Thursday, October 21, 2010

Surrender to error

I see that Ben, over at his surrender to error blog, attempted to comment on my comments a while back. But his very first step is a misstep. He begins by quoting my statement that “You have to begin with tacit knowledge. Due to natural revelation and common grace, God conserves a certain amount of tacit knowledge, which can function as a pretheoretical criterion. And that, in turn, can function in conjunction with formal criteria. In the revelation of Scripture, God confirms our tacit knowledge. God grounds our tacit knowledge. And God reveals other criteria.”

He then opines:

“So, Steve Hays can't be an agnostic, because God has magically granted him knowledge he is unable to impart to anyone else as a starting position? Perhaps he can't transmit this knowledge in fully convincing form as it appears to him, but wouldn't it be nice if he would explain what that knowledge is supposed to be, the extent of it, and when it set in his mind in his life? Then, he could explain to us how he reasonably deals with competing naturalistic explanations for that special knowledge. Perhaps he could do so without asserting his conclusion or special pleading in context of other religious people who have other brands of special God knowledge, or just other people who attain firm intuitive arbitrary convictions about a whole lot of other random things. But that would be asking him to pass an OTTK (an ‘outsider test for tacit knowledge’), wouldn't it? Perhaps his God knowledge says he doesn't have to do that? Well, why in the world should anyone believe, you, Steve!??! Why are you even doing apologetics?!!? Stop blogging and go home and pray for God to do a magic trick in our brains! *sigh*”

This involves such a blatant misreading of what I actually said that you have to wonder how he could achieve such a level of incompetence.

i) Did I define the tacit knowledge as “special knowledge” that can’t be imparted to anyone else? No. I indexed this tacit knowledge to common grace and natural revelation. Perhaps Ben is so ignorant of standard nomenclature that he doesn’t even grasp the meaning of key terms.

ii) There’s nothing esoteric about what I said. You have variants on this noetic model in Calvin, Newman, Polanyi, Basil Mitchell, and Plantinga. Michael Sudduth has also reviewed the history of this noetic model in A Reformed Objection to Natural Theology.

Again, though, perhaps Ben is so ignorant of the relevant literature that he imagines I said something idiosyncratic.

“And suppose one confirms their experience with a less trustworthy newspaper like a tabloid? And the reason we discount the more trustworthy newspaper is because the less trustworthy one validates our experience? The circularity and special pleading set in.”

Of course, that’s hypothetical. Ben would need to furnish concrete examples and supporting arguments to apply that analogy to the case at hand.

“Yet we all have analogous experiences since we dream ourselves. If you are going to make a categorically different claim like, ‘My dreams tell the future’ (or is actually a divine internet link up to the netherworld) there's an epistemic battle to be waged there and the same evidence of merely having that experience isn't good enough.”

That’s a rather odd criticism since it isn’t all that difficult to see how we’d go about confirming or disconfirming an ostensible dream about the future.

“You also have to show that your experience rigorously corresponds to reality or you don't really have that great a reason to believe in it yourself.”

That’s deceptively simple:

i) Since we don’t have access to reality apart from our experience, it’s not as if we can directly compare our experience with reality. At best we can compare a particular experience to other types of experience.

ii) To take Ben’s own example, why would a dream about the future have to “rigorously” correspond to the future? Why couldn’t a dream about the future be allegorical?

“The analogy of dreams is a case in point. Obviously our brains are capable of creating all sorts of experiences that have nothing to do with the rest of reality.”

True, but of course we have to rely on our same brains to compare a dream to reality.

“Why are theists like Hays so trusting?”

To the contrary, Ben is the one who comes across as hopelessly gullible, given his philosophical naïveté.

“Plenty of apostates have had ‘religious experiences’ they don't think they could justify in an epistemically responsible way.”

I don’t deny that apostates can have veridical religious experiences. Since God is the ultimate source of every human experience, there’s a generic sense in which religious experience is unavoidable. Likewise, Lucifer had religious experiences. So did the Pharisees who witnessed the miracles of Christ. The ill-fated Exodus-generation had religious experiences.

The fact that apostates have subsequently defected from the faith is hardly evidence that none of them had veridical religious experiences. People can turn their back on the truth. Happens every day.

“So far, from what I know, his claim to divine tacit Christian knowledge doesn't mean anything to me.”

i) But, of course, I didn’t appeal to “tacit Christian knowledge.” Natural revelation and common grace aren’t uniquely Christian. Just the opposite. How do we account for Ben’s incomprehensible incomprehension?

ii) Moreover, the fact that it doesn’t mean anything to Ben doesn’t mean anything to me. Some people are just unreasonable. Indeed, Ben supplies an object lesson.

“Since he can't do that it seems likely that the rest of TCD will be about showing how Hays' epistemology cannot be demonstrated apart from his tacit Christian knowledge.”

But, of course, I didn’t invoke “tacit Christian knowledge.” Ben stumbled right out of the starting gate, and his misreading has hobbled him as he continues to build on his initial, strategic misreading.

