, nor a drop of blood to compare in a lab, not even a fabric sample from the criminal's jacket caught on a nail that might be matched to the accused's jacket at home which might be missing a torn out piece of fabric of the same size, color, and type, as found at the scene of the crime. So Plantinga's example only features relatively "soft" evidence which is based on things like people's memories of what the culprit looked "like" to them, or the make and model of a mass produced vehicle. Hrmph, even in a court of law that's not very "hard" evidence.

So Plantinga is simply constructing an analogy of his choosing. There are a wide variety to choose from involving court cases, such as court cases involving false memory syndrome, or sleepwalking, or amnesia. He's obviously attempting to invent a court case that somehow makes his view of the self-authentication of religious experiences/beliefs appear the most "rational" to his fellow believers. As such, his apologetics appears unconvincing to people who are not already sold on his beliefs.

QUESTION: Mark and/or Plantinga are attempting to compare two things via their analogy:
1) a person's memory of having spent the night "pouring over the Plantinga-Tooley debate" (i.e., instead of having spent the night committing a crime).
2) a person's memory of having "enjoyed the internal witness of the Holy Spirit."

But consider all the ways those two things are like and unlike each other:
a) You can listen to, or read a debate that has been recorded or transcribed, and so can many other people on either side of such a debate. But not everyone knows what another person is talking about when they speak about "enjoying the witness of the Holy Spirit"--it's a phrase couched in a language one might call "Christian-ese," and if you're not a part of that religious culture, then what exactly are you talking about?

Rather than swap inventive analogies I'd much sooner discuss something closer to the case of Christianity itself, i.e., studying Gospel parallels, history of chronology and composition of N.T. materials, first-century history and sociology, and other things that people of a variety of beliefs (or none) may study together, and argue over whether such knowledge supports or calls into question various sets and/or sub-sets of Christian beliefs.

Because, arguing as Plantinga is doing that outsiders have to take internal, sketchy, hazy, undefined (perhaps even undefinable) religious experiental claims (like "enjoying the Holy Spirit") epistemologically seriously (all by and of themselves), is frankly the biggest road to nowhere that one can build between two people when they are discussing competing beliefs.

May I add with all due respect that the philosopher Joseph E. Barnhart and other philosophers have published critiques of Plantinga's inventive anaologies and apologetics in mainstream philosophical journals for decades. How many of those critiques Plantinga has responded to, I do not know. But I sincerely doubt he has "proven" his beliefs to his critics. At most he's probably invented further analogies in an attempt to circumvent obvious criticisms rather than "proven" anything.

Philosophy as such truly has its limitations. And SO DO our own internal experiences when attempting to share them with others.

So there remains a whole lot more questions out there than definitive answers. And we haven't even touched on major dogmas and doctrines yet--concerning things like substitutionary sacrifice (magical transference of sin and guilt), God-man, Trinity, or Protestantism's "Sola Scriptura" (which Catholics argue against quite reasonably), etc.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Further note to Mark D. Linville,

You asked "Why not strangle babies to see them turn blue?" and asserted that the rejection of such murderous behavior is "not inferred from some more basic or more certain belief."

Are you honestly assuming that all human ethical behaviors are based solely on "beliefs?"

Unlike your assumption I assume that a lot of human ethical behaviors are based on shared pain and pleasure recognitions that are quite basic biologically speaking, as well as being based on our brain's capacity for memory and forethought which allows us to consider more fully the consequences of being born co-members of a social species.

Sociology teaches that we are defined by others from birth just as we later help define them. Biology teaches that we all share mirror neurons, and the vast majority of us experience similar pains and pleasures both physical and psychological. And our species evolved from precusors that had been SOCIAL for millions of years before modern human beings arose.

Have you read books like PRIMATES AND PHILOSOPHERS, or others listed at the amazon.com bookpage below?

http://www.amazon.com/Primates-Philosophers-Morality-Evolved-University/dp/0691124477

Have you read ZYGON magazine published by the Institute of Religion in an Age of Science" that attempts to draw together evolutionary theory with religious views of morality?

The question of the origins of ethics and moral decision-makling has grown far more complex with further scientific study. Those who argue for the "basic beliefs" hypothesis are finding there's far more to the question than that.

There's far more today that one can and should study about all aspects of such questions.

Scientists are studying primate behaviors and interactions, and primates have apparently been practicing reconciliation/forgiveness for millions of years, including the outstretched hand, the hug, etc., following divisive behaviors. Of course primates also have a brutal unforgiving side. But for ages that was the only side that people assumed existed, as when gorillas were viewed as nothing more than "brute beasts" during the Victorian era, with no study being made of their social habits.

Franz de Waal is one of today's leading experts in such studies, and his studies and anecdotes fill one with immediate recognition of the closeness of primates with us. He talks about visiting one bonobo enclosure at a zoo and bringing along his own infant in a baby pouch tied to his chest, and how a bonobo female saw him approach. She was raising an infant herself and grabbed her child by the hands in such a way as to twist her child perfectly around and hold it up to the glass so the babies could face each other. The mother's eyes also met Franz's while she was doing this.

In another case there was a water-filled canal separating the bonobos from a primatologist who was snapping photos while observing them divide up the day's food supply. One female would not turn around to face the camera, so the primatologist shouted, and the bonobo ignored her, until finally the bonobo couldn't take the repeated shouts, and threw the photographer a portion of food. *grin*

In yet another case Washoe saw a chimp drowing while trying to cross the moat of their enclosure and Washoe ran up and grabbed a plant by the shoreline and held our her hand and the chimp grabbed hold and was saved from drowning.

Edward T. Babinski said...

And even further note to Mark D. Linville, concerning the new Blackwell volume of Christian Philosophical arguments that he mentions Craig is editing.

I noted that this upcoming volume features Victor Reppert's "Argument from Reason," something that appears to me and to Christian brain-mind monists, to be an unconvincing argument.

Is Craig editing the volume only to suit "substance dualists?" like Vic Reppert? Where's the Christian monist position, and the Christian emergentist position? Will those be included in Craig's volume?

Mark D. Linville said...

This will have to be my last entry.

But I wish to reply to a couple of things that Tyro said.

Mark,

Re Craig & wishful thinking/special pleading:

I'm sorry I don't have access to this unpublished work you cite, nor am I that interested in reading it. Pointing out specific instances where Craig has acted rationally does nothing to the argument that he actively seeks to undermine rationality to support his beliefs.

Were we talking about whether he ever "acts rationally"? I was replying to this comment:

Christian Apologists such as Craig and Plantinga have essentially stopped dealing with evidence and instead focused their efforts on dismissing it or arguing that mere evidence is irrelevant. They've abdicated a defence on rational grounds and it's worth asking why they still cling to the position when all they have is special pleading and wishful thinking.

I took you to be suggesting that there has been some sort of retreat into subjectivity. I mean, you say here, "They've abdicated a defence on rational grounds...." I am maintaining that they have done nothing of the sort, and I cited the forthcoming Companion as an example.

I find it interesting that you charge Craig et al with "abdicating a defence on rational grounds" but then announce in advance that you are not interested in having a look at such a rational defence when it appears. And you charge certain theists with being "insular"?

We can start with the points I raised earlier, that Craig defends a method which leads to mutually inconsistent conclusions.

Why should anyone think a thing like that? I mean, imagine the following disagreement. Jones says, "Bob is the one true God. Further, I know this because Bob personally revealed it to me." Smith says, "To the contrary, Ralph is the one true God because Ralph lives in my heart." Here you have contradictory assertions. But you will be very hard pressed to show that this is a contradiction.

Suppose that Bob really is the one true God and that he really has revealed himself in this way. How does the fact that someone makes similar but competing claims take anything away from this?

Admittedly, the two will likely appear to be on level ground with their claims so that you or I may not be in a position to adjudicate those claims. And so neither will be particularly helpful if you or I are trying to decide between Bob or Ralph. (Actually, it's Bob. But never mind that.)

Is the proposition God reveals himself directly to his followers logically possible? Is the claim coherent? Here's another: Is Jones knows God exists and Jones has no evidence from which to infer God's existence possibly true? Or is there some sort of built-in incoherence?

I maintain that, true or false, both are logically coherent assertions. If so, then neither entails a contradiction. Further, Plantinga may be understood to be claiming that these propositions are not merely possibly true but true. And, indeed, if it were true, then I suppose we would witness pretty much what we do, in fact, witness: a hoary tradition of believers who claim a direct awareness of God. And, if it were true, the sorts of objections that you raise would still be raised because, once again, the claim would not sit well with those who do not have that experience.

Plantinga's attacks on naturalism, what I've read of them, are just the sort of special pleading that I've been talking about.

For example?

My most recent Plantinga read is his exchange with Tooley. Your comment here does not ring true at all.

If he is correct then anything goes and any god is as valid as any other, but since this means we can conclude that mutually incompatible gods exist the method is useless.

