Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Two Questions for Clark

Two questions about Mormon epistemology for Clark. First, just to clarify, my objection to the appeal to religious experience is not to say that religious experience claims are always unjustified, or to object to the terms ("burning in the bosom") in which it is expressed. The objection is to the idea that you can deflect criticisms of the Nielsen Hayden variety by saying "None of that really matters. Just take the book of Mormon home and pray over it, and if God gives you a feeling that it is true, then become a Mormon." Is this an appropriate response? It sounds like "Don't Confuse me With the Facts, I have a Testimony." (the title of an article by Steve Cannon on Mormonism). I wouldn't consider that to be an adequate response to questons about the defensibility of Genesis, for example. Some Christians are going to try to defend a literal reading of Genesis, and some will attempt to escape difficulties by backing away from strict literalism, and there is a gamut of ways of dealing with the problems with Genesis. But an appeal to religious experience in this context would be a complete non sequitur.

Second, is it open to the Mormon to accept a non-literalist move in response to NH criticisms which is similar to the nonliteralist move that Christians often make with respect to Genesis?

19 comments:

jeff g said...

I think your first question is a good one, which I hope Clark to respond to.

The second question is "Yes" the non-literalist or even non-historicist move can be made by a faithful Mormon, however the majority of faithful Mormons view this move as selling out in this case. To them, it is leaning toward, if not fully giving into full blown apostasy. Nevertheless, those who do make this move do not see it this way at all.

Clark Goble said...

That's a bit of a strawman as I don't think I'm saying that. What I'm arguing for is that one considers all evidence and renders a judgment. The religious experience of various sorts constitutes some significant for that judgment.

To say that it's a choice between facts and religious experience is simply not something I accept.

As to the literalist/figurative move. It's an unpopular one and more difficult to make for various reasons. But it is acceptable in that one can be an accepted believing Mormon if one takes it. (i.e. taking the Book of Mormon as more figurative) I think such an approach wrong, and I've often argued against such liberal Mormons. Just as I'd argue against liberal Protestants who take the divinity and resurrection story of Christ as figurative.

My point vis a vis Genesis was simply to note a similarity of approach.

I don't think though that one can simply neglect facts. Far, far from it.

Jason said...

So, just to clarify (and I'm not doing this for purposes of setting up an attack, but only because you've been accused of dodging the question in the past--thus this may help clear you from such charges):

You do _not_ accept that it is proper to deflect criticisms of the PNH variety (whether put crudely or sophisticatedly) by saying, in effect, "None of that really matters. Just take the book of Mormon home and pray over it, and if God gives you a feeling that it is true, then become a Mormon."

i.e., you agree with Victor that this is an inappropriate and/or inadequate response for a Mormon to make (just as Victor would agree that this sort of response is inadequate to questions about the defensibility of Genesis.)

Clark Goble said...

Just a note that I'll be at a trade show through Sunday and won't be able to comment much.

To Jason's comment I'd suggest that true in general although I think there is a mechanism when you have strong evidence to discount outliers you can't explain.

So, to take a popular contemporary example, I might have faith that building 7 in the Word Trade Center was not brought down by controlled demolition by our government, as some conspiracy nuts claim, even if I can't explain the smoke or some of their other evidence. Put an other way, to take evidence into consideration is not necessarily to need to be able to explain it.

Thus if someone had a reliable spiritual experience which they can trust along with other evidence it seems perfectly acceptable to appeal to that in answer to someone raising the issue of swords. That is they can't explain horses or swords but consider their other evidence strong enough to warrant their belief.

So we have to be careful. I'll fully agree their rhetoric, if represented accurately, wasn't the best. But I'm not at all convinced they are reasoning in an unjustifiable way. Once again I think it typically wrong to judge folks using common sense reasoning by the standards of technical philosophy.

Jason said...

