CPBD 031: Thomas Crisp – Is the Bible Divinely Inspired?

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 28, 2010 in Bible,Podcast

cpbd031

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview Christian philosopher Thomas Crisp. Among other things, we discuss:

  • How belief in divine inspiration of the Bible could be justified
  • Different hermeneutical approaches to the Bible
  • The nature of apologetics

Download CPBD episode 031 with Thomas Crisp. Total time is 53:02.

tom crispThomas Crisp links:

Links for things we discussed:

Note: in addition to the regular blog feed, there is also a podcast-only feed. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

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{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

RA March 28, 2010 at 10:22 am

Hmmm. That was really ….. interesting.

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Charles March 28, 2010 at 10:42 am

Sounds like he’s saying that if you live your entire live inside a bubble, then your belief is justified, but if you run across a person with a belief different from yours, then its not.

My question is,

What Christian living now has never heard of atheists and muslims? What Protestant living now has never heard of Catholics?

Does this theoretical justified person even exist?

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RA March 28, 2010 at 11:12 am

I think he said if you expose yourself to the authority of others then “you find yourself in a place of doubt if you look outside your circle.” Obviously, that would not be good.

If you encounter the arguments from the authority of others, it is best to ignore them and fall back on the authorities in your circle. Otherwise, it gets confusing. Stay in the bubble. That’s where the good information is.

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MC March 28, 2010 at 11:51 am

Crisp is a master of the oft-employed “Plantinga” technique when it comes to challenges to his arguments. Having attended the conference he spoke of, he (and others, i.e. Murray, Rea, etc.) were frequent employers of this tried-and-true objection-evasion technique. This “red-herring”-throwing seems to be really catching on with “Southern Evangelical Seminary”-type philosophers and apologists. (Craig is also a master of it, too).

cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_herring_(logical_fallacy)

For instance, you repeatedly questioned him about the role of authority when it comes to religious underdetermination, to which he would immediately defer to an example about science(!), to which–in typical Plantingan style–he would argue that he doesn’t see any difference between the two, and in their similarity, both claims are unmoving in terms of rational persuasion and evaluation of evidence. I was at a Plantinga talk a few years ago, and I questioned him on something about different faith traditions all making “holy-spirit” kinds of justifications, and he gave me a typical “non-answer” by saying something about differing interpretations of quantum mechanics. Needless to say, like Crisp in the interview, I was underwhelmed.

The scope and kind of disagreement in science is not at all similar to the kind of disagreement in religion.

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MC March 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

As just a point of contention contra Crisp, I would like to aim attention to Clayton Littlejohn’s paper,
“The Myth of the False, Justified Belief”

http://www.scribd.com/doc/21515070/Myth-Fjb-Revised-2009

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RA March 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Was it Plantinga??? I can recall the great U.S. philosopher Mellencamp using this argument back in the 1980s quite successfully. I was heavily influenced by it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsEwK69LXjQ

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Andrew March 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Thanks for posting this interview, Luke. I enjoyed it and learned some things too.

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Mark March 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Here’s the worry I had which I most wanted to hear addressed. It’s true that I accept the testimony of certain groups of experts even in the face of contravening arguments I can’t personally refute (including the testimony of people my group doesn’t consider to be experts). But I do this because I tend to believe that, were I an expert, I would be able to refute those arguments. Crisp is an expert in analytic philosophy, and he argues that the case for the divine inspiration of the Bible is weak on certain epistemic grounds. So it seems like for him, expert testimony for divine inspiration shouldn’t be justifying, unless he believes that an expert in his Christian social group could readily refute his own claims.

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Reginald Selkirk March 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm

the great U.S. philosopher Mellencamp

“Oh yeah, life goes on,
long after the thrill of living is gone.”

That great U.S. philosopher Mellencamp?

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Bryan March 28, 2010 at 3:59 pm

One practitioner of the “dangerous” type of apologetics that Crisp mentions is Frank Turek, without a doubt.

I’ve attended one of his presentations on his “Crossexamined.org” tour two weeks ago and I was SHOCKED at the level of rhetoric, eristic, and speciousness that was put forth. He is very bellecose and combative during the Q&A where he trips-up and belittles people who challenge his “Gish Gallup”-sophistry. When people call out his invalid arguments, he just says their “properly basic”; or, if someone challanges his use of the laws of thermodynamics, he inturrupts (frequently) and says things like “–THEN HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE!?”. Combined with a Glenn Beck style, he uses tactics that are straight out of Plato’s Gorgias, Aristotle’s Sophistical Refutations, and Greg Kokul’s “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions”. It was an intellectually shameful display on par with Kent Hovind or Ray Comfort.

Has anybody seen his presentation(s) or listened to his apologetics radio show?

http://leestrobel.master.com/texis/master/search/?sufs=2&thesaurus=1&s=.1&q=turek

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lukeprog March 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Lol @ THEN HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE?

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lukeprog March 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Just now, I tried listening to him for 2 minutes and couldn’t go any further. He hadn’t yet said anything I disagreed with, but his yelling was almost instantly exhausting, like trying to read a comment by Neil Reinhart.

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Justfinethanks March 28, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Has anybody seen his presentation(s) or listened to his apologetics radio show?

I’ve read his book “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist.” In it, he basically repeats Christian stock arguments most atheists have heard a million times, but he does it in a kind of flippant, “I Can’t Believe These Morons” tone.

Like here’s a conversation Turek relays in the book that he claims he had with an unnamed “physics professor.”

“If everything is material,” I asked, “then what is a scientific theory? After a theory about everything being material isn’t material; it’s not made of molecules.”
Without a moment’s hesistation he quipped, “A theory is magic.”
“Magic?” I repeated, not really believing what I was hearing. “What’s your basis for saying that?”
“Faith,” he quickly replied.
“Faith in magic?” I thought to myself. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! If faith in magic is the best materialists have to offer, then I don’t have enough faith to be a materialist!”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this this conversation, in all likelihood, never fucking happened.

This exchange is crazy especially since later in the book he argues for the rationality of believing in miracles, basically arguing that one should have “faith in magic” even if he avoids those words.

There’s also a imaginary dialogue in the back on the problem of evil, which ends with this gem:

Atheist: Suppose there is no eternity. Suppose we live, we die, and that’s it.
Christian: It’s possible, but I don’t have enough faith to believe it.
Atheist: Why not?
Christian: Haven’t you read this book?
Atheist: No, I jumped right to this appendix.
Christian: That’s just like you, isn’t it? You don’t want to play the game, you just want to see the final score.
Atheist: I suppose I suffer from the American disease of instant gratification.

Worst Socratic Dialogue… Ever.

Basically, imagine if Plato’s Apology was written like this.

Socrates: Meletus, why do you accuse me of corrupting the youth?
Meletus: Because I’m a big fat smelly moron who refuses to recognize the truth when it’s staring me in the face, that’s why.
Socrates: That’s what I thought.

He seems to think that if he presents his arguments with a lot of energy, confidence, and mockery, it will be more believable. He’s the worst kind of sophist. Which is basically what you should expect of someone whose primary job is as a motivational speaker.

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justfinethanks March 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Oh yes, and Frank Turek claims to have located Noah’s Ark in 2006. But he’s not really saying he found Noah’s Ark.

wink, wink

Contrary to some reports on the internet, we are not claiming that we have found Noah’s Ark (after all, the object does not say “USS Noah” on the side). We are simply reporting on a very interesting find which may be the remnants of the Ark.

http://www.impactapologetics.com/article0001.asp?cookiecheck=yes&

My favorite bit of that article though has to be why, despite the fact that it’s totally insane, that he believes that the Ark story is true.

