Archive for the ‘Epistemology’ Category

Does the Argument From Divine Hiddenness Count Against Theistic Arguments?

September 23, 2010

The argument from divine hiddenness (ADH) is an intuitive problem for theism that some philosophers consider to be a sub-species of the problem of evil.  The problem arises when we consider the fact that there are some people who seem to non-culpably lack belief in God.  If God exists, the argument goes, then He would ensure that no one non-culpably lacks belief in Him.  The empirical data runs strongly against this intuition (the argument goes).  Quite the contrary: in the world we see that there are many people who lack belief in God.  And a significant portion of them do so for what seems to be no morally-culpable reason.

Now, is ADH a good argument against theism for some subjects?  Perhaps in some epistemic contexts.  But I don’t think its a good argument against theism for a subject if (1) that subject considers there to be any “live” theistic arguments and (2) that subject is appealing to himself or herself as the exclusive evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief.  By a “live” argument for a subject, I mean an argument that the subject either considers to be sound, likely to be sound, or equiprobable with respect to soundness or lack of soundness.  By saying that a person appeals to himself or herself as the exclusive evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief, I mean that the only example that this person cites in support of the premise of the ADH which states “inculpable nonbelief exists” is himself or herself.

Consider a person who believes that there is at least one sound argument for theism, or believes that it is 50/50 that there is a sound argument for theism.  This person may go on to reason that despite this “live” argument, his or her inculpable nonbelief with respect to theism is evidence that God does not exist, and hence that the conclusion of the “live” theistic argument is outweighed by the ADH argument against theism.  But if there is a “live” theistic argument for this person, then for this person to accept the premise that he or she inculpably lacks belief that theism is true is premature; it assumes that he or she has decided already that there are no good arguments for theism.  So we shouldn’t look at ADH as an undercutting or a rebutting defeater for theistic arguments (at least for subjects in the situation we’re considering).  In the absence of “live” theistic arguments, an agent can view ADH as a rebutting defeater for theism.  But in their presence, an agent who is appealing to himself or herself as the example that provides evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief is making a decision that falsely presupposes lack of evidence.

I suspect that a similar point can be made not just about particular people, but about intellectual cultures.  If the climate of academia (American? Western? it doesn’t matter) regards at least one theistic argument as a “live” argument, then this means that said intellectual culture should not regard the argument from divine hiddenness as successful.  How we would identify an intellectual culture as considering a theistic argument to be “live” is another question.

Finally, some notes on the intuitive problem raised by ADH.  Yes, it does seem that there is inculpable nonbelief.  It doesn’t seem like all people that reject the existence of God or the truth of Christianity do so out of culpable ignorance.  Yes, Christianity would be counterintuitive if it were commited to denying the existence of inculpable nonbelief.  But I think that Christians can embrace the existence of inculpable nonbelief in at least two ways.  First, some cases of nonbelief may actually be cases of masked belief.  As C. Stephen Evans suggested in an article once, it is possible that some who do not explicitly affirm the reality of God can at the same time love, trust, or be otherwise committed to God in some way.  The fact that God Himself is the Goodness by which all things are Good makes it easy to see how this might be so: a person who has been tricked by uncontrollable circumstances into disbelieving in the existence of God may still love the Good and seek it.  And in doing so, that person believes in God but does not call him by all his names.

Second, some cases of inculpable nonbelief may not be permanent.  God could give a person who presently lacks sufficient evidence all of the evidence that they need at sometime in the future.  This may even include postmortem revelation.  If a person dies in a state of inculpable nonbelief, God may reveal Himself to him or her.  Many early fathers believed in a view of the intermediate state between a person’s death and the universal resurrection that included the possibility of deliberation and habituation (at least for persons of unsettled character).  Some even thought that the ignorance of some was compensated for in Christ’s harrowing of hell, and the subsequent preaching that those in Sheol who had seen Christ’s harrowing could give to those who died after Christ came.

Intuitions, Knowledge, and Possible Mechanisms

December 20, 2008

For the particularist, the process of classifying which of one’s beliefs are items of knowledge starts with picking out specific cases.  Instead of starting with a method that will help us look at all beliefs and decide which are cases of knowledge and which are not, we begin by identifying what seem to be obvious instances of knowledge, and then (when it is possible) construct a method based on what these cases hold in common.

But things are not this simple, even for particularists (who consider themselves to be champions of common sense, mundane simplicity, and the Average Joe).  For even if we can identify various cases of knowledge without presupposing a defined method, there still may be general kinds of intellectual demands that are placed on us by what particular items of knowledge we claim to have.  For instance, if I conclude “I know that there is a brown carpet that I am standing on”, I should not hold beliefs that are inconsistent with this item of knowledge.  An example of such an inconsistent belief would probably be “no sensory perception accurately communicates information to the mind”.  It is probably inconsistent to hold both of these beliefs because, presumably, the way that I would come to know “I know that there is a brown carpet that I am standing on” would depend on the reliability of my sensory perception.  To hold there is a brown carpet that I am on and then deny “sensory perception communicates information to the mind” seems like a kind of epistemological suicide.

