Saturday, July 17, 2010

Faith, Evidence, and Intellectual Honesty: A Reply to Loftus

This concerns the famous, or infamous Bill Craig claim that the witness of the Holy Spirit provides such a powerful warrant for his belief in Christianity that he would keep believing even if his assessment of all the objective arguments were to turn negatve. I wrote on a thread on debunking Christianity:

VR: OK, here's one from me. Bill has done a lot of good work, but he's shooting himself in the foot with this response.

John W. Loftus said...

Agreed Vic, but what do you make of an earlier question of mine that Bill answered right here with regard to Lessing's Ugly Broad Ditch that historical proofs cannot lead the believer to faith?

Am I wrong to think that Bill is impaled on the horns of a huge dilemma? On the one hand historical evidence cannot lead him to faith, yet on the other hand the inner witness of the Spirit leads him to say what he did here?

VR: Well, I think you are setting up a false dilemma here. I would personally have a lot of trouble continuing to believe based on some inner voice if I really thought the objective evidence for theism or Christianity were bad. But, I believe that part of what the Holy Spirit does in my life is acquaint me with objective reasons as well as subjective feelings. We come to intellectual discussion of the reasons to believe with a set of intellectual predispositions, or what Bayesians call "priors." I don't think you can legislate priors, or require that we retreat from our existing belief system to some neutral position and go from there. It didn't really work for Descartes, so why should it work for me? And none of us is intellectually pure, in that, emotional reasons are always going to be present no matter what we believe, so long as we care about what we believe. What we have to do is our due diligence with respect to the reasons on both sides of the question, and combine that with a trust that God will give us our "daily bread," the means by which to remain faithful to Christ and intellectually honest at the same time. (The intellectual self-canonization of at least some unbelievers, but also of some Christians as well, is an annoying characteristic). For nearly 38 years, God has not disappointed me.


Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Since the objective evidence for theism and Christianity is not "bad", what is the purpose of this rhetorical question?

Isn't it a bit like saying, "Well, if the objective evidence for the Earth going around the Sun was bad, I'd still go with Copernicus?"

unkleE said...

I suppose it's a gnat taking on an elephant, but I disagree with Craig. My response to the situation of those who don't/didn't have opportunity or ability to do historical research is to say we all have the gospel stories. Those stories were told by people whose credibility has been continuously endorsed by christians from the first until now. Any believer can reasonably trust that endorsement and hence trust the gospel writers, just as I trust my doctor or my plumber.

Christianity does indeed depend on historical validity. And those of us with the time and ability to assess historical matters carry a responsibility to do it honestly on behalf of those who don't, and to communicate it to them.

Anonymous said...

Vic, here are your Bayesian priors.

Gregory said...

I'm not sure what the fuss is concerning Dr. Craig's analysis. The common complaint over Dr. Craig's "experiential" doctrine seems to be that it lacks/or undermines "objectivity", "rationality" and "evidence". I won't go into the vagueness and ambiguity of these terms. But I am curious about what the relative justifications are for things like "objectivity", "rationality", etc.,. How do we give an accounting for them? I mean...does there not come a point where the epistemic trail leads back to a "foundation" which, itself, cannot avail itself of "evidence" or "proof"? Is there not a point at which something must be taken for granted in the process of reasoning? Indeed, there is!!!

So, this criticism of Dr. Craig either fails to appreciate the limitations of "reason", or it is naively painting a false dilemma. It is not the case that "reason" can offer a sufficient "reason" for preferring the primacy of "reason" over that of "experience". A person would have to either beg many questions, trivialize "evidence" or subjectively tautologize and elucidate one's "first principles" before the first act of criticism could begin.

It's not there are these two fundamentally different roads to walk, one being "objectivity" and the other being "subjectivity". Instead, there are two "subjective" paths to follow; that of "reason" and that of "experience". And it is a truth of human experience that we all walk along both roads. It has also been said---from many of our greatest thinkers---that either road can lead to God....or away from Him.

"Experience" has been a staple of religious belief and practice since the dawn of mankind. It was "experience" which, ultimately, led C.S. Lewis to return to Christianity. One cannot read "Surprised by Joy" and not be struck by the many "non-rational" factors that had played into his conversion.

On the other hand, I wonder how many atheists rejected "religion" because of some guttural response that's identified and connected, ostensively, with some materialistic--or brute--"fact". Or that a petty jealousy with some religious person/s had stoked the fires for their "secular" crusading?

Why is it that "religious" folk are always assessed as being captives of irrational "subjectivity" when it comes to religious belief, but that atheists are immune to such vice when it comes to "skepticism" and "unbelief"? "Prejudice" is human, not religious.

