Of Reason (or Warrant) and Faith

This weekend I began reading a book by Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, which is a philosophical defense of the Christian faith. This book poses an extended argument supporting the notion that Christian belief is intellectually acceptable and justified in the modern era. Mr Plantinga distinguishes between de facto and de jure objections to Christian belief. De facto objections are those which dispute particular Christian truth claims whereas de jure objections are those which speak more to the intellectual defensibility, that such belief is not reasonable or justified … or following two earlier books by Mr Plantinga warranted.

In the first part of this book (and I have not finished but am only about 200 pages or so in), Mr Plantinga begins to examine what arguments have been made supporting the claim that such belief is not justified. Ultimately he finds only two, after having discarded as inadequate quite a few. I thought this passage, supporting the notion that one is being responsible with respect to ones deontological epistemic duty, that is one has done one’s due diligence to support ones foundational beliefs. He writes (pp 100-101):

Consider such a believer: she displays no noticeable dysfunction. She is aware of the objections people have made to Christianity and has relfected on Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche (not to mention Flew, Mackie and Nielsen) and other critics of Christian or theistic belief; she knows the world contains many who do not believe as she does. She doesn’t believe on the basis of propositional evidence; she therefore believes in the basic way. Can she be justified (in this broadly deontological sense) in believing in God in this way.

The answer seems to be pretty easy. She reads Nietzsche, but remains unmoved by his complaint that Christianity fosters a weak, whining, whimpering, and generally disgusting kind of person; more the Christians she knows or knows of — Mother Theresa, for example — don’t fit that mold. She finds Freud’s contemptuous attitude toward Christianity and theistic belief backed by little more than implausible fantasies about the origin of belief in God (patricide in the primal horde? Can he be serious?) and she finds little more of substance in Marx. She thinks as carefully as she can about these objections and others but finds them wholly uncompelling.

On the other side, although she is aware of theistic arguments and thinks some of them not without value, she doesn’t believe on the basis of them. Rather, she has a rich inner spiritual life, the sort described in the early pages of Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections; it seems to her that she is somtimes made aware; catches a glimpse, of something of the overwhelming beauty and loveliness of the Lord; she is often aware, as it strongly seems to her, of the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart, comforting, encouraging, teaching, leading her to accept the “great things of the gospel” (as Edwards calls them), helping her to see that the mangificent scheme of salvation devised by the Lord himself is not only for others but for her as well. After long, hard, conscientious reflection, this all seems to her enormously more convincing than the complaints of the critics. Is she then going contrary to duty in believing as she does? Is she being irresponsible? Clearly not. […] She could be mistaken […] nevertheless, she isn’t flouting any discernable duty. She is fullfilling her epistemic responsibilities; she is doing her level best; she is justified.

Another cute logical demonstration Mr Plantinga elaborates is related to arguments concerning evidence. Classical foundational or evidential arguments separate statements as basic or contingent. A contingent statement is one which is dependent on other tatements or evidence which should in turn rest on those until founds the whole array on basic truths and evidence.The statement that evidence is required is not a basic statement but is complex and contingent on other statements. Alas, it seems there is no chain of logic and propositional evidential argument that leads to any evidential support for the evidential method. This is stated baldly here and if needed I’ll attempt to unpack and express Mr Plantinga’s argument on this matter in more detail. If you really want the goods, of course, buy or borrow the book.

I should mention that ultimately the complaints of lack of warrant given by Freud and Marx are found to be the only sustainable objections. In part III, which I have not completed, Mr Plantinga mounts argument for Christian warrant against these complaints.

According to Freud, theistic belief is produced by cognitive faculties that are functioning properly, but the process that produces them — wishful thinking — does not have the production of true belief as its purpose; it is aimed instead at something like enabling us to carry on in the grim and threatening world in which we find ourselves.

Therefore it fails one of the conditions for warrant, namely reliability. Marx’s view is similar.

He thinks first that theistic and religious belief is produced by cognitive faculties that are not functioning properly. Those faculties are, to the extent that they produce such belief, dysfunctional; the dysfunction is due to a sort of perversion in social structure, a sort of social malfunction. Religious belief therefore doesn’t meet the first condition of warrant; it is therefore without warrant and an intellectually health person will reject it. Further, Marx also thinks that a person whose cognitive faculties are functioning properly and who knows what was known by the middle of the nineteenth century will see that materialism is very probably true, in which case Christian and theistic belief is very likely false.

As, in the future, I return to this book I will attempt to summarize Mr Plantinga’s defense against the “F&M” objections to Christian warrant and as well, if elaborations of arguments or discussion of matters from the early sections are desired, let me know and I’ll attempt to provide them.

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47 comments

  1. Dude. You believe that a deity had a son who was tortured to death and then came back to life and that this process somehow saved other people from said deity’s negative judgment. You also believe that this deity cares very much about who has sex with whom and will punish those who do not obey Him.

    All the philosophy in the world can’t justify that.

  2. Anne says:

    Funny, I was reading a Dilbert strip yesterday, and this is paraphrased but it went something like this:

    Tina the tech writer walks into Dilbert’s office and says very angrily, “Why do you think (such-and-such)?!”

    And he says, “I don’t. But based on past experience, I expect you’ll continue to abuse me and my time while insisting I defend your misunderstanding of my belief.”

    Which she does. And as Dilbert turns away, he says, “You don’t mind if I work while you hallucinate, do you?”

    Which, y’know, Adams is kinda harsh, I think “hallucinate” might be ok in a comic-strip setting but not so much IRL.

    Anyway, that comic strip roughly summed up my thoughts about statements like the above.

    If you want a more accurate take, try reading _On the Incarnation of the Word of God_ by Athanasius. If you don’t want a more accurate take, don’t be too shocked if nobody takes your bait.

    (I know, I know, I “horribly and inexcusably” dropped out of a conversation just the other week when I put in 57 hours at work. That’s life … )

    Why do I bother answering? Because knowing God is a blessing.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

  3. Mark says:

    JA,
    It’s unclear how your remark connects say with the first quoted hypothetical. Are you saying she is unwarranted? She failed her epistemic duty. Locate that objection/failure more precisely?

    Or is that a sarcastic (and Anne is spot on regarding your theology, i.e., the god in which you do not believe is not the God in which Christians do believe) variant of the Freud and/or Marx objection noted above?

  4. Ok, here’s precise. This is the justification of her belief:

    Rather, she has a rich inner spiritual life, the sort described in the early pages of Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections; it seems to her that she is somtimes made aware; catches a glimpse, of something of the overwhelming beauty and loveliness of the Lord; she is often aware, as it strongly seems to her, of the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart, comforting, encouraging, teaching, leading her to accept the “great things of the gospel” (as Edwards calls them), helping her to see that the mangificent scheme of salvation devised by the Lord himself is not only for others but for her as well. After long, hard, conscientious reflection, this all seems to her enormously more convincing than the complaints of the critics.

    It’s all about feelings and thoughts she has. No external validation, no testability, no nothing. The exact same thoughts and feelings would, if she were brought up in a Hindu culture, absolutely convince her of the truth of Hinduism.

    In short, yes. Having warm, squishy feelings when you see a sunset or spend an hour helping dying patients in hospices is not a valid basis for believing in… well, anything, really, except for the existence of those feelings.

    and Anne is spot on regarding your theology, i.e., the god in which you do not believe is not the God in which Christians do believe)

    LOL. No two Christians believe in the same God. You just make it up as you go along — you have to, to find a place. If we skeptics could pin you on a single definition, it would be vulnerable to disproof. So you’re slippery, moving the goalposts constantly. The God you believe in is nothing like the God the pope believes in probably, which is nothing like the one Augustine believed in.

    But let’s just take one aspect of your faith — that this (literal) man named Jesus (literally) existed and (literally) was God and was man and died and (literally) was reborn. THAT I do not believe in. Is that not a God that Christians like you do believe in?

  5. (For the record, I have the rare cigar/cigarette and don’t think they should be banned or anything. But to rate pornography in the same league is insane.)

  6. Mark says:

    JA,
    The requirement you have for testability is not internally consistent. If you wish I’ll attempt to explicate the argument in detail. There are at least two problems with your requirement of testability/evidence. In brief, state the proposition for requiring evidence to prove a belief carefully. This is a belief you hold. There is, I suggest, no evidence you can muster to justify (warrant) your belief to support the proposition that evidence is necessary to justify said belief. Your requirement for evidence is a circle chasing its tail. That is the requirement you suggest for believing evidence as such does not meet the testability requirement itself. Second, if I asked you what the first thing you thought about this morning. Suppose you answer. You believe this to be true … yet lack evidence. You believe this to be true yet it is neither testable or vulnerable to disproof. Belief qua belief does not necessarily require testability and the vulnerability your require.

    This isn’t an argument for or against the de jure justification or warrant for Hinduism or Islam. The question at hand is the warrant for Christian faith. What in particular about the existence of other religions reduced/removes the warrant for her faith? Which by the way, the hypothetical person in the above is noted to be cognizant of that fact.

    I believe Jesus existed and was a man. Do you believe Demosthenes existed and was a man? Why do you believe the latter and not the former? What manner of the evidence is different?

