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It's the Great Pumpkin, Dr. Plantinga

This coming Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, and if I were a really creative Christian blogger, I would think of something to blog about that.

But as it is, the Great Idea that has occurred to me for a short post (inspired by the fact that Sunday is also All Hallows' Eve) is simply to link to this old article of mine on Reformed epistemology. It's nearly eight years old now (originally presented at a conference in 2003) and has never been published nor submitted for publication, but that just means that it's easy to link without having to worry about copyright and journals. (Insert grumps here about how paper publishing buries philosophical ideas.)

I discuss inter alia the "Great Pumpkin" objection to Reformed epistemology--the objection that there is no principled way for the Reformed epistemologist to tell Linus that he is irrational to believe in the Great Pumpkin. That discussion begins on p. 9.

Comments (56)

This coming Sunday? The feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which this year is Nov. 21.

In the Traditional Catholic calendar, it's the last Sunday of October, so this year it's this Sunday (10/31).

In the continuing Anglican liturgy (used by the church I'm a member of), it's always the last Sunday of October.

[W]hy do we call UFO worship or Great Pumpkin worship or crystal ball reading "disreputable"
or "crazy"? Clearly, it is because we are convinced that the people who engage in such practices
are not in fact meeting, nor even coming close to meeting, standards of traditional rationality.

It seems to me that we think that people who believe in the Great Pumpkin are irrational, not because we are aware of some standard of rational belief that it fails to meet, but because it seems like a paradigm case of irrationality. In fact, it's these paradigm cases of irrationality that we use to justify (or support, or tweak) whatever standards of rationality we think there are. Analogy: Why think Kant's Categorical Imperative is true (supposing for the sake of argument that it is)? Because it works for murder, lying, etc. The particular instances support or conflict with the standard, and we reject standards because they don't cohere with particular instances we're more confident in; and we accept the standards insofar as we see coherence between the standards and particular cases.

Or so it seems to me.

Nice work there, Lydia; I wonder if you take attempts to establish the coherence and consistency of religious belief to be devoid of philosophical interest, or if you insist on ‘incorrigible’ beliefs or on synthetic a priori knowledge or what. I just can’t figure out precisely where we part company since your exposition seems lucid and fair to me.

It seems to me that we have a problem if we have no clue as to why Great Pumpkin worship is irrational. At a minimum we ought to be able to say something about why people should believe in the existence of Barack Obama but not in the existence of the Great Pumpkin.

"It is irrational to believe in the existence of X" can only be determined to be true or false depending on what reason we have to believe in X. A child who has never heard of quarks or mitochondria will have no more reason to accept the bare statement, written on a piece of paper, "Mitochondria exist" than he has to accept the statement, "The Great Pumpkin exists." The words don't carry with them in their meaning the justification for believing or disbelieving in the existence of the things they name.

After all, we can imagine circumstances in which we _would_ be rational to believe in, say, unicorns. We can write science fiction stories about worlds in which people find that the pronouncements and predictions of crystal balls are in fact borne out, and therefore come to rely on them inductively just as we rely on weather spottings of tornadoes.

So these are "paradigm cases" of irrationality only because we at least tacitly have some idea of the evidence, or lack thereof, that people in general actually have about these things. They can't be "paradigm cases" taken "bare," as it were.

A more general point about externalism and apologetics. I don't see why one can't do apologetics in the following fashion, without awareness of or appeal to an overarching principle which gives the necessary and sufficient conditions for rational belief: (a) find some commonly held beliefs that the unbeliever takes to be rational and generate an argument to some theistic conclusion and/or (b) find an inconsistency in the unbelievers belief and/or similar things along these lines.

I myself am inclined towards externalism and have found such approaches to be helpful. I think there's value in theistic arguments and think that in the right circumstances it's appropriate/natural to form beliefs by means of argument. I just have no useful principle which gives the necessary and sufficient conditions for those conditions (but I don't know anyone who does...except God).

Overseas, I'm a classical foundationalist, so I want everything ultimately to be based on incorrigible beliefs. But I can imagine that someone who was, say, a moderate foundationalist might still agree with my article and general approach in that article. Consistency and coherence are good as far as they go, but unless one means something "bigger" by those terms than their bare meaning appears to indicate, they don't seem to me to go very far.

The jury is still out for me on how far we can get with metaphysical arguments for the existence of God such as the cosmological argument, for example. My inclination right now is to think that we can get to a personal First Cause but have some trouble determining his character from philosophy alone.

What's the difference between faith and rational inferences drawn from the evidence, in your opinion?

I take faith to be a commitment of the person, George, not to be a degree of credence. So, for example, the devils presumably have even _more_ evidence than I do for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, but they do not have faith--meaning, not that they do not believe, nor that they believe less strongly than I do, but that they are rebels against God rather than followers of God.

