Disagreement is common: even informed, intelligent, and generally reasonable people often come to different conclusions when confronted with what seems to be the same evidence. Can the competing conclusions be reasonable? If not, what can we reasonably think about the situation? This volume examines the epistemology of disagreement. Philosophical questions about disagreement arise in various areas, notably politics, ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of religion: but this will be the first book focusing on the general epistemic issues arising from informed disagreement. Ten leading philosophers offer specially written essays which together will offer a starting-point for future work on this topic.
In ‘Why Us?’, James Le Fanu explores the major implications of the most recent findings of genetics and neuroscience, challenging the common assumption that they must ultimately explain all there is to know about life and man’s place in the world. On the contrary, he argues, they point to an unbridgeable explanatory gap between the genes strung out along the Double Helix and the near infinite beauty and diversity of the living world to which they give rise, and between the monotonous electro-chemistry of the brain and richness and creativity of the human mind. “There is,” he writes, “a powerful impression that science has been looking in the wrong place, seeking to resolve questions that somehow lie outside its domain. It is as if we – and indeed all living things – are in some way different, profounder and more complex than the physical world to which we belong.” A N Wilson in his review described it as ‘an extraordinary work of science … quite wonderfully refreshing’; for Christopher Booker in The Spectator it was “enthralling”: “one of the glories of Le Fanu’s erudite and beautifully written book is that a sense of wonder is evident on every page, even as he lucidly analyses the limitations of the narrow intellectual prism in which science has languished too long.” ~ Publisher’s Description
The great variety of contradictory religious views is for many reason enough to conclude that there is no truth to be had in such matters, that no one religion is at all likely to be closest to the truth. In his debate with Dinesh D’Souza, John Loftus makes these inter-religious and intra-religious disagreements the gravamen of his case against Christianity, arguing that in effect they cancel each other out in virtue of the mutually exclusive nature of their claims.1 He does not see, apparently, that by such reasoning, the ageless debate between naturalists and theists is also cancelled, each position nullified. Indeed, every point of view falls prey to such a criterion. When we look within naturalism, we also find denominations and sects, a cacophony of diverse and contradictory positions on fundamental questions. It turns out, the problem of pluralism is an equal opportunity employer. Worldviews are like personalities. Each one is unique. Though there are types of personalities, just as there are broad worldview categories, none is identical. Whatever our worldview, that view must countenance the fact that many others think it mistaken. This is the problem of pluralism. The implication of this reality, however, need not be the defeat of any particular set of beliefs. Rather, the proper response is virtue. It begs modesty, a profound intellectual humility about our take on reality. And second, it should serve as a call to personal responsibility for our beliefs, and therefore to the epistemic virtues, for there is no consensus on ultimate questions that we can simply adopt by proxy.
Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons. As John Locke put it in 1689 (“A Letter Concerning Toleration”), the “care of men’s souls” is the responsibility of the church while to the civil magistrate belongs the care of “outward things such as money, land, houses, furniture and the like”; it is his responsibility to secure for everyone, of whatever denomination or belief, “the just possession of these things belonging to this life.” ¶ A neat division, to be sure, which has the effect (not, I think, intended by Locke) of honoring religion by kicking it upstairs and out of sight. If the business of everyday life — commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc. — can be assigned to secular institutions employing secular reasons to justify actions, what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made. Let those who remain captives of ancient superstitions and fairy tales have their churches, chapels, synagogues, mosques, rituals and liturgical mumbo-jumbo; just don’t confuse the (pseudo) knowledge they traffic in with the knowledge needed to solve the world’s problems.