For instance, many atheists can't even agree upon what, exactly, is meant by "atheism" (i.e. whether "atheism" is the denial that God exists or whether it simply means "lack of belief"). Nor can they decide whether Christians have enough "core" beliefs to begin criticizing Christianity, since the Bible thoroughly abounds with irreconcilable contradictions (i.e. the "incoherence of theism" approach); or whether the "core" beliefs of Christians are consistent enough so that the atheist can give a "one-size-fits-all" refutation of the Faith (i.e. the "problem of evil"). And, of course, you have atheists who are "moral objectivists" and atheists who are "moral relativists" and "moral nihilists". You have atheists that are far left-wing (i.e. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladmir Lenin) and atheists that are far right-wing (i.e. Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff and Alan Greenspan).

What sort of "objectivity" led these atheists into such radical disagreements with one another.

That's really my point.

Gregory said...

I fear that many theists have become too strongly "neo-Platonic" in their understanding of the mind/body relationship. And I think this is well illustrated by the background beliefs that, to a large extent, have informed these debates over "religious experience". But when the presuppositions guiding a particular view of "religious experience" are taken and applied to Christology, tragic consequences to Orthodox doctrine follow....namely, an "Apollonarist" Christology.

Our body is the primary instrument by which we, as incarnated souls, "experience" God. The practices that involved worship, in both Old and New Testaments, also happened to involve the body (soma), also. What was then practiced as ritual and worship in the community of Israel, is mostly preserved, but transfigured, in the Church's Liturgy; especially the Sacraments. Jews fasted. Christians fasted. Jews circumsized their babies and new converts, but Christians baptized their babies and new converts. Jews remember and celebrate the "Passover" in the Temple. Christians celebrate "Pascha" in Church. Israelite priests practiced "offerings and whole burnt offerings" as a symbol of the grace and forgiveness of God. Christians partake of the "Body of Christ", being that the "Lamb of God" has already been offered up, once for all, as the true offering for, and as forgiver of, sin.

Each practice of worship, whether Old or New Testament, involved the body (soma). So, it is by such practices that a person of worship had prepared themselves to meet the living God....whether it happens on Sunday or not.

Some practices, such as "fasting", have many purposes. For instance, "fasting" helps us remember our finitude....that we are "like the grass of the field". It humbles us. And it helps us to pray and trust God more attentively than we would under our normal dietary "comforts". What's more, the money saved by "fasting" can be then freed up to help the poor, the widow and the orphan (i.e. "alms-giving" qua the inter-related and complementary act).

But when our philosophy begins to trivialize the body, as though it could offer nothing in the way of "religious" experience, then it is easy to see why many people might strongly object to such an "experience". And if our "religious" practices do not include some these New Testament modes of worship and praxis, then the absence of these "religious" experiences shouldn't come as a big surprise.

As for Christology:

"Apollonarism" is "Neo-Platonism" wrapped in Christian veneer.

Ken said...

Victor wrote: "And none of us is intellectually pure, in that, emotional reasons are always going to be present no matter what we believe, so long as we care about what we believe."

Ken: I'm a sinner. I don't ever think that any other atheists have any huge advantage in the objectivity department. One can always cite some sources of bias for the opposition. This doesn't mean atheists can't have an edge in objectivity.

A case can be made that the emotional motivations of Christians are stronger than that of atheists and agnostics, so while there is no question about the lack of objectivity of both sides, there remains the question of the degree of which our respective beliefs are determined by our emotions.

On the non-theist side we have elitism, desire for a carefree, sinful lifestyle, and sometimes peer pressure, other times the desire to be different, with the latter conflicting influences depending on the circumstances (such as conforming to a nonconformist ingroup).

On the Christian side, the most obvious are the self-preservation imperative (cultural or personal), widespread indoctrination, desire for good fortune, moral security, moral certainty and conformity.

Of course the more particular motivations of non-theists may also account for their relative scarcity, assuming all other things being equal such as reasoning ability. But if we could distill the objective out of the subjective, we may find that atheism is the modestly more pure position as an initial, very simple assumption.

Dustin Crummett said...


My atheist friend told me one time that I believed in God because I was too optimistic. I asked him, if he found out God existed, would *he* be happy? He said, no, if God exists, he's a sociopath. And people like Christopher Hitchens all the time say that the existence of God would make the universe a celestial North Korea, etc.

Surely not wanting the universe to be a celestial North Korea is, potentially, a pretty strong motivating factor?

Ken said...


If they sincerely think that, it may just be a strong motivating factor. Perhaps part of the emotional chasm between atheists and theists is that atheists tend to be much more deeply dissatisfied and frustrated with the state of the world, supposedly a product of God. That would certainly make the argument from evil more attractive.

normajean said...

Gregory, I like what you've said here.