We now have five lines of strong scientific evidence that the first verse is indeed true: that the universe (and time itself) was created out of nothing. Therefore, it’s at least possible that the story of Noah is true (I personally believe it is for reasons we discuss in the book). It is also interesting to note that most ancient cultures have a flood story.

I think the argument goes like this.

P1)God created the universe.
P2)So there’s nothing TOO crazy about all the animals in the world fitting on one boat, amiright?
P3)Also, lots of cultures have flood stories. I know it doesn’t prove anything, but I’m just sayin’.
C) All of Geology is a big fat lie.

QED

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Jacopo March 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Justfinethanks, you just wrote two of my favourite comments on this blog, ever.

:)

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Hermes March 28, 2010 at 6:03 pm

But he’s not really saying he found Noah’s Ark.

Reminds me of something … what is it? What is it? Maybe I’ll remember it later. It’s so scary, it’s funny. Or, something like that.

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Hermes March 28, 2010 at 6:05 pm

P3)Also, lots of cultures have flood stories. I know it doesn’t prove anything, but I’m just sayin’.

But only those cultures with really good, and well stocked, snorkel shops.

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Rob March 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm

justfinethanks,

Bravo, sir. That last syllogism was pure gold.

On Turek. I have my TiVo set to grab anything with atheis* as a keyword, so I get Turek’s stuff all the time. His arguments are horrible, yes. But what about those short-sleeve skin-tight mock turtle necks? And the headset mic? That and the way he prances and struts on the stage always reminds me of this guy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n2IVF9a2IA

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lukeprog March 28, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Rob,

Great idea on atheis*. I hope you upload the best bits to YouTube for the rest of us!

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lukeprog March 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Justfinethanks wins comment of the week for that one with the syllogism.

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Rob March 28, 2010 at 8:20 pm

It’s pretty thin Luke. I’ve had it set that way for years, and all I get is the same two episodes of Good Times and All in the Family, a few debates with Sam Harris (widely available), and Turek lecturing to 17 octogenarians in a massive auditorium.

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Haecceitas March 29, 2010 at 12:23 am

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this this conversation, in all likelihood, never fucking happened.”

My impression is that the scientist was obviously being sarcastic and Turek failed to see this. So it could have actually happened that way.

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Haukur March 29, 2010 at 1:39 am

Socrates: Meletus, why do you accuse me of corrupting the youth?
Meletus: Because I’m a big fat smelly moron who refuses to recognize the truth when it’s staring me in the face, that’s why.
Socrates: That’s what I thought.

Hahahaha! That made my day.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 8:32 am

Luke,

I was embarrassed for Crisp. His approach is so full of holes that it should be obvious to him. I can agree that most religious people hold what they do because some authority they respect has told them its truth but does that mean they are justified in holding it? Obviously not. On Crisp’s reasoning, the followers of Jim Jones’ were justified in drinking the kool-aid. The Heaven’s Gate people were justified in killing themselves in order to get on the spacecraft following the Hale-Bopp Comet. The Canaanites at the time of Joshua were justified in offering their kids to Molech, and so on. BTW, I liked how you called him on Wolterstorff’s foolish proposal. I have a blog post on Wolterstorff’spaper that Crisp refers to. I think this is a good example where we should not follow an expert and the reason is that while Wolterstorff is an expert in the area of philosophy, he is not an expert in the area of biblical studies. This is why we need inter-disciplinary approaches to many subjects if we ever hope to arrive at some good answers.

Another example I should bring up since Crisp mentioned racism. I grew up in the South in the 1960′s. The subject of racial relations was a hot topic. My particular social group tended to be quite racist (although they would have denied the charge). If I had only listened to my social group and their “authorities”, I would never have realized the errors they were making.

Again, it amazes me that Crisp cannot see how totally bogus his position is.

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Rob March 29, 2010 at 9:09 am

I agree Ken. It seems Crisp is advocating that it is OK to lead an un-examined life, which is quite contrary to the spirit of philosophy.

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lukeprog March 29, 2010 at 10:20 am

Rob,

This is an extremely common position among theistic ‘philosophers’, for example those who adopt Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, according to which one’s inner experience trumps all evidence and argument.

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Rob March 29, 2010 at 10:41 am

Luke,

I think Catholic ‘philosophers’ are also in a position of extreme tension, as they are committed to accepting the dictated dogma of The Magesterium. This submission to authority is contrary to an honest and open search for the truth, which has been the traditional understanding of what philosophy is all about.

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anon March 29, 2010 at 11:37 am

those who adopt Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, according to which one’s inner experience trumps all evidence and argument.  

This seems inaccurate. People who take the sort of line in question say that seemings/experiences count as evidence. In the absence of defeaters, those seemings/experiences count as justification. A successful defeater will trump such seemings. So suppose you have a God seeming. The problem of evil might trump your belief. Or the presence of disagreement among your peers might trump your belief. Suppose it seems to you that you are not a brain in a vat. In the absence of defeaters that will count as justification. If you see a popup window at the bottom of your field of vision, maybe that will be a defeater. So there is plenty of room for arguments and examination within reformed epistemology. Furthermore, this kind of line is common to epistemological in general. Nobody thinks they can prove that they aren’t a brain in a vat. But everybody thinks they are justified in believing that they are not a brain in a vat.

note: I haven’t listened to the interview yet.

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lukeprog March 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm

anon,

You are correct. My summary was uncharitable. Rather, there are some who use RE in such an extreme way that there are no defeaters. (A prominent example is William Lane Craig.)

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Luke,

Actually Craig does not follow the Reformed Epistemology of Alvin Plantinga. In the book Five Views on Apologetics, Craig defends the “classical” approach and Kelly Clark defends the “Reformed Epistemology” approach. Plantinga and the RE say that belief in God is “properly basic.” IOW, it is warranted without evidence. He follows John Calvin’s idea of the Sensus Divinitatis (sense of the divine). Calvin is following Paul who says in Romans 1 that every man has the knowledge of God.

Craig, on the other hand, follows the classical approach which makes use of philosophical arguments such as the cosmological argument to “prove” the existence of God. Craig says that he knows Christianity is true because of the inner witness of the Spirit but he shows Christianity is true through arguments and evidence. The arguments and evidence at best provide a strong probability for God but the inner witness of the Spirit provides certainty, according to Craig. He then says that if the evidence contradicted the inner witness, he would assume that he is misinterpreting the evidence.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

One other thing about Crisp. It seems to me that his position basically reduces to fideism .

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lukeprog March 29, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Ken,

My understanding is that Craig does take an RE position (though I don’t know if it’s internalist or externalist RE) to justify his own belief, but then uses arguments as a persuasive technique, having no bearing at all for the justification of his own beliefs about God.

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Robert Gressis March 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Jeez, so now theists and Catholics can be philosophers in only some parodic sense.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Luke,

Take a look at Craig’s response to Kelly (advocate of RE) in Five Views on Apologetics beginning on p. 285. I know to the non-Christian it may seem like its a distinction without a difference but as a former instructor in Apologetics I think its important to see the distinction in how various schools of apologetics approach their attempt to defend Christianity.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 1:54 pm

BTW, I think one can get some good insights into the weaknesses of various apologists arguments by looking at how their fellow Christian apologists (albeit from a different school of apologetics) critique their argument. For example, in the book I mentioned above, John Frame has this to say about Alvin Plantinga’s RE: So in Plantinga’s view…when we rationally believe in God without argument, we should at the same time admit that our belief could be false. . . such belief is defeasible: it can and should be overturned when there is sufficient evidence to the contrary” (p. 308)

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Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Luke, don’t get sloppy. You’re good at this because you take an even-handed approach, while keeping the audience aware of your commitments. When you refer to “theistic ‘philosophers’”, you put yourself at risk of losing a large portion of your Christian readership. Thomas Crisp has published papers in Nous, PPR, Analysis, the Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, and the Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics. He is a philosopher of the highest caliber, and your attempt at ridicule will not only fall flat, but it will make you look like you have no clue what makes for a good philosopher.

