Knowledge and Bias: A First Response to Tom Clark

Knowledge and Bias: A First Response to Tom Clark

Several weeks ago Tom Clark commented here on a blog entry about dualism. Clark is the director of the Center for Naturalism and is (I believe) also responsible for a related website, Naturalism.org. He speaks nationally on naturalism and has authored many articles on the topic. I’ve read several of these articles and exchanged a couple of emails with him, and I’ve found him to be both gracious and thoughtful. If I were a naturalist or atheist, I would rather have Tom Clark for a spokesperson than some of the more prominent writers like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris.

Here at Thinking Christian he referred us specifically to his article Reality and Its Rivals: Putting Epistemology First. In it he argues (as stated in the abstract),

Being epistemically responsible—not taking appearances at face value and seeking external confirmation for belief—inevitably pushes us toward intersubjectivity and science. This in turn increases the plausibility of the claim that there’s nothing over and above the natural world, what science shows to exist.

As reflected in its title, the article’s primary focus is epistemology: how we know what we know, how we know that we know it, and what practices one ought to follow in order to gain knowledge most reliably. He touches also on matters of ethics and meaning. I plan to respond to the latter two topics in future posts here. For this one and another soon to come I will concentrate on what he has to say about knowledge.

He opens with this:

About the most crucial distinction we can make as cognitive creatures is between appearance and reality, between how things seem and how they really are, between subjectivity and objectivity.

He proceeds to describe how science has succeeded in developing human knowledge over the past several centuries, and contrasts science’s reliability and success with what comes of “disdaining empiricism,” especially “religiously inspired anti-empiricism,” which he equates with “contempt for intellectual prowess.” Anti-empiricism, he says, is “driven by ideology and profit as well as by its role as a cultural identifier.”

Christian evangelicals, who believe the planet and its life forms are God’s creations, and that Darwin’ [sic] theory of natural selection inevitably leads to moral decay, have a religious stake in science being wrong about evolution and cosmology. They work tirelessly to inject young earth creationism and its offspring, intelligent design, into public school curricula.

There are several errors of fact in these short bits quoted so far, which I trust others will be able and ready to comment on. I am mostly interested in what Clark calls “the central argument of this paper:”

that when it comes to representing reality, there is no coherent ethically responsible substitute for science and other empirical disciplines. The alternatives—faith-based religions, empirically unfounded secular ideologies, and commercial agendas hostile to evidence—often claim to be objective representations of how the world is in various respects, but have no entitlement to such claims. The only reliable basis for knowledge, the only route from subjectivity, is to relentlessly subject a belief, then to allay the doubt (or confirm it) by gathering evidence that’s independent of one’s commitment to the belief…. We must put epistemology first and get it right, and make no bones about it.

So how does he propose to get it right? He places primary emphasis on two cornerstone principles. First is what he calls the insulation requirement:

To back up our claim that experience captures reality we must rule out such influences [intensity of experience, strong expectations, lifelong immersion in a religious culture, etc.], insulating our beliefs as best we can from subjective bias and possibly mistaken conventional wisdom…. We must do our best to insulate beliefs in [G]od, the soul, and the supernatural from sources of potential bias.

I note in passing that Clark generally knows how to capitalize proper nouns. Other than the occasional (and understandable) typo, he does it for every proper noun in every article I’ve read of his; except there is one such word he never capitalizes, for some strange reason. I don’t quite understand the rule of grammar that calls for “God,” when used as a proper noun, to be written all in the lower case. Suppose I were to capitalize every proper noun in this blog post except for “Clark.” I think he might take it as a very intentional yet rather puerile personal swipe against him. If he has some reason other than disrespectful dismissiveness for not capitalizing “God,” I would be interested to know what it is. For my part, when I quote him in sentences that include the word I will correct his grammar, as I have just done.

Back to the argument. His second cornerstone principle is what he calls the public object requirement:

Unless there’s intersubjective data, a public object of some sort we can all in principle see or sense in some fashion and thus agree exists, it doesn’t matter how many millions of individuals report subjective experiences of [G]od and the soul: they could all be mistaken, just as all those reporting experiences of alien abduction could be (and likely are) mistaken.

By these two criteria, he is quite sure that religious claims are “perilously unsupported,” extremely likely to be false, and irresponsible to hold as knowledge claims. Science, on the other hand, can be insulated from bias and rests entirely on intersubjective, public-object methodologies, and is therefore reliable as a means of gaining knowledge.

What can be said about this? Is there value in his two central principles? Quite obviously there is, especially for dealing with the natural world; there’s no disputing that science has built its enormous success on these and other methodological principles. But should we take them as normative for all knowledge? We run into serious problems if we try. I’ll start with the insulation requirement. Clark supposes that (a) all religious knowledge claims are tainted by bias, and (b) science can be (and often enough is) free of bias. He insists that

science as it’s commonly practiced manifestly does not make any commitment to naturalism…. science can’t be accused of dogmatism…. Science isn’t in the business of defending or rejecting a worldview, whether naturalism or supernaturalism, scientology or Briantology….

There’s nothing of worldview naturalism in any of this, only a quintessentially natural desire for trustworthy grounds for belief. Non-empirical ways of knowing fail to meet worldview neutral standards of epistemic accuracy….. Were they to champion empiricism as the most reliable route to objectivity, science-friendly organizations wouldn’t thereby be promoting naturalism.

Now, I certainly think that science can operate as nondogmatically, with reference to naturalism, as he describes here. Naturalism is hardly essential as a foundational belief either for scientists or for the practice of science. Science has to hold that there is a natural world and that it operates generally in ways that can be studied, predicted, and understood, but it does not have to hold that the natural world is the only reality. That science has this worldview freedom is not to say that it always exercises it, or that Clark himself is consistent on the point. His own naturalistic bias is quite evident.

Should science find public, reproducible evidence for intelligent design, including a specification of the designer and a clear account of its mode of operation, all this would perforce be incorporated into our best intersubjective picture of the world. The more reliable and convincing this account, and the more integrated with the rest of what we reliably know, the less tempted we would be to call such design supernatural. By illuminating the connections between phenomena of vastly different scales and types, science is inherently monistic in showing the unity of reality. So it’s hard, perhaps impossible for purportedly supernatural phenomena to survive clear explanation and empirically-based understanding; instead, they get naturalized.

A passage like that is hardly free of worldview bias. It predicts that if any truth about God or spirituality is ever reliably discovered, it must push us toward naturalistic interpretations of God and the spiritual world. Elsewhere, similarly and with no less bias, Clark argues for “causal closure, the idea that a scientific examination of bodily action leaves no explanatory room for anything non-physical.'”