In far more general terms, we can speak of faith as a continuation of belief in something we cannot see when our instincts or inclinations urge against that belief, even if the belief is fully supported by reason. Here I think C. S. Lewis's example was good: He felt a fear of a mask used for administering inhaled anesthetic even though he knew by reason that he would not be smothered. Faith in that secular context consisted in going with his reason against his irrational instinct. You can multiply other examples where we _know_ that we can rely on someone or something but for some reason do not _feel_ that we can. Faith consists in going against that feeling.

I am not a professional philosopher type, so I get lost in some of the terminology, especially "externalist" and "internalist", for starters. But I do have a question:

When I stub my toe, and it hurts, am I confident that I hurt? Yes, of course, I am 100 % confident: I am warranted in saying that I hurt. But on what grounds? There is no evidence of it but the evidence of my senses and experience. Isn't it the case that for a philosopher to ask "on what grounds are you warranted in insisting that you hurt", (thinking that perhaps there is no warrant) such a philosopher has missed his calling, and is deeply off track already, just in pursuing the question?

Human beings are created bodily intelligences. If the kinds of warrant that the philosopher is asking for is, inherently, the kind of warrant that only God could adequately identify, then hasn't the philosopher gone off the rails somewhere? Since man can only know man from his own level of thought, not from a bird's eye view seeing man as a lesser being, man is by that very fact limited in how deeply he can attack the underpinnings of what it means to be intelligent/rational. If God created man as as a bodily intelligence whose intelligence relies on certain created orders, then there is no way man can get behind those orders in order to prove that he is rational from a still higher level. Expecting so is asking to be superhuman.

We do in fact know things, (and we do in fact believe appropriately, sometimes). The investigation to undertake is to observe ourselves knowing, describe that, and work out its structure insofar as that structure can be seen on our own level of being. Insisting on warranting that description with a Divine-level warrant is not a human pursuit.

Tony, I hear ya', but I think it's funny that you chose the example that you did choose. I'll see if I can explain why in less than a tedious number of words. Within the philosophical spectrum, my position is one of the more demanding ones and would, spelled out, probably seem to you to be going too much in a "Divine-level" direction. That is, as far as what I think should be able to be told _in principle_ about our justification. (It doesn't follow that everybody needs to have the training, terminology, etc., to tell that metalevel story, though. Many people might have evidence tacitly that they can't spell out explicitly, much less explain _why_ it is justificatory.) However, it just so happens that "I am in pain" (as in your example) is one of the types of things that my type of philosopher thinks _is_ justified by the intrinsic nature of the access that you have to it. That is to say, it's the kind of thing you couldn't possibly be wrong about.

Lots of things aren't like that, and I have to say that I don't think, "The Christian God exists" is one of the things it would be impossible for us to be wrong about. For that reason, I consider it less fundamental than, "I am in pain" or even "I seem to recall seeing my husband this evening" or lots of other things. I don't have that kind of direct connection with the truth-maker for it. So "The Christian God exists" needs, in my view, to be defended on the basis of other things. It's not the kind of thing we know by some sort of direct knowledge or intuition.

Externalist vs. internalist. Not sure I can give that briefly, and no doubt any externalist reading it will say it's terribly biased if I do it briefly, but here goes: An internalist says that what justifies us in our beliefs is something that we have internal access to--for example, other evidence that we possess or the actual state of pain (as in your example) that we are in. An externalist says that what justifies us in our beliefs is the state of the world as it is, regardless of whether we know that it is that way.

So, for example, suppose you had a faculty for ESP but had never realized it and just woke up one morning with a very strong impulse to say, "Phantom won the Derby yesterday." Suppose that, totally unbeknownst to you, this belief was produced in you by a reliable mechanism that you had never suspected the existence of--namely, this hidden ESP faculty. (Maybe you just acquired it, or maybe it was "timed" to first start giving outputs today or something.) From an externalist perspective, you are justified in the belief because it really is produced in that way--the faculty is really connected somehow to the fact that Phantom won the Derby, even though you have no reason to think this. From the internalist perspective, you're just as irrational in believing this the first time as you would be if you had no such faculty. However, the internalist does think that you could _come_ to realize or at least suspect that you have this faculty, if (for example) you develop an inductive set of instances where these weird spontaneous utterances turn out to be true. But only then are you justified in the beliefs.

That's my short-n-internalist-biased version of the matter.

A proposition S doesn't even believe can't be a proposition that S knows. Therefore, knowledge requires belief. Finally, S's being correct in believing that p might merely be a matter of luck.[2]

Step2, they go off the track in the first paragraph - at least, according to an Aristotelian or Thomist understanding of the intellect, knowledge and forms. S doesn't know that p if S believes it, because knowing it and believing it are distinct categories of mental activity. The rest of the article squashes them flat together, but it is simple to reflect on the difference. If I know the Pythagorean theorem, and I believe that Christ will come again: I adhere to both propositions, but I adhere to them in distinct manner for each. The adherence under "knowledge" is of a different mode than the adherence under "belief." Even if I am satisfied that I am "justified" in both propositions, and even if I can satisfy a board of epistemologists that I am justified in both cases, it still does not make that kind of adherence in the first to be the same kind of adherence in the second.

