William Lane Craig is an Epistemological Solipsist, Revisited

Dr. Craig responds to similar questions I've raised about his claim that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit "trumps all other evidence" in his recent Q & A. Remember, I had claimed he was an Epistemological Solipsist and as such, similar arguments against both viewpoints apply. I made my argument here. Let me further comment on what he just wrote...

Dr. Craig wrote:
...most of our beliefs cannot be evidentially justified. Take, for example, the belief that the world was not created five minutes ago with built-in memory traces, food in our stomachs from meals we never really ate, and other appearances of age. Or the belief that the external world around us is real rather than a computer-generated virtual reality. Anyone who has seen a film like The Matrix realizes that the person living in such a virtual reality has no evidence that he is not in such an illusory world. But surely we're rational in believing that the world around us is real and has existed longer than five minutes, even though we have no evidence for this.
I find these examples to be strange ones, very strange. So let’s see if I can put this into perspective. He's arguing that since it’s rational to believe we’re not in The Matrix or that we have not been created five minutes ago, it’s also rational to believe in God without evidence. Is there truly no evidence against our beliefs that we were not created five minutes ago or that we're not living in The Matrix? These examples are bandied about among philosophers as if they are self-evident, including the evil demon and dream conjectures of Rene Descartes. We are told there is no evidence for what we believe about such things AND we are told by Reformed Epistemologists like Plantinga and Craig that these examples parallel their belief in the “great truths of the gospel.” Let’s look at these things in turn.

First, I think there is evidence to suggest we were not created five minutes ago, depending on what we mean by evidence. Evidence in its broadest conception includes anything and everything used to demonstrate the truth of a claim, which includes our arguments based on the things we’ve experienced. What we believe will be based on the probability of the evidence, all of it, as broadly defined. As such, I think there is evidence against the existence of a creator God. The arguments for the existence of God are not persuasive. I do not think such a God could create the first moment in time if he is somehow “outside of time.” And I do not think a spiritual Supreme Being could create a material world. Even if a creator God exists I find no evidence that he would create us into such a massively deceptive world five minutes ago anyway. Therefore there is evidence against our having been created five minutes ago. Now, could it be possible that we were created five minutes ago? Maybe. But if so, this is an very very slim possibility given the evidence.

The demon hypothesis of Rene Descartes, in which there might be a demon who is deceiving me right now, fails because of the same evidence just mentioned above with regard to God creating us five minutes ago. Descartes uses his extreme method of hypothetical doubt like a massive sword. The mere possibility that there is such a demon was enough to cast doubt on his knowledge about the external world. But why must we base what we believe or don’t believe on a mere possibility?

When it comes to the question of whether I’m dreaming right now a good case has been made by Norman Malcom [in his book Dreaming and Skepticism], and Bernard Williams [in his book Descartes], that there is a difference between dreams and our waking experience. The fact that we can distinguish between them presupposes we are aware of them both and of their differences. It’s only from the perspective of being awake that we can explain our dreams. Hence we can only make sense of this distinction if we are sometimes awake. And since this is the case, all of our experiences throughout our entire lives cannot be made up merely of a sequence of dreams.

What about the world depicted in The Matrix film? There are several responses to such a radical scenario which would upstage most every belief we have about our existence in this world. Such a scenario is a mere possibility, if it is possible at all, and a very unlikely one at that. I’d have to refresh myself on the story line but the story is just implausible. I see no reason why there would be any human resistance or knowledge of the Matrix at all by people living in the Matrix, since it determines all of their experiences…all of them. I also see no reason why a pill or a decision by Neo could make any difference at all while inside the Matrix. Apart from the story line itself I see no reason for the Matrix in the first place, and I see no reason why our bodies are better at fueling it than other sources. I’d have to watch the movie again to say more about it.

As David Mitsuo Nixon argued, “The proper response to someone’s telling me that my belief could be false is, “So what?” It’s not possibility that matters, it’s probability, So until you give me a good reason to think that my belief is not just possibly true, but probably false, I’m not changing anything about what I believe or what I think I know.” [“The Matrix Possibility” in The Matrix and Philosophy, ed. William Irwin (p. 30)]

So even if the Matrix is a possibility, it’s an extremely unlikely one. To overturn nearly everything we believe in order to believe it would be to go against the overwhelming evidence (as defined above) about that which we claim to know. In fact, it would be self-defeating to believe it, for if we did come to believe in the Matrix then how do we know that THAT world isn't just another kind of Matrix? That is, if the belief in the Matrix leads us to distrust most everything we experience, then what reason would Neo have for trusting the experiences he had while supposedly outside the Matrix in the so-called “real world?” When it comes to Neo knowing the real world in distinction from the Matrix he has been given no reason to think one world is real and the other is illusionary. The red pill could have been nothing more than a hallucinogenic drug, for instance. So Neo would have no basis for trusting those experiences supposedly outside the Matrix in the real world, and as such he would end up as an “epistemological solipsist,” not having any reason for trusting there is a world outside his mind, something I accuse William Lane Craig of being.