But there is a deeper problem with the insulation requirement, if I have understood correctly. Its purpose is to insulate knowledge from bias. Its effect, however, is to rule out non-natural knowledge by definition. It cannot permit a person to come to a non-natural conclusion. It is thoroughly biased toward naturalism. The bias of which Clark accuses religious knowledge is peanuts by comparison. He says that it has great difficulty overcoming preconceptions, desires, and prior expectations. His epistemology, on the other hand, does not just have great difficulty overcoming its expectation of non-supernaturalism, it cannot ever, by definition, overcome its prior commitment to non-supernaturalism.

More specifically, it is biased against any knowledge toward which the knower holds a personal relationship of concern or commitment. Clark says that those who claim to know God ought to be able to do so dispassionately, unconcernedly, if they are to trust their own claim. He supposes, I guess, that God would want us to relate to him as we do to a laboratory experiment; that our doctrine of God might be of no more personal concern than our doctrine of quarks. If God is personal, a being of love and holiness who relates to us as such, then Clark says such a God cannot be known, because inevitably we would care about that which we think we know, and as soon as we care about it we must conclude we don’t know it after all. The insulation requirement does not insulate us from bias, for it is itself inherently biased. It rules out even the bare possibility that there is a knowable personal God.

I have two principles of my own to suggest to Tom Clark. (I’m sure he already knows them, but if my analysis is correct he has not applied them here.) One: any rule of knowledge that by definition rules out even the possibility of knowing something in matters as important as God, is biased and cannot be used to judge whether there is a God. Two: if you propose a universal rule of knowledge that violates its own strictures, it would be wise to discard it.

Now to Clark’s “public object requirement.”

Not only must we do our best to insulate beliefs in [G]od, the soul and the supernatural from sources of potential bias, we must find evidence for them outside private subjective experience, evidence that’s publicly observable by those who haven’t experienced [G]od’s embrace.

His discussion on this is pointed primarily toward disagreements he has with a theologian, John Haught, whose religious epistemology is (according to Clark) based on internal experience alone. I have not read Haught, but I have seen enough quoted from him in secondary sources to doubt that he represents historic Biblical Christianity—he seems to hold to something like process theology. Clark also speaks of similar discussions he has had with Stuart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, who I believe are more orthodox in their Christianity. Nevertheless I share the view that one contributing factor to Christian knowledge is one’s personal encounter with the personal God. I don’t see anything the least bit incoherent about that. My experience with God is not evidence for you to believe in, but it certainly can be evidence for me, supporting my belief. Not the only evidence, but part of it.

Clark makes his own case absurdly simple, though, by pointing to Haught in the way that he does. He represents Christianity as if it had nothing more to offer on its behalf than Christians’ internal experience (or Intelligent Design, mentioned elsewhere in his paper). This is hardly the case! There is the historical record of Israel, Christ, and the church; there are strong philosophical arguments in favor of God, and also in favor of the soul and free will (see below); and there are strong existential arguments in favor of Christianity. There is evidence for Christian belief outside private subjective experience. If Clark addresses this anywhere, I have yet to find it. I haven’t read all of his papers, so maybe he can point us toward one that’s relevant. In this article he certainly treated it as if there were only the two ways of knowing about God.

Clark also says,

Just as belief in[G]od needs support by public observation to be warranted, so too does belief in the soul and free will.

What could be more publicly observed than people (one’s self and others) leading lives by our own decisions, exercising free will? And what basis could there be then for denying free will, other than a strong naturalistic bias?

Finally, the public object requirement seems rather too stringent. In a paper devoted entirely to Haught’s religious epistemology, he puts the requirement this way:

Given the fallibility of human experience, its potential to misrepresent the world, it seems reasonable to ask for further justification for the claim that religious experience reveals the truth about things. This normally involves producing evidence for the claim that’s independent of the experience itself, something other than the mental state of the experiencer, such as a publicly observable object or measurement.

It seems to me that a consistent application of this requirement would lead to a rejection of any knowledge that was not, in principle, available for public observation and measurement. Thus I cannot know what I am thinking at this moment, for my thoughts are quite inaccessible to any other person’s verification, or for observation by any instrument. Now, perhaps there is some valid principle whereby the public object requirement is set aside for knowledge of one’s own thoughts and internal state. If so it ought to be articulated; for Clark certainly seems to make it a universal test for reliable knowledge:

I’ve called this the public object requirement, and along with the insulation requirement it constitutes basic epistemic good practice, without which no factual claim about the world has credibility (emphasis added).

So although Tom Clark’s paper is well written, and his tests of knowledge are interesting, the standard they set is one they fail to meet, if my analysis is correct. They are fatally self-contradictory. And there is yet one additional major sense in which I think they fall short, which I will save for my next post on this topic.

Series Navigation (Tom Clark and Naturalism):Knowledge and Error: Second Response to Tom Clark >>>

22 thoughts on “Knowledge and Bias: A First Response to Tom Clark

  1. Tom,

    I’m reading your post (as I also watch the Pittsburgh / Baltimore game) and I noticed this:

    (There’s another proper noun—Scientology—he missed capitalizing. I was wrong a few paragraphs ago when I said he did it for every word but one.)

    You write often enough, and well enough, to know that this is not acceptable to the format of, well, good writing. “It’s not the writing, it’s the re-writing,” is probably the truest of the writing axioms. In this case, it’s obvious that it would take less effort to withdraw or modify your previous quibble than it would to note its exception, as you did, and let the previously incorrect statement stand.

  2. Hi Tom G.,

    Some responses to your comments in Part 1.

    Re capitalization, you’re of course right. We capitalize Zeus, Thor, Osiris, and the proper names of other traditional deities, so we should capitalize God when referring to the Christian deity, the existence of which is one of the issues between us. But when we talk about gods generally, we can use lower case. I haven’t capitalized God in a perhaps ill-advised attempt to draw attention to the fact that God is one of many possible gods. But I’ll capitalize from now on and thanks for pointing out my error, also pointed out by Russell Blackford, co-editor of the forthcoming Voices of Disbelief in which I have a chapter.

    You wrote:

    “A passage like that is hardly free of worldview bias. It predicts that if any truth about God or spirituality is ever reliably discovered, it must push us toward naturalistic interpretations of God and the spiritual world.”

