bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 10: Evaluation of Reason #9

REVIEW OF ANALYSIS OF REASON #9
In Part 9 of this series, I asserted that  the main argument in  Unapologetic is Reason #9, and I argued that Reason #9 invoved the following assumptions:

5. ANY claim that is based on faith cannot be reasonably defended.

6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.

Premise (5) is a reason in support of premise (6), and premise (6) is a reason in support of premise (1d) in the main argument.
Main Argument – Revision 5:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4a. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

 Premises (1d), (2a), and (3b) work together to form a valid deductive argument for the conclusion (4a).
Here is an argument diagram showing the logic of the main argument in Unapologetic with the conclusion of the argument at the top, and the supporting premises beneath the conclusion (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Reason #9 - Later Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
EVALUATION OF  THE ARGUMENT CONSTITUTING REASON #9
The argument constituting Reason #9 is UNSOUND, because each of the three premises of the argument is FALSE.
 
PREMISE (2a) IS FALSE
The second premise of the main argument in Unapologetic is this:
2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.
It is true that much of what philosophy of religion is concerned with is evaluating the truth (or probability or reasonableness) of “the claims of religion”.  However, it is NOT true that these are the ONLY issues about which philosophy of religion is concerned.
Philosophy of religion is also concerned with “theories of religion” which are often secular or naturalistic in nature.  Karl Marx asserted that “religion is the opium of the people”, and Sigmund Freud asserted that religion was the result of wishful thinking in response to fears about natural forces and death.  Evaluations of such general claims and theories about religion are part of the work of philosophy of religion, but these two secular theories about religion are obviously NOT “the claims of religion”.
Philosophy of religion is also concerned with evaluating views and claims that are opposed to religion and religious beliefs:

  • agnosticism
  • atheism
  • naturalism
  • religious skepticism
  • secular humanism

In examining and evaluating these non-religious or anti-religious ideas, philosophy of religion is NOT directly concerned with evaluating “the claims of religion”.
Also, philosophy of religion is concerned with the clarification of religious concepts:

  • What does the sentence “God exists” mean?
  • What does the word “faith” mean?
  • What does the word “miracle” mean?
  • What does the word “religion” mean?
  • What does the phrase “necessary being” mean?

These words and phrases are related to “the claims of religion”, because in order to understand some of “the claims of religion”, we need to understand the meanings of these words and phrases.  However, analyzing the meaning of a word or phrase related to a claim made by a religion is NOT the same thing as evaluating the truth of “the claims of religion”.
Thus, premise (2a) of the main argument constituting Reason #9 is FALSE, and therefore the main argument in Unapologetic is UNSOUND.
 
PREMISE (3b) IS FALSE
The third premise of the main argument in Unapologetic is this:
3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.
It is true that many of the claims of many religions are accepted by many people “based on faith”.  However, it is NOT true that ALL of the claims of ALL religions are accepted “based on faith”.
There is some unclarity in the concept “based on faith” that needs to be dealt with now.  Being “based on faith” is not an intrinsic or objective property of claims.   Claim X can be accepted by person A “based on faith” while at the same time claim X is accepted by person B based on reason, based on facts and evidence.  Thus, a claim being “based on faith” is RELATIVE TO specific persons (or to specific groups of people), and claims are not in-and-of-themselves “based on faith”.  Even if every human being who has ever lived accepted claim X “based on faith”, it would still be possible that in the future, one human being will one day come to accept claim X based on reasons and evidence.
Some of “the claims of religion” are historical claims.  Christianity claims that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in the first century.  This is an historical claim.  Perhaps it is the case that most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”.  However, because this is an historical claim, it is very likely that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and historical evidence.  In any case, because this is an historical claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are scientific claims.  Christianity claims that all human beings descended from a single pair of humans.  This is a scientific claim, so even if most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is a scientific claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are ethical or moral claims.  Christianity claims that one ought to treat others in the way that one wishes to be treated.  This is a moral claim or principle, and moral principles can be evaluated on the basis of reason, which is what philosophers do in the sub-discipline of ethics.  So, even if most Christians accept this moral principle “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this moral principle on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is an ethical or moral claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  The fact that many or most Christians accept this claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
Some of the claims of religion are metaphysical claims.   Christianity claims that “God exists”.  This is a metaphysical claim, so even if most Christians accept this claim “based on faith”, it is quite possible that some Christians believe this claim on the basis of reasons and evidence.  In any case, because this is a metaphysical claim, it is a claim that can be evaluated using reason.  There is a sub-discipline of philosophy that is focused on evaluation of such claims; it is called  “metaphysics”.  The fact that many or most Christians accept the claim that “God exists” “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by reasons and evidence.
The religion of Christianity, at least, makes historical claims, scientific claims, ethical claims, and metaphysical claims.  Such claims are subject to evaluation by reason, even if most Christians accept these claims “based on faith”. It is nearly certain that some Christians believe some of the claims of the Christian religion based on reason, based on consideration of relevant reasons and evidence.
Premise (3b) appears to be FALSE based strictly on consideration of the Christian religion.   However, this premise makes a generalization that is supposed to apply to ALL religions, not just to Christianity.  So, if we include dozens of other currently practiced religions in the scope of (3b), then it seems very unlikely that ALL of the claims by ALL of the religions are accepted “based on faith” by ALL of the adherents of a given religion.
Buddhism, for example, is very empirical in character.  Buddhism emphasizes careful observation of one’s own behavior and thoughts and feelings as the basis for confirming at least some of the teachings of Buddhism as well as the basis for learning about oneself and how to improve one’s life and one’s character.  Also, the concept of “faith” does not appear to play a central role in Buddhism in the way it does in Christianity.   Perhaps there are some Buddhists beliefs that most Buddhists accept “based on faith”, but it seems rather unlikely that ALL Buddhist beliefs are accepted “based on faith” by ALL adherents of Buddhism, in view of the empirical character of Buddhism and in view of the fact that the concept of “faith” does not appear to play a central role in Buddhist thinking.
Given that there are dozens of religions in the world right now, it seems very improbable that ALL of “the claims”  of ALL of these religions are accepted “based on faith” by ALL of the adherents to those religions (i.e. that all adherents to religion X accept all of the claims of religion X based on faith).  So, premise (3b) appears to be FALSE both in view of what we know about Christianity, and also in view of the fact that there are many different religions, including some that appear not to place much emphasis on belief that is “based on faith”.
I have argued that the two clear definitions of “faith” provided by Loftus are both wrong.  However, even if Loftus failed to correctly analyze the meaning of the word “faith” as it is used in ordinary language, we can reasonably take his proposed definitions as stipulative definitions, as clarifications of what Loftus means when he uses the word “faith”.   So, we should consider interpretations of premise (3b) that are based on the two clear defintions proposed by Loftus:  confirmation bias and irrational trust.
‘Confirmation Bias’ Interpretation:
3b-CB: ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on confirmation bias.
 