    I believe at least one hundred perhaps several hundred people saw and witnessed the presence and person of that same Jesus after his death. They testified to that. They believed it. They didn’t expect it but were convinced. Their explanation and understanding of how that occurred and what that mean was that Jesus was the Son of God the Father and at the same time was God. I also think that that particular part of the belief is (take your pick) a scandal or a folly for the non-Christian. So the fact that you don’t believe and I do is not particularly troubling. That however is not the question at hand. The question at hand is establishing my warrant or disposing of de jure objections to Christian faith as separate from de facto (where possible) objections.

  7. The requirement you have for testability is not internally consistent.

    Testability is not a philosophical requirement, it’s an empirical one. Reality itself and the history of inquiry justify my belief in testability.

    I think this is actually a key difference between you and me. You are satisfied with philosophy devoid of any connection to reality. If you can imagine it and come up with a string of words that explains it, you believe it. I want to verify my internal thoughts with external reality.

    For example, I believed in a global flood. When I got old enough and started having other questions about religion, I investigated whether a global flood was consistent with geological evidence. (It is not.) When I realized that part of my faith was false, I didn’t just cast about for a philosophy which could salvage my faith in the absence of a flood — I questioned whether my faith should in fact be salvaged. Anybody with some intelligence can come up with a philosophy to justify any belief — the question is, do you care if it’s true?

    This isn’t an argument for or against the de jure justification or warrant for Hinduism or Islam. The question at hand is the warrant for Christian faith.

    If the exact same justification can be used to believe in Christianity or Hinduism, then it’s not a justification. It’s a rationalization.

    I believe Jesus existed and was a man.

    I’m with you there. I think that’s likely the case.

    I believe at least one hundred perhaps several hundred people saw and witnessed the presence and person of that same Jesus after his death.

    Ah, but *why* do you believe that? Because we have a second-hand (at best!) account of it? If you weren’t already committed to Christianity and someone told you that a guy living 100 years after Jesus’s time wrote that witnesses saw him come back to life after dying, would you believe that it really happened? It’s absurd!

    The question at hand is establishing my warrant or disposing of de jure objections to Christian faith as separate from de facto (where possible) objections.

    If that warrant works equally well for Mormonism and Hinduism and Scientology, it ain’t much of a warrant. Let’s just put it that way.

  8. Mark says:

    JA,
    Btw, I wasn’t committed to Christianity before I believed. I’m guessing I was a non-believer for a longer time than you (about 20 years).

    Testability is not a philosophical requirement, it’s an empirical one. Reality itself and the history of inquiry justify my belief in testability.

    I don’t know what that means.

    Ah, but *why* do you believe that?

    Some of the writers in the New Testament, Paul for example, was a first hand witness. What writings were done 100 years later that you are pointing out. The Didache is dated to 50 or 60 as well. Read some of NT Wright’s on the people of the 1st century and the Resurrection. It’s an examination of the mindset and thinking of first century Jews and an connection between what they wrote and then from how they viewed the world and how they thought what sorts of things must have happened to arrive at them thinking and saying what they did afterwards.

    “It’s absurd” So what? So is quantum mechanics. So is the Platypus. Absurdity as argument is weak.

    I don’t know if that warrant works the same for other religions. I’m not asking/answering that question.

  9. I don’t know what that means.

    It means that experience in the real world has shown that testable (and tested!) hypotheses are more likely to be correct than untestable ones. (Some hypotheses move from untestable to testable as technology advances.) So the idea that hypotheses should be testable is grounded in experience.

    Some of the writers in the New Testament, Paul for example, was a first hand witness.

    Whaaaa?? I thought you were a Christian. Paul never met Jesus.

    “It’s absurd” So what? So is quantum mechanics. So is the Platypus. Absurdity as argument is weak.

    Quantum mechanics comes out of math and experimentation. You can hold an actual platypus in your hand. The idea that second-hand (at least) accounts of (notoriously unreliable) witnesses from 2000 years ago who claimed to witness a man literally rise from the dead is even in the same ballpark as credible is absurd in a way that QM and the platypus are not. At all.

    I don’t know if that warrant works the same for other religions. I’m not asking/answering that question.

    Why not? If I came up with a philosophical argument that justifies a belief that OJ killed his wife and you point out that the same identical argument would justify a belief that OJ did not kill his wife, isn’t that a little bit relevant? It reveals the entire argument to be useless!

  10. Mark says:

    JA,

    It means that experience in the real world has shown that testable (and tested!) hypotheses are more likely to be correct than untestable ones.

    Oh, that’s the Marx objection, i.e., with the success of materialism it is irrational to have religious belief.

    Paul met Jesus after the resurrection and attested to that.

    You need to read Polyani. You have a flawed impression of the interaction between theory and science in practice. The point of the Platypus and QM is that absurdity as objection is weak or irrelevant. And to be more accurate, nobody witnessed Jesus “rise” from the dead. They saw an empty tomb. They saw a resurrected and very different kind of person after his resurrection.

    I didn’t say the argument would or would not work for other religions. There is an argument for the existence of God which is flawed. It is however identical in form/structure/content to the argument to one that demonstrates that other minds exist. You actually (likely) think that other minds exist. What does that say then about God?

    I will however tonight see if Mr Plantinga addresses the “other religions” issue in his argument. However, in general I’m not sure why other people believing other things affects the warrant of my believe in an a priori fashion. I believe Mr Obama will be (and is being) a poor President. You do not. Both of us are warranted (justified) in our belief. Furthermore a belief does not actually have to be true to be warranted. You believe you are at work. However if unbeknownst to you, you were knocked out on the way to work, transported hundreds of miles to a secret laboratory where a simulation of your workplace is where you actually are … your belief would be false. However, your belief would be warranted, i.e., justified. We are addressing the warrant, the justification question separate from the truth question here.

  11. Oh, that’s the Marx objection, i.e., with the success of materialism it is irrational to have religious belief.

    OK

    Paul met Jesus after the resurrection and attested to that.

    Didn’t you say he was a witness to the resurrection? If all you mean is that he had a vision of Jesus at some point, big deal, there are 15 guys down the block at the mental ward that had the same vision. It doesn’t make it true.

    You need to read Polyani. You have a flawed impression of the interaction between theory and science in practice. The point of the Platypus and QM is that absurdity as objection is weak or irrelevant.

    Maybe absurdity is the wrong word. I meant something more like “insanely unlikely.” As in, reincarnation. Now obviously if you have evidence that something insanely unlikely is still true, like the platypus, then fine. But if all you have is a 2000-year-old story about a resurrection, come on.

    And to be more accurate, nobody witnessed Jesus “rise” from the dead. They saw an empty tomb. They saw a resurrected and very different kind of person after his resurrection.

    So it could have been someone else entirely? Or they literally saw the same man who had died? And assuming they did see the same man, wouldn’t it be more sensible to conclude that he hadn’t really died, rather than that he was resurrected??

    I didn’t say the argument would or would not work for other religions. There is an argument for the existence of God which is flawed. It is however identical in form/structure/content to the argument to one that demonstrates that other minds exist. You actually (likely) think that other minds exist. What does that say then about God?

    It says nothing about God. It says nothing about other minds either. A flawed argument is a flawed argument.

    I will however tonight see if Mr Plantinga addresses the “other religions” issue in his argument. However, in general I’m not sure why other people believing other things affects the warrant of my believe in an a priori fashion. I believe Mr Obama will be (and is being) a poor President. You do not. Both of us are warranted (justified) in our belief.

    But you and I are using *different* arguments. If we were using the identical argument, it would be a different story. For example if my argument were, “Obama makes me feel good inside and McCain makes me feel bad,” but you said, “McCain makes me feel good inside and Obama makes me feel bad,” then I think it’s safe to say we could throw out the argument that X makes us feel good/bad inside as a justification for belief.

    Furthermore a belief does not actually have to be true to be warranted. You believe you are at work. However if unbeknownst to you, you were knocked out on the way to work, transported hundreds of miles to a secret laboratory where a simulation of your workplace is where you actually are … your belief would be false. However, your belief would be warranted, i.e., justified. We are addressing the warrant, the justification question separate from the truth question here.

    I understand that. But my belief that I am at work is based on a gigantic amount of evidence. There is the remote possibility that the evidence is misleading, of course, as in your hypothetical, but it’s the evidence that makes my belief warranted. Plantinga’s belief, on the other hand, is based purely on subjective feelings. So it wouldn’t be justified even if Christianity were true.

  12. Mark says:

    JA,
    I said Paul was a witness to Jesus having corporal presence after his crucifixion and burial .. as were more than a hundred others. And yes, oddly enough, the suggestion that wouldn’t it be more sensible to conclude that he hadn’t really died, rather than that he was resurrected? is not new. Why do you even suggest that? It’s nonsensical now and more importantly was and would have been nonsensical to a 1st century Jew. They saw something really strange. They reported it. And 60 years later a million people identified themselves as Christian based on that witness and reporting.

    Plantinga’s argument against the Marxist objection hasn’t been presented yet. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

    I think it’s safe to say we could throw out the argument that X makes us feel good/bad inside as a justification for belief.

    Which is the Freud objection in a nutshell, i.e., the reason for religion may be not a defective impulse but it is not one based on seeking truth of the world.

    It says nothing about God. It says nothing about other minds either. A flawed argument is a flawed argument.

