Friday, February 15, 2008

Mystical experiences

We have been discussing mystical experiences with Ibrahim Lawson (who defends a sort of Islamic mysticism) and others. Let's sum up a bit:

I am sceptical about such experiences for many reasons including these three:

(1) It seems to me we have good reason to expect people to report mystical experiences anyway, whether or not any mystical reality exists , because of what we know about human beings, including that:

(i) they are prone to all sorts of weird experiences (on a scale ranging from fairly everyday moments of euphoria, etc. to full-blown schizophrenic hallucinations, delusions, etc.).

(ii) that they are amazingly prone to the power of suggestion, which can shape what they experience. Why is it that the Romans experienced Zeus, the Norse experienced Thor, and Catholics Mary? Clearly, the power of suggestion is very much involved in shaping these experiences. And once we have acknowledged that, we surely have to take seriously the possibility that in many cases, they are wholly down to the power of suggestion.

Given we should expect such experiences anyway, the fact that people do report such mystical experiences gives us no grounds for believing in such a reality.

(2) These experiences contradict each other. e.g. Buddhists have revelatory experiences of there being no God, Christians and Muslims, one God, and Norse and Romans, many Gods. Some experience a God of compassion and love, others (the Mayans) a God or gods who demand blood sacrifices, etc. Clearly, then, many of these experiences are at least partly deceptive. Despite the fact that those having them often find them utterly compelling.

(3) In so far as these experiences supposedly reveal a God of love and infinite power, well, we have overwhelming empirical evidence that there is no such being (the problem of evil), and thus that such experiences must be delusional.

So, it's not just true that we have no evidence for such a mystical faculty, we also have very good reason to be highly suspicious of such claims, and indeed, incontrovertible evidence that much of what these experiences reveal is delusional.

Now, the mystic tells me that, nevertheless, his experience reveals to him, with complete certainty, that there is no other God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet.

We point to the evidence that he should probably be a little more circumspect and cautious about taking his experience at face value.

He responds by "going nuclear" and insisting we are in the grip of fascistic, Enlightenment-inspired scientism/rationalism. We need to open ourselves up to alternative ways of thinking, which are equally "valid" (where have I heard that before? Oh yes - astrologers, soothsayers, purveyors of magical cures and snake oil, etc., etc., etc.)

Yes. That's our problem. We're Enlightenment fascists.

137 comments:

dobson said...

Just for the record, can you give any documented examples of pre-Christian mystical experiences, particularly those from non Abrahamic religions?

I wonder if some religions emphasize this form of revelation more than others - I've met catholics who cite "verified" mystical experiences as evidence for the validity, even primacy of their faith.

Stephen Law said...

Isn't the Old Testament full of examples - angels appearing, voices telling people to kill their children, etc. etc.? Then there's Buddhism (a core aim of which is to achieve a kind of mystical state or insight). Wikipedia is good on "mysticism", but of course that doesn't cover the entire range of experiences we are talking about, which, in some case, have been deliberately induced by fasting, sensory deprivation, the ingestion of exotic substances since I imagine, the dawn of mankind. immemorial.

Paul Hutton said...

The evolutionary advantage of certain experiences is interesting as well. For instance Sebastian Faulks in his recent novel 'Human Traces' discusses how the ability to hear voices might confer an advantage to people in primitive societies who need to remember the instructions of their leader when far from home.

What's more, the ability to hear the voice of someone we love when they are far away is deeply comforting, and lots of studies show that hearing the voice of a dead loved one is a common experience of bereaved people. It may be this that helps people survive incredible loss, when many others don't.

Thirdly, internalising the voice of a threatening other can help a person predict this threatening person's behaviour - the adaptive value is clear. There's a strong link emerging between childhood abuse and hearing voices as an adult (with similar content to the abuser).

So need for guidance, coping with loss, and managing threat all emerge as strong contenders for motivating the unusual experience of hearing a voice. All this makes me even more uncomfortable with Kierkegaard's idealisation of Abraham (was Abraham simply hearing a voice?) and highlights again the moral importance of the interpretation we make of the unusual experiences it seems some of us are more likely to have.

This all gets quite fascinating (I think) when we start to think about command hallucinations. What appears to be crucial here (in terms of obedience etc.) is the person's relationship with their voice - do they see themselves as more or less powerful? Believing oneself to be less powerful than others in general seems to be strongly associated with adopting this stance towards one's voice. Treatment and risk management involves challenging this, possibly by socratic dialogue and increasingly by helping the person develop a compassionate understanding of their voice. See work by Max Birchwood and Paul Gilbert et al.

By the way I think it's important to note 'schizophrenia' is a scientifically invalid and pejorative concept for many people and that people who receive this diagnosis are often struggling with a history of abuse or trauma, or, like many of us, simply struggling to make sense of the world. Here's a linkto a recent article which explores this in more detail, all the more astonishing because it's published in the Daily Mail.

Anyway, I'm not saying that religious or mystical experiences should be written off as the mind just playing tricks, but I am saying that good research is beginning to suggest reasons for equivalent unusual experiences (of the highly distressing and unusual variety) which fit with an evolutionary perspective.

NAL said...

... Christians and Buddhists, one God, ...

... Christians and Muslims, one God, ...

Enlightenment-inspired scientific/rationalistic reality vs. perceived reality. In most people these two realities coincide most of the time. When the two realities do not coincide, I give the former the benefit of the doubt.

Stephen Law said...

oops yes I will fix that.

anticant said...

Can anyone explain how religious believers who, like Ibrahim, have not even a scintilla of doubt that their personal perceptions of the deity are the 'true' one contend with all the conflicting insights of those whose 'inner path' to Jehovah, Jesus, Allah or whoever is different from and at variance with theirs?

NAL said...

One man's opiate is another man's poison.

anticant said...

Coming back to earth, has anyone - especially Ibrahim - noticed this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7247817.stm

I especially like "freedom of speech is like a plague!".

What does Ibrahim teach his pupils about freedom of speech?

A more mundane topic than mysticism, but somewhat more relevant to the world we are living in here and now.

Sorry, I forgot - the cloven hoof of my "pseudo-liberal bigotry" again.....

Ron Murphy said...

Stephen,

I still don't agree that the problem of evil is as significant as you claim; i.e. not overwhelming empirical evidence. For generations theists have been rationalising their faith in the face of reason, so I don't see why the problem of evil is such a killer. Anyone that starts out from a fairly tame hypothesis (that there was some creator) and ends up with the Bible or the Quran and all the other hokus-pokus of religion, is clearly imaginative enough to overcome the problem of evil.

As atheists we are comfortable with a degree of uncertainty - we can't tell to what extent science is able to reveal reality to us; there's stuff we just don't know and we're okay with that.

Isn't the answer then for the theist to simply admit that they don't know why God permits suffering at the hands of evil people or as a consequence of tragedy. Theists often argue that one can't know the mind of God, or that since he's omniscient he knows why stuff happens when we can't possibly know. Even if he's omnibenevolent, he might have good reason, in his terms, for allowing the suffering. Maybe the evil is evil only in our terms, or using flaky religious poetic licence, perhaps his omnibenevolence transends our evil.

The evidential aspect of the problem of evil might tell us that the problem of evil needs explaining, but just because the theist can't provide an explanation doesn't make the problem of evil a strong argument against the existence of God.

If we consider the argument from reasonableness, how unreasoanble it is for so much suffering to exist given God's omnibenevolence; or if we point out that there's an appeal to ignorance, in that not knowing God's reason for suffering is not evindence for evil; then these objections apply to all aspects of religion. On that basis the problem of evil is no more significant than other problems of faith.

Timmo said...

Stephen,

Have you considered the work of Plantinga and others in the so-called Reformed Epistemology? Plantinga combines an externalist view of justification with the Calvinist view that we are all endowed with a sensus divinitatis which produces religious beliefs and experience in us. So, here's a pair of theses that Ibrahim can endorse which defeat your objections:

(R) If an agent A believes that p, then A is justified in believing that p if and only if there is some reliable-belief forming process P and A's belief that p is a result of that process P.

(C) All normal human beings possess a sensus divinitatis which God has placed in human beings so that they can come to know Him.

Ibrahim can hold that he recognizes the truth of the Koran's teachings through the testimony of his sensus divinitatis. Moreover, because this faculty, which has been given to him by God, is a reliable one, he is justified in believing in the Koran. Of course, he can not necessarily show a skeptic that this faculty really is reliable. But, this is just part of the externalism inherent in (R). So, having a justified belief doesn't mean being able to show it is justified to a skeptic.

Indeed, there is no reason to believe that Ibrahim really could demonstrate to you that his sensus divinitatis is reliable. Then again, there is no reason to believe that anyone could answer the skeptic's challenge to our sensory faculties, our belief that other people have minds, memory, or testimony. We have a variety of belief-producing faculties none of which can be shown to be reliable given only the combination of the others. We learn about physical objects in our immediate environment through sensory perception; about logic and mathematics through reason; about moral principles through conscience; about the past through memory; about distant facts and states of affairs from the testimony of others; about the mental states of other organisms through our "sympathy"; about general causal laws through induction; and about God and the truths of religion through our sensus divinitatis.

Imagine, then, a parody of the arguments you summed up in this post:

(1*) It seems to me we have good reason to expect people to report perceptions of an external world, whether or not any external world exists, because of what might be true of them, including:

(i*) they are prone to weird beliefs and prejudices that the evil demon might have produced in them

(ii*) they are amazingly prone to the power of habit, which causes them to hold onto cherished beliefs, like those in the external world or the existence of other minds, come what may.

(3*) Insofar as perceptual experiences supposedly reveal and external world of physical objects there is overwhelming evidence we could never know about such a world (the recalcitrant, unsolved problem of the external world), and thus we should withhold all belief in them.

The second objection (2) is readily handled in a Plantinga-style framework. All of our belief-producing faculties fail under certain conditions: memory suffers from confabulation; the testimony of others might be lies; vision fails under low-light conditions; our conscience is distorted by own own wicked motives and by the powerful cultural moores which surround us; etc. The analogy between conscience and the sensus divinitatis is worth pressing. Just as our own wicked motives or corrupt social moores distort the moral intuitions emanating from our conscience, so does our sin and alienation from God distort beliefs produced by our sensus divinitatis. The disagreement here merely reflects the fact that we are sinful creatures and require the assistance of God.

Ibrahim is wrong to accuse the Enlightenment of being fascist, as fascism really is the enemy of Enlightenment. But, it is correct to say that the kind of classical, internalist foundationalism underpinning your objections makes you vulnerable to skeptical attack.

Author said...

Yes, Ibrahim needs to answer this one fundamental question posed by anticant above, by Stephen at the end of his Emperor's New Clothes post, and by me, rephrased here:

Why do you think you are exceptional?

Let me expand by pinpointing something upon which we can all agree: that the human propensity for believing with utter conviction, to the point of certainty, in things which we can both agree are patently untrue, is a very common phenomenon. Christians, Mormons, homeopaths, astrologers, Scientologists - Ibrahim and I can both witness their certainty, while being in absolute agreement that their beliefs are not in any meaningful sense of the word 'true'.

And yet, although Ibrahim is quite capable of recognising the ubiquity and variety of this all-too-human propensity for mistaken certainty, he nonetheless sees himself as being immune to it. As, of course, do all those Christians, Mormons etc etc - because the illusion of exceptionality is a symptom of the delusion.

So, Ibrahim, why do you think you are exceptional?

A Christian would say that they don't think they are exceptional, but that Jesus/The Bible/Christianity is what is unique. The infallibility of the Bible is an untenable position which many Christians nevertheless defend ferociously. If Ibrahim would like to accompany me to a Christian apologetics message board we can have some fun making those Christians jump through hoops in their outlandish and tortuous efforts at "harmonising" the Bible's many contradictions.

Then we could go over to ummah.com and make the Muslims perform the same amusing circus act - except Ibrahim might not find it so funny this time. Because he thinks Islam is exceptional.

But as the fact of thinking your beliefs are exceptional is exactly what everyone else who really is suffering from mistaken certainty does, it is clearly not evidence of exception. So there must be something about Ibrahim himself that makes him think he is different, that allows him to state unselfconscously that he is "quite certain" of his own beliefs. Maybe he is exceptionally confident of the reliability of his own judgement. (Their are other words for this exceptional confidence, but I won't list them here, for now)

So, one more time:

Why, Ibrahim, do you think you are exceptional?

anticant said...

Ibrahim thinks he is exceptional because it is obvious to him that he is exceptional.

End of discussion.

Ron Murphy said...

Timmo,

Alternatively...

(R) If an agent A believes that p, then A is justified in believing that p if and only if there is some reliable-belief forming process P and A's belief that p is a result of that process P.

(C) All normal human beings possess a sensus divinitatis which deludes human beings into thinking that God has placed in human beings so that they can come to know Him.
OR
(C) All normal human beings possess a sensus divinitatis which (Ci: God has placed in human beings so that they can come to know Him) OR (Cii: is a delusion), where Ci and Cii cannot be distinguished, and where current research is supportive of Cii, though not conclusive, and where Ci is unfalsifiable.


And any rational view is vulnerable to skeptical attack. That's one of its virtues. I think theists, who are so certain of their point of view, have difficulty believing that atheists are generally accepting of skepticism to this extent, when, for example, they claim atheism is a faith position.

Ron Murphy said...

anticant,

corollary...

The Quran contains the word of God because it says so.

Stephen Law said...

Hello Timmo

Yes I know a bit about reformed epistemology (I linked to the wiki page in an earlier post). Deserves a whole post to itself. Will do that shortly...

Notice however that your parody isn't accurate. I didn't say there *might* be reasons for supposing people will report these experiences whether or not they are true (because we are fallible, there *might* then be reasons for supposing we're mistaken about everything we're fallible about). I said that there are such reasons - we do actually possess them. It's this claim that's doing the work, not some vague sceptical worry.

The other disanalogy is, there is overwhelming evidence there's no good God. There is no corresponding evidence there is no physical world (though perhaps there's an absence of evidence for such a world, if the sceptic is right).

I made no commitment to evidentialism/foundationalism, I think, did I?

Stephen Law said...

Incidentally Timmo, do you happen to know what Plantinga/Alston etc. would say about the Muslim case: "Now, the mystic tells me that, nevertheless, his experience reveals to him, with complete certainty, that there is but one God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet."

The Muslim experience is at least partly delusional, according to the Christian. This inaccuracy is no doubt caused by sin. But how does Plantinga know that it's the Muslims' sin that's misleading them, rather than Plantinga's own sin that's misleading him? (I think he'd say, "Well if that's how things seem to me, then I am still warranted - whatever questions the Muslims' experiences might raise about the reliability of such experiences generally."

Incidentally, I can also tell a rather good story about an evil God who will want to produce such experiences, but also make them partly misleading (presenting him as good, not evil). So the error in our perception of God is caused by sin, in a way, but God's sin, not ours.

Also, what do we say about experiences of an evil God? Surely to maximize evil, this god will want to produce, via a reliable mechanism, experiences of him in us (to increase our suffering). So some of us will know, via this mechanism, that he exists. Are those who have such experiences to consider themselves warranted in believing in such a being, then?

Clearly not. But then why are those who have experiences of a good God warranted in accepting them at face value?

I'd very much like to discuss all this with Plantinga, or someone expert on his stuff, in fact.

Paul Hutton said...

Timmo

"Even if he's omnibenevolent, he might have good reason, in his terms, for allowing the suffering. Maybe the evil is evil only in our terms, or using flaky religious poetic licence, perhaps his omnibenevolence transends our evil."