‘Irrational Trust’ Interpretation:
3b-IT: ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on irrational trust.
All of the previous objections apply to both of these interpretations of premise (3b).   The Christian religion makes historical claims, scientific claims, ethical claims, and metaphysical claims, and such claims are subject to evaluation by reason.  Since such claims are subject to evaluation by reason, it seems extremely unlikely that ALL Christians accept ALL such claims of Christianity “based on confirmation bias” or “based on irrational trust”.
Since confirmation bias is a widespread human tendency, and since irrational trust is a fairly common human failing, it is likely that many Christians accept many claims of Christianity based on either confirmation bias or irrational trust, but it is almost certain that SOME Christians accept SOME claims of Christianity based on the consideration of relevant reasons and evidence, and not based on confirmation bias or irrational trust.
If we understand the scope of (3b) to include ALL religions, then the claim becomes extremely improbable, based on these interpretations of the phrase “based on faith”, even ignoring the counterexamples from the Christian religion.  So, I conclude that premise (3b) of the main argument in Unapologetic is FALSE, and therefore that the main argument in Unapologetic  is UNSOUND.
Premise (2a) is FALSE because of a mistaken understanding of philosophy of religion, which wrongly narrows the scope of issues in that field to ONLY the evaluation of “the claims of religion”.
Premise (3b) is FALSE because of a failure to understand that being “based on faith” is not an intrinsic or objective property of claims, and because of a HASTY GENERALIZATION from the fact that many or most Christian believers accept most Christian beliefs “based on faith” to the universal generalization that ALL believers of ALL religions accept ALL of the claims made by their respective religions “based on faith”.
Thus, at least two of the premises of the main argument of Unapologetic are FALSE, making this argument UNSOUND.
 
THE REASON GIVEN FOR PREMISE (1d) IS FALSE
Loftus does not just assert premise (1d); he gives a reason in support of this premise:

6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.

THEREFORE:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

Premise (6) is FALSE, and thus it fails to provide support for premise (1d).  The reason why premise (6) is false is because, as I have explained above, being “based on faith” is NOT an intrinsic or objecctive property of claims; a claim can only be “based on faith” for a particular person or group of persons.  Thus, even if every Christian accepted a particular claim X “based on faith”, it might well be possible for claim X to be accepted (or rejected) on the basis of reasons and evidence; it might well be possible to confirm or disconfirm claim X on the basis of reasons and evidence.

If it is possible for a claim to be confirmed or disconfirmed on the basis of reasons and evidence, then it would obviously be REASONABLE to use reason to evaluate that claim.  Therefore, even if a particular claim was accepted by every Christian believer “based on faith”, that claim might well be one that it is reasonable to evaluate based on reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence for and against that claim.

For example, even if every Christian believer accepted the claim “God exists” on the basis of faith, this is still a metaphysical claim which can be evaluated on the basis of reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence for and against this claim.  The fact that some people accept a claim “based on faith” does NOT imply that the claim that is so accepted is beyond hope of being evaluated on the basis of a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence.

