Friday, November 17, 2006

The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge: A Thumbnail Sketch

[The following is copied from an article hosted here.]

One of the distinctive claims of Van Tilian apologists is that human knowledge presupposes the existence of God; therefore, since we know at least some things, it follows that God must exist. In recent months, while surfing the blogosphere, I have encountered several times the insinuation that Van Tilians invariably forward this claim without any argument. For example, one commenter going by the moniker ‘Yo Mama’ (not to be confused with Yo-Yo Ma, the acclaimed Chinese-American cellist) remarked that she had never come across a presuppositionalist who had offered argumentative support for the claim that knowledge presupposes God. In truth, I suspect this tells us more about Yo Mama’s diet of reading than about the efforts of presuppositionalists to defend their arguments. Reasoned support for the claim can be found in the writings of Cornelius Van Til, John Frame, Greg Bahnsen (see also his lectures and debates, particularly his debate with Edward Tabash), and Michael Butler. Similar arguments have been formulated by Alvin Plantinga, Dallas Willard, and Victor Reppert; and while these Christian philosophers would not consider themselves ‘presuppositionalists’ in the conventional sense, their arguments have often been endorsed as supportive of presuppositionalist claims. (See the bibliography below for references.)

However, rather than merely inviting sceptics like Yo Mama to ‘get out more’, I want to take the opportunity to offer one particular line of argument in support of the claim that theism is a precondition of knowledge. I will first argue that there is no place for knowledge within a naturalistic metaphysic, before considering some prominent non-naturalist alternatives. I conclude that only a theistic metaphysic seems to have the features needed to underwrite the preconditions of human knowledge.

Knowledge and Normativity

Let us begin by analysing the notion of knowledge to elucidate some of its essential features. (I will be focusing exclusively here on propositional knowledge: knowledge that such-and-such is the case.) It is almost universally accepted by contemporary epistemologists that ‘truth’ and ‘belief’ are necessary components of knowledge. I cannot know that p if I do not believe that p (for what sense does it make to say, “I know that p even though I don’t believe that p”?). Moreover, even if I believe that p, I cannot know that p if p is false.

Now, one might pause here and observe that even these two basic features of knowledge—belief and truth—are problematic for metaphysical naturalists. Naturalism, as typically defined, is committed to the thesis that only ‘natural’ entities exist, i.e., entities which can be described (at least in principle) in terms of the methods and inventories of the natural sciences (e.g., physics and chemistry). All phenomena are thus explicable (in principle) in objective scientific terms. This applies even to mental phenomena, which must either be reduced to the physical (i.e., explained in terms of more fundamental physical phenomena) or eliminated (i.e., explained away altogether). But it has been argued that beliefs possess intrinsic features, such as subjectivity and intentionality, which cannot be reduced to the physical or eliminated. Similarly, the concept of truth—understood as a property of certain thoughts or propositions or statements—is not susceptible to analysis in terms of purely natural qualities (such as mass, electromagnetic force, or electrical charge). Thus there seems to be no respectable place for ‘beliefs’ and ‘truths’ in a naturalist ontology. Indeed, the manifest difficulties faced by those who try to carve out a place for them have driven some thoroughgoing naturalists (e.g., Paul and Patricia Churchland) to doubt whether there really are such things after all.

But leave these matters aside for now, because I want to focus on a third essential component of knowledge. I’ve noted that truth and belief are necessary for knowledge, but they are clearly not sufficient for it. It is possible to believe that p, and for p to be true, without actually knowing that p. For example, I might believe that it will be sunny on my birthday in a fortnight’s time, simply because I’m an incurable optimist; but even if that belief later turned out to be true, no one would concede that I knew it would be sunny two weeks in advance.

So a third ingredient is needed for knowledge, an ingredient commonly labelled ‘justification’ or ‘warrant’. (For consistency’s sake, I will hereafter use the term ‘warrant’ to refer to this third ingredient.) Contemporary epistemologists have vigorously debated precisely what constitutes ‘warrant’, but fortunately there is no need to take sides in these debates in order to defend the point I want to make here. For there is a common intuition behind all analyses of warrant to the effect that a true belief must be formed or held in the right way, or in an appropriate way, in order to count as knowledge. A warranted belief cannot be formed or held in just any old fashion. There are right or appropriate ways and there are wrong or inappropriate ways. As an example, suppose I come to believe that it is raining outside; suppose further that it is, in fact, raining outside. If this belief is formed on the basis of perception (e.g., I can see and hear the rain through an open window), then the belief is very likely warranted; but if this belief is formed on the basis of a superstitious conviction that it always rains on the days I forget to bring my umbrella, then the belief will not be warranted. The difference is that in the former case the belief is formed in a fitting or appropriate manner, while in the latter case it is not.

Careful reflection on the concept of knowledge in general, and on paradigm cases of knowledge, make it clear that this notion of ‘epistemic rightness’ or ‘epistemic appropriateness’ is an essential feature of knowledge. But observe that this notion is clearly a normative one: it pertains to how beliefs ought to be formed or held (in order to count as knowledge), rather than how beliefs are formed or held. It is not a descriptive notion, but a prescriptive one. It implies that there are epistemic norms which determine (in part) whether or not one’s belief that p is actually knowledge that p.

That the concept of knowledge has an essentially normative aspect, and thus there are such things as epistemic norms (if there is such a thing as knowledge), is a point widely recognised by contemporary epistemologists. For example, Jaegwon Kim writes:
[Epistemic] justification manifestly is normative. If a belief is justified for us, then it is permissible and reasonable, from the epistemic point of view, for us to hold it, and it would be epistemically irresponsible to hold beliefs that contradict it. . . . Epistemology is a normative discipline as much as, and in the same sense as, normative ethics. (Kim, 1988, p. 383, emphasis original)

Knowledge and Naturalism

The fact that there is such a thing as epistemic normativity has interesting implications. In the first place, it poses a serious problem for metaphysical naturalism, for there is no place within a thoroughgoing naturalism for any irreducible normativity. According to the metaphysical naturalist, all phenomena are ultimately explicable in scientific terms (if explicable at all), but science is a purely descriptive discipline. Science describes rather than prescribes. It tells us how things are, as a matter of empirical fact; it has nothing to tell us about how things ought to be. As Alvin Plantinga has remarked:
[Naturalism’s] Achilles’ heel (in addition to its deplorable falsehood) is that it has no room for normativity. There is no room, within naturalism, for right or wrong, or good or bad. (Plantinga, 1998, p. 356, emphasis original)

So naturalism, as a metaphysical position, cannot accommodate the notion of right or wrong ways to form or hold beliefs. Consequently, it cannot accommodate the notion of epistemic warrant. In short: if we know anything at all, then naturalism must be false.