    That prediction doesn’t stem from a naturalistic bias, but from the nature of science and more generally the project of gaining intersubjective knowledge: understanding things and their connections tends to unify our view of the world, and the world that science reveals is what we ordinarily call nature. I also say that “Should something categorically immaterial someday play a role in scientific explanations, so be it, but for the time being there’s no indication that dualism will carry the day.” Same goes for the supernatural. In my exchange with Goetz and Taliaferro I say: “The naturalist agrees that science can’t categorically exclude immaterial God, souls, free will and mental causes, that is, it can’t categorically rule out their existence, but disagrees that there are scientific, empirical, intersubjective grounds for reasonably believing that they exist.” So all I’m saying is that, *if* you stick with science and more broadly intersubjective empiricism as grounds for belief, the chances are you’ll end up with a picture of a unified reality, not one divided into two categorically different realms, natural vs. supernatural. This is consistent with the claim, as you put it that “[science] does not have to hold that the natural world is the only reality.” It doesn’t *have* to hold this, but all the scientific evidence thus far amassed points in this direction, not in the direction of a fundamental bifurcation of existence into natural and supernatural realms.

    You say that the insulation requirement is “thoroughly biased toward naturalism” by virtue of being “biased against any knowledge toward which the knower holds a personal relationship of concern or commitment.” So it rules out “even the bare possibility that there is a knowable personal God.” Not so. There may be such a God, but in order to know whether or not it exists, we can’t rely on what Goetz and Taliaferro call “first person data,” for instance the subjective experience of being embraced by God as Haught speaks of it. Such deliverances, I think you agree (at least when it comes to alien abduction, the paranormal, etc.), are notoriously prone to bias. Your “knowledge toward which the knower holds a personal relationship of concern or commitment” is exactly a case in point: you are concerned that God exist as matter of personal commitment, and such concern and commitment is a bias in favor of God’s existence when it comes to deciding that question. Again, this is not to say that we couldn’t know if a personal God exists, or that “as soon as we care about [something] we must decide we don’t know it after all,” but only that such knowledge, to be reliably objective, should be insulated from subjective bias by hewing to the public object requirement. The principle of insulating knowledge claims from subjective bias isn’t to be biased against the existence of God; it’s simply epistemic good practice that’s independent of any worldview commitment.

    You say “My experience with God is not evidence for you to believe in, but it certainly can be evidence for me, supporting my belief.” It seems to me that good evidence for what’s *objectively* the case (which is what’s at issue: the objective, factual existence of God) is exactly that which should compel belief on the part of *any* knower. Your experience with God can’t count as public evidence in support of an objective claim precisely because it’s privy to you alone, as your statement above suggests. Yet you claim the existence of God is an objective fact that everyone should assent to, *and* (since you disagree with the public object requirement) that your private experience with God and the experience of billions of others *does* support that claim. So I see a bit of an internal contradiction or at least tension in your view. Why defend the importance of personal experience as reliable knowledge (as you do in Part 2 in your discussion of knowledge filters) unless such knowledge helps establish the objective existence of God? This comes up again in Part 3 where you discuss Plantinga and the sensus divinatus.

    You say “There is evidence for Christian belief outside private subjective experience. If Clark addresses this anywhere, I have yet to find it.” There might be such evidence but it wasn’t my concern in these papers, which was to critique religious epistemology insofar as it depends on personal experience or tries to conscript science. If there is good intersubjective, public evidence that Christ existed *and* that he was divine, that would help make the objective case for God. But subjective experience alone, absent public objects, doesn’t add to that case.

    You say “What could be more publicly observed than people (one’s self and others) leading lives by our own decisions, exercising free will? And what basis could there be for denying free will, other than a strong naturalistic bias?” We observe people making decisions, but whether such decisions involve contra-causal free will exercised by an immaterial soul isn’t something we can just know by casually observing behavior. After all, it’s possible decision-making is explicable without appeal to such things. To think so isn’t a naturalistic bias, but is based on scientific investigation of the brain, body and behavior, in which we find no evidence for the soul or any contra-causal capacity.

    You raise a good point when you say

    It seems to me that a consistent application of [the public object] requirement would lead to a rejection of any knowledge that was not, in principle, available for public observation and verification. Thus I cannot know what I am thinking at this moment, for my thoughts are quite inaccessible to any other person’s verification, or for observation by any instrument. Now, perhaps there is some valid principle whereby the public object requirement is set aside for knowledge of one’s own thoughts and internal state. If so it ought to be articulated.

    I agree that you know better than anyone what you’re thinking at this moment, because you have direct access to your thoughts – you know about them non-inferentially since you “hear” them “in your head”. But your brain is a (potentially) public object, and with a sufficiently sophisticated and personally calibrated brain-reading machine, there’s no reason *in principle* that I’m aware of that we couldn’t eventually know your thoughts as well as you do, in real time. But for the moment you’re right: we have private knowledge of our own states of mind for which there is no public object to provide confirmation. I don’t think this is “fatally contradictory,” however, to the principle that we need public objects to confirm the existence of things *outside* our private states of mind. Private experience, although perfectly real, isn’t on its own enough to establish the existence of what that experience might be about or subjectively involve, e.g., God, the paranormal, alien abduction, etc.

  3. Hi, Tom C.

    I appreciate the courtesy expressed in your response here. I continue to hold that if I were a naturalist or atheist I would certainly prefer to point to you as my spokesperson, compared with some others who are more prominent.

    I note your openness to the possibility of the supernatural. There seems to be a shifting of terms here, though. I had written,

    A passage like that is hardly free of worldview bias. It predicts that if any truth about God or spirituality is ever reliably discovered, it must push us toward naturalistic interpretations of God and the spiritual world.

    You responded,

    That prediction doesn’t stem from a naturalistic bias, but from the nature of science and more generally the project of gaining intersubjective knowledge…

    The terms shifted there, from “push toward” to “stems from.” Whether that prediction stems from a naturalistic bias or not, it certainly has bias as one of its effects. Recall that I see the value of intersubjective knowledge in the study of the natural world. The question of interest, however, is whether the natural world is all that exists, and the specific current question is whether your insulation criterion meets its own standard of freedom from bias. In its effects, it does not.

    You say,

    The naturalist agrees that science can’t categorically exclude immaterial God, souls, free will and mental causes, that is, it can’t categorically rule out their existence, but disagrees that there are scientific, empirical, intersubjective grounds for reasonably believing that they exist.

    Couple that with your insistence that there is no reliable mode of acquiring knowledge other than “scientific, empirical, intersubjective,” and you have an epistemology that is biased against discovery of the supernatural. Why should we expect a mode of inquiry that is fine-tuned for the natural world to be the correct mode of inquiry for the non-natural world? And if that mode of inquiry fails to discover the non-natural world, why should we be surprised at that? If I don’t find a jigsaw puzzle piece under the couch by sweeping for it with a magnet, does that mean there’s no jigsaw puzzle piece there?

