Thursday, December 20, 2007

William Lane Craig on How Noetic Structures Either Allow or Disallow Epistemic Certainty

In his monthly e-letter William Lane Craig explains how noetic structures allow or disallow for confidence in our reason. I think what he says is good. It's similar to the kind of things Plantinga writes about noetic structures, esp. in Plantinga's work on properly basic beliefs and the "Great Pumpkin objection."

Craig writes:

"I presented a well-attended lecture [at the annual convention of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies] on the question "Is Uncertainty a Sound Foundation for Religious Tolerance?" My target here was certain philosophers who claim that religious tolerance should be based on two factors: (1) our grasp of moral principles which state that persecution of other religions is wrong and (2)uncertainty that one's own religion is true.

Such philosophers want to foster as much uncertainty about religious beliefs as they can and as much certainty about moral beliefs as they can as a way of increasing tolerance. I pointed out that this strategy backfires in a number of ways.

In the first place, with respect to a religion like Christianity, which commands us to love our neighbor and even our enemy, it's not uncertainty but certainty of that religion's truth that will increase religious toleration. Fostering uncertainty about such a religion will actually decrease people's motivation to be tolerant. In fact, for any religion which sees morality as based in God, undermining people's belief in God will undermine their confidence in the very moral principles which state that persecution is wrong!

In the second place, for people in many of the world religions, likeHinduism or Buddhism, increasing their confidence in the truth of certain moral principles will actually falsify their religions. [Emphasis mine] For these religions hold that moral values and the distinction between right and wrong belong to the realm of illusion. In reality, there is no distinction between good and evil: all is One. So you can't be a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Daoist and believe that persecution is really, objectively wrong. If you do believe that, you've falsified your religion. So you can't hold to those religions (even with uncertainty) and believe in the moral principle of tolerance. So this approach is really quite hopeless."

Put in a George Mavrodes way, in a Hindu or Buddhist or Taoist world (i.e., if the world were actually as these religions say it is), then being confident of certain moral principles would be weird.