The fact that the article can later talk about probabilification suggests that it is really talking about belief, and has already shunted out the door true knowledge (as understood in the Thomistic sense) as being completely impossible. Oh well, if you can't learn from history, you are doomed to being knuckleheaded.

Lydia, thanks for the comments. Let me see if I can build to any kind of common area of thought: in Aristotelian terms, we "know" what a dog is because, through the action of the active intellect upon the sensory experiences, we extract the form "DOG" that is, in some real sense, the same form that is the form that makes the dog to be a dog. The form "DOG" in the mind is not in the mind in the same way that the form is in the matter of the dog, or our mind would become a dog, instead of _knowing_ dog. Now, when we grasp the form "DOG", which is pre-propositional, we immediately know that "DOG" is not "HUMAN" because the forms which inhabit the intellect are in themselves distinct. And that is expressible as propositional knowledge: "Dog-ness is not human-ness", or, "what it is to be dog is not what it is to be human".

According to Aristotle, we don't have to "account for" or "justify" the proposition any more than the above: the grasp of the forms is immediate to the mind itself, and distinct forms are...distinguished AS SUCH. But the forms are, also, the same as that which is in the animals. Indeed, given the way the mind works, then the internal access to the forms works together with a mode of external justification for the concepts bearing on the things dogs and humans: the forms do the job of causing both the external reality and the internal concept.

I too don't think of the proposition "The Christian God exists" as a proposition about which we have direct internal access, nor is it the KIND of proposition about which we cannot be in error. It needs justification.

Direct internal access only has to be access to the _reasons_ for something. For example, I have direct internal access to my apparent memories of having had previous interactions with Tony on the Internet, and to my present experience of Tony's comment in front of me. These are reasons for believing that Tony exists. I'm justified in terms of the reasons, and I have access to the reasons.

As for the dog, well, as you know I'm not an Aristotelian concerning hylemorphism and biology, so I'd be more interested qua philosopher in the question, "Is that a real dog and not an illusion?" or "How do I know that's a dog and not a Tasmanian wolf?" (A Tasmanian wolf isn't even a regular mammal but a marsupial, so it has a fairly different biological nature from a dog. Notice that your Aristotelian perceiver who mistakenly thinks he's confronted by a dog when it's actually a marsupial has _not_ successfully extracted a form from the animal, because he was mistaken about the type of animal in front of him.) Or even more practically, "Is that my dog or my neighbor's dog?" (if they look alike and the neighbor's dog is likely to bite me).

In all of these cases, I would say that the inference you tacitly make is justified (that is, reasonable, rational) if your reasons are good. It might even be a matter of what you _don't_ know. For example, a little child might be rational in thinking that the animal is a dog where an Australian adult should know better and realize that it's a Tasmanian wolf.

We seem to be pretty much on the same page, Lydia. You’re right about consistency and coherence but if consistency is necessary though not sufficient there’s still a long way to go to show the consistency and coherence of religious dogma as opposed to, say, non-Euclidean geometries. I agree with your current view re a priori arguments also, though I admit that the underdetermination of theory by evidence makes foundationalism less appealing to me.

I'm intrigued by what you say in response to George R. I guess I can see how S’s assessment of whether X exists or not may depend on whether X is favourably disposed towards S or not or vice versa, in a context of psychological mechanisms, e.g. a kid might come to deny that the partial-to-others teacher exists as a means of coping with nepotism and unfairness. But all school kids can usually spot who’s teacher’s pet: The evidence that the partial teacher exists is not available to the teacher’s pets exclusively. Of course it’s possible that the Christian God only reveals himself to those destined for heaven and to nobody else. But in this case, 'evidence' for the existence of God can't do much epistemic work.

You still have not distinguished faith from reason, except to say that faith is a special kind of reasoning. It seems to me that believing in something because of the evidence requires no more faith than that possessed by devils, and that the inferences of the internalists should no more be called “faith” than the knowledge possessed by demons. Moreover, to claim that the difference is found in that the former follow God, well, first of all, that’s debatable, and more importantly completely irrelevant. If faith is other than knowledge from evidence, and it seems it must be, then one who infers from evidence is not, insofar as he is inferring from evidence, knowing by faith.

Furthermore, if you say that faith depends on evidence, are you not then also implying that to believe without evidence is not faith? In other words, are you not saying that the externalists, insofar as they are externalists, have no faith? If not, then you render as meaningless your own definition of faith.

It seems to me that the your internalist position is simply a form of rationalism; and externalism, on the other hand, is nothing more than fideism. Neither of them alone are sufficient to produce a solid faith, imo. What’s needed, it seems, is an externalist source of extra-rational truth whose validity and authority are manifest to the satisfaction of the internalist. It’s a pity Christ never founded such an institution. It would have really helped a lot.

except to say that faith is a special kind of reasoning.

