Monday, May 21, 2012

Bill Craig and Mormon epistemology

A redated post.

William Lane Craig has been criticized for using the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit in a way that parallels what I have been criticizing as the "misuse" of the Mormon "burning in the bosom" appeal. I say misuse in deference to Mormons like Clark who say that there are legitimate limits on its use and that it cannot be used to simply dismiss any and all evidence that might amount to falsification of Mormon claims. In other words, what I am talking about is the use of it as what Steve Cannon calls a "Don't confuse me with facts" strategy. But this is what many Christians think happens to them when they give what they think are good arguments against Mormon claims. But is Craig caught up in the same strategy? Mark Smith, of the Contra Craig website, writes:

MS: In my twenty minute discussion with Craig, in the process of getting his signature, I asked him about his views on evidence (which to me seem very close to self-induced insanity). In short, I set up the following scenario:

Dr. Craig, for the sake of argument let's pretend that a time machine gets built. You and I hop in it, and travel back to the day before Easter, 33 AD. We park it outside the tomb of Jesus. We wait. Easter morning rolls around, and nothing happens. We continue to wait. After several weeks of waiting, still nothing happens. There is no resurrection- Jesus is quietly rotting away in the tomb.

I asked him, given this scenario, would he then give up his Christianity? Having seen with his own eyes that there was no resurrection of Jesus, having been an eyewitness to the fact that Christianity has been based upon a fraud and a lie, would he NOW renounce Christianity? His answer was shocking, and quite unexpected.

He told me, face to face, that he would STILL believe in Jesus, he would STILL believe in the resurrection, and he would STILL remain a Christian. When asked, in light of his being a personal eyewitness to the fact that there WAS no resurrection, he replied that due to the witness of the "holy spirit" within him, he would assume a trick of some sort had been played on him while watching Jesus' tomb. This self-induced blindness astounded me.

VR: I think it would depend on the context. If someone were to walk up to me and say they had invented a wayback machine, and I wasn't at all sure that it worked properly, and we got out and saw some hillside that looked like a Jewish graveyard from the 1st Century, and no one left the grave or rolled the stone away, then that woudn't be convincing. If there were reliable time travel technology, and we got some supporting evidence, the challenge might be more severe. Generally fundamental changes of belief occur because of a wide range of considerations, so it is hard to point to one thing that would alone do the trick. But I can imagine overwhelming contrary evidence against Christianity.

13 comments:

Jason said...

I would want more assurances that I wasn't being swindled somehow; but of course that isn't the point. The test question assumes that the experience is true, and I think it has to be answered in that spirit.


So, let's let all the Christian apologists around the site answer the question as put to WLC by Mark Smith. I volunteer to go next.

{{I asked him, given this scenario, would he then give up his Christianity? Having seen with his own eyes that there was no resurrection of Jesus, having been an eyewitness to the fact that Christianity has been based upon a fraud and a lie, would he NOW renounce Christianity?}}

I would certainly renounce the historical claim of the Resurrection, and anything I thought depended upon that.

I would _not_ renounce my expectation that something very similar to the general long-range story told in the OT and NT (including many expected details about the Incarnation) would be enacted by God someday in our history; nor would I renounce the theological beliefs I hold concerning God (including pretty much everything from the first three Creeds, minus the historical portions connected to Jesus of course). My beliefs about that are grounded on something other than inferences from historical implications to the Res (and not on a mystical feeling, or series thereof, either.)

I would certainly be more suspicious of various historical claims being made by the canonical NT authors; but I've said before that there is a (rather boringly {g}) large and mundane tally of decent historical information in the texts that could in principle be accepted even by the most convinced atheist (which I would still be very far from being anyway, from such a demonstration), and I would still be prepared to accept pretty much all of that--though I would then be highly perplexed about what kind of large-scale historical theory I was supposed to be coming up with regarding how the Res belief came about. (i.e. I have yet to see a sceptical explanation of the Res that actually does sufficient justice to the data as it exists. I see no reason at all why my opinion of this would change one jot, even if by some ridiculous leap of logic I tossed my theological beliefs along with a historical belief in one particular incident.)


I fully expect there will be varying answers to this from other people. But since the question is (nominally) addressed to a particular person, that would be my own reply.

Jason Pratt

JD Walters said...

There's an excellent recent book out now edited by James Charlesworth called "Resurrection: the origin and future of a Biblical doctrine". In the chapter on the theology of the resurrection the author (his name escapes me now) argues that there might be reason to think that the empty tomb stories are later elaborations of the basic Christian experience of having seen Jesus, who was raised from the dead by God. He argues that Christianity does not, in the last resort, need an empty tomb in order to witness to the Resurrection. It is possible that the disciples encountered the risen Lord, just as alive and real as you or I, while at the same time Jesus' body was rotting away in that tomb.'

