Tom Gilson

What If There Might Be Evidence For Faith?

TFBW’s assessment of the Boghossifying project in my earlier post seems accurate. If Boghossian is correct, Abe cannot have veridical evidence for his faith.

So let’s parse this out a little further:

  1. IF Abe has faith, and
  2. IF Boghossian’s substitutions are accurate,
  3. THEN we know Abe has no (veridical) evidence for his faith.

We can conclude this strictly on the basis of Boghossian’s Substitution Theorem. (I made that name up. It seems appropriate enough. Abbreviating it might or might not be. See the same earlier post for an explanation of the theorem.)

Note that we can conclude this without ever having met Abe, not knowing him, not asking him if he has evidence, not inquiring into any relevant evidence ourselves.

Boghossian’s Substitution Theorem leads directly and firmly to evidence-free conclusions on the part of those who apply the theorem.

But what if Abe actually does have evidence? More cautiously, what if he might have evidence for his faith?

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14 thoughts on “What If There Might Be Evidence For Faith?

  1. Randal Rauser now reports on his site that Peter Boghossian refused to debate him, either, upon an invitation from Justin Brierley. So that’s at least two of my friends whom Boghossian wisely avoids talking with, along with me. (See “Peter Boghossian sees through me.”) It is probable, based on simple back-of-the-envelope calculations, that Dr. Boghossian has now turned down invitations to dialogue with upwards of twenty million “thinking Christians” around the world.

    That’s where Socrates got it all wrong. He was willing to talk with anyone, the simpleton! And he seemed to ask questions that he really wanted answers to! This shows the superiority of the Gnu philosophy over that of all those dim-witted Bronze Age sages. Like the Brahmin cities protected by prehistoric cloaking devices in the romance Apollonius of Tyana, Gnuistan is impervious to assault from the outside. And St. Peter seems to have made himself gatekeeper to this Gnu Jerusalem.

  2. More cautiously, what if he might have evidence for his faith?

    Assuming that evidence might be veridical, then our conclusion would be contradicted by facts, and we would have to reject it. As a logical consequence, we would therefore have to reject at least one of the premises as well. Thus, given what you say, logic implies that it might not be the case that Abe has faith, and/or it might not be the case that Boghossian’s substitutions are accurate.

    We can reject the first premise by noting that even if Abe does not have “faith” (whatever its true meaning), he can still have veridical evidence (and presumably a belief which accords with that evidence, although that seems superfluous to the immediate argument). This amounts to saying, “Abe does not have faith, he has veridical evidence.”

    We can also reject the second premise summarily. If Boghossian’s substitutions are not accurate, then the existence of faith does not necessarily imply that the subject is pretending to know what he can not know. This amounts to saying, “Abe can know because he has veridical evidence and a capacity to believe it: if he also has faith, then so much the worse for Boghossian’s substitutions.”

    Moreover, if we grant that it’s possible that Abe has veridical evidence, then it’s necessary that the argument, as Tom has put it, is unsound. That is, if we grant that it’s possible that Abe has evidence, and that the evidence could be veridical, then we must, as a matter of logic, also grant the possibility that Abe does not have faith, and/or that Boghossian’s substitutions are invalid.

    Conversely, if you want to claim that the argument, as Tom has put it, is sound, then you must, as a matter of logic, assert that it is impossible for Abe to be in possession of veridical evidence which supports his knowledge claim.

  3. Note that there are additional observations which can be drawn from my argument. I’m going to give others a chance to comment before taking it any further, however.

  4. Good points, TFBW.

    That leads to the important next question. How would we know which premise is false? For simplicity let’s assume it’s not the case that both are false.

    It seems to me that Premise 2 is a matter of definition: if Boghossian’s definitions are correct, then either Premise 1 is false, or else it is not the case that Abe might have evidence for his faith.

    It seems odd to me that his definitions would rule the outcome even to that dichotomous extent.

    1. Abe has faith. (Given)
    2. Abe might have evidence for that faith. (Given)
    3. Boghossian’s Substitution Theorem shows that either 1 or 2 is false. (Demonstrated in prior discussion.)

    Where then is the gathering of information from Abe? How is it that we can confidently assert {Either not-1 OR not-2}, without knowing anything about Abe, with no evidence except for a definition issued by a philosophy instructor in Oregon?

  5. Hi Tom,

    Firstly, you have gathered information from Abe. If you know he has faith you must have gotten that information from Abe, most probably directly. Observation on your part can’t really determine it, or if it can it would also be classed as getting information from Abe.

    Secondly, If the definitions are contradictory then logically one of them must be false, whether Abe thinks so or not. In your example the second sentence contains a contradiction with the substitution anyway.

