Knowledge and Evidence: Third Response to Tom Clark

In this third look at Tom Clark’s paper, Reality and Its Rivals: Putting Epistemology First, I have just one topic to address:

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.

I’m surprised he would say there are these two, and apparently just these two, ways in which believers validate their faith independently of subjective convictions. The two he addresses are quite at the bottom of the list among apologetical arguments.

When he speaks of our “claim to be doing science,” he is pointing specifically at biological Intelligent Design arguments.

The first strategy is exemplified by creationists and proponents of intelligent design, who argue that science, were it honestly and properly conducted, would consider and confirm supernatural explanations of phenomena, for instance the appearance of life on earth and the diversity of species. Science, they say, has been hijacked by philosophical and metaphysical naturalists, who conspire to discount evidence that the earth was created 10,000 years ago, or that the human form is the result of supernatural agency, not the historically contingent process of natural selection.

I think almost every apologist would be quick to admit that, no matter how convinced he or she may be regarding biological ID arguments, using such arguments to persuade unbelievers is an uphill battle. There are too many weeds to clear out of the way, especially philosophical discussions about scientific methodologies and what may be admitted as possible explanations. There is also all the weight of established biology to push against.

Over the course of time, ID can indeed be persuasive: witness Antony Flew, for example. But if I were invited to debate an atheist/agnostic on the existence of God, I certainly wouldn’t begin there. The natural world offers much easier starting places, like the evidence of design in the fine-tuning of the cosmos, which I consider extremely strong. It’s so strong, in fact, that the only real competing explanation is as non-empirical, non-falsifiable as you can get, and quite likely the hugest violation of Occam’s Razor in the history of thought.

When Clark expands on the other way he says we believers validate our beliefs, he points only to inner impressions of God that believers sense (specifically John Haught, in Clark’s example). This is a matter for careful thought. Alvin Plantinga, one of today’s leading philosophers of religion, devotes something like one-third of a book to it (Warranted Christian Belief). The end of it all is this: there’s nothing necessarily irrational or incoherent at all about perceiving God through an inner sensus divinitatus. It can most assuredly count as validation for those who do perceive God in that way. It does not count as evidence for others, though. As William Lane Craig puts it, the internal witness of the Holy Spirit is one way I know about God, but not a way I can show God’s reality, for no one else has access to my internal experiences.

So Haught is not wrong about this at all, at least as Clark represents him, but one person’s internal assurance is not expected to be another’s convincing evidence.

Where Clark really misses the boat is in representing believers as having only these two forms of validation. If all I had to go on was the witness of the Holy Spirit within me, I might be fully persuaded on that basis alone—God could do that in me without any external evidence at all if he wished. The fact is, though, I don’t have only the Holy Spirit to show me the reality of God. Christians do not rely on just that; nor do we place our faith in biological Intelligent Design. (There were Christians around for at least a few centuries before Scientific Creationism, after all!) There are multiple other evidences, evidences that satisfy Clark’s “requirement” of “validation independent of one’s subjective convictions. Alvin Plantinga’s quick overview of Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments lists multiple starting points. History provides much evidence in support of the Old and New Testament records.

Clark probably views all these arguments as less than convincing. That’s his privilege, though I would disagree. What seems strange is that he would pick out two of the least convincing (for non-believers) arguments of them all, and present them as if that’s all we count on in Christianity.

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Comments

  1. Tom Clark

    You say “I’m surprised he would say there are these two, and apparently just these two, ways in which believers validate their faith independently of subjective convictions.”

    I said these are “two main ways” in which believers try to meet the empirical requirement, not meaning to suggest these were necessarily the only ways.

    You say

    The natural world offers much easier starting places, like the evidence of design in the fine-tuning of the cosmos, which I consider extremely strong. It’s so strong, in fact, that the only real competing explanation is as non-empirical, non-falsifiable as you can get, and quite likely the hugest violation of Occam’s Razor in the history of thought.

    You’re making a straightforward claim about the virtues of the design hypothesis, a claim which can only be adjudicated by scientific consideration of the evidence. People will of course have different *opinions* on the current strength of the evidence, but only time will tell whether leading scientific cosmological theories will ultimately incorporate design and a designer. At the moment, they don’t.