I am inclined to disagree, in that I happen to think the empty tomb stories are historical. But it IS significant that the empty tomb by itself was not connected in any clear way with God's act of raising Jesus from the dead, or the disciples coming to believe that he had been raised. An empty tomb by itself proves nothing. What is also clear is that nobody, not even Matthew's fainting guards or the women who came early in the morning, witnessed the Resurrection. What they did experience was the resurrected Jesus.

I don't think any could have 'observed' the Resurrection 'as it was taking place'. The Gospels have no notion of what we should expect, no idea what we could capture on camera were we to go back to the tomb. When all is said and done, it is still God's act that raised Jesus, and who also makes people aware of the risen Lord.

That said, having nothing happen at the empty tomb would sort of take the air out of my Christian faith tires. I'd probably still hold out for some sort of redemptive future, but it would really only be sort of a hopeful thinking.

I think in the end John Hick is right that most religious beliefs, like that in the resurrection, only admit of 'eschatological verification'. We'll only find out when we die.

John W. Loftus said...

In a debate with Dr. Corey Washington Dr. Craig offers up an analogy: “Suppose you are accused of a crime that you know you didn't commit, and all the evidence stands against you. Are you obliged to believe that you're guilty because the evidence stands against you? Not at all; you know better. You know you're innocent, even if others think that you may be guilty. Similarly, for the person who has an immediate experience of God, who knows God as a personal, living reality in his life, such a person can know that God exists, even if he's not a philosopher and doesn't understand all of these arguments, and so forth. God can be immediately known and experienced, Christ can be immediately known and experienced in your life today, and that is true even if you've never had the chance to examine the evidence.” [http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig].

But what if you woke up one morning to police officers who arrested you for murder? The case against you is that there were two witnesses who saw you at the scene of the crime, you had no alibi, you had a motive for murder, your blood and hair were found under the victim’s fingernails with corresponding scratches on your back, and the victim’s blood was found on your shoes next to your bed? But you “know” you didn’t kill anyone. At that point you must consider the evidence against you, and it’s overwhelming. Your “knowing” is delusional no matter what the reason for your delusion. Since the above scenario is possible, Craig could also be deluded in claiming to know God exists because of a purported veridical experience of God. The difference between my suggested "murder" scenario and Dr. Craig’s scenario for believing in God is that there is hard objective evidence for the “murder,” whereas there is no hard objective evidence for Craig’s claim. But precisely because there isn’t hard evidence for us to debunk Craig's claim, he can go on his merry delusional way all he wants to. But I believe he is deluded, contrary to his claim not to be.

havoc said...

John W. Loftus, you make a very compelling point! There is blood, there are witnesses, there is evidence... I have no knowledge or recognition, but I must confess that every points to the fact that I committed a murder. I will plead innocence, but if the court finds me guilty, I will accept the evidence a posteriori and accept the charge and serve the sentence.

you, on the other hand, reject the evidence a priori. No, I cannot convince you to anything. I cannot convince you that the sun appeared to rise in the east this morning if you are committed to rejecting that. I looked at the evidence, and concluded that the sun appeared to rise in the east, and that the Gospels have every appearance of historicity and that whatever initiated the 'big bang' was, by definition beyond the universe (i.e. 'super natural').

I like your point. You should consider what you said.

don't mind me... I'm nobody.

Cristofer Urlaub said...

With respect, I disagree with Loftus because he's changing the scenario set up by Craig in order to try and show that it doesn't hold up. Of course it doesn't hold up, but it's not the one Craig used.

Craig describes the "religious experience" as being analogous to the experience of not killing someone. Therefore, when presented with evidence that you killed someone, you could say no, because I remember, or have some consciousness, of not doing it. I remember watching the football game at that time, blah blah blah.

If I understand it correctly, Loftus describes a different situation in which you just mysteriously wake up in a jail cell, not having recollection of how you got there. But that's completely ignoring the point that Craig makes. The point is that you do recall the preceding events and you know that they were not murdering someone.

I agree, Loftus, that if I woke up in a jail cell with all the evidence saying that I killed someone, I would have to assume that I killed someone.

But if I do have recollection and know that I am innocent, then I, like Craig, would assume that I was framed or that something fishy was going on.

Likewise, if Craig really has had his experience, than he is, perhaps, right to assume a trick is more likely than Christianity being false.

It depends on his experience, which Loftus' point ignores.

unkleE said...