Not at all, George. I would _deny_ that faith is a kind of reasoning. I would say that faith is that commitment and obedience to God--a separate act from reasoning. If anything, I might be inclined to equate faith with love, or at least love here on this earth when we do not have the beatific vision and the joys of heaven (which is why love will remain forever but faith will not be needed in heaven, as Paul says in I Cor. 15), though that wouldn't work if we were expanding the word to things like "faith that the anesthetist won't smother you." It's good in a way that people nowadays seem to equate "believing in God" with "being committed to God." It means that nobody really contemplates believing in God and hating him. But it can also lead to a little intellectual confusion, because the two really aren't the same thing and the one doesn't actually necessitate the other.

While Miss McG's criticisms of the neo-calvinist Plantinga are quite tasty, her own Bayesian biases (and religious biases) tend to muddy the fairly obvious problems implied by a historical approach to Scripture (and justifying "belief" for that matter). However unsavory Hume seems to some christians, his essay contra-miracles (and shall we say basic frequentism) still remains one of the largest stumbling blocks around for either ordinary biblethumpers or theologians (probably known by the What is Wrong crowd...but not overcome).

The testimony of witnesses who speak of ghosts is..inadmissable (and an alternative explanation always possible). Similarly, the testimony of a few ancients in a backwater area of Pax Romana is..inadmissable, at least in a jurisprudential sense (ie First Amendment)--though some of us grant there may be great literary merit in the New Testament, or at least some of it. For that matter, metaphors may at times be at least as powerful as alleged facts.

I won't even begin, .000, etc. The First Amendment has something to do with admissibility of testimony? I mean, the muddled-ness of your comment would take me far more time than it's worth to unravel.

Ah, yes, Hume. I'm sure no one has ever answered him.

Lydia, you know it’s not fair to introduce equivocal meanings of the word “faith” in this situation. Your paper was on epistemology, and you were criticizing the externalists for advocating the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as being the sole basis for religious belief. For your part, you suggested that belief should be grounded in “traditional rationality.” Now if you’re right, and I have every reason to believe you are, you are still left with the sticky problem of how faith can be grounded in “traditional rationality,” and at the same time avoid being reduced to rationalism. It would seem that you would have to admit some form of externalism after all in order to avoid this. No?

No, you're the one not getting it, but sounding more like Rev Hagee with each post (maybe you can figure the number which the binary stands for! just for phunn).

Think of a Judge--Judge Humeberg. A witness on the stand during a trial starts to speak of ...people rising from the dead (or ghosts, demons, angels, etc). What happens? The attorneys would object, and Judge Humeberg would dismiss it. That's pretty much Hume's argument boiled down to its essentials--the uniformity of experience holds, unless you--or someone-- can direct us to a Fatima unfolding before our eyes (and even then...might be a hoax). For that matter, Bayesian arguments don't even really apply in a theological context. They're usually used in a legal matters, or medical or social science (if memory serves me well, Bayes used his early form of conditional probability as an argument against miracles).

You start by assuming the truth and reliability of the very thing in question (ie, scripture itself)--whereas Hume says, we cannot start by accepting a text which contains alleged supernatural events (and what of other religions? another point you routinely overlook). What about say Tacitus, and all the other problems of confirming the texts (which are inconsistent as well). Only theologians do that. Historians, researchers in the natural sciences, detectives and journalists don't.

You start by assuming the truth and reliability of the very thing in question (ie, scripture itself)

Sigh, no, actually, not. And golly, you look so...foolish talking like you can just wave Hume like a magic wand. You seem to have no idea whatsoever about the literature discussing and answering Hume. Perhaps you think you can just throw insults at all of the other people who have ever written in a scholarly fashion on this subject as well. In fact, I'll bet you do. (John Earman as the Rev. Hagee, for example. Not to mention all the others from Hume's own time onward.) But look here, sir: The "I am a troll" tattoo on your forehead started to glow the moment you showed up at this blog, and by this time it's blinding.

Believe it or not, though I blog, I have a life. I don't waste it dealing with self-advertising, clueless trolls. So I won't waste it dealing with you. Hope that's clear.

George, honestly, I wasn't trying to be equivocal. I was just telling you what I really think faith is in a theological context. It seems to me that a lot of mischief is done in the way of confusion by thinking of faith as a _degree_ of assent or, even more, as a degree of assent that is _by definition_ beyond that supported by evidence. Faith isn't a degree of assent at all, in my view.

From my perspective, belief in the existence of religiously relevant entities (like God or angels) just isn't the same thing as faith. In the paper I was talking about justified belief, period. I wasn't actually intending to discuss the meaning of faith at all, and I don't _think_ I mention it (if I recall correctly).

Faith is founded on fact and evidence, for one cannot love and follow someone in whom one does not believe, and one should not believe in God without evidence. The decision as to what to do once one has evidence, whether to act on that belief in faith or not, is a matter of the will. I can't see any role for externalist epistemology at all.


If you don’t wish to consider my 10:10 AM comment, of course you’re free not to; but I think it’s relevant to this discussion and it may be helpful if you glance at it.