I've shown above that you hafve a bad argument here.

It certainly can never be used to defend a specific position or belief as it can never reach a specific conclusion so Plantinga & Craig's beliefs are unsupported and irrational, even using their own methods.

First, define "rational." (Hint: It may not be as straightforward as you imagine.)

Also, there's a hell of a lot that needs to be said in this space. My mind goes first to a recent collection of essays that defend natural theology against Humean criticisms, including "Hume's Stopper"--the criticism that the conclusions of such arguments are too indeterminate to support anything as robust as theism. James Sennett, another of John Loftus's friends, is one of the editors and is the author of the piece on "Hume's Stopper." I would give you the reference, but then you would just say that you're not interested in reading it.

We have not witnessed God talking, we've felt something (rarely described) but again explanations of feelings even profound ones are mundane and don't require deities.

If God either does not exist or is not the direct source of the sort of experiences that we are discussing, then you are correct: such explanations don't require deities. Then, of course, if God is the source, then the correct explanation does, in fact, "require a deity."

A belief in a resurrected Jesus isn't a personal experience, it is a conclusion or an unfounded leap of faith.

Well, I dunno. Would you describe an encounter with the risen Christ a "personal experience"? This is what many people attest to. And, again, if this is what has happened, then the resulting belief is not a "leap of faith." Rather, it is the sort of belief that one reaches spontaneously given (a) the experience and (b)properly functioning cognitive equipment.

I have read several articles from Plantinga and despite his obvious education his arguments rarely rise above the level of special pleading (why his believes don't need proper evidence) and arguments from ignorance (he can't think of any other explanation for X, Y, Z therefore it must be God).

This is rather fast and loose. Plantinga offers a general theory of epistemology that, he argues, has these results when we come to religious belief. To write it off as "special pleading," and to do so without actually assessing the arguments is less than responsible.

It's a relief that you think it's wrong to harm infants but it seems both insular and self-aggrandizing to believe that your morals are somehow obvious and require no explanation.

This is an odd thing to say. Lots of moral philosophers appeal to the methodology of "reflective equilibrium" (consider Michael Martin, for instance). This entails starting with certain pre-reflective beliefs that just seem true, and then proceeding to arrive at a general and coherent theory that either makes sense of those initial beliefs or, as it takes shape, provides reason for thinking them mistaken. I think that Recreational baby-strangling is wrong is an obvious candidate for such things.

Insular? Self-aggrandizing? What the heck does that mean here?

Personally I would be much more impressed with your moral claims if you wouldn't just dump them and say they're self-evident and unchangeable in the face of evidence. I think it's wrong to harm infants but I can think of a half-dozen arguments for why.

Are you suggesting that "It is wrong to harm infants" is something that you have by way of inference from some belief more basic or certainly known? What would that be? On the other hand, if you mean that the wrongness of baby-strangling implicates some moral principle or other from which it is entailed, then I agree. But I suggest that we arrive at the principle by beginning with such beliefs--reflective equilibrium.

Still, I would be content if you are arguing that a belief in the existence of God is like a moral belief

Good. I am. I think that both are properly basic.

Mark D. Linville said...

One last reply to Babinski:

Actually, yes, one of my primary areas of research involves evolutionary psychology and its apparent implications for the genealogy of human morality.

See my "An Argument from Evolutionary Naturalism"--Part One of my essay, "The Moral Argument" in the forthcoming Blackwell Companion.

Andre the lay dude said...

It's statements like these, made by Mr. Craig and Christians specifically, that made me realized I might be deluded believing any emotional experience I felt was God. And when I concluded I was, I also concluded everyone else most likely was also.

Just before I left the church, I was at the time considering becoming a pastor, but was discouraged watching my then pastor's son preaching one Saturday. I'm from the SDA church where the preaching style is much less aggressive compared to other denominations whose sermons was/is considered too loud and vulgar in the dwelling place of the lord.

My pastor's son being schooled in the US coming to Canada, we knew it would be of that preference. But basically, by his aggressive style of preaching, he was telling us that it was the Holy Spirit in him. This was the final nail in the coffin for me attending church.

I could clearly see the psychological affect taking place, and the fact that he was telling me something contrary, I knew that church was not for me anymore, while simultaneously killing a career goal I was hoping to achieve.

I know this is an analogy but this notion of the Holy Spirit is similar to the notion of a devil tempting us into sin. And in my opinion, if one believes this, one is truly deluded.

We must keep in thought that it is "all in our minds", and not in our hearts.

Steven Carr said...

I shall repeat my questions, as nobody answered them

What religious experience did Craig have?

Did he hear voices?

Has he ever described it? Did he receive transmissions through his false teeth?

What did he experience?

Why is it so hard to find this out?

If other people , in other religions, have these 'self-authenticating experiences' do they have to be authenticated by Craig before they can be considered authentic?

Steven Carr said...

MARK
Would you describe an encounter with the risen Christ a "personal experience"?

CARR
You mean you hear voices in your head?

You have touched Jesus wounds?

What are these experiences?

The reality is that these 'encounters with the risen Jesus' are utterly banal, which is why they cannot bear the weight Plantinga puts on them.

kiwi said...

If there would be such a thing as the "inner testimony of the holy spirit", it would be have been demonstrated a long time ago.

Every day, we would hear stories about people who've never heard about Christianity and suddently start talking about Jesus.

I'm not a philosopher, but from what I can understand, there isn't anything properly basic about belief in God. Plantinga says there are many things we believe without evidence (for example, that other people have a mind, that the world wasn't created 5 minutes ago, etc), but those beliefs are universal and duhhh-obvious (why believing that the world WAS created 5 minutes ago, or that other people DON'T have a mind?)

But a belief in God is not universal; there are millions of people who don't see any need to believe in God. And there's plenty of reasonable reason to not believe in God.

It seems obvious to me that if you posit that a man rose from the dead 2000 years ago, you need to provide solid evidence that it happened. (And you don't need to be an "evidentalist" to think that). A vague religious experience cannot do the job.

One last thing: why the Craig obsession?

Tyro said...

Mark,

I find it interesting that you charge Craig et al with "abdicating a defence on rational grounds" but then announce in advance that you are not interested in having a look at such a rational defence when it appears. And you charge certain theists with being "insular"?


I've been down many a rabbit hole over the years. Theists will say "yes, Apologist X has said some unfortunate things but have you ever read Book Y which will explain everything?" I've taken the time to read Book Y only to find that it's no different. When confronted with this evidence, Apologist X does not discuss it, doesn't acknowledge it but instead comes up with yet another book. It's tiresome and predictable and the this-will-change-everything books grow increasingly hard to find or increasingly large and I think a not-yet-in-print book would certainly qualify as hard to find.

I also said that if there was some clear rebuttal which was available online I would check it out.

Sorry if there was any confusion.

Suppose that Bob really is the one true God and that he really has revealed himself in this way. How does the fact that someone makes similar but competing claims take anything away from this?


You are confusing two issues: what may or may not be the actual truth, and a method for arriving at the truth (or evaluating a given claim). Yes, it may be that God communicates in a way which is indistinguishable from an hallucination, epileptic seizure, or a serotonin-induced feeling of warmth & euphoria. It may be that 99% of claimed communications are false but that God really did communicate with some of us. It may even be that God is using crop circles to communicate with us even though we know that humans create virtually all of them - there may be one or two which are "genuine". Of course it may be that all alleged "experiences of God" are illusory and natural.

So how do we decide? That is the issue. On this, Craig drops his pretence at rationality and resorts to wishful thinking. His personal experience of God is real and he knows it, and that's just going to have to be good enough. Ralph is the one true God and all the rest are fake.

Is it a coherent claim that God reveals himself to his followers through some unverifiable process? Yes it's coherent. Because the competing explanations for these experiences are vastly superior there is no "rational warrant for belief" (if that's the term people like using these days). It seems that you are just shooting for an internally consistent description which is to set the bar so low you could slide your feet over it without a bump. Even L Ron Hubbard didn't have a problem coming up with a coherent religion and it sounds like he was off his rocker. The mere fact that a religious claim is coherent doesn't mean it is rational!


My most recent Plantinga read is his exchange with Tooley. Your comment here does not ring true at all.


I haven't read this but every apologetic piece I have read from him demonstrates this flaw. I picked a piece up more or less at random called When Faith and Reason Clash.

After a brief foray into quantum mechanics (ugh, echoes of Deepak Chopra there): "Of course the theological application is obvious: there is the broadly scientific view of things, and the broadly religious view of things; both are perfectly acceptable, perfectly correct, even though they appear to contradict one another.1 And the point of the doctrine is that we must learn to live with and love this situation."