    So I agree with this:

    *if* you stick with science and more broadly intersubjective empiricism as grounds for belief, the chances are you’ll end up with a picture of a unified reality, not one divided into two categorically different realms, natural vs. supernatural.

    That is what you have to find, if you use methods whose competence is limited to discovering the natural world.

    all the scientific evidence thus far amassed points in this direction, not in the direction of a fundamental bifurcation of existence into natural and supernatural realms.

    Just as all the magnetic searches show there’s no jigsaw puzzle piece under the couch.

    There may be such a God, but in order to know whether or not it exists, we can’t rely on what Goetz and Taliaferro call “first person data,” for instance the subjective experience of being embraced by God as Haught speaks of it.

    If that were the only data supporting theism, it would be grossly inadequate to demonstrate our case. Now, there are believers who do not care about demonstrations of the case, which is as it should be: Christianity should not be only for those who can assess all the philosophical and historical evidences. If they are convinced just by the witness of the Holy Spirit in their lives, that’s adequate for them. Not every Christian is an apologist.

    Neither you nor I fit that description, though. We want other evidences. Christianity ought to be the kind of thing that admits of other confirmation. And it does, in the form of philosophical arguments, historical evidences, and the changed lives of believers. I don’t have space to run all those arguments here, obviously, but I would call on you to acknowledge that they exist.

    The principle of insulating knowledge claims from subjective bias isn’t to be biased against the existence of God; it’s simply epistemic good practice that’s independent of any worldview commitment.

    It may be free of subjective bias, but it’s not free of systematic bias. It systematically excludes the knower from knowing something he or she personally cares about or is committed to. Therefore it is not worldview-independent at all; it rules out knowledge of God, if God is a person the knower deeply cares about or is committed to. It entails either (a) there is no God, (b) there is no God that anybody would give a fig about, or (c) if there is a God we might care about, there’s no way we could know him. Those are the only options open under your epistemology.

    So you define this sort of God out of existence: A God who is personal, who relates to humans, and who is able to make himself known. You set up your rules of investigation such that you cannot be wrong. That should be concerning to you, because it gives you the same answer whether it’s right or it’s wrong, and whether or not there might be other ways of knowing it’s right or wrong.

    Your experience with God can’t count as public evidence in support of an objective claim precisely because it’s privy to you alone, as your statement above suggests. Yet you claim the existence of God is an objective fact that everyone should assent to, *and* (since you disagree with the public object requirement) that your private experience with God and the experience of billions of others *does* support that claim.

    No. My private experience of God is evidence for me. Others’ private experience of God is evidence for them. We believe we hold that private experience in common, just as we believe that when we say “red,” the other person’s private experience is like ours, or close enough as not to make a difference…

    Why defend the importance of personal experience as reliable knowledge (as you do in Part 2 in your discussion of knowledge filters) unless such knowledge helps establish the objective existence of God?

    It does help establish the existence of God for me, and for those with whom this kind of experience is shared, just as our shared experience of “red” helps establish that red exists as a property of substances. But I do not expect it to count as evidence for God, for those who do not share the experience. I’m comfortable with that tension; I see no contradiction there.

    You say “There is evidence for Christian belief outside private subjective experience. If Clark addresses this anywhere, I have yet to find it.” There might be such evidence but it wasn’t my concern in these papers, which was to critique religious epistemology insofar as it depends on personal experience or tries to conscript science.

    I could wish you had been more clear about that. When you said this in your article:

    Most thoughtful religionists, paranormalists, New Agers, or adherents of other non-science based worldviews feel, at least to some extent, the force of the empirical imperative: that beliefs need validation independent of one’s subjective convictions. There are two main ways that they attempt to satisfy this requirement. One is to claim to be doing science, the other is to claim that there are reliable non-scientific ways of knowing which reveal truths that science can’t capture.

    … you implied, I think, that (a) independent validation is equivalent to empirical validation, and (b) the “two main ways” are the two main ways. Independent validation is not, however, limited to empirical methods. There is also philosophical validation, which is a reliable non-scientific way of knowing. There is also historical validation, which is not science as science is usually defined. These, actually, are the two main ways Christians attempt to provide independent validation of our beliefs. Your “two main ways” are not main ways at all, as I have already said.

    Moving on to the matter of free will…

    We observe people making decisions, but whether such decisions involve contra-causal free will exercised by an immaterial soul isn’t something we can just know by casually observing behavior. After all, it’s possible decision-making is explicable without appeal to such things. To think so isn’t a naturalistic bias, but is based on scientific investigation of the brain, body and behavior, in which we find no evidence for the soul or any contra-causal capacity.

    Two assertions show up here:
    (1) Scientific investigation is the way to find evidence for the soul, and
    (2) Assertion (1) does not express a naturalistic bias.

    I begin to think you do not see what a naturalistic bias is. A naturalistic bias (as I see you practicing it here) is the requirement that all knowledge be acquired by means that are suitable for the natural world, and for the natural world only, thus assuring that if there is a non-natural aspect to reality, it cannot be apprehended as anything one could call knowledge.

    Even your term “contra-causal” is naturalistically biased; what you mean is “contra-physical-processes-causal.”

    But your brain is a (potentially) public object, and with a sufficiently sophisticated and personally calibrated brain-reading machine, there’s no reason *in principle* that I’m aware of that we couldn’t eventually know your thoughts as well as you do, in real time.

    I call Daniel Dennett, a member of your advisory board, to my defense here. I don’t have Consciousness Explained on hand right now (it was a loan from the library), so I can’t point you to the chapter or page number, but I think he would disagree with you heartily on this point.

    Thus, for all the reasons given here and earlier, I continue to hold that your attempt to eliminate one form of bias with your insulation requirement introduces another strong, systematic bias; and that therefore the insulation requirement is self-defeating.

    Thank you again for the discussion, and also for taking time to answer me on other posts in this series. I may not get to responding to your other comments today, but I’ll do so when possible.

  4. Your experience with God can’t count as public evidence in support of an objective claim precisely because it’s privy to you alone, as your statement above suggests. Yet you claim the existence of God is an objective fact that everyone should assent to, *and* (since you disagree with the public object requirement) that your private experience with God and the experience of billions of others *does* support that claim.

    No. My private experience of God is evidence for me. Others’ private experience of God is evidence for them. We believe we hold that private experience in common, just as we believe that when we say “red,” the other person’s private experience is like ours, or close enough as not to make a difference…

    Why defend the importance of personal experience as reliable knowledge (as you do in Part 2 in your discussion of knowledge filters) unless such knowledge helps establish the objective existence of God?