(Remarkably, some naturalists have conceded this point—at least, in a fashion. W. V. Quine and his followers in the school of ‘naturalized epistemology’ have argued that the classical [i.e., commonsense] conception of knowledge should be abandoned altogether, and the normative discipline of epistemology dropped in favour of the descriptive discipline of psychology. In short, we ought to think a whole lot less about how we ought to think and a whole lot more about how we do in fact think. If the reader detects a whiff of self-referential absurdity in this radical recommendation, he is not alone.)

In the remainder of this section, I will press home this general point by considering some different kinds of normativity to see whether epistemic normativity can be analysed in terms of some other (presumably more fundamental) kind of normativity. But before doing that, I want to briefly consider one widespread account of epistemic warrant that may be the first port of call for many common-or-garden naturalists.

It is often claimed that what distinguishes knowledge from mere true belief is that in the former case one possesses adequate reasons for thinking the belief in question to be true. Intuitive though this analysis may seem, there are several difficulties with it. First, it falls foul of Gettier-style counterexamples: it isn’t at all difficult to generate hypothetical scenarios in which one has adequate reasons for holding belief B, but it turns out that B is true only by good fortune (i.e., it is true for reasons other than those held by the believer). Second, this account invites an infinite regress. Presumably one’s reasons for B must themselves be warranted if B is to be warranted. That is to say, B cannot be warranted on the basis of reason R unless one is also warranted in believing R to be true. But if epistemic warrant simply consists in having adequate reasons for beliefs, then one will only know that p if one has reasons for believing that p, and reasons for those reasons, and reasons for those reasons, and so on. Since possessing an infinite non-circular series of reasons is impossible, none of our beliefs could ever be warranted on this account. This is precisely why most contemporary epistemologists accept that at least some of our beliefs (e.g., perceptual beliefs) must be properly basic: epistemically warranted, but not by virtue of our having reasons for taking them to be true.

So this account of epistemic warrant—an account that takes knowledge to consist in having true beliefs based on good reasons—faces considerable objections. Indeed, as a general analysis of knowledge, it is fatally flawed. But even if were not, it wouldn’t offer the metaphysical naturalist a solution to the problem of accommodating epistemic normativity, because on closer inspection the account simply off-loads the normativity in question to a different concept rather than explaining it (or explaining it away) in purely naturalistic terms. For the concept of ‘having a reason’ is no less freighted with epistemic normativity than the concept of ‘having epistemic warrant’. Consider: if belief X gives one adequate reason for belief B, but belief Y does not, isn’t this just because the relationship between X and B meets certain epistemic norms or standards that the relationship between Y and B fails to meet? How could one account for the epistemic difference between these two belief-pairs without reference to some normative criteria?

Commenting on the project of ‘naturalizing’ epistemology, Kim writes:
The implicit requirement has been that the stated conditions must constitute ‘criteria’ of justified belief, and for this it is necessary that the conditions be stated without the use of epistemic terms. Thus, formulating conditions of justified belief in terms such as ‘adequate evidence’, ‘sufficient ground’, ‘good reason’, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, and so on, would be merely to issue a promissory note redeemable only when these epistemic terms are themselves explained in a way that accords with the requirement. (Kim, 1998, p. 382, emphasis original)

So the idea that the normativity of knowledge can be explicated simply in terms of having reasons for one’s beliefs in no way removes the problem for the naturalist. (Similar considerations can be applied to the idea that epistemic warrant consists in having ‘evidence’ for one’s beliefs.) Let us therefore turn our attention to various ways in which naturalists might account for epistemic normativity in terms of some other species of normativity.

First of all, there is the familiar notion of deontological normativity: the normativity of ethical duty. It is at least plausible to think of epistemic norms as a subset of ethical norms. On this view, I know that p if and only if p is true and I have flouted no relevant ethical obligations in believing that p (e.g., the obligation not to deliberately avoid considering any evidence against p). Unfortunately, even if this analysis were defensible (and it faces numerous difficulties), it would be of no use to naturalists. For as the ethicist Richard Taylor (among others) has argued, the notion of genuine moral obligation only makes sense in a theistic context. Taylor writes:
A duty is something that is owed, something due, and to be obligated is, literally, to be bound. But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as a duty in isolation, that is, something that is owed but owed to no person or persons. (Taylor, 1985, p. 75, emphasis original)
[T]he concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone. (Ibid., p. 84)

The naturalist may be tempted to reply here that we do have genuine obligations to some persons, but those persons are merely human persons; that is, we humans are bound to certain moral obligations because we impose duties on one another (perhaps by way of social contracts and suchlike). This amounts to saying that ethical norms are essentially conventional and contingent on human cultures and societies. But even if this move satisfies the naturalist ethicist, it won’t save the naturalist epistemologist because it would follow (on the view that epistemic norms reduce to ethical norms) that what counts as knowledge is contingent on human opinion. So it would be possible, at least in principle, for there to be a society in which beliefs formed on the basis of reliable perceptual faculties are not warranted while beliefs formed on the basis of wishful thinking are warranted. (Indeed, perhaps with sufficient propagandist efforts we could bring about such a society.) But clearly this can’t be right. Human opinion is subject to epistemic norms, not constitutive of them.

I mentioned in passing that the claim that epistemic norms are merely ethical norms is open to some serious criticism. Nevertheless, it might be argued that epistemic normativity is analogous to ethical normativity: similar in many ways, but not identical. Perhaps it does make sense to think of epistemic warrant in terms of ‘intellectual blamelessness’, but not quite the sort of ethical blamelessness that, when eschewed, invites a slap on the wrist or some other fitting reproof.

However, this analogized deontologism is hardly a lifeline for the naturalist, for if a naturalist ontology has no place for the notions of ethical duty, guilt, blamelessness, etc., then we have every reason to think it has no place for analogues of duty, guilt, blamelessness, etc. It might be countered that compatibility with naturalism is precisely one of the points of difference between ethical duties and epistemic duties. But this would be a patently ad hoc move with no argumentative merit.