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Hermes March 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm

[ fyi ]

Ken, I was not able to view page 285 using the link you provided. It chops off in multiple places, stopping ~page 80 entirely then switches to the back cover. FWIW, I tried 3 different browsers.

Scribd comes up blank. Amazon is also not very helpful (cuts off at page ~30).

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justfinethanks March 29, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I think one can get some good insights into the weaknesses of various apologists arguments by looking at how their fellow Christian apologists

Absolutely. “Five Views on Apologetics” is also a great way for someone who was never a Christian apologist to get an idea on how apologists think and operate.

Another great section comes from Craig giving his blunt, harsh, and completely accurate assessment of Presuppositional Apologetics.

Where presuppositionalism muddies the water is in its apologetic methodology. As commonly understood, presuppositionalism is guilty of a logical howler: it commits the informal fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question, for it advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian Theism.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Justfine,

One of the reasons among many that I de-converted was my realization that no school of apologetics could be successful. I had adopted presuppositionalism because it seemed to be most in agreement with my Calvinist theology and I could see clearly the weaknesses of the other schools. Finally though I had to admit what Craig is saying here and that is presup’s just “beg the question.” Thus, I realized that christianity could not be defended. That coupled with the many other problems I had with evangelical Christianity led to my de-conversion.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 2:50 pm

anononymous,

Crisp may be competent as a philosopher but when it comes to his defense of the inspiration of the Bible, his position is about as weak as it gets. He deserves ridicule for that position

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Hermes,

I don’t know how google books works exactly. Maybe it sometimes shows some pages and other times hides the same pages? When I went there, I could read page 285,

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lukeprog March 29, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Robert,

For me at least, I’ll say that I have just as little sympathy with intuitionists. This whole idea of trusting our inner feelings to tell us about the universe instead of looking to evidence and arguments is epistemological suicide, in my book.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Another excellent resource describing the different schools of apologetics is Kenneth Boa’s Faith has its Reasons. It is available free on-line at the link above

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lukeprog March 29, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Ken,

I own the book, so I’ll be looking at it later.

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Rob March 29, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Jeez, so now theists and Catholics can be philosophers in only some parodic sense.  

No. But if a philosopher says that her opinion will not change regardless of any argument or evidence, that seems to me contrary to what “philosophy” generally means. Likewise, if a philosopher dogmatically accepts as true the dictates of a committee of holy men, that seems to me contrary to what “philosophy” generally means.

I’m open to the possibility that my understanding of what philosophy is all about is different from what other people think philosophy is all about.

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Hermes March 29, 2010 at 3:32 pm

When I went there, I could read page 285,

Thanks. I’m not surprised, but I thought you might want to know what others see.

I can not determine a pattern on my end, but I rarely am able to view full books through Google Books. Maybe I tripped some unspecified barrier, and everything is throttled for me?

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Robert Gressis March 29, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Luke, if you haven’t already read it, I suggest you read Roderick Chisholm’s “The Problem of the Criterion”. In a nutshell, Chisholm outlines two approaches to the knowledge in history of philosophy, and there have been philosophers who have tried both approaches. The two approaches are methodism–you start with a method according to which certain things do and don’t count as knowledge and then you apply the method to figure out what you do and don’t know–and particularism–you start with particular bits of knowledge and then try to see what they have in common, to see how to reliably arrive at knowledge.

I’ll quote a relevant part:

“To know whether things really are as they seem to be, we must have a procedure for distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. But to know whether our procedure is a good procedure, we have to know whether it really succeeds in distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. And we cannot know whether it does really succeed unless we already know which appearances are true and which ones are false. And so we are caught in a circle.”

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Hermes March 29, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Sounds like that conclusion would suffer from the same issues that the conclusions of solipsists would suffer from.

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Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Hi Ken,

My only point was that Tom’s credentials qua philosopher are impeccable. It’s a separate question as to whether this particular argument is good. Sometimes good philosophers give bad arguments.

But you have confused two claims. Crisp doesn’t take himself to have shown that *the Bible is divinely inspired*, as you claim. Rather, he takes himself to have shown that *it is in principle possible to rationally believe that the Bible is divinely inspired*.

And if you think that the Moorean move against the argument for global skepticism is at all promising, then you ought to think there’s something good going on here. We’ve learned from Moore that experiences of hands directly justify the belief that there are hands. And we can deploy this belief against the skeptic. Perhaps the same is true of religious belief. Our experience of God directly justifies our beliefs in him, and we can deploy this against the religious skeptic. Of course, it’s not going to *convince* the skeptic, but that’s not the goal. The goal is a defense.

If you don’t like it here, it’s up to you to either a) deny that we are rational in believing that we have hands, or b) point out a relevant disanalogy in the Moorean move with respect to global skepticism and the Moorean-inspired move with respect to religious skepticism.

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Hermes March 29, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Anonymous, hands are both demonstrable and also not in contention; even people born without hands don’t deny that there are people with hands.

The same can not be said of deities.

As such, there is no equivalence.

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Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Hermes-

I fear that you have missed the point. Nobody is arguing about whether or not we have hands. And Tom Crisp is not claiming there is a God, nor is his opponent claiming there isn’t one. Rather, he’s claiming that belief in God is sometimes rational, and his opponent denies this.

So, the skeptic says that we are not justified in believing that we have hands. The skeptic who is born without hands *DOES* DENY that ANYONE has a justified belief that ANYONE has hands. Do you see? If not, read my above post again.

So, the global skeptic says that we are not justified in believing we have hands. The religious skeptic says we are not justified in believing in God. Again: what is the relevant disanalogy?

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Thomas Reid March 29, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Robert Gressis: Luke, if you haven’t already read it, I suggest you read Roderick Chisholm’s “The Problem of the Criterion”

Seconded.

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Andrew March 29, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Hermes,

I’m not confident that the analogy between external world skepticism and inspiration skepticism can do all that much work. But I think your complaint is off the mark.

External world skeptics say that we don’t know we have hands. They question whether beliefs to the effect that we do have hands enjoy much by way of positive epistemic status. Similarly, skeptics about inspiration deny that we know that some doctrine of inspiration is true. They question whether beliefs to the effect that some doctrine of inspiration is true have much by way of positive epistemic status.

In debates about external world skepticism, the relevant issue isn’t whether we in fact have hands. Similarly, in this debate (the one Crisp seems interested in, at any rate), the relevant issue isn’t whether inspiration is true. It’s whether belief to that effect can be justified. Crisp thinks that it can be.

All that to say: there’s an important distinction here, and you seem to have missed it. So have some other posters in this thread.

Peace,

-Andrew

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Anonymous,

I freely admit that I am not a professional philosopher. I am not familiar with the Moorean move. However, I do have a background in Theology and Apologetics as a former Evangelical Christian and an instructor in a Bible college. And I think I am able to distinguish good arguments from bad arguments. I think Crisp’s argument for the inspiration of the Bible boils down to fideism.