    It seems we agree on some basic criteria of good theory (parsimony, testability), but disagree about whether mainstream scientists are being fair to the design hypothesis in evaluating it using these criteria. But again, the only court of appeal to decide this question is the practice of science itself. Those in your camp often claim that mainstream science has been hijacked by those with a stake in naturalism, and this is why scientific theories aren’t more designer-friendly. That claim too is an empirical one. If your camp can prove it, more power to you. But I don’t think there’s evidence to show that most mainstream scientists are in thrall to naturalism. They just work on collecting data, running experiments, hatching and testing theories, and trying to get grants and get published. They are not trying to establish naturalism as far as I can tell.

    You say

    there’s nothing necessarily irrational or incoherent at all about perceiving God through an inner sensus divinatus. It can most assuredly count as validation for those who do perceive God in that way. It does not count as evidence for others, though. As William Lane Craig puts it, the internal witness of the Holy Spirit is one way I know about God, but not a way I can show God’s reality, for no one else has access to my internal experiences.

    The epistemic problem with a sensus divinatus is that it fails to satisfy what I call in my critique of Haught the “cognitive mechanism” requirement. That is, Plantinga can’t explain how it works in giving us knowledge of God (see here for a similar critique of his EAAN), whereas we have a very good idea of how normal sensory and perceptual channels work in giving us information about the world. The fact that Plantinga (and Haught) can’t specify the cognitive mechanisms involved in the sensus divinatus makes it an ad hoc gap filler in religious epistemology, motivated not by any empirical evidence that it exists (which would involve specifying its mechanisms and mode of operation), but only by the desire to support a claim to knowledge, that God exists.

    But of course you say that evidence from the sensus divinatus “does not count as evidence for others.” As I said in Part 1, if it does not count as evidence for others, it can’t support the factual, empirical claim that God exists. But that’s why Plantinga and others adduce it in the first place: to support that claim.

    You say

    There are multiple other evidences, evidences that satisfy Clark’s ‘requirement’ of ‘validation independent of one’s subjective convictions.’ Alvin Plantinga’s quick overview of Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments lists multiple starting points. History provides much evidence in support of the Old and New Testament records.

    Again, my point was that theists understand the force of the empirical requirement on claims to knowledge, so I mentioned two main ways they attempt to satisfy it: by appropriating science and by claiming that private experience on its own counts as reliable evidence. Historical evidence I take it falls under the basic intersubjective, quasi-scientific rubric since it involves public objects. As you say, there might be other purported sorts of evidence I didn’t consider, and there are of course non-empirical means of justifying belief in God, such as the various rationalistic proofs used by Plantinga and (for instance) Edward Feser in his book The Last Superstition. I haven’t and probably won’t try to refute these since there are many others (e.g., “disproof atheists”) engaged in that pursuit. My main project is to articulate worldview naturalism and its implications, not critique Christianity and theology. But of course such critiques sometimes help to illuminate the virtues of naturalism by highlighting what I see (but you don’t) as the epistemological shortcomings underlying supernaturalism.

  2. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Thank you again for the response. As I wrote on Post 2 in this series just now, I’ve responded at length to your comment on the first post, and it may be a while before I can catch up here.

    It’s my own fault—I’m the one who posted three of these already!

  3. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tom Clark,

    I said these are “two main ways” in which believers try to meet the empirical requirement, not meaning to suggest these were necessarily the only ways.

    I stand by my statement that to call these “two main ways” is inaccurate. For the sake of public argumentation, these are not main ways, they are quite secondary to history and philosophy.

    Is this a quibble, or does it really matter? It matters to the extent that you might claim victory by hitting two very non-strategic targets. If science (ID) does not prove God, I will not be terribly surprised or dismayed (see the chart here—further explained here—showing that scientific evidence cannot generate a strong conclusion either for or against God—unless ID’s theories someday pan out and gain consensus, which they obviously have not, to date). If you show that theism’s truth is not strongly supported by this means, or by someone’s argument from their private experience, I will say that’s not news.