But how easy would would it be to say this to someone who has spent most of their life in great suffering? Obviously there are plenty of emotive examples at hand, as I'm sure you're aware. The point is forcefully brought home by Albert Camus in The Plague, and by former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway in one of his books - when he describes the anger in the eyes of a mother at her child's funeral, as he tries to say something to her along the lines of your comment. I don't know about you, but don't we have ample enough evidence to feel angry at God, whether or not he exists? Should we not refuse to believe in Him?

"All normal human beings possess a sensus divinitatis which God has placed in human beings so that they can come to know Him."

But I don't get this. I thought Faith proper was meant to involve a leap away from any need for rational justification or perceptual 'sense' evidence? I'm thinking of all the injunctions to suspend our critical faculties whenever the questions get too tricky... If the Bible suggests that in order to believe in God we should not think about it too much, or ask too many questions, I find myself in complete agreement. However if a person asserts that we have an ability to 'perceive' God, and they base their belief in God on this then surely they have entered the realm of 'evidence and reason as a basis for belief'?

Given that, do you mind if I ask where this sensus divinitatis is supposed to be located? Is it in the brain? Or having made that assertion, are we NOW not meant to ask any more questions? Shall we park the Evidence truck here and get aboard the Faith one now?

"The second objection (2) is readily handled in a Plantinga-style framework. All of our belief-producing faculties fail under certain conditions: memory suffers from confabulation; the testimony of others might be lies; vision fails under low-light conditions; our conscience is distorted by own own wicked motives and by the powerful cultural moores which surround us; etc. The analogy between conscience and the sensus divinitatis is worth pressing."

But we only know our belief-producing faculties fail because we have scrutinised their coherence by reference to the external world. Your point about skepticism is only possible because of non-skepticism. If anyone professed to believe such an idea I'd be astonished if, to steal an image from Douglas Adams, they didn't disappear in a puff of their own logic.

Paul Hutton said...

Sorry the first two paragraphs in the post above were in response to Ron Murphy not Timmo.

Terence said...

author said;

"the human propensity for believing with utter conviction, to the point of certainty, in things which . . . are patently untrue, is a very common phenomenon . . . . "

This points to the crux of the matter, I think: How can we know whether our belief -- in anything -- is true or even warranted?

The mystical position seems to be that the mystic experience is a sort of personal, direct perception that is self-validating. In other words, "I know it because I personally experienced it."

But, going back to author's point, if we accept the fallibility of our perceptions and our interpretations of those perceptions, is personal experience alone a sufficiently reliable indicator of truth?

Or, could I just be fooling myself?

It seems to me that the only way to examine/answer that question is to step outside the subjective and examine our belief objectively (rationally), by looking at evidence and through critical reasoning.

anticant said...

There's no point in feeling angry at a god who we don't believe exists! What we should be angry at - VERY angry - is the hideous mess being made of our world by those who do believe there is a god, and are prepared to commit ghastly atrocities in his name.

Paul Hutton said...

Without criticising those who take it, I'm fed up with the sceptic stance. It's one of these things that's very easy to say and profess a belief in (but as Stephen points out elsewhere) it's the equivalent of 'going nuclear'. In addition to it's impossibility, this 'going nuclear' is rather childlike and I think immoral given some of the implications that flow from it.

Childlike because it reminds me of a child's attempt to escape their own shadow. 'Immoral' because if you assert that nothing exists you also assert that the suffering of millions doesn't exist (much like the beloved holocaust deniers). You also assert that my love for my child isn't real and further - that my child isn't real. You deny anything - you deny the ability to deny. You tell me it's not sure that I'm going to die... You tell me I can't know if people I have grieved for are actually dead. You deny the certainty that 2 + 2 = 4; you assert that such rules are open to debate. More dangerously your 'eternal doubt' means I can't be sure that if I jump in front of a car I won't be hurt. More worrying still, scepticism over external reality means I can't be sure if I pull the trigger on a gun it won't kill the person I point it at. Given even the sceptic himself won't willingly try these experiments out, it simply suggests to me they don't (and can't) take such a stance.

Any defense of the sceptical position against this is a priori impossible anyway, according to their own bizzare outlook.

anticant said...

Dr Johnson asked a lady who told him she was a sceptic if there anything she did believe in. When she said she believed in the universe, he retorted "By God, madam. you'd better!"

Paul said...

And the solipsist who expressed surprise to Bertrand Russell that more people didn't profess such a belief.

Timmo said...

ron murphy,

You write, "any rational view is vulnerable to skeptical attack. That's one of its virtues."

On one reading, this statement is plausible. Our beliefs are fallible, and it is possible to raise defeaters for many of them.

On a second, more relevant reading, this statement is false. If something like processes reliabalism is correct, then our beliefs are justified simply in virtue of being produced by reliable cognitive processes. What justifies a particular belief need not be accessible to introspection or considered reflection. This means that warranted views are not vulnerable to the kind of philosophical skepticism that demands reasons for trusting in our faculties. Many philosophers have argued that philosophical skepticism is committed to internalism about justification. If that's right, then externalists have nothing to fear from skeptical attacks.

Stephen,

I just want to make clear my own point of view in advance of any further discussion, so that you can judge what I am saying. In my post, An Apology for Faith, I propounded the Jamesean view on faith: under certain circumstances of urgency, necessity, and uncertainty is appropriate and rational to make a leap of faith on the basis of our passions. But, I am very sympathetic to externalism about justification, and I would like to help Ibhrahim out by deploying it. (I made an effort to undermine the skeptical arguments in Descartes' Meditation I in this post, but I have come to think I did not succeed there.)

Yes, the analogy is only partial. As you point out, you didn't say that there might be reasons for supposing that people will report these experiences whether or not they are true. But, I am not sure the structural analogy to external world skepticism is gone on that account. Because the skeptic doesn't claim that there really is a evil demon who fabricates our experiences, it is appropriate to substitute the skeptic's arguments. You write, "It's this claim that's doing the work, not some vague skeptical worry." Can't the skeptic say "It's the philosophical argument that's doing the work, not some set of unsubstantiated, unjustifiable claims about the way our faculties in fact fail to work?"

So, the analogy I am trying to draw is not between atheism and a "nihilism" about the external world; it is between atheism and philosophical skepticism. Just as you have argued that the unresolved problem of evil is a powerful defeater for theism, the skeptic is in his/her rights to say that the unresolved problem of the external world is a powerful defeater for our belief in an external, material world.

You did not make any explicit commitment to internalism about justification, Stephen. But, asking for justification for believing in the testimony of one's mystical experiences is bizarre from an externalist standpoint. The justification of my belief that I am sitting in front my laptop typing up this post is the reliable functioning of my sensory faculties, and the operations of my sensory faculties are external to the range of things accessible to my ability to introspect or reflect. Likewise, the operations of a mystic's sensus divinitatis is inaccessible to the range of things accessible to his/her introspection or reflection. So, the mystic can not offer up the justification for his/her religious beliefs up for public scrutiny, but for all that the mystic is justified in his/her religious beliefs. I am suggesting that the best way to make sense of the arguments you offered in your post is from an internalist standpoint.

I think that helps answer your query, "how does Plantinga know that it's the Muslims' sin that's misleading them, rather than Plantinga's own sin that's misleading him?" Plantinga knows it is the Muslim's sin that is misleading them (if that is something he really does know) through the reliable testimony of his sensus divinitatis, even though the operations of this faculty is external to the range of things accessible to his ability to introspect or reflect upon.

You suggest an interesting scenario. Suppose that we have instead been crafted not by a morally perfect God, but by a morally despicable deity. This deity endows us with a sensus demonitatis that allows us to come to know his evil deeds. This knowledge, of course, makes life much more frightening and terrible for us. You say that they are clearly not warranted in believing in such a being. If their sensus demonitatis is a reliably functioning faculty which, on the whole, yields mostly true beliefs, then those poor souls are warranted in their beliefs. In such a world, theists like Plantinga who appealed to the testimony of their sensus divinitatis would be unjustified -- that faculty just is not a reliable belief producing mechanism.

I'd very much like to discuss all this with Plantinga, or someone expert on his stuff, in fact.

If you can persuade one of them to pop in, that would be great! In the meantime, I guess you'll just have to settle for me. :-P

I look forward to your post.

paul hutton,

I thought Faith proper was meant to involve a leap away from any need for rational justification or perceptual 'sense' evidence?

That is one view in religious epistemology. It is not Plantinga's view.

Given that, do you mind if I ask where this sensus divinitatis is supposed to be located? Is it in the brain?

I suppose the answer to this question depends upon the correct solution to the mind/body problem. If substance dualism is correct, then it is possible the sensus divinitatis is "located" within the immaterial soul. On the other hand, the sensus divinitatis could be seated in the brain. Sure, why not? What is the problem here?

I'm fed up with the sceptic stance.

You claim that philosophical skepticism is childlike and suggest it is not worthy of any serious attention. Actually, I think that philosophical skepticism is a rather noble view, and I take philosophical skepticism seriously. You might want to check out Casey Perin's paper, "Pyrrhonian Scepticism and the Search for Truth", available online here.

Paul Hutton said...

"You claim that philosophical skepticism is childlike and suggest it is not worthy of any serious attention. Actually, I think that philosophical skepticism is a rather noble view, and I take philosophical skepticism seriously."

Now is that statement immune from your own professed skepticism? I suppose that and the rest of your comments reflect what you truly believe, or am I making a bold inference?

Skepticism is not worthy of serious consideration because neither the actuality of the suffering of others, or the existence of my love for my child, are worthy of serious questioning.

Thanks for the link though - will check it out.

Paul said...

"On the other hand, the sensus divinitatis could be seated in the brain. Sure, why not? What is the problem here?"

No problem, but it opens up the possibility of empirical study. We could do an fMRI brain scan study of people with more or less well developed sensus divinitatis (SD) - see if we can localise it. Perhaps inclusion of a group of people with delusions will help control for that possible confounding variable.

If SD is hosted in the brain it also suggests that some people who have had brain damage will have impaired or missing SD. Has anyone lost their faith in God following brain injury I wonder? Have to control for this being a reasoned position as well I guess.

If we find out where SD is localised we open up the possibility of stimulation in willing volunteers (I'd be game). Perhaps we could use this as an opportunity to ask God a few questions?

Timmo said...

paul hutton,

I did not profess skepticism in my post. I tentatively advanced the epistemological thesis of processes reliablism together with the claim that philosophical skepticism about things like the existence of the external world or the existence of other minds hangs on the contrary epistemological thesis of internalism. I argued that Stephen's demands that Ibrahim show that his sensus divinitatis is reliable, and that mystical experiences are veritable, relies, like philosophical skepticism, on epistemological internalism. From an externalist point of view, then, such demands are misguided. (Reread the opening on my reply to Stephen.)

paul,

Many scientists are interested in the source of religious beliefs and the biological roots of religious experiences. I think this work is very fascinating and I discuss it with a number of neurobiologists of personal acquaintance.

If SD is hosted in the brain it also suggests that some people who have had brain damage will have impaired or missing SD. Has anyone lost their faith in God following brain injury I wonder?

Brain injury can cause the loss of all sorts of beliefs, including belief in the existence of God. A close friend of mine suffered a severe concussion, and, as a result, ended up having amnesia. Not only were his/her religious beliefs gone, but so was his/her beliefs about most everything else!

If we find out where SD is localised [sic] we open up the possibility of stimulation in willing volunteers (I'd be game). Perhaps we could use this as an opportunity to ask God a few questions?

It is possible that our sensus divinitatis is well-localized and can be stimulated directly as in other experiments. On the other hand, many brain-functions are not well-localized, and a good deal of cognition is spread throughout the brain, including, presumably, consciousness. Supposing that we did locate the sensus divinitatis and were able to stimulate it so as to produce mystical or religious experiences, I see no reason that such experiences would tell us anything about God. After all, if I induce perceptual experiences in myself by imbibing a hallucinogenic substance, I do not thereby learn about the external world. Similarly, activating the sensus divinititas in an experimental setting would not tell us anything about God, although it may have a good deal to tell us about human beings.

I have no objection to scientific inquiry into religious cognition. I try to acquaint myself with the literature in this field when the pressures of my own academic and professional work allow.

Timmo said...

Hello all!

In case you are not familiar with Alvin Plantinga and Reformed Epistemology, I recommend reading this well-written overview of his contributions:

Di Stasio, Margherita (2006) "On Plantinga's Idea of Warrant in Epistemology and in Philosophy of Religion", Croatian Journal of Philosophy Vol VI, No 17

Paul Hutton said...

"I did not profess skepticism in my post."

Apologies. You did describe it as noble though, which (if I take it be either the rejection of reason or the rejection of the external world) I thoroughly disagree with when I consider the implications.

As per the information on the neurobiological basis of the perception of God(s), I look forward to seeing the results of those studies.

Timmo said...

paul hutton,

I think the best non-technical book I have read on this topic is a book by Hood, Hunsberger, Gorsuch, and Spilka, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. There are some papers critical of religious belief which discuss scientific explanations of religious belief in Paul Kurtz' anthology Science and Religion: are they compatible?.

Everyone,

I just remembered a Faith and Philosophy paper by Plantinga, "Intellectual Sophistication and Basic Belief in God" is available online here.

anticant said...

Thanks for the Plantinga link. I’ll gladly leave that technical discussion to the professional philosophers. I did, however, read with interest another of his papers on the same site: ‘Theism, Atheism, And Rationality.’ Quite cleverly argued, but essentially question-begging. Here are some quotes from it:

“Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t – short of heroic measures such as coma-inducing drugs – just divest myself of [my belief in God].” [Just like Ibrahim!]

“How can we tell what it is healthy for human beings to believe unless we know or have some idea about what sort of creature a human being is?” [An obvious riposte: “How can we tell whether God is a useful concept unless we have some idea about what sort of creature God is?”]

“If theism – Christian theism for example – is true, then it seems wholly implausible to think that widespread atheism would be more likely to contribute to the survival of our race than widespread theism.” [This evades the issue of the ‘truth’ of theism.]

A much tougher intellectual approach to the question of God’s existence or non-existence is “Atheism. The Case Against God”, by George H. Smith [Prometheus Books]. When I first read it, some years ago, it clinched the philosophical and intellectual arguments against the existence of a ‘supernatural’ deity for me.

Stephen Law said...

Hello Timmo. Thanks for the links - very useful. I shall do a post on this shortly as it obviously warrants one.

It's interesting though, that you say that someone who takes themselves to have had an experience of an evil God is, indeed, warranted if there's such a god.

Subjectively, then, our evil-god-believer and good-god-believer - each founding their belief in a revelatory experience - are equally justified.

Whether one of them is a knower, and warranted, depends on factors to which neither of them has access. (i.e. are their experiences produced via reliable mechanism?) Neither can know which, if either, of them is the knower.

The thing is - we are all rightly confident that the evil-god believer is deluded. Indeed, we rightly suppose that the evil-God believer is surely not warranted or a knower. We have good grounds for supposing their experience has some other cause. We even suppose that they should know that too.(which is why we give them treatment)

But if that is so, shouldn't we say the same thing, for the same sort of reasons, about the Christian or Muslim or whatever?

I think Plantinga's appeal to cases where someone's experience is sufficient for them reasonably to ignore a defeater is suspect. Yes there are such cases (I like the example where P is accused of a crime which he knows he did not commit). But there are also cases where the experience is not enough to justify such a response. And experience of a good or evil God looks like such a case.