The new atheists are on the warpath. They come armed with arguments to show that belief in God is absurd and dangerous. In the name of societal progress, they promote purging the world of all religious practice. And they claim that people of faith are mentally ill. Some of the new atheists openly declare their hatred for the Judeo-Christian God. Christian apologists have been quick to respond to the new atheists’ arguments. But there is another dimension to the issue which begs to be addressed — the root causes of atheism. Where do atheists come from? How did such folks as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens become such ardent atheists? If we are to believe them, their flight from faith resulted from a dispassionate review of the evidence. Not enough rational grounds for belief in God, they tell us. But is this the whole story? Could it be that their opposition to religious faith has more to do with passion than reason? What if, in the end, evidence has little to do with how atheists arrive at their anti-faith? That is precisely the claim in this book. Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts. These are mere symptoms of the root cause—moral rebellion. For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience. The psalmist declares, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Ps. 14:1), and in the book of Romans, Paul makes it clear that lack of evidence is not the atheist’s problem. The Making of an Atheist confirms these biblical truths and describes the moral and psychological dynamics involved in the abandonment of faith. ~ Product Description
Out of the ferment of recent debates about the intellectual virtues, Roberts and Wood have developed an approach they call "regulative epistemology." This is partly a return to classical and medieval traditions, partly in the spirit of Locke’s and Descartes’s concern for intellectual formation, partly an exploration of connections between epistemology and ethics, and partly an approach that has never been tried before. Standing on the shoulders of recent epistemologists — including William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, Ernest Sosa, and Linda Zagzebski — Roberts and Wood pursue epistemological questions by looking closely and deeply at particular traits of intellectual character such as love of knowledge, intellectual autonomy, intellectual generosity, and intellectual humility. Central to their vision is an account of intellectual goods that includes not just knowledge as properly grounded belief, but understanding and personal acquaintance, acquired and shared through the many social practices of actual intellectual life. This approach to intellectual virtue infuses the discipline of epistemology with new life, and makes it interesting to people outside the circle of professional epistemologists. It is epistemology for the whole intellectual community, as Roberts and Wood carefully sketch the ways in which virtues that would have been categorized earlier as moral make for agents who can better acquire, refine, and communicate important kinds of knowledge. ~ Product Description
If God exists, where can we find adequate evidence for God’s existence? In this book, Paul Moser offers a new perspective on the evidence for God that centers on a morally robust version of theism that is cognitively resilient. The resulting evidence for God is not speculative, abstract, or casual. Rather, it is morally and existentially challenging to humans, as they themselves responsively and willingly become evidence of God’s reality in receiving and reflecting God’s moral character for others. Moser calls this “personifying evidence of God,” because it requires the evidence to be personified in an intentional agent — such as a human — and thereby to be inherent evidence of an intentional agent. Contrasting this approach with skepticism, scientific naturalism, fideism, and natural theology, Moser also grapples with the potential problems of divine hiddenness, religious diversity, and vast evil. ~ Product Description
Christians have to acknowledge just how serious is the complaint today that the church acted despicably throughout its history. This is not just a Roman Catholic problem, with their Crusades and Inquisitions. Protestants have their own dark history. Martin Luther, the German founder of Protestantism, wrote the most awful things about European Jews in his 1543 tract “The Jews and Their Lies”. John Calvin, the founder of the Reformed tradition and one of my favourite theologians, was brutal in his treatment of heretics like Michael Servetus, whom he had executed in 1553. The case is serious. But there is also something wrong with most modern versions of the complaint. First, retellings of the evils of Christianity frequently involve gross exaggerations in popular discussion. This is the product of an unnoticed propaganda. … [E]very new era retells the past in a way that elevates its own position as the great deliverer, the bringer of special freedoms; and that necessarily requires exaggerating, even lying, about the horrors of the past. We do this on a small scale when we talk about the moralism of the 1950s or the prudishness of Victorian England. It happened on a macro scale in the 18th-19th centuries … when Enlightenment leaders popularised the expression ‘Dark Ages’. Here was an attempt to describe the era of Christendom as an era of oppression, ignorance and violence, as opposed to the era of freedom and peace brought about by secular reason. No serious historian today could go along with this story. … I … ask readers to contemplate an important insight. Experts aside, most of us have picked up our knowledge of the Crusades, the Inquisitions and other horrors of Christendom from sources other than respectable academic literature. Is it not possible that we have simply accepted mere propaganda as fact?
Leopold Von Ranke’s famous maxim that the historian’s task is to “tell it like it was” may be ridiculed by those who doubt the possibility or even the desirability of objective history, but I believe Von Ranke was fundamentally correct. In the case of intellectual history, this involves understanding a thinker on his or her own terms, in his or her own context. It is coming to grips with a document’s meaning and penetrating what underlies the arguments being advanced. It is no about rehabilitating or castigating those long dead, but about grasping objectively what is being said and why. ¶ While objectivity is the historian’s goal, this does not mean that the historian is void of personal commitments, or that he or she must remain neutral as to the truth or falsity of the positions under consideration. The point is simply that history qua history is not about passing such judgments but is merely about getting the story straight, however the chips may fall. It is only after the position has been understood on its own terms and without bias that the historian may turn to evaluation and employ the fruits of his or her discovery in polemical or other theological application. But at that point we’ve moved beyond the historical task simpliciter and into something else — something wonderfully valuable and necessary, perhaps, but something different nonetheless.