    It does help establish the existence of God for me, and for those with whom this kind of experience is shared, just as our shared experience of “red” helps establish that red exists as a property of substances. But I do not expect it to count as evidence for God, for those who do not share the experience. I’m comfortable with that tension; I see no contradiction there.

    This is a great exchange, and clarifies a point I’ve dimly seen for a while.

    Tom, your analogy about red would not lead one to say that an apple is red (an objective fact), but merely enable one to say something about the qualia of red for you, which is inherently subjective. I don’t see how you get to objectivity from qualia. Qualia qua qualia (did you like that one?) can never lead to something objective. It’s only because others can see *the same apple,” (in principle) that we move away from the qualia into the objective realm.

  5. @Paul:

    It’s only because others can see *the same apple,” (in principle) that we move away from the qualia into the objective realm.

    And the problem with that is… ?

  6. I guess I didn’t state the problem in precisely the right way.

    The problem is that the fact that the apple is external to the mind is (one) thing that allows us to make an objective conclusion about the apple. But there’s nothing to objectively point to, like the apple, in the case of experiencing God in your mind. Here’s why that’s a problem:

    There are a number of people who are fooling themselves that the God they are experiencing in their mind is the real God (either Christians, or Hindus, or Zoroastrians, or anything other religion that doesn’t worship the Christian God). If we just consider that experience, we can’t prove it wrong in principle because God is not available to us as an external thing like the apple is. With something external to the mind that is available to us, if someone questions our claim that the apple is red, we can say to them “Look, here’s the red apple I’m talking about,” and convince them thusly. But God, in an exactly analogous role to the apple, is not available to us, in the way that the apple is.

    I would reject *anyone’s* claim about the objective reality of something which cannot, in principle, be external to one’s mind. The mind is the dividing line between the subjective and the objective here. If God is not available to us as an external object, we can’t determine objective reality.

  7. Hi Tom G.,

    Thanks for all your thoughts. I’ll be posting responses in each of the three sections, but will try to categorize things with headings about the issue being considered. This should add some continuity.

    Issue: is the insulation requirement biased against supernaturalism?

    You said

    Recall that I see the value of intersubjective knowledge in the study of the natural world. The question of interest, however, is whether the natural world is all that exists, and the specific current question is whether your insulation criterion meets its own standard of freedom from bias. In its effects, it does not.

    And

    Why should we expect a mode of inquiry that is fine-tuned for the natural world to be the correct mode of inquiry for the non-natural world?

    But you yourself said in Part 3 that science gives us ample evidence – the fine-tuning of the cosmos – for supernatural design and thus the non-natural world. So you believe intersubjective knowledge *can* get us to the supernatural. As I’ve said several times, it’s conceivable that science might reveal evidence for dualism and theism. I’ve also said that science can, and does, evaluate supernatural hypotheses such as creationism and ID. So we agree that intersubjective knowledge *is* relevant to determining the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, therefore we agree that it science is one “correct mode of inquiry into the non-natural world.” Since we agree on this, you also should agree that it isn’t the case that my insulation and public object criteria, exemplified by science, are biased against supernaturalism since it’s conceivable that science could get us to the supernatural. As I’ve said all along, if intersubjective evidence involving public objects warranted the conclusion that a designer exists, so be it.

    You say

    [the insulation requirement] may be free of subjective bias, but it’s not free of systematic bias. It systematically excludes the knower from knowing something he or she personally cares about or is committed to.

    Not so. To repeat from my first comments in Part 1: “… this is not to say that we couldn’t know if a personal God exists, or that [as you put it] ‘as soon as we care about [something] we must decide we don’t know it after all,’ but only that such knowledge, to be reliably objective, should be insulated from subjective bias by hewing to the public object requirement.”

    You say

    A naturalistic bias (as I see you practicing it here) is the requirement that all knowledge be acquired by means that are suitable for the natural world, and for the natural world only, thus assuring that if there is a non-natural aspect to reality, it cannot be apprehended as anything one could call knowledge.

    Again, as argued above, I don’t see that empirically-based knowledge, subject to the insulation and public object requirements, is biased against the non-natural, nor do you, since you see science as *supporting* design. So all told, I don’t think that these requirements are biased against the existence of the supernatural. They are *worldview neutral* elements of good epistemic practice; they don’t assume naturalism, nor are they biased by it.

    Issue: the evidential status of personal experience (Goetz and Taliaferro’s “first-person data”, Haught’s experience of being embraced by God).

    You say “But I do not expect [personal experience] to count as evidence for God, for those who do not share the experience.”

    Ok, then we agree that personal experience of God can’t count as trustworthy evidence for who don’t have the experience. Those who have the experience (you) shouldn’t expect those that don’t (me) to believe that such experiences have any compelling evidential value, and indeed that’s what you say. And this makes good epistemic sense: it’s private experience without a public object to back it up. Such experiences can’t and shouldn’t be adduced as reliable evidence when deciding about the factual question of the existence of God. This contrasts with scientific evidence, should it exist, for something like cosmic fine-tuning, which is intersubjective. In taking this position, you side with me against Haught and Goetz and Taliaferro, who think that “first person data” *are* reliable evidence, evidence that those who don’t have the experiences *should* take as counting in favor of God’s existence. That’s why they spend so much time trying to defend the reliability of subjectivity as a direct route to objectivity.

    Issue: ways of validating belief.

    You say

    Independent validation is not, however, limited to empirical methods. There is also philosophical validation, which is a reliable non-scientific way of knowing. There is also historical validation, which is not science as science is usually defined. These, actually, are the two main ways Christians attempt to provide independent validation of our beliefs.

    You are quite right (and I accept your criticism here) that I didn’t discuss these in Reality and its rivals. I should have done so, pointing out the distinction between empirical and non-empirical validation of belief (if I can get off my butt I’ll add a paragraph and cite your good influence on me). But, I think both history and (to a lesser extent) philosophy are not separable from intersubjectivity.

    Re history: Historical validation, although not a science per se, is a perfectly good instance of intersubjectivity using public objects as evidence. Of course, publicly available evidence might well support the historical existence of Christ the physical person, but whether it supports the *divinity* of Christ is another matter. One would have to specify what Christ’s divine attributes were and then decide whether there’s credible historical evidence for them. There will of course be competing explanations, natural vs. supernatural, for such things as the empty tomb, etc., assuming that historians can agree there reliably was such a thing. History is neither here nor there when it comes to validating supernatural claims.