Where else might the naturalist turn? Another possibility is teleological normativity: the normativity of purpose and design. Alvin Plantinga and Michael Bergmann have argued (persuasively, in my judgement) that the kind of normativity involved in epistemic warrant is that of proper function. On this analysis, only beliefs formed by properly functioning cognitive faculties can be warranted. Yet this analysis doesn’t hold much promise for the naturalist either. If some faculty or system has a proper function, then it follows that it was intended or designed to function in certain ways as opposed to other ways; but surely this flies in the face of metaphysical naturalism, one implication of which is that the human brain is not the product of intention or design, but rather the product of unintentional, undirected, unintelligent natural processes (whatever variety of evolutionary naturalist aetiology one favours). So accounting for the normative component of knowledge in teleological terms is not a live option for naturalists.

A naturalist might reply (perhaps with a degree of desperation) that strictly speaking his metaphysic is compatible with the claim that human cognitive faculties are designed, so long as the designer of those faculties is also taken to be a purely natural organism (e.g., an enterprising extra-terrestrial). I readily grant the point. But this response doesn’t resolve the problem of accounting for epistemic normativity within a naturalistic framework; it merely pushes it back one species. The important thing to recognize is that naturalism has no place for an ultimate and irreducible teleology, whether located in our solar system or some far-flung corner of the cosmos. A proper function epistemology can only be accommodated by naturalism if teleological normativity can be reduced to some non-teleological feature of the natural universe. The burden lies with the naturalist to explain how that is possible.

At this point, the naturalist may consider it more productive to approach the problem from behind, as it were, by first asking whether there are any kinds of normativity that can be accommodated by naturalism and then asking how epistemic norms might be accounted for in those terms. For example, it might be thought that natural laws are normative in a certain sense. After all, locutions such as “The ball ought to fall to the ground when I release it” appear to be perfectly intelligible. Here, however, appearances are deceiving. For the ‘ought’ in such cases is merely a manner of speaking; specifically, a manner of speaking about expectations (“The ball is expected to fall to the ground when I release it”). And expectations, understood as probabilistic predictions based on generalizations from past observations, can be explicated in purely descriptive terms without any hint of normativity.

So the ‘normativity’ of natural law is a mere pseudo-normativity and is therefore unsuitable as a framework for explaining the normativity of knowledge. Indeed, this can be seen quite clearly by reflecting on what it would mean to reduce epistemic norms to natural laws. Since naturalism is committed to the claim that all human thinking operates in purely naturalistic terms and thus strictly in accordance with natural laws, it would follow that all human thinking necessarily operates in accordance with epistemic norms. But as anyone who has watched so-called ‘reality television’ will appreciate, this is plainly false. Indeed, on such an analysis it would be impossible to have any unwarranted beliefs.

Another tempting option for the naturalist might be to appeal to statistical norms, that is, norms based on the probabilistic characteristics of naturalistic processes. The obvious route here would be to adopt some form of epistemic reliabilism, according to which a belief is warranted if and only if it has been produced by a cognitive process or faculty that gives rise to predominantly true beliefs. On this analysis, beliefs formed via sense perception would be warranted, while beliefs formed via wishful thinking would not (given that the former is a reliable source of beliefs and the latter is not).

Unfortunately, merely adopting a form of epistemic reliabilism will not alleviate the difficulty of accounting for knowledge within a naturalistic metaphysical framework. In the first place, the naturalist needs to explicate the crucial notion of cognitive reliability in purely naturalistic terms, which in turn requires naturalistic accounts of ‘belief’ and ‘truth’. (How does one explicate the notion of a ‘belief’ being ‘true’ in terms of nothing other than the entities and properties studied by physicists and chemists?)

But problems of naturalistic reductionism aside, reliabilism as such is inadequate as a theory of warrant. For it is easy to generate counterexamples which show that cognitive reliability, while perhaps necessary for warrant, is by no means sufficient. Here is one simple example. Imagine a person—let’s call him Sam—who is unwittingly exposed to a high dose of cosmic rays which dramatically alters the structure of his brain. As a result, on random occasions Sam spontaneously forms the strong impression that certain very large numbers are prime numbers. Furthermore, nine out of ten times these impressions turn out to be true. Sam knows nothing regarding the origin of his beliefs about these numbers, nor does he have any means of verifying them. Nevertheless, the process by which these beliefs are formed is a very reliable one; it gives rise to predominantly true beliefs. It should be obvious, however, that these beliefs are not in the least bit warranted for Sam. He doesn’t genuinely know that the numbers in question are primes.

Alvin Plantinga provides another counterexample to epistemic reliabilism: ‘The Case of the Epistemically Serendipitous Lesion’. Plantinga invites us to imagine a man who develops a rare brain lesion that instigates a number of cognitive processes, most of which produce predominantly false beliefs. However, by sheer dumb luck, one of these cognitive processes results in this man forming the belief that he has a brain lesion. Moreover, we can stipulate this particular cognitive process produces no other beliefs (whether true or false). So the man’s belief that he has a brain lesion arises from a cognitive process that is statistically reliable—indeed, it is 100% reliable. Moreover, there is a relevant causal connection between the belief and the belief’s object: the belief about the brain lesion is actually caused by the lesion. So the causal requirement imposed by some more sophisticated versions of reliabilism is also satisfied. Yet despite these reliabilist conditions being met, it should be clear that the man’s belief is not epistemically warranted; even though the belief is true, the man does not really know that he has a brain lesion.

The clear implication of such counterexamples is that epistemic warrant requires some ingredient in addition to reliability. What is needed here is a further condition or constraint that rules out cases where a belief has been formed by a process or faculty that is only reliable by mere accident. The obvious remedy is to impose a teleological condition: the reliability must be intentional or purposeful. But as we have already noted, a genuine teleological normativity (with respect to human cognition) cannot be countenanced by a thoroughgoing metaphysical naturalism.

A slightly different approach to remedying the shortcomings of epistemic reliabilism simpliciter is offered by virtue epistemology. According to virtue epistemologists, for a belief to be warranted it must not only have been formed by a reliable cognitive process or faculty, but also by the exercise of an intellectual virtue. The notion of intellectual virtues has been defined in various ways by different virtue epistemologists, but one common understanding is that such virtues may be thought of as good intellectual character traits. Examples of such traits would include honesty, reflectiveness, fair-mindedness, thoroughness, and curiosity.