I accept that your article is about belief rather than faith. What I find puzzling is that there seem to be no Christians who believe that God exists and that they're destined for hell. If there’s sufficient evidence for belief in the Christian God, then one would expect everyone to be a Christian even though one wouldn’t expect everyone to believe that they’re also going to heaven or that they need to obey God, say, on Euthyphro or whatever grounds.

Nothing much need hang on whether Hume is right or wrong about miracles if, as I suggested in my earlier comment, there’s an infinite number of theories consistent with any finite set of data; unless one is ab initio partial to some miracles only or to certain theories only.

No, you've simply been taught by dogmatists that Hume was wrong, but never took the time to understand his carefully constructed arguments. And you don't understand what's at stake when you agree with an ancient greek text which claims....people rise from the dead (ie, contrary to the uniformity of experience, ie laws of physics--many forget Hume was a Newtonian, in most respects). Just in terms of basic verificationism, that cannot be proven, whatsoever (eg, all ancient history is conjecture, really--the Bible's no different than Tacitus in that regard). And the probabilities--well, you have one day with one report of ...person allegedly rising from the dead. And 100,000+ with no reports of people rising from the dead. Connect the dots (if you can).

All you can say....you agree (and insist Hume's not necessary. Fine, then when you say, people rise from the dead, thats even "less necessary"). Without proof, without even convincing testimony, you accept the reports (moreover, why only a few minor miracles, and not....Christ on a cloud of butterflies, appearing before the Roman Senate, and Augustus?). Finally, you don't understand Hume's jurisprudential point (as did men like Ben Franklin): scripture was to have no legal standing.

What I find puzzling is that there seem to be no Christians who believe that God exists and that they're destined for hell.

Not sure what turns on this, O.S., but historically, there've been plenty of people who believed in God and were darned worried that they were destined for hell. They were called Calvinists. The poet Cowper, poor fellow, died insane and _convinced_ he was destined for hell. Then there were the ladies fainting during sermons like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." That type of believer seems to have mostly died out today, but that's an historical accident. Believing in God and taking very seriously indeed the idea that one may well be destined for hell is certainly a logically consistent position and an historically known position. Since I'm not a double-predestination Calvinist, I don't happen to think it's correct Biblical theology myself.

If there’s sufficient evidence for belief in the Christian God, then one would expect everyone to be a Christian

I wouldn't expect it. I have a pretty robust view of the human capacity for not following evidence. I sense the temptation in myself all the time.

You repeat "evidence" ad nauseum, when you have ....what ancient reports from a few nomads--less than 20 or so. There's no substantial evidence in any convincing, scholarly sense. Were there evidence, it would, far more likely than not, have appeared in the roman historical record (as say Pilate does). Even ancient court cases BC are notated. JC aka 'Chrestus" I believe doesn't appear in roman history until 100 AD or so (and considered a jewish rebel, more or less)

Now, we might grant a man now known as "Jesus of Nazareth" probably existed--even Nietzsche says as much--perhaps he's a sage of sorts (as the Beatitudes suggests...no Limbaugh or WF Buckley, that's for sure). That he probably existed (...Gibbon had his doubts, as did Gibbon's mentor, Hume) in no way confirms the alleged miracles or supernatural character.

O.S. I forgot to mention, apropos of all the people alive who aren't Christians, that of course there are lots of people whose basic knowledge of Christianity is virtually nil. It's easy to forget this from a Western cultural perspective. In some cases the ignorance is very deliberately protected by their local and/or national rulers--e.g., in countries where Christian missions are illegal.

I don't think that identifying faith with charity is a tenable theological position, but I'll let that go for now.

Just answer me this question: Do you believe that there is anything that can be known by men that cannot be known from evidence and/or reason? And if so, how?

Do you believe that there is anything that can be known by men that cannot be known from evidence and/or reason?

As you probably mean the question, no. I could quibble and say, "Well, are you including introspection and direct access?" In other words, do we want to say that direct, foundational knowledge of our own experiential states is known by evidence or by reason? But I would guess you would include that sort of knowledge under "reason."

As you probably mean the question, no.

Therefore, we cannot know that God is a Trinity, for example.

Not so. We know that by evidence. :-) Evidence God has given us. Perhaps, though, this shows that I was in fact misinterpreting the question after all. From my perspective "knowing by evidence" and "knowing by revelation" are not only compatible but complementary. All revelation must be attended by evidence (a sign of some sort) so that we will know it is genuinely a message from God and not a fraud, etc.

Why JHVH gave us the Bible, and He wouldn't lie, right? So everything in scripture must be true.

That's about the extent of your petitio principi, Miss McG.

In any authentic research, one cannot even use the testimony offered within the text-in-question (ie, the reports of the apostles in the Bible), but need corroborating sources (like, roman historians of the time). That the fundie doesn't have.

For that matter, Lyell and Darwin sort of monkeywrenched the dogma as well. Believe if you will, but never mistake your belief and faith for some necessary truth

What I find puzzling is that there seem to be no Christians who believe that God exists and that they're destined for hell.

