Epistemological Justification for Theistic Belief

Anonymous
Posts: 4294964979
Joined: 1969-12-31
User is offlineOffline
Epistemological Justification for Theistic Belief

I'm going to put forth a few pemises that I think are rationally justified and argue for those premises a bit and hope that it starts a good discussion.

1) I believe in God
2) I believe that France exists.
3) I believe that my roommate exists.
4) I have more justification for belief in 1 than 2 and nearly the same justification for belief in 1 and 3.

I have justification for belief in 1 for a number of reasons. I'll simply state them and then argue for them after.
A) Others have told me that they know God.
B) I've seen things happen that can most easily be attributed to God's action.
C) I've felt the presense of God.
D) I have had experiences and those experiences have caused theistic belief in me.

I'm sure you have noticed that nowhere in my list of reasons for belief in God is there any mention of arguments. So then how can I rationally believe 1 with any degree of certainty?

Religious Experience is often considered to be very strong evidence for the existence of God. A religious experience can be used to provide evidence for the existence of God in a number of ways, depending on the individual’s framework for justification as well as their perspective on religious experience in general. For example, if I hold to a perceptual model of religious experience, then I am justified in belief in the contents of a religious experience based solely on the fact that I had this experience. Let me further explain this. The perceptual model would hold that, like everyday perceptual experiences, religious experiences can be used to form beliefs without cognitive processes. For example, if I have a typical experience of a Bichon Frise, I immediately form beliefs based on this experience—for example, I believe that Bichon Frises exist and that I just saw one—yet I do not go through any sort of cognitive process in forming this believe. More specifically, I do not consider an argument for the existence of Bichon Frises and then decide that the evidence points to the existence of Bichon Frises and thus form a belief in their existence. Like my experience of the Bichon Frise, if I were to experience an angelic being, the proponent of the perceptual model would hold that I would then form beliefs regarding angels—specifically, that they exist and that I just saw one. The perceptual model would consider religious experience to be evidence for the existence of the being which is experienced. Often in religious experiences people experience a being as such and such. Here the religious experience is not so much a perceptual one, nor is it cognitive. Saint Teresa of Jesus speaks of something like being presented with knowledge regarding the being she is experiencing. This too is a belief formed without cognitive processes, much like perceptual experiences. The perceptual model would say that Saint Teresa is justified in her belief in Jesus as that and such. If I have an experience where I take myself to be experiencing Jesus as kind and glorious, then I have justification for forming certain beliefs. Specifically, I can form the belief that Jesus exists, that He presented Himself to me and that He is kind and glorious. Alvin Plantinga, would argue that my religious experience causes properly basic religious beliefs t arise. When I walk down the street, I see a number of things, street signs, cars, dogs, people, trees etc. For most of these objects, I do nothing more than passively see them, but this passive visual experience causes in me rational belief in these objects. I'm not irrational to believe that the fire hydrant around the corner exists because I lack an argument that isn't based on experience, am I?

I've never been to France. Thus, my belief in France is based solely on the testimony of others. I've seen pictures that people claim were taken in France. I've seen maps that people claim are of France. I've heard people talking about a place called France like it was real. My belief in God is supported by the tesimony of others in the same way that my belief in France is supported by the testimony of others. Further, if someone says to me, "Brandon, I don't believe in France because I've never seen it" does very little to render my belief in Fance unjustified. Likewise, people to argue that they don't believe in God because they feel there is a lack of evidence does very little to make my belief in God unjustified.

Finally, imagine that I spent the entire day alone in the library reading. Then, a week later, I am arrested for committing a murder durring the time I spent in the library. In court, the prosecutor demonstrates tons of evidence to "prove" I was in fact the murderer. My hair was found at the scene and on the victim. I can't present any witnesses who say I was at the library, I had a motive to kill the victim and the murder weapon was a gun registered in my name. Let's say I am convicted. Regardless, I am still justified in my belief that I was not the murderer. Likewise, since I have strong evidence, including experiencial evidence, for my belief in God, people bring about circumstancial evidence against God's existence doesn't render me irrational.

Brandon


todangst
atheistRational VIP!
todangst's picture
Posts: 2811
Joined: 2006-03-10
User is offlineOffline
"Epistemological

"Epistemological justification' sounds like a phrase that comes from the department of redundancy department.