Does virtue epistemology lend itself to a naturalistic account of knowledge? On the face of it, it is difficult to see how metaphysical naturalism can accommodate the existence of normative objective virtues (including intellectual virtues); that is, virtues which do not originate in mere human opinion. Why would one configuration of atoms be more virtuous than another configuration merely on account of its physical properties and relations? But in any case, if one considers how the notion of intellectual virtues needs to be spelled out in order to provide an adequate theory of warrant, we find the naturalist faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, if intellectual virtues reduce merely to cognitive dispositions or processes which typically result in the formation of true beliefs, regardless of the subjective motivations of the believers, then a virtue theory of warrant offers no advance over reliabilism, because it falls foul of the sort of counterexamples raised by Plantinga and others. On the other hand, if the exercise of an intellectual virtue necessarily involves some commendable intention on the part of the believer—say, an intention to attain some worthy epistemic goal, such as the acquisition of truth and the avoidance of falsehood—then we seem compelled again to introduce some teleological dimension to knowledge (e.g., the notion of good epistemic ends). Yet if epistemic relativism is to be avoided then the relevant epistemic telos (whatever it turns out to be) must be objective and not dependent on human feelings or opinions. In other words, it cannot be a telos of our own choosing. But as I noted earlier, the idea of objective teleological normativity should be anathema for any self-respecting naturalist.

If the naturalist wishes to defend some variant of a reliabilist theory of warrant, he will have to address those counterexamples which clearly show that cognitive reliability alone is insufficient for warrant. The most promising approaches to addressing the shortcomings of reliabilism simpliciter are to supplement it with further conditions expressed in terms of cognitive proper function or intellectual virtues. But in order to be successful these supplements must appeal to kinds of normativity that are off-limits for metaphysical naturalism.

To summarise the argument thus far: Any adequate analysis of knowledge must involve some notion of objective epistemic normativity, but metaphysical naturalism has no place for objective norms, that is, norms not dependent on human consciousness. If epistemic normativity can be explained in terms of some other species of normativity, the two most promising candidates are deontological normativity (i.e., norms of duty) and teleological normativity (i.e., norms of purpose or function). Neither of these, however, is welcome in a purely naturalistic universe.

Knowledge and Theism

I have argued that knowledge presupposes the falsity of metaphysical naturalism; therefore, knowledge presupposes the truth of metaphysical supernaturalism (in the broad sense). But this alone does not secure the conclusion that knowledge presupposes theism, for there are other non-naturalist ontologies to consider. In this section, therefore, I will briefly review some major alternatives to theism and assess how each might fare in accounting for epistemic normativity.

As I noted above, only two of the various analyses of epistemic warrant considered earlier would appear to be live options (given the stated shortcomings of the other accounts): deontological epistemology (which would include quasi-deontological notions of epistemic norms) and teleological epistemology. According to these two approaches, epistemic normativity is cashed out either in terms of intellectual duty (or something in that conceptual neighbourhood) or in terms of proper cognitive function (or proper cognitive ends).

It isn’t difficult to see that both of these analyses sit quite comfortably within a theistic framework. God’s character and commands are normative for us by virtue of the fact that we are his creatures and created to reflect the divine image. As Richard Taylor notes, it is natural to think that if there is a God then we are bound to him in an ethical sense: we have obligations toward him (including intellectual obligations). Similarly, certain human epistemic practices are virtuous because they accord with those goals and characteristics valued by God—truth-directedness, consistency, impartiality, prudence, etc.—and his general intentions for human existence. And the notion of cognitive proper function makes perfect sense on the view that humans (including our noetic faculties) have been created by God (whatever view one takes of the process of creation).

But what about the alternatives? Consider first whether a modern-day non-theistic Platonism could underwrite either of these analyses. On this view, epistemic normativity would be grounded in something like non-spatiotemporal abstract ideals (and thus not explicable in purely scientific terms). However, it is difficult to see how mere impersonal abstracta could give rise to epistemic duties or could account for cognitive design, because such notions only make sense in terms of personal relationships. (How could we have obligations of any kind toward non-persons? How could our cognitive faculties have been designed by non-persons?) One of the pressing difficulties here for the Platonist is that of bringing the immanent realm of particulars (which includes us) into meaningful contact with the transcendent realm of universals (which would presumably include the ideals that ground epistemic normativity). Why should transcendent impersonal abstract entities be so much as relevant to the activities of immanent personal concrete entities (such as we are)? After all, even Plato had to appeal to the activity of the Demiurge to account for the relevance of the Forms to the sensible world! But clearly such appeals are bound to move us in a theistic direction.

Another popular alternative to theism (at least in terms of worldwide adherents) is monistic pantheism: the view that all is God and all is One. On this view, all ultimate metaphysical distinctions are illusory. Reality is, at bottom, one undifferentiated entity. It ought to be obvious that such a metaphysic cannot support any cogent analysis of epistemic warrant, let alone the two delineated earlier, since all such accounts presuppose a real distinction between warranted beliefs and unwarranted beliefs. Likewise, paradigm cases of human knowledge take for granted a genuine distinction between the subject of belief and the object of belief. But even if one dispenses with monism, it seems to me that pantheism will still face problems insofar as it fails to uphold a clear distinction between the norm and the normed. For if everything is divine then surely it follows that everything is normative—or, at the very least, everything is normal. What place, then, for ignorance or irrationality? The moment one divides the universe into the normative and that which is subject to the normative, the essence of pantheism has been abandoned.

A third alternative to consider would be panentheism, sometimes known as ‘process theism’. According to panentheists, God contains the universe but is not identical with it (i.e., the universe is a proper part of God). The panentheist conception of God is often analogized to the dualist conception of human nature: the universe is thought of as God’s ‘body’, while his transcendent immaterial aspect is thought of as God’s ‘mind’ or ‘soul’. And one of the crucial tenets of panentheism is that neither aspect of the duality is absolute or independent of the other: they are mutually dependent and the interaction between them accounts for God’s temporal progression from potentiality to actuality.