    Re philosophy: As I said in Part 3, there are rationalist Thomistic style proofs of God’s existence beloved of folks like Plantinga and Feser, most of which I haven’t addressed but that have been widely analyzed by others. But even these proofs are based on premises that connect to facts about the real world (e.g., whether we have immaterial souls or not), and the truth of these premises isn’t a priori but depends on what the world is like (do souls actually exist?). So I don’t think that philosophical or theological arguments for God are independent of factual premises that require intersubjective evidence to be credible. Like history, philosophy isn’t a particular friend of the supernatural.

    As to whether the “two main ways” of validating beliefs in God I discuss are not main ways Christians use, that’s an empirical question. It seems to me that Christians spend a lot of time trying to conscript science (hence the evolution wars and now the materialism/dualism war), and defending the reliability of first person data as grounds for objective claims, as do theologians like Haught, Goetz and Taliaferro in their attacks on naturalism. But if it’s actually the case that these are minor fronts in the campaign for God, compared to citing history and the philosophical arguments, I stand corrected.

  8. Tom C., thank you for separating issues as you have done here. I think it will be helpful

    Issue: is the insulation requirement biased against supernaturalism?

    You wrote,

    So we agree that intersubjective knowledge *is* relevant to determining the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, therefore we agree that it science is one “correct mode of inquiry into the non-natural world.”

    That’s correct. I don’t agree that your conclusion follows from that, though. You went on to say,

    Since we agree on this, you also should agree that it isn’t the case that my insulation and public object criteria, exemplified by science, are biased against supernaturalism since it’s conceivable that science could get us to the supernatural. As I’ve said all along, if intersubjective evidence involving public objects warranted the conclusion that a designer exists, so be it.

    Suppose observers generally agreed that the fine-tuning of the cosmos was strong evidence for a timeless, powerful, immaterial, personal God. That’s all it can really accomplish as a theistic argument. It gets us to “a designer,” as you said; perhaps to deism, but not to theism. The insulation requirement still stands as a gate guarding any person from knowledge of that with which he or she has a strong personal relationship of care, concern, love, etc. In other words, it stands as a locked gate, preventing the move from deism to theism (any of the three great monotheisms, for example). It rules out theism by definition. That is its ineradicable bias.

    You wrote,

    To repeat from my first comments in Part 1: “… this is not to say that we couldn’t know if a personal God exists, or that [as you put it] ‘as soon as we care about [something] we must decide we don’t know it after all,’ but only that such knowledge, to be reliably objective, should be insulated from subjective bias by hewing to the public object requirement.”

    There is something in there to which I certainly agree. (I hope I’ve said this already, but I may not have done so yet.( I do not accept the Mormon’s appeal to a “warming in the heart” as confirmation of their faith. Their public objects do not exist: there is no archaeological evidence supporting their claims for early America, the Golden Plates cannot be found, and there is strong literary and historical evidence to support the view that Smith made the whole thing up.

    Christianity, by contrast, has considerable and constantly increasing support in archaeology. New Testament scholars (both believers and skeptics) are accepting more and more of the NT as historically reliable. There is also the whole body of philosophical arguments in favor of theism, including a set of arguments specifically supporting Christian theism (Pascal is one prime exemplar).

    I quote again your statement of the insulation bias:

    To back up our claim that experience captures reality we must rule out such influences, insulating our beliefs as best we can from subjective bias and possibly mistaken conventional wisdom. This, what I’ve called the insulation requirement, is what Haught manifestly fails to respect in his insistence that religious cognition instead requires “a posture of receptivity and readiness to surrender to [God’s] embrace.”

    Perhaps I have jumped the gun in my interpretation here, and I should back up and ask a question. In what ways does a person practice this? Just how does one “rule out such influences”? I could go on to talk about potential limitations in what I wrote in the two paragraphs above, beginning “There is something in there…” but I think it better to wait and find out how you would answer this question. I may be objecting to something that you aren’t even asserting.

    Issue: ways of validating belief

    Thank you for your response relating to other ways of validating belief. I agree that both history and philosophy are intersubjective disciplines, and I cited them with the intention of affirming their value in that respect.

    I do not wish to convey that intersubjectivity is a bad thing to have. My concern has been mostly with the bias (as I considered it to be) in the insulation requirement, and with making a proper distinction between what counts as knowledge for the believer and what counts as argument or evidence between persons.

    I think you’re cutting rather a fine line, though, when you say “History is neither here nor there when it comes to validating supernatural claims.” Any historical finding that raises the probability that Jesus rose from the grave increases the probability of the supernatural. I think that should be an uncontroversial statement, even for those who consider both of those probabilities to be low.

    Further, when you say, “Like history, philosophy isn’t a particular friend of the supernatural,” I respectfully disagree. I cite Quentin Smith as saying that one-quarter to one-third of professional philosophers are theists, mostly Christian. I don’t see how that could be the case if theism and philosophy did not get along.

    Regarding your closing statement on “minor fronts,” I want to clarify: biological intelligent design is not yet close to a stage where it can be relied on as a major argument for God. The “materialism/dualism war” is familiar ground for me, and the most I can say for that is that claims that science proves materialism are unfounded (I have not read your article on that but I shall soon). And

    Otherwise I should add that there are Christians who make creationism, biological ID, or internal experience major fronts for argument or evidence. Perhaps you have had some significant encounters with such. They are occasionally persuasive—as with Antony Flew and biological ID—but I find them to be more of an uphill battle most of the time, at best.

  9. Issue: is the insulation requirement biased against supernaturalism?

    You said

    The insulation requirement still stands as a gate guarding any person from knowledge of that with which he or she has a strong personal relationship of care, concern, love, etc. In other words, it stands as a locked gate, preventing the move from deism to theism (any of the three great monotheisms, for example). It rules out theism by definition. That is its ineradicable bias.

    Not so. To repeat what I’ve said several times: the insulation requirement does *not* say that what you strongly want to exist (a personal God) doesn’t or can’t exist. After all, many things we might strongly want to exist do exist (effective contraceptives) or might be discovered to exist (the undisturbed tomb of a particular Egyptian pharaoh). It only says that in deciding empirical questions one should be very wary of the influence one’s hopes and fears have on the conclusions one draws (e.g., strongly wanting the tomb to be that of a particular pharaoh you’ve hoped to find your whole career). The insulation requirement is simply a statement of what seems to me obvious epistemic common sense, and has nothing to do with naturalism, theism or any other worldview. So it isn’t a “locked gate” to theism. If a personal God objectively exists, there should be intersubjective evidence for him, and indeed you think there is, both historical and scientific.