(Don't ask me to identify the key differences between such cases though!)

Incidentally, in "intellectual sophistication" P suggests evidential problems of evil are weak because of problems about quantifying evil. He thinks that, because of this, no one has yet constructed a cogent argument against belief in God on those lines.

My evil God challenge is designed to get round exactly that sort of move. Plantinga will no doubt say belief in an evil God is silly, given the evidence against it (wouldn't he?) - yet notice the same problem about "quantifying" good and evil arises in that case too. Clearly such a move would just be a smokescreen in that case - it's just obvious there's too much good for this to be the creation of an evil God. Not withstanding the fact we cannot precisely quantify evil and good.

scott gray said...

does mysticism require god as the object of direct experience? or can knowledge by the object of direct eperience? the same language is used for both-- 'insight,' especially. how is a 'eureka moment' about knowledge different than a mystical experieince?

Terence said...

stephen writes:

"I think Plantinga's appeal to cases where someone's experience is sufficient for them reasonably to ignore a defeater is suspect. Yes there are such cases (I like the example where P is accused of a crime which he knows he did not commit). But there are also cases where the experience is not enough to justify such a response. And experience of a good or evil God looks like such a case.

(Don't ask me to identify the key differences between such cases though!)"

To take a stab at it, the difference seems to me to be that I develop a solid basis in empirical evidence (that is continually tested) that supports my trust in my everyday conclusions about the correctness of my perceptions concerning my actions (such that I know that I didn't commit a crime), whereas there is no such basis for mystical experiences.

Kyle said...

Stephen said:

"Plantinga will no doubt say belief in an evil God is silly, given the evidence against it (wouldn't he?)"

I seriously doubt he would say this. I obviously don't speak on his behalf, but I am reasonably familiar with his work and I know of nothing that would commit him to such a view. I also don't know of any philosopher who has made that argument.

Instead I imagine he would say that the 'problem of good' fails in the same way that the 'problem of evil' fails. The reason that he does not believe in the existence of an evil God is that it conflicts with his belief in a good God.

Kosh3 said...

Re: Plantinga and intellectual sophistocation.

Is Plantinga right to say that

7. I was alone in the woods all that afternoon, and I did not steal the letter

is nonpropositional warrant?

Would it not be better represented as:

7. I was alone in the woods all that afternoon, and *therefore* I did not steal the letter.

This is how I would argue when pressed, if it was me in the position described. I.e. from my recollection of my activities, to the factuality of my innocence.

But that, of course, is propositional warrant (contrary to what Plantinga aims for).

Stephen Law said...

Thanks Kyle. You may be right about what Plantinga would say. But you can see the problem I am now setting up for Plantinga, can't you?

On the one hand, if Plantinga says that, for someone who has evil-God-type experiences, belief in an evil God is not silly, despite the problem of good, what we know about human psychology, etc. then his view is highly counter-intuitive, to say the least.

On the other hand, if Plantinga says that, for someone who has evil-God-type experiences, belief in an evil God is pretty silly, given the problem of good, what we know about human psychology, etc., then why doesn't the problem of evil, etc. reveal belief in a good God also to be pretty silly, notwithstanding our good-God experiences?

anticant said...

This whole discussion is pretty silly, if you ask me! But then, I'm not a philosopher....

Kyle said...

To Stephen:

This seems to be a version of the 'Son of Great Pumpkin' objection. It is called this because it is a more advanced version of the objection that Plantinga's theory allows any belief to have warrant, if we hold it in a basic way, including belief in the great pumpkin.

The 'Son of Great Pumpkin' objection is instead that although Plantinga would not have to believe that any conflicting belief system is rational, it is true that any belief system would be just as legitimate as Plantinga's including Great Pumpkin worshippers or evil God worshippers.

(Plantinga's response to this is quite long, I am now going to shift to speaking for myself, although I believe that my response is in the spirit of what Plantinga actually says. You can find his actual response on p342-351 of 'Warranted Christian Belief')

It is true that there is no a priori reason to reject the belief system of the evil-God worshippers, but the reason that it seems so silly is simply because there are no such people. What Plantinga has shown is that his belief system is not irrational, but we can still question whether it is true. You must engage with the actual belief community.

No doubt someone will post a message after me saying that they are actually an evil-God believer. I will be able to reject this person's belief as irrational because I have good reason to believe that their sudden conversion is a result of their desire to prove me wrong, not the result of some sensus demonitatis.

Perhaps belief in an evil-God is not intrinsically silly, but I am confident that everyone who actually believes in an evil-God does so for silly reasons.

anticant said...

Have you never heard of Satanists and devil worshippers, or are you saying their beliefs are so silly that they can't be serious?

One can of course say exactly the same thing about belief in a good God.

Kyle said...

To Anticant:

I believe that sometime earlier Stephen distinguished his evil God from the devil, but if this distinction turns out to in fact to be false, then perhaps evil God worshippers do exist.

This isn't a problem for what I have been saying. There is no reason to think that this belief is irrational before coming into contact with the actual belief system.

Of course, Christians are not immune to these sorts of arguments. It is not hard to find examples of people who have been brainwashed by some sort of Christian cult. However, this hardly proves that all Christians have been brainwashed - it is possible to brainwash people into believing the truth.

Stephen Law said...

Hello Kyle

I am not at home so cannot check my copy of WCB, but yes I suppose am offering what might broadly be called a "pumpkin" type objection.

Only with a twist. There really are people who claim to have glimpsed that lying behind the world is something utterly malovolent. They don't believe for what you'd call "silly" reasons, but because this is how things fundamentally strike them. I'm told, by a friend of mine who knows a little bit about such things, that it is a not uncommon delusion.

Delusion being the key word. It's certainly not reasonable for us to suppose their experience is veridical. And, if they know a bit about philosophy and human psychology, it isn't reasonable for them to believe it, either.

I think anticant's Satanists (who experience Satan) can't be ignored, either. True, their Satan is not my evil God (if Satan's not omnipotent). But Plantinga's view appears to entail that, given what they experience, their belief that Satan has appeared to them, etc. is reasonable. Yet it seems to me we can know, and they should know, that their belief is unreasonable, given what we know about the genesis of the Satan story, facts about human psychology (power of suggestion, our predisposition to weird experiences, etc.) and so on.

In short - Alistair Crowley was clearly a sad nutter, wasn't he?

Stephen Law said...

sorry - I meant Aleister Crowley...

Stephen Law said...

Kyle - btw thanks for chipping in as this is really helping me to figure out what I think about Plantinga.

Here's a further thought - Plantinga's view seems to entail that while it might not be reasonable for us to believe the Norse really did experience Thor, the Romans Zeus, etc. etc. it is reasonable for those having such experiences to believe it.

It's P's view that it remains reasonable for them to believe even if they are then presented with evidence that there no such cosmic beings.

But is this true? My guess is it depends on the strength of the evidence, and also whether they possess, in addition, evidence that their experience is, to a significant extent, a result of non-divine causes (e.g. evidence that they have been hypnotized, that their experiences may actually have some other psychological cause, such as the power of suggestion, brainwashing, etc.)

What is P's view, exactly? Is he committed to the view that, for someone with a compelling experience as of a divine being, their belief in this being remains reasonable irrespective of how much such evidence we might provide that they are deluded (e.g. we even show them film of them being hypnotized, brainwashed, etc.)?

That seems ridiculous.

So I guess not. But then Plantinga must be open to the possibility that such evidence that, say, Muslim or Christian mystics are deluded might be provided. And he would now have to explain why the kind of, actually, pretty obvious considerations I outlined at the top of this post (incl. known facts about human psychology, etc.) aren't such considerations. I'm not aware that he has ever done that, in fact. Be interested to know if he has....

Kosh3 said...

In 'Is Belief in God Properly Basic' (Nous, vol 15. no 1, 1981) Plantinga addresses the pumpkin objection. There, his reply is confused - he takes it to mean that believers in god as properly basic must simultaneously be committed to other kinds of beliefs (i.e. great pumpkins) - but this is not the heart of the objection. It is that, for those who uphold great pumpkins as properly basic, people who hold up god as properly basic seem to have little that can be said to them in objection. And so if we allow for god to be properly basic for some (i.e. those who have had the right sorts of experiences), we seem to have to allow for anyone to believe in anything as properly basic, if they claim the right sorts of experiences. We ourselves, of course, do not need to believe as they do.

He goes on to say that frankly he just doesn't *need* to be able to specify what goes wrong in people saying pumpkins are basic - because you don't need to have a fully worked through theory of what can count as properly basic, in order to know that something is (i.e. god). He doesn't any 'fully fledged criteria of basicality' in order to uphold god and deny pumpkins.

In any case, though, we might attack Plantinga's position at a different point. For Plantinga the actual basic experiences are ones like:

"I am having the experience of god being unhappy at my actions."

From this derives a belief in god (as close to basic as is allowed).

But are such experiences ever given as such? Surely inference is necessary for any such recognition to occur. I don't just experience god in some mystical setting (for how do I know what sort of thing god is?), I experience something god-like, and conclude retrospectively or in hindsight that it was god (unhappy with me for coveting someone's wife, perhaps). But in *that* case, it cannot count as basic. High-level theory (what kinds of things count as deities) is being invoked in order to arrive at the proposition.

I guess this is simply a repeat of my complaint lodged earlier.

Steelman said...

Kyle said: "It is true that there is no a priori reason to reject the belief system of the evil-God worshippers, but the reason that it seems so silly is simply because there are no such people."

According to the Marcionites, Jews and Catholics alike were evil-God worshippers.

In modern Christianity, I'd say that Calvinism is evil-God worship; the Westboro Baptist Church representing the most extreme expression (in action and focus; not doctrine). The Calvinist God purposely creates most human beings (past, present, and future individuals) predestined for the eternal tortures of hell. With an evil-God like that, a devil seems superfluous. Calvinists would say I lack the ability to understand how the sovereign nature of God causes all His actions to be properly righteous.

They'd be right about that: I really don't understand.

anticant said...

What comes increasingly clearly out of the above posts is that theists are essentially muddleheaded folk who not only don't have a clue about logic, but don't think it matters anyway.

So what's the point of keeping on arguing with them? We shall never convince them of the 'unreasonableness' of their beliefs, and they will never provide any viable proof that their God exists.

The whole dispute seems to me a waste of time.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Steelman,

Don't beat yourself up. It takes a great deal of effort to shug off logic and see it for the non-truth that it really is. Truth is to be found in vague half dreamed revelations that only reveal to you pointless and obscure truths. God is too great to be interested in say revealing a cure for cancer to someone, but then why would he. He created cancer after all. Praise be. Always remember that God loves you and you had better love him back or your £$%@ed!!!


Consider it a virtue that you can't understand gibberish. I am with you in ignorance of 'higher truth' and long may it be so.

Ron Murphy said...

anticant,

Please! Your going to give Satanism a bad name. You need to listen to this mp3.

Official Site

Timmo said...

Hello all!

There seems to me to be great confusion as to what Plantinga's views really are. So, perhaps I can defend Plantinga against a number of objections without addressing the objections one by one by clarifying what his views are (so far as I understand them).

In my first comment, I posted the thesis of process reliablism, a form of epistemic externalism:

(R) If an agent A believes that p, then A is justified in believing that p if and only if there is some reliable-belief forming process P and A's belief that p is a result of that process P.

The rationality or justification of a belief must always be judged in relation to (R). That is, a belief is epistemically justified if it has a reliable origin -- whether or not the agent is aware of the genesis of the belief in question. Plantinga sees the relevance (R) to religious epistemology: an individual's theism/atheism is justified if and only if it is reliably produced, that is, iff it arises from the proper functioning of our belief-producing faculties.

The main thrust of Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology is something that he says here:

What you take to be rational, at least in the sense in question, depends upon your metaphysical and religious stance. It depends upon your philosophical anthropology. Your view as to what sort of creature a human being is will determine, in whole or in part, your views as to what is rational or irrational for human beings to believe; this view will determine what you take to be natural, or normal, or healthy, with respect to belief. So the dispute as to who is rational and who is irrational here can't be settled just by attending to epistemological considerations; it is fundamentally not an epistemological dispute, but an ontological or theological dispute.

What beliefs are properly basic for us depends upon the constitution of human beings and upon whether the faculties we are endowed with are reliable. So, if (R) is true, then we cannot answer questions in epistemology without attending to questions in (philosophical) anthropology. Stephen's objections in his post are question-begging insofar as they rely on an antecedent conception of human persons which is robustly naturalistic; how then could it have any force for someone who does not already buy into that conception of human beings?

In sum, I think that most objectors here have failed to appreciate the centrality of (R) in Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology.

anticant said...

Hacking our way through the jungle of jargon, where is the Reliability of the so-called "evidence" for theistic belief? It consists of two strands: [a] "My mother said" [i.e. what is written in 'sacred books' and asserted by 'holy men']; and [b] my intuitive hunch [i.e. what I choose to believe].

It's clear from the Plantinga articles I've looked at that his theism is based on emotional preference - what he chooses to believe - and that his "philosophy" consists of building pretentious houses of verbal cards designed to justify what he's already made up his mind about.

A pretty uninteresting "thinker".

As for the constitution of human beings and the subjective/objective nature of our faculties, I find Lakoff and Johnson's thesis deployed in "Philosophy in the Flesh" of the embodied mind constructing its perception of reality largely through metaphor far more convincing that the conventional dualism being trotted out here.

Kosh3 said...

I agree with anticant insofar as he/she suggests that there is more than a whiff of contrivance about Plantinga's externalism - for doesn't it just cater so well to justifying (I use the term loosely) religious beliefs? The reality is that it is philosophically inert. It is useless to us. It tells us nothing of worth. In essence, it says that we just might be justified in believing in god in the case that there really is some reliable process that leads us to god. Now I assert that we do possess such a process, so now I have in effect asserted that we are justified. Internal standards of justification be damned!

This seems to me (without having read Plantinga's long books on the subject, or having seen him elaborate on these concerns elsewhere) to ignore what is taken by many as highly significant in justifying our beliefs: the appropriate kinds of causal connections between the way in which our beliefs are formed, and the fact of the matter - the way in which our beliefs touch upon the world. How so? presumably the reliable process could happen in any old way at all, just so long as it leads us to true beliefs more often than not (an internal random roll of the dice that just so happened to be right more than 50% of the time).

More than this though, it is entirely speculative. We don't have access to the conditions under which our beliefs are justified (that is the very essence of externalism). We may as well sit around asking ourselves what the noumenal reality is like. We don't have access to it at all, in any what whatsoever, so it is utterly pointless to even ask.

Anonymous said...

As a Muslim apostate, may I ask Ibrahim Lawson that if he has no proof of god, then maybe he should STFU amd stop indoctrinating children to his cheap emotive-idealistic cause?

Doesn't he have respect for children to begin with?

And of course Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon this Child Molester) did win his arguments by assassinations and beheadings. The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) raped the child, while Lawson, true to Islamic form, rapes the child's mind.

Maybe Lawson should GTFO of the West and live in Tehran, Gaza, or Basra and put his money were his mouth is?

Respectibility must be earned, Mr. Lawson.

Hamid

Stephen Law said...

"Stephen's objections in his post are question-begging insofar as they rely on an antecedent conception of human persons which is robustly naturalistic; how then could it have any force for someone who does not already buy into that conception of human beings?"

I don't see how this is true. I point to evidence of an empirical sort, true. But that's not to assume naturalism is true. After all, empirical evidence might show that naturalism is false (by providing evidence of supernatural goings on).

