Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Craig's response to the Mormon Objection

The most significant objection to such a religious epistemology, as several respondents observe, arises from the diversity of the religious claims supported by religious experience. Since these claims are logically incompatible in many cases, the experiences cannot ground them all as properly basic with respect to warrant (assuming that truth is not pluralistic and person-relative, but is one and objective). Either at least some of the experiences are non-veridical or else veridical experiences of the divine have been conceptualized in false propositional claims. For example, while the Christian theist may claim to know the great truths of the Gospel through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, the Mormon polytheist will claim to know the truth of the Book of Mormon through the 'burning in the bosom' he experiences as he reads it. Does not the presence of the confident claim of the Mormon to know the truth of LDS doctrine based on religious experience serve to undercut the claim of the Christian to know the Gospel truth via a similar religious experience?

This is far from obvious. It is clear, I think, that false claims to an experience of God do absolutely nothing to undermine the veridicality of a genuine experience of the Spirit's witness, any more than the insistence of a colourblind person that there is no difference in colour between a red object and a green object undermines my veridical perception of their difference in colour. Even if I were utterly at a loss to show him that his faculties are not functioning properly or that mine are, that inability in no way affects the veridicality of my experience. So what the detractor of religious experience owes us here is what Plantinga calls a de jure objection to theistic belief: an objection, in this case, to the rationality or warrantedness of theistic belief even given the veridicality of my religious experience. (William Lane Craig and Antony Flew, Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate, Stan N. Wallace(ed.), Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2003. P. 180.)


Clark Goble said...

I assume you mean by "Mormon objection" the objection atheists make to Christian claims of knowledge by spiritual experience and not an objection made by Mormons.

The obvious rejoinder to the initial critique is to simply suggest we can make distinctions among religious experiences.

To draw an analogy, consider experience in general. Clearly some experiences provide differing conclusions. Doesn't pluralism entail that we can't trust experience at all?

This is really what Craig is getting at, as I read him in this snippet.

That's why critics keep needing to reduce LDS spiritual claims to merely a "burning in the bosom." It is an attempt to ignore what the phenomena might be and whether one can analyze it and simply treat it as something facile.

But of course Craig is right. Just because some claim an experience and get a different answer says nothing about whether there aren't some experiences that can generate the knowledge. So Craig is making the typical LDS argument.

Note the distinction Craig introduces in the opening paragraph. "Christian theists" know through "the inner witness of the Holy Spirit" whereas "the Mormon polytheist" knows from a "burning in the bosom." But of course Mormons don't claim that (and don't claim to be polytheists either - and further would characterize themselves as theists and Christians). Rather Mormons claim that they know through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit of which they sometimes describe associated feelings as a "burning in the bosom."

The repeated tendency to not even try to present Mormon claims as Mormons claim them is rather depressing.

I can understand disagreeing with Mormons. I don't quite understand the need to misrepresent what Mormons claim.

Jeff G said...


I think these posts would go a lot better if you anticipated a few objections within them. That way Clark and I could at least see some effort to see things from your opponents perspective.

Victor Reppert said...

I should probably make the point against Craig clearer. I am pretty sure that when Christians try to say something sensible about the Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit, they make pretty much the same qualifications that Clark can make use of. Craig's critics presume the Mormon-critic's views concerning the BITB (on the Contra Craig site they quote Christian Research Institute sources) are correct, and then go on to say that such criticisms should be applied to what Craig says.

But, I would point out that critics of the experience appeal at least think that something like this is going on: You talk to a Mormon. You point out that there are really serious historical problems with the BoM, or whatever etc. etc. They have no idea how to answer my arguments, but they just appeal to this "burning in the bosom" in order to avoid being confused by the facts. The "testimony card" is played to avoid what the critic thinks is overwhelming falsification for Mormon claims.

And there's an ad hominem character to the objection, too. William Lane Craig supporters don't like Mormonism, and the atheist critics know that.

My objection to the LDS experience appeal doesn't have to do with the terms in which it is described. It is the use of that appeal, in actual practice, to immunize the Mormon or the Christian to negative evidential considerations. I'm not saying "burning in the bosom ha ha ha." In fact, on this subject, I think you have made more of the necessary qualification than has Dr. Craig.

As for Mormon polytheism, if you say "As man is ..." it seems to me hard to avoid some form of polytheism.
A lot of the "misunderstanding" of Mormonism may have to do with the fact that a lot of people learn about it from overdressed and underaged bicycle riders, and supported by at least some "official" statements.

Jason Pratt said...

Clark: {{It is an attempt to ignore what the phenomena might be and whether one can analyze it and simply treat it as something facile. }}

So? Analyze the testimony phenomena. (I checked on your site a few minutes ago, and haven't actually seen any analyzation of the phenomena itself yet in the discussion that has happened since I last posted in. I've seen some discussion about analysis and inquiry per se; but that isn't the same thing.)

I have to report that, at this time, I don't really expect to see the testimony phenomena analyzed. (I'm using the plural out of deference to it being a series of events.) It looks too much (at this point) like a base experience _by which_ other phenomena are to be analyzed, graded and judged. (e.g., it would be irrational for a non-Mormon to accept the historicity of the BoM, since the non-Mormon hasn't had the Experience; because, at this time, there is virtually no positive reason to believe the BoM outside the assurance given by the Experience or inferred from the character of the Experience or whatever.)

{{But of course Mormons don't claim... to be polytheists either - and further would characterize themselves as theists }}

This, meanwhile, is a whole other (extremely important) topic. But while I would very much like to see a discussion on this, I do wonder whether in the end we're only going to end up back at a similar result as we got from the historical discussion. i.e., it would be admittedly irrational for non-Mormons to consider Mormonism to be theism instead of polytheism, because non-Mormons haven't had the Experience yet; with appeal being made back to the Experience over-against however the logical math might otherwise be tallied up apart from the Experience.

Or am I wrong about that expectation?

Clark Goble said...

Jason, it seems to me that the monotheist vs. polytheist issue is quite orthagonal to truth claims. That is it is primarily a semantic issue.

The issue of analyzing the phenomena is a good one and one I've meant to post on but just haven't (yet) had the time.

Alas work and family come first over philosophy.

LDS Patriot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LDS Patriot said...

A better question is, “What do Mormons know about the workings and feelings of the Spirit of God that non-LDS Christians do not know or understand?”

Did not our hearts burn within us, while he opened to us the scriptures, Luke 24: 32.