Kristeva delivers a focused and insightful discussion of religious belief. With material culled from various interviews, articles and lectures, the book is less a unified argument than a sprawling analysis of religion in major psychological and philosophical literature (e.g., Freud, Arendt, Winnicot), fiction (e.g., Proust) and in private life (Kristeva makes wonderful use of Saint Teresa of Avila’s writings) underscored by her claim that sharable knowledge of the inner religious experience is possible and could develop into an important field of discourse. Kristeva provides neither an attack on nor a support of religious belief; her interest is in drawing other disciplines into the discussion. She uses psychoanalytic techniques to comprehend religious experience, the clash of religions, notions of genius, theories of suffering and sexuality and the debt modern humanism owes to Christianity’s emphasis on self-questioning. Compelling and remarkable for its staunch unwillingness to take sides, this book sets forth Kristeva’s most sustained treatment of religion in a format that will interest both scholars and anyone looking for an accessible introduction to her methods and preoccupations. ~ Publishers Weekly
Think you’ve ever deceived yourself? Then this book is for you. Think you’ve never deceived yourself? Then this book is really for you. “Socrates famously asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living. But Gregg Ten Elshof shows us that we make all sorts of little deals with ourselves every day in order to stave off examination and remain happily self-deceived. Most provocatively, he suggests this is not all bad! While naming its temptations, Ten Elshof also offers a “strange celebration” of self-deception as a gracious gift. In the tradition of Dallas Willard, I Told Me So is a wonderful example of philosophy serving spiritual discipline. A marvelous, accessible and, above all, wise book.” ~ James K. A. Smith • “In this wise, well-crafted work Ten Elshof helps us to identify, evaluate, and respond to our own self-deceptive strategies, as he probes — with occasional self-deprecation and unavoidable humor — the bottomless mysteries of the human heart. His reflections on interpersonal self-deception and “groupthink” are especially helpful. To tell me the truth, I’m glad I read this book. You will be too — I promise.” ~ David Naugle • “Ten Elshof’s discussions are erudite, biblical, searching, and laced with soul-restoring wisdom. All of this together means that this book is solidly pastoral. What it brings to us is appropriate to individuals, but it especially belongs in the context of small groups and local congregations.” ~ Dallas Willard
A second feature of atheism is that it is committed to the appropriate use of reason and evidence. In order to occupy this intellectual high ground, it is important to recognise the limits of reason, and also to acknowledge that atheists have no monopoly on it. The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only. With its talk of “spells” and “delusions”, it gives the impression that only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist. “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence,” says Dawkins, once again implying that reason and evidence are strangers to religion. This is arrogant, and attributes to reason a power it does not have.
Questions make new worlds possible, asserts author Dark (The Gospel According to America), a key premise in this thought-provoking meander of reflections on, and challenges for, living an engaged life of authentic Christianity. The well-read author draws insight and inspiration from a broad range of sources — Shakespeare, Ursula Le Guin, Johnny Cash and James Joyce — in calling into question the status quo, received history and conventional theology. Dark brings to his writing the kind of energy, offbeat enthusiasm and commitment to relevance that must make his high school English classes exciting places for inquiry and exploration. That each page yokes keen observation to practical application with wisdom and compassion inclines the reader to forgive the book’s bewildering organization and abstruse section headings. Questions for further conversation at the end of each chapter will be useful for groups eager to put Dark’s appeals into action. The author’s passion for social justice, clarity about the sacred obligation of taking nothing at face value and confidence that unsettling questions yield rich rewards for both individuals and communities is convincing and moving. ~ Publishers Weekly
It is not enough that one mental event cause another mental event in virtue of its propositional content. Someone who engages in rational inference must recognize the correctness of the principle of sound reasoning, which one applies to one’s inference. Modus Ponens works, affirming the consequent does not. Our inferences are supposed to be governed by the rules of reasoning we recognize to be correct. However, can these rules of inference ever really govern our reasoning process? According to physicalism, all of our reasoning processes are the inevitable result of a physical substrate that is not governed by reasons. ¶ So we might ask this question: “Which laws govern the activity we call rational inference?” We might stipulate, for the purposes of this discussion, the idea that laws of physics are accounts of the powers and liabilities of the objects in question. If the materialist claims that laws other than the laws of physics apply to the assemblage of particles we call human beings, then those particles are not what (mechanistic) physics says they are, and we have admitted a fundamental explanatory dualism. If however, the laws are the laws of physics, then there are no powers and liabilities that cannot be predicted from the physical level. If this is so there can be a sort of emergence, in that the basic laws governing a sleeping pill will not mention that the pills tend to put you to sleep. Nevertheless, the pill’s soporific effectiveness can be fully and completely analyzed in terms of its physical powers and liability. If this is so, then we will be rational if and only if the physical configurations of matter guarantee that we are physical, and in the last analysis, the laws of logic do not govern our intellectual conduct.