    It is alas, apparently the only argument available. And don’t press for more detail at this time. I don’t own the book in which the full argument is presented.

    Insanely unlikely

    You mean like fine tuning?

  13. Exactly like fine tuning, yes. If we didn’t know for a fact that the universe existed, it would make no sense to believe that it did. 🙂

    I said Paul was a witness to Jesus having corporal presence after his crucifixion and burial .. as were more than a hundred others.

    Yeah and 600,000 Jews witnessed God give the Torah and hundreds of Aztecs witnessed a talking bird that led them to a new land and hundreds of thousands have witnessed bleeding statues and thousands have witnessed a child monk who hasn’t eaten or drunk in 100 days and thousands have seen flying saucers, etc.

    I mean we’re talking about, best case scenario, a hundred il- to barely literate people from 2000 years ago who saw something and then it was supposedly Jesus Christ. You don’t think a Roman David Blaine could have pulled that off, even if it did happen?

    What’s more likely, a Roman David Blaine or a man actually rising from the dead? If you hear that David Blaine died and then he shows up against the next week insisting he was back from the dead, would you believe him? Should people 2000 years from now take your word for it?

    Are you that gullible when your religion doesn’t depend on it?

  14. Boonton says:

    So it could have been someone else entirely? Or they literally saw the same man who had died? And assuming they did see the same man, wouldn’t it be more sensible to conclude that he hadn’t really died, rather than that he was resurrected??

    Just to be snarky, whose to say he didn’t have an identical twin who was mostly estranged from him for most of his adult life but near the end reconciled with him and decided to ‘help’ him in his religious mission. If his followers had no knowledge of this twin, a ‘bait and switch’ could have been pulled off.

    More seriously, though, this is a problem with taking a text at face value…especially one that wasn’t put onto paper until nearly 100 years after the fact. This is an argument I had once with a commentor at EvangelicalOutpost. Just because a text says ‘100 people saw him’ doesn’t mean you have 100 witnesses. You have a text that claims it. Since those 100 people aren’t named, were written down decades or centuries after the fact and even when written down were written in a society that had no mass media how could a false statement or even an exagerration be challenged and corrected?

    I’m saying this not because I don’t believe Jesus was alive but to remind that faith carries a meaning here. In order to buy the story you have to have faith in it. Too often it seems like some Christians like to assert things like “there’s just as much historical evidence for Jesus’s existence than Ceasar’s”. Well there probably isn’t and even if there is that is not sufficient to consider the historical sources we do have reliable (for example, Ceasar claimed to have witnessed miracles & to have been descended from Gods…while believing he was murdered in the Senate is not much of a problem few people bother to give any serious consideration to those claims).

    I believe Mr Obama will be (and is being) a poor President. You do not. Both of us are warranted (justified) in our belief.

    I take it then that ‘warranted’ kind of means that you should not be considered totally insane or totally neglectful in deciding to hold a particular belief….but that belief may still turn out to be mistaken. It sounds like it means something a tad stronger than ‘honest belief’ (a person may honestly believe something that is totally irrational and false) but less strong than, say, ‘justified belief’. If that’s the case I can’t say I disagree with you although I think the author is kind of assuming the conclusion when he asserts the Holy spirit is working in the hypothetical woman he is discussing. He seems to be saying if your ‘gut’ tells you something it’s not unwarrented to believe it. I’m not sure that’s wrong since most of our calls are made by our ‘gut’ and not by long winded deducation. Still I wonder how many other beliefs people honestly hold from their ‘gut’ he would feel comfortable sharing the ‘warranted’ label?

    You mean like fine tuning?

    The problem with the ‘fine tuning’ assertion is that it lacks coherence on several levels.

    1. How sensitive is the ‘tuner’? If variable X would cause the universe to be totally unliveable if it was off by 0.0000000000000000000001 then how much does the ‘dial’ on the universe making machine vary? If it varies in large units yes it is amazingly ‘fine tuned’. If it varies by units even smaller then it’s ‘fine tuning’ is less impressive.

    2. Who has or can work out what other universes would be like? Yes maybe universe U2 that’s just slightly off of our universe, U1, wouldn’t have gravity or stars. But maybe it might still develop fantastic intelligences who exist as clouds of energy (ala the ‘energy alien from another dimension’…good Star Trek staple). When this argument is presented it sounds like a lot of its supporters are justified in asserting the alternative universes would be just featureless goo. Makes on wonder if residents of unvierse U2 are saying an U1 universe would not support life, it would just be trillions of square light years with maybe one or two hydrogen atoms in each…thank God the universe was fine tuned to U2!

    3. Perhaps 0.0000000000000000000001 is not such a tiny number on the scales of universe making. Perhaps it only seems minute because we exist inside a universe. Sort of like how you can feel the difference between a room that is 70 degrees and 74 degrees but -44 degrees doesn’t feel all that different from -48 degrees.

  15. Mark says:

    JA,
    Again you’re not correctly describing the Christian claim. We’re not saying he was just returned from the dead. That’s what we claim happened to Lazarus. He came back and was radically changed in such a way that people could only conclude that he was not just the Christ (the anointed one of God like, say, David before him) but that he was the Son of God.

    Am I gullible? Is that like saying is what I believe “a scandal and/or a folly.” Perhaps. But the question asked and begun to be answered here is whether I have an answer for de jure objections.

    Question. You would not take it as unusual if David Blaine “died” and was then seen not to be dead a week later. That sort of thing is “in character.” Would you a little more confused if, say, the person in question had no pattern of behavior like that? What if, say, Saddam Hussein was seen walking around in Iraq claiming he wasn’t executed but was returned from the dead(to note a famous recent public execution)? Would that strike you as a more significant event?

    Boonton,

    He asserts not that “the Holy spirit” is working in her, but that is her perception of what is occurring.

    On fine tuning, the claim isn’t that there would just be featureless goo. But that there wouldn’t be atoms and chemistry. There would be no hydrogen atoms and perhaps even no protons or neutrons. But your point is valid. Are there other “special” values of the tuned parameters that admit complexity? What is special about the parameter values we see that might allow us to identify if our solution is unique? We don’t have answers to that question. The intuitions of the best people in the field is that set of parameters which support complexity is not dense and such solutions are rare … perhaps even unique. There is of course no demonstration of that with our current level of understanding.

    One of, if not the main, motivation for String Theory (was?) a hope to reduce the many fine tuned parameters of the Standard Model to a one parameter theory. Right now dozens of parameters have to be precisely tuned cancel out infinities and make a workable theory which also matches what we see. That is fine tuning and is, in many ways, from an aesthetic viewpoint highly non-optimal.

    On warrant and what it means. I’ll try to expand on that in my next post from this book.

  16. Boonton says:

    Are there other “special” values of the tuned parameters that admit complexity? What is special about the parameter values we see that might allow us to identify if our solution is unique? We don’t have answers to that question. The intuitions of the best people in the field is that set of parameters which support complexity is not dense and such solutions are rare … perhaps even unique. There is of course no demonstration of that with our current level of understanding.

    Perhaps the question to ask is simply knowing a few of the values of our universe, how much could you work out regarding atoms and chemistry or complexity for that matter? From a super-bird’s eye view our universe does look more or less empty with maybe some stray energy zipping back and forth. Even the stars don’t seem that complex from ‘up there’….just big balls of hydrogen slowly burning away. Only if you go really down do you realize that a tiny percentage of higher elements created by stars yield some really complicated stuff going on. I suspect it would be very hard to really demonstrate that ‘complexity’ couldn’t exist in a host of possible universes. If only a tiny sliver of the ‘goo’ universe could yield some complicated stuff then it seems to me easy to miss. Complexity I suspect is hard to detect. Take checkers and chess. Both have rules that seem pretty close to each other in terms of complexity but chess generates a huge amount of complexity.

    One of, if not the main, motivation for String Theory (was?) a hope to reduce the many fine tuned parameters of the Standard Model to a one parameter theory. Right now dozens of parameters have to be precisely tuned cancel out infinities and make a workable theory which also matches what we see. That is fine tuning and is, in many ways, from an aesthetic viewpoint highly non-optimal.

    But are the parameters ‘fine-tuned’ or are they simply a consquence? It may seem amazing that zillions of hydrogen and oxygen atoms just happen to so often arrange themselves in threes of two hydrogens to one oxygens. After all, if you threw a bag of 1,000 red marbles and 2,000 greens into the air they would most likely not come down in triples of 2 greens to 1 red. But the chemistry students knows this is not some amazing luck of the draw but a consquence of how the two different types of atoms interact with each other.

  17. Mark,

    Let me turn that back around on you. 🙂 What if YOU saw Saddam Hussein walking around in Iraq claiming he was back from the dead? Would you believe it?

    What if we found a book that said 200 people saw Caeser back from the dead? Would you believe that?

  18. larryniven says:

    This whole article is screwy. Warrant is not the same as reason or justification – in fact, the whole point of warrant was to give Christians a way to escape reason and justification. According to the man himself, “a belief has warrant for a person if it is produced by her cognitive faculties functioning properly in a congenial epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at the production of true or verisimilitudinous belief.” (Source: http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/content/philosophy/9780195078640/toc.html) Reason and justification, on the other hand, deal with the relatively familiar things: evidence, logic, and so on. In particular, a warranted belief does not have to cohere logically or have any objectively accessible evidence. Christians, needless to say, will find this more appealing than skeptics.

