Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Reasons to believe

In Divine Hiddenness (esp. chapter 1), Schellenberg argues that God would provide us with good reason to think he exists because (i) he'd want to be in a personal relationship with us which requires we believe in him, and (ii) because being perfectly good, he wouldn't deceive us into thinking he exists on false or inadequate grounds.
But, surely...this argument could not be any of the tremendously technical arguments for God's existence that plauge analytic philosophy, such as Maydole's Ontological Argument. Such reasons for belief are completely inaccessible to most people, who simply don't have the time to learn things like advanced logic, or the training to follow cutting-edge theoretical physics.
Any god that requires people to possess such esoteric knowledge in order to believe in him obviously doesn't want anyone believing in him. God would make good reasons for believing in him more available, or accessible to us. I'm not saying he'd make it easy, but he likewise wouldn't predicate it on understanding things like Thomistic metaphysics, or extremely specialized fields such New Testament scholarship or microbiology. In a word, God would not write the reason(s) for believing he exists in legalese.
So far, I think I could get most folks on board with me. But, a problem arises: the arguments for believing in God have become so darned technical for good reasons, one of which is because after hundreds of years of thinking about them, substantive objections have been raised that required deeper reflection and refinement. Think of how simple the Kalam cosmological argument can be stated, but how remarkably technical debates over its premises can get.
In other words, the simple arguments for God aren't any good! As I suggested in my previous post, if there were some dinky little syllogism that showed atheism to be false, no philosopher would subscribe to atheism! Thus, if there are any good reasons to believe in God, they must be inaccessible to most people.
This generates the following argument against God's existence:
1. If God exists, then there are good reasons to believe in God that most people have access to.2. But, most people don't have access to good reasons for believing in God.3. Therefore, God does not exist.


This fails to distinguish between a good reason and a good argument. Humans have good informal reasons for many of the things we believe. But many of us would be unable to soundly argue for our reasonable beliefs. Yet, in principle, a good reason can be turned into a good argument. 

As long as the reason you believe in something can, in principle, be turned into a sound formal argument, then you have a solid reason for what you believe. 

Suppose the simple arguments for God aren't any good. That doesn't mean the simple reasons we have or give for believing in God aren't any good. 

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