This quote is, of course, a set up to the rest of the paper where he does his best to cast doubt on reason, evidence and rationality arguing that any doubt, no matter how small or irrelevant, should be enough to let us preserve our faith. At the heart of the issue is the problem that Plantinga has arrived at his conclusions from a fundamentally irrational process, by selecting a conclusion without support and then seeking to justify it after the fact. To him, evidence is something that is unimportant. He starts with the unshakeable assumption that Scripture is the word of God and if there's ever a problem, it is we that are at fault. At no point will he question this underlying assumption.

He says "No doubt science can correct our grasp of Scripture; but Scripture can also correct current science. If, for example, current science were to return to the view that the world has no beginning, and is infinitely old, then current science would be wrong." He mistakenly treats science as another faith-based endeavour, as yet another competing opinion. If cosmologists did conclude that the universe is infinitely old then is is based on evidence and his response? Shuck the evidence, it's wrong 'cause the bible says different. No reason for this, no justification, no support, it just must be wrong because the bible says so.

(Incidentally, it is by no means clear that the universe is not infinitely old. Maybe Plantinga should start reading some cosomology papers so he can help correct them.)


There is another paper linked to from leaderu.com: http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html

Here Plantinga openly sets out to trash rationalism, evidence and any hint that we need some reason for belief. His special pleading comes out thick and strong: "Clearly I am not under an obligation to have evidence for everything I believe; that would not be possible. But why, then, suppose that I have an obligation to accept belief in God only if I accept other propositions which serve as evidence for it?"

He tries to show that some propositions (like whether we live in the Matrix) can't be defended with evidence, implies that if some can't be defended with evidence then nothing requires evidence and since his God belief has no evidence then it is no worse than our firm and reasonable belief we aren't in the Matrix. Why should his God be any better than Hindu multiple gods or any other belief? Special pleading and wishful thinking. Why should we suspend any evidential requirements for his beliefs and not for science? Special pleading.

Its as tiresome as it is predictable.


If God either does not exist or is not the direct source of the sort of experiences that we are discussing, then you are correct: such explanations don't require deities. Then, of course, if God is the source, then the correct explanation does, in fact, "require a deity."

You're wrong that we require an deity to account for the evidence, even if a deity is responsible. In your hypothetical case it would be the correct explanation, but it is not required.

Do you understand the difference?

In the real world we have evidence which we seek to explain and to predict in the future. In your hypothetical world we've been given some inerrant guide to The Truth and then just seek to apportion responsibility like a mother with two unruly children - she knows that her kids broke the lamp and is interested only in deciding which child. In the real world, we just see a broken lamp and we have to use our observations to infer the existence of the children.

It seems to bother you that we may not be able to decide upon The Truth (ie: God). That's unfortunate but true, especially if God is determined to hide himself in actions or coincidences which have mundane explanations.

Would you describe an encounter with the risen Christ a "personal experience"? This is what many people attest to. And, again, if this is what has happened, then the resulting belief is not a "leap of faith."

Again, jumping to conclusions. No doubt they saw and felt something but what? No doubt it was personal, no doubt it was an experience but it's question begging and wishful thinking to dismiss all of the mundane, natural explanations and leap to "The Risen Christ".

Yes, they attest to it. So what? Are personal attestations sufficient in all cases or just where they confirm a belief you happen to share? Are personal attestations enough to establish alien abductions, for instance? Many people certainly believe it is.

Good. I am. I think that both are properly basic.

Alrighty. Then I think you are the "Epistemological Solipsist" that John mentioned in the OP. Once you start thinking that existence is an opinion, I think you've crossed that gulf. How is it not? Morals are just a belief about how people should behave. Are you saying that you believe God should exist and this is enough reason for you to say that God does exist?

And if you now say a belief in God is something you hold at a gut level without evidence or reason then I think you're demonstrating my point better than I could. Clearly it isn't rational and the "personal experience" and all other so-called forms of evidence are chosen to only confirm your belief but never undermine. Just as you say, what could undermine your morals?

Mark D. Linville said...

Oh, well, here I am back at least for the moment.

Carr asked if Craig or I have heard voices, etc.

I cannot speak for Craig, but I'll relate my own experience.

About five years ago, I was planting a garden in my back yard. I had just planted a row of tomatoes and turned to see the results. One of the plants, a robust "beefsteak tomato" plant, was transformed before my eyes. I watched in amazement as it grew from its perhaps 24" height, to just under six feet. Then, it took the form of Jesus, who extended his wounded, still verdant, hands to me, and said, "I am the vine." Before I could respond, his feet wriggled themselves loose of the newly poured soil, and I watched as the "Jesus plant" ascended toward heaven, looking down upon me with compassion. Then I could hear a voice within me saying, "Go thou into the world, planting the vine of life as ye go."

It was a moving and life-changing experience.

The only thing is that I was out six bucks for the plant and had to make a trip to Home Depot to replace it.

Is this the sort of thing you were expecting?

I think if you read Plantinga, you'll find that he is actually reluctant to use the word "experience." It is rather belief that arises spontaneously, non-inferentially (and, I suppose, involuntarily), and is elicited by, to take just one example, experiences of the creation. He describes the experience of viewing the starry heavens above and finding it virtually impossible to think of it all as anything other than God's creation.

(You've likely heard people say, "I don't know how anyone can consider the birth of a baby without believing in God." If, as is unlikely, this is intended as the rudiments of an argument with "There are babies" as a premise, then it likely fails to convince. On Plantinga's reckoning, we might regard it as a piece of autobiography, as the speaker is describing birth as a sort of eliciting experience for faith.)

It is more an intractable and abiding conviction that provides a kind of orientation on the world. In his discussion of the witness of the holy spirit, he describes a conviction that, using Calvin's words, "the great things of the gospel" are true.

Perhaps some people have had critical experiences at some time and place that they regard as miraculous. But the general "experience" that Plantinga (and, probably, Craig) have in mind is this settled conviction that is very common--nearly ubiquitous--among believers.

Of course, there are various social science explanations--from Hume to Freud to Dennett--in the offing, waiting to undercut all of this. And, if Plantinga is wrong about there being a sensus divinitatus that is, in some respect, restored in faith, or a working of God's spirit within believers, then one of these undercutting explanations is likely the correct one.

But, as I said in an earlier post, things seem to me to be precisely as they would be if what Plantinga says is correct. Believers would make these claims, and non-believers would think it superstitious claptrap easily explained away.

And, once again, none of this is presented as an alternative to evidential considerations. The question is simply whether the so many believers who have not pondered the evidence or entertained the arguments may nevertheless be warranted in their beliefs. Plantinga's answer includes a bit of circularity of which he is fully aware: IF it is true then probably they are warranted.

I fail to understand why this stuff tends to get people's shorts in a wad.

kiwi said...

So, Christians have a conviction they are right. That... isn't surprising, is it? Most people have the conviction they are right, and follow their inner intuition. If that is all what the inner testimony of the holy spirit is, that's just lame.

"But, as I said in an earlier post, things seem to me to be precisely as they would be if what Plantinga says is correct."

No. Because if Christianity would be true, then God would make sure non-Christians (ie, Muslims, for example) don't have the same conviction that Christians supposely "get" from the Holy Spirit.

How quick are we to forget the alleged god is omnipotent, and creator of the universe. Why the hell would he make the universe in such a way that Muslims are convinced they are in contact with Allah and that the Quran is true, when they have spiritual experiences? The same could be said of course about Mormonism, all other religions. Or maybe God is just fine with the plurality of religion? I bet Mr. Craig who is paid big bucks to defend Christianity would disagree.

Like I said, if there would be such a thing as the inner testimony of the holy spirit, we would have figured that out centuries ago. Non Christians around the world would randomly start talking about Jesus and the great truths of the Gospels.

Mark D. Linville said...

So, Christians have a conviction they are right. That... isn't surprising, is it?

That's right. And if Plantinga is correct, it would be very surprising if they did not have this conviction. And this is perfectly compatible with your correct observation that Christian certitude looks an awful lot like non-Christian certitude. It does. So what is supposed to follow from that?

if Christianity would be true, then God would make sure non-Christians (ie, Muslims, for example) don't have the same conviction that Christians supposely "get" from the Holy Spirit.

This is just a spin-off of various probabilistic versions of the problem of evil. What you say here is true, unless, of course, God were to have a morally sufficient reason for permitting things to go otherwise. Do you think that it is either impossible or improbable that this could be so? Here, the defender of a view like Plantinga's is entitled to draw from the theological resources of his own tradition in order to account for such plurality. (This is because your criticism is essentially a charge of internal incoherence.)

A common thread in this thread is a begging of the question against the theist. There is subtlety in Plantinga's position that seems to elude such critics. (And, I confess, having been persuaded by precisely the same objections for years, I was pretty slow on the uptake.)

I'll repeat something I said earlier: You are not in a position fully to understand these issues unless you follow the discussion beyond theology and atheology and consider the internalism/externalism debate outright. The externalist claims that a belief is warranted in a way that is suficient for knowledge just in case it is had "through proper channels" (and the "channels" are cashed out differently on competing versions of externalism). In that event, it is possible to know something without being in a position to state the reasons for thinking it true. Plantinga argues that IF it is the case that belief in God is itself the product of divine activity, then the "proper channels" criterion is satisfied, and the belief is warranted.