    You’re making a straightforward claim about the virtues of the design hypothesis, a claim which can only be adjudicated by scientific consideration of the evidence. People will of course have different *opinions* on the current strength of the evidence, but only time will tell whether leading scientific cosmological theories will ultimately incorporate design and a designer. At the moment, they don’t.

    I’m making that claim on the basis of strong authority. I recognize that the design hypothesis is not yet confirmed; I point out again, however, that based on current theories, the only live alternative is a huge violation of Occam’s Razor.

    That is, Plantinga can’t explain how it works in giving us knowledge of God (see here for a similar critique of his EAAN), whereas we have a very good idea of how normal sensory and perceptual channels work in giving us information about the world. The fact that Plantinga (and Haught) can’t specify the cognitive mechanisms involved in the sensus divinatus makes it an ad hoc gap filler in religious epistemology, motivated not by any empirical evidence that it exists (which would involve specifying its mechanisms and mode of operation), but only by the desire to support a claim to knowledge, that God exists.

    Your word “mechanism” gives you away here. My blog post yesterday addresses the matter of how we explain the interface between the natural and the non-natural or supernatural world. If “explanation” necessarily means mechanism, then of course we can’t supply that. If I could explain God or his actions as a mechanism, then I would be defining God out of existence; I would be defining a God I don’t believe in myself. I have no interest in walking that road.

    The naturalist’s demand for explanation seems to come to this:
    “Explain how God works. Your explanation must be in terms of natural processes only; use no supernatural or spiritual terms in your explanation.” That, obviously requires us to defend a view of God in which God exists entirely within nature—a view of God in which God is not God.

    I haven’t and probably won’t try to refute these since there are many others (e.g., “disproof atheists”) engaged in that pursuit. My main project is to articulate worldview naturalism and its implications, not critique Christianity and theology. But of course such critiques sometimes help to illuminate the virtues of naturalism by highlighting what I see (but you don’t) as the epistemological shortcomings underlying supernaturalism.

    These matters are indeed hotly contested, but simply acknowledging that fact does not wipe away the fact that not all knowledge is empirical, and that philosophy and history are actually the main ways theists support our beliefs for public argument.

    I have argued on the other threads that what you call epistemic good practice seems self-defeating, self-contradictory. I’ll be interested to read how you reply to that.

  4. Tom Clark

    Issue: ways of validating beliefs.

    You say

    If science (ID) does not prove God, I will not be terribly surprised or dismayed (see the chart here—further explained here [can’t get hyperlink to work]—showing that scientific evidence cannot generate a strong conclusion either for or against God—unless ID’s theories someday pan out and gain consensus, which they obviously have not, to date). If you show that theism’s truth is not strongly supported by this means, or by someone’s argument from their private experience, I will say that’s not news.

    Glad you agree it’s not news; I take that as progress in this debate. As to history and philosophy, the verdict about the existence of God is obviously out in those disciplines as well. I don’t see that they will deliver a conclusive verdict *ever*, given the psychological investment both sides have on being right. So the debate will continue, as long as societies countenance it. This makes life interesting, I think you agree.

    You say

    I’m making that claim [about design] on the basis of strong authority. I recognize that the design hypothesis is not yet confirmed; I point out again, however, that based on current theories, the only live alternative is a huge violation of Occam’s Razor.

    But you said in the quote before this one that “theism’s truth is *not* strongly supported by this [scientific] means” (emphasis added), so I’m confused.

    You say

    Your word “mechanism” gives you away here. My blog post yesterday addresses the matter of how we explain the interface between the natural and the non-natural or supernatural world. If “explanation” necessarily means mechanism, then of course we can’t supply that. If I could explain God or his actions as a mechanism, then I would be defining God out of existence; I would be defining a God I don’t believe in myself. I have no interest in walking that road.

    That makes sense, since I’ve noticed that explanatory transparency isn’t among the prized desiderata of theists, as it is for naturalists. Specifying a mechanism is a paradigm example of explanatory transparency since there’s nothing hidden from view. Inability to specify a mechanism or otherwise transparent process or structure (like a creature’s body plan, a computational algorithm or logical argument) usually means there’s hand-waving going on or appeals to “and then a miracle occurs.” But explanatory transparency, like evidential reliability, is the naturalist’s demand, which you are under no obligation to meet.

