Thursday, March 05, 2009

Is belief in God properly basic, at least for some of us?

One way of looking at this issue is to try to determine who, in the question of God, has the burden of proof. A good many discussions in introductory philosophy classes presuppose that the theist has the burden of proof.

But is this correct? Are we better of just saying what my philosophy professor at ASU once said, that "you have the right to believe what you already believe, unless there is good evidence to support believing something different."

Does rationality involve neutralizing our prior convictions and starting from scratch? Why should we be expected to do that with respect to the question of God when we are not expected to do that with other beliefs. At least, when people have tried to this, not with respect to belief in God, but with beliefs generally (i. e. Descartes and classical empiricism), it has resulted in all sorts of beliefs (moral beliefs, the belief in an external world, the belief that the future will resemble the past, etc.) are unjustified, that most of us take to be justified.

32 comments:

Perezoso said...

Perhaps--that is if you believe a Divine, omnipotent Being enjoys pitching asteroid knuckle-balls very near His creation. Steee-rike 1.

Maybe next year He decides to off his earth-ball.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. If an Icelander believes in elves, then it's properly basic for her unless or until that belief is defeated. Christians may disagree, but that's just life in philosophy. Icelandic elf-believers are responsible to their own criteria of proper basicality. Why should the Christian's incredulity affect the Icelander's knowledge that there are elves?

Andrew said...

Doesn't "properly basic" imply "a priori;" that is, that you cannot evaluate the world without those properly basic beliefs, a la Kant's categories of the understanding?

If so, then how can things you are taught and things you read in a book be a priori?

Victor Reppert said...

Properly basic does not imply a priori. Why do you think that it did?

I don't see that the first two pieces of ridicule add anything to the discussion. Why do these weird beliefs have to be screened out at the beginning, as opposed to screened out by counterevidence later.

Perezoso said...

Would you still believe given a hypothetical doomsday? Imagine if astronomers proved that an asteroid was going to enter earth's atmosphere in say a week, and was guaranteed to destroy the earth and wipe off everyone from the planet. (except those who manage to find some very deep bunkers, or maybe aloft in jets, or something). I imagine most fundies would call it a sign of providence: time of trials and tribulations, y'all.

In other words, no atrocity, disaster, war, plague, or even genocide will challenge the faith of True Believers. That's not reason.

(Kant in a nutshell: I agree that faith is not a priori--nor does Kant assert that. Religious matters are speculations upon noumena: not reason in the sense that Mathematics, physics and logic are--so he's against rational tradition of Aquinas. Maths, physics are synthetic a priori (as are the table of categories, and forms of intuition--space and time. He's probably in error in regards to a priori causality)--.

The only pure analytical a priori knowledge for Kant is the Law of non-Contradiction, I believe--though been some years since 1st crit.

It's debatable whether Kant believes. He classifies God, Freedom, and the soul as noumena, and speculates that they could exist-- but they do not exist in the sense that natural phenonema exists, or Reason itself. He was most likely a skeptic, but playing it safe for the theists (who still possessed a great deal of power in Prussia).

Robert said...

Hello Victor,

“One way of looking at this issue is to try to determine who, in the question of God, has the burden of proof. A good many discussions in introductory philosophy classes presuppose that the theist has the burden of proof.”

I like the legal maxim regarding proper burden of proof: He who asserts must prove! (which means that **you** ought to attempt to prove what **you** assert) So the theist needs to provide evidence showing that God exists and the atheist needs to provide evidence showing that God does not exist.

“But is this correct? Are we better off just saying what my philosophy professor at ASU once said, that "you have the right to believe what you already believe, unless there is good evidence to support believing something different."”

Well we have the “right” to believe whatever, it’s a free country after all, isn’t it? :-)

Now if you shift the focus to whether or not a particular belief is justified true belief, now not every belief is created equal.