Tony said...

It's an interesting debate that always seems to devolve to the same result:
1. Atheists ask for rational explanations for Christian beliefs.
2. Christians offer rationales that are each debunked in turn;
3. Christians retreat to a position that says either "my belief really is rational even though you have proven it is not (?!)," or "even if my belief is not technically rational it is equally valid with one based on rationality because of the strength of my conviction / experience."

The thing that is perhaps oddest about the debate is that Christians are the ones who end up taking a position that can best be explained by nativism. It may well prove to be that there is a genetic basis for sharing a belief that is not rational, or that cannot be unseated by rationality. In other words, while taking a position that inadvertently denies the facts of evolution Christians may actually be victims of their own evolutionary makeup.

Steven Carr said...

MARK
I watched as the "Jesus plant" ascended toward heaven...

CARR
Really? Where would that be?

Surely if the billions of dollars spent on space research have told us one thing, as that there is no 'up there'.

Unless Australia is below us...

Of course, 2000 years ago, the Biblical writers lived in a world where they believed some people could 'ascend to Heaven'.

But space travel shows there is no 'up there'. There is no up and down in space....


MARK
..."the great things of the gospel" are true...

CARR
Curiously, Plantinga never reveals what the 'great things of the Gospel' are, that personal experiences show to be true.

Can you really have a personal experience which lets you know that there are 66 books in the Bible, and not 78?

Could Mark list what the 'great things of the Gospel' are that Plantinga claims personal experience alone provides a warranted belief for?

Steven Carr said...

MARK
It is rather belief that arises spontaneously, non-inferentially (and, I suppose, involuntarily), and is elicited by, to take just one example, experiences of the creation. He describes the experience of viewing the starry heavens above and finding it virtually impossible to think of it all as anything other than God's creation.

CARR
Is that it?

So this is *identical* to what Muslims claim can be inferred from their experiences....

How can these claims of looking at creation confirm 'the great things of the Gospel', when there is nothing specifically Christian about looking at the starry Heavens?

And Plantinga's looking at the starry heavens and claiming God did it, has absolutely zero in common with Plantinga remembering what he had for breakfast.

SO Plantinga's analogy of warranted Christian beliefs being as warranted as our memories of yesterday are revealed to be as shallow as the logic of 'Lots of stars, therefore God did it'.

kiwi said...

"What you say here is true, unless, of course, God were to have a morally sufficient reason for permitting things to go otherwise. Do you think that it is either impossible or improbable that this could be so?"

I fail to see how there could possibly be a reason, if the purported god is claimed to be all-good. He just lets Mormons, Muslims, etc delude themselves with convincing religious experiences? What good could possibly come out of that? The only reasonable conclusions are either that the alleged god does not exist, or that the alleged god simply does not care about the plurality of religions. In both cases, it does not look good for William Lane Craig.

"Plantinga argues that IF it is the case that belief in God is itself the product of divine activity, then the "proper channels" criterion is satisfied, and the belief is warranted."

Yes. But that's just a banal claim.

What people are trying to say is that Plantinga/Craig claims about the inner testimony of the holy spirit do not lead anywhere.

If it comes down to (please correct me if I'm wrong, or if I'm missing something): "Christianity is rational if it's true, it's irrational if it's false".

Then again, that's just a banal claim!

The issue is: is Christianity true or false? That's what people care about. And to establish that, evidence is needed. And because the evidence is thin, at best we should be agnostic about Christianity.

Steven Carr said...

MARK (responding to this question)
if Christianity would be true, then God would make sure non-Christians (ie, Muslims, for example) don't have the same conviction that Christians supposely "get" from the Holy Spirit.

This is just a spin-off of various probabilistic versions of the problem of evil. What you say here is true, unless, of course, God were to have a morally sufficient reason for permitting things to go otherwise. Do you think that it is either impossible or improbable that this could be so?

CARR
Does Plantinga claim it is impossible or improbable for Allah to allow Plantinga to have false religious experiences?

If Plantinga has false religious experiences, and still convinces himself they would be true, then that would be an evil.

But Allah allows evil....

SO how does Plantinga know his experiences are self-authenticating and Muslim experiences are not, when Plantinga himself says there could be morally permissible (if unknown) reason for the real God to allow Plantinga to have false experiences?

kiwi said...

"How can these claims of looking at creation confirm 'the great things of the Gospel', when there is nothing specifically Christian about looking at the starry Heavens?"

Also, does the inner testimony of the holy spirit says anything about catholicism vs protestantism, for example? Why is the testimony of the holy spirit limited to vague claims about the Gospels? Why doesn't it tell us which Christian denomination is right?

But, wait, the inner testimony of the holy spirit is a mere conviction. Catholics are convinced they are right and protestants are convinced they are right. How helpful that spirit is.

Tyro said...

kiwi,

If it comes down to (please correct me if I'm wrong, or if I'm missing something): "Christianity is rational if it's true, it's irrational if it's false".

I think that's one of the claims, but it isn't banal it's quite extraordinary.

In 900 AD, if a French peasant had a firm belief that a new continent would be discovered and the people there would fly to the moon in metal capsules and would create devices which would burn with the power of the sun then that person's beliefs would be technically true but would be held despite a total absence of evidence, reason or justification. Saying this belief came as a revelation from God doesn't make it any better.

It also leaves Plantinga trying to defend a logical system which requires perfect knowledge to asses whether something is rational which would undermine any attempt to learn anything. If someone tells us that a 2 million ton creature covered in scales will descend from space and destroy Japan and the only evidence he has is that he believes God told him, how do we react? Do we say that this belief is perfectly rational because it may be true, or do we dismiss it because it has no evidence nor any means of verification? If I believe that GW Bush is an alien reptile which has enslaved the human race but whose mind powers prevent us from seeing his true shape (as David Icke claims), will Plantinga defend this as a coolly rational belief? After all, it's internally consistent, it's coherent and no one has proven that it's false.

Like Behe in the Dover Trial who admitted that Astrology is a science under his new definition, pretty much anything at all becomes rational under Plantinga's torturous definition. This is what I mean when I say he seeks to undermine rationality. He wants to cling to the terms but redefine them into nonsense.

John W. Loftus said...

About this whole topic Keith Parsons sent me this (via email) yesterday:

I think that Craig needs to be asked something like this: What is the precise nature of the experience that you call the “inner testimony of the Holy Spirit?” Can you articulate in somewhat greater detail what this is like and why you find it so compelling? Is it an elevating feeling of “blessed assurance” when you contemplate particularly moving passages of scripture or hear a particularly uplifting sermon? Is it a “still, small voice” that comes in meditative moments? Is it a sense of forgiveness and acceptance that you get when your soul is troubled and you go the Lord in prayer? Is it a feeling, like the one related by John Wesley, that your heart is “strangely warmed” while participating in worship or prayer? If these are your experiences, or something like them, then it is understandable that you, or anyone, who has such experiences will find them particularly significant. It is even understandable that those who have had such experiences may become psychologically insulated, so that no atheological arguments or evidence can sway them. Still, skeptics have the right to question the epistemological value of such experiences. Should they trump all contrary evidence?

Consider the quote from Plantinga mentioned by one respondent. Six eyewitnesses pick me out of a lineup and say that I was the one who committed the crime. Yet I have a clear memory of being at home reading a particular book the night of the crime. Will I still maintain my own innocence? Yes, I will. But, still there might be so much evidence—fingerprints, a surveillance video, DNA evidence, etc. that I would have to say that, somehow, it was my memory that was wrong. So, strong enough evidence can and should make me doubt even my own apparently clear memories. So, to say that the “inner testimony” of the Holy Spirit trumps ALL evidence is not justifiable.

Perhaps Craig would say that the “inner testimony” is defeasible but that it gives him a great deal of assurance, and places a heavy burden of proof on skeptics to dissuade him. Fair enough, but wouldn’t he have to say the same thing for the personal experiences of, say, the Muslim or the atheist? Surely, Muslims often, upon hearing passages from the Qur’an, are transported by feelings of absolute assurance and conviction and a sublime and compelling sense of rightness—apparently self-authenticating experiences like those experienced by experienced by Craig or other Christians. Craig could only say (a) that Muslims do not have such elevated, apparently self-authenticating experiences, or (b) that in their case these experiences are delusional. Both answers seem to be simply arbitrary.