    I see from your post that, in response to this, you will say that specifying an explanatory mechanism or algorithm is a *natural* description or *physical* description that’s inapplicable to describing God’s spiritual power to make things happen in the natural world (e.g., create the universe). But when it comes to *non-natural*, *non-physical* descriptions, you have nothing to offer, only something to the effect that God works in mysterious, indescribable ways (otherwise he wouldn’t be God!). Same thing for how the soul and its free will governs the body: no explanation is forthcoming, natural *or* supernatural (one of my main complaints against Goetz and Taliaferro). Naturalists find this a bit of a disappointment and yet another reason to dismiss belief in the supernatural: its explanatory poverty.

  5. SteveK

    Tom Clark,

    Naturalists find this a bit of a disappointment and yet another reason to dismiss belief in the supernatural: its explanatory poverty.

    I didn’t read your link, but aren’t we talking about a difference in explanatory power rather than supernatural explanations being less able to explain? I see it like the difference in explanatory power between the four causes. I would never think the final cause exhibits the characteristic of ‘explanatory poverty’ when compared to the material cause. Would you?

  6. Tom Clark

    Tom G.,

    In my latest response above I said

    But you said in the quote before this one that “theism’s truth is *not* strongly supported by this [scientific] means” (emphasis added), so I’m confused.

    I shouldn’t have quoted you like this since of course you actually said

    If you [Clark] show that theism’s truth is not strongly supported by this means, or by someone’s argument from their private experience, I will say that’s not news.

    So here’s how I see your position: While you think there is strong scientific evidence currently in hand to support design, you won’t be surprised (it’s not news) if it turns out that science doesn’t support it. I hope that’s a fair reading of what you’ve written.

    Steve K:

    I’m not sure about the explanatory power of final causes, since as far as I understand it, a final cause adverts to an intention or purpose that explains an event teleologically. What naturalists want is a description of the intender and its characteristics and an explanation of how the intention originated and how it got carried out. If these questions can be answered about the supernatural domain, they will go a long way toward satisfying the naturalist’s thirst for explanatory transparency.

  7. SteveK

    Tom Clark,

    What naturalists want is a description of the intender and its characteristics and an explanation of how the intention originated and how it got carried out. If these questions can be answered about the supernatural domain, they will go a long way toward satisfying the naturalist’s thirst for explanatory transparency.

    What makes you think it can be described in those terms? I’m just asking…. At some point you hit the proverbial bottom of the explanatory ladder where a thing can’t be explained in terms of any another thing.

    Intent is explained by intent – and that’s it as far as I can understand the concept. If you try to boil it down into naturalistic terms (which can be tricky) you lose some part of the original concept. The concept of the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts is well known, yet never empirically demonstrated. Why must you insist that the supernatural be explained completely by the sum of it’s empirical parts?

  8. Tom Clark

    “Why must you insist that the supernatural be explained completely by the sum of it’s empirical parts?”

    As far as I can tell, according to the way dualist theists think, nothing supernatural *has* parts. In the beginning was non-composite Mind and Purpose (God), giving birth (somehow) to the physical world in which other non-composite minds find themselves trapped, charged with making their way back to God. So as you suggest, for theists there *is* no explanation of intent, and therefore no explanatory problem, since it’s a basic, irreducible characteristic or capacity of mind, and minds have no parts – they are essences.

    For the naturalist, since things are made of parts, there is necessarily a puzzle about intent and other intentional (in the broad sense) states. How can a merely physical things have beliefs that refer to the world? How can a merely physical brain think, deliberate and control action rationally? These are fascinating puzzles, but I certainly don’t expect dualist theists to participate in their solution, since for them these puzzles don’t exist.

    There are, however, non-dualist, physicalist theists who do participate. See for instance Nancey Murphy and Warren Brown’s book Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?, reviewed here. They offer a non-reductionist yet physicalist and compatibilist (compatible with determinism) account of how human minds work. But for you it might seem a waste of time, since there is no great puzzle about minds as you see it.