{{To Jason's comment I'd suggest that true in general although I think there is a mechanism when you have strong evidence to discount outliers you can't explain.}}

Certainly. Although in the _particular_ cases being complained about here, the situation is not that the Mormon evangelist is deferring outlying point criticisms by appeal to strong evidence elsewhere. The situation is that the Mormon evangelists in question are setting aside _all_ objection and appealing to pure experiential feeling as a defeater. Are we understanding you correctly to be saying that you agree with Victor that _this_ is improper to do? (Maybe we shouldn't say "inadequate", since that's more of a pragmatic judgment: if it works it was adequate, if not then it wasn't.)


{{Thus if someone had a reliable spiritual experience which they can trust along with other evidence it seems perfectly acceptable to appeal to that in answer to someone raising the issue of swords. }}

Agreed, in princple--though then this gets back to grounds for why the experience is supposed to have been reliable and worthy of trust. At the same time, in the absence of other evidence and grounds of such countervailing strength, the swords problem can only look proportionately more problematic.


Which, as I recall, gets back around to Victor's original question (not in this post, but earlier). What kind of really strong positive evidence _is_ there for the Mormon case historically?--enough so to plausibly render such things as archeological lacks (that we know from long experience elsewhere ought to be there as a result of similar circumstances) to be only outlying data problems.

(Always keeping in mind that different people may gauge the weight of evidence differently.)

Clark Goble said...

The situation is that the Mormon evangelists in question are setting aside _all_ objection and appealing to pure experiential feeling as a defeater.

I think I'm skeptical that this is actually the case, which was one of my initial points. That is you are basing this claim upon what may simply be a slight breakdown in communication. To establish the above I think more would be necessary.

Jason said...

{{I think I'm skeptical that this is actually the case, which was one of my initial points. That is you are basing this claim upon what may simply be a slight breakdown in communication.}}

If it _has_ happened, according to the testimony we're being given, the breakdown is rather more than slight! {g}

But this is beside the point; and it doesn't answer the actual question being asked of you.

Let me turn it around. I happen to know for an ironclad fact, that there are (more-or-less) orthodox Christians who, when pressed into a logical corner, will appeal at least tacitly (and in my own experience even explicitly!) to a feeling that something is true, over against logical failure. (I can even point to a recent and easily accessible public example, in formal debate against Richard Carrier.) Victor has also (I think) admitted to the existence of this tactic among traditional Christians. He and I both consider this to be improper procedure; and we have both clearly said so; and we would both clearly say so even if we were only talking about the cases in principle (instead of having actual examples in mind.)

We are, and have been, asking you to clearly confirm that you agree that this is, or would be, an improper tactic, if a Mormon evangelist does it.

We aren't asking you whether you think there has been a breakdown in communication between Victor (and Paul Manata and others who have testified about this tactic being used on them) and the Mormon missionaries in their personal experience.

We aren't asking you if an experiential feeling _along with_ strong evidence elsewhere is sufficient to overcome outlying problems (or sufficient to render what would otherwise be very serious problems to be only outlying problems instead.)

We aren't asking you whether Mormon claims should be judged according to the misunderstanding of improperly trained missionaries (though that would seem to involve at least an implicit agreement from you that the tactic is improper!)

I agree that those _aren't_ unimportant topics, but they also _aren't_ the question we're asking you.

Do you agree with Victor that what he is describing is an improper tactic? You ought to be able to clearly answer yes or no to that. _I_ think you've been (at least tacitly) answering yes; but you've been charged with trying to avoid answering the question, so I've been giving you the opportunity to clearly answer the question.

There are plenty of qualifications you can attach to your answer once you've clearly given it, but please just answer the question first. Merely 'suggesting' that your answer is yes, is not sufficient. Saying that such tactics, if they have happened, aren't "the best", is not sufficient. (Especially since you go on to add that you are not convinced such people _as Victor has mentioned_ are not reasoning, by doing what he and others are reporting them as doing, in an unjustified way. That looks more like a 'no' than a 'yes'.)

You ought to be able to clearly answer the question, in principle. Would it be a proper tactic for a Mormon missionary to deflect criticism, in the last resort, by appealing to an experiential feeling about the Book of Mormon? (i.e., just take the book of Mormon home and pray over it, and if you have a feeling that it is true, then that means God is telling you to become a Mormon--regardless of any other objection you might have.)


