Friday, January 03, 2014

William Lane Craig on Faith and Doubt

Here philosopher Matt McCormick argues against William Lane Craig's beliefs about "the inner witness of the Holy Spirit." I just watched it, and have these immediate thoughts.

I agree with Craig’s statements about the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

M says – “Ordinarily, knowledge-claims about the world are intersubjectively verifiable.” If there’s an elephant in the room everyone can verify it, by their senses. Such knowledge claims are “defeasible”; i.e., they are subject to doubt. M says ordinary knowledge claims are “public phenomena.” 

But surely that is not true. The pain I now experience in my hip, and the feel of the keys as I now type these words, are ordinary ways of knowing while not being public phenomena. I can be said to know that: 1) I now feel a slight pain in my hip; and 2) I now feel the keys as I type.

So I am not sure M’s claim is true; viz., that Ordinarily, knowledge-claims about the world are intersubjectively verifiable. It seems that much of ordinary experience is not intersubjectively verifiable.

Is the statement I now feel pain in my hip a knowledge claim about the world? It seems to be so. Viz.: There is a world in which John is now experiencing pain in his hip. My pain-experience is not other-worldly.

C says his experience of the HS is “private knowledge.” “Only I can have it, it is perfect and unassaible for me. I cannot share it, you cannot experience it.” Agreed.

M says only public knowledge is prescriptive. “I can point at it and say, ‘Look, there it is. You should believe it too.’” (Note that this claim is itself grounded in the non-empirical Properly Basic Belief [PBB] that our senses give us accurate information about the external world.)

M seems to prefer public knowledge over private knowledge. Public knowledge is superior to private knowledge.

I don’t think Craig wants to argue that private knowledge is prescriptive. But the non-prescriptiveness of private knowledge does not invalidate it as knowledge. And, non-prescriptive does not mean non-invitational.

M has problems with C’s idea that (quoting M):

“If evidence comes up that seems to contradict [your] belief, it doesn’t controvert the witness of the Holy Spirit. Given enough time and thought and the correct picture, it will become clear that all evidence is consistent with Christian faith. The appearance of contradiction is just a contingency of what I am going through, thinking about, or being exposed to at the moment.”

I am with C here. One could plug in any worldview at this point and, I think, say the same thing. If the atheist already “knows” there is no God (e.g. on the absence of experience [the problem of divine hiddenness]), then whatever problems atheism is now not able to resolve will one day, as more and more knowledge is given to us, be resolved. Such is the power and nature of a worldview. Craig is, among other things, attesting to the power of the Christian worldview in his own experience, as I would also in mine. To me C gives a phenomenology of religious belief. The question of whether the worldview is “true” is another matter. Remember that, in this video clip, Craig is addressing Christians who already believe in God and Christian theism.

M says that, for C – “Faith comes first, reasoning and evidence comes second.” I think Bill is right about this. Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. The same goes for atheism. For most of the atheists I have met faith came first, reasoning and evidence came (if at all) second. One might “become an atheist,” e.g., because one’s “Christian” parents were hypocritical. Then, occasionally, the already-convinced atheist searches for reasons to defend his newfound faith. In the psychology of religion (to include atheism – see Paul Vitz’s Faith of the Fatherless), this is how it happens. It is also, BTW, how it happened to me.

M is worried about C’s idea that there are “indefeasible basic beliefs.” [By which I think he intends the same thing as PBBs.] M defines these as:

“A belief that you are not willing to revise under any circumstances, and one that is not arrived at through any process of reasoning or inference. It is immediate and direct knowledge of is object. These are allegedly “intrinsically” justified.”

My says that we should be "worried" about C’s ideas here. But why? I think M needs to do more with the PPB discussion, as seen in Plantinga’s work, e.g. On atheism, e.g., we have no warrant for trusting in our cognitive faculties. C’s view is not as simplistic as M presents it here.

M brings up Kahneman’s research in Thinking Fast and Slow. I think (yes I’ve read it, and read this too, + recent criticisms of Kahneman) Craig would affirm much if not all of what Kahneman is saying. Because this stuff cuts both ways. I enjoyed Kahneman's book and didn't experience cognitive dissonance, but found myself slow-thinking how this could be applied to a phenomenology of religion. (Most atheists I have met are so because of, in the first place, “fast thinking.”)

Is private knowledge non-prescriptive?  Maybe not. I think it can be invitational, such as "Taste this and see if it tastes good to you." I think M makes a kind of category mistake in his criticisms of C. (Which, BTW, he does graciously - thank you.) C is here addressing "the choir." I imagine an atheist doing the same with their choir. Ultimately I see Bill doing two things:

1) Presenting a phenomenology of religious belief (how, e.g., I came to believe). 
2) Giving a defense of the worldview I believe in. (Christian theism is rational.)

The idea that one's experience of God functions as a PBB defines the strength of a PBB in the face of possible defeaters. But that's simply the nature of PBBs. Every worldview has them, to include atheism.