What about the experiences of atheists? Sometimes I am tempted to “backslide” from atheism and I recall the inspiration and comfort I used to get from religion. But then, when I really think about it, I have an overwhelming and undeniable sense of disgust and revulsion when I think about being a Christian again. Reading some C.S. Lewis helps; whatever I believe, I can’t believe that. Christian dogmas just seem to be palpably absurd and often revolting fantasies, no matter how many apologies for them I hear. At rock bottom, it just does not ring even remotely true. Instead of having my heart strangely warmed, I have my stomach strangely turned. The arguments of theistic philosophers and Christian apologists, even when I do not know at first just how to refute them, sound glib, hollow, and sleazy—metaphysical snake oil. Leading Christian philosophers all too often sound to me like high-I.Q. crackpots who will say or believe anything—and use all of their formidable intelligence and erudition and the big guns of philosophy—to defend an idée fixe. This is how I feel about it undeniably and deep down. Why aren’t my feelings as legitimate as Craig’s? Would he be willing to concede that my feelings and the Muslim’s are as valid as his? I don’t think so.

Mark D. Linville said...

If I believe that GW Bush is an alien reptile which has enslaved the human race but whose mind powers prevent us from seeing his true shape (as David Icke claims), will Plantinga defend this as a coolly rational belief? After all, it's internally consistent, it's coherent and no one has proven that it's false.

Well, Plantinga argues that "rational" ends up being a vacuous term on certain standard accounts. (He offers a humorous example of an actually held belief that human reproduction is the result of women being spun in circles and subjected to centrifugal force....)

For whatever odd reason, does it really seem to you that GWB is reptilian (though, perhaps, suffering from reptile dysfunction)? Then you are "rational" (in one sense) in believing it.

Distinguish between "internal" and "external" senses of "rational." The "internal" sense may well "justify" darn near anything. If it really seems to me that my living room is full of wild, rabid dogs (and if I value my own welfare), then it is irrational of me not to do something to secure my own safety.

But its seeming so might well be evidence that I am suffering from a kind of irrationality in the "external" sense--that is, some one or other of my cognitive faculties is misfiring.

It is precisely this sort of consideration that leads Plantinga to focus on the notion of proper function--which, of course, is "external" in the relevant sense.

Your comment about his "torturous" definition and its implications gives betrays your ignorance of his actual view. (And I say this as a matter of fact). So, once again, I insist that the Village Atheist critique is borne of ignorance. Perhaps the externalism that motivates the view is mistaken. I'm open to those arguments.

Tyro said...

Mark,

You're right that I'm ignorant of much of what Plantinga says. What of it? It looks like I've got the fundamentals exactly right and with a base this rotten you can't build anything.

Or rather you can build anything and that's the problem. If you buy his argument, then virtually any belief is equally valid provided it isn't contradicted by too much evidence. He seems quite content with maintaining a belief in the face of a substantial weight of evidence as I quoted earlier, but he does admit that at some point the burden becomes too much so that's something.

It's not just irrational it's anti-rational.


So, once again, I insist that the Village Atheist critique is borne of ignorance. Perhaps the externalism that motivates the view is mistaken. I'm open to those arguments.

Insist away since mere insistence seems sufficient to some.

For me, evidence speaks. Should you provide any evidence or reason that a deeper understanding would change anything then I'll listen. Come up with some reason to think that starting with a method designed to produce contradictions can lead to something useful. For the moment it's the Courtier's Reply all over, if only we would read tome X and treaties Y, then we would finally see. Nuts to that.

Mark D. Linville said...

John:

I cannot speak for Bill, but I don't see Parsons' comments as posing a serious challenge. Since it was a personal email rather than a public post, perhaps Parsons' view is not fully represented here.
But I'll offer a few remarks.

I think that it is possible for a belief to be both basic and, in principle, defeasible. So changing my story to include hard evidence (which I did myself in a later post) does nothing to dislodge me from the view that I am advocating.

Offer me sufficient counter evidence for thinking that my basically held belief was mistaken and (assuming certain intellectual virtues and emotional qualities), I'll abandon it. So?

I think that any belief involving propositions that are not just self-evident ("A is A"?) is in principle revisable (from an epistemic perspective), though, of course, I will resist (and reasonably so) the revision of some more than others.

I'll insert some comments:

I think that Craig needs to be asked something like this: What is the precise nature of the experience that you call the “inner testimony of the Holy Spirit?” Can you articulate in somewhat greater detail what this is like and why you find it so compelling? Is it an elevating feeling of “blessed assurance” when you contemplate particularly moving passages of scripture or hear a particularly uplifting sermon? Is it a “still, small voice” that comes in meditative moments? Is it a sense of forgiveness and acceptance that you get when your soul is troubled and you go the Lord in prayer? Is it a feeling, like the one related by John Wesley, that your heart is “strangely warmed” while participating in worship or prayer? If these are your experiences, or something like them, then it is understandable that you, or anyone, who has such experiences will find them particularly significant. It is even understandable that those who have had such experiences may become psychologically insulated, so that no atheological arguments or evidence can sway them.

I fail to see why it matters whether Bill is able to articulate just exactly what is involved. Suppose that (as is unlikely) all that can be elicited from him is, a Sarah-Palin-level, "Gosh, I just know."

On an externalist epistemology, one might expect precisely this: one has the belief, the belief arrived through proper channels, and this is sufficient for warrant. One might wish to press the question and ask, "How do you know that your sense of certitude is indicative of truth?" It is a natural question to ask, but it winds up urging internalist criteria against externalism.

Argue with me over the internalism/externalism debate. Convince me that some version of internalism must be right. But unless you have done this, don't be surprised to find me suggesting that it is possible for someone to hold a belief that is both warranted and is unjustified on internalist criteria.

Still, skeptics have the right to question the epistemological value of such experiences. Should they trump all contrary evidence?

Who denies this "right"? I mean, Plantinga, for instance, presumes nothing and has offered a trilogy of books to try to persuade his contemporaries of his view. It is perfectly understandable that people are skeptical of such claims. Indeed, such challenges are all but predicted on Plantinga's view.

Perhaps Craig would say that the “inner testimony” is defeasible but that it gives him a great deal of assurance, and places a heavy burden of proof on skeptics to dissuade him. Fair enough, but wouldn’t he have to say the same thing for the personal experiences of, say, the Muslim or the atheist?
Surely, Muslims often, upon hearing passages from the Qur’an, are transported by feelings of absolute assurance and conviction and a sublime and compelling sense of rightness—apparently self-authenticating experiences like those experienced by experienced by Craig or other Christians. Craig could only say (a) that Muslims do not have such elevated, apparently self-authenticating experiences, or (b) that in their case these experiences are delusional. Both answers seem to be simply arbitrary.


How is the "burden of proof" suggestion supposed to be understood? Are we talking about the perspective, from a "rational" point of view, of the individuals involved? Suppose that I have an overwhelming sense that I am being visited by the Celestial Surfer, and I take the experience to be "self-authenticating" in whatever sense Parsons has in mind. Should I take the position that the "burden of proof" is on anyone who would deny it? Probably so. If it seems, in some powerful, and perhaps inexplicable, way, that the Celestial Surfer is speaking to me, then I may well be "rational" in insisting upon powerful counterevidence before I am willing to abandon my belief that this is so.

But how does this address Plantinga's claims about proper function? He has argued that a belief is warranted and may qualify as knowledge just in case it is the product of a belief-producing mechanism that is functioning properly (in its proper environment) and is truth-aimed.

So to ask about the "experiences of atheists" who, upon introspection, "see through" theistic claims just misses the mark. Plantinga (and, I guess, Craig) can afford to allow that they are equally "rational," but then they will go on to observe that the relevant sense of "rational" is not particularly helpful.

If the object is to follow through with the sort of view that Plantinga and Craig (and I) espouse, the correct question is not whether such beliefs are rational but whether they are equally qualfied on the criteria for which Plantinga has argued.

John W. Loftus said...

Mark, as I told you in an email Exapologist thinks you are making a strong case. Now he says you are "schooling us." I asked him to comment. Watch out now. He's your equal, I think, on this topic.

I'll just watch and learn from you both. ;-)

exapologist said...

Hi Mark,

Nice defense of Plantinga! Although I disagree with his account, I'd like to add a few more things to say in its defense:

i) it won't do to argue against the disanalogy between the standardly accepted sources of PFJ or warrant, on the one hand, and the basis of certain cases of theistic or christian belief, on the other. For Plantinga's account relies on no such analogy. Rather, he accepts a particularist account of discerning which beliefs are properly basic and which are not:

"We must assemble examples of beliefs and conditions such that the former are obviously properly basic in the latter, and examples of beliefs and conditions such that the former are obviously not properly basic in the latter. We must then frame hypotheses as to the necessary and sufficient conditions of proper basicality and test these hypotheses by reference to those examples." (“Reason and Belief in God”, p. 76)

ii) Relatedly, (and Mark covered this point, but it seems to have been lost on some) not just anything goes for properly basic or warranted belief on Plantinga's account. Rather, they must have grounds or triggering-conditions. This comes out if you unpack the particularist quote from Plantinga above.