Thus, a sub-discipline of philosophy that focused on ONLY claims that SOME PEOPLE have accepted “based on faith” would include in it’s scope many claims that it would be reasonable to evaluate on the basis of reason, by a careful examination of the relevant reasons and evidence.  Therefore, premise (6) is false, and Loftus has failed to provide us with a good reason to believe premise (1d).

Furthermore, given this insight about what it means for a claim to be “based on faith”, it seems fairly clear that (1d) is also FALSE, and therefore we have a third reason for concluding that the main argument of Unapologetic is UNSOUND.

====================

UPDATE  on 01/18/17:

One more example of an important issue in philosophy of religion that goes beyond evaluating “the claims of religion” is this question:

What is the relationship between FAITH and REASON?

Although Christianity presents faith as something that is good and admirable, there is no generally agreed upon view among Christian believers or Christian theologians about the relationship between faith and reason.  Thus, when a Christian believer asserts a specific claim about the relationship between faith and reason, this claim is NOT a claim of the Christian religion, nor is it a claim of any other non-Christian religion.  Therefore, when philosophers of religion use reason to evaluate a particular view of the relationship between faith and reason, they are NOT evaluating one of “the claims of religion”.

Note also that since the issue of the relationship of faith and reason is central to Reason #9, when Loftus supports and defends Reason #9, and when I raise objections to Reason #9, we are both engaging in philosophy of religion.  In fact, the arguments of Loftus and my objections generally concern the relationship of reason and faith, and thus our arguments, both pro and con, are generally concerned with an issue that is a paradigm case of an issue in the philosophy of religion.

Therefore,  the central argument by Loftus in Unapologetic is an argument dealing with a paradigm case of an issue in philosophy of religion.  In addition to being an UNSOUND argument, this argument is self-undermining.

bookmark_borderAtheist ‘Safe Zones’: A Solution In Search of a Problem

I just became aware of this website: “Secular Safe Zone.” Why are secular safe zones needed?

“The number of nontheists in America is rising rapidly and there is a growing body of research that is beginning to explore this once-invisible and amorphous group. While tolerance for minority religions is growing around the country, discrimination and harassment of nontheistic Americans continues to be a problem. Everyday American institutions and customs can be exclusionary to nontheists.  Beyond being alienated from civic life, nontheists in America are also often looked upon with suspicion and treated as outsiders, untrustworthy, and immoral

Along with these attitudes and discriminatory behaviors, nontheists lack the community, institutions, and support that religious Americans can readily rely upon.”

I don’t know if this a real effort or a Poe, but I will say this.

If there is anywhere in the world that needs ‘safe zones’ for atheists, it’s Bangladesh, where several atheist bloggers have been hacked to death for their blogging. But the idea of ‘secular safe zones’ in America seems, frankly, ridiculous.

In fact, the explanation quoted above seems self-defeating: if the number of nontheists in America is “rising rapidly” in the absence of ‘safe zones,’ that would suggest that the ‘safe zones’ aren’t needed. What is needed is for atheists to come out of the closet so that theists who’ve never met an atheist can meet one in real life (not on the Internet), analogous to how homosexuals coming out of the closet has been accompanied by an increase in societal acceptance of their orientation, even if not also always accompanied by an acceptance of their lifestyle.

bookmark_borderWhat Was Richard Dawkins Thinking?

Richard Dawkins recently re-tweeted a tweet that is so obviously false, one has to ask, “What was he thinking when he posted it?”
I’m not going to embed the tweet here which is arguably NSFW, but I’ll provide a link and describe it. It has two photos. On the left is a picture of Matt Taylor, the scientist who wore an inappropriate  shirt. On the right is a picture of a Muslim woman being executed. The caption below the two photos reads, “One of these two pictures upsets Feminists. The other one shows the execution of a woman.”
I’m almost at a loss for words. One may agree or disagree with feminism, but I don’t know how someone as intelligent as Dawkins could actually believe that any feminist would not be upset about a picture showing the execution of a Muslim woman.

bookmark_borderOn Caring about Whether Other People Become Naturalists

Relatively speaking, I don’t care much if someone becomes a naturalist. I care more about refuting an anti-atheist stereotype, intentionally or unintentionally reinforced by Craig and his ilk, which Randal Rauser calls the Rebellion Thesis. I’ve encountered far too many Christians who think atheists are stupid (when it comes to evaluating the evidence about God) and immoral.

Going beyond religion, I guess I also care more broadly about critical thinking skills and the fact that so many people don’t have evidence-based beliefs for things for which evidence is clearly relevant, things which often have a public policy impact.

I think things would be much better if theists were Swinburnian theists and atheists were Draperian atheists, but that’s obviously never going to happen.

Allow me to explain. Following Ralph Keeney in his 1992 book Value-Based Decision Making, I distinguish between fundamental and means objectives. The objective “Convince more people to become naturalists” is not one of my fundamental objectives, whereas “Convincing more people to share beliefs which I think are true” is one of my fundamental objectives. “Convincing more people to hold evidence-based beliefs about things for which evidence is clearly relevant,” is a child fundamental objective of that. And “Convincing more people to become naturalists” is a means objective in support of that child fundamental objective.