There can be no epistemic grounds, or rational justification for theistic faith. Theistic faith, or non contingent faith, is belief without justification by definition. The concept exists in contradistinction to reason. In short, if you have reasons for your belief, then you don't have faith.

blgarcia wrote:
I'm going to put forth a few pemises that I think are rationally justified and argue for those premises a bit and hope that it starts a good discussion. 1) I believe in God 2) I believe that France exists. 3) I believe that my roommate exists. 4) I have more justification for belief in 1 than 2 and nearly the same justification for belief in 1 and 3.

"god' is a supernatural concept, and such a concept is necessarily a broken concept. This means that the concept violates the very elements that actually make up a concept - i.e. something we can conceptualize.

This is because in order to conceptualize an entity, it must have identity. To have identity is to exist as something, to have positive attributes, to have limits.

But 'god' as a supernatural 'concept' is defined via negativa as not having any limits. i.e. as not being a part of the natural world.

Therefore, you cannot even conceive of 'god', ergo you cannot make any coherent claims about god.

Therefore, your claims are simply incoherent when they involve supernatural 'entities'

Here's Augustine himself to help clarify:

What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if thou hast been able to understand what thou wouldest say, it is not God. If thou hast been able to comprehend it, thou hast comprehended something else instead of God. If thou hast been able to comprehend him as thou thinkest, by so thinking thou hast deceived thyself. This then is not God, if thou hast comprehended it; but if this be God, thou has not comprehended it.

Now, do theists go on to violate this precept and to speak of 'god' in positive terms? Of course! But they must accept that they do so based on faith, not rational grounds.

Even Aquinas, who mistakenly assumed he had proven god's existence (note the internal contradiction) had this to say on the matter:

Summa Theologiae I, Q.3, Prologue wrote:

"The existence of a thing having been ascertained, the way in which it exists remains to be examined if we would know its nature. Because we cannot know what God is, but rather what God is not, our method has to be mainly negative…What kind of being God is not can be known by eliminating characteristics which cannot apply to him, like composition, change, and so forth."

 

i.e. mainly negative - i.e. we can only 'know' what god is 'not'...

Quote:

I have justification for belief in 1 for a number of reasons.

And all of your 'reasons' must steal the concept of naturalism, ergo all of them must fail for this reason alone.

Quote:

I'll simply state them and then argue for them after. A) Others have told me that they know God.

See Augustine's quote. Because of the problems he and other theologians note, people can only take this 'knowing' on faith, ergo, without rational justification.

Quote:
B) I've seen things happen that can most easily be attributed to God's action.

Now you are not only violating basic ontology, you're also violating the concept of causality.

If one can attribute things to 'god's actions' in a causal manner, then one is saying that 'god' is part of the causal chain of nature, and therefore natural.

You can't actually mean to say that. You must actually hold that something beyond nature, works acausally. I..e magically, unpredictably, 'miraculously'.

If so, then you cannot attribute any effect to a supernatural 'cause' as this again steals from the concept of naturalism.

You also commit yet another epistemological blunder: you're violating occam's razor. If there is a plausible natural cause for the action, then you not only have no grounds at all to make a supernatural claim, you are actually acting irrationally when you do.

Quote:

C) I've felt the presense of God.

See above. Please also consider that you interpet any 'feelings' through a religious filter. There are a billion muslims who have the same feeling who interpret it as Allah. Then there are Buddhists who interpet not as a god at all, but something about the nature of the universe.

And then there are atheists who interpret it as merely your own working of your own brain.

Quote:

D) I have had experiences and those experiences have caused theistic belief in me.

And these experiences have caused islam in muslims, and buddhisim in buddhists. The fact that experiences lead to religious belief in no way justifies the belief as true.

Quote:

I'm sure you have noticed that nowhere in my list of reasons for belief in God is there any mention of arguments.

Actually, you have given implied arguments - causal ones!

Quote:

So then how can I rationally believe 1 with any degree of certainty? Religious Experience is often considered to be very strong evidence for the existence of God.

Yes, Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Pagans agree with you.

