Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cleaning up the outsider test

John: I just think some things need to be cleaned up in the argument. When someone has reflected critically on one's religious beliefs to the extent that I have, you have to wonder when you see something like this "what more does he want." If you are talking about making sure that you don't exempt or privilege you religious beliefs from the sort of scrutiny that you would engage in if you, say, were buying a used car, OK so far. I think it is wrong to criticize someone who finds fault with your test as it stands for refusing to submit their beliefs to scrutiny.

What beliefs, as a class, have to be looked at here? I think it's special pleading to put "religious" beliefs in here by themselves, but maybe "metaphysical" or "world-view" beliefs have to be put in there as well, and these would have to include naturalistic world-view beliefs. Everyone lives as if some world-view were true, so it seems to me that that has to be the reference class at first. I don't think there is a "skeptical" position that's outside the system; if you don't act on any religious beliefs you are in effect acting as if some sort of naturalist is true. As the bumper sticker says "Sleep in on Sunday and Save 10%."

Then you have to take into consideration that some of us hold epistemological theories that say it is rational to hold one's current beliefs in the absence of evidence that they are false. I happen to think this is true of beliefs in general, so I'm not privileging my religious beliefs in any way. Nor would I insist that a Mormon just set aside their Mormon beliefs without first giving evidence against Mormon claims. I'm skeptical of a lot of things, including objective burden of proof claims. I think the burden of proof is on the side of the person who is trying to convince someone else. Your test may have to take issue with my general epistemology, not just my philosophy of religion, if it is to make the sorts of claims.

Finally, there is an argument from the psychological and sociological origin of religious beliefs to their likely falsity. It looks like that is just an evidential argument. I can't see that as being part of the test per se, I think it's got to be an argument that might be given to someone who is taking the test. Resisting that argument, surely is not tantamount to not being willing to subject one's beliefs to scrutiny. I don't think these arguments work, as I indicated in a rebuttal to Keith Parsons, who argued in much the same way.
I think there has to be a pretty sharp distinction drawn between a test of beliefs, and an argument that certain beliefs are false.

24 comments:

exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

I found your comments interesting and suggestive. I don't know what to think about any of this yet, but here are some of my initial questions:

Everyone lives as if some world-view were true, so it seems to me that that has to be the reference class at first. I don't think there is a "skeptical" position that's outside the system; if you don't act on any religious beliefs you are in effect acting as if some sort of naturalist is true.

I wonder whether this is really true. So, for example, suppose one is an agnostic about big worldview questions like this. Is it really true that there's no difference between the agnostic's attitudes and behavior and those of the naturalist? This seems false to me. So, for example, an agnostic might be more open to the arguments of both the theist and the naturalist than the naturalist would be. She might also be actively seeking for the divine in a way that the naturalist would not. Paul Draper's paper, "Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic" is helpful here. Your remarks seem to suggest that Draper's stance is impossible.

Then you have to take into consideration that some of us hold epistemological theories that say it is rational to hold one's current beliefs in the absence of evidence that they are false. I happen to think this is true of beliefs in general, so I'm not privileging my religious beliefs in any way. Nor would I insist that a Mormon just set aside their Mormon beliefs without first giving evidence against Mormon claims. I'm skeptical of a lot of things, including objective burden of proof claims. I think the burden of proof is on the side of the person who is trying to convince someone else. Your test may have to take issue with my general epistemology, not just my philosophy of religion, if it is to make the sorts of claims.

My own view is that the "every belief's innocent until proven guilty" approach is too permissive, and that there are principled ways of sailing between the Scylla of over-restrictive classical foundationalism and the Charybdis of the (again, in my view) over-permissive views like the one above. But even if I'm wrong about that, is the cost of such an epistemological approach as the one you suggest here that, for example, atheists are utterly blameless before God if they never come to faith (and it turns out that the Christians are right)? And does it also imply that the apostle Paul was flat-out wrong to say that the existence and nature of God are evident through creation and conscience?

In any case, these are some of my initial questions. What are your thoughts on these matters?

Ron said...

Ex,

I look forward to seeing how Victor will respond to you.

Epistemology is tricky business. I agree with you that we can't be too permissive here or we'll have too many people slipping through with "rational" beliefs that are clearly false. My take is that many positive belief about metaphysics, history, or whatever has to carry a burden of proof, either empirical, rational or both. The naturalist who says that God doesn't exist and the Christian who believes that God rose Jesus from the dead both have a burden of proof.

I think an honest, searching agnosticism doesn't bear this burden. Agnosticism only has the burden of proof when it proclaims that it is impossible to know that God exists.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, Paul was wrong. So was the God who inspired him. Fallibilist theology.