The process can be construed as having several steps. In the first step, one examines one’s beliefs that one takes to be rational. For example, suppose I reflect on the belief that I had a fried egg sandwich for breakfast this morning. Suppose further that, upon reflection, I find that I truly believe this. Finally, suppose that it seems to me that the belief is justified, or rationally held. If so, then one can go on to the second step.

In this step, I consider whether I believe this proposition on the basis of other propositions, or whether I believe it in the basic way. As it turns out, I see that the belief is basic for me: I don’t believe it one the basis of other beliefs of mine. I can then go on to the third step.

Here, I examine a number of other memory beliefs that seem to be rationally held by me, and I see that they are also held by me in the basic way. I then go on to the fourth step.

At this point, I try to surface the kind of circumstances they have in common. For example, I am not on drugs, I’m sufficiently rested and relaxed, etc. Then I have the materials for some preliminary premises in an inductive argument: Belief b1 is justified for S in circumstance c1, belief b2 is justified for S in circumstance c2, etc. From here I go on to the step: I construct the argument that since memory beliefs b1, b2, etc. of k are properly basic in circumstances c1, c2, etc., respectively, then probably all beliefs bi∈B (i.e., all memory beliefs) in all relevant ci∈C (i.e., all relevant circumstances) are properly basic for me. Thus, we now have our criterion for the proper basicality of memory beliefs, inductively supported by the process of the previous steps: There is a set of circumstances of kind C, and a set of (possible) beliefs of kind B, such that for any person, S, if S forms some bi∈B in some ci∈C. then bi is properly basic for S.

One can go on to apply this process to every kind of one’s beliefs, until one has criteria for all basic kinds of beliefs. Using such criteria, one can then sort out all of one’s beliefs into two categories: properly basic and properly based (where properly based beliefs are sufficiently inductively or deductively supported by one’s properly basic beliefs).

But If that's how properly basic beliefs are discerned, then it's clear that that Plantinga's account doesn’t commit one to the absurd view that just any belief can be properly basic. For the beliefs must have the right kind of grounds, which in turn are discerned via the process discussed above.

Steven Carr said...

MARK
I think that it is possible for a belief to be both basic and, in principle, defeasible.

CARR
How can Plantinga's belief that God created the starry heavens be 'basic', when it rests on a belief that his eyes can see millions of miles away, that these objects he sees were created, and that these objects existed more than 5 minutes ago? (which is a belief that Plantinga says is basic)

Whatever Plantinga's belief about Allah (sorry, Yahweh), creating the starry heavens it is clearly not basic, depending upon a belief that Yahweh is the true god and not Allah.

And how come Plantinga can write 3 big books and never state what these 'great things of the Gospel' are that he is supposed to be getting warrant for?

How do you get to the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed from 'properly basic' beliefs?

It can't be done, which is why Plantinga shies away from naming these beliefs that he is allegedly providing warrant for.

It is totally crazy to suggest that Christians should believe that a certain woman who lived 2,000 years ago was still a virgin when she gave birth, because they have a vision of Jesus.

Any historian would laugh themselves silly at the idea that matters of historical fact should be judged true or false on the basis of visions.

Yet this is what Plantinga wants his readers to buy...

But perhaps I am wrong.

I'm sure Mark , a great expert on Plantinga, will turn to his copy of 'Warranted Christian Beliefs' and extract from its pages a list of the beliefs that Plantinga says Christians have warrant for.

I think it will be a very short list...

exapologist said...

whoops -- it won't do to argue against the analogy...

Steven Carr said...

MARK
If it seems, in some powerful, and perhaps inexplicable, way, that the Celestial Surfer is speaking to me, then I may well be "rational" in insisting upon powerful counterevidence before I am willing to abandon my belief that this is so.

CARR
Really?

Suppose atheists feel that an all-loving God would never allow the evil Christians deplore.

WOuld atheists be justified in asking to see 'powerful counterevidence' before abandoning that view?

Or would Plantinga-supporters demand that atheists abandon the view, because there just might be a logical possibility that they are wrong, even if Plantinga cannot think of any plausible reason why God would allow such evil?

Plantinga has double-standards, as befits a Christian apologist.

He demands 'powerful counterevidence' before he reconsiders his beliefs, while demanding that atheists abandon their attacks on Christianity , because of unknown reasons which might possibly exist to justify God allowing evil, even if he not the slightest bit of evidence for them.

Tyro said...

Mark,

i wanted to follow up on a comment you made much earlier:


if Christianity would be true, then God would make sure non-Christians (ie, Muslims, for example) don't have the same conviction that Christians supposely "get" from the Holy Spirit.

This is just a spin-off of various probabilistic versions of the problem of evil. What you say here is true, unless, of course, God were to have a morally sufficient reason for permitting things to go otherwise. Do you think that it is either impossible or improbable that this could be so? Here, the defender of a view like Plantinga's is entitled to draw from the theological resources of his own tradition in order to account for such plurality. (This is because your criticism is essentially a charge of internal incoherence.)


If you're arguing that God has sufficient reason to deceive us (or allow us to be deceived) then none of us can trust any supposed revelation from God.

How does this support the belief that personal experience or revelation is a means to knowledge?

Heather said...

God made us all with free will. He wants human kind to seek him, to want to experience Him based on desire. Life would not be worth living if we were all pre-programmed. I am sure we would all die of lack of heart. Free will gives us the ability to love God with zeal! However, it also gives people the abilty to turn away from Him.

Logic can be used to discredit just about anything, and if not to discredit, than to create a the possibility of being discredited. However, Faith is not based on logic...Faith doesn't require "proof", or physical evidence.

I just couldn't resist being "preachy" today! :)

exapologist said...

Fwiw, I think there is a "killer" rebutting defeater for any kind of warrant christian belief might have had, viz., the evidence for the mainstream view among historical Jesus scholars that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet.

Plantinga admits, in WCB, that if evidence of this sort were to turn up, then that would do it. The specific example he gives is a bit different though. It's Bas Van Fraasen's example of the discovery of some verifiably-authentic ancient documents that have the disciples planning to steal the body and propagate the false belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Unfortunately for Plantinga, the evidence for Jesus as failed apocalyptic prophet is good enough. For it goes through even if we accept the gospels and the rest of the NT as 100 percent authentic.

Andre the lay dude said...

If Mr. Craig's witness of the Holy Spirit is real, and is really God, then Our Lady, aka the virgin Mary was truly assumed into heaven.

About two month's ago, I went to a Catholic church for the first time, as I was doing my friend a favor. And since another friend of mind has always been telling me that it is the only true church, since it was the first, I thought I should at least once attend God's true church.

Fortunately for me, it was a very special occasion, as one of God's many testimonial instruments Olive Dawson, was the special speaker, who had a special "message of mercy to the world". And she really is special, since anyone who can live nine years and counting, without no food or water/drink, and don't need much sleep, surviving only on the Eucharist, has to be considered such. Especially since she had a "personal encounter with Jesus", and if I recall correctly, has seen and spoken and to Mary herself. However, the person who certainly received the messages from "Our Lady" is to remain hidden, but Olive was chosen to promote them. Just in case anyone who is not a Catholic and might feel that they must get a hold of God's mother's messages, it is in book format. In it she said, "never before in the history of the church have I blessed such a book as the one I have given you." She also said, "I have given you the greatest sign that I am with you in every situation, this is the sign that I speak to you when when you open the book."

Here I quote from the flyer: "Olive's mission is not to prove the Real presence, for faith need no proof, but to elevate the faith of the people, to draw them closer to the central vision of the Gospel and the Historical Man-God Jesus Christ." So here we have a conflicting view with Mr.Craig's assertion that the witnessing of the Holy Spirit is undeniable proof of God's existence. And what I still cannot seem to grasp is, if the Holy Spirit or Mary is so real, having encountered or experience there presence, why do they still need faith?

The point of all this, is to once again show (as others have) that if every religion and cult is experiencing some sort of divine being, we must believe they're all true following Mr. Craig's criteria. This would then mean we all have some figuring out to do, or else the Catholic can't be the true church if he's right. And vice versa.

Steven Carr said...

MARK
Then I could hear a voice within me saying, "Go thou into the world, planting the vine of life as ye go."

CARR
SO you think that if you hear voices in your head, then you have bo reason to believe that your mind is not functioning correctly?

MARK
If he is correct in his belief that he enjoys the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, then it would seem that he has his belief as the result of a belief-producing mechanism that is functioning properly and is truth-aimed.

CARR
I would suggest that hearing voices in your head is not a 'belief-producing mechanism that is functioning properly and is truth-aimed'

But why not ask doctors , not a layman like me, if people are functioning properly when they hear voices in their head?

It would be interesting to see what experts on mental health say about the mental health of people who hear voices in their head.

Evan said...