I'm a Christian who believes I might be destined for hell. There.

Not so. We know that by evidence. :-) Evidence God has given us. . . All revelation must be attended by evidence (a sign of some sort) so that we will know it is genuinely a message from God and not a fraud, etc.

Right. This dovetails exactly with what I said above:

What’s needed, it seems, is an externalist source of extra-rational truth whose validity and authority are manifest to the satisfaction of the internalist.

But this makes you a semi-externalist, since you are believing something soley on the authority of God but still requiring proof that it was in fact God who revealed it. This, by the way, is what faith is.

However, it seems to me that in order for the "sign" to be efficacious, the subject of the "sign" and the teller of the revelation must be one. How is the one who told you the revelation also the one in whom is found the "sign"?

00001001 is 144 in binary, backwards, which would make it a backwards gross or a gross backwards, whatever that means. Since 144 = 12^2 or 1100^10 in binary, perhaps it is a claim to perfection, squared, or doubled since 12 is twice a perfect number, 6.

The Chicken

If backwards, yeah, but it's not backwards is it (and its standard to include the extra 0s to make the byte)--tho the number is square. So, you're wrong. I was asking Frau McG, anyway.

There's another slight issue with the historical approach--wouldn't evidentialism mean always choosing the most believable account, even if that doesn't square with your religious faith? Or at least withholding assent (ie, cannot be confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt). In a sense, zealous faith in the inerrancy of the allegedly supernatural events of the Bible might be counted an intellectual sin.

But this makes you a semi-externalist, since you are believing something soley on the authority of God but still requiring proof that it was in fact God who revealed it.

No, no, not at all, George. Read both my paper and my brief account to Tony of the internalist-externalist controversy. "Externalism" doesn't mean "depending on evidence that comes from outside of oneself." It means, inter alia, that your justification can be insured by something outside of yourself (some mechanism that brings about belief formation) *that you know nothing about*.


Looks something like shifty scholasticism, maybe the ontological argument? Or a variation thereof. Any "ordinary science" depends on accepting Externalism, as in ...observables--ie evidentialism relies upon externalism (and induction, more or less). Having never seen men rising from the dead, and assuming the uniformity of experience (as sane people do), we have no good cause to believe it (or to trust reports/testimony of those who claim to have seen it)--so humans offer offer explanations.

Some people have claimed that a chupacabra was found-- Texans and mexicans insist it was a demon dog. Now some ivy league biologists say it's just a nasty form of mange which leaves coyotes hairless and diseased. So, the supposed supernatural weirdness was explained away. Not real deep, but that's how evidentialism works--and alas, a Resurrection or virgin birth's not really that different than a Chupacabra. A-men


Thanks. I guess it’s true of most people that their basic knowledge of religions other than their own is virtually nil. So there's little point in appealing to ignorance of other religions to explain why not everyone's a follower of the same religion unless we assume the truth we're meant to prove. There have been Byzantine emperors who relied on and promoted religious cohesion as a way to secure their grip over a vast empire, and so convened ecumenical synods to condemn ‘heresies’ and the like. It just sounds preposterous that contemporary rulers of countries where proselytising is outlawed are themselves Christian believers, convinced of the truth of Christianity, who deliberately set out to keep their subjects in ignorance.

A problem with appealing to ‘evidence’ in a religious context is that there’s no religious consensus, while there is consensus in non-religious contexts. So I’m not sure what kind of evidence we’re talking about here. In a scientific context, theories are dropped or swapped all the time. Science is an evolving enterprise and there are smaller or greater paradigm shifts, but consensus tends to emerge like it emerges in the school-yard about who’s teacher’s pet. How can people capable of ‘following evidence’ in a scientific or everyday context suddenly lose that capacity in a religious context alone, unless we're assuming that the standard of rationality is belief in Christianity?

Hi William!

I believe you. But if you believe that all people will either go to heaven or to hell, this still doesn’t explain why all people aren’t Christians who believe that they will either go to heaven or to hell. Unless you want to appeal to your privileged epistemic status, in which case philosophical hell will break loose!

How can people capable of ‘following evidence’ in a scientific or everyday context suddenly lose that capacity in a religious context alone,

1) I probably am less willing than you to make sweeping statements about how good people are at following evidence in an everyday or scientific context. I think even that varies a lot.

2) In any context where a lot is at stake, there is a lot of epistemic "white noise" that makes objectivity difficult--on both sides, of course.

3) It appears to be difficult for people to wrap their minds around the idea of a supernatural revelation verified by an historical event and then to understand that the historical event can be investigated in itself and how one would do that. One sees interesting flailing going around--doubles standards abound, and people flirt with absolute historical skepticism and/or with demands that would, consistently applied, result in historical skepticism.


I was wondering what your take was on William Lane Craig's distinction in "Reasonable Faith" between "knowing" your faith is true and "showing" your faith is true? Thanks.


No, no, not at all, George. Read both my paper and my brief account to Tony of the internalist-externalist controversy.