You say that Crisp’s goal is to show that : *it is in principle possible to rationally believe that the Bible is divinely inspired* . The only thing I heard him say was that it was justified for people to believe what their religious authorities tell them without investigating the issue themselves. As he admits, this would involve Muslims being justified in believing the Quran; Mormons believing the Book of Mormon, etc. As I pointed out in a prior comment, his approach would also mean that the followers of Jim Jones’ were justified in drinking the poison kool-aid; the Heaven Gate’s members killing themselves in order to get to the alien spacecraft hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet; the Canaanite peoples practicing child sacrifice, etc. IOW, if we follow Crisp, any religious belief that is taught by a religious authority is a justified belief.

I think it would be much better to tell people to question their authorities. Read what other authorities say. Try to learn as much as you can about the subject. One more example. My dad had prostate cancer. The first doctor he went to told him to have surgery. I encouraged him to seek another opinion and I did some research on the subject myself. He came to the conclusion that a radiation therapy was his best choice. If he had just accepted the first authority he spoke with, he would have had a much more invasive procedure which as it turns out was not necessary.

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Robert Gressis March 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I’ve discovered, Anonymous, that people don’t like it when people bring in global skepticism. They think that it’s permissible to reject global skepticism out-of-hand as an unserious view, but think that moral skepticism and atheism are serious, for one of two reasons: (1) lots of people are skeptical about moral truths and theism, but almost no one is skeptical about the external world; (2) science gives us knowledge, and science requires belief in an external world. Therefore, belief in an external world is justified.

Now, re: (1) it’s not obvious to me that the fact that fewer people are skeptical about the external world than they are about morality or God has any weight whatsoever on the legitimacy that belief in an external world has. But a lot of people seem to be moved by this argument for some reason. I don’t suspect that they’re able to articulate why, but I also think they’re not bothered at all that they can’t articulate why.

Re: (2), it’s not clear to me why we should think natural science gives us knowledge, for all the reasons Hume has given us, but I think people who employ (2) just take it for granted that science gives us knowledge (as opposed to justified belief), and so don’t feel any urge to defend this belief, no matter how many times you or I or Hume or anyone brings up the problem of induction. They also take it for granted that science requires belief in an external world, though I’ve known some scientists who don’t think that (i.e., I’ve known some instrumentalists).

All of the above, by the way, was conjecture based on past experiences. I imagine I’ll be told that in fact none of the above is going on, though I’m interested in seeing how I’ve misrepresented people with my conjectures.

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Andrew March 29, 2010 at 4:43 pm

a
As I pointed out in a prior comment, his approach would also mean that the followers of Jim Jones’ were justified in drinking the poison kool-aid; the Heaven Gate’s members killing themselves in order to get to the alien spacecraft hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet; the Canaanite peoples practicing child sacrifice, etc. IOW, if we follow Crisp, any religious belief that is taught by a religious authority is a justified belief.

Ken,

I think there’s a distinction you’re missing; in the passage I quote above, you cite various examples of actions and say that Crisp would have it that those actions are justified. But Crisp said nothing about justifying *actions*; his argument pertains to epistemic justification, a property of *beliefs*.

Peace,

-Andrew

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm

If Crisp had said that it is understandable why someone believes the Bible is inspired because their religious authorities tell them so; then I would agree. But he is using the philosophical term “justified”.

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Ken Pulliam March 29, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Andrew,

I would argue that what one does is the best evidence of what one truly believes. This belief, which Crisp admits would be justified, is prior to the action and it is what leads to the action.

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lukeprog March 29, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Robert,

Cool, I will check it out.

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Thomas Reid March 29, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Ken Pulliam,
You wrote:

If Crisp had said that it is understandable why someone believes the Bible is inspired because their religious authorities tell them so; then I would agree. But he is using the philosophical term “justified”.  

Are you justified in your belief in the age of the universe because cosmologists tell you what it is? Before you answer, consider that the concepts of truth and justification are not identical. What methods do we employ to establish justification? That is what Crisp is after here.

Luke, thanks for this interview.

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Andrew March 29, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Ken,

On your view, does “this action is justified” entail “this action is right”? I’d be inclined to deny the entailment. Similarly, I deny the entailment from “this belief is justified” to “this belief is true”. Perhaps this is where our disagreement stems from.

-Andrew

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Hermes March 29, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Anonymous, I’ll grant loosely that it is probably true that “belief in God is sometimes rational“. The comparison with hands, though, does not support the contention that generally “belief in God is ——– rational”. At that level, it actually works against the contention not for it as hands are trivial and known by everyone universally, while holding to any set of theistic beliefs is a learned process.

The point being is that his …

So, the skeptic says that we are not justified in believing that we have hands.The skeptic who is born without hands *DOES* DENY that ANYONE has a justified belief that ANYONE has hands.Do you see?If not, read my above post again.

… contradicts what someone born without hands would actually say, and attempts to say that the ‘skeptic’ is deformed or lacking some theistic appendage. (If that is not generally what the analogy intended, then you are free to explain it to me or change the analogy.)

The point of the link I provided was not to address what skeptics are justified in saying or not.

That link focused entirely on religious people. The superset of religious people mostly contains theists, though there are some non-theists. Looking at that group of people, though, we see a clear pattern of distribution based on location. Do they all have different theistic appendages? I doubt that is what was intended.

So, the global skeptic says that we are not justified in believing we have hands. The religious skeptic says we are not justified in believing in God. Again: what is the relevant disanalogy?

It’s not congruent with reality. Do you have a better analogy?

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Hermes March 29, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Andrew, as noted in my follow up comment, I’m primarily not interested in skeptics. My focus was on the analogy falling apart at the level of religious believers. Since it does not succeed there, it’s a bit premature to bring in skeptics.

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Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Hermes-

I have no idea what you’re talking about. I can’t respond unless you make yourself clear. I’ll repeat what I said in hopefully more natural terms, and if you could please make an argument, I would appreciate it. Otherwise I have nothing more to say.

The global skeptic says that nobody is justified in holding any perceptual beliefs. One of these beliefs is that they have hands. So, the global skeptic says that nobody is justified in believing they have hands. (After all, we could be brains in vats.) This is just what skepticism IS, so your above points make no sense.

In order to refute the skeptic, one can hold up one’s hand and say “THIS justifies my belief that I have hands.”

The religious skeptic says that nobody is justified in holding any religious beliefs. One of these beliefs is that God exists. So, the religious skeptic says that nobody is justified in believing that God exists. This is just what religious skepticism IS.

In order to refute the religious skeptic, one can point to a personal religious experience and say “THIS justifies my belief that God exists.”

There are nuances that you’re flatly missing, like the difference between truth and justification, knowledge and truth, justification and assertion, and the like. These are important distinctions. It’s worth spending some time being very careful about distinguishing them in your reply. Otherwise, I don’t know what you’re saying.

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Hermes March 29, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Anonymous, first off, as it is clear that ‘global skeptics’ have the same problems as solipsists, why not ignore them and people like them? They are no peers of mine and have little to do with skepticism.

Religious skeptic? Did you mean theistic skeptic? As I noted, there are non-theistic religious people. These theistic skeptics with an absolutist attitude are also no peers of mine.

In the case of actual skeptics, they tend to make a simple request; “show me”. Yes, in day to day life, skeptics may make strident statements but that’s an expression of practicality and not of philosophy. (There will also be self-described skeptics that cop the look and style of what they see as skepticism but are often dogmatic and not skeptical at all. You can criticize them as much as you wish as they also aren’t my peers. Brian Dunning of Skeptoid does a good job of identifying this group and I share his frustration with them.)