Quote:

A religious experience can be used to provide evidence for the existence of God in a number of ways, depending on the individual’s framework for justification as well as their perspective on religious experience in general.

In other words, a person brought up in a certain culture, or certain religion, who does not apply skeptical thinking towards their own inner experiences of the workings of their brain, will wantonly and brazenly violate ontology, epistemology and occam's razor, and use their cultural filter to claim that physical experiences are evidence of the supernatural.

That's not a rational ground by definition. That's force of habit... arational, instinctual, unconscious - that's not a grounds for a belief, it's a set of expectations - a set of beliefs that exist prior to the interpretation that form the interpretation, sans rational examination of the phenomenon.

Quote:

or example, if I hold to a perceptual model of religious experience, then I am justified in belief in the contents of a religious experience based solely on the fact that I had this experience.

No, and I've explained why you're off-base here.

The fact that your culture holds to a particular filter is not a rational grounds for you attributing belief to supernatural 'causes', because cultures may hold to a set of expectations for various reasons that have nothing to do with the ultimate truth or falsity of the phenomenon in question. If you disagree, you're forced to concede that every set of cultural filters provides rational justification for their beliefs, and that theyse beliefs are true.

Which would make you a christian, a jew, a muslim, a buddhist, a jain, a wiccan, a communist, a socialist, a collectivist, an individualist, and so on...

Quote:

Let me further explain this. The perceptual model would hold that, like everyday perceptual experiences, religious experiences can be used to form beliefs without cognitive processes.

I can't fathom how you can form a belief without cognitive processes! I think you actually mean to say that we form belief without skeptical examination. In other words, we form beliefs based on unconscious filters that are inculcated into us by parents and by society.We make 'leaps' or 'snap judgements' based on how these filters interpret data.

I agree if that is your contention.

But you must see how this then shows that you are not justified in your belief based on critical thinking - i.e. on rational grounds. The fact that a culture take on a filter and the fact that this filter leads to certain interpretations does not mean that any particular believer is justified, rationally, to hold to whatever belief the filter generates. In fact, this is a good example of how habits are born.

If you've read David Hume, you'll see that people in a culture tend to form certain 'habits' or expectations... many of these habits 'work' in that the value of HOLDING to the belief provides pragmatic benefits. For example, believing that the world was the center of what we know recognize to be the solar system, had pragmatic benefits in the 1600s. You could avoid being burned at the stake, for example.

But the fact that the filter led to that intepretation, and the fact that the belief had pragmatic benefits, in no way provides a rational grounds for holding to the belief. It merely explains why some beliefs are expedient.

Quote:

For example, if I have a typical experience of a Bichon Frise, I immediately form beliefs based on this experience—for example, I believe that Bichon Frises exist and that I just saw one—yet I do not go through any sort of cognitive process in forming this believe.

Again, filters are cognitive in nature, so I think you are meaning to say that you don't go through an active examination of the concept... you just enact filters.... based on cues in the environment which bring certain filters to the 'table top' in our brains.

Quote:

More specifically, I do not consider an argument for the existence of Bichon Frises and then decide that the evidence points to the existence of Bichon Frises and thus form a belief in their existence.

Right, because if you had to actively examine everything in your environment, you'd pass out from exhaustion by noon. So we do operatate by expectations in many things... and we can do so because it works.. my expectation that the object ahead of me is a stop light, currently flashing red, tends to work well, in that it helps me avoid accidents.... has there ever been a case where I was duped into an error? Perhaps, but seeing as no harm was caused, the pragmatic value of holding to the belief continues to work.

But at no time did this filter provide a rational grounds for my belief, because that is not what it is designed to do... it is designed to do the opposite: to give a set of pre set expectations that leads to an assumption where such assumptions tend to be safe.

 

Quote:

Like my experience of the Bichon Frise, if I were to experience an angelic being, the proponent of the perceptual model would hold that I would then form beliefs regarding angels—specifically, that they exist and that I just saw one.

Yes, and again, I do hope that you know see that the existence of cognitive filters in no way provides a rational grounds for whatever belief it generates on its own.

Cognitive filters work by providing 'quick and dirty answers' by spitting out presumptions about entities based on a series of beliefs born of experience and also culturally inculcated beliefs. These filters 'work' in that in most cases, the response they give is 'good enough' for the task at hand.