Okay, I understand the terms now.

Actually, I'm not wrong. The number is what I said it was in the domain of discourse I referenced. That it has other interpretations in other domains is entirely possible. So, rather than ask what it means, one should first ask in which domain you choose to interpret its meaning. It seems from your comment that it refers to computer science and so, perhaps, some sort of bit encoding in a byte? The zeros are binary switch positions and not strictly speaking, numbers, since in normal binary math, there are no leading zeros. Yes, I have taken number theory. No, I do not know the minutiae of computer byte coding. I don't want to apply myself to the problem because I respect your right to privacy. I am sorry I brought it up. I apologize.

The Chicken

You needn't apologize to trolls, MC, really.

Anselm, I don't think I'm going to be on-board with the "knowing" part of Craig's position--the internal witness of the Holy Spirit aspect of it. I certainly think one could have a highly distinctive religious experience that might even be caused by the Holy Spirit, though I myself don't seem to have such experiences. But if one did, it does not seem to me that it would be self-authenticating in the way that he seems to have in mind--that is, it seems to me that it would be sufficiently subjective in nature that other explanations would be not only possible but even plausible enough to leave one in some reasonable doubt as to whether this was an experience "of" the Holy Spirit's moving.

It's only fair to add that I say that as someone who doesn't appear to have had the kind of experience he is talking about, though when I was younger I used to think that I had done so. Eventually, though, I had to be honest and admit that the only experiences I had had were experiences of joy, peace, a sense of clear-mindedness (perhaps in meditating on some theological idea), love for God, and the like. These are not valueless by any means, nor do I mean to dismiss them with contempt. But I think they provide little evidence by themselves as to the truth of the religion with which they are associated. Rather, I think that _if_ one is otherwise rational in believing that Christianity is true, then one may be reasonable in interpreting those experiences as coming from the Holy Spirit and can be thankful for them and responsive to them accordingly.


Thanks for your response. I don't know if you have seen the movie "Contact," but I have often thought of a scene in that film that offered an experience that was "self-authenticating" even in the teeth of all the available evidence:


But aside from that, I wonder if Craig is referring to an "experience" of the Holy Spirit as such, or really just a form of knowledge of the type that we have of, for example, basic moral facts, such as "torturing babies for fun is morally wrong." Perhaps we know the truth of Christianity the way we know moral facts such as these?


I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know what the experience was like that she's referring to. My impression from the little I've heard about the movie is that, although she _could_ have hallucinated what happened to her (one can say that about a lot of things), she was in fact reasonable in making an inference to the best explanation to the effect that the experience was real. But of course I'd have to know more about the movie to say that more firmly. Isn't she supposed to be the one who had the prime numbers coming in her monitor or something?

I think there's a certain amount of confusion regarding rational inferences from one's experience, even when it is an experience that others have not shared, as opposed to something non-inferential or non-evidential. For example, suppose that I heard a voice in my mind (this has _never_ happened--it's just an example) saying, "Go to see Mr. N.; he's in trouble and needs your help." Suppose that I went over next door to the house of my neighbor Mr. N. and found that, indeed, he was in trouble, had just fallen down, and hadn't been able to make it to the phone. This would at least be some evidence that my experience was a veridical message from "outside myself," even though no one else had had the experience or could verify that there had been a voice.

I don't think myself that there's any way that knowledge of the Holy Spirit could be likened to a priori knowledge such as knowledge of ethical truths. I _think_, too, that that isn't what Craig means--that is, I think he means the "internal witness" to be some sort of experiential thing that _happens_ to some people but doesn't _happen_ to others. Note that if it were a matter of a priori truth, it would not require salvation to have the knowledge.

But, as I've said, I'm not inclined to buy it as an experience, either, because I just doubt that there is an experience for Christians of the Holy Spirit that is "self-authenticating" in any sense--even as the basis of an overwhelmingly well-justified inference.


Thanks for your response. In the movie, the Foster character is placed in a pod that drops through a series of rings. She experiences and 18-hour journey through a wormhole and visits with aliens, but from every external vantage point and external video, it appears the pod just drops through the rings in a matter of seconds, and that there is no "journey." But it would seem that even though all evidence is against such an 18-hour journey taking place, she is justified in believing it took place based on her life-changing experience. (In the movie, it is revealed that the recorder she was wearing in pod actually recorded 18-hours of static, but this is not revealed to her or the public by the corrupt government officials, so she must go on "faith" that her journey took place).

In Reasonable Faith, Craig says that the witness of the Holy Spirit "provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity's truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth," truths such as "I am condemned by God," "I am reconciled to God," "Christ lives in me," etc. So while such knowledge is not a priori (since only those who experience conversion will have it), perhaps it is experientially similar to knowledge of basic moral facts (i.e., non-inferential), but that such knowledge can be blocked by the noetic effects of sin?

Anselm, I'm inclined to think that knowledge of basic moral facts _is_ a priori--conceptual. Of course, you have to have the concepts to go with the words.