Jason Pratt

chris g said...

Being, no philospher, and coming on this from Clark's blog, my point may not be very valid, and probably not what Clark would say, however...

From my perspective I would say a spiritual feeling about the book of mormon wouldn't automatically discount outliers. Ignoring things is rather bad form. Rather it could provide motivation to use another paradigm to look at the whole issue. I would suspect that is what many of the testimony appeals are - requests to see if things are plausible from another perspective, not affirmative proofs.

No matter how reasoned one is, I would suspect things are approached from a certain context with varying leveles of implicit assumptions. Changing context may not change the facts, but it may change the weightings one feels they provide.

But that is only my opinion.

Clark Goble said...

As I said, I remain skeptical. More importantly though I don't think that the fact that many (most?) people who aren't good at debate do something entails much logically about their position. I think that a common fallacy that people tend to develop. Especially coming from an academic environment where we infer people's reasons from the way they defend ideas in debate.

So I've been making that point several times now but everyone thinks I'm ducking the issue when I make it. I don't think I am. Rather I think it central.

What you are asking thus conflates two issues. What is appropriate in debate with what is actually going on in a person's thinking. Might I suggest tactfully that if you take a regular person and debate with them that you won't get an accurate reflection of their thought process?

As to the other point, do I think feeling alone is sufficient justification. I've answered that repeatedly now. No, I don't. But I honestly don't think people do that. You are conflating reasons-giving in a debate with reasoning. They simply aren't the same.

Clark Goble said...

BTW - might I also add that I think I've been extremely clear in my answers? I honestly don't see how you can say I've been avoiding the issue. My first comment in this thread alone answers it distinctly.

"What I'm arguing for is that one considers all evidence and renders a judgment. . . . To say that it's a choice between facts and religious experience is simply not something I accept."

Jason said...

Chris G writes: {{From my perspective I would say a spiritual feeling about the book of mormon wouldn't automatically discount outliers.}}

I'm less interested in whether a feeling about the Book of Mormon would discount outliers, than in whether a feeling about the Book of Mormon is supposed to overweigh what would otherwise be considered (by the person) to be evidence and conclusion sufficient to discount the Book of Mormon. (Which outlying problems _wouldn't_ necessarily do; which is precisely why Clark has been calling horses and swords outlying data problems. {s})

{{I would suspect that is what many of the testimony appeals are - requests to see if things are plausible from another perspective, not affirmative proofs.}}

That may be what is really intended, and is simply being communicated ineptly to Victor, Paul, et al in their experiences with Mormon missionaries. But the persistant question has been whether Clark agrees or disagrees with Victor about an appeal to such emotional data being an establisher of x over-against what would otherwise be a conclusion for y (or anyway for not-x). It is an entirely different question whether this is actually being done by Mormon missionaries. Clark has answered _that_ question in several ways already; but _that_ isn't really the question we've been asking him.


Clark replies to me: {{More importantly though I don't think that the fact that many (most?) people who aren't good at debate do something entails much logically about their position.}}

We aren't asking about that. I agree with you on this. I'm not asking you about this.

{{So I've been making that point several times now but everyone thinks I'm ducking the issue when I make it.}}

Because at this point you aren't answering the question that is actually being asked. (Not your fault, perhaps, though. I'll trace the flow here in a minute.)

{{Might I suggest tactfully that if you take a regular person and debate with them that you won't get an accurate reflection of their thought process?}}

I agree. Now we can move along to answering my actual question.

{{As to the other point...}}

There was no "other" point. I never asked about the other things to which you've been answering.

{{...do I think feeling alone is sufficient justification.}}

This was not exactly the question, either.

I think at this point you've completely left behind the question I've been actually asking. Maybe this is my fault--I thought I was explaining why I was asking the question, both in the first place and in repetition (I've been fairly monotonous about it {lopsided g}). I'll try to explain again in a minute.


On your journal I wrote: "[Do] you agree (with Victor, and myself) that it is improper as an evangelical tactic to make an appeal to this kind of feeling as a last resort over against unresolved objections that would certainly involve non-acceptance of belief for the person in question[?]"

