Monday, April 02, 2012

The point I've been trying to make

I put this discussion on the DC boards. 

Semantics, not apologetics.

I'm going try one more time to explain my beef. There is a difference between describing something and defining it. Let's go back to when all swans we had ever seen were white. Whiteness was a property that every swan that we had ever seen had, nevertheless, it was not a defining property of swans. At least, when we found black birds that were structurally similar to swans, we called them black swans, as opposed to inventing a new word for swans.
If, on the other hand, whiteness had been part of the definition of swans, then being white would be one of things that would have to be there if we were going to call something a swan. We would have said "yep, that bird looks like a swan, but it's not white, so it's not as swan. Before we found black ones, we thought of whiteness as a universal but not a DEFINING property of swans, and that is why we were able to accept the idea that those silly black birds were swans, as opposed to something else.
Further,  a definition has the job of allowing everyone in the linguistic community to determine whether someone the thing defined is present or not. So, for example, if you define atheism as the belief that the proposition "God does not exist" is true, then we know who is an atheist based on whether or not someone holds that belief.
Now it seems to me a requirement to take the OTF that the person has faith. That means we need some way of deciding who has faith and who does not have faith, and this way has to be available to people of all persuasions. That is what a definition does.
For example, you believe that God does not exist. However, you can't make nonexistence part of the definition of God, and this would be so even if the case for atheism were overwhelming.  Similarly, if you define faith as an irrational leap over the probabilities, then you are going to get people like me saying "By that definition , I have no faith." This is not a result that the OTF advocate wants. Even if you think faith is always irrational, and that the OTF shows this, defining faith as irrational is a bad idea which undermines the OTF.
This has very limited apologetic significance, since you can still maintain that all faith is irrational while at the same time absorbing my point.

10 comments:

Cole said...

Hey Dr. Reppert,

I know John would disagree, but I don't take the OTF until after I see the weaknesses in the arguments for God. To me, all that means is to look at your religious beliefs the way you would look at other religious beliefs. Beliefs such as talking animals, walking on water, mind controling forces, demons, resurrection from the dead, ascentions into heaven.

Again, I don't think the probabilities are what you say they are. I go along with Kelly James Clark when he says:

The probabilities involved are either inscrutable (we simply cannot tell what they are) or non-existent (there just aren't any relevant probabilities).

But let's suppose you are right and the case is more likely than not. That's not sufficient for me to rationally believe in Christianity as Alvin Plantinga has stated:


In his book The Existence of God, Swinburne considers this probability and concludes on the last page of the book, “On our total evidence theism is more probable than not.” The argument is complex and at many points controversial. From the present perspective, however, an even more vexing problem is that its conclusion is only that theism is more probable than not on the relevant body of knowledge or information K: it lies somewhere in the (half open) interval .5 to 1. Even if all the other probabilities involved in our historical case were as high as 1, we could conclude no more than that the probability of the truth of Christian teaching lies somewhere in that same interval.

But if my only ground for Christian teaching is its probability with respect to K, and all I know about that probability is that it is greater than .5, then I can’t rationally believe that teaching. Suppose I know that the coin you are about to toss is loaded. I don’t know just how heavily it is loaded, so I don’t know what the probability is that it will come up heads, but I do know that this probability is greater than .5. Under those conditions I do not believe that the next toss of this coin will come up heads. (Of course I also don’t believe that it will come up tails; and I suspect that it will come up heads.) All I know is that it is more likely than not to come up heads; and that’s not sufficient for my sensibly believing that it will. The same goes in this case: if what I know is only that the probability of Christian belief (with respect to K) is greater than .5, I can’t sensibly believe it.

Victor Reppert said...

Probabilities are relative to pre-existing belief-systems, on my view. So, I consider the probability of theism and Christianity pretty good, but rational person can differ, if they bring a different belief system to the evidence. At least it's beyond my powers to prove otherwise.

unkleE said...