  9. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tom C.,

    Issue: ways of validating beliefs.

    As to history and philosophy, the verdict about the existence of God is obviously out in those disciplines as well. I don’t see that they will deliver a conclusive verdict *ever*, given the psychological investment both sides have on being right. So the debate will continue, as long as societies countenance it. This makes life interesting, I think you agree.

    This is a bit different than what you said previously, that history and philosophy are unfriendly to supernaturalism. That’s refreshing! I agree that they will not deliver a conclusive verdict ever. Blaise Pascal wrote very insightfully on this, I might note, though I’m not going to take us there now.

    So the verdict is not conclusively “no” with respect to Christian history, is it? For the sake of making “life interesting,” I’d be interested to know just what that lack of conclusiveness means in your thinking on the subject, i.e., what if the preponderance or the weight of historical evidence just tipped in the direction of Christ’s life, miracles, death, and resurrection actually having happened? What would you say to that, in view of your epistemic standards?

    But you said in the quote before this one that “theism’s truth is *not* strongly supported by this [scientific] means” (emphasis added), so I’m confused.

    Sorry, my carelessness here. Theism’s truth is not (at least so far) strongly supported by biological ID, for those who take the weight of scientific opinion as authoritative. Cosmological fine-tuning is different.

    This paragraph, Tom, was rather disappointing from you:

    That makes sense, since I’ve noticed that explanatory transparency isn’t among the prized desiderata of theists, as it is for naturalists. Specifying a mechanism is a paradigm example of explanatory transparency since there’s nothing hidden from view. Inability to specify a mechanism or otherwise transparent process or structure (like a creature’s body plan, a computational algorithm or logical argument) usually means there’s hand-waving going on or appeals to “and then a miracle occurs.” But explanatory transparency, like evidential reliability, is the naturalist’s demand, which you are under no obligation to meet.

    It is not a lack of transparency that keeps theism from showing mechanisms, it’s that to show a mechanism for God’s action would be to show a God who isn’t God. What if I demanded that naturalists explain the world dualistically? That would be ridiculous. It’s no more ridiculous, though, than a materialist insisting that we show how the world works in strictly monistic terms? I would ask you to recognize that, and not to accuse us of obfuscation or hand-waving when what we’re doing is stating our case without contradicting ourselves.

    You say further,

    Naturalists find this a bit of a disappointment and yet another reason to dismiss belief in the supernatural: its explanatory poverty.

    I think we all have problems with explanatory poverty. For naturalism it’s explaining consciousness, rationality, free will, intentionality (the “aboutness” problem), meaning, value, love, unity of identity, and ethics without explaining them away. Sure, there are points at which theism says we don’t know. We don’t know how God raised Jesus from the dead. We don’t know how God created the universe. There are mysteries there. You pays your money and you takes your choices, to borrow an old phrase. I prefer some mysteries over “explaining” the real stuff of humanity right out of existence.

    Your epistemology places a high value on certainty: not accepting a statement of belief as “knowledge” unless it passes certain rigorous tests. We’ve discussed that already, especially in the second post in this series. I think you would want to acknowledge, though, that mysteries are inevitable, and that there comes a point where choices must be made, as I have just indicated. Empirically-based certainty in particular is a chimera, since there is no empirically based way of showing that an empirical approach to knowledge yields certainty. It’s that circularity problem again, which I commented on just a few moments ago.

  10. Tom Clark

    Issue: ways of validating beliefs

    You said

    I’d be interested to know just what that lack of conclusiveness means in your thinking on the subject, i.e., what if the preponderance or the weight of historical evidence just tipped in the direction of Christ’s life, miracles, death, and resurrection actually having happened? What would you say to that, in view of your epistemic standards?

    It’s a logical possibility that a global scholarly consensus among historians and scientists about the divinity of Christ – that he performed miracles and rose from the dead – might develop based on reliable public evidence. If that happened I would have to change my mind.