I should mention that the objectives hierarchy I just described is tentative. While I have spent a lot of time studying, thinking about, and even working professionally in decision theory, I have actually never spent much time structuring an objectives hierarchy relating to the philosophy of religion and counter-apologetics. In other words, I’m open to revising this hierarchy in light of any feedback.

For a concise overview of Keeney’s excellent approach to decision-making, I highly recommend this article.

bookmark_borderDon’t Criticize What You Can’t Understand

Recently, I found myself defending William Lane Craig’s reformed epistemology.   I was defending it NOT because I believe it to be true or correct, but because his views were being presented as ‘stupid’ and obviously false.  My impression was that those who were making these strong claims did NOT understand Craig’s views on epistemology, and therefore were objecting to a Straw Man.  There was little interest in my points about reformed epistemology–apparently philosophy is too boring and constitutes ‘mental masturbation’,  so I didn’t make much of a dent in the beliefs or attitudes of those who were making strong objections against WLC’s epistemology.
In my humble opinion, if you aren’t aware of the infinite regress problem in epistemology (from Aristotle), and if you aren’t aware of the problem of induction (from David Hume), and if you don’t know about foundationalism (from Rene Descartes) or properly basic beliefs  (from Plantinga), then you probably ought to keep your opinions about WLC’s reformed epistemology to yourself, at least until you learn some of the basic elements of epistemology.  In other words, if you find epistemology too boring to read about it, then you probably ought not to criticize the epistemology of a prominent Christian philosopher, at least not in a public forum (hence the title of this post).
WLC has said some things that sound a bit over the top, from a skeptical point of view, and one of those things concerns the relationship of faith and reason:
But what about the second point: the role of reason in knowing Christianity to be true?  We have already said that it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the ultimate assurance of  Christianity’s truth.  Therefore, the only role left for reason to play is a subsidiary role.  I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between the magisterial and the ministerial use of reason.  The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it.  The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel.  Only the ministerial use of reason can be allowed.  Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology.  Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding.  Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith, not vice versa. (Apologetics: An Introduction, Moody Press, 1984, p.21)
In this passage, WLC appears to elevate faith over reason, and he appears to make the Christian’s belief in the truth of Christianity a matter of faith rather than of reason.  But this appearance is misleading.
I’m confident that this is NOT WLC’s view now, and I’m somewhat confident that this was not his view even back in 1984, when the above paragraph was published.  Rather, it seems to me that either (a) he held contradictory views about faith and reason in 1984 and later eliminated this contradiction from his thinking, or else (b) he expressed his views about faith and reason in an unclear and misleading way in the above passage,  creating a false impression that his view was that the Christian’s belief in the truth of Christianity was a matter of faith, when in fact he believed it to be a matter of reason.
The first thing to note about any interpretation of the above quoted passage, is that WLC does not provide a definition of either ‘faith’ or ‘reason’.   At least, I have not been able to locate such definitions in the Chapter that the above passage came from (“Faith and Reason: How do I know Christianity is True?”).  Because WLC does not define these key terms, he cannot express his own views clearly and unambiguously.  If there is anything ‘stupid’ about WLC’s views on faith and reason, it is the fact that he never bothers to provide a succinct definition or analysis of these terms.
But given the absence of clear definitions, one must be cautious about how one interprets the words ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ in the above quoted passage.  Of course, this is all very boring and some would say that careful definition of key terms is just ‘mental masturbation’.  In my humble opinion, however,  it is the ABSENCE of careful definition of terms that leads to ‘mental masturbation’.   Craig could be criticized with some justification for engaging in ‘mental masturbation’ in the above passage, precisely because he is using the vague and ambiguous words ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ as if everyone would know exactly what he meant by those words, when in fact that is clearly NOT the case.  The problem is not that WLC was being too philosophical here; the problem  was that WLC was failing to follow a basic principle of philosophy (and of critical thinking) : define your key terms.
In his textbook on philosophy (co-authored with J.P. Moreland), WLC points out an important ambiguity in the meaning of the word ‘rational’ (which relates to a similar ambiguity in the word ‘reason’)’:
In this section, we will look at different aspects of rationality, beginning with a list of three different notions often associated with the term.
First, there is what can be called Aristotelian rationality.  In this sense, Aristotle called man a rational animal.  Here, rational refers to a being with ratio–a Latin word referring to the ultimate capacity or power to form concepts, think, deliberate, reflect, have intentionality (mental states like thoughts, beliefs, sensations that are of or about things). …
A second sense of rational involves rationality as the deliverances of reason. Here, the faculty of reason is considered a source of certain items of knowledge and is contrasted with the sensory faculties. …