“It makes sense to me that perhaps a god could give Christians a jump start in the direction of the correct worldview…”

No. God jump-starts everyone.

“People in this world do have strong a-rational positive reactions to all sorts of ideas. The brain is capable of manifesting all sorts of anomalous experiences whether there is a spiritual realm or not.”

If that cuts against theism, then it cuts against atheism with equal force.

“To use means that are indistinguishable from that makes it a dirty subjective way to establish credibility in this world.”

We can only access the objective via the subjective. We can’t step outside of our minds and senses to enjoy unmediated knowledge of the external world.

“The epistemic necessity of God acting directly in the mind in terms of getting Christians into the ballpark of correct beliefs…”

He keeps repeating the same initial blunder.

“But if it can't and Christians can be found to disregard a parade of hits to credibility via their subjective experiences…”

Once again, that’s all hypothetical. Where’s the argument?

“Does Hays honestly believe there are no superstitious people in the world even if Christianity is true?”

i) That’s irrelevant to the OTF. Even if most folks were superstitious, that assessment reflects the viewpoint of someone with a different insider perspective. So it doesn’t escape its own reference frame.

ii) And, of course, Loftus applies that tendentious characterization (“superstitious”) to all Christians, and not just a subset of superstitious Christians.

“Perhaps Hays bites the bullet on every superstition and barbarism recorded in the Bible and actively lives them out in his life (or has an amazing excuse for how none of them apply to modern Christians)?”

It’s ironic that Ben makes so much of the OTF even though he’s unable to actually follow the argument. The question at issue is simply one of consistency. Loftus makes no effort to apply his own test consistently. He merely uses that as a ruse to camouflage his prejudice.

“So no matter how much lip service a religious person may pay to technicalities, the ball of subjective probability is already rolling in their minds in favor of their religious convictions.”

Of course, we could turn that around: So no matter how much lip service an irreligious person may pay to technicalities, the ball of subjective probability is already rolling in their minds in favor of their irreligious convictions.

“And rather than taking all the easily verifiable earthly evidence at face value and coming to the best straight forward conclusion (that religious people are merely rationalizing their subjective investment in their particular brand of religion), they grant the things unseen way too much credit.”

A big fat question-begging assertion.

“The thresholds of disconfirmation of each hypothesis are set differently simply because of the inherent psychological affinity for a particular kind of conclusion over another…The OTF is designed to set those standards equally so that we take each story on its own merits rather than demanding mountains of amazingly absolute evidence to disprove the undesired conclusion.”

It’s funny to see how unbelievers like Ben never more clearly betray their unconscious insider bias than when they pose as disinterested outsiders. Needless to say, anyone who presumes to take the OTF will plug his own “inherent psychological affinities” into the test, thereby skewing the test results.

“Unfortunately, being objective like this basically means Christians would have to emotionally divorce their cosmic spiritual husband to even be able to properly contemplate such an idea.”

I think of God as my heavenly father, not my husband. But perhaps Ben is subconsciously revealing something about his own orientation.

“Some can think hypothetically, but others probably just can't do it any justice. That's being a traitor right? An infidel!”

Actually, it’s quite possible to betray someone who merits your loyalty. That’s nothing to mock.

“If you are standing in a room full of spiritual brides of different gods…”

Maybe Ben is a cross-dresser, but speaking for myself, I really can’t imagine myself in bridal attire. If Ben is alluding to the bridal metaphor in Scripture, that’s a corporate metaphor for the church at large, and not a self-image of Christian men.

“And everyone claiming various flavors of ‘god(s) perceptions,’ ‘tacit knowledge,’ and ‘self-authenticating inner spiritual witnesses’ with all the psychological bias that implies, that's not reasonable at all.”

i) Unless Ben denies the possibility of tacit knowledge or self-authenticating mental states, why should we automatically discount that appeal?

ii) Likewise, Ben’s dismissive attitude makes no more sense than saying that if some men misremember, then I should distrust my own memories.

“This just begs the question of whether or not it really is true that a ‘self-authenticating’ inner feeling associated with a religion actually has been instigated by a supernatural agent.”

And it begs the question to automatically discount all such appeals.

Ben and Loftus are both looking for intellectual shortcuts to evade inconvenient lines of evidence.

“Agnosticism easily passes the outsider test thus negating Hays' first ground.”

Agnosticism hardly represents a neutral frame of reference. If God exists, then everything is ultimately dependent on God’s existence. If God does not exist, then nothing is dependent on God’s existence. You can’t bracket a proposition with global implications and leave everything else intact.

“If a Christian ‘really knows’ Christianity is true, then it should be no trouble to step out of belief hypothetically and simply argue your way back into it.”

Step outside of the truth, then measure the truth by the yardstick of falsehood. Yes, that sounds really promising.

“Presumably you have to do this as a Christian for professed agnostics anyway. You have to make a convincing case that leads someone from ignorance to intellectual conviction that your Christian worldview corresponds to reality.”

I don’t require the agnostic to step outside of the truth. Rather, he needs to open his eyes to the truth that’s all around him. An agnostic is already in the truth–he simply shuts his eyes to the truth.

