Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Quick Rejoinder to Craig

It has been called to my attention that William Lane Craig has replied to a post of mine on his podcast. Unfortunately, Craig neglects to mention the blog and the post in his reply, leaving his listeners unable to track down, verify, and evaluate the criticism for themselves.

His main reply is that a belief need not enjoy the doxastic and epistemic force and vivacity of a Moorean fact if it is to qualify as properly basic at all. That's of course obviously correct, which is why I'd never assert such a thing.

My rejoinder was already present in the original passage containing my objection, in the crucial portion of the last sentence that was omitted in Craig's discussion: 
I think there is a simple yet decisive criticism of Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology: at least for the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit (if such there be) fails to present the truth of Christianity in such a way that it's anywhere near being on a par with ordinary Moorean facts. In this regard, Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology suffers from a key problem shared by Plantinga's account of warranted-basic Christian belief. Therefore, as with Plantinga's account, Craig's account fails to show how Christian belief can be warrant-basic -- at least in the sense that Christian belief enjoys sufficient warrant to function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for strong objections to Christian theism (emphasis added).
The crucial part is the qualification at the end, which indicates the heart of the criticism: The Holy Spirit (if such there be) fails to present the truth of Christianity in such a way as to provide enough doxastic and epistemic force to function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater against objections to Christian theism. Those who know the relevant literature know that it's a point not original to me, but one that has been made repeatedly by Christian philosophers, plausibly originating with Phillip Quinn

It's worth pausing to reflect on how little it takes for the criticism to go through. The criticism doesn't implausibly require that all Christians have a constant experience of the Holy Spirit so intense in epistemic and doxastic force and vivacity as to be capable of functioning as an intrinsic defeater-defeater every moment of their waking lives. Rather, the criticism only requires that at least one Christian fails to experience the internal witness of the Holy Spirit with sufficient force and vivacity so as to function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater during a time when their warrant for belief has been defeated for them.[1] I think this is true of probably most Christians, but it's enough if it's true of at least one of them, which is prima facie true. But if that's right, the criticism goes through. I therefore conclude that Craig has failed to dislodge the criticism I raised against his view.[2]

[1] "Remember the example I gave of the person where he would be rationally obliged to commit apostasy unless God were to so intensify the Holy Spirit’s witness that he would be able to resist the force of those defeaters rationally." (Ibid.)
[2] Perhaps some will also find it worth pausing to reflect on the fact (now made evident) that Craig managed to exemplify several textbook examples of craigging in his reply.


Angra Mainyu said...

Hi, EA

Good points, I agree Craig is craigging, and your challenge stands.

A couple of other things I noticed:

In his reply to your argument, Craig says that the witness of the Holy Spirit is akin to testimony, not akin to a cognitive faculty. He goes on to say the testimony in question is an external reality, a "testimony to me, just as much as your testimony is testimony to me".
But testimony from another person is far too weak to justify (and thus, far too weak to warrant) belief in claims like "Joe resurrected from the dead", or "I'm morally perfect" - and it's not even good in the case of the claim "I'm morally good"; if the claim wasn't justified already, why would a claim like that justify a belief that the person making the claim is morally good?

Granted, it might be argued that it's only akin to testimony, but not strictly testimony. But in which way could that be akin to it? (and also, that does not work well in the context of Craig's claim that it's a testimony to him just as much as Harris's testimony is a testimony to him).

In fact, despite denying that he associates the testimony with his feelings, Craig talks about God's "intensifying" the spirit's witness in order to defeat some defeaters. But what is intensified, if not feelings, sensations, etc.? And how could intensified feelings justify beliefs like the ones mentioned above?
A testimony is not the kind of thing that can be intensified.

exapologist said...

Hi Angra,

This source provides the clearest account I've been able to track down on what Craig thinks the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit consists in. Here's the key passage from it on the issue:

"The best way I can describe this would be to say that it is indeed a kind of elevating feeling of blessed assurance, but not only when you contemplate particularly moving passages of Scripture or hear an uplifting sermon. Rather, it is a deep seated kind of assurance of salvation that one carries with one that one is rightly related to God, that one is saved. The New Testament says that when we cry out to God “Father!” that God's spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are indeed children of God and thereby reconciled to him. In popular Christian piety, this goes under the name assurance of salvation. There is just this deep-seated assurance that one is saved. That is the best I can do to try to describe what this testimony of the Holy Spirit is like."

I worry about the epistemic merits of such an experience, as it seems easy to account for it without appeal to anything supernatural: if one accepts the logic of the evangelical account of salvation by grace through faith, and that all this requires is acceptance of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus by praying "the sinner's prayer", then it's a simple matter of following the reasoning of a modus ponens inference to generate such assurance (1. If I've "prayed the prayer" of accepting Jesus' atoning sacrifice, then I've been eternally saved; 2. I've "prayed the prayer" of accepting Jesus' atoning sacrifice; 3. Therefore, I've been eternally saved.). And of course, it wouldn't be surprising that reflection on such an inference would be endorphin-releasing, bring psychological comfort and peace, whether or not the Holy Spirit exists and can "witness" to these things in the "heart" of the believer. Such a psychological experience can be especially powerful if it was preceded by a preacher or evangelist who tells you you're damned for your sins, and there's nothing you can do to save yourself. If you "pray the prayer", as I did when I became a Christian, it caused a psychologically overwhelming experience, with continuing emotional aftershocks, even years later, whenever I reflected on that day. So it seems to me that since this latter, non-supernatural explanation of "the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit" is an epistemic possibility the believer can't rule out with their evidence, the epistemic force of any such experience is undercut.


Angra Mainyu said...

Hi EA,

Thanks for the reference.

Phenomenologically, what Craig describes does not seem at all like testimony, but in fact like a person would feel if the correct explanation is roughly the hypothesis you describe or - if a an entity with superhuman powers were involved, which of course I reject - if the correct explanation were that some powersful entity is altering his normal thought processes (barring a dedicated cognitive faculty, at least). It's a bit puzzling that he calls that "testimony".

That aside, and with regard to the epistemic merits, I agree with your assessment that the Christian is not justified in ruling out the alternative you suggest.

In addition, specifically I'm inclined to press the point that it doesn't work at all in justifying some key Christian moral beliefs - including beliefs about the moral character of the being allegedly involved in the experience.
For example, let's say that the believer also holds that the being in question is the author of Old Testament Laws and/or that most if not all non-Christians will suffer eternal torment in Hell, as punishment for rejecting him [or for some other reason, in case the believer holds the reason is something else]
Then, even if the experience were to provide some grounds for believing that there is a superhuman being who loves one, and who will refrain from inflicting infinite punishment on one, that would provide no good reason to suspect that the being question is morally perfect, or even morally good.
In particular, the belief that one is loved by that being, even if justified, would not provide justification for the belief that the people stoned or burned to death, etc., according to OT law, actually deserved it, let alone to for the belief that the person who loves one is behaving in a just manner when he inflicts eternal suffering on other people for not believing in his existence, or for believing in the wrong religion, or for rejecting him, etc.

P.S.: The link isn't working (it redirects to this page), though the passage you quoted allowed me to find Craig's post.

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