Finally, a third sense of rational is closely connected to justification or warrant.  In this sense, to say that a belief (or, better, an episode of believing) is rational for some person S at some time t is to say that the belief has justification or warrant for S at t.
(Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, IVP, 2003, p.85)
The word ‘reason’ has the same ambiguity as the word ‘rational’.  So, at the least, one needs to consider these three possible different meanings of the word ‘reason’ when interpreting the passage quoted above from WLC’s book Apologetics.  Since the word ‘Philosophical’ appears prominently in the title of the book with this point about the ambiguity of the word ‘rational’, some people probably had no interest in reading from this book, on the assumption that it would be filled with boring philosophical stuff, and lots of  ‘mental masturbation’.  So, some people might still be unaware of the ambiguity in the word ‘rational’ and the word ‘reason’, and thus see nothing problematic about interpreting the passage quoted from Apologetics.
So, ‘reason’ might refer to our capacity to think (including having sensations, dreams, and imaginings) , or to a priori knowledge (beliefs  known independently of experience), or to rational justification (needed for a belief to count as knowledge rather than just as an opinion).  A fourth meaning of ‘reason’ relates to the concept of ‘reasoning’ or logical inference.  When a belief is based on logical inference from some other belief, the belief that is inferred may be said to be based on ‘reasoning’, and thus based on ‘reason’.
I suggest that when WLC wrote “The only role left for reason to play is a subsidiary role.”  and also “Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith…” he meant something like this: “The only role left for logical inference to play is a subsidiary role.” and like this: “Should faith and the conclusions derived by logical inferences from other beliefs conflict, it is the conclusions derived by logical inferences that must be rejected, not the properly basic beliefs concerning the truth of Christianity.”
In other words, Craig is not really contrasting faith with ‘reason’ in the sense of rational justification.  Rather, Craig is contrasting one sort of rational justification (properly basic beliefs) with a different sort of rational justification (beliefs based on logical inferences from other beliefs).  Craig, even back in 1984, viewed the Christian’s belief in the basic assumptions of Christianity (e.g. the existence of God) as being properly basic beliefs, which are beliefs that are rationally justified or warranted but NOT on the basis of logical inference from other beliefs.
In the paragraph just prior to the paragraph quoted above, WLC declares his agreement with the reformed epistemology of Plantinga that he had described earlier in the chapter:
Thus I would agree that belief in the God of the Bible is a properly basic belief, and emphasize that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit that supplies the circumstance for its proper basicality. (Apologetics, p.20)
A few pages earlier in the same chapter, WLC described Plantinga’s epistemology of belief in God:
Plantinga wants to maintain that belief in God is rational wholly apart from any rational foundations for the belief.  (Apologetics, p.16)
In other words, Plantinga views the Christian’s belief in God as being rationally justified (i.e. based on REASON in the third sense outlined by WLC above) even though this belief is not a logical inference from another belief (i.e. it is not based on REASON in the fourth sense that I mentioned above).  WLC goes on to describe Plantinga’s views in terms of the concept of a properly basic belief:
 And in fact, Plantinga maintains, following Calvin, belief in God is properly basic. … Hence Plantinga insists that his epistemology is not fideistic; there are circumstances that make the belief in God a properly basic belief. … Hence one is perfectly rational to believe in God wholly apart from evidence. (Apologetics, p.17)
Thus, according to WLC, Plantinga’s view is that belief in God is NOT based on faith, but is based on REASON in the sense that it is “perfectly rational” to believe in God, i.e. this is a rationally justified belief.  But belief in God, though rationally justified is also NOT based on a logical inference from some other belief, i.e. belief in God is not based on evidence.  This implied distinction between a belief that is rationally justified  because it is a properly basic belief on the one hand and a belief that is rationally justified by means of a logical inference from another belief (i.e. it is based on evidence), occurs on page 17, just three pages before WLC declares that his own view is that the Christian’s belief in God “is a properly basic belief” and just four pages before WLC makes his unclear statement about the relationship of faith and reason.  Thus, there is good reason to make use of these distinctions in relation to the unclear  passage about faith and reason quoted above.
In stating that his view is that the Christian’s belief in God is a properly basic belief, it is clear that WLC agrees with Plantinga that this belief is (a) rationally justified (and thus based on REASON in that sense) and (b) NOT based on a logical inference from another belief (and thus NOT based on REASON in that sense).  Given this distinction, it seems fairly obvious that when WLC contrasts the Holy Spirit’s role of providing “the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth”  with the role of ‘reason’,  he does NOT mean to imply that the belief in Christianity’s truth (including belief in God) is based on something OTHER THAN reason.  The role of the Holy Spirit is to provide the circumstance under which the Christian’s belief in God (and other basic Christian assumptions) is a rationally justified belief, a belief that is in accordance with reason.  When WLC goes on to say that “the only role left for reason to play is a subsidiary role”, he is NOT talking about a subsidiary role for rational justification, but about a subsidiary role for logical inferences from other beliefs.