“Is Hays willing to ask the question whether a Christian should take their self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit as a given or not?”

By definition, a self-authenticating experience is a given.

“We do ask for humility given the landscape of conflicting and failed rationality, and we do ask for people to argue from agnosticism square one and justify all of their assumptions consistently in ways that cannot be defensively applied to any unverifiable assertion.”

Agnosticism is hardly “square one.” Rather, it occupies the far end of the spectrum, on the other side. Again, it’s funny to see how oblivious Ben and Loftus are to their own insider perspective.

“The ‘hidden assumption’ isn't so hidden since if we took the OTF at face value, it would be gullibility to simply pronounce your culture's inherited religion as the absolute truth.”

This assumes that one simply inherits his faith.

“Is it okay to be skeptical about the far reaching claims of religion in context of all the other cultural lab experiments that have generated contrary claims?”

That’s too vague to merit of a response.

“Pick a belief. Let's talk about it, Steve. What ordinary beliefs do we not have in common that would impact the OTF?”

Take the way in which atheism undermines epistemic duties.

“So Hays is really going to argue for the ‘We can't be too sure that most people have carefully thought through their inherited worldview’ thesis?”

It would be irresponsible to indulge in sweeping statements one way or the others. Moreover, people don’t have to have a consciously articulated worldview to have a reliable worldview. Back to tacit knowledge. The problem is the way in which unbelievers suppress tacit knowledge.

“Loftus does actually assume the falsity of atheism (‘strong atheism’ or a positive case against the existence of God) from the outset of an OTF investigation, because he continually says the default position is agnosticism.”

There is not reason to treat agnosticism as the default position unless you take the position that there’s no evidence for God’s existence, or insufficient evidence, or evidence to the contrary. But whichever one you stake out, that’s hardly a neutral starting-point. Rather, that takes for granted some substantive and quite contentious claims about the state of the evidence.

Ben is cheating. Loftus is cheating.

“In a proper meritocracy we treat all religious texts the same in the sense that each of them is judged by their actual contents and cultural context without favoritism.”

Which is something I do.

“That doesn't help the rest of us though who are looking at Hays' divine tacit knowledge through the skeptical lens of mutual knowledge (cultural influences, psychological gimmicks, cognitive biases, and double standards that humans are afflicted with) presented in Part 1 of TCD.”

But, of course, if cultural influences, psychological gimmicks, cognitive biases, &c., furnish good reason to be skeptical of theism, then they furnish equal reason to be skeptical of atheism, agnosticism, &c.

“Hays is still guilty of just not getting more into his personal history with this special knowledge and why anyone else should take it seriously. Hays points out that Loftus slightly misrepresents what he said turning his ‘good reason’ into ‘assumption,’ but it seems Hays is just assuming he doesn't need to defend his special knowledge and that Loftus isn't misrepresenting his actual position after all.

Actually, Ben is guilty of illiterate reading skills.

“It's logically possible that aliens could implant a belief in our brains that corresponds to the truth that we never learned from actual experience or reasoning. It's also possible that God, if he existed, could do something similar. I don't think anyone here would argue with that. However, that possibility is tantamount to claiming you've been brainwashed by aliens. Any beliefs or knowledge might have been inserted in our brains by any unknown agent which is not obligated to properly represent itself and so without further means of verification we can't take that knowledge very seriously. Where's the trust? Your brain has been tinkered with and the entity responsible is a no-show. This is especially evident when we confront mutually exclusive claims to such magically imparted knowledge. We can't just assume that knowledge is legit and find any lame argument that corresponds to it correct and any lame argument against it incorrect. And that's just what Loftus pointed out.”

Once more, it’s striking to see how blind infidels like Ben are to the doubled-edged implications of these sceptical thought-experiments. Ex hypothesi, the OTF could just as easily be part of the alien programming.

For all his pretensions to be a freethinker and rationalist, Ben’s consistent and persistent philosophical naïveté is almost entertaining to “outsiders” like myself.

“I've been blogging as a non-believer for 5 years, and I make a clear distinction between what decoverted me and what I believe now. There's no reason to conflate the two, and the latter is simply what further prevents me from reconverting to Christianity.”

That would be unfortunate if true. However, he’s not the first man or the last man to willfully walk into a dark, windowless room that locks behind him. And that’s hardly an inducement to the rest of us to go through the same door.

“Even if Loftus is a flagrant liar, the entire enterprise of Christian apologetics is about catering to struggling Christians with intellectual difficulties.”

i) Yet that’s scarcely the situation of hardened apostates like Ben or Loftus.

ii) Moreover, it fails to distinguish between offensive and defensive apologetics.


  1. Hey, thanks for responding! I'll get back to you on this and update whatever needs to be changed on my review to properly represent your views. I'm still finishing up my meta-review of your numerous responses to Babinski's chapter.



  2. I've gone ahead and updated my post on my "Ben doesn't agree with you" blog. I'm letting you know as a courtesy, but I don't think interacting with you will be very fruitful. I will continue to update my post until you stop handing me fodder.