In effect (though I am suspecting this was not your intention), you answered on your journal: "if they actually had a series of religious experiences confirming some state of affairs then it seems perfectly acceptable to appeal to it [as a last resort over against unresolved objections that would certainly involve non-acceptance of belief for the person in question]."

I'm _fairly_ sure this is not what you meant to answer, although I can't really see how you could have gotten anything else but what I wrote from my question. But I suspect you've been thrown off by my repetition of the question, into expecting I have some kind of ulterior motive for asking it over and over and over again. Which I have now done over and over _again_ again, over on your journal. {Sigh} Rich understood what I was asking anyway, but by then I think you must have thought I had some other secondary strategy in mind that I was aiming at. Which wouldn't be an unreasonable suspicion all things considered, but which I hope I can clear up now.


I agree, it is true, that in your first comment in this thread you answered Victor: "To say that it's a choice between facts and religious experience is simply not something I accept." As far as _I_ was concerned, that was an agreement with Victor.

You had earlier been accused (in a prior thread, and not by me) of dodging Victor's question, though. I answered your accuser, attempting to clear you of the charge of dodging the question, by asking you to answer again that you agreed with Victor in the portion I quoted from Victor (using Victor's wording, so as to eliminate suspicion). All I was asking (and expecting) was for you to answer 'yes' to that again, in a context that would certainly clear you from the charge of dodging Victor's question. Had you simply answered 'yes' (again), I would have said something like "see, he _isn't_ dodging the question--happy now?"


But then you started answering as if we were talking (and asking) about discounting unexplained _outliers_. Your statement that "I think there is a mechanism when you have strong evidence to discount outliers you can't explain" wasn't denied by me. I accepted it. The fact you appealed to this in contradistinction (as an "although") to Victor's question worried me a bit, though; because that kind of situation wasn't what Victor had asked about. I wondered if perhaps you had misunderstood Victor's question a little (he had phrased it with a reference to "objections of the TNH variety"--I knew from the context he meant something stronger than the outlier status you had graded those objections as being, but I wasn't sure now that _you_ had caught this), so to ensure you were in fact answering Victor's actual question (which wasn't about merely outlying data problems) I asked it again.

I then also asked another different question, because I expected you to answer 'yes' to the first one, especially since I had taken the time to explain the distinction involved, just in case you had misunderstood Victor to be talking about only outlying data points--which, given his reference to TNH, might have easily been the case, I thought--after which, assuming you answered 'yes', as I expected you would, my interest in that part of the discussion would be over and we'd move on to anything you wanted to provide concerning my new question.


But then you didn't answer the question I had asked again--apparently having missed why I was asking it again. You went on instead to discuss your scepticism that Mormon missionaries were actually using this tactic on Victor, Paul, et al.

I noted that this was beside the point (and that if it was happening, the breakdown was rather more than slight), and then went back to my question again, which you hadn't answered--because I thought you might still be thinking in terms of only outlying data (instead of what Victor was actually asking about).

I then clarified what we _weren't_ asking about (hoping this would help target you back onto what we _were_ asking about). I also clarified that the other things you had been discusing were not unimportant. I also clarified that _I_ thought you had been answering yes in agreement with Victor; and that I was only trying to remove any charge of dodging on your part.

_Except_ I had begun to notice what looked like possible provisions being made on your part (not just in this thread) that maybe you were intending to answer 'no' instead of 'yes' after all. (i.e., no, you disagree with Victor, and maintain instead after all that a person might properly appeal to experiential feelings as a defeater for what would otherwise be considered to be a case going the other way.)

And _that_ is where _I_ started getting confused.

(After which things only got worse. {s})


I hope this explains better what I was doing, and why. Ironically, though, the result is that after all this, I'm actually _less_ sure than I was originally that you _were_ agreeing with Victor, about the impropriety of appealing to internal emotional data over against what would otherwise be considered (by the person in question) to be a conclusive case to believe not-x instead of x.