    Second, there exists a much more powerful de jure objection that Plantinga evidently fails to consider: whatever kinds of patterns he thinks obtain in warranted Christian belief also obtain in the case of every other religion. Christians have rich inner spiritual lives, Jews have rich inner spiritual lives, Muslims have rich inner spiritual lives, Hindus have rich inner spiritual lives, Buddhists have rich inner spiritual lives, pagans have rich inner spiritual lives…need I go on? Even if we accept Plantinga’s theory – and why should we do that, again? – it flagrantly begs the question for him to say that only Christians have warranted religious beliefs. On this kind of view, even atheism qualifies if you take it as basic: how could it not? This rich-inner-spiritual-life argument of his, then, fails its own test, as it is not a reliable indicator of the truth, regardless of what the truth in this case may be.

    There’s also a very serious and wholly legitimate question about what Plantinga means here with that whole “design plan successfully aimed at the production of true beliefs.” That is rather loosely worded, but even so we can figure a few possible meanings. He might mean that there is literally a designed plan for belief-production (i.e., one that issues from one or more intentional designers and planners), in which case he again begs the question in favor of Christianity. On the other hand, if he loosens his criteria enough to let in non-conscious design plans, as in evolution, he pretty much destroys religious belief: even on theistic evolution, religious belief formation happens because it is aimed at being adaptive, not because it is aimed at being true. (If you think he would disagree with this dichotomy, think again: he’s written entire papers based on it.)

    Whatever way this goes, Plantinga has painted himself into a corner, because he now must demonstrate somehow that the Christian God has in fact instantiated such a design plan, but neither Plantinga nor anyone else could possibly prove this without using what he’s apparently calling de facto argumentation – and now we are right back where we started! Just as in the case of answering (insert your favorite skeptical argument here), the Christian who wants to use Plantinga’s concept of warrant as a defense of their faith has to demonstrate the existence of something totally ad hoc, inconsistent with reality, and unmentioned in any prior Christian source just to hold on to the possibility that said faith is epistemologically grounded. Good luck with that.

  19. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    What you are describing is the motivation for String Theory, which was it seems unsuccessful. Their idea was that perhaps the dozens of parameters which require lots of fine tuning was that perhaps those are a consequence of a underlying theory, like String theory. That is the question. We have no answer. Right now our best theories indicate that there are many parameters which aren’t bound by an over-arching theory and that therefore our universe was stable solution that admits complexity in a sea of solutions which admit no particle creation and no complexity. Just hoping for a over-arching theory doesn’t help much without a notion of where to look for such a theory.

    JA,
    If I saw Saddam walking around? What would that prove? I’ve never had any association with him. I wouldn’t recognize him “from Adam.” The point is, hundreds of people who did know him reported he’d come back and those people were persuasive enough to persuade their neighbors. So the equivalent case would be what if hundreds of Iraqi’s witnessed him and that many thousands and many of those in our military now believed he’d returned.

    I guess a question you have to ask, regarding Saddam or Jesus is whether you’re going to assume a priori whether it is impossible of not. If you’re not going to assume the conclusion as a premise then you have to ask yourself, if true how would you expect that to be reported and if false how would that differ.

  20. So the equivalent case would be what if hundreds of Iraqi’s witnessed him and that many thousands and many of those in our military now believed he’d returned.

    Okay, so what’s your answer? Would you believe? Would you believe if you only saw a second-hand account of this 2000 years from now?

  21. Mark says:

    Larry,
    I haven’t finished the book. Looking at chapter headings however, it seems that Mr Plantinga has a chapter discussing multiculturalism and I’m guessing that will deal with the “other faiths” and their warrant. I think Aristotle was warranted in believing objects at motion come to rest. Don’t you?

    You believe in other minds, right? Mr Plantinga (in a different book, which I have also not read yet) suggests that the best arguments for other minds fails (in a way that parallels that the best argument for the existence of God). That is there is no good (logically coherent) argument for other minds. Yet, you likely believe in other minds and feel you are warranted in that belief. Alas, warrant doesn’t imply logical coherence and in that case it troubles you not at all. Is that a problem?

    even on theistic evolution, religious belief formation happens because it is aimed at being adaptive, not because it is aimed at being true.

    I’m curious, reason is also aimed at being adaptive not aimed on being true. Why do you trust that?

    JA,
    Virtually everything in the newspapers and media are second hand accounts? Do you disbelieve everything you read on that account? Would you believe the veracity of the reporting process because of passage of time? Stephen Gould reports on the statistical outlier of Joe DiMaggio hitting streak. You have only second hand accounts that he actually hit the ball in those games. Do you disbelieve they are true? Why or why not? Why would that account be less credible in 2000 years?

    But to answer your question, if the answer to this question

    If you’re not going to assume the conclusion as a premise then you have to ask yourself, if true how would you expect that to be reported and if false how would that differ.

    of how I’d expect a reaction if false and if true meant the most likely answer was that it was true, then yes … I’d believe it. I have no idea what sort of person and worldview I’d hold if I lived 2000 years from now so I don’t know how to answer that question. But if you’re asking if humans were drastically different 2000 years ago I’d have to say no, they weren’t. And you do realize that intelligence, perception, and literacy are not related.

    Why do you believe in the quantum description of nature? Or special relativity. I’m pretty sure you haven’t done the experiments. You likely haven’t spoken to anyone who has.

  22. larryniven says:

    “I think Aristotle was warranted in believing objects at motion come to rest. Don’t you?”

    I guess? I’m not sure what this has to do with anything, though?

    Sure I believe in other minds, but I don’t think I’m warranted in doing so (at least, on Plantinga’s definition, which I think is useless). I think I’m justified in doing so, because I have a pretty good bundle of evidence and a theory to go with it that fits in nicely with the rest of reality and predicts the presence of other minds. If you want to run brain-in-a-jar stuff on me, go ahead: Plantinga’s just as vulnerable to that as anyone else is, and he admits as much himself (at least, last I checked).

    “I’m curious, reason is also aimed at being adaptive not aimed on being true. Why do you trust that?”

    Short answer: because there’s nothing else to trust. Long answers: http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2008/03/be-reasonable.html and http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2009/03/be-reasonable-round-2.html

  23. larryniven says:

    Tch, and an addendum: even if all the arguments for minds fail, there are no arguments against minds as good as the arguments against Plantinga’s God. I hate double-posting, but it had to be said.

  24. You’re doing that whole obfuscating thing again, Mark. Yes or no: would you believe that Saddam Hussein has risen from the dead if hundreds of Iraqis swear that they witnessed it and it was something spectacular? Let’s forget the 2000 year gap for now in the hopes that I can get a straight answer out of you.

  25. Mark says:

    larry,
    Concerning objects in motion coming to rest … alas it’s not true. Yet his warrant and his justification for believing so apparently remains. That’s the point.

    Concerning

    even if all the arguments for minds fail, there are no arguments against minds as good as the arguments against Plantinga’s God. I hate double-posting, but it had to be said.

    Larry, Plantinga claims that the best argument for god (which fails and is an generic Deist argument, not one for the Christian God) fails in the exact same way as the best argument for other minds. Your contradiction, by including “Plantinga’s God” seems to not be countering Plantinga’s claim but just seeming to do so.

    I should also point out that so far my criticism thus far of Mr Plantinga is that he is perhaps too influenced by his Catholic roots and he too trusts too much to his reason. My tradition (Orthodox Christian) relies not just on reason but the entire noetic panoply, i.e., all of your interior self not just your logic or reason).

    JA,
    That’s because you haven’t couched the Saddam situation in a way in which I can answer. My belief in the resurrection isn’t on the basis of “second hand reporting of 200 people witnessing Jesus after the crucifixion”. It’s because what they witnessed and attested to (a) their narrative and conviction convinces others they encounter and (b) the reaction put in context of their view their views of the world and their expectation is best explained by it being true (i.e., hence the “if true how would that play out and if false how then would it play out” discussion). We have just a few American troops in the area. How do they respond? That seems an important question. If (a) and (b) are satisfied, I think I’d think it true.

    Let me put it this way, how would you be reacting if the US Marines and other troops started also believing and acting as if it was true that Mr Hussein had returned?

  26. larryniven says:

    But…that’s totally uncontroversial, that you can be warranted or justified or rational in believing something false. Where are you coming from, exactly, in pointing this out? I never said or hinted in the direction that you could only be epistemically grounded in believing true things. Why should I think that Aristotle’s belief in this case is at all a refutation of anything I’ve said? Moreover, what makes you think that Aristotle’s belief in this case is even remotely similar to a belief in Plantinga’s God?

    As for minds, I say again that they differ from Plantinga’s God (which is a phrase I must use so as to nail down which one I mean – sorry, but I’ve been down the other path too many times) in that there are successful arguments against Plantinga’s God and no successful arguments against minds (at least, that aren’t cataclysmic in their skepticism). The failure of an argument designed to show x is in no way a disproof of x or even an argument against x, so you really ought to get away from that point about how the positive arguments fail.

  27. Mark says:

    Larry,
    On the first, then why is a warrant/justification for other religions a problem if “being false” is not an issue.