This is a standard religious knee-jerk reaction ("You've assumed naturalism - and have begged the question") that does not actually apply in this case.

I did read Plantinga's WCB on Pumpkin objections last night. I cannot yet see how he deals with my sort of objection - that we have both a very strong defeater (the problem of evil), AND (crucially!) evidence that at least the majority of these experiences have, for the most part, a non-divine cause - knowledge of this surely being enough to undermine internal rationality.

Ron Murphy said...

Timmo,

(R) If an agent A believes that p, then A is justified in believing that p if and only if there is some reliable-belief forming process P and A's belief that p is a result of that process P.

That's a big IF, and the ONLY IF is pretty significant too. The point I made earlier in my reformulations of (C) is that there is no reliable-belief forming process:

(C) All normal human beings possess a sensus divinitatis which deludes human beings into thinking that God has placed in human beings so that they can come to know Him.
OR
(C) All normal human beings possess a sensus divinitatis which (Ci: God has placed in human beings so that they can come to know Him) OR (Cii: is a delusion), where Ci and Cii cannot be distinguished, and where current research is supportive of Cii, though not conclusive, and where Ci is unfalsifiable.

Plantinga is trying to rationalise his belief in God. His belief comes first, followed by tortuous arguments that don't really say much.

"The rationality or justification of a belief must always be judged in relation to (R). That is, a belief is epistemically justified if it has a reliable origin" - But it isn't reliable is it.

"an individual's theism/atheism is justified if and only if it is reliably produced, that is, iff it arises from the proper functioning of our belief-producing faculties." - An individual's belief-producing faculties are unreliable - probably the most unreliable process we use, when used in isolation. So we use what we have that has produced the most reliable and consistent results over a long period - the self-critical, self-correcting, repeatable, falsifiable, consensus forming - the senses, reason and science.

Note that none of those attributes are applicable to unreasoned belief systems, whether theistic or atheistic. One might think consensus was a candidate for religious belief, given the number of members of any particular faith, but it isn't. There's probably more variety and dispute between and within faiths than in any other sphere of human thought. Faiths contradict each other and are self-contradictory to a ridiculous extent. They're a joke.

If there is a reliable 'way of knowing' other than using the senses and reason in consensus with others, then there's no evidence of it, and sensus divinitatis isn't it. The laughable part is that Plantinga attempts to use reason to justify sensus divinitatis and to explain why we can't rely on reason. Idiot.

Stephen Law said...

Plantinga is no idiot, but you make an interesting point Ron.
I sort of made a related point myself a while back.

Why trust our senses?

P says: well, if there's a God, he will ensure they are pretty reliable. He underwrites them.

In fact, without God, there's no reason to suppose they are reliable (I don't agree with P on this BTW).

Trouble is, what our senses reveal is strong empirical evidence that there's no God, and also that the kind of experiences that P wants to make his foundation - supposedly provided by a sensus divinatis - actually have, in vast majority of cases at least, a non-divine cause.

Suppose you believe something - because (you think) you've seen it. An apple on a table in front of you. Then you are shown evidence that there was no apple there. You are also shown evidence that, in the circumstances in which you found yourself, very many people have been deceived by the eyes (because it's a magic show, say). Surely it's no longer reasonable for you to suppose that there was an apple present.

That's exactly the sort of evidence I originally provided for distrusting mystical experiences and claims of a sensus divinatis.

Stephen Law said...

Just to explain further - it may be, then, that you really did see an apple and your senses were working properly. But, give what you now know, it is sensible for you to distrust what your senses appeared to show.

Kosh3 said...

I'd also just add that

1) God gave us a faculty sensitive to the existence of god
2) This faculty tells us god exists
3) Therefore god exists

is circular. It may be true, but it is argumentatively useless.

Ron Murphy said...

"Plantigna is no idiot" - Okay, I overstepped the mark. But, "Smart people are very good at rationalising things they came to believe for non-smart reasons." - Michael Shermer. So in this respect I still think he's being idiotic - he isn't genuinely critical of his own beliefs. He uses his beliefs to inform his arguments without questioning his foundational beliefs themselves. And, when you strip away all the contortions of theistic argument you end up with the simplified version, as Kosh3 has pointed out.

Of course there are still uncertainties. If you see and apple, is it real? Pick it up and take a bite. If that's not a good enough test I guess you have to ask yourself - How real do I want it to be before I accept it as real? Or, how many ways can I convince myself, or verify, that it is real, so that I maximise my conviction that it is real?

Apply a similar question to God. How real do I want God to be before I use him to dictate morality in others, or before I condemn blasphemers to death? Is it sufficient for me to believe God exists and that he is the source of the Bible/Quran and that I should impose the consequences of that belief on others?

Whatever doubt can be cast over the senses and reason, even more doubt can be cast over sensus divinitatis and any other 'forms' of knowledge.

Anonymous said...

kosh3 has raised the objection that a mystical experience seems to be interpreted afterwards. Thinking along similar lines -

How does one learn what a mystic experience signifies?

With other senses and sensibilities I suggest that at least some degree of learning takes place. Most of us probably achieve this in infancy and are not really aware in adulthood of the state of not knowing how to interpret novel sensory inputs. Surely this will be the same with the mystic happenings or the operation of the sensus divinatis. Without something else to calibrate the experience against is it still possible to infer anything at all. The sensus divinatis would be useless unless it can be measured against other senses or be associated with some verifiable outcome. Credible accounts of the learning process seem thin on the ground which is another reason to distrust the sensus divinatis as a proper sense.


Stephens "apple in a magic show" analogy does not quite go far enough I think.

The mystic in the audience would probably conclude that :

a) there was an apple [my senses are infallible]

b) but it was a magic one [ its beyond understanding, an appeal to mystery]

c) and it went away again because it could tell we were not worthy. [ ascribing intentionality]

martino said...

Hi Timmo

I might have missed this in the 60 odd comments but just in case


(R) If an agent A believes that p, then A is justified in believing that p if and only if there is some reliable-belief forming process P and A's belief that p is a result of that process P.

(C) All normal human beings possess a sensus divinitatis which God has placed in human beings so that they can come to know Him.


The problem is in R not C. How do you know it is a "reliable-belief forming process P". In particular since many share R but have clashing products of C where p=Yahweh or God or Allah or Atman etc., this is surely good evidence that P is false, it is not reliable hence R is false and A believing that p is, in fact, unreliable.

Kyle said...

I think that there is quite a bit of confusion here.

The claim of the reformed epistemologist is not that any of our belief producing faculties are infallible, but that they are reliable in so far as they are aimed at truth.

This means that the beliefs they produce can be challenged. However, they will not be challenged with arguments like 'I can give you examples of people who believe things in this way who are clearly crazy', because it makes no difference to my beliefs what that person is doing.

Take for example, a particular company has produced lots of thermometers and they have sold very well. Suppose that it is later discovered that 99% of these thermometers are extremely unreliable. I have a thermometer, and it just so happens to be a reliable one. If you ask me what the temperature is, I will respond based on what my thermometer says. According to you this is irrational because most thermometers can be demonstrated to be unreliable. What matters is the reliability of my thermometer.

Kyle said...

To Martino:

The reformed epistemologist will not claim that every religious sounding belief will be produced by this faculty. Religious beliefs can be produced in all the ways that people who regularly post here like to point out: wish fulfillment, because it gives a sense of security, brainwashing, etc...

In the same way all beliefs that look like empirical beliefs may not be produced by the senses. My belief that there is a giant rabbit living in my back garden resulted from my dream last night, although I believe that I really did see it. This hardly calls into doubt the reliability of our senses, in fact it is irrelevant.

kyle said...

Stephen said:

Suppose you believe something - because (you think) you've seen it. An apple on a table in front of you. Then you are shown evidence that there was no apple there. You are also shown evidence that, in the circumstances in which you found yourself, very many people have been deceived by the eyes (because it's a magic show, say). Surely it's no longer reasonable for you to suppose that there was an apple present.

Kyle says:

My last post is on a similar issue. What you have suggested here would work if you had shown me that I had come to my belief in God through an unreliable process.

What you have suggested in your arguments against belief in God, if applied to the apple example, would show that all beliefs about apples are in fact irrational. Clearly this is not a view you would endorse.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle.

But if you know at least 99% of these thermometers are unreliable, then it is unreasonable of you to trust yours.

True, yours may be one of the few working correctly. But it is unreasonable of you to believe that it is, now that you have been presented with this information.

Same problem now attaches to the sensus divinitatis. Yours may be working reliably. But if you have excellent grounds for supposing that, say, 95% of them are seriously malfunctional, then you have excellent grounds to distrust yours.

If you continue to believe, you are being (internally) irrational.

Nice example, by the way.

Stephen Law said...

If there's no reason to suppose the faculty is unreliable, then fine. So general sense perception is not threatened. It's threatened only when there are good grounds for supposing it unreliable. Which there are in my special "magic show" case.

Ditto religious experience.

BTW I am off ice climbing till Sunday, now. Will respond when I get back....

Stephen Law said...

PS Kyle, if your point is, we have similar grounds for supposing sense perception is as unreliable as the sensus divinitatis, well that's not true, is it?

For example, our senses generally agree, intersubjectively. The deliverances of the sensus divinitatis generally disagree.

Plantinga's in trouble here, I think. How I wish we could get him to join in. Maybe I'll email him when I get back...

Author said...

Kyle, why do you think your thermometer is exceptional?

anticant said...

Ice climbing sounds a good idea! Maybe it will cool your head around some of the zanier notions being floated here [where's Ibrahim vanished to, btw?] Have fun.

Paul said...

Apols if this is a bit off-topic

I honestly don't want to offend any people who are religious or have had such experiences but there's a good (albeit a bit old) book called 'Psychosis and spirituality' by Isabel Clarke et al., - it's written by clinicians and researchers in the psychosis field who are struck by the similarity of such experiences with those of the religious. People may be surprised at just how common 'delusional' beliefs are.

In it there's a good article by respected psychosis researcher Gordon Claridge on whether religious experiences are examples of 'benign schizotypy'.

I guess in partial defense of the possibility of the 'sensus divinitas' idea, most 'psychotic' experiences and beliefs have a nugget of truth to them. It's very rare if not unheard of to have what Jaspers called a 'primary delusion' or one which is 'ununderstandable'.

Cassandersw said...

@ Kyle and Stephen,
But it is fairly easy to establish that the hypothetical thermometers are faulty, isn't it? A simple intercalibration will do the trick, and will additionally give a measure of errors. If the number of thermometers are sufficiently large, a probabilistic distribution for expected errors can be calculated, as well.

On the other hand the prospects for a similar intercalibration for the "results" (or the accuracy) of SD seems indeed bleak to me. In fact it only yields singular thermometers, each with their own non-comparable scales, and little if any possibilitis for "calculating" errors.

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

Paul said...

"What you have suggested here would work if you had shown me that I had come to my belief in God through an unreliable process."

There is probably no qualitative difference between the way many people come to believe in whatever God they believe in and the way other people (labelled 'mad') come to believe that they are or will be persecuted for eternity by an unknown force (a form of persecutory 'delusion'), or that they are in fact dead (Cotard delusion).

People have looked for a distinction for some time but it remains that one of the few ways to distinguish these and other 'delusions' from normal strong beliefs is cultural acceptability and distress. Empirical studies show that even conviction and falsity don't really separate delusions from the beliefs of certain religious people.

DSM-IV describe a non-bizzare delusion as a "false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that persists despite the evidence to the contrary and these beliefs are not ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture."

Not very useful is it?

They describe bizarre delusions as "clearly implausible, not understandable, and not derived from ordinary life experiences".

A lot of you philosophers might be worrying around about now...!

Oltmann's 1988 criteria are often used to indicate a delusion these days. None of these are necessary or sufficient - the more endorsed the more likely a delusion. Note that criteria 3 incorporates cultural acceptability, while 4 incorporates distress. Without 3 and 4 I find it hard to see how a 'born-again Christian', someone who makes a career out of their Faith or chooses to study theology, or even some philosophers would be excluded from the definition. Sorry.

1. The belief is held with firm conviction. The person’s statements or behaviors are unresponsive to the presentation of evidence contrary to the belief.

2. The individual is preoccupied with (emotionally committed to) the belief, and finds it difficult to avoid thinking or talking about it.

3. The belief involves personal reference, rather than unconventional religious, scientific, or political conviction.

4. The belief is a source of subjective distress or interferes with the person’s occupational or social functioning.

5. The individual does not report subjective efforts to resist the belief (in contrast to patients with obsessional ideas).

Note 1 & 2 have been shown to be actually highly variable in both religious and 'delusional' samples.

As I said before the main criteria for treatment is often simply distress.

Ron Murphy said...

Suppose there is an 'internal' sense, that theists are calling sensus divinitatis. Though theists might choose that label for it, it doesn't necessarily follow that it has anything to do with the divine. There are many examples of morphological vestigial characteristics in animals that evolution has left behind, so why not mental ones.

martino said...

@Kyle:The reformed epistemologist will not claim that every religious sounding belief will be produced by this faculty. Religious beliefs can be produced in all the ways that people who regularly post here like to point out: wish fulfillment, because it gives a sense of security, brainwashing, etc...
This is missing my point. I am talking about reformed epistemologists who do claim this specific SD is responsible for their belief p. However they will probably dismiss all other's SD claims where belief p does not match theirs along the lines you just suggested. This is a problem since then there no independent way to know that P is true (reliable) as all arguments used to say other's SD is false can also be applied to yours.


@Kyle:In the same way all beliefs that look like empirical beliefs may not be produced by the senses. My belief that there is a giant rabbit living in my back garden resulted from my dream last night, although I believe that I really did see it. This hardly calls into doubt the reliability of our senses, in fact it is irrelevant.
Yes this is all irrelevant to the point at hand. :-)

martino said...

@Kyle:My last post is on a similar issue. What you have suggested here would work if you had shown me that I had come to my belief in God through an unreliable process.
The burden of proof is on you to show that P is true, that it is a reliable process. Since differing SDs can produce contrary p the evidence is, if SD exists, that P is false and it is an unreliable process. The unreliability of SD's output, contrary ps, is certainly not evidence for P, a reliable process! You cannot dismiss contrary ps and/or claiming false or damaged SDs without begging the question of reliability.

Show me otherwise.

Kyle said...

Stephen said:

But if you know at least 99% of these thermometers are unreliable, then it is unreasonable of you to trust yours.

Kyle says:

You're right this is a bad example.

Kyle said...

Martino said:

This is missing my point. I am talking about reformed epistemologists who do claim this specific SD is responsible for their belief p. However they will probably dismiss all other's SD claims where belief p does not match theirs along the lines you just suggested. This is a problem since then there no independent way to know that P is true (reliable) as all arguments used to say other's SD is false can also be applied to yours.

Kyle says:

If other people disagree agree with me about something, then that's a good reason to think that it is not the same faculty producing the belief. Furthermore, the content of beliefs does not determine the source (see my giant rabbit example). You will point out that I claim that my belief is grounded in the SD, but other people claim that they have similar faculties that disagree with what I say.

That's fine, I will disregard what they say, and claim that it is not being produced by the faculty I am talking about. Clearly you should not believe that I am right just because I have said this, but you have still not given a reason as to why I am not permitted to believe it myself. Why is it irrational for me?