More seriously, the fault Paul finds with nonbelief might not be an epistemic fault, but a fault of some other sort.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Sociohistorical factors are important in fixing beliefs/worldviews. They explain belief fixation, but do not justify said beliefs. Indeed, it was from Neurath's boat as a believer that I became a nonbeliever partly because I realized sociohistorical factors are not justification, but I believed for largely accidental sociohistorical reasons. Once I began to actually look for reasons (rather than causes) of my beliefs, I fairly quickly became non Christian (then more slowly became agnostic, then atheist).

In practice the outsider test is good. It reminds us that the genetic fallacy is a fallacy, and asks us to apply reason to our beliefs.

I agree with exapologist that antifoundationalism could be used to go to far, as postmodernists do, to insulate beliefs from critical analysis.

The choice isn't between Christianity and silly Cartesian foundationalism, but between blithe acceptance of an inherited worldview, and critical acceptance of a considered worldview.

Ron said...

Blue Devil Knight,

I'm sorry that your faith was lost due to a lack of rational foundation. I agree with you that sociohistorical accidents of birth can lead one to believe in a false worldview. A certain amount of skepticism for all viewpoints is healthy. However, I'd challenge you to look at Christianity's intellectual pedegree more closely. I've always had a doubting predisposition and grew in faith because of the evidential & rational considerations. Lewis'/Victor's AfR was a part of this.

Victor,

Fallibilist theology? I see how Paul could be mistaken but could God be mistaken? I agree with you strongly that Paul was referring to moral rather than epistemic fault. That our reasoning faculties are great should not be discounted but that everything from a fly buzzing in our ear to the noetic effects of sin can really cloud our judgment. Jesus called for obedience not the intellectual consent of a philosopher who had to meticulously justify his every belief and action.

Victor Reppert said...

Fallibilist theology was a piece of humor on my part. Just so you know.

Besides, even on my epistemology, with strong enough design arguments for God, we could still be without excuse.

Ilíon said...

VR: "Fallibilist theology was a piece of humor on my part. Just so you know."

Even if no one else understood that you were making a joke, I was sure you were. I just don't get the joke.


VR: "Besides, even on my epistemology, with strong enough design arguments for God, we could still be without excuse."

Now, since we all are without excuse on the particular question, what does reason tell us is (necessarily!) true of those who either outright deny the truth of the matter or claim to be unable themselves to determine the answer or claim that no one at all can determine the answer?

Ilíon said...

VR: "More seriously, the fault Paul finds with nonbelief might not be an epistemic fault, but a fault of some other sort."

Paul doesn't fault people for ignorance ... he faults them for willful ignorance: he faults them for refusing to reason logically from what they know to be true, he faults them for denying what they know to be true. Jesus, by the way, did the same.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, can you show me any other area of knowledge claims or beliefs where this is the case? That's the problem I have with your criticism here, and theists do this so often it can be somewhat telling.

Why is indecision considered a decision about these questions? That's equivalent to saying someone who hasn't yet made a decision to collect stamps has made a decision. But what decision has he made? The only decision he's made is that he has not yet decided. So, yes, he's made a decision, but he has not made a decision about the issue under consideration; i.e. whether or not he wants to collect stamps.

So why does skepticism about a particular belief require a prior held belief about the issue in question? And why should we consider non-beliefs as equivalent to beliefs? [Examples of non-beliefs: do you believe in the Eastern ONE, do you have a belief about ilks who might live in the stratosphere].

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

As I said, I'll be resonding to your further criticisms soon when I get the chance. Did you notice James Sennett's post at DC?

normajean said...

Illion said: "Paul doesn't fault people for ignorance ... he faults them for willful ignorance: he faults them for refusing to reason logically from what they know to be true, he faults them for denying what they know to be true. Jesus, by the way, did the same."

I think your right about this.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ron: The fall for me was realizing that I didn't believe some dude literally died and was resurrected (ironically this was spurred by IVCF kids on campus asking me to search deep inside my heart to see that I knew Christ was resurrected--I did this and realized I didn't believe it--talk about a backfire for them). The slide from theist to agnostic to atheist took another year or so, as that initial kernel of disbelief spurred a process of exploring my other beliefs related to the supernatural. It was not fun, frankly.

By now I'm aware of the arguments, know where I stand, and am happy to accept the consequences of my beliefs.

In the Catholic faith, I'm headed for purgatory. Yippee! In most other Christian faiths, I'm headed for hell. Booo! Then there's the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim possibilities. I believe I'm headed for annihilation.

Reasonable deities (for the religions with deities) will realize they should have given me more evidence. :) [ht: russell]

exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

You might well be able to fit your views together into a coherent whole, but I'm not yet sure I see how to do it, based on what you've said so far.

Your first reply was that a non-believer justified in their (say) naturalism might be culpable for reasons other than not knowing that the Christian God exists. But I don't see how someone could say that if one accepted biblical passages that suggest that ignorance is an excuse of avoiding judgment. This seems to be implied by Paul in the first two chapters of Romans, for example, where he goes to great lengths to show that both the Jew and the Gentile is without excuse before God. The Jews have the Law, and the Gentiles have creation as a witness of God.