To address people who express theistic experience as a refutation, I don’t have to do anything but point to other theists. They can’t all be right, and it’s not my job to sort out the winners in that competition or discussion. If I am mistaken and there is a reconciliation, then the general request — “show me” — applies. Till then, there’s nothing to talk about.

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Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Hermes-

Thank you. That helps a great deal. So the claim is that a) we can refute global skeptics by pointing to our hands, but b) we cannot refute religious skeptics by pointing to our religious experience. (Recall that both the believer in hands and the religious believer are not trying to *convince* the skeptic, but merely defend the rationality of their (the believers’) respective beliefs.) You then defend (b) by pointing to widespread disagreement about religion.

I think the appeal to disagreement is the right move to make. And it is currently getting a lot of attention in epistemology. I don’t know that I have much to say about it, except to point out that evidence of widespread disagreement doesn’t *guarantee* that a belief is not rationally held. For example, if there were widespread disagreement about whether or not I had hands, I don’t think my belief that I have hands is irrational. And if there were widespread disagreement about whether 2_2=4, I don’t think my belief that 2+2=4 is irrational. But I do think I ought to lower my credence in it. So, I think the conclusion to draw is that religious believers, in the face of widespread disagreement about religion, ought to lower her credence in her religious beliefs. Similarly, the amount of theists in the world ought to cause the atheist to lower her credence in the belief that there is no God, since there is widespread disagreement. But if she (theist or atheist) has a whole lot of evidence for the truth of her religious or anti-religious beliefs (lots of religious experience, lots of arguments, lots of testimony, etc.), then it might not render her irrational.

This is more obviously true if one endorses an externalist condition for rationality a la Plantinga, Goldman, and the like. In that case, one can be rational without having to be able to point to what justifies her belief.

I definitely agree that there’s a lot here to talk about, and I hope that it continues to be talked about.

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Rob March 29, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Similarly, the amount of theists in the world ought to cause the atheist to lower her credence in the belief that there is no God, since there is widespread disagreement.

Anon, I’m just wondering.

Currently there is widespread disagreement about ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts? What about the healing power of magnets? The efficacy of homeopathy? Whether humans are regularly abducted by aliens? Whether crop-circles are caused by aliens? Chupacabra? BigFoot?

I could make a list ten times as long, but you get the point.

Just because there is widespread disagreement about whether a particular alleged phenomenon is real or imaginary is not a good reason for me to “lower my credence”. Everything in that list is non-sense.

(Or maybe you disagree?)

Widespread belief in BigFoot is not a good reason for me to lower my credence in my belief that there is no BigFoot.

There may be good reasons to believe in gods. But the fact that there is widespread belief in gods is not one of them. Just as the widespread belief in ghosts is not a good reason to believe in ghosts.

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Anonymous March 29, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Rob-

I’m totally cool with that. I personally think that for *any* x, widespread disagreement with respect to x ought to cause one to lower one’s credence about the relevant beliefs about x. But if one doesn’t think that’s the case, then one needs a different principle to invoke against theists that would cause them to lower their credence with respect to beliefs about God. Usually the above principle is the one that’s invoked. Do you have a different one in mind? One that doesn’t influence beliefs about ghosts, Bigfoot, magnets, etc…

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Rob March 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Anon,

Will you answer my questions? Like I said, I’m just wondering.

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Mark March 30, 2010 at 4:00 am

So, the global skeptic says that we are not justified in believing we have hands. The religious skeptic says we are not justified in believing in God. Again: what is the relevant disanalogy?

I agree with you that some of the others in the thread aren’t really getting the force of the analogy. Still, I wonder if the disanalogy might lie in the phenomenological nature of religious experience, rather than the existence of conflicting religious experience. I’ve never had a religious experience, so I can’t say for certain, but it seems that most RE has a hazy, non-representational character which believers merely “take” to be coming from God. For instance, RE seems to consist in sweeping emotions of transcendence, the sublime, ego annihilation, abiding love, gratitude, and so forth. While these may be experiences of something, it’s not clear why they’re best interpreted as experiences of an omnipotent, omniscient being who intervenes in history to do X and Y. Rather, it seems like they’re only interpreted in this way because they’re generally triggered by the rituals of particular religious traditions, and because religious communities insist that this is the only way they ought to be interpreted.

In other words, it’s as if people answered the religious skeptic by pointing to olfactory experience. “It just smells like God exists,” they say. “When I go to church or am having a particularly rough time in life, I get this overwhelming sense in my nostrils that my God exists and loves me.” But this raises the important question of how anyone could rightly construe a mere smell as a divine communiqué.

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Rob March 30, 2010 at 4:16 am

I am one of the ones that does not get this analogy at all. That we have hands is inter-subjectively verifiable. A vague spooky alleged experience that a supernatural being exists is not inter-subjectively verifiable.

The dis-analogy is so obvious that I think I must be missing the point entirely. So someone help me out please.

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Mark March 30, 2010 at 4:31 am

I am one of the ones that does not get this analogy at all. That we have hands is inter-subjectively verifiable.

We only know that there are other people out there to intersubjectively verify our handedness by trusting our experiences, which is precisely what a global skeptic is challenging us on. So this is a non-starter. If your experience of other people doesn’t justify your belief that there are other people, then what does? And then one might ask: if one’s experience of other people justifies one’s belief that there are other people, couldn’t experiences of God justify one’s belief that there’s a God?

On the other hand, the friend of religious experience may say that RE is intersubjectively verifiable, in the sense that multiple people can report to have had extremely similar experiences of God or whatever at the same place at the same time.

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Rob March 30, 2010 at 5:02 am

Thanks Mark, for trying to help me understand this.

Handedness is verifiable by me and everyone else I have ever met.

But your inner spooky feeling is not verifiable by me and everyone else I have ever met.

It seems to me the global skeptic is playing a silly game, while the person skeptical of whether other people’s spooky feelings are in fact caused by a supernatural being is acting in good faith, and not playing a silly game.

I am not being intentionally dense. The analogy just cuts no ice with me at all. I acknowledge that I may be dense, but it is not intentional.

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Mark March 30, 2010 at 5:41 am

I’m not sure what you mean when you say X is not verifiable to others. Unless we think that subjects of religious experience are all lying, I think we can be pretty confident they’re having the experiences they say they have (though this leaves open whether they’re evidence for anything). In fact, we can bring about experiences roughly similar to RE by stimulating certain regions of the brain, so RE is biologically plausible.

Again, though, I think the issue of verifiability is a red herring. If you think your experiences justify your most basic beliefs – e.g., that there are other people out there – then you’re committed to some principle whereby an experience of X will generally justify a belief in X. But the principle cannot be: Experience of X justifies belief in X iff there are others who can report having had my experience. Why is this? Because it’s of course impossible for others to have my experience; at best, they can only have qualitatively similar experiences of their own under similar conditions. But if that’s the test – the ability for others to have similar experiences under similar conditions – it’s not immediately clear why religious experience doesn’t, or can’t, pass.

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Tom Crisp March 30, 2010 at 5:56 am

Hello all.

A couple thoughts. Ken Pulliam thinks my defense of the inspiration of the Bible is “as weak as it gets”. But as Andrew points out, I’m not offering a defense of the inspiration of the Bible; I’m not arguing that the Bible is inspired. I’m arguing for the very different claim that Christians can be justified in believing the Bible inspired on the basis of testimony from those deemed expert by their religious communities.