Finally, when WLC asserts that “Should faith and reason conflict, it is reason that must submit to faith”,  he is NOT asserting that rational justification must take a back seat to FAITH.  Rather, he is asserting that beliefs that are the conclusions of logical inferences from other beliefs must take a back seat in relation to the rationally justified properly basic beliefs that constitute the basic assumptions of Christianity (e.g. belief in the existence of God).
My proposed interpretation of the unclear passage quoted from p.21 of Apologetics  is further supported by the fact that in a later version of this book (in Reasonable Faith, published in 1994), WLC changes the wording of this passage (and others) clarifying that what he had in mind by the term ‘reason’ was indeed logical inference from other beliefs [EMPHASIS with capitals added]:
 But what about the second point: the role of ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE in knowing Christianity to be true?  We’ve already said that it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the only role left for ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE to play is a subsidiary role.  I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason.  The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of  ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE.  The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel.  Only the ministerial use of reason can be allowed.  Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology.  Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding.  A person who knows Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit’s witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief.  Should a conflict arise between THE WITNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and BELIEFS BASED ON ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.   (Reasonable Faith, p.36)
In the opening sentence of this paragraph, WLC has replaced the word ‘reason’ with the much clearer expression “ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE”.  In other words, he has removed the ambiguous term ‘reason’ and replaced it with just one of the various possible meanings of this word.  The expression “ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE” clearly relates to the sense of ‘reason’ meaning a logical inference from another belief.  All arguments involve a logical inference from one or more premises to the conclusion of the argument.  And the use of EVIDENCE always involves a logical inference, because one USES evidence in order to establish or support a claim or conclusion, and the relationship of the evidence to the conclusion is a logical inference (typically an inductive inference, but sometimes a deductive inference).  Thus “ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE” both refer to the idea of basing a belief on a logical inference from some other belief.
The formerly dramatic claim opposing faith against reason has been significantly revised.  The word ‘faith’ has been replaced with a reference to THE WITNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT and the word ‘reason’ has been replaced with a reference to ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE (i.e. to a logical inference from some other belief).  It is now very clear that WLC is NOT talking about making rational justification take a back seat to some sort of irrational or non-rational way of forming beliefs.  Rather he is comparing and contrasting two different sorts of beliefs which have a different sort of rational justification or warrant:
rationally justified properly basic belief in the fundamental truth of the Christian faith
vs.
contrary beliefs that are conclusions based upon logical inference from some other belief(s).
In Reasonable Faith, WLC also revised his description of Plantinga’s views, and the revisions point to the same interpretation of WLC’s views [EMPHASIS with capitals is added]:
Plantinga thus insists that his epistemology is not fideistic;  THE DELIVERANCES OF REASON INCLUDE not only inferred propositions, but also PROPERLY BASIC PROPOSITIONS.  God has so constructed us that we naturally form the belief in his existence under appropriate circumstances,  just as we do the belief in perceptual objects, the reality of the past, and so forth.  Hence, belief in God is among THE DELIVERANCES OF REASON, NOT FAITH.  (Reasonable Faith, p.29)
It is clear that WLC follows Plantinga’s epistemology in general, so unless WLC explicitly rejects this view that he attributes to Plantinga, then it is reasonable to infer that WLC agrees that the Christian’s belief in God is among THE DELIVERANCES OF REASON, NOT FAITH.  Since there is no such explicit rejection of this view by WLC, it is reasonable to infer that WLC agrees with Plantinga on this point.  WLC’s epistemology is NOT fideistic, and does NOT make the Christian’s belief in God based on faith rather than reason, but rather makes the Christian’s belief in God (and other basic assumptions of the Christian religion) based on reason, i.e.  these are rationally justified properly basic beliefs, according to WLC, and thus beliefs that are not based on logical inference from some other beliefs, i.e. these are beliefs that are based on REASON, but not on ARGUMENT and EVIDENCE.
I admit that the passage quoted from page 21 of Apologetics makes it seem like WLC elevates faith over reason, but there is good reason to believe that such an interpretation is mistaken.  In any case, in Reasonable Faith, published ten years after Apologetics, WLC either clarifies or revises the statement of his views on this subject, making it clear that he does not elevate faith over reason, at least not in the sense of elevating some non-rational belief-forming process over belief-forming processes that produce rationally justified beliefs.
So, if you want to object to WLC’s reformed epistemology, be my guest, but please (1) learn about the elements of epistemology before you call his epistemology ‘stupid’ or claim that it is obviously false, and (2)  carefully read what he actually says about faith and reason before raising objections to his views about faith and reason.  If you don’t follow this advice, then I’m afraid that your objections to WLC’s reformed epistemology will amount to nothing more than ‘mental masturbation’.

