Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mizrahi's New Paper on Skeptheism

Mizrahi, Moti. "Skeptheism: Is Knowledge of God's Existence Possible?", European Journal for Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming).


Angra Mainyu said...


While I'd agree that, after reflection, belief in God's existence isn't justified, I'm not sure about some of Mizrahi's arguments:

With respect to a posteriori arguments, the paper seems to imply that there is no possible empirical observations based on which one should regard God's existence as more or less probable. But God, if he existed, would be morally perfect. That provides some info about his psychology, and so some observations - e.g., all of the suffering in the world - may count against it - and I think they do.

That God is supernatural (by that I mean what Mizrahi means in the paper), unobservable, etc., doesn't seem to preclude that. For example, we have empirical evidence against the existence of, say, an omnipotent, omniscient, supernatural being D who necessarily values the non-existence of predators above all else: our empirical observations that there are predators count against D (even if one consistently hold that D exists and is hiding by giving us false observations, but theory is always underdetermined by observations).

Perhaps, Mizrahi is using the word "God" in a different way, so that we may not make psychological inferences. In that case, it seems more plausible that there is no empirical observation that would help - but it's no problem for an non-theist who argues against a morally perfect, omnipotent omniscient creator.

As for a priori arguments, Mizrahi seems to equate them to conceptual arguments. But that's at least controversial. For example, a priori one can tell that it's immoral for people to torture others for fun. Is that a conceptual truth? Some theories (e.g., analytical descriptivism) imply it is, but that's controversial.

Also, there is the issue of intuitive probabilistic assessments. They are (I think) a priori, but not conceptual. In any case, they seem to be sometimes sufficient for knowledge. For example, someone may posit a logically consistent skeptical hypothesis SH10 that holds that the universe was created 10 minutes ago, we got fake memories, etc., and we were made by an omnipotent being who wants to hide from us, making it look like the universe is old, etc.
There is no conceptual argument against SH10 as far as I can tell, and I don't think that there is an empirical one, either (given how SH10 is constructed, it looks unfalsifiable to me).
However, it seems reasonable to me to assign an extremely low probability to SH10 (don't we know that SH10 is false?).

This isn't to say that some observations or a priori arguments would justify theistic belief: maybe no a priori arguments would help, and a posteriori arguments might at best justify increasing a (human) person's proper probabilistic assignment to the God hypothesis, but remaining very low.

 James A. Gibson said...

Not even slightly persuaded by this paper. But I wanted to point out this snippet which I thought was humorous:

"In terms of unification, the natural (psychotropic drugs or weak magnetic fields) and the
supernatural (God) explanations seem to account for the phenomena of religious
experience equally well."

The sort of religious experiences I am familiar with from the first person perspective being accounted for by weak magnetic fields strikes me as .... weak. My friends who do LSD have told me that when they are sober, they are atheists, and when on LSD they are theists. Of course there's something to the idea that religious experiences can be caused by drugs. Except, you know, when there aren't drugs.

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