That may be entirely my fault; but please indulge me one last time (I hope), in order to clarify something I may have unintentionally muddied by trying too hard _to_ get it cleared up. (For which I'm sorry, if that's what happened.)


Jason Pratt

Jason said...

Follow-up from Clark--Blogger was acting up on him when he tried to post, so I'm posting for him here. This comment can be found at comment #8 here, but as the discussion there has moved on to other (related) topics, I'm breaking it out here.


.......[Clark's reply follows].......

Jason, as I said, my apologies for any misreadings on my part.

I think the confusion is ultimately what is or isn't a defeater and what makes it so. I tried to reply to your comment at Dangerous Idea but Blogger is its usual unreliable self and won't let me comment.

Basically the confusion, to me, can be found in this sentence fragment of yours: ". . . the impropriety of appealing to internal emotional data over against what would otherwise be considered (by the person in question) to be a conclusive case to believe not-x instead of x."

The key problem, as I see it, is that "what would otherwise be..." That is, how are we to take that otherwise? Do we take it as saying that the appeal to the experience is a dodge? I kind of cognitive dissonance as some critics seem to unfathomably charge? Or do we take it as saying that if there really was an experience that it changes the meaning of the evidence that would otherwise be taken as a defeater.

I think this is ultimately the place where the confusion is arising and how we all appear to manage to talk past one an other.

To me meaning (at least in this case) is context dependent. That is evidence doesn't have innate meaning but its meaning depends upon its roll in a network of other meanings and practices. Thus the same questions/facts can have different meanings depending upon what else we know. So I'm still note entirely sure what it is you are attempting to establish.

.......[End Clark's reply].......

Jason said...

Now for my actual answer. {g}

I think a large part of the problem is that you were expecting me (not without some reason) to be more actually oppositional than I was meaning to be. I didn't have some deep strategy in mind to take an answer from you and use that as a springboard for launching an attack (or Mormonism in general or on your apologetics in particular, either one).

Not that I'm incapable of inventing and implementing that kind of strategy; but I wouldn't lie to an opponent from the outset by promising explicitly I wasn't aiming to do that, and then go ahead and do that anyway.

I say this to warn in advance that my answers to some of your questions are going to seem awfully shallow--but that's because originally I wasn't expecting there to be much disputation on the point.

{{how are we to take that otherwise? Do we take it as saying that the appeal to the experience is a dodge?}}

Yes; because that's what Victor and others were complaining about, in their experiences with Mormon missionaries. Victor (et al) had objections, and the missionary replied in essence that if Victor prayed over the Book of Mormon and received a feeling that it was true, then that would overcome Victor's objections.

That was the topic immediately at hand. And Victor's question, was whether you thought that kind of missionary tactic was proper or not. I _think_ you've been answering 'not' (or, putting it the other way around, agreeing with Victor). Because you seem to be saying 'not' things, usually.

But then, you'd go off onto other tangents. 'There is a distinction between how a person is actually reasoning, and their ability to describe that reasoning externally.' Granted, that's true; but do you agree with Victor in principle? 'Mormon missiology has become very sloppy, and is geared toward low-hanging fruit, etc. Consequently, it's unfair to judge the theology from ill-trained 19-year-olds.' Granted, that's true; but _that_ means you agree with Victor in principle, right? 'If this kind of experience is put together with other kinds of strong evidence, it can overcome mere outlying problems.' Granted, _that's_ true, but that isn't what Victor was asking about. Do you agree with Victor's objection, or not? Etc.

I had thought it would be a relatively simple matter to clear any lingering charges of you evading the topic. But the more you landed on those other things... well. {shrug} The more you started looking like you really were evading the actual topic at hand.


{{Or do we take it as saying that if there really was an experience that it changes the meaning of the evidence that would otherwise be taken as a defeater.}}

Whereas this, on the other hand, looks like you're saying you disagree with Victor about the impropriety of the missionary tactic Victor (and others) were reporting.

After all, the situation here hasn't changed. Victor still has objections which, up to this point, indicate to him that non-x is true. The evangelist has been unable to answer those objections. He suggests Victor go pray over the Book of Mormon instead, and if it feels like God is saying it is true, then Victor should accept that data over against the other evidence.