    I think it’s remotely similar because of St. Gregory Palamas defense of Orthodoxy against the Calabrian monk Barlaam, i.e., that one can and that many have direct experience of God and that this is fundamental to the Christian beliefs in God).

    What is the successful disproof of God? And why do you require the “Plantinga” adjectival modifier for accuracy? Is Plantinga’s God not St. Aquinas’ God? St. Paul’s God?

  28. larryniven says:

    “On the first, then why is a warrant/justification for other religions a problem if ‘being false’ is not an issue.”

    Because it’s not a great idea to have a system of epistemic grounding where all competing hypotheses are evaluated as being equal. Don’t you, as I guess a Christian, want some way of telling non-Christians that your view is epistemically (not just factually, or ontologically) superior to theirs? Plantinga’s system of warrant would deprive you of that, which I think is not just counterproductive but deceptive: some views are epistemically superior to others.

    I’m still not getting the analogy between objects coming to rest and God: are you saying now that Aristotle’s direct experience of immobile objects is like a direct experience of God? That doesn’t seem wise, because obviously Aristotle had no such experience, so maybe you mean something else? But I’m really having a hard time figuring out what.

    Do I really have to give you only one disproof of this God? I’d like to name several, if I could: the problem of evil (which I don’t think he’s solved), the impossibility of Jesus’s dual nature, Biblical errancy, the suffering of animals, and insufficient knowledge of the Bible, for starters. I specify Plantinga’s God because, so far as I know, it is not the same as a Calvinist’s God and may differ still from the Gods that even modern philosophers of religion propose. Not that I think those exist or are more plausible, I just want to delimit the conversation.

  29. Let me put it this way, how would you be reacting if the US Marines and other troops started also believing and acting as if it was true that Mr Hussein had returned?

    Um, I’d obviously believe that either (1) he hadn’t really died, or (2) he’s an imposter. It would take an extraordinary level of evidence to show it was really him AND he had really died. I think it would take just as much for you. That’s why all this talk about the “witnesses” to Jesus’s “resurrection” is so hard to take seriously.

  30. Mark says:

    JA,
    I’m pretty sure nobody (now) believes (1) to be true. And on #2, why don’t you suspect that would be everybody else’s assumption (and #1 would then be suspected). It really seems to me that you go under the implicit assumption that everybody but you is an idiot. #1 and #2 are everybody’s suspicion. Hundreds and a growing number are believing this in the face of that to be false. So … there is a problem then.

    Larry,
    Going backwards …
    The AIK syllogisms aren’t a claim I’d make (and I don’t know who would) so I’m unclear how that disproves God’s existence. Do you claim that Plantinga makes the claims along the lines of the AIK propositions? If not, it’s unclear how that’s relevant. I don’t know or not how Plantinga addressed the theodicy problem … but I found this book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? useful. Jesus dual nature? What’s wrong with that?

    What do you mean “obviously Aristotle had no such direct experience”? Of objects or God? I think it certainly likely that he had direct experience with objects, which would be my point. Look, it seemed to me that your objection regarding other faiths was that this is a challenge to the warrant because they couldn’t all be true. I brought up Aristotle because he had warrant and was justified in believing that an object in motion came to rest (which happens not to be true). So, we’ve established the objection of other faiths is not based on the notions about truth claims. So then what is the problem about other faiths? You suggest that evidence was available that convinced Aristotle of his belief that objects come to rest. Well, fine. I counter that there is a theological/philosophical defense of direct personal experience of God and that many many in my faith tradition have experienced the same.

    Because it’s not a great idea to have a system of epistemic grounding where all competing hypotheses are evaluated as being equal. Don’t you, as I guess a Christian, want some way of telling non-Christians that your view is epistemically (not just factually, or ontologically) superior to theirs?

    No, I don’t insist on that. I come from an apophatic not a exclusively cataphatic tradition. Or in other words, I’m not the Judge. I will not say that other faith traditions will not provide salvation, just that I believe my tradition is best. Why do you think that warrant or justification is the key loci at which you should locate differences between faith traditions?

  31. larryniven says:

    Sigh…

    “Concerning objects in motion coming to rest … alas it’s not true.”
    “I think it certainly likely that he had direct experience with objects, which would be my point.”

    He did not have direct experience…of stationary objects…because there were no such objects. If the experience of a real God is really analogous to the experience of truly stationary objects, then God (just like a truly stationary object) is an illusion created by our limited knowledge and the inherent constraints on our mental activity that exist so that we don’t go around philosophizing all day. For you, at least, the analogy does not hold – right?

    Maybe more to the point, the analogy does not work for anybody because Aristotle didn’t (I assume) have the math to work out that the planet (and the galaxy, etc.) was moving but we have – and, in particular, Plantinga’s hypothetical person has – all the reasons we need to reject God. On this analogy, Plantinga’s hypothetical Christian’s continued belief in God would be like Aristotle continuing to believe that objects really are stationary even after we’d shown him all the math that proves otherwise, pictures and video of the earth from space, and so on. Do you think his belief in that case would still be justified (or, if you must, warranted)? Because I think it would be incredibly stupid.

    If you have objections to the AIK, let’s hear them – otherwise, you’re just stalling. Saying that you don’t believe it is philosophically useless. Here, let me demonstrate: as near as I can determine, Hart is not even worth my time to read. But I will not just say this, I’ll back it up. When he says things like, “Christian thought has traditionally, of necessity, defined evil as a privation of the good [which therefore] can in no way supply any imagined deficiency in God’s or creation’s goodness,” he is simply talking nonsense: in no other context would we say that a privation is somehow not a deficiency, so it’s absurd for him to just state this. His theodicy, from what I can see, is just the fall, and why should I be impressed by that? For one thing, it (the fall) never happened. Maybe more important, even it if had happened it wouldn’t somehow make it okay for God to introduce death and suffering into animal populations. The entire argument is just bizarre.

    As for Jesus’s dual nature, it’s a contradiction in terms. I defy you or anybody else to explain it.

    “I counter that there is a theological/philosophical defense of direct personal experience of God.”

    Have you ever heard of begging the question? If so, you might want to quit doing it. You have had a god-like experience, which – and here we come to the, sorry, crux of the issue – is no more reliable than Aristotle’s stationary-object-like experience nor Mother Theresa’s godless-like experience or any other such unexamined first impression. Plantinga asks what duty is being neglected by his hypothetical believer: this is it. Simply following one’s gut feelings because they’re one’s gut feelings is, literally, childish. It’s barely one step above sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and chanting “la la I can’t hear you.”

    “Why do you think that warrant or justification is the key loc[us] at which you should locate differences between faith traditions?”

    What else could there possibly be? This question borders on the nonsensical. Should I decide which faith tradition I want to follow based on which seems like it’d be more fun, or what? Your answer, too, seems to contradict itself. Your tradition is “best,” but not epistemically…and not ontologically…and apparently not morally, because others can lead to salvation as well…so what does that mean, exactly?

  32. Mark,

    It really seems to me that you go under the implicit assumption that everybody but you is an idiot.

    No, I’m just aware that people are easily deceived and likely to believe in superstitious BS. I think you’re being dishonest here. No way you’d believe Saddam really came back from the dead. You’d ALWAYS believe in 1 or 2, regardless of how many Iraqis were 100% convinced. Tell me I’m wrong.

  33. Mark says:

    JA,
    If Saddam actually did “return” what would convince you? I suspect there is nothing that would. Tell me I’m wrong.

    Larry,
    Re dual nature of Jesus. Do you have difficulty with the dual nature of matter? as wave and particle at the same time? After all it doesn’t make sense, logically speaking. Or in your words, I defy you to explain it.

    What do you mean he had no experience of stationary objects? Certainly he did. Look at that rock on the road. It certainly seems stationary. Kick it. It moves then comes to rest (hint: becomes stationary). Aristotle certainly had the knowledge. And even then to he could have supposed that the reverse was the case, i.e., that objects in motion stay in motion unless other forces act to slow and stop them. That is not philosophically too difficult and does not require overly much math. It’s interesting you mention math, I assume that you’ve read Wigner’s “Unreasonable success of mathematics” paper? That’s the part that Aristotle had missed out on.

    Re: AIK I don’t believe “If the God of Christianity exists, then probably all (or nearly all) human beings have an (at least) excellent knowledge of the Bible before their physical deaths.” is supported by his arguments or a Christian belief. Claiming he thinks it is necessary doesn’t make it true. I can see where his objection might be more problematic for a Sola Scriptura protestant … but that isn’t a universal claim.

    So a person who has direct experience of God should reject him because of argument by Freud and Marx and perhaps people like you? I see. Why do you reject the epistemic validity of personal experience? You think you had X for breakfast. Do you believe that based on personal experience or do you require hard forensic evidence before you actually believe it?

    Well, as for locating objections, you might locate them in the de facto matters of the tradition as separate from the de jure ones? Why not?

    Your tradition is “best,” but not epistemically…and not ontologically…and apparently not morally, because others can lead to salvation as well…so what does that mean, exactly?

    Practically. I believe my tradition is the best and surest route to theosis. It is the most practical means to get where I want to go.

    Plantinga asks what duty is being neglected by his hypothetical believer: this is it. Simply following one’s gut feelings because they’re one’s gut feelings is, literally, childish. It’s barely one step above sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and chanting “la la I can’t hear you.”