We believe our intuitions all the time. Take for example: when I was at school I once had presented to me an argument for the claim that 1=0. At the time I was not able to spot the error in the proof, however, I did not for a moment even consider the possibility that my intuition was wrong in this case. I held onto my intuition despite the fact that I knew that my intuition wasn't all that reliable. Suppose that I had never been told where the problem in the argument was, and I was unable to formulate any counterarguments (I still can't think how I would formulate a counterargument); would the rational thing be to reject my belief that 1 does not equal 0?

I hold my belief that God exists very firmly, I do not do this on the basis of evidence (much like I held my belief that 1 does not equal zero). For me to reject this belief it will take more than an alternative explanation from you about how this belief may have arisen.

Kyle said...

Sorry to post in bursts. I find it easier to keep track of what i am saying this way.

Many of the arguments here seem to be a form of 'ad hominem' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem). The arguments are directed against religious types in general, that we are deluded in some way. You have not really given me any reason to be believe that this applies to me, you have just floated it as a possibility.

I can turn all this around. I believe that all humans are sinful, and thus have rejected God and all their reasoning about Him is flawed, so much so that they are able to reject the obvious and believe what they are doing is rational. I believe this, but I wouldn't offer this as an argument because it would not persuade anyone who wasn't already convinced of the conclusion. In the same way, I would have to already agree with some of the people on here to think that their argument were persuasive.

Maya said...

Ibrahim Lawson is an intellectual bully and I am dismayed that someone like this should be in charge of the education of young minds.

Someone who denies that rationality and evidence are reliable ways to understand the world should not be entrusted with a driving license, much less the education of young children.

How can he be responsible for the teaching of maths, physics, chemistry, biology, history etc.. if he thinks we have no way of knowing anything about anything?

Of course, as he admits himself, he is only playing with the 'nuclear button' to win the argument. If he really believed what he says, he would be a gibbering wreck unable to leave the house.

There may be a place for such post-modernist posturing by university lecturers - where the students should be knowledgable and confident enough to detect the bullshit, but putting someone like this in charge of the educational development of young children is chilling.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Kyle,

"If other people disagree agree with me about something, then that's a good reason to think that it is not the same faculty producing the belief." - No it isn't. The fact they disagree with you says nothing about the (source) faculty used.

"Furthermore, the content of beliefs does not determine the source." - Doesn't this contradict the previous sentence? Or do you mean different things by source and faculty here?

"We believe our intuitions all the time." - And they can regularly be shown to be fallible. Your one example of how your intuition worked correctly (assuming 1<>0) does not rule out the fallibility of your intuition regarding other beliefs, particularly ones for which there is no evidence. Intuition is a vague term that could mean that you are relying on any source other than your current and immediate knowledge. When applied to the issue of 1=0, your intuition may have been driven by your vast experience (even at that early age) that 1<>0. When it comes to your belief in God it may be (I don't know your background) by your religious background, and even indoctrination.

"I hold my belief that God exists very firmly, I do not do this on the basis of evidence." - So on what basis do you believe it?

"I believe that all humans are sinful, and thus have rejected God and all their reasoning about Him is flawed, so much so that they are able to reject the obvious and believe what they are doing is rational." - But what gives you cause to believe this? To begin with, why would you believe all humans are sinful? Unless I'm mistake this belief is grounded in your religious belief, which in turn is grounded in your belief in God. So, your sentence just quoted could be replaced by "I believe in God.", to which the question remains, why?

"I believe this, but I wouldn't offer this as an argument because it would not persuade anyone who wasn't already convinced of the conclusion." - Leaving aside that it's not an argument, it's merely a statement of what you believe, this highlights a significant difference between the two camps. Most people on the atheist side (for want of a better term) could be persuaded, if sufficient evidence and good enough reason could be provided; there just hasn't been any. On the other hand, many a theist is fixed in their belief, and admits that they are not going to be persuaded - though in your case you haven't ruled that out entirely.

Kyle said...

Ron Murphy said:

"If other people disagree agree with me about something, then that's a good reason to think that it is not the same faculty producing the belief." - No it isn't. The fact they disagree with you says nothing about the (source) faculty used.

"Furthermore, the content of beliefs does not determine the source." - Doesn't this contradict the previous sentence? Or do you mean different things by source and faculty here?

Kyle says:

Sorry, I can see how what I said was ambiguous. What I was trying to point out is that a belief, p, has warrant if it is produced by the correct belief producing process.

So, just because a belief is about God does not mean it was produced by the SD, in fact, if I believe that by belief about God is true, then I will also believe that another person who has contradictory beliefs about God has got these beliefs from a different source.

Kyle said...

Ron Murphy said:

When applied to the issue of 1=0, your intuition may have been driven by your vast experience (even at that early age) that 1<>0.

Kyle says:

Now you're starting to sound like a theist. Preach it brother!

I can reject a logical argument because of my experience.

Ron Murphy said:

When it comes to your belief in God it may be (I don't know your background) by your religious background, and even indoctrination.

Kyle says:

Or maybe it is a result of my vast experience, like you allow in the 1 does not equal 0 case? You seem to immediately discount this possibility.

Kyle said...

Ron Murphy said:

Most people on the atheist side (for want of a better term) could be persuaded, if sufficient evidence and good enough reason could be provided; there just hasn't been any. On the other hand, many a theist is fixed in their belief, and admits that they are not going to be persuaded - though in your case you haven't ruled that out entirely.

Kyle says:

I don't know why this matters. Does that really make it more rational? Also, I'm not even convinced its true; am I supposed to just take your word for it? Lots of atheists seem to dismiss most theists as in some way deluded; are they really willing to give the arguments a fair chance?

Also, I would be willing to change my mind on the subject, but the sort of evidence I would require is the sort of evidence that I would require to reject my belief that there really is an external world.

Are you prepared to give up your belief in the external. I expect you would demand extroardinary evidence.

Also, would you brand anyone who believes in the external world without an argument for it as irrational, because that would make nearly everyone irrational.

anticant said...

Kyle: you say “Clearly you should not believe that I am right just because I have said this, but you have still not given a reason as to why I am not permitted to believe it myself.” Nobody here has said you are not ‘permitted’ to believe whatever you like. We merely ask you to provide plausible reasons for your belief.

“Why is it irrational for me?” Ask Humpty Dumpty, who will doubtless tell you that a word means whatever you choose it to mean.

“I hold my belief that God exists very firmly, I do not do this on the basis of evidence.” This effectively forecloses the discussion.

“I believe that all humans are sinful, and thus have rejected God and all their reasoning about Him is flawed.” Including yours? The Bible tells us [Genesis, chapter 1] that God created the heaven and the earth, and everything in them. And he created man in his own image. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good.” So presumably God created sin? And if he created man in his own image, and all humans are sinful, it follows that God is sinful? If not, why not?

anticant said...

Maya, to give Ibrahim the benefit of the doubt, he may not intentionally be an intellectual bully. But his capers on this blog show that he is an intellectual trifler and poseur. He prays in aid all the sophisticated armoury of Western thought to bolster his groundless contention that the children he teaches are too young to be exposed to the methods of critical thinking, and that therefore he is justified in indoctrinating them with the groundless belief that Islam is a ‘given’ truth, not to be questioned. He then asks us to believe that when they are older, they will start applying their critical faculties – which he has already stunted – to other matters.

This seems to me highly unlikely. The social consequences of such indoctrination and inculcation of a self-righteous tunnel vision strike me as highly socially divisive and dangerous. But when Ibrahim is challenged on these vitally important matters, he either brushes them airily aside or fades away, like the Cheshire cat.

Kyle said...

Anticant said:

Nobody here has said you are not ‘permitted’ to believe whatever you like. We merely ask you to provide plausible reasons for your belief.

“Why is it irrational for me?” Ask Humpty Dumpty, who will doubtless tell you that a word means whatever you choose it to mean.

Kyle says:

But you have accused me of being irrational or deluded. By asking me for reasons you misunderstand my belief. Would you ask this of someone who professes to believe in the existence of an external world?

Anticant said:

“I hold my belief that God exists very firmly, I do not do this on the basis of evidence.” This effectively forecloses the discussion.

Kyle says:

Why? You're not engaging with me at all here. Why is this always irrational? You haven't explained that, you just seem to be assuming it.

Anticant said:

“I believe that all humans are sinful, and thus have rejected God and all their reasoning about Him is flawed.” Including yours? The Bible tells us [Genesis, chapter 1] that God created the heaven and the earth, and everything in them. And he created man in his own image. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good.” So presumably God created sin? And if he created man in his own image, and all humans are sinful, it follows that God is sinful? If not, why not?

Kyle says:

This is hardly new, and since it is going off on a tangent I suggest you consult the literature on the subject.

Anonymous said...

kyle has appealed to his "vast experience" in the matter to justify theist belief in the face of contradictory logical argument.
Surely the matter will be resolved by the ability to use the experience to make a (significant) prediction.

An everyday example - I read the first chapter in a book and have the powerful feeling that it is familiar. it seems I have read this book before. This cannot be since I have just got my copy and it has only just been published. Is this deja vu or a psychic talent? The way I resolve this is by searching my memory (which is rather good) to see if I can remember what is in subsequent chapters. So far it has always been deja vu,

Kyle said...

Anonymous said:

Surely the matter will be resolved by the ability to use the experience to make a (significant) prediction.

Kyle says:

This seems to be a common form of objection. It goes something like this:

I tell you that I believe in God. Someone replies telling me that it is not rational because it does not meet some standard of rationality that they happen to like. I ask why my belief has to meet that standard, and the response is that it just does.

This is hardly an argument.

anticant said...

Kyle, nobody here has "accused" you of anything. Being irrational and/or deluded is an all too common human propensity, more's the pity. So is a persecution complex - a cast of mind that seems common among theists asked to justify their beliefs.

Kyle said...

Anticant said:

Kyle, nobody here has "accused" you of anything.

Anticant also said:

theists are essentially muddleheaded folk who not only don't have a clue about logic, but don't think it matters anyway.

Kyle says:

I know this is not directed at me personally, but since I am a theist I assumed it applied to me too.

Anonymous said...

Kyle, I assume you are one of those irrationalists. So what stops me from being an irrationalist and Believing that my deity has ordered me to enslave humanity? My deity tells me that those who do not believe in him have lesser rights and have to be enslaved by force.

Why is your deity better than mine, if there is no rule of reason? What stops a society into devolving into competing irrationalists all vying to grab power in the name of their pet cause?

Hamid

Author said...

"If other people disagree agree with me about something, then that's a good reason to think that it is not the same faculty producing the belief
[...]
That's fine, I will disregard what they say, and claim that it is not being produced by the faculty I am talking about

[...] a belief, p, has warrant if it is produced by the correct belief producing process."


So basically, Kyle, you are defining a belief producing process as "correct", and the belief it produces as "warranted", if and only if it meets this one criteria: that the belief so produced does not contradict yours.

I find it hard to believe that you don't see the problem with that.

We might as well dispense with this sensus divinatus if it is being defined with reference to the belief it produces (ie, if it doesn't produce the same belief as mine, it's not authentic), and just stick with the bald assertions: my religion is true and yours isn't - nyaa nyaa.

anticant said...

Kyle, for me to say that theists [including you] are muddleheaded, don't have a clue about logic, and don't think it matters anyway is not an 'accusation'. It is simply an assertion, from my subjective viewpoint, that theists are silly - by which I don't mean stupid - and less sensible in their thinking than non-theists.

I can, however, if I choose, develop my assertion into a more detailed case [with illustrative examples] that theists are basically immoral and intellectually irresponsible, because they have no regard for facts or truth, don't care about the actual likelihood of what they believe in, and are therefore reckless about the consequences of their beliefs for human life on earth.

I don't know whether you are a Roman Catholic, but I consider some of that Church's doctrines - such as their opposition to the use of condoms to reduce the risk of AIDS - to be not just anti-social but criminally irresponsible.

Kyle said...

There seems to be a lot of confusion over what it is I am saying.

I am not an irrationalist (or a nonrationalist). I believe that my belief in God is rational. However, what I am claiming is that atheists, when they ask for reasons for my belief, load their defintion of rationality against me.

When I say that I can discount other peoples beliefs about God when they are widely different from my own, all I mean is there is nothing inconsistent in doing so. When I defend by belief in God based on the SD, I do not have to assume that it justifies other peoples beliefs in God.

Here is an example. Suppose I am accused of a crime. There is loads of evidence against me, it is so overwhelming that any rational person would believe I committed the crime. I know that I am innocent, but I have no evidence to prove it. I continually protest my innocence.

You may say to me that you cannot believe what I have said because of all the conflicting evidence, but you would hardly say that I am irrational to believe that I am innocent. It would also be a very odd thing to say that if I believe I am innocent I am obliged to say that everyone who protests their innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence must be just as right as I am.

It is rational for me to believe that God exists even if you think there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and I can also rationally believe that others who make similar claim are wrong.

Ron Murphy said...

Your crime example is the wrong way round.

You are accusing all of humanity of being guilty of sin, and you have a witness, God. The judge asks for your evidence, and to have your witness testify. You have no evidence, you can't produce your witness. Case dismissed.

anticant said...

Oh dear - here we go again! You don't appear to understand what the word 'rational' means:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,"it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

Please have a look at two of my posts in Anticant's Arena:

'Does Reason Matter?'

http://antarena.blogspot.com/2008/01/does-reason-matter.html

and 'Does God's existence matter?'

http://antarena.blogspot.com/2008/01/does-gods-existence-matter.html

I'm not particularly worried whether you are 'right' in your beliefs, and all those others who believe in different gods to yours, or in no gods, are 'wrong'. What scares the hell out of me is that there are millions of people like you around the world whose grasp of reality is, to say the least, tenuous and whose behaviour is governed by nonsense.

And, yet again, you have got it the wrong way round. Atheists and agnostics do not disbelieve in god because we think there is overwhelming evidence that he, she, or it does not exist; we would be perfectly willing to believe in god if theists produced any proofs of his existence other than their own beliefs. But they never do.

Anonymous said...

Kyle - your mistake is that you assume rationalism is a sufficient condition for truth. No, it is a necessary but insufficient condition.

Above rationalism stands being logical. That is, you have to deal with numbers, exact formalisms, logical rules, and derive a logical statement from its antecedents. In theology and humanities, there is no logic. You can only find logic in mathematics.

But logic is not enough. You also MUST be empirical. Empiricism is the highest form of discovery and truth. You have to produce evidence that constitute the bases of your rationalism and pin your rationalizations to a solid foundation.

If you do not produce empirical evidence, then you can construct a very elaborate rational model, but it will fold like a house of cards. Even if your model is exactly logical, it will still fold. You need a foundation of empirical facts. Elaborate rationalistic models that you construct will be complex systems subject to chaotic behaviour and essentially become random and arbitrary, given sufficient complexity. It is called "rationalization". I.e. you convince yourself that you have arrived at some truth, but it is based on an elaborate cheaply glued sets of rational (teleologic or otherwise) explanations that cannot hold water, not only because it is full of holes, but also because it does not sit on an empirical foundation.

When scientists contrast rational vs. irrational, generally I think we mean empirilogical when we say rational, and your form of rationalization is considered irrational. That is, there is empirical evidence and then a logical conclusion is arrived. So by no means are you empirilogical, because you do not have the empiricsm nor the logicism. You just have rationalistic statements - dime dozen, and in our nomenclature, that is irrationalism.

So yes, you can be rational with your theology, but you are nowhere close to a scientist who is empirilogical. You do not reflect the truth more than a complex weather model can predict the weather 30 days hence (at least the weather model is based on empirical data - something that you don't have.)