Now you seem to be saying that this _is_ proper: the prior evidence itself hasn't changed, but the experience might be such as to change the meaning of the evidence.

So--okay, you _disagree_ with Victor, then. The Mormon missionaries _are_ doing the right thing, in principle; they just aren't using sophisticated enough language to appeal to scholars of Victor's calibre (or whatever).


Okay, got to go. I'll be back after Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a good holiday weekend!

Jason

Clark Goble said...

Jason, as I said, the issue is the meaning of "otherwise." That is do the other evidence that without the religious experience leads them to doubt change its meaning after the religious experience.

Now of course it is not necessary that evidence change meaning, but this is a rather common occurrence in my opinion. Thus I think you're question only makes sense if the evidence in question remains static in meaning. That is, if evidential meaning is context independent.

I'd assume you would say it isn't. But I confess I'm not sure. But perhaps that ought be the first thing considered?

Note that I'm not saying that merely shifting contexts (i.e. having a new experience) will change meaning. I'm merely suggesting it might.

Since this seems to me to be key, I suspect this is why you keep thinking I'm being evasive. I don't think I am in the least. Rather I think I'm trying to clarify how I understand your question.

So to me it simply isn't a yes-no question. Rather it is a "it depends" kind of question.

Clark Goble said...

To add, I'm also including the obvious problems of interpreting a religious experience. If one simply neglects that problem, i.e. takes for granted it is of God, then I think anyone would be justified in saying whatever defeaters they are seeing aren't really defeaters. That's because one could justifiably assume ones reasoning is wrong if God unequivocably says it is.

I didn't include that since it seems to me that's not really the issue at hand. Rather what is at hand is the hermeneutical issues.

Aquinas13 said...

"But this is beside the point; and it doesn't answer the actual question being asked of you."

Jason, finding it hard to get a straight answer out of Clark? One that actually addresses the question alone?

That appears to be his specialty and all the cards in his hand strangely all end up being "experience cards."

Best find a partner not so found of dealing from the bottom of the deck.

Jason said...

(Off on vacation, so unable to compose very much at the moment.)

Aq13: actually, I'm sympathetic to the notion of qualifications making a difference to an explanation. I just want to get a baseline understanding to work _from_. Qualifiers only make sense if they're qualifying a given position.

I can understand Clark being anxious to get qualifiers on the table. What I'm trying to understand is _what_ is being qualified.


Clark: {{Thus I think you're question only makes sense if the evidence in question remains static in meaning. That is, if evidential meaning is context independent.}}

Perhaps this is moving on to Victor's second question, then; which I paraphrased as: "What kind of really strong positive evidence _is_ there for the Mormon case historically?--enough so to plausibly render such things as archeological lacks (that we know from long experience elsewhere ought to be there as a result of similar circumstances) to be only outlying data problems."

Are you going to answer that the sticking point here is the adverb 'historically'? i.e. the really strong positive evidence for the Mormon historical case isn't historical evidence, but is an internal feeling (or set of them) of some flavor and/or strength?

Clark Goble said...

Aquinas, I don't think that's fair since as I said it's simply not a yes/no answer for me.

To me the question presupposes issues regarding hermeneutics.

Jason, I'll fully admit that what I'd call strong evidence for the Book of Mormon isn't "historical" as you put it. I don't mind saying that if one didn't have the religious experiences it would be wise to either deny or at least remain agnostic regarding Book of Mormon historicity. The best Mormon apologists can do is show how one can rationally believe in the Book of Mormon and dismantle critics charges that it is irrational to believe. But everyone would agree that without spiritual evidence it is pointless.

Where I think I'd differ with you is that I think the true for Biblical historicity as well in terms of the spiritual events therein.

Aquinas13 said...

"Aquinas, I don't think that's fair since as I said it's simply not a yes/no answer for me.
"


On further reading, it does appear a bit harsh. Sorry about the bluntness of my response. Unfortunately, tact is not always my strong suit.

Aquinas13