I think it is interesting that this scenario is similar (though opposite) to Hume's view of miracles, that no matter how much an event looks like a miracle, another explanation should be preferred as more likely, because miracles are by definition the least likely explanation. (I haven't described that well, but we all know what I'm referring to.)

In both cases, people are holding onto belief in the face of contrary evidence, because they think it is more likely that the evidence is false than that the belief is.

So it is all very well for an atheist to call Craig "deluded", or a christian to criticise Hume, because each one is being equally "deluded" or open to criticism.

The question, for me, becomes, what principle should each apply consistently that will lead towards the truth?

B.L.T. said...

I would tend to agree with Loftus on this issue, if Craig still believed given the evidence against his position, he would be delusional. But I'm uncertain whether it would not be better to be delusional in this case. After all, according to Craig, his life has been radically changed, not only his outlook on life, but the way he thinks, lives, and behaves. The experience Craig claims to have had, has permeated his entire life. So if he is deluded, and there is no such thing as the supernatural, and there is no meaning to life, and this is the only life we have, then why not continue in delusion? Seems a better option to me than to face reality, particularly, if you have had such an experience as Craig has.

finney said...

I think the thought-experiment is meant to assume the veracity of the time-machine, in order to focus attention upon the purely epistemological question as to the "inner-testimony."

Cristofer Urlaub said...

It would still depend on whether or not the experience that Craig had is legit. Even if the time machine were real, there could still be some trick going on.

If his experience were actually real in the sense that he claims, then he would be right to doubt whatever he sees, unless you believe that two true propositions can contradict each other.

If his experience is not true, then he must either change his view or just be deluded.

So even more than the veracity of the time machine, I think the choice he ought to make is dependent on the veracity of his experience.

Unfortunately, that's not something we can determine with a thought experiment. As much as I don't really believe, or even like, Craig, I have to admit that it is theoretically possible, however improbable, that he has actually had this experience, regardless of whether or not time travel exists.

Syllabus said...

What's amusing is that, if Craig is really delusional due to that statement, then both Myers and Dawkins are equally delusional. They've both made similar claims about their atheism.

Matt DeStefano said...

@Cristofer Urlaub

"If his experience were actually real in the sense that he claims, then he would be right to doubt whatever he sees, unless you believe that two true propositions can contradict each other.

If his experience is not true, then he must either change his view or just be deluded.

So even more than the veracity of the time machine, I think the choice he ought to make is dependent on the veracity of his experience."


I think the important phrase here is "actually real in the sense that he claims".

Wouldn't this discovery (that the Resurrection didn't happen - since we are assuming for the sake of the thought experiment that the way-back machine works) necessarily change the character of his experience? This new evidence brought to light doesn't mean that his experience didn't happen to him, but it surely means that it wasn't the Holy Spirit that Craig has previously thought, right?

Gregory said...

Why do "naturalists" fault Craig for his purported "inner testimony of the Holy Spirit" if Craig's brain is wired for such experiences? Perhaps the brain of the naturalist is wired to have no such experience. But so what?

At best, the naturalist can only say "well, my brain doesn't work that way". What the naturalist can't say is that Craig is having a delusion because he can only compare his own mere brain activities/experience with Craig's.

In fact, it would be fair to say that the naturalist is stuck in the same boat as Craig. The only thing the naturalist can say is that "I have an inner experience which says that Craig's inner experience is wrong".

Christians, on the other hand, who object to Craig's "inner witness of the Holy Spirit" ought to consider that Christianity is a mystical faith which "surpasses all human understanding". Consequently, we are left with the need for "revelation" if we are to have some sort of knowledge of God. Perhaps the "inner witness" is one kind of "revelation".

A rationalized, propositional theology might sound good to children of the Enlightenment but it's antithetical to Orthodox Christianity.

Bill Raybar said...

Being atheist and filled with respect for science - a method of inquiry that has led to more understanding of the universe than any other mode of inquiry, I will give my take on the thought experiment. Firstly, Human interpretation of light is highly reliable but not infallible (e.g. Optical illusions, mirages, etc). Secondly, to question what is seen is normal especially when it goes against firmly consructed a priori knowledge (e.G. We see someone walking on water would raise suspicion). The answer is easy--put it to the test! Is this a dream? Pinch yourself, do you see color, call you wife, etc) would do you expect to see if the year is 33? I'd there Internet on you phone, loOk at landmarks, etc. Of course certainty can never be reached but only approached. The question is interesting because the answers indicate not delusion but powerful disdain for admitting failure. Being wrong is wonderful when realized because that guarantees the learning has begun. If the scenario survives testing the ressurection should be rejected. Of course the conclusion is contingent unless you are deluded.