Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Epistemology of Personifying Evidence and God's Existence

I'm halfway through theistic philosopher Paul Moser's The Evidence For God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined. U of Arkansas's Thomas Senor reviews it here, calling Moser's book "daring and provocative."

Moser's book begins with a parable about which the entire text revolves. It goes like this.

Imagine that you are hiking in a vast and remote wilderness area that is accessible only to hikers. To your great dismay, you discover that you are hopelessly lost: you have no method of determining either your exact location or a promising route back to civilization. The woods are filled with dangers (e.g., poisonous snakes, hungry carnivores, and potentially freezing temperatures) and you have no means of communication with the outside world. Worse still, you have only a meager supply of food and water. You've had one bit of good fortune: you've come across an old, dilapidated shack that contains a barely functional ham radio. The battery in the radio still has a bit of juice, although you doubt it will last long once the radio is turned on. In short, your situation is dire but not hopeless. What is your best bet for survival?

What is needed is a trustworthy guide. "Merely finding maps won't get you out of your predicament since you don't know how to place yourself on them -- you don't know where you are. To increase the chances of success, the guide should be capable of interacting with you as you are making your way out of the wilderness since you will likely make a wrong turn somewhere and you'll need to be put straight."

As Moser see it, given this predicament we have four options:

  1. Despairing - just give up. This is practical atheism.
  2. Passively waiting - you don't believe you'll be saved, but you don't disbelieve either. You become a "practical agnostic" about there being a rescuer.
  3. Leaping - this Kierkegaardian metaphor makes one a "practical fideist."
  4. Discerning evidence. Ration your food supply. Take a good, hard look at your situation. Here there are two approaches: a) purpose-neutral discerning of evidence; and b) telic discerning of evidence.
Moser's idea is this: humanity is lost in a figurative wilderness: here's how Moser puts it:

"We all face the prospect of ultimate physical death and social breakdown. From the perspective of our species overall, our food and water supplies are threateningly low, with little hope of being adequately replenished. On many fronts, our relationships with one another are unraveling, and have resulted in selfish factions and fights. The factions and fights often involve race, religion, nationality, or economic class but they sometimes cut across familiar lines. Selfishness transcends common categories, always, of course, for the sake of selfishness. We have become willing even to sacrifice the minimal well-being of others for our own selfish ends. As a result, economic injustices abound among us, wherever a sizeable group resides. Accordingly, genuine community has broken down on various fronts, and, in the absence of a rescuer, we shall all soon perish, whether rich or poor. (12-13)"

Senor writes: "The possibility of a rescuer for humanity depends on the possibility of a being both capable and willing to save us. The primary matter of the book is to "use the wilderness parable to examine, without needless abstraction, the main approaches to knowledge of God's existence" (15)."

I am intrigued by Moser's approach. Along the way he finds the following approaches wanting: metaphysical naturalism, Plantinga's Reformed epistemology, and natural theology.

Here is Moser's argument for God.

1. Necessarily, if a human person is offered and receives the transformative gift, then this is the result of the authoritative power of a divine X of thoroughgoing forgiveness, fellowship in perfect love, worthiness of worship, and triumphant hope (namely, God).

2. I have been offered, and have willingly received, the transformative gift.

3. Therefore God exists.

See the review to understand "transformative gift."

And what Moser means by "the epistemology of personifying evidence" in relation to God's existence.