And regarding your former profs statement: what justifies **that** statement? And what is the criteria for concluding that something is “good evidence”? These kinds of questions get you into the direction of figuring out what your assumptions and presuppositions are.


“Does rationality involve neutralizing our prior convictions and starting from scratch?”

NO, we all operate from certain presuppositions that we cannot simply eliminate at a whim in order to be “rational”. For example if we were doing scientific investigation we *assume* that the world works in an orderly manner. If the world worked willy-nilly, if the law of contradiction were constantly being broken (people could simultaneously raise their left arm and keep it down) then rational investigation would be impossible. What is important is to be self-conscious about the assumptions and beliefs that you hold and operate from. Think about your thinking!
We all also develop heuristic thinking tools/beliefs (beliefs that we assume when we evaluate or observe a situation, shortcuts that we don’t take the time to defend or justify, we just automatically use them in situations we find ourselves in). A scientist assumes the phenomena under investigation is measurable, assumes an experiment can be developed and performed pertaining to the subject of investigation, assumes the phenomena is part of nature, etc. Etc. He does not check out all of these beliefs and validate or prove them each time around, they are just assumed and operated from every time he investigates something. A good scientist has certain beliefs that he operates from, just like a good plumber has certain things he looks for, checks for when trying to determine a plumbing problem. Imagine how long it would take if we had to prove and re-prove every belief that we use or operate from every time that we use them?

“Why should we be expected to do that with respect to the question of God when we are not expected to do that with other beliefs.”

We shouldn’t. It’s a “double standard” some would wrongly have us believe. But it really amounts to a mere dogmatic denial.

“At least, when people have tried to this, not with respect to belief in God, but with beliefs generally (i.e. Descartes and classical empiricism), it has resulted in all sorts of beliefs (moral beliefs, the belief in an external world, the belief that the future will resemble the past, etc.) are unjustified, that most of us take to be justified.”

I believe in what Thomas Reid called “first principles”. I call them “inescapeables”. Things that are so inescapably true that even when you deny them you necessarily involved yourself in them. One such inescapable is the laws of logic. We assume them and involve ourselves in them whenever we argue in a rational manner. Even if someone argued against the use of laws of logic in rational discussion what would they be using when making their argument? That’s right, the laws of logic that they are arguing against! A person who argues against consciousness, when arguing will himself/herself be conscious, correct? The person who denies the existence of the external world speaks out words from their mouth that create sound waves that then travel through this nonexistent external world, correct? Flew in his essay CHOICE AND RATIONALITY makes this point about rationality that we cannot reason without making choices in the libertarian free will sense. Which is one reason that I believe LFW to be an inescapable reality for us.

When it comes to thinking and rationality “the buck stops somewhere” doesn’t it? Where the buck stops for you is where your basic beliefs are to be found. They are also your non-negotiables when it comes to rationality.

Robert

John W. Loftus said...

Concerning Elves check this out. Elf believers would take the belief in Elves as properly basic.

And as far as God goes I think a basic Anthropology of Religion course would do wonders for your understanding Vic. Have you ever had one? Or you could read Dr. David Eller's book Atheism Advanced, where it becomes obvious that there is no such thing as God, only local gods, there is no such thing as Christianity, only local Christianities, and there is no such thing as morality, only local moralities. This is because notions of God and religion and moralities have evolved. So the real debate should be set in terms of “Christianity vs. Itself,” since there are so many branches of it, or “Christianity vs. All Other Religions,” since that’s the proper way to think about religion. Eller writes: “Nothing is more destructive to religion than other religions; it is like meeting one’s own anti-matter twin.” (p. 233).

There can be no such thing as a properly basic view of God since there is no universally accepted view of God. The three-in-one God is patently mythical to the core and not much different than the belief in Elves in my mind. It's a culturally adopted set of control beliefs due to several historical factors I've laid out here.

John W. Loftus said...

Do I really argue like this site?

If you think so you are ignorant.

Victor Reppert said...