But these filters, again, are based on a pre-set collection of assumptions... they are NOT built on a rational examination of the 'entity' in question.... ergo they do not provide a rational grounds for any specific entity in question... they DO provide a set of expectations that can be generalized....

 

Quote:

The perceptual model would consider religious experience to be evidence for the existence of the being which is experienced.

Only in the sense that the model would simply spit out it's pre-conceived notions, and use these notions to 'interpret' a experience as a religious one!

In other words, the process begs the question... it assumes what it seeks to see, it 'makes the experience into a religious one' by the use of its expectations, its filter.

Ergo, there is no rational grounds here for religious belief.

I find it interesting that you seem to know a bit about cognitive filters, yet just enough to satisfy your desire that they provide justification for religious experience.

 

Quote:

Often in religious experiences people experience a being as such and such. Here the religious experience is not so much a perceptual one, nor is it cognitive.

Actually, it is 'cognitve' as I have discussed above, it's just that it's a pre-set collection of biases that we don't have to actively bring to mind, because they arise on their own based on your observation of cues in the environment.

 

Quote:

Saint Teresa of Jesus speaks of something like being presented with knowledge regarding the being she is experiencing. This too is a belief formed without cognitive processes, much like perceptual experiences.

Yet she's a christian, and yet, there are cues in her enviroment that bring up certain cognitive filters which in turn produce a self fulfilling prophecy - the filter sees only what it is designed to see.

 Of course, there are outliers... data that seem to go against the expectation... but these can be tossed aside with a simple 'god works in mysterious ways' and poof, the problem is gone!

Quote:

The perceptual model would say that Saint Teresa is justified in her belief in Jesus as that and such.

No, in fact, it says the opposite. That her interpretation is born of a set of pre-set expecations, that themselves are not necessarily grounded rationally, and that are employed in a question begging manner. 

 

Quote:

If I have an experience where I take myself to be experiencing Jesus as kind and glorious, then I have justification for forming certain beliefs.

No, you don't, because your failing to see that your 'experience' is born of a cognitive filter which already presupposes all of these things.

Quote:

Specifically, I can form the belief that Jesus exists, that He presented Himself to me and that He is kind and glorious. Alvin Plantinga, would argue that my religious experience causes properly basic religious beliefs t arise.

No, he would merely assert that this is so, he doesn't have an argument, nor does Plantinga seem to grasp what a violation of epistemology it is to make assumptions that go past our rational-empirical methods.

You do yourself a disservice if you rely on Plantinga for your knowledge of metaphysics.

Quote:

When I walk down the street, I see a number of things, street signs, cars, dogs, people, trees etc. For most of these objects, I do nothing more than passively see them, but this passive visual experience causes in me rational belief in these objects.

You're missing out on several steps. 1) Environmental cues bring up particular cognitive filters. 2) These filters are cognitive in nature, and are born of experience and inculcation. 3) Yes, the process is passive, in the sense that you don't actively examine each sign, you simply assume they are signs based on cues, and then interpret them as signs.

But here's your main epistemological error. This process is not a rational justification, it's a set of assumtions! You could be wrong, you might not actually be seeing signs, but instead, a set of props for a movie. But your filter will lead you astray and continue to lead you astray until you being to notice cues in the environment that lead you to question the filter, and examine the phenomenon in question!

And it is only this active, rational-empirical process, that can provide justification (I prefer to say 'grounds&#39Eye-wink for a belief.

Quote:

I'm not irrational to believe that the fire hydrant around the corner exists because I lack an argument that isn't based on experience, am I?

As David Hume himself might say, you're not irrational, neither are you rational. You are merely employing a set of expectations brought to mind by cues in the environment and acting on that set of expectations. This process is not actively rational, because it is not based on providing a reasoned grounds for the particular belief.

Instead, we can think of the cognitive process as a habit....which is neither rational nor irrational, but merely arational.... i.e. 'automatic' thinking... akin to instinct.

 

Quote:

I've never been to France. Thus, my belief in France is based solely on the testimony of others.