Ken also thinks that, on my view, “followers of Jim Jones’ were justified in drinking the kool-aid. The Heaven’s Gate people were justified in killing themselves in order to get on the spacecraft,” etc. But as Andrew points out, my argument treats epistemic justification, not pragmatic or moral justification. Perhaps Ken will reply: well, on your view, followers of Jim Jones were epistemically justified in believing the crazy things Jim Jones said; the Heaven’s Gate people were justified in believing that killing themselves was a good idea, etc. But that doesn’t follow from my view. It’s part of my view that, if you’ve powerful counterevidence against the claims of your experts, accepting their testimony will be unjustified for you. If Jim Jones’s and Heavens Gate’s followers had good evidence against the claims of their leaders, which I’m assuming they did, they weren’t epistemically justified in accepting those claims.

Finally, for those scandalized by the suggestion that Christians could be justified in holding theological beliefs on the basis of testimony from experts in their religious communities, I think Thomas Reid’s above question a good one. Most intellectually sophisticated Westerners, these days, hold that the cosmos is several billion years old. Why? Expert testimony–more, expert testimony in the face of substantial countertestimony. (Substantial countertestimony: countertestimony by lots and lots of people; I don’t know exact numbers here, but when you consider the rapid spread of conservative versions of Christianity in Africa, South America in Asia, one suspects there is a huge worldwide population of believers in a young cosmos.)

Since most intellectually sophisticated Westerners have no very deep grip on the relevant physics and, in my experience anyway, haven’t much studied the creationist’s arguments, most, I suspect, are in this position: they accept the testimony of the physics experts regarding the age of the cosmos in the face of substantial countertestimony without decent, non-question-begging argument for preferring their experts’ testimony to the non-experts’.

Now, it’d be a stringent epistemology indeed which held that all such folks are irrational or unjustified in believing thus. Surely they’re not. But if they’re not, it’s hard to see why Christians are in a different situation vis-a-vis theological beliefs they form on the basis of testimony by their experts.

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Mark March 30, 2010 at 6:29 am

Professor Crisp, thanks for coming here to clarify your position against the characterization some of the commenters in this thread have made. I agree with everything you’ve said. However, while you’re still here, I wonder if I might ask you about my own objection, which I briefly gestured at in the seventh or eight comment but will spell out more fully now.

You seem obviously right to suggest that sophisticated Westerners who lack a background in physics are right to believe the universe is old even when presented by evidence from Young-Earth Creationists which they don’t know how to answer. And the reason indeed seems to be the mere fact that the community of mainstream physicists which they subscribe to as authoritative says the YEC’s are wrong. But as you acknowledge in the interview with Luke, there are circumstances under which even expert testimony can be undercut. For instance, if the YEC’s presented excellent evidence that all mainstream physicists were in the pockets of some shadowy conspiracy bent on convincing the world that literalist Christianity is false, then we would no longer count those physicists’ testimony as authoritative. Or if we believed the YEC’s were in possession of scientific data that no mainstream physicists were aware of and which would almost certainly change their minds, perhaps we would no longer find their testimony persuasive, since it’s founded on such incomplete information.

These cases suggest to me that, in addition to expert testimony, two things are needed to rationally ignore contravening evidence E: 1. a belief that our experts are actually responsive to evidence like E, and 2. a belief that our experts could actually refute or otherwise minimize the significance of E, even if we ourselves can’t.

Now, who are the experts in the community of, say, Christian Evangelicals? The church deacons, or perhaps the most sophisticated Evangelical theologians or apologists? In that case, we would expect their word to trump that of atheists like Richard Dawkins only if the above two conditions are met. But it seems like if your philosophical criticism of McGrew-style historical arguments is right, no one is capable of demonstrating the probabilitiy of Christian theism, even the expert apologists. Therefore, anyone who considers you to be an expert in the Evangelical philosophical community has a defeater to the belief that Evangelical experts could refute naysayers like Dawkins on Christianity. Therefore, such people don’t meet the criteria of rationality on their religious beliefs.

In other words, it seems to me like there’s a tension in maintaining both that standard apologetics fails but that belief in theological experts is reasonable.

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Tom Crisp March 30, 2010 at 7:24 am

Mark,

Thanks; good questions.

Suppose you’re right about the conditions under which we may rationally ignore countertestimony. (They seem plausible enough.)

You say: “But it seems like if your philosophical criticism of McGrew-style historical arguments is right, no one is capable of demonstrating the probabilitiy of Christian theism, even the expert apologists. Therefore, anyone who considers you to be an expert in the Evangelical philosophical community has a defeater to the belief that Evangelical experts could refute naysayers like Dawkins on Christianity. Therefore, such people don’t meet the criteria of rationality on their religious beliefs.”

A couple points. First, I didn’t argue for anything as strong as what you’re attributing to me. I didn’t argue that no one is capable of showing Christian theism probable. I argued only that natural theological argument for the inspiration of the Bible faces difficulties. That’s consistent with there being good natural theological arguments for other central Christian claims (e.g., the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus). I think there are good natural theological arguments for these claims.

Second, on your point that anyone who considers me an expert in the Evangelical philosophical community has a defeater to the belief that Evangelical experts could refute naysayers like Dawkins on Christianity. I don’t think that follows. Your second condition on rationally ignoring countertestimony lays down that one have good reason to think one’s experts capable of adequately responding to the countertestimonial claims. But providing a positive natural theological argument for this or that Christian claim isn’t the only way of responding to Dawkins’ countertestimony. One can also show his arguments flawed. (So here I have in mind the distinction made in epistemology between rebutting and undercutting defeaters. One needn’t put a rebutting defeater against Dawkins to respond to his objections; you could put an undercutting defeater against him.) Since nothing I say casts doubt on the ability of Christian apologists to do that, so I’m thinking, nothing I say constitutes a defeater for evangelicals prone to trust the testimony of their experts on Dawkins.

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Mark March 30, 2010 at 8:11 am

Professor Crisp, thanks once more for your response. I actually didn’t mean to imply that you thought there are no good natural theological arguments for certain components of Christian theism (e.g., the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus); but I see now that I was much too strong in describing you as saying there are good arguments for Christianity in general. I take it you would say something along the lines of the following: many Christians have had religious experiences confirming Christianity, and expert Christian epistemologists have assured us (pace Dawkins) that these count as powerful evidence in Christianity’s favor, perhaps along with natural theological arguments for God, the resurrection, etc. Is this correct?

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Anonymous March 30, 2010 at 8:43 am

Hi Rob-

Yes, I will answer your question. I don’t believe in any of those things. But I fail to understand why that’s at all important. I do believe that there are people who have justified beliefs in those things. I also believe that you should lower your credence in your belief that there’s no Bigfoot if a trustworthy person in your life tells you tomorrow that she saw Bigfoot. Those two things are what’s at issue in this discussion.

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Rob March 30, 2010 at 9:15 am

Thank you anon.

My question is important because I wanted to get to the heart of our point of departure. You think there are folks who have a justified belief in ghosts, while I do not.

Why don’t I? Because when I ask ghosters about their experience of ghosts, it has always been something extraordinarily mundane, that can be explained easily without the added assumption of actual spooks being about.
They see a vague shape in a shadow or a picture is crooked. For these folks, that is enough for them to believe in spooks.

So they have inadequate epistemic hygiene. Their bar of belief is lower than mine.