What this example shows us, I think, is this.  If we claim to have an item of knowledge, and this item of knowledge comes through some kind of process, then we must also claim that we know this process works.  Even if we cannot independently prove (apart from its connection to this specific instance of knowledge) that this mechanism works (ie. it grants knowledge), we must commit to the fact that it works if we claim to know things by means of it.  To intuit that I have as a particular case of knowledge some proposition p that is inferred from sensory data, and then go on to claim that my senses do not work as mechanisms for attaining knowledge, seems to be a mistake.  If I cannot point to even a possible knowledge-producing process by means of which I know that p, then it is invalid to claim that I know that p.  Thus, if I intuit a particular item of knowledge, I must be able to suggest a possible working mechanism by means of which I got the knowledge.

The above suggestion is not a kind of methodism about knowledge.  After all, the proposed demand on a knower that I have just made is not that he or she articulate a method for differentiating cases of knowledge from cases of non-knowledge.  Nor is the requirement that the knower give an explanation of exactly how the bit of knowledge is attained.  But what is needed, it seems, is for us to believe in the existence of some possible way we could have got an item of knowledge.  Perhaps a weaker requirement is all that is actually needed: given that we claim to know that p, our wider belief-system must not include beliefs which would entail we could not know that p.  So even if we don’t articulate a mechanism for how knowledge that p is possible, we must not have ruled all such mechanisms out.  It is this weaker thesis that I will take as a requirement for claiming that I have a particular item of knowledge.  I will call this requirement for claiming I have an item of knowledge the requirement of not having ruled out that I have an intuitive knowledge mechanism (hereafter IKM).

I have already applied the need for an IKM to the case of perception by pointing out that if I claim to know that p, where p is some fact about my relation to the external world, I cannot also deny that I have an IKM that could grant me knowledge of the external world.  In subsequent posts, I hope to apply this idea to other issues.  These include the direct/indirect realism debate about perception; the need for an IKM by which we gain moral knowledge; and the process of trying to adjudicate between conflicting intuitions.  Stay tuned.

Church Authority: Argument 1

August 8, 2008

From Reliability to Infallibility

Most Protestants don’t want to say awful things about the Church.  They don’t want to say that the Church became apostate for over a thousand years.  They don’t want to say that the Church is just a mere human institution.  There is something special about it.  The beliefs of its members aren’t just normally-arrived-at human beliefs.  There is divine guidance of some kind.

But in order to not cross the line over to a Catholic ecclesiology, [1] a Protestant must deny the infallibility of the Church.  An essential doctrine of Protestantism is Sola Scriptura.  This view can be defined as the position about authority and Christian teaching that holds that there are no divine authorities about Christian teaching distinct from the content of the Old and New Testaments.  This rules out (a) oral or written tradition distinct from the Scriptures as a source of infallible divine authority and (b) decisions by the Church as a source of infallible divine authority.

How does a Protestant deny the infallibility of the Church but still hold onto the idea that being in the Church tends to make you have the correct beliefs about the content of Christian teaching? (more…)

Should We Change Belief-Systems? Part 2

August 8, 2008

Assumptions and the Search for Truth

The X-Files was right: “The Truth is out there”.  But does that mean we can ever get it?  When people are seeking for the most accurate view of reality, a lot of the time they assume certain things as they search.  They adopt a method, but don’t realize that there are other ways to look for the truth.  In this post, I will argue that the method most people adopt for finding the truest worldview might presuppose that naturalism is false and that some kind of theism is true. I apologize in advance to readers who don’t like philosophical writing; I hope to do the rest of this series of posts in the more casual style that I did my first post in.  But the complexity of the subject matter required a more technical style.

A worldview is a system of related beliefs.  The content of these beliefs answers questions like “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “What can we know?” “What is good?” “What kinds of things exist?”.  I take naturalism to be the belief that nature is all that exists; it is a denial of the existence of a God or gods.  Theism on the other hand is the view that there is an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God who made the world.  I will examine how theism and naturalism fit with several assumptions that some of us make when we seek the truth: that we should be motivated to seek it; that virtue helps us seek truth; and that the truth we will find is good and likable. (more…)

Should We Change Belief-Systems? Part 1

July 25, 2008

When is it correct to change one’s religious, philosophical, or political affiliations?  Is it always wrong to do so?  Should we alter our belief-system often so that we get a chance to try out everything?  Or should we take up a different worldview to rationalize a lifestyle that we find appealing?