How then would one account for objective epistemic normativity within a panentheistic scheme? In some strains of panentheism, God is not thought to be a personal being, in which case (to recycle my earlier point) it is very hard to see how objective epistemic duties would apply to us or how the notions of purpose and design would pertain to our cognitive faculties. But even among those process theists who hold that God is a person, there is a reluctance to ground moral obligations in the character or will of God. Equally unwelcome is the notion that our cognitive faculties are the product of divine design. (I know of no process theist who does not affirm some version of the neo-Darwinian account of human origins; indeed, one of the attractions of panentheism is that it purports to reconcile an unthreatening supernaturalism with the methodological naturalism of modern scientific orthodoxy.) So even if the panentheist’s God is a personal being after all, this personal being is not the source or ground of objective epistemic norms for human thought (whether construed deontologically or teleologically). But then what would account for the existence of these norms? What is perhaps the most tempting route—an appeal to transcendent abstract ideals—offers no advance on the non-theistic Platonism considered above.

In any case, I believe a more general problem for panentheism can be raised. For reasons similar to those rehearsed earlier in discussing metaphysical naturalism, epistemic norms within a panentheistic scheme would need to be grounded in the transcendent aspect of God rather than the immanent aspect—in the ‘mind’ of God, as it were, as opposed to the ‘body’. Cognitive agents within the universe (such as human beings) are subject to epistemic norms. And norms necessarily transcend that which is subject to those norms. Thus, in the epistemic arena, the transcendent aspect of the panentheist's God would (in some respect) serve as the norm while the immanent aspect would serve as the normed. But wouldn’t this introduce a fundamental asymmetry of privilege into the panentheist’s metaphysic? Surely any norm enjoys a certain priority or superiority over that which is subject to the norm. One serves as the ideal; the other is judged with respect that ideal (and may well fall short of it). But if God’s transcendent aspect is privileged in this way over God’s immanent aspect, would it not be better to reserve the title ‘God’ for the transcendent aspect alone? All this is just to say that once this fundamental asymmetry with respect to normativity has been conceded, the resultant scheme would be better characterised as a form of theism than a form of panentheism.

Some general conclusions can be drawn from all this. It appears that any worldview whose ontology can underwrite a viable account of epistemic warrant must exhibit the following features: (1) it must be non-naturalist (i.e., it must make room for real objective normativity); (2) it must posit a fundamental ontological distinction between that which grounds or originates epistemic norms and that which is subject to epistemic norms; and (3) it must posit a ground of epistemic normativity that is personal (i.e., exhibiting features such as intellect and volition). In short, we are looking for a worldview with an ontology that includes a supernatural personal being whose character or intentions give rise to norms for human thought; that is, a broadly theistic worldview.

In conclusion, then, we have solid reasons for believing that if human knowledge is possible then there must be a God. Knowledge presupposes the existence of objective epistemic normativity, which in turn presupposes an ontology that can account for the existence of such normativity. Naturalism, as many of its contemporary advocates now acknowledge, has no place for objective epistemic normativity. And non-theistic non-naturalisms fall short on other grounds: by trying to ground epistemic normativity in the non-personal, or by failing to distinguish the normative from the normed, or by leaving unexplained the connection between the normative and the normed. Only theistic worldviews have the metaphysical resources to underwrite the most defensible analyses of epistemic warrant. In four words: if knowledge, then God.

Selected Bibliography
  • James Anderson, ‘If Knowledge, Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til’, Calvin Theological Journal 40:1 (2005), 49-75.

  • Robert Audi, Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2003).

  • Jason Baehr, ‘Virtue Epistemology’, in James Fieser & Bradley Dowden (eds), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2006).

  • Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1998).

  • Michael Bergmann, Justification without Awareness: A Defense of Epistemic Externalism (Oxford University Press, 2006).

  • John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1995).

  • John Greco, ‘Virtue Epistemology’, in Edward Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2004).

  • Jaegwon Kim, ‘What is “Naturalized Epistemology?”’, in James E. Tomberlin (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives 2 (Ridgeview Publishing Co., 1988), 381-405.

  • Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate (Oxford University Press, 1993).

  • Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, 1993).

  • Alvin Plantinga, ‘Afterword’, in James F. Sennett (ed.), The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (Eerdmans, 1998).

  • Alvin Plantinga, ‘Two Dozen (or So) Theistic Arguments’ (unpublished lecture notes).

  • Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea (InterVarsity Press, 2003).

  • Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Prentice Hall, 1985).

  • Dallas Willard, ‘Knowledge and Naturalism’, in J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig (eds), Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (Routledge, 2000).

21 comments:

  1. Excellent!!!

    This is exactly what I've been looking for. I know you think this kind of explanation is readily available to people, but I strongly disagree. You don't find most people who call themselves presuppositionalists arguing like this (at least, not on the internet where they are encountered the most--most people (like me) don't have the time or interest to take this up ourselves).

    This is unfortunate for presuppositionalism, because the argument you present here is very respectable. I have to admit, that I seriously had my doubts.

    Here is the difference I see between what you provided above and what many of the so-called internet presuppositionalists present as presuppositionalism:

    Your argument is clearly stated and it stands or falls on its own. It does not require an opponent.

    Internet presuppositionalists, however, rarely (if ever) clearly state their argument and support it. Instead, they "engage" an opponent by asking difficult questions about epistemology without explaining how those questions are relevant to their (unstated) argument. I think this is just bad form.

    The argument you provide would make for an interesting debate, whereas, the method of the internet presuppositionalists accomplishes nothing (at least, for me).

    My main problem with internet presuppositionalists is their questions without argumentation. Most of the time, they simply say, "How do you account for laws of logic?" or "How do you account for moral law?" I always wonder, what the point of these questions is. What does MY knowledge (or lack thereof) about these subjects matter in the question of whether or not a God exists?

    Your argument stands without the need for these questions.

    I hope your post gets spread around the internet. I think it would raise the quality of the debate about the existence of God.

    I think questions like "Yo-Mama's" (and my own) were justified by the presentation of presuppositionalism prevalent in popular mediums (e.g. the internet). It is certainly the case that internet presuppositionalists rarely give any kind of justification for their arguments (and most of the time, they don't even state them).

    Anyway, I think I'll have more to say directly about your post later, but I do appreciate the clear presentation of your argument. For me, at least, it makes presuppositionalism more credible.