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Anonymous March 30, 2010 at 9:31 am

Rob,

You are thinking too narrowly, since you’re only thinking about actual people you’ve met or heard about. Certainly the inference from “Nobody that I know who believes in ghosts is justified in so doing” to “Nobody who believes in ghosts is justified in so doing” is invalid.

What about someone who was told all through his formative years by people he trusted that ghosts exist? Aren’t there some such situations in which his belief in ghosts is justified? If not, why not? Can you be justified in believing anything on the basis of your parents’ testimony?

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Rob March 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

Anon,

So inductive reasoning is invalid?

I have interacted with many many ghosters and bigfooters, and all of the so called evidence they have is very poor. Pathetically poor. So I provisionally conclude that all ghosters and bigfooters probably have unjustified belief in ghosts and bigfoot.

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lukeprog March 30, 2010 at 10:12 am

Ken,

Wow, I am shocked to read that Craig doesn’t believe in the sensus divinitatis. I assumed he was following Plantinga. But it looks to me like that’s too Calvinistic for Craig, so he goes with a more evangelical-friendly ‘Spiritu sancti internum.’

If Craig has more rigorously presented his ‘Spiritu sancti internum’ theory, I’m unaware of it. It does not appear to be merely a distinction (from Plantinga), as Craig seems to defend an internalist epistemology rather than Plantinga’s (post-1990) externalist epistemology. This may explain why Craig’s epistemology is (on Craig’s view) less defeasible than Plantinga’s.

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Zeb March 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

Rob, Anon did answer your question in the next sentence:

“But if she (theist or atheist) has a whole lot of evidence for the truth of her religious or anti-religious beliefs (lots of religious experience, lots of arguments, lots of testimony, etc.), then it might not render her irrational.”

Anon did not say that widespread belief in gods is a reason to believe in them, just that it is a reason to be less certain about their non-existence than if there were not widespread belief in them. The same is true of ghosts and the rest, but widespread disagreement may not undermine a set of very strong reason for disbelief (or belief, as the case may be).

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Rob March 30, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Anon said:

“I also believe that you should lower your credence in your belief that there’s no Bigfoot if a trustworthy person in your life tells you tomorrow that she saw Bigfoot.”

Three points.

First, what I believe or don’t believe is not something subject to my will.

Second, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. So I am puzzled why you think I “should lower my credence” based on unreliable evidence. That seems like a strange thing for you to encourage a person to do.

Third, if a trustworthy person told me that she saw BigFoot, then the likelihood that she has made a mistake or is just pulling my leg or is the victim of a hoax are far far greater than that she actually saw a BigFoot.
After all, people pull hoaxes all the time. People make perceptual errors all the time.

So, I submit that if a trustworthy person said she saw BigFoot, it would have little to no effect on my degree of disbelief in BigFoot. Although as I say, my beliefs are not something I can willfully control, so I cannot say for sure how such testimony would effect my degree of belief.

The interesting point here is that according to you, I ought to shift my degree of disbelief in BigFoot based on something as feeble and unreliable as eyewitness testimony. I think this explains much about why we disagree. I think you should shift your degree of belief based on reliable evidence. In this case, a live specimen or a dead body.

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exapologist March 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm

With respect to all the references to Chisholm’s The Problem of the Criterion, I can’t resist this quote from Chisholm in that very reference:

“We are all acquainted with people who think they know a lot more than in fact they do know. I’m thinking of fanatics, bigots, mystics, and various types of dogmatists.”

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Hermes March 31, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Anonymous, this one got away from me a bit, and I admit it is both incomplete and rambling. Instead of not posting it at all, I’ll post what I have. Hopefully it is worth your time to read it.

To keep things in context, I repeat some ideas and comments, and will provide some details on axillary issues.

* * *

Religions do inform theistic beliefs, so when I mention sectarian issues, I am treating both theistic and religious beliefs and concepts as a package. Otherwise, I take ‘religious skeptics’ to mean ‘theistic skeptics’, and I emphasize theism regardless of any associated religion because some religions or even religious people do not have deities. (As an example, I considered myself Christian for a few years *after* I determined that there was no actual deity. Besides explicitly non-theistic religious groups such as about 1/2 of the Buddhists, I have since found other examples of this disconnect even in the case of usually theistic religious officials including priests.)

a) Sure. I’m not a fan of solipsism or solipsistic arguments.

[ If a solipsistic argument is an accurate description of reality, we would be incapable of showing that to each other -- let alone much else -- as it logically shows that communication is not reliable or even possible. While I could be wrong, I'm going on the assumption that I'm not interacting in an isolated bubble detached from any other objects, people/entities, ... and that there is one reality that we share in common and that reality is independently approachable by each individual and can be discussed and discovered between individuals and groups without dogmatic preconceptions. ]

b) Refute actually isn’t necessary. Skeptics of any stripe are interested in what can be demonstrated (‘show me’). Could an abstract example be posited that makes theistic claims reasonable? Sure. Could specific non-abstract evidence be offered to make theistic claims reasonable? Yes. At the point of logic and the point of evidence, those claims are in the same set as other theistic claims and have to be dealt with on their merits.

As a practical step, as I have no theistic dog in that fight, I decline from having to go beyond the ‘show me’ stage till these differences are resolved.

Note that this is not tactical as I really don’t preferentially treat any theistic beliefs except for two instances;

1. I give a nod to those with deist or pantheist theistic beliefs. Those two have passed the hurdle of being logically constant and consistent with reality as a whole. Where they don’t convince me is that they are mutually exclusive and (importantly) they do not offer positive support for the claims. That said, I do not have knowledge that either deism or pantheism are even refutable, though I do not believe either of them are correct. (Note the difference here between statements of knowledge and/or associated evidence (logical, empirical, …) and a personal belief. From what I understand of these beliefs they do not claim certain knowledge or even evidence, and in addition I see no way to either refute them or prove them and very little chance of offering experiential evidence for them. That conversation could go on for a while.)

2. Specific sectarian beliefs where it is demanded by the theist that some of the issues raised be handled in a specific way or using a specific set of materials. Basically, I will allow some presumption of specific sectarian beliefs, but not much. They simply aren’t my beliefs and if the other person wanted to talk with someone from their sect, then they came to the wrong place. Yet, I’ve read a few religious texts, studied commentary on them, so I’m not totally unaware of different theistic and associated religious perspectives and as such can be flexible as necessary. Yet, there is a practical and philosophical limit. As a demonstration, is it OK for a Sikh to presume all of the theistic concepts used in a conversation with a Zoroastrian — specifically, should the Zoroastrian ignore the implications of Angra Mainyu or that the Sikh does not identify the one true god Ahura Mazda? If it is not, and I think that it is clearly not OK, then it is acceptable and even polite to temporarily take on some of a theists sectarian perspective but it is rude on the part of the theist to demand that the conversation be bolted into place or that the non-theist be presumed to be some sort of member of the theist’s religious sect with all that that entails.

* * *

To come back to the deists and pantheists for a moment, note that they do not and probably can not offer positive evidence for their theistic beliefs.

A more generic theistic experience does offer positive support for theism, but they should be vetted against similar claims from other theists or we are back to requiring one group (theist or non-theist) to abide by the sectarian claims of another.

* * *

As for the number of theists giving atheists pause, for me it really doesn’t. I’m an atheist specifically because I am not a theist. If I thought it was more likely that some set of deities existed than not, I’d be some sort of theist. I don’t, so I’m not. It is really that simple.