The debate between empiricism and rationalism goes back to at least the time of Decartes and has been settled in favor of empiricism. For example, Newtonian Mechanics was a rationalistic model that fell apart when large spans of space or speeds was taken into consideration. The model of relativity augmented and further elaborated Mechanics and it did pass empirical tests that Newtonianism did not.

A better example is Quantum Mechanics. The Copenhagen interpretation is purely empirical. A particle does not exist until it has been observed. Rationalistic models of quantum mechanics have all fallen apart, while empiricological models have triumphed, have been consistent and coherent. For example look at the Afshar Controversy in Wiki.

So back to the main thread - for you to be empirilogical and become believable on your god-claims, you have to specify your empirical foundation. You have none. Where is evidence of miracles or gods or angels or anything supernatural?

So yes, you are rationalistic (which scientists would consider irrational), but that is not good enough. It is insufficient. Us scientists are way above that and we supply empirical proofs with our claims and theories. But you rationalistic theologists and also humanists and litcrits - you have not passed the test, and I am sorry to say that we cannot take you seriously - and we find you rather uninteresting, caught in a viscious intellectual circle which you will never escape. Except for maybe some psychological insights that you can offer on the human condition, which better belongs to the cognitive science departments, there is little you can offer to humanity, I am afraid.

Hamid

Anonymous said...

And Kyle - to emphasize Anticant - when you say that "you have not supplied evidence contrary to god's existence" -- this shows that you do not understand the debate.

Scientists never claim there is proof against god.

You come here and say there are 4,234,342,234,566,234,745,292
stars in space. We say that is ridiculus, supply us proof. And you retort, well do you have proof that there is not this many.

Well Kyle, if I had the instruments and the time and money to count the stars, I suppose I could disprove you. But practically I cannot. Does that mean you are right?

Your claim is even more woolly minded and irrational. You are not even supplying a number. You are not even supplying a rational and coherent and consistent definition for god. And then you want me to disprove it? And if I dont then you claim victory?

Get real Kyle.

Burden of empiricological proof is always with the claimant.

That is why in open democracies, those without proofs are ridiculed. While in despotic societies, those without proof get to rule.

Hamid

anticant said...

Ron - this is off-subject, but please see my response to your comment in Anticant's Arena.

anticant said...

"That is why in open democracies, those without proofs are ridiculed. While in despotic societies, those without proof get to rule."

Yes - and that is why theism is so dangerous in the public arena. In 1864, Pope Pius IX famously condemned the notion that the Roman Pontiff ought to "come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization". His successor is still saying the same thing today. So are the mullahs. And so - in a less obvious way - is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

anticant said...

Rationalisation is the tribute which ignorance pays to knowledge, just as hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue.

Author said...

Kyle, what is irrational is your dismissal of other believers' sensus divinatus. There are 2 reasons for this.

1) As I already pointed out, your definition of SD stipulates that it must produce a firm belief which does not contradict your own. This is circular reasoning, as it assumes the truth of your own belief in determining the validity of the SD.

2) To the disinterested observer, the factors which lead a believer to claim firm belief, and the unshakeable nature of that belief, are the same across the entire spectrum of beliefs: the professed certainty, the deep feeling of "knowing" which is descibed as similar in strength as knowing there is an external world. They all do it.

So, Kyle, you know that there exist many people who hold contradictory beliefs - all with an apparently equal level of conviction - most of which both you and I know to be untrue. Given the additional fact that common to all those believers is the conviction that their beliefs are exceptional, it is irrational of you to think that you are any different.

Unless there really is something about Kyle and his co-believers which sets them apart from and above the rest of humanity.

Why do you think you are exceptional, Kyle?

martino said...

Kyle

To sum up. I asked you to show me otherwise that a reliable P provides an SD that only produces p. All your arguments are exactly the same as anyone with an SD' that produces p' that is contrary to or, in the Buddhists case, completely contradicts p. You then assert that based on your P/SD you are absolutely certain of p regardless of any evidence and regardless of any others P/SD' - they must be in error because you know your P is reliable but can provide no evidence as to why this is. This is totally question begging and you have failed to deal wiht this.

So you are relying on a reliable P when there is no evidence that it is reliable and considerable evidence that it is not. This is like arguing that 1=0 which your intuition tells you, even if you cannot see the logical flaw, that surely there is some mistake. The same applies here. It is not just believing without evidence but without logic.

Indeed why assert reliable P? As far as you are concerned you do not care if it is reliable or not, you will believe anyway. The argument you make is incoherent but that does not matter to you so why make it, it is a red herring. You have no explanation at all for why you believe p in this sense, you just beleive p.

Paul said...

Kyle

I think if a person loves God, and by loving God they can also come to love themselves, then this love acquires a volitional quality to it.

If a person equates God with Love (which is obviously controversial and not really the point of your debate) then might it be perfectly reasonable for that person to recognise that this has more authority over them than reason and morality? Just as it is reasonable for me to recognise that my need to breath has more authority over me than the truth sometimes.

None of this is meant to suggest that God exists of course, but it does underline the centrality of such a belief to a person's life - and possibly the inescapability of it. Can we really reason our way out of love? Should we?

This may reflect my complete misunderstanding of 'love', 'God' 'reason' and 'volition'.

And my misunderstanding of Frankfurt's rather good 'The Reasons of Love':

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7749.html

"The most basic and essential question for a person to raise about the conduct of his or her life is not what he or she should care about but what, in fact, he or she cannot help caring about."

Is having Faith really a matter of choice?

anticant said...

Love is an innate human propensity. So is hate. We are born with a potential instinct towards both. Which we lean toward throughout our lives is an outcome of upbringing, circumstance and - ultimately - choice ["free will"]. There is nothing 'supernatural' about either, or about any other aspect of human nature. Why do we need to project them, or any other quality, onto a 'supernatural' being? There is plenty of tangible evidence of human love and hatred at work in the world, without any necessity to postulate either a hypothetical 'god' or 'devil'. Such mental projections are merely an irresponsible excuse or alibi for our own choices and actions. We don't need 'faith' in order to be good! Religious people aren't the only ones to have a conscience - or to lack one.

Paul said...

"Why do we need to project them, or any other quality, onto a 'supernatural' being?"

I haven't and wouldn't but I can sort of understand why someone else might.

Or why they will continue to do this despite reason or evidence. I would genuinely respect their right to do so as a private concern, given the fundamental importance this has in their lives. I don't respect evangelism though.

Many parents love their children even when their children turn into killers or rapists. I'm not equating this with love of God - but I do think people underestimate the strength of love, in particular that of God. As Hume points out, reason has a hard time when it comes to love (and other passions) - rightly so don't you think? Is it not love and passion which supplies us with values?

anticant said...

"I would genuinely respect their right to do so as a private concern."

So would I, if it remained a private concern. But it never does. It becomes a collective obsession to impose their version of 'Truth' on all the rest of us, and so organised religions all have a political agenda and, when they achieve sufficient power and influence, they seek to impose social tyranny.

"Is it not love and passion which supplies us with values?"

Yes - love and hate!

"I do think people underestimate the strength of love, in particular that of God."

You cannot overestimate the importance of love. It is lack of love that turns people - especially children and young people - into twisted, bitter cruel monsters. But what has any of this to do with 'God'? My point is that love and hate are HUMAN attributes - they have nothing to do with a hypothetical 'supernatural being' for whose existence there is no reliable evidence beyond the assertions of believers. This prolonged debate with Ibrahim has conclusively shown the emptiness of claims to esoteric knowledge of 'Allah' or 'God' such as those he and Kyle put forward.

anticant said...

Talking of Ibrahim, btw, I wonder where he’s vanished to? What irks me about this extended ‘conversation’ with him is that he knows perfectly well that in an Islamic society it wouldn’t be taking place at all, as those of us criticising or even questioning the ‘truth’ of Islam would be silenced, punished, and maybe even killed as either apostates or blasphemers.

Ibrahim has said, in earlier posts, that he believed Islam to be ”actually a far better, more humane, just and civilised system of governance than secular pluralism”, and has admitted that “in a theoretically perfect Islamic system, non-Muslims are not treated as having equal social rights, it's true. They are not required to perform certain services for the state for example, and in return pay extra taxes.” But, he added comfortingly,”we are a long way from that in the UK today and must make the best of what we have got.”

In the light of that, you may realise why I regard this discussion not merely as a harmless, friendly canter around abstruse philosophical ideas but as a desperately serious political and social issue. Don’t be in any doubt as to what awaits you as Islam relentlessly pursues its “beyond multiculturalism” agenda. You have been warned.

OK Ibrahim – cue for you to call me a “neo-liberal bigot” again!

Anonymous said...

Paul - "Is it not love and passion which supplies us with values?"

If you mean that love/passion/hate supplies us with the fact-value dichotomy (Hume's Fork), the answer should be no.

So I assume you mean that it supplies us with good (or bad) answers to this dichotomy. That using such woolly stuff such as Love, we can arrive at fair values.

However, I disagree on this. I think what values are chosen are ultimately arbitrary and there is no "higher" sense to look up to and choose our values or our system of value-equations. I think this is pure wishful thinking by secularists who are still in denial about our place in the cosmos (or better - lack of place and standing in the cosmos). Humans take themselves far too seriously and are existentially predisposed to think that this universe is all about us. It is not.

Now we can look at certain "rules" e.g. Love or God(s), you say, to arrive at our values. But again, this is ultimately arbitrary.

I think it is best for us to agree through a democratic consensus what our basic values are - and to minimize very low-level, measurable, physical, and biological variables, and based on such consensus arrive at our values.

For example pain reduction is far more noble than enhancing "love". Or hunger reduction is far more noble than enhancing spirituality. This is because these variables (pain, hunger) are empirical (can be measured), while love, spirituality, honor is rational and essentially meaningless and untestable.

So to choose our values, jettison the centuries of wooly seemingly "high-level" onfuscatory garbage handed down to us (such as God, Love, Dignity) which can be used to justify anything. Such wooly rules quickly become a power play - instead of a democratic empiricological exercise which is what value development should be.

We should choose our values based on pain reduction, hunger reduction, physical comfort, and simple rules such as the Golden Rule. These are a lot more meaningful, and IMO higher-level than hard-to-pin-down love, SD, honor, national pride, etc.

So in a way, this takes us back to the debate between rationalism and empiricism.

Hamid

Anonymous said...

Ibrahim is a dime-a-dozen fanatic. When I was growing up in a Middle East country, we would run into such bigots on a daily basis. They are unarguable because everything for them is about politics and power. Even discourse by itself had no merit, unless it would arrive at power for them.

The basic Islamic tenet is built on brainwashing children. Ibrahim knows that and true to his self-selective creed, specializes in that.

People like Ibrahim who are planning to terminate democracy should be kicked out of democratic society. Democracy cannot prescribe its own demise. There is something disgusting about that. Even if 99% of society votes to terminate liberal democracy, it shall not be terminated.

Unfortunately the Left, which is essentially illiberal in politics, has taken a liking for Islam, for good reasons. It is not going to be easy to kick low-life democracy-terminators like Ibrahim out.

Hamid

anticant said...

The totalitarian Left - as distinct from the democratic Left - have always been slavish power-worshippers, and their current fawning upon Islam resembles their toadying to Stalinist communism in the mid-20th century [see what Orwell said about them during and after the Spanish Civil War].

I suppose this is because they know very well they will never gain wide acceptance, let alone power, in a democracy and so they hitch their tatty wagon to the most promising illiberal ideology - never having read, poor dears, Lear's limerick about the young lady of Riga who went for a ride on a tiger.

Paul said...

"However, I disagree on this. I think what values are chosen are ultimately arbitrary and there is no "higher" sense to look up to and choose our values or our system of value-equations. I think this is pure wishful thinking by secularists who are still in denial about our place in the cosmos (or better - lack of place and standing in the cosmos). Humans take themselves far too seriously and are existentially predisposed to think that this universe is all about us. It is not."

But Hamid, but why shouldn't we take ourselves seriously and why shouldn't we think we have some standing in the universe? Why should we feel small and insignificant? It's almost as if you're projecting what are essentially human evaluative judgements (size, significance, importance etc., ) onto the universe itself - thinking that it's vastness means we should be somehow cowed. You're trying to imagine how something as vast as the universe would evaluate us, when in fact there is nothing there doing the evaluating.

In terms of evaluative judgements I think the only world of relevance is the world of humans. So yes I think humans are important and significant but I make this claim according to my awareness that I simply could not think otherwise (which I agree is largely arbitrary) - not the vast cosmos, which as far as I know is largely cold and and mindless.

martino said...

Hamid

So I assume you mean that it supplies us with good (or bad) answers to this dichotomy. That using such woolly stuff such as Love, we can arrive at fair values.
Absolutely :-) We do have desires, preferences and interests and this is where value - and not just "fair" value - comes from. To make it about happiness or love is a mistake, confusing the product for the process or what is valuable with what is value e.g. Paul might find his "love" valuable, but the basis of value is our desires, preferences and interests.

However, I disagree on this. I think what values are chosen are ultimately arbitrary and there is no "higher" sense to look up to and choose our values or our system of value-equations.
I disagree our values are neither arbitrary nor require a "higher" sense. Again what an individual finds valuable will vary from person to person dependent on their genes, environment, culture and personal history. It may not be totally predicable but nor is it totally random, it is not arbitrary. Anyway I am talking about value and this is a common universal capacity shared by all human beings, as is vision, thinking and other cognitions. They are differentially developed of course - with differing products - but they all share a common process. I see no reason unless given evidence to presume that the human valuing capacity is any different.


I think this is pure wishful thinking by secularists who are still in denial about our place in the cosmos (or better - lack of place and standing in the cosmos). Humans take themselves far too seriously and are existentially predisposed to think that this universe is all about us. It is not.
I do not see what the universe qua universe has to do with anything but maybe we are in agreement here.

Now we can look at certain "rules" e.g. Love or God(s), you say, to arrive at our values. But again, this is ultimately arbitrary.
Yes, anything based solely on a being's subjective state in vacuo is arbitrary whether it is you or some privileged view such as that claimed for "god", they are all subjective and arbitrary in that sense.

I think it is best for us to agree through a democratic consensus what our basic values are
Truth is not democratic. There are too many biases that are amplified not dampened in groups to rely on such a democratic process.

- and to minimize very low-level, measurable, physical, and biological variables, and based on such consensus arrive at our values.
How does this work exactly? We might agree on similar outcomes but if you rely on a "democratic" process, given the amount of people who reject evolution, believe in god etc.,this is less likely.

For example pain reduction is far more noble than enhancing "love". Or hunger reduction is far more noble than enhancing spirituality. This is because these variables (pain, hunger) are empirical (can be measured), while love, spirituality, honor is rational and essentially meaningless and untestable.
As an empiricist, I want to agree with but why "should" these measurable variables matter, because they are measurable?

So to choose our values, jettison the centuries of wooly seemingly "high-level" onfuscatory garbage handed down to us (such as God, Love, Dignity) which can be used to justify anything. Such wooly rules quickly become a power play
Agree

- instead of a democratic empiricological exercise which is what value development should be.
Why should this be?

We should choose our values based on pain reduction, hunger reduction, physical comfort, and simple rules such as the Golden Rule. These are a lot more meaningful, and IMO higher-level than hard-to-pin-down love, SD, honor, national pride, etc.
Again why should we?

So in a way, this takes us back to the debate between rationalism and empiricism.
I think we are on the same side here but you need to justify your claims.

Paul said...

