The proliferation of religious options is ample testimony that humans everywhere desire meaningful contact with ultimate religious reality. But human religious diversity signals that something is amiss. It is impossible to discern a consistent pattern among the innumerable human strategies for seeking spiritual fulfillment. The sad track record of religious activity initiated by humans suggest that the conditions for genuine spiritual satisfaction must be set by our Creator and communicated in an accessible and compelling way to us his creatures.
In science itself I certainly want to include the farthest flights of physics and cosmology, as well as experimental psychology, history, and the social sciences. Also, mathematics, insofar at least as it is applied, for it is indispensable to natural science. What then am I excluding as “some prior philosophy,” and why? Descartes’ dualism between mind and body is called metaphysics, but it could as well be reckoned as science, however false. He even had a causal theory of the interaction of mind and body through the pineal gland. If I saw indirect explanatory benefit in positing sensibilia, possibilia, spirits, a Creator, I would joyfully accord them scientific status too, on a par with such avowedly scientific positions as quarks and black holes. What then have I banned under the name of prior philosophy? ¶ Demarcation is not my purpose. My point in the characterization of naturalism … is just that the most we can reasonably seek in support of an inventory and description of reality is testability of it observable consequences in the time-honored hypothetico-deductive way — whereof more anon. Naturalism need not cast aspersion on irresponsible metaphysics, however deserved, much less on soft sciences or on the speculative reaches of the hard ones, except insofar as a firmer basis is claimed for them than the experimental method itself.
Think of a flabby person covered with layers of fat. That is what your mind can become — flabby, covered with layers of fat till it becomes too dull and lazy to think, to observe, to explore, to discover. It loses its alertness, its aliveness, its flexibility and goes to sleep. Look around you and you will see almost everyone with minds like that: dull, asleep, protected by layers of fat, not wanting to be disturbed or questioned into wakefulness. ¶ What are these layers? Every belief that you hold, every conclusion you have reached about persons and things, every habit and every attachment. In your formative years you should have been helped to scrape off these layers and liberate your mind. Instead your society, your culture, which put these layers on your mind in the first place, has educated you to not even notice them, to go to sleep and let other people — the experts: your politicians, your cultural and religious leaders — do your thinking for you. So you are weighed down with the load of unexamined, unquestioned authority and tradition.
Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.
When the idol of mathematics fell, it brought down with it confidence in any universal truth. The sharp ring of truth that characterized mathematics had inspired hope that truth could be found by similar methods in other fields of scholarship. Now that hope died… Filtered to the rest of the academic world, the crisis in mathematics was symbolized by the emergence of non-Euclidean geometries. Euclid’s axioms had stood the test of time for some two thousand years. That physical space is Euclidean seemed part of common sense. But now Euclidean geometry had been relegated to one of many possible geometries. Far from being a universal truth, Euclidean geometry was a merely human invention that might apply in some contexts but not in others. The crisis in geometry became a metaphor for the shattering of established verities, the inadequacy of deductive systems, the loss of a single, unified body of truth.
There is terror in numbers,” writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics. And nowhere does this terror translate to blind acceptance of authority more than in the slippery world of averages, correlations, graphs, and trends. Huff sought to break through “the daze that follows the collision of statistics with the human mind” with this slim volume, first published in 1954. The book remains relevant as a wake-up call for people unaccustomed to examining the endless flow of numbers pouring from Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and everywhere else someone has an axe to grind, a point to prove, or a product to sell. “The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify,” warns Huff. Although many of the examples used in the book are charmingly dated, the cautions are timeless. Statistics are rife with opportunities for misuse, from “gee-whiz graphs” that add nonexistent drama to trends, to “results” detached from their method and meaning, to statistics’ ultimate bugaboo — faulty cause-and-effect reasoning. Huff’s tone is tolerant and amused, but no-nonsense. Like a lecturing father, he expects you to learn something useful from the book, and start applying it every day. Never be a sucker again, he cries! “Even if you can’t find a source of demonstrable bias, allow yourself some degree of skepticism about the results as long as there is a possibility of bias somewhere. There always is.” Read How to Lie with Statistics. Whether you encounter statistics at work, at school, or in advertising, you’ll remember its simple lessons. Don’t be terrorized by numbers, Huff implores. “The fact is that, despite its mathematical base, statistics is as much an art as it is a science.” ~ Therese Littleton
When can we trust what we believe – that "teams and players have winning streaks", that "flattery works", or that "the more people who agree, the more likely they are to be right" – and when are such beliefs suspect? Thomas Gilovich offers a guide to the fallacy of the obvious in everyday life. Illustrating his points with examples, and supporting them with the latest research findings, he documents the cognitive, social and motivational processes that distort our thoughts, beliefs, judgements and decisions. In a rapidly changing world, the biases and stereotypes that help us process an overload of complex information inevitably distort what we would like to believe is reality. Awareness of our propensity to make these systematic errors, Gilovich argues, is the first step to more effective analysis and action. ~ Book Description
We must therefore ask ourselves: What sort of thing is it reasonable to believe without proof? I should reply: The facts of sense experience and the principles of mathematics and logic — including the inductive logic employed in science.”