Here’s what Professor Craig additionally said…
Plantinga does not to my knowledge clearly commit himself to the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Such a thesis is independent of the model as presented. But I have argued that the witness of the Spirit is, indeed, an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against it.
It is in this sense that I argue Craig is an epistemological solipsist. He claims that no other evidence can convince him or any other believer that they are wrong…none...apart from this so-called inner witness of the Holy Spirit, which always serves as an intrinsic defeater-defeater to this evidence.

Craig also wrote…
Many of the things we know are not based on evidence. So why must belief in God be so based? Belief in God and the great truths of the Gospel is not a blind exercise of faith, a groundless leap in the dark. Rather, as Plantinga emphasizes, Christian belief is part of the deliverances of reason, grounded in the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, which is an objective reality mediated to me from God.
Notice the impossibly huge leap Craig makes here. From the fact that we cannot be absolutely certain

(a) that we were not created five minutes ago, or

(b) that we are not living in a Matrix,

Craig claims,

(c) we can know with some real assurance that the Christian God exists and that the gospel is true.

I think a proper conclusion from what he’s argued can only lead him to conclude that since it’s possible that (a) and (b) obtains, it’s therefore possible that (c) obtains. But this is extremely problematic. As I’ve argued in my book, Christians repeatedly retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or “not impossible,” rather than what is probable. When they do this they are admitting the evidence is not on their side. They’re trying to explain the evidence away. Just because all of these things are possible he cannot conclude that what he believes is probable. A possibility is not a probability. How he slips in a probability because of a possibility is beyond me. The inference does not follow. It's a huge non-sequitur.

Just look at the analogous belief he thinks he has assurance about. In my debate challenge I asked what a potenital Christian opponent would like to defend. Here is what Craig must be assured of, depending on how he answers each question:
Would you like to defend the existence of the social Trinitarian God (versus an anti-social Trinitarian God) of the Bible (which had a long process of formation and of borrowing material from others) who never began to exist and will never cease to exist (even though everything we experience has a beginning and an end), who never learned any new truths, who does not think (for thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives), who is not free with respect to deciding his own nature, who revealed himself through a poor medium (history) in a poor era (ancient times), who condemns all of humanity for the sins of the first human pair, who commanded genocide, who allows intense suffering in this world (yet does not follow the same moral code he commands believers to follow), whose Son (the 2nd person of the trinity) became incarnate in Jesus (even though no one has ever made sense of a person who is 100% man and 100% divine) to be punished for our sins (even though there is no correlation between punishment and forgiveness) who subsequently bodily arose from the dead (even though the believer in miracles has an almost impossible double-burden of proof here) and now lives embodied forever in a “spiritual” human body to return in the future, who will return to earth in the parousia (even though the NT is clear that the end of all kingdoms and the establishment of God's kingdom was to be in their generation), who sent the 3rd person of the trinity to lead his followers into "all truth" (yet fails in every generation to do this), who will also judge us based upon what conclusions we reach about the existence of this God and what he has done (paralleling the ancient barbaric thought police), and who will reward believers by taking away their freedom and punish the dammed by letting them retain their freedom?

Interesting hypothesis, if so. This is such a large claim. The larger the claim is, the harder it is to defend it.
In my book I marshal a great amount of evidence against that which Craig believes. I think I have more than adequately debunked any claim he has to believe AND ALONG WITH IT any degree of assurance that he has an inner witness of the Holy Spirit. What will he do with that evidence? Argue against it, of course. But what if he cannot argue against me on any issue that undermines a key belief of his? Will he continue to believe against it, despite the evidence? He claims he can and he will continue to believe. I think he should follow the evidence by rejecting his so-called inner witness of the Spirit.

Lastly Craig does say something about the evidence, when he writes:
What is true is that evidence, as it is defined in these discussions, plays a secondary role compared to the role God Himself plays in warranting Christian belief. Should we, then, ignore strong evidence if it shows that our faith is probably false? Of course not! My work as a philosopher exemplifies the effort to confront objections to Christian belief squarely and to answer them. But most Christians in the world don't have that luxury. For them they may have to hold to their Christian belief even though they lack an answer to the alleged defeater. What I insist on is that, given the witness of the Holy Spirit within them, they are entirely rational in so doing.
In essence what Dr. Craig is saying is that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives him all the evidence anyone needs to believe, even if he cannot show this evidence leads to God, and as I argued earlier, even if he cannot sufficiently defend the whole concept of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (which I find extremely puzzling, but this follows from what he says, because this so-called inner witness trumps even his own attempts to argue sufficiently on its behalf). So, does Craig ignore the other evidence? No. But this other evidence is "secondary." He believes that the other secondary evidence confirms what he already knows to be true by the primary evidence of this so-called inner witness of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to this other evidence, believers do not need it to believe, period, even if this other evidence does not support the Christian witness of the Spirit. No Christian needs supporting evidence to believe, not him…not anyone. That’s his position and why I claim again he’s an epistemological solipsist.

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