I suppose Faith IS a matter of choice. Otherwise it would be treated with much less reverence than it is. Faith would have much less value or importance in relgious circles if it wasn't able to be tested. It would all be too easy if a person simply could not believe otherwise, wouldn't it?

That's a problem with the sensus divinitatis argument - it makes it very easy for the believer doesn't it? And it's probably been pointed out already, but if people of Faith all have a sensus divinitatis would we not expect some convergence between their accounts? Perhaps less war? They could just compare impressions gathered from their 'sensus', and come to an agreed interpretation couldn't they? I expect the existence of an objective God would surely provide some coherence among the subjective impressions of those who sense him.

After all, it's rare people go to war or kill over disputes of vision, hearing, smell or taste, isn't it? Why is there so much confusion over impressions gathered from the sensus divinitatis? If it was any other sense organ, the confusion would surely prompt a trip to the doctors - we'd be justified in thinking something was wrong with said sense organ, wouldn't we?

Terence said...

http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/02/22/raft/#comment-73448

Anonymous said...

Martino - Thank you for your thoughtful response. I will get back to you a little later if you do not mind.

Paul - My criticism of anthropomorphic seculars is not a religious criticism. I beleive you misunderstood. My criticism is about those seculars who have ejected God but now want to have another god and relgion called Humanism. This is as dangerous as deism.

Hamid

John Uebersax said...

> Yes. That's our problem. We're Enlightenment fascists.

Actually, I believe that *is* the problem.

> mystical experiences with Ibrahim Lawson

How do you define mystical experience? The more technical sense is a direct experience of God or The One; characterized by William James as: (a) ineffable; (b) noetic; (c) transient; and (d) passive.

(a) implies inability to communicate the experience to others. Logically, we should be prepared to accept the possibility of experiences that cannot be described.

(b) noesis implies knowledge, insight, awareness, revelation, and illumination beyond the grasp of the intellect. I believe this relates directly to Plato's divided line in Rep. 6.509 ff. Plato identifies a form of knowledge, (noesis), that is beyond scientific reasoning (epinoia).

> (1) expect people to report mystical experiences anyway,

Reply 1: by analogy, false-positive diagnoses do not mean there are no true-positives; they merely reduces the unconditional posterior probability that a given positive diagnosis is correct.

Reply 2: By their fruits.... Mystics (Buddha, Jesus Christ, Plato, Plotinus) have had immense positive impact on human culture.

Reply 3: Consider the source.... The Buddha, Jesus Christ, Plato, etc., demonstrate by their other teachings the highest level of credibility and sublime insight.

> Given we should expect such experiences anyway

See Reply 1.

> (2) These experiences contradict each other.

Reply: given that the experiences are ineffable, we cannot infer from the attempted descriptions what the actual phenomenology of the experience is. All we know is that (a) our interpretations of (b) their descriptions, of (c) their memories of the experiences differ. Thus (a), (b), and (c) mediate our understanding of their experience -- it is in these mediating links that the differences may be introduced.

You choose a good example in the case of the Buddha. If you investigate, you may find that many Buddhists do not deny the existence of God; rather, it is more like they deny that any human concept applies to God; any conceptual referrant to the word "God" has no meaning. Thus, if you ask a Buddhist mystic, "Does God exist?", they may reply, if by that you mean do I believe that God as you understand the word by "God" here to exist, the answer is "No"; but they may have the same experience as a Christian mystic.

>, others (the Mayans) a God or gods who demand blood sacrifices,

Reply: not if one uses the more technical accepted definition of "mystical experience." You are mixing these definitions freely, to the advantage of your argument.

> (3) In so far as these experiences supposedly reveal a God of love and infinite power,
> well, we have overwhelming empirical evidence that there is no such being (the problem of evil)

I do not automatically concede such "overwhelming evidence." Bad things happen, but additional unproven premises must be applied to infer from them that God does not exist, or is not a God of love.

> we have no evidence for such a mystical faculty

No evidence of extra-rational modes of knowledge? What about esp? I'm not saying that is by any means proven, but I would not cavalierly dismiss all the evidence concerning it without a careful and fair appraisal.

> Now, the mystic tells me that, nevertheless, his experience reveals to him, with complete certainty,

> that there is no other God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet.

It seems like you're selectively attending to extremists. St. Augustine seemed to allow that "the Platonists" were talking about the same God whom he experienced. Many Muslim philosophers seemed to have no trouble accepting that Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, or Proclus communed with the same God they call Allah.

> He responds by "going nuclear"

But I don't ;)

> we are in the grip of fascistic, Enlightenment-inspired scientism/rationalism.

We are. We're a dual-hemisphered creature in a left-hemisphere-dominant society. Run over to the financial district of London some afternoon and tell me modern society hasn't gone mad with technology and materialist-reductionist thinking.

Who put the burden of proof on the mystics? If you were to go to an indigenous culture, stand awestruck under the dome of stars on a sparklingly clear night, and tell an indigenous person -- you know, I really don't believe in any of the mysticism stuff -- they'd just look at you like you're nuts.

The point here is that in other cultures (and in our own in the past) there were modes of knowledge that were experientially validated. Just as today, logical knowledge is mainly validated in that way. Yes, it's quite re-assuring that science produces marvelous medicines, computers, and what-not. But in the end, were are persuaded of logic's value because it feels right.

>astrologers, soothsayers, purveyors of magical cures and snake oil, etc., etc., etc.)

You're lumping St. Augustine together with snake oil peddlers, then discounting his mysticism based on an arbitrary association you've made.

John Uebersax

Stephen Law said...

Thanks John

If I find time, I'll go through all of this line by line. Might have to wait a week though...

anticant said...

I can't speak for Stephen, but as a non-believer in a 'supernatural' Creator god who demands worship from us, his creatures, I would be the first to agree with John that intellectual rational thinking is not the only form of human knowledge, and that every human being, whether a 'believer' or not, has the potential to enhance their inner awareness through non-verbal contemplative meditation.

In fact, we all - including the most rationalistic of scientists - do it, whether consciously or not. Einstein reached some of his most far-reaching and profound discoveries through a sudden hunch or flash of insight - it's called 'intuition'.

The tragedy is that so many humans are tribal by habit and feel the need to be 'right', so they elevate their chosen religion and preferred concept of god into the only 'correct' one and, when they have the power, proceed to anathematize, persecute, and even kill those who won't bow down to their idols.

That is why religious fanaticism is so dangerous and contrary to humanity's best interests.

Stephen Law said...

Incidentally John, my example: "his experience reveals to him, with complete certainty, that there is no other God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet" concerned not an "extremist", but Ibrahim Lawson, to who this post is addressed. It was actually he who made this claim. So your related comment that: "It seems like you're selectively attending to extremists": is off target (unless you think Ibrahim is an extremist? Seems to me Ibrahim's at the cuddly, moderate end of the Muslim scale).

anticant said...

If you want to cuddle Ibrahim, Stephen, you're welcome!

Scott said...

Just a few points to pick up with John here. I should say at first I was taken with his reply, but now I have some questions. I haven't had time to reread the whole post so forgive me/ ignore me if I go off topic.

John Uebersax said...

Reply 2: “By their fruits.”
This seems a poor way to judge if someone is a true mystic, a person can do much good but still be deluded. Or have I missed the point here?
Also what of the negative impact many “mystics” have had? Claiming to have some divine experience or source is prime material for any power hungry person.
I could also rationally explain why the teaching of Jesus Christ would be desirable, without having to say he was any kind of mystic.

Reply 3: "Consider the source.... The Buddha, Jesus Christ, Plato, etc., demonstrate by their other teachings the highest level of credibility and sublime insight."

Again here I’m confused. How exactly are you telling me that these people are highly credible? Christ is only as credible as the Gospels chose to make him. I’m sure this is true of the other two as well. If I was to create a mystical figure a few centuries later you can guarantee they’d be the soul of courtesy. Look at Socrates, you can't really knock the chap through Plato's eyes.

"not if one uses the more technical accepted definition of "mystical experience." You are mixing these definitions freely, to the advantage of your argument."

I think you’re wrong here because it seems to me the other way round. Religious mystics have made mystical experiences more technical, especially since the world has become more technical (science like.) You give a good example of the Buddhist and the Mayan. Now to disprove the Buddhists mystical experience is difficult, it’s hard to quantify and I accept I may not quite understand what his trying to tell me. The Mayan on the other hand? I can say that the Sun isn’t a God, I can more or less prove this too them given time.

I think the more science has cleaved away these idols, the more profound and inexplicable mystical experiences have become. Where is the water into wine types nowadays? I think Hume asked a similar question.

Am I being too cynical here? I think personally you’re defining mystical experiences to suit your purposes, not the other way round.

"No evidence of extra-rational modes of knowledge? What about esp? "


I wouldn’t say ESP ,if it exists, is extra rational. I dare say if it does exist there’s a perfectly rational explanation to it. The same way there’s a perfectly rational explanation for other ex-supernatural/mystical/extra rational events. Take the previous example of the Mayans and the Sun, or ancient religions and the significance of eclipses. Once mystical, no longer mystical.

"It seems like you're selectively attending to extremists. St. Augustine seemed to allow that "the Platonists" were talking about the same God whom he experienced."

But what happens when mystics directly contradict each others teaching? How can we tell real from false? Someone gave the excellent example of thermometers above I think. If you imagine a world where 95% of thermometers were false, and there was no way to check, it would be foolish to assume yours was one of the 5% wasn’t it? Therefore I wont trust any of them.
St Augustine MAY have allowed certain Platonist views but I wonder what Platonists would have made of St Augustine’s ideas?

"If you were to go to an indigenous culture, stand awestruck under the dome of stars on a sparklingly clear night, and tell an indigenous person -- you know, I really don't believe in any of the mysticism stuff -- they'd just look at you like you're nuts."

I dare say if you took a Mp3 player to an indigenous culture and showed them how to use it they’d consider it mystical. We know better. I like the stars in the sky, by the way, but it’s the universe that leaves me feeling awe inspired, and that’s more than enough for me.

"But in the end, were are persuaded of logic's value because it feels right."

Personally here I think we use logic because it is the only thing we know. Even religions use reasons. “Because the Bible says” is a reason, not a very good one but it is a reason. We philosophers and scientists have followed reason and found it incorrect. But all it meant was our reasoning was wrong, not that using reason itself was wrong. These bastardised forms of reasoning is the problem. Reasoning the Sun rotates the earth isn’t bad reasoning really, it makes sense looking at it, but when we gained better knowledge we bowed our heads and changed our reason. The problem with mystical experience today is that people have forsaken empirically falsifiable types, as they can be tested against, in exchange for something only they can know. Which raises the problem of how a person can manage to prove to a believer the message of mystical experience, but fail to prove it to a person with no connection to the faith already.

"You're lumping St. Augustine together with snake oil peddlers, then discounting his mysticism based on an arbitrary association you've made."

St Augustine had a more refined form of mysticism, and a sense of humour; “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” But good ideas should be idolised because they are that. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius I think would show this.

As for the rest of the Saints, I’ll leave you with this interesting article, read the introduction on Saint Genevieve. The rest of the article is pretty darn good too.

Here


Scott. Apologies for the long post.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

There is a lot to respond to here and I intend to do so when I get some time.

Scott said...

My apologies if in the previous post I got a little muddled between miracles and mystical experiences, although I'd guess there's some overlap.

But here's a question, is a drug induced mystical experience of revelation more suspect than that of St Paul on the Damascus road?
What about one that comes in the midst of human sacrifice? One from quiet meditation?

After thinking about the above, consider the following:
Occasionally I try to do crossword puzzles, and every so often I will become stuck. Sometimes later in the day my mind can be on something completely different when SNAP! the answer is flung into the very front of my mind. Now I struggled to find this answer earlier, I really, really tried to no avail. It seems like something put the thought straight into my head. Am I the only one who can see parallels here?

I don't mean to insult anyone by referring to their mystical experience as equal to my solving of a puzzle. Please treat me as someone who really is finding it hard to understand exactly what it is you saying but wants to know.

Scott

Ibrahim Lawson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ibrahim Lawson said...

I notice that Jesus and Mo have been discussing mystic inscrutability. So here’s my take on it, and also my response to some questions about what mysticism might be.

People sometimes ask me why I became a Muslim. There is no why. My decision to become a Muslim was rather an ‘acte gratuite’; but not in the negative sense of an irresponsible action, since this interpretation fails to grasp the fully radical nature of such an act by falling back on notions of justification, truth, knowledge and so on.

These last 3 concepts are secondary, founded upon the initial ‘acte’ which must occur without them and yet lays the basis for them. Heidegger claims that ‘knowing’ is a ‘founded mode of being’ and I think I know what he means.

The decision to become a Muslim was a pure act of will undetermined by any external conditions. This act persists as the basis of being Muslim. Being foundational, it is unjustifiable; it is not based on any kind of evidence or argument. It is an act towards the future, not an act produced by the past. Sartre’s view was that, uniquely for human being, existence precedes essence; we are self-creating in that sense. Or, as saint Augustine puts it: credo ut intelligam. And Kant said: I will that there be a god.

This is also the Qur’anic position: there is no obligation in ‘the religion’ (i.e. Islam). Nothing can force the decision. It is either accept or reject, with no ‘why’ (bi laa kayf). Shaykh Abdul Qadir al Jilani observes, ‘the man of Allah does not say ‘how?’ or ‘why?’; he says ‘yes’.

Is it possible to discuss the rationality or irrationality of this? These terms are irrelevant.

Furthermore, is it not a fact that ALL of our acts are ‘gratuite’? That the world IS truly indifferent to our descriptions of it? And that ‘authenticity’ (eigenlichkeit) is the realisation of this?

This is where we should start from; not some inauthentic pretence that our chosen epistemology is somehow forced on us by the universe and is therefore ‘objective’.

[and just to forestall any silly objections, this position does not entail that we can simply decide we can fly, for example, and then we can. The acte gratuite concerns the grounds for the purpose of action (the end) rather than the grounds for its execution (the means)].

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Sorry, that was of course Anselm, not St Augustine. Here is an interesting essay

http://www.mun.ca/animus/1998vol3/staford3.htm

which explores some of the issues I have been trying to raise. Yousee, I really don't think we can treat human consciousness as subject to the same laws as the 'material world'. This is what 'mysticism' is about for me; it has nothing whatever to do with experience as in 'mystical experiences' but rather the grounds for our own self-understanding. And that is something that occurs before any analysis in terms of 'knowledge' etc.

anticant said...

Ibrahim, you were wise – prudent, rather – to remove your previous post!

You now say that your decision to become a Muslim was “a pure act of will undetermined by any external conditions”. In other words, a personal choice and, in your case, one made with the full benefit of a wide-ranging education and previous adherence to another religious tradition.

However, this is not a choice which you allow your pupils, who are too young and unformed to have the range of knowledge and experience to make such a decision for themselves. You simply tell them, with all the authority of an adult and a teacher, that the “truth” if Islam is a given, and not to be questioned.

Do you really feel comfortable about doing this?

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Ibrahim, you were wise – prudent, rather – to remove your previous post!

You now say that your decision to become a Muslim was “a pure act of will undetermined by any external conditions”. In other words, a personal choice and, in your case, one made with the full benefit of a wide-ranging education and previous adherence to another religious tradition.

However, this is not a choice which you allow your pupils, who are too young and unformed to have the range of knowledge and experience to make such a decision for themselves. You simply tell them, with all the authority of an adult and a teacher, that the “truth” if Islam is a given, and not to be questioned.