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  2. Interlocutor stated It is certainly the case that internet presuppositionalists rarely give any kind of justification for their arguments.

    But don't make the leap that if justification is not given, they don't have it. Of course I don't know who the they are you're talking about.

    Also, it would be good to keep in mind that in most discussions on religion, the religious person is on the defensive.

    Presuppositionalist desire to put the shoe on the other(s) foot - and ask them for justification (more could be said on this).

    When presuppositionalists do this, I would say the atheist is in the same boat you seem to attribute to the presuppositionalist.

    James, I've posted a link to the article on my site, so it will no doubt make it around the world! :)

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  3. I think a problem with presuppositionalism is the lack of (as far as I can tell) real world examples. Other than the Bahnsen-Stein debate and the mini-debate between Frame and Martin, I can't think of any live debates between presuppositionalists and atheists that gives a good idea of what the objections are and what the responses are.

    The Bahnsen-Stein debate is even a bit iffy, since Stein was caught off guard.

    And that's one of the things that makes this article good, is that Mr. Anderson is interacting with an imaginary opponent to some degree, anticipating objections and providing a response for them.

    However, one thing that I'm not sure about is that if epistemic warrant is normative, doesn't that imply that it is also conventional? It seems to point the idea that epistemic warrant has to satisfy a pre-existing norm. But who's norm does it have to suit?

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  4. Mathetes stated I think a problem with presuppositionalism is the lack of (as far as I can tell) real world examples. Other than the Bahnsen-Stein debate and the mini-debate between Frame and Martin, I can't think of any live debates between presuppositionalists and atheists that gives a good idea of what the objections are and what the responses are.

    You are somewhat accurate in your first statement. On the other hand there is pleny of material out there. Also, don't forget the Manata debates, Butler Debates, Wilson debates (all audio). There are also articles such as Jeremy and I: An apologetic dialog. Check here for a lot more material.

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  5. Interlocutor,

    Let's be fair:

    a) Sometimes they ask questions because if the guy cannot make sense of, explain, jutsify, give an account, whatever, ... then he's not on as good of footing as he thought. If logic isn't real/doesn'texist/whatever, then what business does he have talking about "contradictions" in the bible? You can't "violate" a non-existing law.

    And then if they don't respond to the question, like you intimated you do, then what? Whose fault is that?

    b) In my post on supervenience I tried to give actual arguments against the supervenient theory. Arguments which stand or fall on their own.

    Indeed, since I had James' paper before it was put online, I even used the argument from normativity. But you didn't respond.

    So, I think it's a bit disingenuous to claim what you're claiming.

    c) The same thing could be said of atheists. Online atheists. You'll notice I don't spend much of my time complaining that online atheists haven't prodiced arguments fro atheism. I go an buy the books.


    Mathetes,

    James discussed the "conventional" answer while speaking about the grounding of norms in other human persons (so as to fulfill the "obligation" or "duty" to other persons argument) vis a vis a "social contract." He concluded that this would be unacceptable.

    What pre-existing norm? Who grounds the norm? That was the title of James' paper, i.e., The Theistic Pre-Conditions for Knowledge.

    James took a proper-functioning account of epistemic norms, which was a teleological normativity, and "proper-functionality," as he argued, fits in the theistic worldview, not a naturalistic one.

    But he also took a deontological one. But this was grounded in the universal, invarient, non-arbitrary person of God.

    And so the norms are grounded in a theistic worldview.

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  6. Thanks Jeff, that's a lot of helpful material. I didn't see the Manata/Butler/Wilson debates you referred to though...any idea where I could track those down?

    Thanks again.

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  7. Excellent article! I think!

    Since embracing presuppositional apologetics less than 2 years ago, it has been my quest to 'dumb it down,' to a level where I, and the general public can understand it.

    My first attempt is www.proofthatgodexists.org

    It is my hope and prayer that there is someone out there who has a sound knowledge of the apologetic, and has a similar desire to 'dumb it down.' A good first attempt might be to translate this article into English.

    Maybe if I download 'firefox' and install the 'dumbmonkey fix' that would help :-)

    If anyone is interested in helping me in the task of bringing presuppositional apologetics to the less egg-heady masses, please contact me through the site. Even a critique of the site, or critique of my future works would be of great benefit.

    Blessings,

    Sye

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  8. Here is Wilson's debate with Barker, and here is the Butler debate with Barker. Butler also debate Krueger, but I'm not sure where to get that debate. Krueger will also be The Narrow Mind next week.

    I'm not sure where you can get Paul's debate except to ask him

    You are right, that presuppositionalist need to do more, so don't take me wrong. Books from the evidential side come out in droves each year. There is usually not one book that comes out from the presuppositional side of the fence.

    I believe this is starting to change, and this trend (I hope) will continue.

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  9. Paul's debate is available here.

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  10. Thanks Daniel, I have now link that on my audio page.

    Also, here is the Manata-Sansone debate, which was already linked on the above page. I can't keep up with these things! :)

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  11. INTERLOCUTOR SAID:

    Internet presuppositionalists, however, rarely (if ever) clearly state their argument and support it. Instead, they "engage" an opponent by asking difficult questions about epistemology without explaining how those questions are relevant to their (unstated) argument. I think this is just bad form.

    My main problem with internet presuppositionalists is their questions without argumentation. Most of the time, they simply say, "How do you account for laws of logic?" or "How do you account for moral law?" I always wonder, what the point of these questions is. What does MY knowledge (or lack thereof) about these subjects matter in the question of whether or not a God exists?

    ************

    In one of my answers to the interlocutor, I posted some extensive excerpts from Greg Welty and Alexander Pruss in defense of theistic modal metaphysics.

    And the quotes I supplied only scratched the surface of the overall argument.

    To my knowledge, the interlocutor never responded to this material.So the interlocutor’s complaint is pretty dated.

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  12. Sye,

    "If anyone is interested in helping me in the task of bringing presuppositional apologetics to the less egg-heady masses, please contact me through the site."

    I don't know if you have it, but a "dumbed-down" presuppositionalist book by Joe Boot called "Why I Still Believe" came out a few months ago.

    I have the same problem you do. Most presuppositionalist works were written by philosophy professors in heavy philosophical language. Very difficult to understand.