bookmark_borderIf You Think Atheists Should Ridicule Theistic Beliefs, Read This

This is a paper I started writing almost ten years ago, but never finished.

Atheistic Advocacy as a Risk Communication Problem

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 
Abstract. In this paper, I introduce a new way of thinking about atheistic advocacy. In an important sense, atheism is a risk. Therefore, attempts to argue either for the truth of atheism or for the tolerance of atheists and atheist civil rights constitute risk communications. By applying the findings of risk communication scholars to the topic of atheistic advocacy, I recommend specific communication strategies for atheist advocates.

Atheistic advocacy is a controversial subject, even among professed atheists. Atheists disagree over whether atheists should bother to engage in advocacy at all.[1] Furthermore, even among those atheists who believe that atheistic advocacy is valuable, they sharply disagree with one another regarding which advocacy methods are effective and which are not. In this essay, I will say nothing about the first controversy. I do, however, have quite a bit to say about the second.

Atheism as a Risk

In an important sense, atheism is a risk. More precisely, atheistic outreach (including evangelistic atheism), atheist civil rights, and even the related issue of church-state separation are risks. Regardless of how justified (or unjustified) atheists may be, that is almost completely irrelevant to the fact that atheistic outreach and atheist civil rights are risks. (I’ll say more about why in a moment.)
The disagreement over advocacy methods has at least two dimensions. First, some atheists argue that atheist advocates should always be respectful and courteous while advocating atheism,[2] whereas others believe that ridicule are justified.[3] Second, atheists disagree about the dominant approach for advocating atheism. Positions in this debate include focusing on arguments and evidence for atheism,[4] litigation,[5] community service,[6] and humor.[7]

Atheistic Advocacy Is a Form of Risk Communication

If, as I have just argued, atheism is a risk, then it follows that attempts to persuade the general public that atheism is true, not harmful, not anti-morality, and so forth are a type of risk communication. Risk communication is an emerging (or new?) academic discipline; I think we can gain some interesting insights by looking at what the discipline of risk communication has to teach us.
Forget about atheism for a moment and think about other types of risks: nuclear power, parole of violent convicted criminals, Ebola, global warming, autism, vaccinations, building a new railroad close to a suburban housing development, and so forth. Pick one of these or think of a different risk.
Do you have a risk in your mind? Good. Now imagine your job is to convince the general public that they should accept your risk, whatever it is. What is the best way to do that? Should you take a cognitive approach, focusing on evidence and rational argumentation, either as your primary approach or even as your only approach? What about non-cognitive approaches, such as appealing to humor, ridicule, peer pressure, or even contempt?
Let’s put aside the (important) questions of how morality  and etiquette might or should inform our answers. Instead, evaluate your options solely from a cost-benefit benefit. Which strategy is most likely to cause your audience to willingly choose to accept your risk? The question here is not whether one approach or another can change minds; probably all of them can and have changed minds. Rather, the question is, which approach is most likely to be the most effective?
Research in the relatively new academic discipline of risk communication has a lot to say about this. Peter Sandman is widely considered to be one of the top experts on risk communication in the world. Among other things, Sandman is famous for coining the expression, “Risk=Hazard + Outrage.” (This is not intended to be interpreted as a literal mathematical formula).
The basic idea is this. “Hazard” refers to the potential “bad things” which could happen, while “outrage” refers to people’s emotional response to risk. Sandman’s insight is the discovery that most people form their beliefs about risks (and make decisions based on those beliefs) based primarily on the “outrage” side of the equation, not the “hazard” component. Yet most risk managers attempt to do risk communication by focusing on the “hazard” component of risk: presenting evidence that the “bad things” are unlikely to happen or that they aren’t really that bad after all. In other words, most risk managers assume that the general public thinks about risk in the same way that risk managers think about risk.
As Sandman and others have conclusively shown, however, that’s not what happens. People may consider facts relevant to the “hazard” component of risk, but they place equal or much greater weight on the “outrage” component of risk. And Sandman has conveniently identified over twenty factors which influence how people think about risk, which he calls “outrage factors.” Furthermore, he divides those factors into two groups: his top 12 list (what he calls his “A list”) and everything else (which we’ll call the “B list”).
His “A list” may be summarized as follows. (Disclaimer: this summary may be plagiarized directly from something Sandman has written; my source file is garbled. In any case, plagiarized or not, the ideas are all Sandman’s.)
1. Voluntary vs. coerced. The focus of this component is who decides. If I have the right to say “no” to the risk, then it is voluntary for me. If I don’t have the right to say “no,” then it is coerced.
2. Natural vs. unnatural. Here “natural” refers to “nature.” For example, radon gas seeping into the basement of a house would be an example of a “natural” risk.
3. Familiar vs. exotic. People tend to downplay risks they are familiar with. On the flip side, their outrage tends to increase as the number of things they do not know about the risk increases.
4. Not memorable vs. memorable. Memorability refers to how easy it is for you to envision something going wrong. Symbolism is one potential source of memorability.
5. Not dreaded vs. dreaded. A risk is dreaded if it evokes concerns of fear and horror.[8] In general, if the effects of the risk are dreaded, this tends to increase outrage about the risk.
6. Chronic vs. catastrophic. Chronic risks are risks that tend to be spread out over space and time. Catastrophic risks tend to happen in big clumps. (Car crashes are a chronic risk, while airplane crashes constitute a catastrophic risk.)
7. Knowable vs unknowable. Components of knowability include uncertainty, expert disagreement, and detectability. If outrage is already high, unknowability further increases the outrage. More formally, when non-Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) learn that SMEs disagree about the risk, their outrage increases. (Sandman provides the following example: “How dare they expose us to risks they don’t even understand themselves?”) If on the other hand, the outrage is low, unknowability can provide a rationalization for not taking action. (“I’ll start worrying once the experts agree on what the data means.”)
8. Individually controlled vs. controlled by others. This question is not about who decides (that’s the focus of the first component), but about who implements the risk.
9. Fair vs unfair. Are the benefits of the risk going to a different place than the risk? Is the process that led to the risk-benefit distribution fair or unfair?
10. Morally irrelevant vs. morally relevant. Sandman uses the example of a hypothetical chief of police who declares, “The optimal number of molested children for 1994 is 17.” Everyone knows that the chief of police cannot reduce the number of molestations down to zero, but we expect the chief of police to endorse our moral value that any child molestations are unacceptable.
11. Trustworthy sources vs. untrustworthy sources. The “source” of the risk is the person who brings you the risk, or urges you to tolerate it. Betrayal of “trust” generates enormous outrage.
12. Responsive process vs. Unresponsive process. The components of responsiveness include: openness vs. secrecy, apology vs. stonewalling, courtesy vs. discourtesy, sharing vs. confronting community values, and compassion vs dispassion.
While some of the 12 items on Sandman’s list of outrage factors are not applicable to atheism, many of the components of outrage are relevant. Voluntariness, familiarity, dread, and morality are clearly relevant to atheism. For those who were comfortable when atheists were in the closet, atheists coming out of the closet is unfamiliar, beyond their control, horrifying, and morally repugnant. (Indeed, a common worry about atheism is that it is a threat to morality itself!)
Sandman and others have done extensive research on how different risk communication strategies affect outrage (“outrage management“). As the name implies, the goal of “outrage management” is to, well, manage outrage in a helpful way. As Sandman recommends repeatedly throughout his writings, empathy is a key ingredient to any successful outrage management strategy. And while there are varying degrees of ridicule–this routine by George Carlin seems relatively harmless to a biased atheist like me–it seems to me that it’s an uphill battle to both ridicule your audience (or their beliefs) and (at the same time) try to convince them that you’re empathetic to their concerns. I’m not so sure the uphill battle is a risk worth taking.
 