There are some similarities in the types of arguments. I went back and looked at the "why didn't God give us wings" discussion from a couple of years ago. I never said there were no differences, or any difference in sophistication.

Victor Reppert said...

So can you give this a rest?

Victor Reppert said...

Do we have to go to some kind of classical foundationalism to cure Icelandic elf-belief? Is that really what you guys are suggesting?

Eric said...

"There can be no such thing as a properly basic view of God *since* there is no universally accepted view of God."

Hi John

This doesn't follow at all. Take a possible world in which S's belief that P is properly basic, and where only S believes that P. There need not be a universally accepted view of P (which I take you to mean not just that there are no conflicting views of P -- since if only one person holds a belief it meets this criteria -- but that more than one person believes that P, and agree about its content) for the belief that P to be properly basic (though it would be nice).

Victor Reppert said...

I responded to the argument from religious anthropology in some detail here. I claim that when the obstacles facing religous anthropology are fully realized, it is going to be difficult to claim that these consideration debunk religion.

In fact I have been working on a powerpoint on Reformed Epistemology, and I brought up anthropological arguments as perhaps the strongest objection.

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/01/reply-to-parsons-in-explanation-of.html

Victor Reppert said...

Why is it absurd to say that Icelandic elf-belief can be properly basic? Why? I see no good reason.

Perezoso said...

"properly basic"

Weasel words.

This is a bit deceptive as well:
"you have the right to believe what you already believe, unless there is good evidence to support believing something different."”

People have the right to believe anything, even if wrong, stupid, superstitious, etc. If Billy Bob was raised a baptist he may believe every word of bible to be the word of God, and true. He takes the Book of Revelation literally. What could convince him differently? Not much. He's been programmed.

A somewhat Popperian approach might relate to this: there's really no way to falsify the dogma. Ergo, it's not science or logic, or reliable evidence (say, history).

Verification/evidentialism also applies: is the belief warranted or not? Does one have good reasons to believe in the truth of scripture? etc. Really, faith is easier than doubt. Have Faith, you get along with your neighbors-- most of them are churchies. Doubt, and you're a trouble maker, pagan, town Hitchens, etc.

Gordon Knight said...

I am a totally unreformed epistemologist. I think this is probably because I don't see justification as being a deontological matter. When I read Plantinga, I get the impression he is just trying defend Christians against the charge that they are irrational or somehow epistemically unvirtuous. But this seems wrongheaded to me. As philosophers our concern should be truth.

The only epistemic obligations we have are hypothetical obligations, believe this, or reason this way, if you want to believe things that are true (likely to be true perhaps)

Now the problem with proper basicality is that it attempts to move from that fact that one does take something for granted, to it being justified. If by justification, you mean you should not epistemically blame someone for it, then fine (I don't play the epistemic blame game). but if you mean. "likely to be true given my evidence" then the claim seems pulled out of the air.

Epistemology is hard. Skepticism is a real possibility. But maybe that is the way things are. It may be that what we can really rationally know is a small subset of our everyday beliefs. If that is the way it is, we should be humbled and accept it as the human condition (at least provisionally, we need to keep investigating)...

Sorry for the rant.

Perezoso said...

Epistemology?...ah let's check Wiki-land......

Perhaps start by refuting that fiendish scot, Hume:
"""no ideas without antecedent impressions""""

Which is to say, the theologians set up the issue via the a priori. No a priori knowledge (platonic or theological), and all knowledge's derived from experience--impressions: that may not end theology automatically but makes it far more difficult (including difficulty of justifying/proving the supernatural claims of scripture, a posteriori).

Gordon Knight said...

Hume was great, but wrong in so many deep ways.. We can learn from him, but to follow him blindly as a prophet is the road to positivism.

Its not the experience is not the source of knowledge, but rather that experience is so much more than Humean impressions!!! (Plato had it right, IMHO.)

Eric said...

"""no ideas without antecedent impressions""""


What antecedent impression could give rise to that idea?

exapologist said...