    And Plantinga’s reply is that no it is you who have put your fingers in your ears ignoring your “sensus divinatus” (and don’t push too hard there yet and bear with me if you would, I’ve just begun reading that section).

  34. larryniven says:

    This is getting off track, so I’m going to try to get us refocused. Just real quick, though, I’ll try to deal with the other stuff. First, you still haven’t replied to the AIK. I know that you don’t think it’s supported by Christian premises, but I want to know why you think that. Second, I don’t know enough about physics to figure out wave-particle duality, and that’s why I don’t have an opinion. If I were held at gunpoint and forced to pick a view I guess I’d say that matter is both a wave and a particle, but not on the basis of any particularly convincing evidence. Nobody, though, is forcing you or anyone else to aver Jesus’s dual nature at the point of a gun – so what’s your excuse? If you just don’t know, you should be willing to admit you just don’t know.

    “What do you mean he had no experience of stationary objects?”

    The same exact thing you meant when you said, “Concerning objects in motion coming to rest … alas it’s not true.” You seem to have now changed your mind – can you come to a single position on this and then stick to it, please? I propose that seemingly stationary objects are in fact not stationary, as the earth continues to spin on its axis, orbit the sun, and move with the galaxy across the universe. Do you agree or disagree? Because if you agree, your analogy with a “direct experience” of God is in trouble.

    This is such a strange move, this sensus divinatus thing. Everyone seems to think I’ve never run into it before or that it poses some kind of special problem for me. Simply claiming that such a thing exists does not make it so. And, again, I can trivially easily construct situations of equal plausibility that would falsify Christianity, so this kind of argument strategy is a dead end: we cannot learn anything from it. I don’t care to defend either Marx or Freud, but the gist is the same: the “I feel stuff” argument for Christianity is one that arbitrarily privileges a certain subset of empirically equivalent evidence.

    At any rate, this flatly contradicts Plantinga’s premise. You cannot possibly believe not “on the basis of propositional evidence” (which Plantinga calls believing “in the basic way”) and because you have a special god-like feeling. You understand that, right? Saying, “I have a special god-like feeling, therefore I believe in that feeling” is believing on the basis of propositional evidence, where the evidence is the special god-like feeling and the proposition is that you have it. But anybody can have a special feeling about any proposition, even false ones, so why should anybody get to take a special feeling at face value and just run with it?

    Maybe this will help: what makes you think that your “tradition is the best and surest route to theosis”? Is it a feeling, or is it some other evidence? Because in the first case you have to admit that other people have similar feelings that contradict yours, and in the second case you have abandoned Plantinag’s system of warrant. In neither case does warrant evaluate your position as being in any way superior to anyone else’s.

  35. If Saddam actually did “return” what would convince you? I suspect there is nothing that would. Tell me I’m wrong.

    You’re probably right. Every single thing we know about the universe says that people do not die and then come back to life days later. (Obviously, I’m not talking about cases where people “die” and then are brought back almost immediately with technology.)

    I don’t see how there could be sufficient evidence to make the hypothesis that he really returned appear more reasonable than the hypotheses that he didn’t really die or that “he” is now an imposter.

    Hypothetically, though, if we had real, impartial, sophisticated observers (not barely literate pre-modern Romans or even modern-day average people) who witnessed and measured and verified the death and then the resurrection, it would go a long way.

    It’s like bigfoot, say. If I read that 200 people saw bigfoot, I wouldn’t start believing in bigfoot. (Neither would you.) But if sophisticated, impartial observers really observed and verified, I could change my mind.

  36. Mark says:

    Larry,
    AIK claims the proposition 1 is part of Christian belief, yet I don’t know of any Christians who believe it and that logically speaking only Sola Scriptura protestants (among which I am not counted) would be possibly logically forced to admit its being possible. Perhaps the first and foremost things “wrong” with this statement is it is presented as something believed by all Christians. So … can you derive that statement via logically from the Nicene Creed? Historically that has been the statement which has been used to determine “in vs out” of the Christian cult. Within the large (and not exactly as precise as you might like) boundaries one might say “here lie Christians”. But to ascribe blanket statements of what is held to be believed with far more precision that is a good way to make statements which are wrong (like AIK).

    Hmm, you do realize it is logically inconsistent for a thing to be a wave and a particle at the same time. Yet, there we are. The dual nature of Jesus is averred because it is Creedal. Look the universe (as demonstrated by particle/wave duality) is not logically consistent according to human reason. It seems to me that the duality complaint you have is similar in kind to the particle/wave duality found in nature. I have no problem with either. Apparently you have problems with one, but perhaps not the other.

    I don’t think that objects don’t come to rest. They do. They just come to rest, under the influence of other forces. When you toss a baseball across a room, it doesn’t travel forever. Forces of friction with other objects bring it to rest. The false part of the statement isn’t that objects don’t come to rest, it’s that it they don’t without outside forces acting on them. I don’t agree that “seemingly stationary” objects don’t “seem” to move, Aristotle certainly knew that extraterrestrial objects moved. You do realize as well that a geocentric view of the solar system is entirely consistent and true. It just happens frame of reference which is accelerating. The geocentric view is likely actually far more useful in a lot of contexts, e.g., if you’re not tracking satellites or other solar objects.

    I didn’t claim you hadn’t heard of the “sensus divinatus” thing. I said that I hadn’t heard of it until reading Plantinga and that I’m not yet done. Perhaps I screwed up my pronouns, but you’ve got the meaning exactly backwards there.

    And yes, I understand that believing based on sense or feeling can be reduced to “basic” propositional statements. So what? And didn’t Plantinga argue that believing based on evidence cannot be based on basic evidence (or proven from basic evidence). And from what little I’ve read so far he didn’t just say … anybody can have a special feeling about any proposition, even false ones, so why should anybody get to take a special feeling at face value and just run with it? but that the sense of the divine is an almost universal human sense and emotion. You apparently lack this sense. Would it make sense for a blind man to believe that, because he could not see, therefore sight was a made up sense? That “sighted people” were delusional and really blind like him?

    In neither case does warrant evaluate your position as being in any way superior to anyone else’s.

    That’s your claim, i.e., that justification/warrant (de jure reasons) are the key point in distinguishing religions as opposed to de facto reasons.

  37. larryniven says:

    “The dual nature of Jesus is averred because it is Creedal. …It seems to me that the duality complaint you have is similar in kind to the particle/wave duality found in nature. I have no problem with either. Apparently you have problems with one, but perhaps not the other.”

    Yes: creeds are unreliable, but nature is not. If nature seems contradictory, therefore, I have far more cause to distrust my own reasoning than if creed seems contradictory. (There’s also something to say here about models of physics that deny wave-particle duality, but whatever.)

  38. larryniven says:

    I’m giving up with you and the AIK – you’re going in circles and I’m bored. If you think the Nicene creed is all that Christians believe or all that’s needed to support Christianity, you’re clearly living in a different world than I am.

    “you do realize it is logically inconsistent for a thing to be a wave and a particle at the same time….The dual nature of Jesus is averred because it is Creedal. …It seems to me that the duality complaint you have is similar in kind to the particle/wave duality found in nature. I have no problem with either. Apparently you have problems with one, but perhaps not the other.”

    First of all, I never said that it is logically inconsistent for something to be both a wave and a particle; the most I said was that it seems contradictory to me and therefore I don’t have a position. And yes: creeds are unreliable, but nature is not. If nature seems contradictory, therefore, I have far more cause to distrust my own reasoning or the evidence than if creed seems contradictory. (There’s also something to say here about models of physics that deny wave-particle duality, but whatever.)

    “I don’t think that objects don’t come to rest. They do. They just come to rest, under the influence of other forces. When you toss a baseball across a room, it doesn’t travel forever.”

    So you deny your earlier position, then – good to know. There’s still a problem with the analogy, though, which is that the statement “objects come to rest” is incomplete: the truth of the matter is that objects come to rest (or not) only with respect to a given frame of reference. And, to continue beating this dead horse, the only way we know this is by examining the evidence and using it to reshape our initial guess, not by just taking our feelings at face value. So again: don’t you think Aristotle would have been just a bit stupid to insist, given all the information we currently have, that objects just plain come to rest? That is, that there is no frame of reference from which one can say that a seemingly-at-rest baseball is still traveling?

    “Would it make sense for a blind man to believe that, because he could not see, therefore sight was a made up sense? That “sighted people” were delusional and really blind like him?”

    Ah, now here is something interesting: I am like a blind man. Except you sighted people do not know what it is you’re seeing. Where you see Jesus, Muslims see Allah, Jews see Adonai, Taoists see the Tao, and so on. And yet when’s the last time you lined up a bunch of sighted people in front of a grilled cheese sandwich and had one of them say it was really a BLT and another say it was really a reuben and still a third say that it wasn’t really a sandwich at all? Sight is reliable because of (a) its consistency and (b) its testability: it’s trivially easy for a sighted person to draw conclusions from the visible world that are immediately relevant to a blind person, but it’s impossible for a god-sensed person to draw similar conclusions for non-god-sensed people.