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  13. Sye and Saint and Sinner,

    Do you guys have The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith. K. Scott Oliphint (P&R, 2003; ISBN#: 0-8755-2561-X), or Always Ready. Greg Bahnsen. Both of these book are very good starters. Also...Faith, Facts, and False Worldviews is a set of lecture by Bahnsen, given to high school students.

    Also, the Butler series title "Evangelism and Apologetics Conference" linked on my apologetic audio pages is pretty easy.

    I have always been of the opinion that presupp. is easier to practice than to teach (or at least get across). On the other hand, once you understand it, you exclaim - Wow, that is it!

    Lord bless.

    Sye, I'll be working on putting a conference together on the theme of presuppositional apologetics.

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  14. The essential question of your post is, "What warrants true belief?"

    You go through a laundry-list of possible answers and point out the problems of each view (problems, by the way, that are described in any introductory epistemology class--I mean to say that these aren't theistic objections, but rather philosophical objections made in the course of philsophical investigations having nothing to do with theism). [I ask for the "principle of charity" in that statement. It sounds as if I'm saying, "Big deal, you pointed out problems everyone already knows!" but that isn't quite the spirit I intend.]

    The novelty of your post, then, isn't in your objections to the possible answers to the question, "What warrants true belief?" but rather your own answers to this question.

    Here, though, we do not have as much to go on. I found myself asking, "According to James, how are true beliefs warranted? He's restated the objections to each of the other solutions to warranted belief, but what is his answer?"

    You suggest that there are only two plausible ways a belief can be warranted: (a) by deontological normativity, or (b) by teleological normativity. You say that the existence of a God can explain either.

    First, you state how God can explain deontological normativity:

    God’s character and commands are normative for us by virtue of the fact that we are his creatures and created to reflect the divine image. As Richard Taylor notes, it is natural to think that if there is a God then we are bound to him in an ethical sense: we have obligations toward him (including intellectual obligations). Similarly, certain human epistemic practices are virtuous because they accord with those goals and characteristics valued by God—truth-directedness, consistency, impartiality, prudence, etc.—and his general intentions for human existence.

    What does this mean?

    Let's say that Steve Hays knows that he has contributed more than two posts to this blog. Presumably, this means that (a) he believes this, (b) this is true, and (c) his true belief is warranted.

    According to your view, Steve's true belief is warranted because his "epistemic practices are virtuous because they accord with those goals and characteristics valued by God . . . and his general intentions for human existence."

    In other words, a "warranted" true belief is a "virtuous" true belief and a true belief is "virtuous" because it accords with goals, characteristics, and intentions of God.

    Is this fair?

    Next, you state how God can explain teleological normativity:

    And the notion of cognitive proper function makes perfect sense on the view that humans (including our noetic faculties) have been created by God (whatever view one takes of the process of creation).

    So, on this account, Steve's knowledge that he has contributed more than two posts on this blog is justifed because his cognitive facilities are "properly functioning" and to be properly functioning means that they are doing what God created them to do.

    Am I on the right track?

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  15. Steve,

    I didn't count you among the "internet apologists" that I complained about. Recently, in a comment here, I credited you with presenting one of the clearest definitions of presuppositionalism I had seen.

    Paul,

    Maybe I wasn't placing your post within the context of an entire argument and because of this, didn't think it as complete as this one.

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  16. Oh the comedy of these long, pseudo intelelctual articles. LOL.

    Here are som gems:

    So it would be possible, at least in principle, for there to be a society in which beliefs formed on the basis of reliable perceptual faculties are not warranted while beliefs formed on the basis of wishful thinking are warranted. (Indeed, perhaps with sufficient propagandist efforts we could bring about such a society.)

    Sounds just like... christianity! LOL!

    I mean, listen to guys like Gene Cook. "Does evidence contradict teh Bible? Throw out the evidence!"

    Isn't that exactly what is said above?

    Then this gem:


    A naturalist might reply (perhaps with a degree of desperation) that strictly speaking his metaphysic is compatible with the claim that human cognitive faculties are designed, so long as the designer of those faculties is also taken to be a purely natural organism (e.g., an enterprising extra-terrestrial). I readily grant the point. But this response doesn’t resolve the problem of accounting for epistemic normativity within a naturalistic framework; it merely pushes it back one species.


    ...just like adding "God" merely pushes it back one species. That the "species" is supercailfragalisticexpialadocious doesn't really change much.

    Man, what eloquent drivel this is.

    /Z

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  17. I can see that this post has the potential to generate a lot of comments, which is good. But I should say at the outset that I don't have much time to spare (or enthusiasm, to be honest) for online interactions, particularly in blog comboxes. So I probably won't reply to many comments here. However, I will take note of the critical comments and try to address the more cogent ones when I get around to revising the article. I'll post a note here once I've done that.

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  18. Master Zap:

    The question of a designer doesn't arise for a necessarily existing, metaphysically simple, immaterial being (such as God is, on the classical view) in the way that it arises for contingently existing, metaphysically complex, material beings to which cognitive proper function is ascribed (e.g., humans and Alpha Centaurians). Your assumption that it does amounts to a category error. This is precisely why God can function as a suitable explanatory terminus in a way that ETs cannot. (Incidentally, this is also why Richard Dawkins' hang-everything-on-this argument in The God Delusion falls flat, as even non-theist philosophers have observed.)

    If you mean to use the label 'supercalifragalisticexpialadocious' to designate a unique, necessarily existing, metaphysically simple, transcendent personal being then you're absolutely right to think that supercalifragalisticexpialadocious will do the job just fine. But I and other theists, in keeping with linguistic convention, prefer to use the label 'God' instead. ;)

    BTW, I'm gratified that you at least found my drivel to be eloquent drivel.

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  19. Presumably, Master Zap's contention that this is all "pseudo-intellectual", but eloquent, drivel is why he sees no need for spell-checking.

    Which is not to say that I spell perfectly or exercise even vaguely decent grammar... merely that I would get something basic like spelling right before I go and criticize someone else's argument as "pseudo-intellectual."

    What, incidentally, would be "actually intellectual"?

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  20. Interlocutor:

    Thanks for the compliment and the follow-up questions.

    I deliberately didn't set out a full-blown theory of warrant in the article, because it wasn't necessary for the argument. The form of my argument is simply: X is an essential component of knowledge, but there is no place for X within a thoroughgoing metaphysical naturalism, and X comports far better with a theistic metaphysic than any other non-naturalistic metaphysic. I'm only focusing on one necessary condition for knowledge, so there's no need to try to spell out all the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge.

