Friday, August 21, 2009

The Faith Debate, Pt.4

Justin and I have decided to extend our debate by another 1-2 posts each. Here is the roster of posts:

1. Justin's opening statement. A defense of properly basic beliefs.
2. AIG Busted's opening statement. Based on Bayesian decision theory.
3. AIG Busted's rebuttal to Justin's opening.
4. Justin's rebuttal to AIG Busted's opening.
5. Justin's new post on "3 Broad Themes in the Debate".

Here is my latest response to him:

First, Justin seems to think that subjective religious experiences raise the prior probability that God exists. I simply don't understand how this follows, and it would seem to me that subjective experience would be a kind of evidence that falls under posterior probability.

Another point is that I anticipated AIG Busted’s argument from Ockham’s razor in my opening post. A world with just you and the evil demon is simpler than the gigantic universe we think we inhabit. In this case both atheists and Christians hold a belief that is counter to Ockham’s razor. This is a case where the strength of a subjective prior is strong enough that the posterior belief is still strong even after being weakened by a contrary line of evidence.

I would say that the evil demon is initially improbable, and here's why: The demon is a highly intelligent, conscious agent. The demon may or may not be a material entity, but let's suppose he's not. In that case, we have a being who is conscious and creative, two processes which require many, many steps within the mind of the one who possesses them. If any of those steps are missing or out of place, the demon ceases to have consciousness. By pure luck, what are the odds that a spiritual being like the evil demon would exist? One with the evil desires he has, out of all possible natures. One with a conscious mind coherent enough and intelligent enough to decieve (again consciousness and design are two very complicated processes, each with many steps that have to be there and have to be in the right order. What are the odds that a spiritual being would have all of those correctly ordered steps? Very low, since there are many more arrangements of these steps which would not lead to consciousness).

Justin sidesteps the question of what should constitute a properly basic belief and how we justify that standard. He refers us to the work of Alvin Plantinga, which I suppose we all should have read some of by now. I haven't read much of Plantinga's work as of yet, but I believe that in the future I will. Anyway, for now I'm going to stick with the Strong Foundationalism I talked about in previous posts, since it makes the most sense to me.

The second line of argument argues that if God really did exist then He would do more to ensure that “born materialists” – people who have never had anything remotely like a religious experience – would feel the work of God in their hearts. But I can think of lots of reasons why an atheist would not have religious experience. The first is that he has, but has hardened his heart against them subconsciously. The second is that God has a plan for him later in his life. I too was a “born materialist” until the day I had a religious experience (I concluded it was a flashback at the time, even though I was never much more than a dabbler in drugs). Now I think I know why I didn’t experience God until I was older. He wanted me to be an atheist with an atheist’s worldview (I grew up reading Gould and Dawkins) so that I could communicate the rationality of faith. You never know, AIG Busted, maybe you will have a religious experience some day and become a Christian! I've been focusing on the "born materialist" but similar arguments apply to other faiths.

Your argument struck me as a little funny when you first presented it, but I decided not to comment on it in my last post: Your reasoning is that if the Christian God exists, then we are warranted in trusting our inner experience of God and of believing that muslims and atheist's inner experience are due to their hardness of heart, demons, or something else. But this reasoning begs the issue at hand: What we want to know is whether or not Christianity is true, not conditional statements about it possibly being true. We cannot begin by assuming that Christianity is or is not true. We have to begin with a more agnostic stance, because that is really where we are. We don't know if the Christian God exists, but subjective experience of him is not good evidence because people's emotional, subjective experiences are usually wrong, as is evidence by the followers of Ras Tafari, the born materialists (if you're a theist), the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.

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