Dr. Hackett provides, in digestible form, a comprehensive, systematic, and pervasively philosophical apologetic for the Christian revelation claim. Although the approach is seriously philosophical, the text is free as possible of the earmarks of technical scholarship-reflecting the author’s aspiration to "reach the common person who has a deep interest in such questions."
Imagine an author who sets out to prove that music glorifies violence but who spends most of the book fixated on gangsta rap and then attributes the vices of the latter to music in general. As already noted, this kind of mistake is called equivocation. Dawkins’ rhetorical excesses and inattention to nuanced differences do not just make him susceptible to this fallacy. When he tries to make the case that religion is pernicious, Dawkins moves willy-nilly from an attack on particular religious doctrines and communities to conclusions about religion and belief in God generally. And this, of course, is entirely typical of religion’s cultured despisers.
The fact is, we use the term “religion” in a variety of ways. And this fact makes it difficult to talk precisely about religion, let alone attack it with valid objections. Whenever usage is so varied, there is a real danger that one will fall prey to what philosophers call equivocation — that is, the fallacy of using the same term in different senses in the course of a single argument or discussion, without noticing the shift. … Is religion a comprehensive and unsurpassable account of everything that matters to a person? If so, the naturalism secular humanists would qualify as their religion. Or is religion a private matter of how the individual relates subjectively to what is taken to be the fundamental reality? If so, the physicist’s awe and wonder at the vast beauty of the cosmos would be a religion. Or is religion a social construct, its metaphysical pronouncements (if any) an incidental by-product of its goal of creating loyalty, obedience, and cohesion among society’s members? If so, Marxist ideology would have been the religion of the former Soviet Union. Or is religion an attempt, through metaphors and ritual practices, to bring our lives into alignment with an inexpressible transcendent reality? If so, then most world religions would paradoxically be true religions even as they reject the accuracy of Hick’s account (since thy don’t typically take themselves to be engaged in merely metaphorical discourse). The point, of course, is that “religion” is used in all these ways and more.
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris raises equivocation on the meaning of "religion" to a high art, wraps the ambiguity in mellifluous prose, plays up our fear of religious extremists, launches stinging attacks on Christian fundamentalism, and then lets the force of rhetoric do the work of implicating all religion in the impending demise of human civilization. His message is simple: humanity is headed towards Armageddon, and the blame lies as much with your Aunt Ruth, who faithfully drives to her United Methodist Church every Sunday to sing hymns and pray and listen raptly to Pastor Jim, as it does with Al Qaeda fanatics.
It is my conviction that theism and other forms of supernatural religion are born out of a combination of rational insight, profound experiences of a distinctive kind, and morally laudable hope… I believe that the germ of religion born from these sources needs to be refined and shaped by careful and humble reflection in open-minded discourse with others… But it is an unfortunate fact of history that the germ of this religious vision has consistently been co-opted for political and economic gain, corrupted by our more mean-spirited impulses, obscured by our blinkered and parochial thinking, and — perhaps — distorted by the kinds of impulse that Dawkins and Dennet take to be the evolutionary basis for religion itself. The results have been religious traditions that — while preserving the germ of what I might presumptuously call “true religion,” and while offering fleeting glimpses of what that germ might evolve into — are also laden with crud. ¶ And in some of the more pernicious modes of religious expression, the germ has been thrown away altogether and the crud has been lifted up. Human beings have been encouraged, indoctrinated, even coerced into the worship of rubbish.