It doesn't seem to me that the Foster character has to go on "faith" (as opposed to reason). She has memories of the journey, right? These seem to her to be continuous with her other experience--unusual, but continuous in the sense of her having no sense of having blacked out or lost sensory continuity. It seemed to her that she was awake. There were (I'm guessing) details to the experience--conversations? sense of time passing? things that she did?--that went beyond what she would usually experience in a dream.

Again, I think it's very important to make a distinction between an experience that _someone else does not share and cannot confirm_ and an experience for which we can give no rational account that makes sense as to why and how it justifies or even confirms our belief. If the Foster character's experiences had the kinds of properties I've been talking about--seeming to be a waking, coherent experience, detailed, with a sense of time passing, continuous with other experience, containing aspects that it seems unlikely her own mind could have generated, if she has no _other_ reason to believe herself to be having hallucinations, these are all reasons for her to consider seriously the explanation that she really had this journey. Now, the prior probability is very low, so that even for her it might not _overcome_ the prior, but still, one can give a rational explanation as to why she more than other people has reason to take the experience seriously and consider an inference to the best explanation plausible.

It would of course be possible for God to give otherwise sane people experiences such as apparently lengthy visions or apparent verbal conversations with himself which would have many of the same properties that Foster's experience has. These might look like the experiences that Abraham and Moses are said to have had in Scripture.

But a) I don't think that happens very often nowadays, and it certainly hasn't happened to me or to anyone else I know, and b) that doesn't seem to be what Craig is talking about, either.


Thank you, that is very helpful. I guess I am trying to come to an interpretation of my own experience of conversion, which existentially was more like the "arrival" of a form of non-inferential knowledge (e.g., like a light bulb clicking on, but not as a result of a chain of reasoning--perhaps analogous to Plato's Cave, or a color-blind person receiving the ability to see in color). But I am with you that it wasn't an Abraham or Moses-type experience (or even like Paul's being "taken up to the third heaven" private vision, etc.--though it does have emotional aspects to it).

Friends, just to let you know that the increasingly abusive troll has been taken care of, and you don't need to worry about seeing further junk from him now. His comments thus far were left only as samples of his work for those who needed to know.

Anselm, all evidence is grist to the evidentialist's mill. Your experience happened, and it would be illegitimate for you to pretend it didn't happen. Moreover, not having had it myself, I can't address its distinctive quality. I suspect that my own inclination would be to go over the propositional content that the experience led me to believe and to ask myself if a) the truth of the propositional content really was the only reasonable thing to believe as a result of the experience (that is, whether the experience could have another explanation), b) the propositional content was of such a sort that it can be known to be true in a purely metaphysical fashion (for example, Ed Feser argues that a fair number of truths about God can be known by pure philosophy, which might seem to fit with your experience, depending on the content involved), c) the propositional content can be supported as well in some other fashion that is not subject to the questions that can be asked about the experience and that, I would imagine, you might even ask yourself at times (especially since the experience is presumably not going on continuously at all times).


‘Absolute’ scepticism or credulity is much less of a problem compared to ‘partial’ scepticism: Unless one’s a Christian believer, there’s no a priori reason to expect that the promised Messiah has been dispatched already, or that promising to send a Messiah is a superior ‘sign’ to self-authenticating revelation such as the Quran. If we can arbitrarily decide what’s a ‘true’ divine revelation and what’s a fake, or what’s a ‘real’ historical event and what’s fiction, then I agree we can go ahead with your project and claim to prove whatever we like. But this is only because partiality and bias will have already been built into the set-up before we even get started. And a different choice of revelation or ‘facts’ might favour a different religion. So there’s another Great Pumpkin looming, unless there’s an independent and demonstrably ‘rational’ method for telling which revelations are trustworthy.

People can certainly make mistakes and you’re right there are all sorts of factors that may cloud judgment. But this cuts both ways! So what’s the paragon of rationality you want to judge religions by? I understand e.g. that people who score highest on IQ tests are Asian, and Asia is not an overwhelmingly Christian continent, or that in some survey of philosophers only about 15% declared themselves to be theists at all, let alone Christians. Do these things matter or not?

You admitted before that ‘philosophy alone’ may not be sufficient for figuring out God’s character. If so, the ‘rationality’ you have in mind may be conditional and closer to the consistency-and-coherence kind. Sure, that kind of rationality may not do all the work you want to see done, but if you’re prepared to agree to that there may be one less difference between us. (Perhaps we’d still disagree over whether there’s some algorithm which churns-out a single ‘true’ theory given a finite set of facts we like or an infinity of alternatives given facts we don't like!) I appreciate that your discussion with anselm moves perhaps in another direction, but I just wanted to round things off where we started.

You admitted before that ‘philosophy alone’ may not be sufficient for figuring out God’s character.

O.S. that didn't mean what I think you took it to mean. It had to do with the difference between a Thomist approach and an historical evidentialist approach. In particular, the goodness of God may not be inferrable by metaphysical argument but may require revelation attested by miracle.

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