Do you really feel comfortable about doing this?

Previous post – somewhat more intemperate in tone than I prefer to be, on reflection. An interesting point you raise Anticant.

There is of course a huge difference between someone who chooses to be a Muslim following a long period of search and someone who is born to Muslim parents. We can’t do anything about that.

One difference is that I grew up in a more or less permanent state of alienation from the society around me, as did many of my 60’s generation; born Muslims today will have their own version of this alienation. I was then, and remain, utterly convinced that ‘western’ society has serious problems, which are not solvable by tinkering but only by re-writing the whole paradigm.

To take but one example of a second order problem: ‘democracy’ has become a term which has accreted an enormous amount of ideological detritus, to the point that it is effectively meaningless. At its heart though, is the naively utopian idea that somehow society can best be run by everyone having control. The immediate consequence of this, as foreseen by Plato, is that the strong will dominate the weak in such an arrangement. Unless we can guarantee that the strong will act morally, corruption will ensue. And moreover, unless we can guarantee that everyone (‘the masses’) is morally self-realised, the tendency will be for a mob mentality to take over at crucial points. This has implications for the education system, the media and communications system, and by extension the political and economic systems of society. ‘Manufacturing Consent’ raises similar issues as seen by Chomsky.

The question is: are these problems, so amply illustrated by history, contingent or necessary? i.e. can we ever get it sorted out or is it in fact impossible? I believe that the problems are inherent in the model at paradigm level, specifically in the erroneous foundational concept of the human being as ‘disembodied rational intellect’.

(I find Rudolf Steiner interesting on this (3 of my children went to a Steiner school). He says that society has 3 functions which must never usurp each other: the political, the economic and the spiritual. He includes health and education in the ‘spiritual’. Somehow these three functions have to coordinate without one of them taking over. So what this means is that politicians must not be in charge of business or schools and hospitals; businessmen must not be in charge of government or schools and hospitals; and teachers and doctors must not run businesses or the government. Why not? Well I’m sure you can imagine the consequences. It suggests why politicians can rarely be entirely honest, why intellectuals should never be in charge of the budget and businessmen have no souls, so to speak (I remember a program on radio 4 explaining that successful personnel managers have to have a mild form of psychopathy in order to be able to treat employees as objects when necessary).

So having decided that Islam is the answer, what are the implications for a school teacher?

Writing in polemical opposition to Hegelian philosophy,(1) Soren Kierkegaard strenuously criticized the tendency of his age to elevate the results of objective reflection (scientific/historical research) and the categories of Absolute Idealism over the standpoint of the ethically-existing, finite individual. Evincing a deep distrust of the antinomous, self-transcending concepts of speculative reason, he insists that "a firmness with respect to logical distinctions" must constitute the foundation of genuine human reflection on such conceptual dualities as finite-infinite, temporal-eternal, human-divine. Underlying all theoretical enquiry, as its presupposition and condition of possibility, lies the concrete reality of the ethico-religiously "interested" individual, whose quest for the fulness of selfhood takes primacy over any possible objective knowledge. Only if this fundamental existential insight is acknowledged can metaphysical hubris be held in check and a place reserved for the proper apprehension of the ineluctable truth of finite human subjectivity.

My view of the education of children is that it must, first and foremost, contribute to their individual “quest for the fullness of selfhood” and that this is a “subversive activity” (see Postman and Weingartner). In order to achieve this we must have questions that are worth asking; questions that demand a response.

Teaching in the state system for 10 years, I observed that western liberal secular culture fails to provide children with such questions; the overwhelming sense is one of ennui. Muslim children, on the other hand, have in front of them all the time the enormous question: what does it mean to me to be a Muslim? This is why, for example, visitors to Muslim schools are frequently impressed by the degree of engagement demonstrated by many pupils in fundamental questions of self and society.

So voila, my justification for ‘imposing’ my beliefs on my pupils: it is really more a challenge to them to face up to their own situation as ‘born’ Muslims as authentically as possible. Faith as a heuristic, if you like.

See http://www.missouriwestern.edu/orgs/polanyi/TAD%20WEB%20ARCHIVE/TAD27-2/TAD27-2-pg26-33-pdf.pdf for a discussion of this.

And just to correct an impression you and others seem to have: You simply tell them, with all the authority of an adult and a teacher, that the “truth” if Islam is a given, and not to be questioned.

I don’t know what you imagine goes on in our schools under the name of ‘indoctrination’. It could be made to sound very oppressive or tyrannical; we imagine Vietnamese communists brainwashing American POWs or scenes from Orwell’s 1984 (How many fingers am I holding up?). It’s rather that the specific question ‘Is Islam true?’ just doesn’t come up. It is taken for granted as the position from which we start.

I mean, we have had this out already, haven’t we? I can see that, yes, children are defenceless, they do not and cannot question what adults tell them at first; this only starts around adolescence. At this point we begin to introduce the skills of critical questioning about religion (quite different from critical questioning in other areas of the curriculum) and this continues into adulthood. (One point here: religion had never had to justify itself in terms of rationality until the last few hundred years or so. Since that time, the discourse has been evolving and is beginning to have more and more coherence. Texts preceding the last few centuries do not address this issue – though mystics have always been aware of it, hence their inscrutability from the rationalist point of view. Far easier to criticise a theologian.)

My point is that adults have to tell children something, and for Muslims that has to be Islam. I am comfortable with that, especially having seen the alternatives.

Author said...

Disappointed. Ibrahim, you promised in your deleted post to address the "interestingly empty" question of why you think you are exceptional; what differentiates your sense of certainty from that of the Christian, Mormon, Scientologist etc.

It seems to me that instead you have demonstrated how you are just the same.

anticant said...

Thanks for your response, Ibrahim. I’ve no wish to be contentious, but your previous post wasn’t merely intemperate; in some parts it was arrogant.

“There is of course a huge difference between someone who chooses to be a Muslim following a long period of search and someone who is born to Muslim parents. We can’t do anything about that.” Oh, yes we can! We can ensure that they grow up with the awareness that although their parents are Muslim, there is nothing inevitable about them being Muslim, and they have a choice. It should be the business of educators – as distinct from indoctrinators – to provide them with the breadth of knowledge necessary for making an informed choice when they reach maturity.

“I grew up in a more or less permanent state of alienation from the society around me, as did many of my 60’s generation.” Yes – you were unfortunate to be born then. I grew up in the 1940s, when we were fighting for our national survival against a brutal and unscrupulous enemy. Of course I knew – even as a schoolboy – that there were flaws in our society, but I did not feel alienated from it. I believed there would be opportunities to improve it after we had won the war.

“I was then, and remain, utterly convinced that ‘western’ society has serious problems, which are not solvable by tinkering but only by re-writing the whole paradigm.” For once, I agree with you! But we favour radically different alternative paradigms.

‘Democracy’, in the [widely accepted] sense that I use the term, does NOT mean “the naively utopian idea that somehow society can best be run by everyone having control”. It means a political state of affairs where the government in power can be peacefully voted out of office and replaced by a legitimate alternative without civil strife or bloodshed.

I agree with you, too, about the “erroneous foundational concept of the human being as ‘disembodied rational intellect’”. Dualism is a philosophical fallacy, spawned by Descartes. Human beings do not have disembodied intellects. See Lakoff and Johnson’s “Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought”, which I monotonously keep citing here. I do wish that not only you, but Stephen and others posting on his blog, would read this seminal book and consider whether in the light of it they need to revise some of their philosophical assumptions about the nature of human beings and the mind-body relationship.

While Steiner was in some ways an inspirational thinker, it is unrealistic to imagine that the three spheres he mentions can ever exist separately without some overlap. As Plato pointed out in “The Republic”, justice consists essentially in everyone minding their own business. Unfortunately, most people don’t know where their business begins and ends.

I have every sympathy with you for having taught in the state system for 10 years. From all I can gather, it is a shambles and long has been.

Leaving aside the Kierkegaardian waffle, I dispute your assertion that the children you teach are ‘born’ Muslims. So what you teach them isn’t brainwashing?. “It’s rather that the specific question ‘Is Islam true?’ just doesn’t come up. It is taken for granted as the position from which we start.” Would you please explain what the difference between that and brainwashing is?

And in what way are “the skills of critical questioning about religion quite different from critical questioning in other areas of the curriculum?” It would be interesting to know!

“My point is that adults have to tell children something, and for Muslims that has to be Islam. I am comfortable with that, especially having seen the alternatives.”

Bully for you! What other alternatives did you consider? Michael Jordan’s “Encyclopedia of Gods” gives details of over 2,500 deities which have been worshipped by human beings at one time of another. So why Islam?

anticant said...

I have posted about this discussion on my blog:

http://antarena.blogspot.com/2008/03/education-or-indoctrination.html

I reproduce here one of my own comments:

My concern in posting this thread remains with the propriety of a teacher telling young children that Islam [or Christianity, or evolution, or capitalism, or belief in witchcraft, fairies, or anything else] is "THE truth", and not to be questioned.

Ibrahim Lawson thinks this is legitimate. I think it is brainwashing.

There is all the difference in the world between telling children that evolution is "THE truth" and telling them - as a competent science teacher would do - that evolution is currently regarded by most people who have studied the subject as being the most likely explanation of 'how things happen', pending further developments in knowledge.

But this is not what religious teachers do. They tell children that their brand of religion is "THE truth". If it is really the case that any religion is "THE truth", it can only be one of many competing versions, and who is to judge which is the correct one?

Surely, in these days religion should be taught as a matter of history and culture, and the differences in religious beliefs explained without claiming that one of them is "THE truth".

But that is not what happens in 'faith schools' such as Ibrahim's, and therefore I do not believe that they should receive State funding as they are producing people whose ingrained unquestioned religious beliefs are going to perpetuate socially divisive attitudes and the
potential for - possibly violent - conflict in the future.

If we really do want to live in a 'multi-faith' society - and what is the alternative? - children should be taught to respect other faiths as well as their own. But is this happening in 'faith schools'?

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Author - I haven't finished yet.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

In what sense am I ‘exceptional’?

I suppose that the question is: given that I offer no justification for being a Muslim other than an unforced (in terms of content) act of will, what reason can I give for choosing Islam rather than any other possible alternative? Why could a Christian or an atheist, for example, not offer the same ‘reasoning’ in defence of their own choice? Why should I think that I am right and that those who disagree with me are wrong?

The question misses the point. I am right because I am right and anyone else is free to take the same stance – we are all exceptional and cannot be otherwise; but this is not a form of relativism.

Having made a choice, which is forced on me in the sense that there cannot be no choice, I then proceed on that basis. The choice is the foundational act of meaning creation from which all else follows.

As Heidegger has it at the beginning of his essay ‘The Question Concerning Technology’: “Questioning builds a way…The way is a way of thinking. All ways of thinking, more or less perceptibly, lead through language in a manner that is extraordinary.” i.e. there are no ‘ordinary’ ways of thinking.

I connect this insight with that of Lao Tsu: “the way that can be followed is not the Way”. And I would add that the truth that can be verified is not the Truth and the law that can be obeyed is not the Law.

I believe we are all individually radically responsible for choosing what sense we will make of our lives; in that sense we are all exceptional. My choice is Islam. Consequently, I act on the basis that the Messenger of Allah was telling the truth and it literally makes no sense for me to question this. This is my understanding of why Islam is not in fact questioned: it is a priori, having the force of necessity, rather than empirical and subject to revision. Ontological arguments for belief in God’s existence try, unsuccessfully, to capture this principle.

I should add that this is not how I personally ‘justify’ Islam to myself, since no explanation is necessary: Allah IS the creator of everything and Muhammad IS His prophet and Messenger. I am rather looking for the means to elaborate on this to you in ways you may be able to relate to.

One consequence of belief in Islam is that, while I may accept your radical freedom to create meaning in your own life (though it is more complicated than that – the individual is not the ‘cause’ but rather the ‘occasion’ of meaning creation) my commitment is not merely to a personal vision (in the inward) but to a course of action (in the outward) which involves other people. As a Muslim, I cannot ignore injustice while reflectively contemplating my illusory existence. Injustice has many causes but they all add up to one thing: the rejection of Allah and His Messenger. While this is an option for you inwardly, it is not an option for us outwardly.

anticant said...

Ibrahim, you sound more like Gertrude Stein than Heidegger: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, is a rose."

You say: "As a Muslim, I cannot ignore injustice...Injustice has many causes but they all add up to one thing: the rejection of Allah and His Messenger. While this is an option for you inwardly, it is not an option for us outwardly"

Would you please explain what you mean by this? What do you teach your pupils about how they, as Muslims, should set about remedying the "injustice" of the rejection of Allah and His Messenger?

Some of us, of course, prefer alternative definitions of injustice.

Author said...

So in reply to my question about what makes Ibrahim think he is different from all those other believers who state with equal certainty that they really do know the truth, Ibrahim states that he really does know the truth.

The question does not miss the point. It goes right to the heart of the point, and demonstrates that Ibrahim is indeed just another True Believer, answering the question just as any True Believer would. He does quote Heidegger, though. That is a first in my experience, so kudos for that.

Ibrahim, you say that, having by an act of will chosen Islam, it "literally makes no sense" to question the basis that the "Messenger of Allah was telling the truth". What you mean is that it is literally impossible for you to countenance that Ibrahim Lawson made the wrong choice on such a fundamental matter. Every time you assert that Allah IS the creator of everything and Muhammad IS His prophet and Messenger, you are not demonstrating your faith in Allah and Muhammed - you are demonstating your faith in yourself and your own judgement.

How are we to respond to such vanity? Dialogue, which was your stated aim at the start of your sojourn here, is actually impossible - because you have declared the fundamentals of your belief to be out of bounds, beyond questioning, and immune to rational scrutiny. Unfortunately, that is all we want to talk about.

Silence is another option, and indeed it is the most popular one in overly polite company. That would be fine exept that it is likely to be taken as vindication by the epistemically vain. Also, as you point out, belief in Islam does tend to commit you to an outward course of action when faced with the rejection of Allah and his messenger - an aspect of Islam which can sometimes make Muslims rather more troublesome than those committed to other supernatural belief systems.

Since violence is counter-productive and acceptable to us epistemically humble humanists only in self-defence, the only civilised course of action left open to us when faced with such monumental self-regard is ridicule. This, it turns out, is both easy and fun, because not only is Muhammed NOT the messenger of god and the Koran NOT god's final message to mankind, but it is patently - often hilariously - obvious that they are not.

This won't change any minds already made up, but it can help to deter others from making the same fudamental error that Ibrahim will never be able to admit to himself that he has made.

Making fun of Islam needs to become an industry. People like Lawson take themselves much too seriously.

anticant said...

I fear we are not going to jerk Ibrahim and his co-religionists and their gullible immature pupils out of their ingrained conviction that what they believe is "the truth" merely by laughing at them - although they richly deserve it.

As I have repeatedly said on these threads, what concerns me is not the detail of the doctrine, but the likely consequences of having increasing numbers of devout Muslims living in the West, given their intolerance to other points of view, and indeed their incapacity to understand many of the points put to them by critics of their faith.

Ibrahim has made it quite clear that he would prefer to live in an Islamic society, under a Caliphate, and as he presumably has no intention of moving to an Islamic country, or advising his pupils to do so, the clear implication of his equation of injustice with "the rejection of Allah and his Messenger" is that he sees his role as an Islamic teacher being to inculcate proselytizing zeal into his young pupils.

I regard this as highly dangerous for the future peace and wellbeing of British and European society.