If you consider a wide sampling of the reactions to Bill Maher’s and Larry Charles’ Religulous, two distinct themes emerge. On the one hand, reviewers consistently note that the filmmakers were deliberately manipulative in their survey of religion: in whom they chose to interview and feature, in asking baited questions, and finally, in their merciless splicing and dicing in the editing room. And so, not surprisingly, religious people come off as goofy, gullible, and worse. On the other hand, a number of reviewers note what they take to be an earnest search by Maher to understand people of faith. As Maher puts it himself at the outset, his quest is to understand how otherwise intelligent and rational people can continue to believe in fantasies like talking snakes and a virgin birth. It’s a worthwhile question, and there are moments in the film when Maher displays some genuine curiosity about it. Nonetheless, these two observations about Religulous are incompatible. And regrettably, by the end, it is clear that Maher and Charles set out not on a quest for understanding, but rather to proof-text their presumptions. Religulous is funny enough, and at times thought provoking. On the whole, however, Religulous is a “mockumentary”. A hit-piece. It is a quest that begins with a predetermined destination in mind and manages to arrive there by scrupulously avoiding any detours that might have derailed the script.
On a recent broadcast of the Infidel Guy (Sep. 16, 2008), a caller challenged Gary Habermas, the evening’s guest, to reconcile the omniscience of God with human free will. Habermas did his best to argue that there is no necessary conflict, that God knows because we freely choose, we do not so choose because God knows. For my part, I think it’s a legitimate and difficult objection. I’m not yet persuaded by either Molinist or Openness attempts to reconcile the two, much less compatabilism or the notion that it is solved by God’s being outside of time. But what followed is what struck me. Habermas took the opportunity to ask Reggie Finley, the host, whether he, as a naturalist, believed in free will. Reggie paused, then conceded that he was still trying to figure that one out. Good luck, because while free will may be problematic for the theist, it is probably a lost cause for the naturalist. For example, in his excellent and lucid work, The Significance of Free Will, Robert Kane manages to find a place for indeterminacy in matter (in quantum theory), but not for agency, the sine qua non of free will in my judgment. My point is not to wade into the deep waters of human freedom. Rather, I’m taking exception to the widespread impression that it is only the theist who must accept mysteries, antinomies, and quandaries. The truth is, all worldviews are beset by unique difficulties and internal conceptual problems. And, we remain perplexed by many mysteries that we share in common. That is to say, we’re in this together. With our amazing, but limited human faculties, the world remains puzzling to us all. In the ongoing debate about what is and is not real, it would serve us well to be mindful of the problems with which each worldview must wrestle. To that end, here are some that occur to me for both Christian theism and for Naturalism.
It’s a mystery. That’s the first thing that interests me about the idea of God. If there is one, it’s mysterious and powerful and awesome to even consider the concept, and you have to take it seriously. I understand where Bill Maher is coming from when he says, basically, the world is destroying itself over a bunch of fairy tales about talking snakes and men who are alive inside fishes. I’m very sympathetic to it, but at the same time, given the cosmos that we’re living in, it’s very persuasive, the idea that there is some kind of first cause that’s running things. It might not be the god of Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, it might not be the god of al-Qaida, and it might not be the god of Abraham, but something very well could be running things. The order of the universe as we see it, the interlocking nature, and the way things work together, are persuasive of the idea that there may be some overarching first cause.
In the history of philosophical thought, few themes loom as large as skepticism. Skepticism has been the most visible and important part of debates about knowledge. Skepticism at its most basic questions our cognitive achievements, challenges our ability to obtain reliable knowledge; casting doubt on our attempts to seek and understand the truth about everything from ethics, to other minds, religious belief, and even the underlying structure of matter and reality. Since Descartes, the defense of knowledge against skepticism has been one of the primary tasks not just of epistemology but philosophy itself. The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism features twenty-six newly commissioned chapters by top figures in the field. Part One contains articles explaining important kinds of skeptical reasoning. Part Two focuses on responses to skeptical arguments. Part Three concentrates on important contemporary issues revolving around skepticism. As the first volume of its kind, the articles make significant contributions to the debate on skepticism. ~ Product Description