Here's a list of causes of auditory hallucinations:

* Acute psychosis
* Alcohol withdrawal - sound hallucinations
* Amphetamines
* Anticholinergics
* Delirium
* Dementia
* Depression
* Epilepsy, familial temporal lobe, 4 - auditory hallucinations
* Hemiplegic migraine, familial type 1 - auditory hallucinations
* Hoigné syndrome - auditory hallucinations
* Ketamine
* Narcolepsy
* Schizoaffective disorder
* Schizophrenia
* Temporal lobe epilepsy

Lee Randolph said...

Hi evan,
one thing I'd add to you list of hearing things is the random firing of the portion of the memory that holds the sound.

For example, occasionally I hear my wife's voice for an instant when she's not around.

I understand that this is normal.

Mark D. Linville said...

Carr wrote:

MARK
Then I could hear a voice within me saying, "Go thou into the world, planting the vine of life as ye go."

CARR
SO you think that if you hear voices in your head, then you have bo reason to believe that your mind is not functioning correctly?


Ah, yes, but here you fail to take into account one thing: this voice had a distinctive Jewish accent. Jesus is Jewish. I'm a gentile. Ergo, probably the voice in my head was that of Jesus. (You need to take a good course in logic.)

What is particularly disturbing to me, though, is that, ever since I watched the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War six or seven times, my "inner voice" has become that of David McCullough.

This drives me crazy! I read a novel, say Huckleberry Finn and it is narrated by David McCullough. The whole thing is ruined by McCullough's voice trying to do, say, Jim or Col. Sherburn.

I go to the grocery with a list and read, "milk, butter, eggs," except it's not me, it's David McCullough.

I read your blogs and I hear McCullough asking, "Does this guy think the garden story was serious?"

And it is beginning to hurt my marriage. In moments of intimacy, I hear David McCullough commenting on my wife's "attributes." I become jealous, tell her to "cover up," and the party's over.

McCullough's voice has supplanted the voice of conscience, the voice of reason, and even that still, small voice.

Do you think I have a good case for a lawsuit naming Burns, McCullough and PBS?

Tony said...

Hey, Mark, for the record I missed the irony in your transforming plant story as well. Sorry to be so daft, but Poe's Law and all that.

John W. Loftus said...

Mark, you're having way too much fun here!

Hey, I initially wrote my post dealing with William Lane Craig's position where he said his inner witness "trumps all other evidence."

Would you want to defend that position? Is it different than yours?

Mark D. Linville said...

Hey, Mark, for the record I missed the irony in your transforming plant story as well. Sorry to be so daft, but Poe's Law and all that.

I had to look up "Poe's Law." Thing is, it's true! I have contributed quite a few satirical pieces to The Wittenburg Door, and I've found that some of these groups say and do such bizarre things that it is hard to write a good satire. I mean, how can you top This?

John W. Loftus said...

The Wittenburg Door? Becky Garrison is the senior writer there and has a copy of my book for review. That's the review I fear the most. Roast anyone?

Mark D. Linville said...

John wrote"

Hey, I initially wrote my post dealing with William Lane Craig's position where he said his inner witness "trumps all other evidence."

Would you want to defend that position? Is it different than yours?


That makes it sound as though he thinks the resulting beliefs are utterly indefeasible, and I would be surprised to hear this.

Will this help? Maybe we can distinguish between in principle indefeasibility and in fact indefeasibility. (What follows here is seat-of-the-pants stuff. Hope it makes sense.)

I have such a degree of confidence in certain of my beliefs that I might be willing to say that they trump any potential counter-evidence or that they defeat all potential defeaters.

Consider my belief that the woman to whom I am now married is identical to the person I dated when I was 14. (Skip here worries over personal identity over time that are of concern only to philosophers and Buddhists. ;-))

I know this to be the case. It is an item of knowledge only if it is true. And if it is true, then there just will not be evidence sufficient to show it to be false--and I know this. So it is, as I'm calling it here, in fact indefeasible.

But it is not in principle indefeasible. Suppose that I learn that I have been the subject of a 51-year study conducted by aliens. Further, everyone from their planet is identical in appearance to the person I take to be my wife (nice planet). I am astonished to discover that a series of look-alikes have played the role. (She leaves to go shopping or to the dentist and returns later, only the person I greet at the door with a kiss is qualitatively but not numerically identical to the person I kissed goodbye an hour before....)

Even my belief that my wife is numerically identical to the 14-year-old with whom I fell in love and is not identical to an alien is not in principle indefeasible.

I can imagine someone of Christian conviction having a degree of certitude that they take to be sufficient for knowledge. They might thus think that the probability of their belief being proved false on some sort of counter-evidence to be zero or close to that. If Bill is warranted in believing in the resurrection, and if warranted true belief constitutes knowledge, then he may assert with a great deal of confidence, "There will not be a successful defeater."

(This might be akin to my confidence in advance that a presumed defense of Protagorean relativism will be fallacious.)

But isn't this compatible with being able to state what would count as sufficient counter-evidence?

Very few beliefs qualify as in principle indefeasible. Off the top of my head, I think that I would want to limit the list to self-evidently necessary truths. There is no possible world in which these are false (and we have epistemic access to this fact), and so it is in principle impossible that they be shown to be false. (Though, of course, there are possible worlds in which I am somehow led to believe that contradictory states of affairs obtain.)

I've never explored this alley before, and I'm finding it fascinating.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi mark,
I'd like to propose to you that your analogy does not properly represent whats going on with craig. You can point to evidence and records, and witnesses, and other people that have experience with your wife that will all agree on some core set of her characteristics without having to consult with you or consider you at all. She is idependent of you, and has affected the world independet of you. Therefore your belief is based on rational principles.

Mark D. Linville said...

Lee:

I don't think the disanalogous features that you observe have anything to do with the effectiveness of the example.

The simple, core point is just to illustrate the notion of an indefeasible belief--however that belief has come to be entertained.

Mark D. Linville said...

Lee Again:

And, of course, my story could have been one that circumvents all of that by appeal to some scenario on which I am systematically deceived. Thus, it involves an evil genius, or a virtual reality program created by aliens. Or, perhaps all of the people who can independently verify my wife's identity over time are just more aliens who are in on it.

And I'll toss this in: My reason has nothing to do with my most fundamental belief that there is an external world. That is, it is neither an inference of reason nor is the proposition such that its denial is a contradiction.

Lee Randolph said...

Sorry but i have to rant. Guys like craig make me angry because they should know better.

Very, very few things are beyond doubt, especially "human experience".

and mark, I like thought experiments too, but when they get implausible like the alien or evil genius conspiracy then, in my opinion, they aren't very useful.

I think that christians and atheists as well like to think that these philosphical arguments against christianity are brilliant and highbrow, and some of them are very sophisticated and brilliant refutations on both sides, but the simple fact is that christianity and religion is wishful thinking using a presumption that traditions rooted thousands of years ago that have demonstrated no substance over that time and must violate rational principles to sustain themselves are worthy of an emotional investment.

the most irrational principle I can think of is that we are supposed to believe something on faith. People like that are fresh meat for the con man.

what in the world could justify a plan for salvation that is based on irrational principles when success in everything else in the world depends on rationality? What are the grounds for that? What is the principle supporting that?
Its a plan that is just begging to fail. And it does, over 2000 years christianity is at 30%. That kind of performance stinks.

Its a case of not extending rational principles into the domain of religion.

Lets try not extending rational principles into the domain of engineering or medicine and see what we get!

I'm sorry to say that I believe that people like craig are just as bad as con men.

I'll go back in my hole now.

Mark D. Linville said...

Lee:

I don't share your skepticism regarding thought experiments involving bizarre scenarios. Here's why. Typically, what is being assessed is some proposed principle or definition that, if true, would apply in all possible scenarios. And so merely possible--even if improbable--counterexamples are fair game.

And, of course, I'm going to have to disagree with your assertion that "the simple fact is that christianity and religion is wishful thinking"--particularly since you seem inclined to assert this in lieu of argument.

(Man, I just have to say no to blogging here. I may be unemployed at present, but I still supposedly have a life!)

Lee Randolph said...

mark,
oh no now you did it....
"the simple fact is that christianity and religion is wishful thinking"--particularly since you seem inclined to assert this in lieu of argument.
heres a link to all my arguments.

the most irrational principle I can think of is that we are supposed to believe something on faith.

please fill in the blank mark
"we are supposed to believe on faith for our salvation because ______________________."

Steven Carr said...

LEE RANDOLPH
For example, occasionally I hear my wife's voice for an instant when she's not around.

CARR
It is, if you have a telephone, or are married to Ethel Merman...

Tony said...

Mark,

I appreciate your candor and your willingness to take a flyer on this, but your distinction between in principle and in fact defeasibility doesn't amount to much more to me than an announcement that Christians will hold stubbornly to their convictions.