Do we have to go to some kind of classical foundationalism to cure Icelandic elf-belief? Is that really what you guys are suggesting?

At least I'm not suggesting this.

Interestingly, there are sophisticated defenders of elf-belief in Iceland, and the atheists debate them about it.

Perezoso said...

""""""no ideas without antecedent impressions""""


What antecedent impression could give rise to that idea?"""

Read the relevant material in Hume's Enquiry. In brief, Observation. The entire educational process. The infant brain might have some set parameters (even something like kantian categories), mistaken as some ghostly a priori. It has no information, however, and has formed no ideas.

For that matter, if you had been raised in India (and your experiences/impressions were of hinduism), instead of Indiana, you'd most likely be upholding Krishna, instead of Khrist. Khrist-na? And that's another skeptical point however nasty that many believers ignore or dismiss.

SE said...

Sorry for the rant.

Gordon, that was probably the best comment in this whole thread, so thanks for writing it and don't be sorry!

Perezoso said...

Hume was great, but wrong in so many deep ways.. We can learn from him, but to follow him blindly as a prophet is the road to positivism.


I don't worship Hume, and don't always agree to his conclusions. Arguing with Hume, however, is like playing chess with a grandmaster (or at least high expert rating). The positivists did admire Hume; so did the founding fathers. Ben Franklin and DH were friends: I believe they even partied in Paris once or twice, with the filosophes. That said, I think Hume bothers some people not only because of his skepticism, but because of his presumed character. Some consider him a Marquis-type figure--which he indeed may have been: Hume the rock n roll philosopher, historian, and economist circa 1750 (tho' he was a bit chubby, reportedly). Tant Pis. His writing itself a model of clarity.

John W. Loftus said...

With regard to the possibility that God could've created us with wings on our backs I think I defended that adequately. Reppert, you should know that an argument need not be convincing for it to be a good one.

Besides, are you saying that one suggestion of mine (i.e., wings on our backs) doesn't have any force to it until or unless I make a plethora of other suggestions? Why? How many changes must I suggest? I see no reason to think that at all. One suggestion alone can do the requisite work. And I defended that suggestion very well. But, if one suggestion won't do it for you then I can make a whole bunch of other suggestions, like creating us all as vegetarians, with gills to keep us from drowning, with one color of skin, with better immune systems, increased energy, smarter, and so on and so forth. What is there about my argument concerning one suggestion that has less force to it than the many other suggestions I could make? The arguments are the same. That you don't accept it means nothing to me.

If you think my arguments are lame ones (or ordinary ones anyway) then you need to realize I think you are ignorant despite having a degree and being a college professor. You remind me of the many recognized Zeus and Muslim scholars of the past and present. A scholar can be very ignorant. Your arguments are just as superficial to me as mine may appear to you.

Bill Craig called J.L. Mackie's argument against miracles "shockingly superficial"! Really? That is shocking to even read that. Mackie's arguments are not superfical at all. I find them persuasive.

Where does that get us?

My case rests upon the fact that we simply "see" things differently, and I argue in the first half of my book for why I see things differently. We see through a particular cultural set of controls beliefs. I have an anti-supernatural bias. Christians have a supernatural bias. The real debate is on settling that particular question. No other atheist author that I know of seems to appreciate that point but me, at least not to where s/he will spend over half of a book defending an anti-supernatual bias before looking at the Biblical evidence in the later half of it.

None!

My book has been compared to the work of Thomas Paine and David Frederick Strauss by Dr. John Beversluis. There is no other present day atheist author who has done what I have done. None. And I have probably looked (and read) at every major book written in critique of Christianity. So I bristle when someone like you who is ignorant of my book likens how I argue to how someone else argues. I think YOU argue like the Elf believers argue.