    You said

    It is not a lack of transparency that keeps theism from showing mechanisms, it’s that to show a mechanism for God’s action would be to show a God who isn’t God. What if I demanded that naturalists explain the world dualistically? That would be ridiculous. It’s no more ridiculous, though, than a materialist insisting that we show how the world works in strictly monistic terms.

    As I’ve said all along, naturalists admit the possibility that the best explanation of the world might involve dualism – there’s no way to know in advance. So naturalism shouldn’t be confused with dogmatic materialism or monism. Naturalists just want to know how things work according to the best evidence available as organized by the best, most transparent explanations.

    You say

    I think we all have problems with explanatory poverty. For naturalism it’s explaining consciousness, rationality, free will, intentionality (the “aboutness” problem), meaning, value, love, unity of identity, and ethics without explaining them away. Sure, there are points at which theism says we don’t know. We don’t know how God raised Jesus from the dead. We don’t know how God created the universe. There are mysteries there. You pays your money and you takes your choices, to borrow an old phrase. I prefer some mysteries over “explaining” the real stuff of humanity right out of existence.

    Of course naturalists don’t think that in explaining things mechanistically or reductively we are explaining them away, only explaining them. Constructed entities, including human persons and their minds, remain perfectly real after being explained. Nor do we suppose all explanations involving a strictly material substrate need be reductionistic – there are lots of non-reductive physicalists like Murphy and Brown and Stuart Kauffman who argue that genuinely new properties of mind (e.g., intentionality) arise when physical elements are properly organized and in proper relationship to external conditions.

    You wrote

    Your epistemology places a high value on certainty: not accepting a statement of belief as “knowledge” unless it passes certain rigorous tests. We’ve discussed that already, especially in the second post in this series. I think you would want to acknowledge, though, that mysteries are inevitable, and that there comes a point where choices must be made, as I have just indicated. Empirically-based certainty in particular is a chimera, since there is no empirically based way of showing that an empirical approach to knowledge yields certainty. It’s that circularity problem again, which I commented on just a few moments ago.

    Like you, naturalists admit there are many mysteries out there waiting to be investigated, and some might be forever resistant to explanation (like consciousness, my favorite conundrum). Wanting good, transparent explanations, and yes, backed up by knowledge with a high degree of certainty (but of course never infallible), naturalists are the first to admit we don’t yet have the answers to many central questions, and it’s because we have such high epistemic standards. But what I see among many dualist theists is a refusal to admit that naturalistic explanations, for instance of purposive action, love, ethics, consciousness, personal identity, etc., could *possibly* be true or ever forthcoming. (Note the asymmetry here: I have from the beginning admitted that science and intersubjectivity *could* get us to God and dualism, since nothing in intersubjective empiricism categorically rules out such conclusions.) This is because of what I see as their prior ontological commitment to God, and to mind, free will and identity as essences (not constructions) that are irreducibly basic to the world, and of a different ontological category from “dead,” insensate matter. Naturalists, at least of my variety, don’t have prior ontological commitments. Our ontology is driven by what the best evidence and explanation justify as existing. But of course, beyond your ontological commitment to God, you don’t agree with our view of what constitutes the best evidence and explanation. Worldviews are driven, partially, by such differing epistemic commitments. Hence the debate about epistemology we’ve been having.

    But what I’ve learned from this debate is that we agree about those commitments more than I expected. We agree that “first person data” – for instance the subjective experience of being embraced by God – aren’t alone adequate to prove the claim of God’s existence. We agree (I think) that intersubjective evidence using public objects is necessary to justify that claim to persons not having such experience. We agree that history and philosophy have intersubjective elements to them, and we agree (I think) that one can’t simply reason one’s way to God: philosophical arguments supporting God’s existence involve premises about how the world actually is in various respects (otherwise you wouldn’t be interested in history or science, which of course you are). We also agree that there are unsolved mysteries about how the world works, that dogmatism is to be avoided, and that argument, not force, is the best way to resolve worldview differences. And if they can’t be resolved, we agree that we can still live peacefully together in an open society (my cardinal central value). So all told we agree on a lot, and for that and the very civil discourse I’ve encountered here, I’m most grateful.

  11. Paul

    Empirically-based certainty in particular is a chimera, since there is no empirically based way of showing that an empirical approach to knowledge yields certainty.