Intellectual ambiguity can be very uncomfortable. It is always easier to be sure of something. A religion that neatly provides all the answers saves you the frustration and anxiety that inevitably accompany a struggle with difficult questions. Fundamentalism is especially dogmatic and detailed in describing a grand scheme. The Bible is offered as the inerrant word of God, revealing the path of history, a plan of salvation, and predictions about the future. Reasons and justifications are given. And for questions that still remain, there is the ultimate comfort that comes with trusting that a benign father God had everything under control.
If you think your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based upon faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting or distorting the minds of the young in what is called ‘education.’
Clearly, I believe in this interdisciplinary exercise, and I accept the enlightenment that intelligent outsiders can bring to the puzzles of a discipline. The differences in approach are so fascinating—and each valid in its own realm. Philosophers will dissect the logic of an argument, an exercise devoid of empirical content, well past the point of glaze over scientific eyes (and here I blame scientists for their parochiality, for all the world’s empirics cannot save an argument falsely formulated). Lawyers face a still different problem that makes their enterprise even more divergent from science—and for two major reasons.
We believe the proposition we are ready to act upon. Full belief is willingness to act upon the proposition in vital crises, opinion is willingness to act upon it in relatively insignificant affairs. But pure science has nothing at all to do with action. The propositions it accepts, it merely writes in the list of premises it proposes to use… Belief is the willingness to risk a great deal upon a proposition. But this belief is no concern of science, which has nothing at stake on any temporal venture, but in pursuit of eternal verities, not semblance to truth, and looks upon this pursuit, not as the work of one man’s life, but as that of generation after generation indefinitely… The only end of science, as such, is to learn the lesson that the universe has to teach it. In Induction it simply surrenders itself to the force of facts. But it finds that this is not enough. It is driven in desperation to call upon it inward sympathy with nature… and nature is something great, and beautiful, and sacred, and eternal and real, the object of its worship and its aspiration.
In this essay I shall explore the possibilities for knowledge of God that are opened up by recent developments in epistemology that go under the title externalism; more specifically, I shall be concerned with the version of externalism known as reliabilism. I shall set this up with a consideration of how those possibilities look from a more internalist epistemological stance. I shall be working from within the Christian tradition, though I take my remarks to have a wider bearing.
According to Alvin Plantinga, it has been widely held since the Enlightenment that if theistic beliefs are to be considered rational, they must be based on propositional evidence. It is not enough for the theist just to refute objections. The theist "must also have something like an argument for [such a] belief, or some positive reason to think that the belief is true." But this is incorrect, Plantinga argues. Basic beliefs are beliefs not based on propositional evidence; such beliefs are "properly basic in a set of circumstances" if they can be so affirmed in those circumstances "without either violating an epistemic duty or displaying some kind of noetic defect." And, according to Plantinga, theistic beliefs can be properly basic. For example, he argues that "under widely realized conditions it is perfectly rational, reasonable, intellectually respectable and acceptable to believe there is such a person as God without believing it on the basis of evidence — propositional evidence vs. the kind instanced by ‘the evidence of the senses’." But can a properly basic belief such as this have any epistemic credibility (warrant) if it is not conferred by other propositions whose epistemic status is not in question? Yes, Plantinga replies. There are two significantly different ways in which a proposition can acquire warrant. There is propositional warrant — warrant conferred by an evidential line of reasoning from other beliefs. However, there is also nonpropositional warrant.
Alston notes two pillars that he believes, in tandem, support theistic belief: the general consideration of natural theology and the experience of God. For Alston, the latter bears the greater weight and he goes on to explore how such experience contributes appropriate epistemic support to theism.
Religious experiences are like those induced by drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and sleep deprivation: They tell no uniform or coherent story, and there is no plausible theory to account for discrepancies among them.