    You ask

    I should back up and ask a question. In what ways does a person practice [the insulation requirement]? Just how does one “rule out such influences”?

    A person practices the insulation requirement by 1) becoming cognizant of how personal hopes and fears can bias cognition, and 2) seeking external confirmation for belief via intersubjective inquiry. You don’t think the Mormons’ “warming of the heart” is enough to establish the existence of their god; they must also adduce intersubjective evidence, which you think is lacking. The same goes for you: you have a strong investment and concern that the Christian God exists, and this is a possible bias that has to be set aside as a distorting influence when assessing the question of his existence. For instance, it might bias your assessment of the archeological evidence for Christ’s divinity. To rule out that bias, you must base your conclusions only on facts, evidence and arguments that everyone has access to and that are confirmed intersubjectively. We need reliable public evidence to confirm Christ’s divinity, since people’s strong subjective hope or conviction that he was divine isn’t enough to establish that fact. I think we agree on this. Since such evidence is conceivable, the insulation requirement isn’t biased since it doesn’t a priori rule out his divinity, nor the larger claim of God’s existence. I won’t say anything further about your claim that the intersubjectivity requirement is biased since we’ve begun to repeat ourselves.

    Issue: ways of validating beliefs

    You said

    Further, when you say, “Like history, philosophy isn’t a particular friend of the supernatural,” I respectfully disagree. I cite Quentin Smith as saying that one-quarter to one-third of professional philosophers are theists, mostly Christian. I don’t see how that could be the case if theism and philosophy did not get along.

    All I meant to say here was that history and philosophy are not biased *in favor* of the supernatural, hence not a particular friend. I didn’t mean to suggest they are biased *against* it.

  10. Thank you gentlemen for this interesting conversation.

    Tom G.,

    You wrote:

    “Now, there are believers who do not care about demonstrations of the case, which is as it should be: Christianity should not be only for those who can assess all the philosophical and historical evidences. If they are convinced just by the witness of the Holy Spirit in their lives, that’s adequate for them.”

    Do you extend this license to believers of all other religions? The Muslim has a strong inner conviction that the only god is Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. The Navajo is raised to listen to the inner voice of Haashch’ééłti’í.

    I could make a longer list, but you get the point.

    You and I would agree, I suspect, that these folks could not give us compelling historical evidence for the truth of their beliefs, nor would we be convinced by their philosophical arguments. But according to you, these folks don’t need to be able to defend their faith. According to you it is “as it should be” that they believe what they believe.

    Have I understood you correctly?

  11. unBeguiled:

    Am I correct in understanding that you’re attempting to set up a false dilemma between faith and reason? There is no dilemma, there is no contradiction… except in the minds who want it that way. Your referencing Tom misunderstood his point: faith is necessary and sufficient for salvation because Tom is far less concerned about intellectual success (intellectual salvation?!?) in the world, i.e., gaining the world wasn’t Tom’s point.

    Granted, Christianity often faces two anti-philosophical, unscientific ideological extremes of the spectrum—fideism and rationalism—as Christ’s message of salvation is proclaimed. (If you want the former, then perhaps Islam is to your liking; if you want the latter, then perhaps atheism will attract you.) Nonetheless, even a superficial survey of history will show any open-minded critical thinker that Christianity is anything but opposed to reason… which is apparently your launching pad for the question to Tom.

    First, look at the very definition of a person from the Christian perspective: an individual person of a rational nature. Second, what is the definition of a human being? A rational animal. Third, how are Christians admonished to love the Lord their God and neighbor? “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Fourth, what does the Bible say? “Be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you but with respect and gentleness.” (I Peter 3:15) Fifth, what was St. Anselm’s famous medieval expression regarding the healthy relationship between faith and reason? Fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.” Sixth, when and by whom were the medieval universities—centers of faith and reason—established? They started in Charlemagne’s court with Alcuin and the cathedral schools he established (~820 A.D.), and culminated with the great European universities in the 12th and 13th centuries—a time period pejoratively called the “Dark Ages” by those opposed to faith. Seventh, who was the greatest synthesizer of faith in reason who, to this day, stands as a giant among theologians and philosophers, and who few dispute is the greatest mind over the millennium spanning 500-1500 A.D.? St. Thomas Aquinas. Eighth, who is the patron saint of science and scientists for the Catholic Church? St. Albert the Great—teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. Ninth, where and when and by whom were the fundamental philosophical principles of the modern empirical sciences established, which then bequeathed to the world the so-called “scientific revolution” of the 17th century? In medieval Catholic Europe by the theologians and philosophers of the universities. Tenth, do you know how long the list of technological inventions from the medieval period is, or how long the list of Christian scientists from the medieval period up to now is? Hint: they’re both long. Eleventh, if you’ve observed the discussions on this blog, then surely you’ve been exposed to a number of Christian thinkers that are giants in explaining the faith: St. John Newman, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Jacques Maritain, William Craig, Alvin Plantinga, etc., etc., etc.… and surely you’ve been exposed to the anti-rationalism of various secular ideologies exposed and criticized on this blog. Twelfth, consider the very nature of this blog, the Thinking Christian, and perhaps give Tom his due. Finally (although I could go on an on), check out the most recent entries of Barey Carey at his blog With All Your Mind—in particular his entry on what Christian apologetics is all about (referencing Chesterton and Aquinas): “Engaging non-Christian arguments on their own grounds. Instead of appealing to Scripture (although a Christian apologist must be knowledgeable of what scripture, and thus Christianity, actually teaches), the apologist meets the atheist or naturalist on his own ground. He argues on the “reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.”

    So, no: you did not understand Tom correctly.

  12. Bummer… how could I forget John Paul II’s encyclicals Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth) and Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason)?

  13. Holopupenko,

    It seems to me you are not responding to the question I asked. My question was not about Christianity. My question had nothing to do with any dilemma, false or otherwise.

    Rather, Tom G. made a statement that I found rather surprising. I was simply curious if he granted the same epistemic license to believers of other religions.

    To emphasize, the phrase I’m questioning is “which is as it should be”.

  14. To make my point as clear as I can, consider a simple substitution:

    “Now, there are believers who do not care about demonstrations of the case, which is as it should be: Islam should not be only for those who can assess all the philosophical and historical evidences. If they are convinced just by the witness of Allah in their lives, that’s adequate for them. Not every Muslim is an apologist.”

  15. @unBeguiled:

    I think you’re asking the wrong question here, to be honest. Do I “extend the same license” to followers of other religions? Well, I don’t have any reason not to; it’s not “license” that I’m granting in the first place. It’s not up to me whether they take that as their means of confirmation for their beliefs.