    Abe believes all life is precious and sacred.
    Abe may have participated in an attack against a doctor who performs abortions because he believes all life is precious and sacred.


  6. Tom,

    I’m enjoying the discussion. Two related ideas that I want to point out here: The null hypothesis and what I call the argument from omniscience fallacy.

    The null hypothesis must be rejected if there is even one piece of evidence to refute it. As my statistics professor explained it, it is like stating the hypothesis “There are no snakes in the desert.” To reject the null hypothesis, we need only find one snake. Atheism is the ultimate null hypothesis: God does not exist. The problem is that we people of faith will go out into the desert, find a snake & present it to the atheist to show why we reject the null hypothesis. The atheist will inevitably say, “That is not a snake” (definition problem) or “You didn’t find it in the desert” (boundaries of evidence problem). ”

    Atheists commit the argument from omniscience fallacy when they boldly declare “There is no evidence that God exists.” Atheists cannot know (but they pretend to know) that no evidence of God has ever existed, anywhere, at any time, for any human being at any point in natural or human history. Therefore, their null hypothesis fails because only one “snake” in this “desert” of evidence is sufficient to require us to reject the null.

  7. Are two different and separate points of view being confused here?

    From Abe’s point of view, something is known by faith. Abe believes he knows something.

    But from our point of view, Abe is pretending to know something he does not actually know (not something he “cannot” know). The point is precisely that we are skeptical that Abe actually knows what he claims to have knowledge of. While it is possible that Abe might have evidence supporting his claim to knowledge, it would be nice if at some point Abe shared this evidence in a clear and unambiguous way.

    In fact, that’s what is being asked of Abe: detail the evidence. I think one important outcome of Boghossian’s book is to render it no longer acceptable that Abe might have evidence. Abe has had over 2000 years — much longer than this, actually — and it is time to detail the evidence, or else an increasing number of people can justifiably and fairly turn away from Abe, safe in the assumption that he does not have evidence and is in fact pretending to know something he does not actually know.

  8. Larry, you’ve nailed an important point here. Or rather, you’ve placed the nail where it needs to go. In my next blog post I’ll drive it home:

    From Abe’s point of view, something is known by faith. Abe believes he knows something.

    There’s a problem there, which is that when you describe Abe’s point of view, you do so from Boghossian’s point of view. You assume that Abe experiences and regards his faith the same way Boghossian does: as a way of knowing.

    In some cases that might be accurate, but later today, if time allows, I’ll show (for at least the third time) that this is not how Christians regard faith in a large proportion of cases.

    The Substitution Theorem makes it impossible to conclude anything other than that Abe has no evidence. It does so without evidence, other than the Theorem and the claim “Abe has faith.”

    As for detailing the evidence, my goodness, Larry. Just two recent books on the Resurrection total 1,458 pages! Waddya want? A whole library? Oh–that’s not hard either. 2,000 years? Here’s a brief, condensed reader in the primary sources over 1,900 or so of those years—just 1,264 pages. If you want a more complete library, you can come visit and I’ll transfer one over to you. Bring a hard drive with you. Make sure it can hold at least 80 GBytes. Plan on spending a few lifetimes reading it. (Make a contribution and you could help put the rest of that library online here.)

    So really, are you still interested in telling Abe he hasn’t gotten around to detailing the evidences? How do you know? What’s your evidence?

  9. Can you explain why it matters how Abe regards his faith?

    Isn’t the important point that Abe claims to know something? If Abe does not claim to know something, then we do not need further conversation. But if he does claim to know something, it is only the status of that knowledge which is at issue.

  10. Yes, I can explain. That’s the blog post to follow. In short, you are wrong to say he claims to know it by faith.

    I don’t claim to know God exists by faith, I claim to know it by reason and by evidence. That’s what Boghossian and his followers don’t seem to be able to get.

    Where then does faith come in? First, if you assume it comes in always as a way of knowing, you are wrong. Boghossian is wrong. Harris is wrong. Dawkins is wrong. Bierce was wrong. Everyone who thinks that is either tilting the table their way, or else they’re unaware of what faith actually is.

    That’s not all, but I’ll save it for the blog post.

  11. Aaah, Tom, but you see, they say: Bring the evidence, and when you do, they say: That’s not evidence.

    Now they may be right, perhaps the evidence is weak… but if we’re convinced by that evidence, we’re hardly pretending to know things now, are we?

    It really is like an endless loop, 2000 years in the making, of the sceptic saying: Show me! I’m not convinced!

    What standard is required in order to be justifiably convinced. That appears to be the sum of the entire problem. But however you look at it, nobody is pretending anything.

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