Notes
[1] See, for example, the various articles listed on the Secular Web’s “Atheistic Outreach” page at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/outreach.html
[2] Michael Martin, “Friendly Atheism,” The Secular Web (1996), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/friendly.html; Richard Carrier, “What Should We Do When Some Theist We Don’t Know Sends Us E-mail?” The Secular Web (1997), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/howto.html
[3] Tim Madigan, “To Bash Or Not to Bash,” Secular Humanist Bulletin 12 (????):http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/shb/madigan_12_2.html
[4] E.g., The Secular Web, the Council for Secular Humanism, all of the atheistic members of the editorial board of Philo.
[5] E.g., Michael Newdow, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, American Atheists.
[6] The late Sandra Feroe.
[7] Julia Sweeney.
[8] Peter Sandman, “Not in Our Backyard, Section 1” http://www.psandman.com/articles/chapman1.htm

bookmark_borderArrogant Atheists?

This is more than two months old, but I still think this is interesting.
https://blogs.elon.edu/servingatheists/?p=1535
What’s interesting to me is that, according to these survey results, there is a certain symmetry between, on the one hand, theistic stereotypes about atheists, and, on the other hand, atheistic stereotypes about theists.

  Dominant Theistic View Dominant Atheistic View
Morality of “Other” Side Atheists are less moral than theists Atheists are as or more moral than theists (99.5%)
    Religion is a force for bad in the world (87%)
Mental Health of “Other” Side Atheists are psychologically maladjusted Theists are less psychologically healthy than atheists (56%)
Stigmatization of “Their” Side   Atheists are Unfairly Stigmatized (86%)

If these survey results are accurate, then it would appear that many atheists are the secular equivalent of fundamentalist Christians.
(HT: Keith Augustine)

bookmark_borderAlonzo Fyfe’s Alternative Answer to “Where Do Atheists Get Their Morality?”

Back in 2008 Alonzo Fyfe blogged about the question, “Where do atheists get their morality?” As an alternative to “the standard attempt to defend some moral theory,” he proposes the following answer.

“A lot of theists want to know where atheists get their morality because theists are bigots looking for an excuse to hate their atheist neighbors, and ‘You are morally inferior to us’ has long been a favorite dehumanization technique of the hateful bigot. Clearly, atheists do quite well when it comes to behaving morally, at least as well as their Christian counterparts. It may be natural to express some curiosity as to why this is the case. But to cast atheists as morally inferior in order to generate a reason to hate them – that’s not a course that a truly moral person would ever pursue.”

I’m not sure I can endorse this response, at least not in all cases. It assumes that the only reason someone would ask that question is bigotry, which seems false to me. It’s easy to imagine how someone thinking through the issues for the first time could genuinely wonder about the source of atheist morality, without in any way trying to suggest that atheists are morally inferior.