That does not mean I can not have experiences that others would call religious or even theistic. As far as I can tell, the issue is one of attribution not of experience. I’m fully willing to experience things in a meditative state or to be enthralled with nature or the world beyond my toes or even to ‘speak to people’ in my mind as people used to speak of being inspired by muses and geniuses. Yet, I see no reason to force a layer of anything else on to those experiences, or to even to deny them if they come. When theists make claims about experiences they often reach pre-existing sectarian conclusions. Of those who have a ‘road to Damascus’ conversion experience the details may point to the city of Mecca or an ashram on the river Ganges, yet they’re back at the same position as before conversion experience or confirmation experience.

That said, I am concerned. Christianity is in dire need of a new reformation, and Islam even more so. What puzzles me is that there’s no serious interest in putting effort into that overhaul.

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chuck April 6, 2010 at 3:23 am

I think Professor Crisp’s defense holds. I don’t think it is irrational for someone to assent to authority and therefore adopt a truth claim. My friend Rohina wh wears the hajib as a Muslim woman is not irrational. I think her arguments for doing so are immature and superstitious but her assent to the authority of her traditions is not irrational. Professor Crisp succeeds in defending his faith against a strawman. Divine inspiration is not invalid, not because it fails to be rational but because it operates under the authority of superstition. Where his science analogy fails is his unwillingness to examine that expert testimony by scientists operates in a realm where a theory may be falsified. Evidence is sought in science to disprove the authoritarian claim not, harden one’s thinking to the intractable truth of a prior cause. A scientific authority rejoices when his hypothetical cause is disproved a theistic expert does not do the same thing. Experts in religion will twist the evidence to fit their opinion while science demands that their hypothesis fit with the evidence. They are very different levels of expertise. Professor Crisp is the kind of spin doctor that has helped convince me religion is an emotional security blanket where frightened people define the highest moral good as unquestioned obedience to authority. I find that completely rational but also consider it very cowardly.

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hewhocutsdown April 6, 2010 at 5:38 pm

lukeprog/Tom Crisp

I’ve mostly read all the comments above (good Lord, there were a lot of them), but I couldn’t find anyone asking the question I wanted to ask, namely:

if person x holds a justified belief in the divine inspiration of their religious text of choice because the weight of authority y bests any counter evidence/counter testimony that they have experienced then…how does person y get a justified belief? It can’t scale upward infinitely, so at some point this argument collapses with whoever the first authority is.

Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding the argument.

Secondly; thank you. The ideas expressed above provide a means of exploring how to change one’s beliefs, and how to engage with people who believe differently without considering them fools or malevolent from the outset. If I am speaking to a Muslim friend about the Qu’ran, we may engage as intellectual equals, not looking down upon one another, but recognizing that we come from different communities with different recognized authorities. We can then begin the process of dismantling each other’s justifications and attempt to convince one another based on stronger authorities, better evidence and well-reasoned argument.

I don’t see Crisp as arguing in favour for cloistering oneself from the world and being steeped in dogma; rather he’s simply acknowledging that this is a fact of human existence, and therefore you may meet someone who truly, reasonably believes in UFOs, or Vishnu, or racist ideologies. Recognizing that, wrong as those ideas are, the person is doing the best they can with what they’ve had to work with up to this point, it allows for empathy and respect to exist where otherwise there would be condescension. Now if the beliefs persist after better evidence and authorities are presented, this justification may no longer hold, but that’s a different, and trickier, argument.

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dan April 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Luke,

I must admit you got sloppy during this interview. I am quite happy that Tom came in to defend himself as I was going to have to. I enjoy your site (I’m a theist) because, as others have said, you are generally even-handed. But I found during this interview that you either deliberately mis-characterized Crisp’s position or you simply didn’t understand it. I truly hope it was the latter since we are all learning all of the time, and I would like to continue to put my faith in your credibility.

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lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 8:35 am

dan,

I just disagree. I brought up some obvious criticisms to Crisp’s approach, including some he himself raised in his own paper, and gave him an opportunity to respond to them at length. That is not ‘sloppy’, it’s what I always do. Tom Crisp and I continued our dialogue in private email after this and I never got the impression that he thought I was disrespectful or not taking him seriously.

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dan April 18, 2010 at 8:24 pm

dan,I just disagree. I brought up some obvious criticisms to Crisp’s approach, including some he himself raised in his own paper, and gave him an opportunity to respond to them at length. That is not ’sloppy’, it’s what I always do. Tom Crisp and I continued our dialogue in private email after this and I never got the impression that he thought I was disrespectful or not taking him seriously.  

luke,

Fair enough. I got the distinct impression that you construed his position as being intellectually irresponsible because one would be arbitrarily limiting their social group and epistemic exposure so as to virtually guarantee justification for their own view. But his position wasn’t saying that at all, and he was quick to say that once one became aware of other competing views, that “evidential and probabilistic considerations” would come into play.

I don’t remember you acknowledging that you understood that, and it seemed to me that you kept reiterating how “intellectually irresponsible” it was, etc. If this is not in fact the case, then I retract my statement of you being sloppy, and I apologize.

Thanks

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Keith May 5, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Theological experts?!?! Seriously? Aside from the obvious fallacies evident in Crisp’s thinking, like his affinity for wearing blinkers (which involves a complete destruction of any real meaning to the word “justified”), he claims, without noticing the error he’s making, that there exists such a thing as a “theological expert”. What, precisely, is a theological expert basing his “expertise” on? The Bible? Is that it? Scientific experts are only known as such because they have spent many long hours sifting through, and making sense of, a mountain of available data. What, precisely are the data that theologians sift through? Superstitious texts from the Bronze Age? Give me a break.

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scott December 16, 2011 at 8:20 am

Even assuming that neither the theist nor the atheist defends global skepticism, I still see no easy way to resolve the disagreement. The reformed epistemologist believes that the atheist suffers from a form of anosognosia: the patient is in possession of a faculty (sensus divinitatis) of which she is unaware or misidentifies. The atheist believe that the theist suffers from a form of autonetic agnosia: the patient is impaired in the ability to identify certain kinds of self-generated mental events. Unlike real anosognosia patients, there are no _controlled_ external empirical treatments that could direct either the atheist or theist to a closer appreciation of reality, as these symptoms manifest subjectively within the mind.
It seems at least for the atheist, there are _uncontrolled_ external empirical ‘treatments’ that might make her conscious of her anosognosia. Theists seem to have intuitively understood this possibility for millennia. If the atheist becomes aware of information she could not have obtained from anywhere else but a faculty that grants access to external information (i.e. highly specific knowledge of future events), one might become convinced of a sensus divinitatis, as it would imply that these mental events are not self-generated. Until these uncontrolled events occur, however, the atheist is left to suffer from her anosognosia.
It seems at least for the theist, there are no ‘treatments’ that might make her conscious of her autonetic agnosia. This may simply stem from the greater difficulty in proving a negative. In Deuteronomy, the reader is given very explicit instructions in how to identify true prophets of yhwh: if a ‘prophet’ makes a prediction and it doesn’t come true, he is not a prophet of yhwh and must be put to death. Yet in the book of Jonah, the true prophet Jonah makes a prophecy from yhwh and it doesn’t come true because yhwh simply changes his mind. This invalidates the test for determining true prophecy.
In my mind, this principle of falsifiability places the atheist at a clear advantage. Either she is not suffering from anosognosia or she, at least in principle, has the opportunity to be made aware of her condition and correct her mistaken assumptions. The theist likewise has no opportunity to be made aware of her condition, if in fact she suffers from one, as any counter-evidence can be made to conform to the sensus divinitatis hypothesis.

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