No, it's more than that. If it were merely hearsay, then you'd have good reason to doubt. Your belief is based on authority - i.e. the world's collection of books on France as a real place, news/media, and so on.... numerous independent corroboration set apart from any clear bias towards belief.....

Oh, and there's one more major factor here: claims for the existenc of france are naturalistic claims..... so your comparison here is inappropriate.... if france exists, the matter of its existence would not violate naturalism itself.

Quote:

I've seen pictures that people claim were taken in France. I've seen maps that people claim are of France. I've heard people talking about a place called France like it was real. My belief in God is supported by the tesimony of others in the same way that my belief in France is supported by the testimony of others.

See the points I just made above, to see why your comparison fails on multiple fronts.

Quote:

Further, if someone says to me, "Brandon, I don't believe in France because I've never seen it" does very little to render my belief in Fance unjustified. Likewise, people to argue that they don't believe in God because they feel there is a lack of evidence does very little to make my belief in God unjustified. Finally, imagine that I spent the entire day alone in the library reading. Then, a week later, I am arrested for committing a murder durring the time I spent in the library. In court, the prosecutor demonstrates tons of evidence to "prove" I was in fact the murderer. My hair was found at the scene and on the victim. I can't present any witnesses who say I was at the library, I had a motive to kill the victim and the murder weapon was a gun registered in my name. Let's say I am convicted. Regardless, I am still justified in my belief that I was not the murderer.

Because you can cite evidence that contradicts the claim.

Quote:

Likewise, since I have strong evidence, including experiencial evidence, for my belief in God, people bring about circumstancial evidence against God's existence doesn't render me irrational. Brandon

Actually, I've just demonstrated that your argument does not provide rational grounds. All you have is a pre-set filter that interprets X as 'god' whereas the Muslim has a different set which interprets X as "allah' and the Buddhist who interprets X as no god at all, but a sense of the Kosmos.....

You seem to come close to realizing this yourself, why do you come so close, only to make an epistemological blunder?

PS I'm a cognitivist/psychologist, so I've not just decided to wade through this all on a lark, I've thought about, and studied these concepts for years.

Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates

Books on atheism.


zarathustra
atheist
zarathustra's picture
Posts: 1234
Joined: 2006-11-16
User is onlineOnline
Try this simple exercise. 

Try this simple exercise. 

Go back and replace every instance of "god" with "unicorn" in the passage you wrote, then see how much sense it makes to you.

There are no theists on operating tables.

πππ†
π†††


todangst
atheistRational VIP!
todangst's picture
Posts: 2811
Joined: 2006-03-10
User is offlineOffline
zarathustra wrote: Try

zarathustra wrote:

Try this simple exercise.

Go back and replace every instance of "god" with "unicorn" in the passage you wrote, then see how much sense it makes to you.

 

Bu..bu bu...but that would be ridiculous! We know that unicorns don't exist! 

Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates

Books on atheism.


blgarcia (not verified)
Posts: 4294964979
Joined: 1969-12-31
User is offlineOffline
Todangst, I see that I've

Todangst, I see that I've made two dialectical errors. One, I've begun a far too broad dialogue, and second, I haven't been as accurate, or precise as I should have been.  In reading my post, replace "cognitive processes" with something akin to "judgments" (i.e. conclusions based on arguing from a set of premises).
To solve the former problem, I'd like to try to narrow down our discussion.  Clearly you've thought a lot about these issues and are very well informed. I'll put the ball in your court and ask you to pick one or two specific points in my opening post to interact with.  I definately think that we can have some good discussion about this, but I think that the mammoth posts will get overwhelming really quickly.
I'd be interested in talking about our apparently different views of what exactly "rationality" is.  But maybe more interestingly, I want to hear more about what you are getting at with the comments you made about the supernatural/natural distinction.  But if you think that I have bigger problems in my argument, then by all means, please direct me to those so we can discuss them further. 
P.S. I'll give you a little of my own background which might limit our discussion. I don't want to try to talk beyond my areas of study.  I have a  B.A. in Philosophy, with specific concentrations in Emotions and proper cognitive functioning, Evidential Arguments From Evil, Philosophy of Religion, Self-deception/Self-knowledge, Post-modern thought,  Aesthetics, and of course the general classes in general ontology, epistemology, ethics and history of phil.