Cole, do you only believe things and make choices when they are certain? Do you not form relationships, choose jobs, vote and make ethical decisions when you think the probability is greater than 0.5, even though not certain? If so, then why make christianity the odd belief out in your thinking?

BenYachov said...

It bears repeating.

The OTF is not workable.

Just ask this Atheist.

http://commonplacesandcomments.blogspot.com/2011/07/outsider-test-for-faith.html

http://commonplacesandcomments.blogspot.com/2011/07/christianity-as-religion-and-otf.html

If one is foolish enough to tie their faith in godlessness to the OTF then it will be fragile faith indeed.

Papalinton said...

The significant aspect of the OP that I take away is not a clearer picture of the distinction between describing something and defining something, but rather the broader issue that perpetually bedevils theology generally and Apologetics particularly. It is the question of specificity. It is the nature of specific traits or particular and discrete conditions that makes a 'definition'. And while certain words may have a range of discrete meanings, each, in themselves, are usually constrained to one specific trait or condition. For example, 'faith' can be defined as, 'belief is something without evidence', and as 'strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion', and as 'complete trust or confidence in someone or something'. Simply using the word 'faith', because of its range of disparate meanings, can be a semantic nightmare.
Be that as it may, anything less rigorous than a definition simply becomes a descriptor.

Victor, your example, "Similarly, if you define faith as an irrational leap over the probabilities, then you are going to get people like me saying "By that definition, I have no faith", is to misconstrue the definition, a somewhat sardonic semantical play on the words. Nowhere does the definition claim you to have no faith. Not at all. What it does claim, however, given the nature of religious faith, your faith could only derive from an irrational leap over the probabilities. The issue here, is that only you are defining yourself out of irrational beliefs. And you have given no good evidence to consider otherwise. Solid and sufficient evidence for christian theism has yet to be produced that counters the indictment of an irrational leap over the probabilities. What constitutes the theological and apologetical definition of 'evidence' does not meet the conventional understanding and definition that makes for evidence. Indeed biblical evidence is several orders of magnitude less substantive than that which is generally understood by the ordinary meaning of the word.

And when applied to each of the varying definitions for 'faith' outlined above, christian faith, your faith, meets the definitional criteria of an irrational leap over the probabilities on all three counts.

Cole said...

Uncle E,

My belief that other people exist isn't arrived at by multiplying probabilities. Moreover, you are talking of beliefs such as talking animals, visions of dragons, invisible mind controlling forces, demons. There's a huge difference here.

unkleE said...

Cole said: "My belief that other people exist isn't arrived at by multiplying probabilities. Moreover, you are talking of beliefs such as talking animals, visions of dragons, invisible mind controlling forces, demons. There's a huge difference here."

I didn't talk about your belief that people exist, but your beliefs about ethics, about whether people are trustworthy, etc. And I certainly didn't refer to "talking animals, visions of dragons, invisible mind controlling forces, demons", and neither did the post - it was just talking about the God of Jesus, and so was I. Those are things are not essential to that belief.

So the question remains: why use different criteria for belief in God than for so many other things?

Cole said...

Unkle E,

If the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt then I would believe in Christianity. But it's not. According to Reppert it's only more likely than not. And as I already stated, I go along with the Christian philospher Kelly James Clark. The probabilities involved are either inscrutable (we simply cannot tell what they are) or non-existent (there just aren't any relevant probabilities).

Cole said...

To put it another way, what we would need is evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt. Instead what we have is probable evidence for a probable conclusion for someone rising from the dead. This is of course assuming Dr. Reppert is correct. This is weak evidence. It's nowhere near sufficient for warrant. Moreover, when multiplying probabilities, different people will come to different conclusions when multiplying the probabilities because of the biases and other psychological issues. This is why I say the probabilities involved are either inscrutable (we simply cannot tell what they are) or non-existent (there just aren't any relevant probabilities).

unkleE said...

Cole, fair enough. But you still haven't explained why you require more certain evidence for christianity than for almost anything else in life. It is just a little surprising to me. Or do you require that evidence for everything you believe?