Someday you'll take a look at my book and see for yourself. Again, I understand the works of the scholars. It's just that my goal is to change the religious landscape. And I'm doing just that. My book is getting consistently higher rankings with each passing week on Amazon, first averaging around 12,000 to 18,000, now it's averaging between 2,600 to 7,000.

Someday you'll have to deal with it, maybe when someone you love is affected by it, but I do not think you can! Call me arrogant if you will. That means nothing to me coming from a brainwashed person like yourself.

----------

Now I can get beyond "that".

Perezoso said...

Bill Craig called J.L. Mackie's argument against miracles "shockingly superficial"! Really? That is shocking to even read that. Mackie's arguments are not superfical at all. I find them persuasive.

I agree with that Herr Locust, er Loftus. Mackie had read his Hume, of course. Mackie's points on the POE still relevant as well, and those believers who think Plantinga's modal hocus-pocus refutes Mackie's cool reasoning are simply confused (or in technical terms, making sh*t up.)

SE said...

Sorry Gordon, but now Loftus has made the best comment here with his most recent one.

Thanks, John, for saying what needs to be said.

Someone having a Ph.D behind their name means nothing to me by itself, never has and never will. The deluded are still the deluded.

Victor Reppert said...

For someone who claims to be the most brilliant defender of atheism on the planet, you are, over and over again, overlooking what I have said. "Like Loftus" just means that this person employs some considerations which are similar to the ones that you employ. And that's obviously true.

"Like" does not mean "no better than" or "no more sophisticated than" or anything like that.

There are certain similarities between the argument from reason that I defend and the arguments of presuppositional apologists. So you could argue that I argue somewhat like Bahnsen, even though Bahnsen and I have huge differences both in theology and apologetic methodology.

That's why I am asking you to take a deep breath and calm down. I was not intending to insult your efforts. I must say, though, that you are making it more difficult to take you work seriously when you read all sorts of stuff into my statements that isn't there. If I debated you would I have to spend the whole evening correcting your misinterpretation of everything I said?

Victor Reppert said...

I meant "no less than" or "no less sophisticated than."

John W. Loftus said...

Vic said...If I debated you would I have to spend the whole evening correcting your misinterpretation of everything I said?

Maybe. It depends on how I might be feeling. In a way I was able to use it as an excuse to say what I think.

In any case, I'll go back to being the kind polite atheist that I am. ;-)

Perezoso said...

Russell's teapot, while not the greatest analogy (a bit too Douglas Adams perhaps), still seems relevant to this discussion: which is to say, yes, the theist still has the burden to defend the authority of Scripture (not to say the reliability), and to justify his beliefs--to at least suggest the plausibility of the celestial teapot.

Biblethumpers claim the dead come back to life--a celestial teapot for all intensive purposes (or claim virgin birth, Charleton Heston-Moses miracles of OT, tales of the crypt show from Book of Rev, etc). Non believers make no such claim, and are thus not obligated to prove the negation of the extraordinary claim (a nearly impossible task).

The biblethumpers make the anomalous, miraculous claim, regardless of the seminararian's latest exercise in jargon via the "properly basic" jive (what does "properly" mean here? something like, everyone on the street goes to church; therefore it's "properly basic to do so", or at least a wise decision...)

Of course, Hume, Founding Fathers, Darwin, Popper, SJ Gould, and many others have already called into question scriptural authority and miracles, yet fundamentalists generally refuse to acknowledge the force of the arguments.

exapologist said...

Why is it absurd to say that Icelandic elf-belief can be properly basic? Why? I see no good reason.

Why can't someone be, say, a Chisholmian particularist -- like, say, Geivett, DeWeese, and Moreland at Talbot? They count perception, memory, introspection, rational insight, memory, and testimony to count as properly basic/foundational -- not so for other things. Do they thereby lack a good reason for denying proper basicality to elf-belief?

exapologist said...

...Of course, on that sort of Chisholmian account, belief in God won't count as properly basic, either, but it doesn't strike me as an implausible way to avoid properly basic elf belief.