    The real question is either (A), (B), or (C) and you can tell me which one you had in mind. Maybe there’s a (D) but I can’t think of what it would be.

    (A) Does the fact that a follower of some other religion can apparently have (as far as we can tell) the same kind of inner experience as a Christian mean that the Christian should not consider her inner experience a reliable source of spiritual knowledge?

    (B) Does that same fact mean that Christianity is not true?

    (C) Isn’t that kind of experience a really poor way to argue for the truth of Christianity?

    I’ll address (B) first. Clearly it does not follow. If Ann and Adam both have what they think is an experience of God, and Adam is wrong, it simply does not follow that Ann is wrong. Whether Ann is wrong does not rest on Adam’s experience or his interpretation of his experience, it rests on whether or not her experience has really come from God.

    As for (A), recall that I was speaking of those who are not equipped—either with the necessary information, or with the cognitive abilities to consider and weigh such information—to assess all the evidences. For them question (A) is moot. They’re going to trust their experience, because to them it is convincing, and they’re not going to ask (A).

    Regarding (C), recall that I went on to say,

    Not every Christian is an apologist.

    Neither you nor I fit that description, though. We want other evidences. Christianity ought to be the kind of thing that admits of other confirmation. And it does, in the form of philosophical arguments, historical evidences, and the changed lives of believers. I don’t have space to run all those arguments here, obviously, but I would call on you to acknowledge that they exist.

    There are evidences and arguments for Christianity, but I don’t know of any responsible thinker who would call on his own inner experience as one of them. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a way that I can know that I have experienced God, but I do not present it as a way that I can show that I have experienced God.

    Alvin Plantinga, in Warranted Christian Belief shows that this experience of God can be a warranted source of knowledge for the one who experiences it, just as I have warrant for the knowledge that I am hearing birds sing outside the window. Now, suppose I were sitting in some windowless soundproof room, like a recording studio control room, and I told you I was hearing birds sing outside the window. You would perhaps check and see if there were bird songs playing on a recording in the studio, but if not, you would say, “You’re not hearing birds, Tom.” And whether a recording was playing or not, you would say, “You’re certainly not hearing them outside the window.”

    In other words, there would be a defeater in that case for my statement that I am hearing birds outside my window, and then I would have reason to doubt the veridicality of my experience.

    But for Christianity there is no such supremely strong defeater, and in my considered opinion, the supposed defeaters that do exist are defeated by Christian counter-arguments. There is no reason for me not to take my experience of God as veridical.

    Further: if you were here with me, you would probably agree with me that there is positive evidence for birds singing outside. It’s spring, the temperature is in the 70s, the weather is fine, and you and I can both see birds flying by once in a while. So not only is there no defeater for my experience of hearing birds, there is positive evidence for the experience.

    In the same way, there is positive evidence for Christianity, which I will not rehearse here.

    So the situation comes to this: One who doesn’t care about or understand arguments of these types is not going to worry about whether he is justified in his belief, gained through an experience of God. For those who do care about such things, there is no defeater for our interpretation of our experiences, and there is positive evidence in favor of it. The experience is not the argument, however.

    Finally, comparing this to other religions, you have already stated it: the evidence does not support them, so if they have an experience they interpret as God in their lives, they are in the same situation as me in the recording studio: their belief has defeaters, and their experience is not veridical.

  16. Further: the phrase “as it should be” was with reference to those who have no capacity for assessing arguments like this, or who have not been exposed to the relevant information. God does not shut the door of heaven to everyone but philosophers and apologists. If he grants faith to people just by giving them an experiential taste of himself (and he does), that is as it should be.

  17. Tom,

    Thank you for addressing my question. But, it remains unanswered or misunderstood. The only relevant part of your response was the last paragraph:

    “Finally, comparing this to other religions, you have already stated it: the evidence does not support them, so if they have an experience they interpret as God in their lives, they are in the same situation as me in the recording studio: their belief has defeaters, and their experience is not veridical.”

    Of course there is a point behind my question, and I will say it plainly rather than trying to make you see it for yourself. It seems to me you are saying it is OK for a Christian to hold a certain belief based on an inner feeling only, while it is not OK for people of other religions to hold a certain belief based on an inner feeling only.

    Realize, I am not talking about whether what these folks believe is true. Rather, I am curious if you really hold to the notion that “it is as it should be” that they believe based on a strong inner feeling only.

    You seem to be giving Christians a pass, while holding others to a different standard.

  18. @unBeguiled:

    I’m sorry I misunderstood; I gave it my best shot at three different things I thought you might be getting at. I’m not entirely sure what I missed. It depends on what you mean by “OK … to hold a certain belief based on an inner feeling only.”

    You say you are not talking about whether what they believe is true, so “OK” doesn’t mean OK in the sense that the person is on a sound epistemic track. That’s not what you’re asking.

    And I’m not sure what else “OK” could mean, except maybe in the sense that my child asks if it’s OK to go out with some friends; i.e., am I granting permission? But I addressed that already: it’s not my place to say!

    So what else does “OK” mean?

    Maybe you didn’t get a chance to read me second short comment about “it is at it should be.” I never meant that phrase to say “some people believe in their religions based on private inner experience only, and that is as it should be.” What I have been saying (or at least trying to say) is, “God makes it possible for some people to have a veridical experience of him, and to have confidence in that experience even without apologetic arguments or evidence, and that is as it should be.”

    I don’t think the Muslim’s Allah does that, because I don’t think the Muslim’s Allah exists. So no, the phrase “that is as it should be” does not apply outside of Christianity, because I was speaking specifically of something that God does (the God of the Bible).

  19. Tom,

    Thanks, I misunderstood it seems, but now I’m really confused.

    You say:

    “I never meant that phrase to say “some people believe in their religions based on private inner experience only, and that is as it should be.””

    That is exactly how I interpreted what you said.

    It still seems odd to me though. Consider this, that a Muslim might say:

    “I don’t think the Christian Holy Spirit does that, because I don’t think the Christian Holy Spirit exists. So no, the phrase ‘that is as it should be’ does not apply outside of Islam.”

    What did you mean by:

    “Christianity should not be only for those who can assess all the philosophical and historical evidences.”

    Why could not a Muslim apologist say:

    “Islam should not be only for those who can assess all the philosophical and historical evidences. If they are convinced just by the witness of Allah, that’s adequate for them.”

    It still seems to me a double standard.

    So now my question is this:

    Should a Christian be able to defend her faith or not?

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