Justin Martyr, of The Faith Heuristic, has just posted his first statement in our debate on Faith. This is my response to him (Quotes from him will be in italics):
I am defending the point that faith in God is rational without evidence other than one’s own personal religious experiences.
I'm glad that he has clarified his position. I would say that personal experience should be considered as raw data, and that whether they qualify as evidence of God is the real point of debate.
Even atheists hold beliefs without evidence. Do you remember the movie The Matrix? In it a computer hacker finds out that his whole life was a lie. It was really a virtual reality illusion created by artificially intelligent machines who had conquered humanity.
I think that depends upon whether you believe you are living in a physical universe or not. I think Occam's razor (The simplest explanation is probably correct) allows us to establish that since it is more likely that we live in reality, and not for example, in a computer simulation within reality. Nevertheless, I think whether we inhabit an imaginary world created by a demon or not is of little consequence, since we would learn about our world in the same way. Justin even seems to agree with me on this point:
No matter how you slice it, the belief that the world is an illusion is observationally identical to the belief that the world is real.
Therefore, it is of no consequence to us.
Justin brings up some very interesting examples of what he claims are beliefs without evidence (or logical justification). One of them is this: How do we know that people see colors the same way we do? For example, what looks like red to me might look like blue to you. We all tend to assume that people see things the way that we do, but what evidence is there for this, really?
First of all, I think Justin should check out Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett. Dennett discusses this at length, although I think his case is a bit too complex for me to present here. Secondly, I don't see why it is important for someone to believe that others experience colors the way they do. It is of no consequence to real life (Unless someone is color blind and behaves as though red and green are the same color). As long as we all have this convention wherein we can identify specific color experiences with labels (Red, Blue, etc.) that most everyone agrees has the same label, it is of no consequence to real life whether others have the same color experience we do.
Justin also brings up our belief that the past occurred (as opposed to the proposition that we were created five minutes ago). For this I would simply say that the hypothesis that the past actually occurred is the best explanation for the data. Every waking moment we are watching the present become the past. The simplest explanation for our memories (or anything else, for that matter) is that they were created the same way we constantly observe memories to be created.
So I suppose that concludes my discussion on the theory of knowledge (epistemology). Justin has pointed to some beliefs which seem to have no evidential basis in hopes of encouraging us to move to a more moderate theory of knowledge than my strong foundationalism (wherein everything we know is based upon evidential support or logical necessity, or a combination of both). I reject those attempts.
[P]eople have a lot of beliefs without evidence and these beliefs are all rational. Alvin Plantinga calls them properly basic beliefs. They are like the foundation of a house. Other beliefs can rest on properly basic beliefs but they themselves do not rest on anything. Belief in God is also a properly basic belief. Now, the fact that these beliefs are properly basic and do not require evidence does not mean that they are immune from rational challenge. Critics can provide defeaters. The argument from ockham's razor is a defeater against the belief that the world is the illusion of an evil demon. Atheists can also provide defeaters against belief in God. An atheist may make the case that a loving God would not allow evil.
One thing that frustrated me about Justin's article is that he does not lay out any criteria for how we can tell what constitutes a properly basic belief and what does not. From the philosophy I have read, some philosophers would say that a criteria for properly basic beliefs is whether the vast majority of people hold them. Belief in God, or at least the supernatural, probably fall under that category, but Christianity certainly doesn't.
My own thinking has led me to believe that the only properly basic beliefs are those of logical necessity (which is the really just the framework in which rational thought and discussions of truth and falsehood take place) and our own experience (we cannot doubt that we are experiencing something right now, and have memories, etc. We can doubt that memories are accurate, but not that we have them. We can doubt experience as hallucination, but not that we are having an experience). Everything I know flows from logic, sense-experience, or a combination.
I suppose Justin could argue that his personal experience of God, what William Lane Craig calls "The Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit" is a kind of sense-experience (I would presume that it is some type of overpowering emotion, though I don't know because I've never experienced it). Justin would be right to demand that I explain it and account for it with a better hypothesis than his hypothesis that God is causing him to feel his presence.
First, I'd like to inquire about this experience of God's presence: Is it a feeling of peace or joy? Is it a feeling of gratitude for something fortunate that happened in your life? If so then I think you're simply interpreting ordinary experiences in light of your religious backround.
But suppose you're not: Suppose you actually feel that some being is watching over you, just as you feel that while debating me your are having a conversation with another conscious being. This still seems to me like a kind of intuitive feeling, and I think it might justify belief if you know that your intuition is right more often than not. But we have to remember that intuition is still very often wrong. This should make you fairly open to the possibility that there is a neurological basis for your belief.
I don't want to commit the genetic fallacy here: I'm not saying that because a belief has a neurological basis it is false. I'm just trying to provide an alternate explanation: Your belief has to do with your neurology, and what forms that belief is either present in most human beings because it evolved (See Dennett's Breaking the Spell or Dawkins' The God Delusion for accounts of how religion may have evolved) or because, for whatever reason, some people have this tendency to believe just as some people are color blind (Meaning that the belief was not selected for, but is a byproduct of other neurological processes or ended up in the human population by genetic drift). Of course I'm also assuming that the mind is dependent upon the brain, a belief that you may not share but which I find quite convincing (I've written about it in my book, Atheism and Naturalism).
So I think I've provided an account of your belief in God which is at least as good as the account that God caused it. We have yet to see who's hypothesis is truly better.
Justin mentions the fact that many other religions exist, and the believers of these religions do seem to have the same type of inner experience that their religion is true as Christians do. His mention of this reminded me of John Allen Paulos, the author of Irreligion, who describes himself as a "born materialist" who intuitively felt, from the time he was young, that spirits and ghosts and gods did not exist. How does Justin account for this? He says that Christianity entails that there might be demons who are decieving the believers of these other religions, and so this does not serve as a defeater for his belief.
I don't buy into this excuse for two reasons:
1) It is inconsistent to suggest that there is a God who wants our belief (as the Christian God does) but who deliberately allows people to be decieved into thinking some other God(s) exists. If God wants our belief, then he should do everything he could to make sure that people are highly inclined to believe in him. He couldn't impose belief on them so that they had no choice, but he could see to it that the Mormons did not really have a strong intuition that their religion is true or that no one was a naturally "born materialist". A better account of the facts is that whoever or whatever (if anything) created our universe is indifferent to human beliefs about the supernatural, and that is why human beings have a vast array of different intuitions about what is true and what is false when it comes to worldview issues. And the hypothesis of indifference entails that if there is a God he is not the Christian God (since the Christian God cares about what we believe), or even a God who cares very much about us (Since he cares little about what we believe).
2) The fact that the inner experience of God(s) leads human beings to wildly different conclusions suggests that we need a higher standard of evidence, since anyone of us might be being fooled by a demon that the real God (Be he Allah, Yahweh, Krishna, etc.) allowed to decieve us.
I think that wraps things up for my rebuttal, I'll be sure to link to Justin's rebuttal when he writes it. Peace!