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.”
Both astrophysicists and microphysicists have lately been discovering that the series of events that produced our universe had to happen in a rather precise way—at least, they had to happen that way if they were to produce life as we know it. Some might find this fact unremarkable. After all, we are here, and it is hardly surprising that the universe is of such kind as to have produced us. It is simply a tautology to say that people who find themselves in a universe live in a universe where human life is possible. Nevertheless, given the innumerable other things that could have happened, we have reason to be impressed by the astonishing fact of our existence. Like the man who survives execution by a 1,000-gun firing squad, we are entitled to suspect that there is some reason we are here, that perhaps there is a Friend behind the blast.
In his survey of the history of thought with respect to miracles, Craig traces the demise of the plausability of such supernatural events amongst biblical scholars, expressed first in naturalistic explanations for biblical events and ultimately in the repudiation of the reliability of the biblical texts. Craig addresses the influence of Bahrdt, Paulus, Schleiermacher, Strauss, and Bultmann before turning to their intellectual forebears, the thinking of Spinoza and Hume and the backdrop of Newton’s mechanistic universe. Craig offers a response to each of these principal thinkers in turn, concluding that “the presupposition of the impossibility of miracles should play no role in determining the historicity of an event”, even an allegedly supernatural one. In so doing, he challenges the notion that natural law must preclude miracles and provides a patient response to each of the principal objections. Craig’s lengthy article is a worthwhile read both for its summary history of biblical scholarship and for its recommendation for appropriate criteria in the study of history. ~ Nate
In recent years, scholars arguing against a conservative understanding of biblical inerrancy have appealed to a wide range of issues. It has been argued, for example, that belief in inerrancy should be abandoned or redefined because inerrancy is not taught by the Bible and it was not the view of many leaders in the history of the church. Others argue that the concept of inerrancy is not adequate to capture the nature of the Bible as revelation. As important as these and related issues are, one suspects that Donald Dayton put his finger on the central reason why some scholars feel a need to abandon or redefine inerrancy: “For many, the old intellectual paradigms [including inerrancy] are dead, and the search is on in neglected traditions and new sources for more adequate models of biblical authority.” Simply put, many no longer think that it is rational to believe that inerrancy is true. What are we to make of this objection?
Paul Vitz, a professor of psychology at NYU, proposes a provocative thesis: atheistic inclinations or commitments are often rooted in the so-called “freudian psyche”, that subconscious sum of our memories, fears, impressions, and deep seated dispositions formed early in our lives, particularly in relation to our fathers. While psychological grounds for belief are usually used to undercut the rationality of theism, here Vitz runs the argument the other way in a fascinating summary of psychological factors tied to atheistic belief. And by way of example, he considers the possible psychological motivations of the father of psychoanalysis, Freud himself. Turns out atheists have daddy issues as well. Vitz’s argument here was a prelude to his later work, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism.
William Alston brings a philosopher’s perspective to prayer, the somewhat audacious belief that humans can speak with God. Alston considers in particular the yet more remarkable belief that God responds to our petitions. A 2005 Rasmussen poll found that 47% of Americans pray daily or nearly every day. But however common, prayer rarely benefits from this kind of philosophical reflection. Alston addresses the issue of God’s foreknowledge and omniscience and how these comport with the notion that God’s action in the world can be moved by prayer. In particular, he considers objections to the idea that a “timeless” God can engage in dialogue with creatures who are in time. He concludes: “God is essentially timeless in the sense that, apart from His free choice to the contrary, none of His actions or states would be datable nor would He live through temporal succession. But God has the capacity to freely choose to render His activity, or portions thereof, temporally ordered. And this permits Him to enter into genuine interaction, conversational and otherwise, with temporal creatures.” ~ Nate
Philosopher William Alston articulates why he returned to Christianity after discarding his Christian faith not once, but twice. Alston notes that it was not any of the classical arguments for the credibility of Christian faith that beckoned him back, but rather something more intangible: “My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn’t heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me.” Alston goes on to say that what has kept him faithful ten years on is a real sense that God remains active in his life… that his faith “is working; the promise is being fulfilled”. For what it’s worth, here’s one man’s testimony. ~ Nate
In this paper, I ponder two questions: (1) Why can’t the religious believer simply put the burden on the skeptic, and ask him to justify his unbelief, with the underlying assumption that as between theism and atheism, it is the former that is obviously true and the latter that is obviously false? (2) This not being possible in any way that is of immediate interest to religious belief, how does the believer regard his inability to prove the truth of faith in the manner the skeptic demands?
In the paper that follows I write from the perspective of a philosopher, and of course I have detailed knowledge of (at best) only my own field. I am convinced, however, that many other disciplines resemble philosophy with respect to things I say below. (It will be up to the practitioners of those other disciplines to see whether or not I am right.)