    Tom, if this statement is true, then I see these possibilities: 1) Empiricism is dead. 2) There is some other way to validate certainty with empiricism than through empiricism (empiricism as something a priori, or necessary for rationalism, which is assumed a priori, etc.). 3) Something else.

    Which are you saying?

  12. Paul

    Allow me to clarify my last post. It seems that Tom’s point *could* be used as a defeater of empiricism, so I’m wondering on what basis Tom would accept empiricism. The next step would be, if empiricism can be accepted on some basis, then it’s not a chimera.

  13. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tom, I’m going to respond to all three sets of your most recent comments in this one location. Like you, I am surprised at how many things we agree on, and I’m particularly refreshed by your statement of not being locked into an ontological commitment. These comments are not the first time you have expressed that, but based on prior experience with other naturalists I found it difficult to take it at face value. Not all are the same.

    I think in these three comments you have aptly stated the several points on which we agree. I just looked at your CV and found another one: sound engineering. I used to travel and run sound for bands from the West Coast, and did some recording studio work in and near Hollywood.

    (I was never a great recording engineer, though I seem to do quite well with live sound. The difference, which you have likely also discovered, is that the studio requires virtually perfect results, while the goal for live sound is only something like near-perfection. The studio allows lots of time (within budget constraints) for do-overs, redubbing, re-mixes, experimenting with effects, etc.; in live sound you have to be very quick in solving the acoustic problems of the room wherever you go, and you have to be very quick in your mix since it’s real-time. You have to hear and correct a problem before the audience hears it. It turns out I can be quick and pretty good, but my ears aren’t up to the kind of perfection required in the studio, even though there’s more time to get there.)

    Tonight our family is going to a concert of the Dublin Symphony. Last time we went to a symphony concert at this venue I was seated right next to the sound board. The tech told me he had to be there since 1:00 pm—so he could manage a single announcement mike! (Nice work if you can get it.)

    We are also both musicians—my undergrad was in trombone. So both of us have an eclectic background, with interests in philosophy, music, and technology. I have a psych degree, as you do; mine is an M.S. in Industrial/Organizational. Interesting connections there.

    Enough of that diversion. There are still differences between us, of course, naturally (pun intended).

    With respect to historical evidences, are you aware that the majority of NT historians (believers and skeptics alike) are in agreement regarding at least four of the events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion/resurrection account?
    1. That Christ was crucified by the Romans
    2. That the account of his burial is reliable.
    3. That on the third day his empty tomb was discovered by several women.
    4. That his followers had several experiences of being appeared to by Christ (skeptics interpret those experiences differently than believers, of course, but generally agree that they happened in some form.)
    There is also the undeniable fact of the growth of the early church, who affirmed these things. So the question here becomes one of an inference to the best explanation for the events. (See here for more on this.

    Additionally, there is increasing agreement that certain Christian beliefs were not late accretions but were there right from the beginning. For example, Christ’s view of himself as Son of God, for example in passages like Matthew 11:27 that are regarded as genuinely reliable history by the majority of scholars, or Matthew 21:33-41, or even the rather mysterious Mark 13:32.
    The resurrection account in its 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 form can be reliably traced to within something like five years of the event. (See here for more. I could provide additional references but I’d have to wake up my wife to get there, she hosted an event at home last night and she’s sleeping in now on Saturday morning.)

    At any rate, the tenor of NT scholarship is becoming less and less skeptical overall toward its reliability as history.

    I continue to hold that God can communicate his reality to persons in a private manner, and that he does so, and that the shared reality of that experience among believers is as valid as persons’ shared experience of “red.” This is in addition to, not instead of, external inter-subjective validations.

    I agree that there is epistemoogical value in your two requirements, but I hold that to place complete reliance on them is self-defeating. I think you probably have agreed with that in the end, but I’m not entirely sure.

    This has been an interesting discussion. There’s room for more response here, and (whether this is good news to you or not I don’t know!) I have two further topics to address from your epistemology article, relating to meaning and ethics, so I’ll take those up in blog posts before long. I appreciate your excellent interaction!

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