This question can only be answered with a goal in mind.  Do we want safe lives that don’t require us to think hard?  Do we want to stay where we are at for comfort?  Or perhaps do we want to just feel like what we are doing is right–even if it isn’t? (more…)

Pick Your Poison–Reason or Desire?

June 17, 2008

“Just because you want something to be a certain way doesn’t make it so”. Frequently naturalists accuse theists of “wishful thinking”, or even delusion, because they believe that there is a God, want for God to exist, and want to have union with God. It is true that there is no necessary causal connection between our desires for objects and the actual existence of those objects; the existence, strength, or frequency of the desire does not cause the object of that desire to exist. But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any connection at all. Below I will argue that a dilemma emerges for naturalists who believe in darwinian evolution: either one should admit that the desire for God and immortality corresponds to something real, or one should relinquish the claim to believe in naturalistic evolution rationally. (more…)

On Particularism

April 29, 2008

One of the most basic problems of epistemology is called “the problem of the criterion.” The problem reveals itself when one tries to figure out how to separate their beliefs into the categories of knowledge and of mere belief. How does one begin? There are two options: one could proceed by formulating a criteria for what qualifies as knowledge and seeing which beliefs meet the criteria; or one could start with instances of knowledge and try to come up with a criteria for knowledge based on features of these instances. If one picks the first option, then one is a “methodist” (obviously not of the religious variety), and if one picks the second option, one is a particularist.

Why are people often skeptical of particularism? Well, it seems to some people to be “cheating” to simply assert that we do know things and to work from there. This move is especially aggravating to the skeptic who demands proof that we know anything at all. However, it is important to recognize the importance that phenomenology and intuitions play in epistemology. Many arguments are nothing more than appeals to intuition about whether people would consider person X justified in situation Y. Although it might seem illegitimate, it really does seem to be the case that we do indeed know certain things, and it is unclear how the skeptic can simply dismiss this appeal to intuition. Much of what goes on in epistemology consists of philosophers attempting to figure out what we mean when we use the words “knowledge” and “justification.” It seems that there is a real phenomenon that people are referencing when they use the word knowledge, namely, the experience they have of knowing. In fact, if it is the case that one does not have an experience of being a knower, then they must mean absolutely nothing by the term knowledge when they use it. In order for discourse in epistemology to be meaningful, there ultimately needs to be some pre-theoretic grasp of what it means to know something, and I would argue that this can only come from experience. Thus, it seems to fairly clear that methodism is the wrong way to proceed out of the problem of the criterion.

Furthermore, I would argue that historically, methodism has led to skepticism. The methodology of Descartes and Locke ultimately led to the skepticism of Hume and others. It seems unclear how one could come up with criteria for what would qualify as knowledge if one had no instances of knowledge from which to base the criteria off of. A person might wonder how anyone could be justified in using a method for discerning knowledge, if that method itself was not rooted in any sort of knowledge. The method would seem to always be arbitrary. This seems to be a valid concern.

Libertarianism, Introspection, Skepticism, and Freud

April 12, 2008

Over at the Secular Web, the Great Debate about theism and naturalism has been updated recently. Instead of posting something about the exchange between Collins and Smith on science and the cosmos, or between Schellenberg and Jordan on faith and doubt, I want to reflect on the discussion about consciousness and free will that was between Melnyk and Goetz and Taliaffero. I will do this with the intent of answering a Freudian objection to their argument for libertarian freewill. (more…)

Narrative and Normativity (1): Outlining a Particularist Approach

April 11, 2008

Much of Scripture is narrative. It is an account of events that happened in history to real people. But it is not just an historical report. It is supposed to carry meaning. In fact, some of it is meant to produce a kind of normativeness. There are some things we ought to do because stories tell us to. Some stories of the New Testament, for instance, are meant to tell us “do this” or “live this way” by providing an example that we should follow. So, for instance, when Jesus forgives and fellowships with sinners, this has a meaning behind it: “Do this. Fellowship with sinners and those that society considers unclean, because God accepts and loves all”.

But how are we to decide when something is supposed to be normative in a narrative, and when it is just any ole’ event? Admittedly, this isn’t going to be immediately obvious. But perhaps we can start with some *PARTICULAR* examples of places in a story where an event generates some kind of “oughtness”. In this post I will begin to outline a particularist approach to narrative and normativity. (more…)

An Argument Against Intellectual Cynicism

March 30, 2008

Recently I have met various people and read about various characters (particularly villains in The Brothers Karamazov) who are cynics. I think most people are cynics to some degree and in some way, and some kinds of cynicism in small doses can be alright. Its radical, widespread, or categorical cynicism that I think is damaging to human well-being. Consequently, I am inclined to wonder if there are any good arguments against certain of the more damaging kinds of cynicism. Below, I will give an argument against what I call “mild intellectual cynicism” and “extreme intellectual cynicism”. If successful these arguments will show that mild and extreme intellectual cynics should probably give up their brand of cynicism. (more…)