    However, since you asked, I favour a proper function account of warrant (as explicated and defended by Alvin Plantinga, Michael Bergmann, Michael Sudduth, among others). On this view, epistemic normativity is a form of teleological normativity. I'm inclined to think that there are some deontological constraints on some kinds of knowledge, but I don't think that epistemic normativity is deontological at its core. In any event, my theistic argument isn't committed one way or the other on the issue.

    As for your questions about how a deontological account and a teleological account cash out in terms of a concrete example...

    A deontological account would look something like this: Steve knows that he has posted more than twice because (i) he believes it, (ii) his belief is true, and (iii) he has not flouted any relevant intellectual obligations in holding this belief (e.g., the obligation to avoid incompatible beliefs, the obligation to believe what appears to be the case unless one has good reason not to, the obligation to believe what one recognizes to be a logical consequence of one's other beliefs, and so forth).

    It's common for deontological accounts to add a further defeasibility condition in an attempt to circumvent Gettier-style counterexamples.

    A teleological account would look something like this: Steve knows that he has posted more than twice because (i) he believes it, (ii) his belief is true, (iii) his belief is the product of cognitive faculties which are functioning properly in a conducive cognitive environment, and (iv) those cognitive faculties are well-aimed at truth (i.e., they function according to good design plan aimed at the production of true beliefs).

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  21. Thanks for the follow up James.

    Like you, I don't have a lot of time to put into this right now and I find that unfortunate because I think your presentation of the argument is very clear and helpful.

    Two things stuck out to me as I read your post.

    The first is how you broke these views into worldviews. Necessarily, I am around academic philosophers a lot (I'm kind of a private person, so I won't say much more than that). I find that most run-of-the-mill philosophers are very tentative about subscribing to particular systems of thought.

    Of course, everyone has presuppositions, but I don't think many of them would say, "I am a metaphysical naturalist," or "I am a non-theistic metaphysical non-naturalist." Instead, most of them simply describe a problem, discuss possible solutions, and describe the problems with each of the solutions without committing to one over another. They might often say something like, "I lean towards Quine's naturalized epistemology," but I've never heard anyone (in my circles, at least) describe themselves as a committed adherent to a particular "worldview" as such.

    For instance, take the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The volumes of this work describe every view you mention about warrant (even Plantinga's--at least, on the electronic version) AND describe every objection you listed. The authors of the articles never seem to support any one particular theory.

    My experience of philosophical education has been the same. We describe the problem, explore solutions, and criticize those solutions. We never put them into overall systems like the worldviews you describe.

    So, I found that particular component "odd"--not "wrong," but different than I hear most presentations of this kind of information.

    I think this has something to do with the presuppositional method. If you just set it up by saying that theistic metaphysical non-naturalism can answer the problem of warranted true belief, it would seem like just another evidentialist-type argument. I suspect (but don't know) that this is how some of those whom you described in your post would view this argument (e.g. Plantinga, Reppert, etc.).

    Anyway, the first thing I questioned was your separation into "worldviews." I've looked at the problem of warranted true belief several times, but never have said anything like, "Now, as a metaphysical naturalist, what are my options for finding a solution to this problem?" Instead, I've just read possible solutions and the criticisms of that solution.

    So, I wonder, first of all, if it is necessary to think in terms of these broad worldviews. I mean, I know it is necessary if you wish to establish the TAG as your argument, but it felt a little artificial (at least, it didn't represent how I've approached this problem in the past).

    The second idea that stuck out to me in reading your post was your solution to the problem. Here, I wonder if we have found the wall that separates religious believers with those not so inclined.

    Your criticisms of other solutions are certainly justified. They are standard in philosophical literature. And I think you are right that a God would "solve" this particular problem (though it would, perhaps, raise more--e.g. the possibility of an entirely immaterial mind).

    The problem, for me, is that the existence of a God is a big pill to swallow. It's not difficult because I think it is logically impossible or because I wouldn't want to change my life to follow a God, but because it's just (necessarily) very outside of my experience. It feels like an extraordinary leap to accept something so unlike other things I "know" (an interesting word considering your post).

    For instance, let's say that I want desperately to solve the problem of warranted true belief. I come up with a theory that does so. I posit a meta-universe that contains our own. I say that this meta-universe is a steady-state universe in which warranted true belief is not a problem for its intelligent creatures (presumably, they have a theory that avoids any other problems, but does not necessitate the existence of a God).

    Now, inside this universe there is something equivalent to what we would call a "child." This child, Garf, is taking a course called Universe Creation 101. For his final project, he created our universe and us directly. To get an "A" on the project, we have to have knowledge (i.e. warranted true beliefs).

    If this absurd scenario were the case, then I too could offer the same "solutions" to warrant that you did. A true belief could be warranted deontologically by not violating any of our intellectual obligations to Garf. A true belief could be warranted teleologically by being properly functioning--i.e. according to Garf's design that they be well-aimed toward truth.

    I know that these kind of examples really bother theists. No one wants their belief to be compared to Santa Claus or some ridiculous belief in Garf, the universe-creating child.

    The problem is that from my perspective believing in a God is no lesser a leap than believing in Garf or Santa Claus. God is a concept I just can't wrap my mind around. An infinitely large mind with infinite power and infinite goodness (defined in a way very different than what most of us understand as good), all of this is very difficult to "buy."

    So, I follow your argument, and I can appreciate its clarity and straightforwardness. Something, though, is missing. Perhaps, it is like you reformers say, and the "something" that is missing is regeneration, a supernatural act that keeps me from thinking that your "solution" is plausible.

    But whatever the case, your solutions are not very satisfying to someone like me. Sure, they work, but not in a compelling way. Belief in Garf works as well, but is also not compelling.

    I wonder if this is the empass between the religious believer and one not so inclined. Belief in a God can, necessarily, "solve" any problem (infinite power plus infinite wisdom plus infinite freedom equals a ready-made solution for any problem). But it is the seeming improbability of a God in the first place (i.e. for people like me) that makes these solutions a little less than satisfying.

    [Well, I spent too much time on this! I won't be offended if you don't have the time or desire to respond. Thanks for the post, though.]

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