    It doesn’t matter, you see, what is “almost universal” among human feelings. It’s almost universal among humans to feel distrust with respect to people with harsh faces, but does that really mean that people with harsh faces are more dangerous? It’s almost universal among humans to feel that any random number is a fair price for something if it’s the first time you’ve encountered that thing, but does that mean that any random number really is a fair price? It’s almost universal among humans to feel less guilt about doing something bad if you’re told to so, but does that actually make you less guilty? Maybe more to the point, even if almost-universal human feelings are reliable indicators of truth (which they are not), why does Plantinga think that Christian beliefs are warranted? From your description, his argument goes something like this:

    1. What is almost universal among humans is a reliable indicator of truth (i.e., if the sense of x is almost universal among humans, it’s warranted to believe in x).
    2. The sense of some divine existence is an almost universal human sense and emotion.
    3. Therefore, it’s warranted to believe in Christianity.

    That last bit is wildly over-specific. Unless he changes premise 2 to say something like “The sense of the God of Christianity is an almost universal human sense and emotion,” 3 just doesn’t follow – but if he tries that, he’s just making things up, because the sense of the God of Christianity isn’t almost universal.

    So, to review: human feelings are not as a general rule reliable, even when held in mass numbers; they’re also not like the rest of our senses; and even if they were it would not support Plantinga’s conclusion.

    (sorry if this is a double-post, mouse slipped)

  39. Mark says:

    Larry,

    I’m giving up with you and the AIK – you’re going in circles and I’m bored. If you think the Nicene creed is all that Christians believe or all that’s needed to support Christianity, you’re clearly living in a different world than I am.

    OK. Whatever. But what you quote that is not at all what I said, which is at the very least one of our major difficulties here. I never said “that’s all” that Christians believe or that is all that’s needed to support Christianity. I said that if your looking for a blanket statement and claims that you can make which all Christians attest to, that is the creed.

    What theories that don’t have wave/particle duality issues? I know of none that are workable (and via Bell’s inequality and other similar theorems (see here and here)) there are serious problems with large classes of such theories. My suggestion is that it isn’t your reason at fault but that requirements of logical consistency regarding the universe are not necessary. It’s a problem of preconceptions at the very least, i.e., you assume that two conditions (like wave/particle) are incompatible when in fact the universe alas disagrees. Likewise with the dual nature of Christ. It is a preconception of yours that these things are illogical and incompatible. That is a fault of yours not the universe’s.

    Sight is reliable because of (a) its consistency and (b) its testability

    You assume the thing your are observing is inanimate, fixed and not intelligent. When persons A and B observes a rock they should observe the same thing. When person A and B observe another person they don’t necessarily observe the same thing (A says the person was happy and smiling and B reports something different). There is not problem with the latter. Early Christianity did not discount the existence of other gods, btw. Just that their God was the Creator and that their soteriology was true.

    You’ve claimed human feelings are not as a general rule reliable, even when held in mass numbers but not demonstrated it very well at all. Your first example (faces) cited is a non-universal cultural stereotype, i.e., I don’t think it is universal. Your second is upside down, i.e., I think the reverse is more likely to be true that is people in general would distrust a price for a thing on first encounter. On guilt, I think that does in fact change the guilt equation. So it might be that (after correcting #2 to the reverse) you’ve made a fine argument for the reliability of “universal feelings”. That argument harken’s back to Mr Lewis discussion of the “moral Tao” in the Abolition of Man.

    Oh, one remark on the book by Mr Hart. You discount it on a small premise, but unless I badly misread it his main emphasis (which you never touched) is that Dostoevsky’s a main thesis of Brothers Karamazov (among other themes) was the statement Theodicy problem about a third of the way into the book and the remainder of the book is a working out of the Christian answer to that problem in a way that doesn’t trivialize the problem.

    “I don’t think that objects don’t come to rest. They do. They just come to rest, under the influence of other forces. When you toss a baseball across a room, it doesn’t travel forever.”

    So you deny your earlier position, then – good to know.

    You are a careless reader. That is not a denial of my earlier position. I said Aristotle was wrong to claim all objects come to rest I did not say no objects come to rest. Aristotle thought that objects had a “natural state” to which they would resume after forces were applied. That position is wrong. They don’t resume to a “natural” state.

  40. larryniven says:

    “You are a careless reader. That is not a denial of my earlier position. I said Aristotle was wrong to claim all objects come to rest

    Really? Is that what you claimed? Because to me it looks like your original statement of his position was: “…Aristotle was warranted in believing objects at motion come to rest.” If you wanted to say “all objects,” you should probably have said “all objects” and not just “objects.” And you have still not answered my question: if he had access to all the information we have now, would Aristotle still be warranted in believing the e.g. a baseball thrown across a room really does come completely to rest when it appears to have stopped moving?

    “When person A and B observe another person they don’t necessarily observe the same thing (A says the person was happy and smiling and B reports something different).”

    See, you continue to do this, to confuse conclusions with observations: you do not observe happiness directly. You do not, in other words, see happiness. What happens is you see someone smiling or laughing or whatever and then conclude (maybe not in a consciously explicit way) that the person must be happy. This is precisely like my objection to Plantinga’s argument: if you report seeing someone smiling and another person says they were grimacing and a third says they were just sneezing in a weird way, and if that one piece of visual evidence is all the evidence you have, it’s absurd to favor one of those interpretations (happy, angry, sneezing) over any other. But this is precisely what Plantinga says it’s okay to do. And then there’s the added difficulty that you have a wealth of experience that tells you that the likelihood of someone smiling when they’re unhappy is rather low, which is exactly the sort of background data Plantinga thinks we can just plain discard in the case of religious epistemology.

    “Your first example (faces) cited is a non-universal cultural stereotype, i.e., I don’t think it is universal. Your second is upside down, i.e., I think the reverse is more likely to be true that is people in general would distrust a price for a thing on first encounter.”

    Huh? I’m not just making this stuff up, you know. In the first case I don’t even need that to be universal: even if the universal-among-humans reaction is just to have some reaction based on someone’s face, that’s a wrong enough reaction to prove my point. As for the second, go read Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and find out for yourself – there’s a whole genre of books that just talk about ways that universal human feelings are inaccurate. See also Freakonomics and Stumbling On Happiness. And if you honestly think it’s morally or legally exculpatory to have been told to do something wrong, than I honestly do not know how to reply. But again, even if, contrary to all experimental data, human feelings really are reliable indicators of truth, where does this magical specificity come from for Plantinga?

    Finally, what the hell does this even mean: “You discount it on a small premise, but unless I badly misread it his main emphasis (which you never touched) is that Dostoevsky’s a main thesis of Brothers Karamazov (among other themes) was the statement Theodicy problem about a third of the way into the book and the remainder of the book is a working out of the Christian answer to that problem in a way that doesn’t trivialize the problem.” Seriously, I am asking you: what were you trying to say there? Are you arguing now that Hart’s article was mainly literary criticism and not philosophy? If so, would you care to reproduce his philosophy here? Does he even have a philosophical stance on this matter, or would he prefer to leave that to the novelists?

  41. Mark says:

    Larry,
    On the smiling matter, you are reading in too deeply. I was suggesting that person A sees a happy person, because the person when A observes the subject is smiling and (likely)happy (perhaps happy to see person A) and that is not the case when observed by person B. That is when you are observing an intelligent entity that entity is not the same, does not react the same, or respond the same to two different people.

    On guilt … again you read me sloppily. I said that changes the guilt equation. That doesn’t mean exculpate. Change means change. If an adult tells a child to steal does that exculpate the child’s actions? No. But it changes the moral equation. I honestly don’t know how to reply to the charge that no matter what an authority tells you there is no change to your moral responsibility for your actions.

    So,

    But again, even if, contrary to all experimental data, human feelings really are reliable indicators of truth, where does this magical specificity come from for Plantinga?

    Do I read you correctly. all experimental data shows that human feelings are unreliable? Finally, as I’ve now said three times … I haven’t finished the book. So I don’t know his full argument. But that being said, you write “here’s a whole genre of books that just talk about ways that universal human feelings are inaccurate.” … and the reason those books are interesting reading is because there are also a whole lot (perhaps a larger lot) of reasons and ways in which human feelings are in fact accurate. I’m guessing you’re not a big fan of Leon Kass’s essay on the Wisdom of Repugnance. 😀

    I’m unclear of what is wrong with gaining wisdom and knowledge of the human condition from the great novelists? His work was not mainly literary criticism, although he did say (as I recollect) the best nuanced exposition of Theodicy was contained in the denouement in Karamazov. What the heck do you think philosophy even is? The word means “love of wisdom.” Great literature is great because it contains deep insights into the human condition. Karamazov is one of them … and touches on Theodicy.

    If you ask a physicist (the one’s who would be regarded an expert on that) today if an object comes to rest. The answer would be … that depends. In certain respects that depends on length and time scales are you concerned with? At larger length scales a baseball sitting on the floor comes to rest because of forces of friction acting upon it, there is sense in the ordinary sense of “at rest” … it has useful meaning. However thermal and zero-point motion of the constituent atoms within the baseball might mean (if your length and time scales were smaller) that even then a baseball is never truly “at rest.” A farmer or plant engineer might be warranted today saying “things moving come to rest”. See my remarks above regarding geocentric views of the solar system (or better yet Personal Knowledge by Polanyi from which it is borrowed although with the frequency you mention allude to modern science and epistemology you’ve likely read that already). Aristotle’s mistake was thinking that things have “natural” tendencies regarding motion, i.e., terrestrial things come to rest and stellar ones do not. Today we might say small (atomic scale) objects never come to rest while larger (macroscopic ones) do not. “Rest” is a function not of origin but of mass. So … it seem I don’t know whether or not if “today Aristotle” would be warranted in claiming objects in motion come to rest.