In your second reply, you suggested instead that (say) a naturalist could still be without excuse if there is a strong enough design argument. But again, I'm not yet seeing how this is so. There are a lot of worries here, but here's one. Suppose, at least arguendo, that you're right that there is a good enough design argument. That's tough to swallow, since even many Christian philosophers aren't persuaded by design arguments (e.g., John Hawthorne at Oxford). But in any case, suppose there is. How is, say, Suzie naturalist without excuse if she's never heard this argument? Or suppose she's heard it, but it's so sophisticated that it's beyond her ability to see its force. Again, how is she without excuse?

As I say, there may well be a way to fit your views together coherently, but I'm not yet sure I see how they can.

Victor Reppert said...

I've got to clean this mess up.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ahh, the joys of an unmoderated comment section.

Ilíon said...

A recursive cleaning up?

philip m said...

I think Pascal's analogy on the nature of belief is instructive here. Pascal says the question of whether to believe is like a ship at sea in a fog, and there is the possibility of there being a port nearby in a certain direction. Obviously, one is embarked, so they will sail for the port or not sail for the port. There aren't any other options. So in the case they don't sail for the port, they are acting as if the port is not in fact there.

So it does seem right that one can't say they *aren't* living by some sort of operative assumption.

Victor Reppert said...

Quite honestly whatever problems there are with the Romans passage, I don't think a less permissive epistemology is going to solve that.

It seems to me that you can get to Paul's guilt result by simply affirming the existence of a moral law that none of us live up to. That's what Lewis does in Mere Christianity.

It could be that if we were all as a human race less self-willed, we would have an easier time accepting God's creation of the world. But I am very disinclined to use this as a basis for epistemic theorizing, still less am I inclined to argue that why I believe and Loftus doesn't is due to some sanctity on my part that he lacks.

Ilíon said...

Indeed, Philip M: there are two, and only two, possible answers to the question of whether there is a Creator; one either accepts the truth of it or denies the truth of it; one either moves toward that truth or does not move toward that truth; one either incorporates that truth into one's thinking or does not incorporate that truth into one's thinging. There is no 'neither.'

exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

I certainly agree that a less permissive epistemology won't solve the problem. But isn't the reasonable conclusion then that Paul was wrong? Here are some of Paul's words in Romans 1: 18-23:

"18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."

That seems to me to go beyond judgement based on disobeying the Lawgiver; that sounds like Paul believes God is full of wrath because non-believers suppress the obvious truth about an evident God, and refuse to glorify him and give him thanks. (Peter, Jude and John have, if anything, even more harsh things to say on these matters in their epistles). And to return to one of my original questions: isn't your view about (e.g.) naturalists being justified in their naturalism until given defeaters incompatible with Paul's views here? If so, then it seems that the cost of a Christian accepting your view is thinking Paul was wrong about this.

Kyle said...

exapologist,
Just a quick note on that passage. There is a moral dimension in the passage since Paul is using fool in light of it's OT meaning (as derived from "folly"). It has more to do with immoral action, than a lack of intelligence (see the Romans commentaries by Bruce, Moo, Cranfield, Barrett, and surprisingly Barth on this).

At the same time it does say that they are darkened in their thinking, but this might be in regards toward their thinking about morality....their thinking was darkened so they were immoral and created idols.

exapologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
exapologist said...

Hi Kyle,

Thanks, that was helpful. I think you're clearly right that Paul is connecting a moral claim with an epistemological claim. Most importantly for the point I'm raising, Paul seems to imply, at a minimum, that there is no non-culpable non-belief, since (thinks Paul, at least) the existence and nature of God are not just seen, but clearly seen, through the creation. And this is at least one basis for their culpability before God. And my question is, how is this compatible with Victor's view that non-believers (naturalists, say) are justified in their views, which entail that God's existence and nature are not clearly seen through what has been made?

Rob G said...

It's important to consider the fact that in that Romans passage St. Paul was speaking of pre-modern pagans, not Enlightenment rationalists, or even modern pagans. The underlying world-view of the old pagans was different than that of the new ones, and Paul could not have anticipated the wholesale rejection of philosophical realism that occurred some 1,500 years after him.

Still, I think he's correct in a sense, in that one could argue that the rejection of realism and acceptance of nominalism/modernism has a moral component in both root and branch. Richard Weaver, Marion Montgomery, Edward Feser, and others have made arguments along these lines.

The compatibility of Paul's and Victor's views lies, I'd say, in something like the Roman Catholic idea of "invincible ignorance," which leaves judgment of the fate of individuals in the hands of God, seeing that only God knows which individuals lack culpability for their ignorance.