The problem with likening your theistic conviction to an in fact indefeasible convictions is that they have no confirming nor predictive powers. The world behaves exactly as I expect it should if I am not, in fact, in the Matrix. (Never have power outages resulted in my waking, shrieking, in a fetal bed of the fellow deceived, etc.) It has always been this way for me. Tomorrow, I will behave as if I am not in the Matrix, and I will be rewarded for this conviction.

Being a theist, on the other hand, would compel me to constantly explain away, in extensive and tortured ways, all the Matrix-like glitch moments that pop up in this supposedly Theistic universe. An old earth. Common ancestry. Bizarre theological principles. Other religions. Evil.

In other words, don’t expect my wife to be one in a long number of aliens because I have never been given an opportunity to suspect it. The extent of a specific denomination based on a theistic conviction, on the other hand, is not so immune.

Mark D. Linville said...

Hey, John.

I'm seriously entertaining writing a book that will complement yours as the other bookend.

How about Why I Am Not An Atheist as a title?

Then you and I can take it on the road--a traveling debate. We can either split the cost of an outfitted bus or each get our own and race.

I need a gimmick, though. You've got that hat. A white hat for me is too obvious. How about a sequined jacket like Steve Martin in Leap of Faith?

Mark D. Linville said...

Tony:

I believe that people who are actually in the Matrix are rewarded for believing that they are not.

Any ultimate positive accounting of things--a worldview or conceptual system--will have to encounter stubborn data that is not easily handled. Consider, for example, the problem of accounting for consciousness on physicalism. Contrary to what might be supposed here, the claim that there is a problem does not originate with Christian apologists and mind-body dualists. Michael Lockwood, for instance, writes,

"It seems to me evident that no description of brain activity of the relevant kind, couched in the currently available languages of physics, physiology, or functional or computational roles, is remotely capable of capturing what is distinctive about consciousness. So glaring, indeed, are the shortcomings of all the reductive programmes currently on offer, that I cannot believe that anyone with a philosophical training, looking dispassionately at these programmes, would take any of them seriously for a moment, were it not for a deep-seated conviction that current physical science has essentially got reality taped, and accordingly, something along the lines of what the reductionists are offering must be correct. To that extent, the very existence of consciousness seems to me to be a standing demonstration of the explanatory limitations of contemporary physical science."

And Jaegwon Kim has argued recently (in Physicalism or Something Near Enough) that mental causation and content cannot be explained unless some variety of reductionism is true, and "reductionism may not be true." He attempts a "functional reduction" of consciousness, but acknowledges that "qualia" (what it feels like to be in pain, for instance) resists such reduction.

I can handle an ancient earth and common ancestry. But it is a rather serious problem for any theory that has no room for the fact that I am consciously entertaining your arguments at the moment.

Now, before this thread is hijacked into a discussion of philosophy of mind, my point is simply to note that theism is in no way unique in facing problems.

Tony said...

Mark,

Granted, of course, that methodological naturalism does not hold all the answers for all things. But neither does it purport to. That Lockwood and Kim have mused that the science involved in consciousness is inadequate or hopeless doesn’t bother me – as I’m sure you know expressions of the hopeless of scientific ventures do not have a great track record. (Btw, how do you equate their conclusions with having “no room for the fact that I am consciously entertaining your arguments..?” Isn’t that kind of like saying that because an abiogenist cannot explain how life began he has no room for the fact that life began?)

Theism is uniquely different from atheism in that atheistic viewpoint properly accommodates any new evidence. If, for instance, prayers are suddenly answered, predictions about the future are accurately made, etc., then whammo, I’m a Theist. But the exact opposite of those things happens every day and, well, as this post attributes, theists remain theists. In other words, there isn’t just an overwhelming lack of evidence for a specific theistic God. There is an overwhelming abundance of contrary evidence, and that evidence does present a unique problem to theists. In short, atheists have planted their flag on the moving probable wherever it may lead; theists on the (highly) improbable on an island that only gets smaller.

In other words, defined branches of theism, by purporting to know the empirically unknown, do uniquely face the problem of accommodating empirical evidence as it accumulates. And that is a unique problem that they face.

kiwi said...

"I can imagine someone of Christian conviction having a degree of certitude that they take to be sufficient for knowledge."

Really? Why would Craig - and other Christians - have such a confidence that Christianity is true?

If we take Craig, none of his arguments are impressive. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is controversial and has been answered; the moral argument is weak and does not convince a lot of people, including Christian philosophers; the argument that the resurrection of Jesus can be deduced as the best explanation with some historical facts is bogus and has been debunked. The inner testimony of the holy spirit is indistinguishable from wishful thinking.

Not only that, there's plenty of strong atheistic arguments against Christianity.

If Craig wants to claim that Christianity is more likely to be true than atheism, I would strongly disagree, but at the same time I would think that it's somewhat a reasonable position. But it seems he has such a strong confidence that Christianity is true (again... why?) to a point I cannot think of one defeater that could make Craig changes his mind. Now, I'm not a philosopher, but I cannot see how this attitude could possibly be considered rational.

kiwi said...

If a person has the inner conviction God is telling him that he should kill homosexuals, or blow up an abortion clinic, or kill his children because they will go to hell otherwise, is it rational to obey God? If not, why not?

How do we know a conviction comes from the Holy Spirit, rather than our imagination? What is the way to distinguish it?

Serious questions, by the way. I'm trying to understand what's going on in Plantinga and Craig brain. In my every day life, I have strong feelings that I am right about a lot of things... How would I know that some of those convictions come from the Holy Spirit? Does it have a distinctive feeling? If so, what it is? If not, how do Plantinga know when it's the Spirit and when it's just wishful thinking?

Steven Carr said...

Kiwi's questions are very good, which is why Mark ducked them when asked to describe what experience Craig had.

So far, all we have been given as warranted belief for 'the great things of the Gospel' is somebody looking at the starry heavens and thinking that a god must have made them.

2000 years of Christianity and this is all they have come up with?

What did Craig experience?

Craig bangs on and on about his 'inner witness of the Holy Spirit', and as far as I can see , all this means is that Craig thinks he is right and that other people are wrong.

John W. Loftus said...

Mark said...I'm seriously entertaining writing a book that will complement yours as the other bookend.

How about Why I Am Not An Atheist as a title?


It'd have to be as good as mine to earn that title! :-)

Seriously, that's a good title!

The black hat is because I'm a bad boy now! But the beard, hmmmm, kinda looks like Jesus now doesn't it?

Join our side. We need you.

John W. Loftus said...

Mark, don't forget in all of this not to neglect the Outsider Test for Faith I've developed.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Keith Parsons is very busy but sent me this as a reply:

I looked at Linville’s response and I found it confusing. He seemed to think that I was commenting on him or Plantinga, but I was responding to the piece you wrote about Craig. He made a couple of remarks that struck me as, frankly, silly. When I inquired as to the nature of Craig’s experiences and what made them so compelling, he suggested that maybe, a la Sarah Palin, the theist could just say “I just know. You betcha (wink, wink).” But this is risible. Craig says that the “inner testimony” of the Holy Spirit is so forceful, that the believer can, and indeed is rationally compelled to believe even if he or she has no reply to atheological arguments. But surely it is absurd to say that you can “just know” that something is so with such assurance that you can dismiss all counter argument. If we let people say that, what would be not let them say?

tigg13 said...

If I was convinced that I was Napoleon (wore the funny hat, kept my hand in my shirt, constantly made plans to invade Russia...)would the rationality of this belief be directly related to the strength of my conviction in the sense that, the more I believed it the more rational it would be?

How would I be any different than Craig or Plantinga?

Ryan said...

Dr. Craig has recently addressed your criticism of his view at the link below. I'm a theist who's been lurking for some time and I'm interested in your reply to his response.

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6489

Steven Carr said...

We still don't know what Craig's experience is. He compares it to a belief that if we have food in our stomachs, then we ate something.

However, Craig's silence as to what his experience was makes it obvious that his experience is nothing like as solid as he makes out.

If it was solid, he would tell us what it was.

I'm sure Craig's 'inner witness of the Holy Spirit' is fancy talk hiding a whole lot of nothing.

CRAIG
Thus, for example, a Christian who encounters the problem of evil is faced with a potential defeater of his belief in God.

CARR
Here is what Plantinga thinks of evidence as being a defeater for his claim that he knows he is right.

On page 303 of 'The Analytical Theist', Plantinga simply denies that anything follows even from seeing 10 to the power 13 'turps' of evil in the world.

No matter how much evil there is in the world, Plantinga is unshaken in his belief that an all-good god created it.

In fact, he writes that nothing whatever can be concluded simply by agreeing that it is very unlikely that an all good god is compatible with vast amounts of evil.

So while Craig might claim his faith is reasonable, these sorts of people boast in public about how evidence will never sway them.

John W. Loftus said...

ryan, thanks. I have just responded to Professor Craig's comments here. Let's continue this debate in this new post of mine, for I make the same charge I did here based on his recent comments, which add nothing new to what I've seen him say on the topic.