  42. larryniven says:

    So in order for your happiness analogy to work, this god-like thing that you’re all perceiving has to go around changing its emotions all the time such that it seems like Jesus at one time and Allah at another? As much as I’d love to impute a premise that goofy to you, it wouldn’t matter: these special god-feeling people are often “looking” at the same time, so the analogy is still totally wrong. Also, when we observe e.g. other people, we really observe (as I said before) their behavior – but what are you all observing when you have your god-like feelings? It’s not behavior, right? But it’s much harder (though not impossible) to misinterpret non-behavioral aspects of a person, like their skin color. It would be very weird, then, if there was some non-behavioral aspect of this god-like thing that was very difficult to interpret correctly, especially if (as on Plantinga’s god-sense) it’s specifically designed to be interpreted accurately.

    “…the reason those books are interesting reading is because there are also a whole lot (perhaps a larger lot) of reasons and ways in which human feelings are in fact accurate.”

    (Sorry – I got tired of keeping track of your italics.) I have no reason to deny this, and I’m pretty sure I never have. But Plantinga needs waaaay more than that, right? “Feelings are right a lot” does not imply “feelings are always right” (or, equivalently, “I can conclude just from a feeling that I am right”).

    Hey, good point about “philosophy,” but care to explain to me why a megaphone isn’t a million of anything? Etymology is fun but not particularly relevant. Too, the deepness of a novel is not sufficient to demonstrate the truth of any ideas expressed therein. If Hart’s argument about The Bros. Karamazov is “Dostoevsky had a good point, therefore he is right,” then his argument is a joke. On the other hand, if his argument was, “Dostoevsky was right, therefore he had a good point,” then his argument is philosophically useless: the point was to figure out why Dostoevsky was right (or not), not to assume it. That’s why I tried to read past his book report: it couldn’t possibly tell me anything about the problem of evil that could not have been expressed straightforwardly.

    “…it seem[s] I don’t know whether or not if “today Aristotle” would be warranted in claiming objects in motion come to rest.”

    Finally. What, then, is the difference between “today Aristotle” and Plantinga’s hypothetical Christian?

  43. Mark says:

    Larry,
    “Seem like Allah” who is getting revelation or “seeing Allah”. Islam I’m fairly certain would say that’s impossible, i.e., would argue that personal experience of Allah is not possible (contra the hesychasts of my tradition). My point is that intelligent agents don’t respond the same way all the time. For “today Mr Niven likes his coffee with a danish” doesn’t mean Mr Niven wants a danish with his cup of joe every day. “Testability” and “repeatability” are criteria for experimental methods for hard science when measuring non-intelligent things (and why political science and economics aren’t sciences).

    So … today philosophy isn’t seeking wisdom. Philosophy certainly at one time was a pursuit for the lovers of wisdom. Are you saying that’s wrong? Perhaps what’s really wrong is that notion has been forgotten or misplaced. If not that what then is it’s overall purpose then?

    On Hart/Dostoevsky … it’s been a year or more since I read it (Hart), but he does say why he thinks Karamazov contains the answer and why and discusses the conclusions … but arriving at the point at which he points out that the “best Christian response” is found in Karamazov my attention waned somewhat as I my intent was to re-read Karamazov being attentive to that denouement as a response to Theodicy. I’m not sure whether the response can be boiled down to simple propositions and syllogisms … but that isn’t problematic in my view.

    What, then, is the difference between “today Aristotle” and Plantinga’s hypothetical Christian?

    The problem with the question about Aristotle is that question is poorly posed. I’m thinking that’s not the issue with your issues regarding Plantinga and his arguments on warrant.

    Aristotle would not be warranted today to think that the particular origins of objects determine their behavior regarding continued motion or not. Is that what you’re driving at? The “Marx” objection found to be coherent by Plantinga regarding the Christian warrant is exactly that however, i.e., that the success of modern materialism destroys the warrant for holding to the Christian faith. His answer to that is in the section(s) of the book I have not yet read. Has all this discussion devolved to that. That is to say is it that you’re not bringing actually bringing any objections that haven’t been already brought up?

  44. larryniven says:

    Man I hope you appreciate how patient I’m being with you…

    Even if Muslims don’t have god-feelings, which I think they actually do (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muraqaba#Gnosis_of_the_creator, maybe?), the point is that non-Christians do. And again, it seems that there is a real question about what exactly you think you are experiencing. If your god-like feelings are actions – God talking to you, or whatever – then that’s one thing: it has a certain robustness of content that we then have to take into account. But if they are, for lack of a better word, passive, then I claim we need a story about why there is such diversity of experience of this passive attribute. Because, again, non-behavioral attributes in the real world are usually very difficult to mistake, and Plantinga (among others) believes that this particular thing is intended and designed to be as unmistakable as possible.

    My problem with saying that philosophy is now what it used to be is twofold: first, it’s just not true (philosophy also used to include what we now call the natural sciences); and second, wisdom has a value different than that of what we now call philosophy. I have nothing against wisdom or literature (even religious literature), but something can be wise and false (or at least deceptive) at the same time. From what I can tell, philosophy favors objectivity over usefulness and wisdom is the other way around – not that one is better than the other, but the problem of evil (rightly speaking) is a question of objective facts that may or may not have any use at all. Hart’s disposition, from what I could see, focused on wisdom – what practical lessons should be learned from tragedies, e.g. – and therefore is not philosophy in my book.

    “The problem with the question about Aristotle is that question is poorly posed. I’m thinking that’s not the issue with your issues regarding Plantinga and his arguments on warrant.”

    Actually, this is close enough to what I was trying to say: the question “does God exist?” is no longer a simple one, if it ever was. It seems to me that Plantinga is suggesting that people who cannot come to an intellectually sober conclusion on complicated questions like this get to – are warranted to – believe whatever they like, at least so long as they have a strong feeling about the matter (perhaps as part of a large enough group that has similar feelings). It’s perfectly fair – and more to the point, perfectly responsible – to refuse to answer a question that’s too vague when one knows it’s too vague. Plantinga’s hypothetical Christian, the one who “is aware of the objections people have made to Christianity,” must know the complexity of the question, which I contend means that she has an extra responsibility: the responsibility not to bracket her knowledge as irrelevant and then proceed to answer the question as if it were simple.

    The problem, I think, is the way Plantinga frames the discussion. He asks whether such a person is dysfunctional, but that’s not the same as asking whether such a person’s belief is justified – right? I’m perfectly willing to say (because I actually believe) that religious people, even ones with special god-like feelings, are not dysfunctional or purposefully negligent or malicious or any of that stuff. I’ll even grant you for the sake of argument that religious belief is in at least some cases wise. But none of that makes it justified or rational (that is, not-dysfunctional =/= justified, wise =/= justified, etc.), is the thing.

  45. Mark says:

    Larry,
    Sorry, we’re coming to the end of Holy week and I’ve been away from the computer.

    I hope that I haven’t been boring you with this exchange.

    On the aside point, I didn’t think Sufi mysticism was mainstream Islam … but whatever, that’s not a main point. The “God feelings” I’m talking about like the Heysechasts of Mount Athos are not passive. The broad class of theophanies in general in the 4th century the Desert Fathers were teaching should not be taken at face value … just to make it clear that in even within Christian tradition theophanic experience is not to be taken without subjecting the experience to analysis and discernment.

    Your last paragraph doesn’t exactly make sense. MacIntyre writes of man as a dependent rational animal. If a man believes (and is a rational animal) and that belief is not rational or justified, why isn’t part of the argument against the Marx claim of dysfunction part of the response.

    Oh, I’m working on a short essay/piece which I hope to finish shortly addressing your erroneous claim that it illogical for Jesus to be both man and God. I’ll link it here too when I’m done.

  46. larryniven says:

    “The “God feelings” I’m talking about like the Heysechasts of Mount Athos are not passive.”

    Excellent! Does Plantinga address this point at all, or does he – as he seems to from your quotation – collapse all god-feelings into the same category? Because I think we can now both agree that if he glosses over the subtleties of this, then he is not properly addressing the topic.

    “If a man believes (AND IS A RATIONAL ANIMAL) and that belief is not rational or justified, why isn’t part of the argument against the Marx claim of dysfunction part of the response.”

    Emphasis added. This idea is totally screwy: humans are the most rational animal, but that neither demonstrates (a) that we are perfectly rational or (b) that we are in some sense designed to be perfectly rational. It doesn’t even prove that irrationality is a flaw. I have yet to see an even moderately convincing defense of the position that humans have some kind of mystical obligation or destiny to be perfectly rational.

  47. Yourself says:

    I love The Good People because they Believe in God and have Faith in Jesus… but their Zombie is trying to kill me because they think God is a disease of the mind, and anybody that tries to save them gets the treatment because the cows think the farmer is there to save them. The quantum mechanical prediction is a self fulfilling prophecy because the act of observing changes the thing itself. There is no Truth because the proof is… they can’t see it with their own eyes.