Since experiences of God are good grounds for the existence of God, are not experiences of the absence of God good grounds for the nonexistence of God? After all, many people have tried to experience God and have failed. Cannot these experiences of the absence of God be used by atheists to counter the theistic argument based on experience of the presence of God?
Human beings have the unique ability to view the world in a detached way: We can think about the world in terms that transcend our own experience or interest, and consider the world from a vantage point that is, in Nagel’s words, “nowhere in particular.” At the same time, each of us is a particular person in a particular place, each with his own “personal” view of the world, a view that we can recognize as just one aspect of the whole. How do we reconcile these two standpoints — intellectually, morally, and practically? To what extent are they irreconcilable and to what extent can they be integrated? Thomas Nagel’s ambitious and lively book tackles this fundamental issue, arguing that our divided nature is the root of a whole range of philosophical problems, touching, as it does, every aspect of human life. He deals with its manifestations in such fields of philosophy as: the mind-body problem, personal identity, knowledge and skepticism, thought and reality, free will, ethics, the relation between moral and other values, the meaning of life, and death. Excessive objectification has been a malady of recent analytic philosophy, claims Nagel, it has led to implausible forms of reductionism in the philosophy of mind and elsewhere. The solution is not to inhibit the objectifying impulse, but to insist that it learn to live alongside the internal perspectives that cannot be either discarded or objectified. Reconciliation between the two standpoints, in the end, is not always possible. ~ Publisher’s Description
Kant distinguished between noumenon and phenomenon, or between a Ding an sich and that thing as it appears to human consciousness… In this strand of Kant’s thought — not the only strand, but the one which I am seeking to press into service in the epistemology of religion — the noumenal world exists independently of our perception of it and the phenomenal world is that same world as it appears to our human consciousness… I want to say that the noumenal Real is experienced and thought by different human mentalities, forming and formed by different religious traditions, as the range of gods and absolutes which the phenomenology of religion reports.
In an ongoing dialogue in this journal (Sophia), Robert Larmer and I have been discussing whether the undisputed occurrence of certain conceivable events — for instance, astonishing healings — could require all honest, thoughtful individuals to acknowledge that God has supernaturally intervened in earthly affairs. I have not denied that a theist (or nontheist) could justifiably consider the occurrence of certain possible (or even actual) events to be strong evidence for theism — for the existence of a God who benevolently intervenes in earthly affairs. But nontheists, I have argued, can justifiably maintain that evil — that the amount and nature of human pain and suffering — stands as strong evidence against God’s existence. Furthermore, I have argued, nontheists can justifiably maintain that the evidence against God’s existence generated by evil would outweigh any amount of evidence for theism that might be produced by any conceivable set of events. And for this reason I have continued to deny that there exists any conceivable context in which a person who did not acknowledge that God has intervened in earthly affairs could justifiably be accused of having conducted herself in a nonrational manner.
In response to Robert A. Larmer, Basinger argues: “There is little basis upon which to claim that all proponents of solely natural causation are guilty of dogmatic, uncritical, question-begging reasoning. To claim emphatically that there is in fact no God (and thus no divine causal intervention) may be an unwarranted metaphysical contention. But the nontheist need not be making any such ontological claim. She can simply be saying that, while this epistemological contention is debatable, its affirmation is not necessarily any more dogmatic or question begging than the belief that the ‘total’ evidence makes theistic belief (and thus the possibility of divine intervention) most reasonable.”
Twenty-five years after N. R. Hanson, T. S. Kuhn, and so many other historians and philosophers began to map out the intricate interpenetrations of fact and theory, and of science and society, the rationale for such a simplistic one-way flow from observation to theory has become entirely bankrupt. Science may differ from other intellectual activity in its focus upon the construction and operation of natural objects. But scientists are not robotic inducing machines that infer structures of explanation only from regularities observed in natural phenomena (assuming, as I doubt, that such a style of reasoning could ever achieve success in principle). Scientists are human beings, immersed in culture, and struggling with all the curious tools of inference that mind permits — from metaphor and analogy to all the flights of fruitful imagination that C. S. Pierce called ‘abduction.’ Prevailing culture is not always the enemy identified by whiggish historyin this case the theological restrictions on time that led early geologists to miracle-mongering in the catastrophist mode. Culture can potentiate as well as constrainas in Darwin’s translation of Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economic models into biology as the theory of natural selection. In any case, objective minds to not exist outside culture, so we must make the best of our ineluctable embedding.