Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Conversion testimonies

So-called Street Epistemologists (i.e. militant atheists who ape A Manual for Creating Atheists) like to interrogate Christians about their conversion experience, then attempt to poke holes in their conversion experience. Same thing with cradle Christians who were raised in church, and never questioned their faith.

Here's one of the problems with that tactic: It's possible for somebody to have a belief that's unwarranted insofar as the immediate evidence or cause of that belief is insufficient or unreliable to pick out that explanation to the exclusion of other tenable explanations. And yet the belief could well be true. And there could be lots of confirmatory evidence for that belief, over and above whatever caused a person to form that belief in the first place. 

Suppose I see someone breaking into a house. I notify the police on the assumption that it's a houseburglar. Yet it's possible that the homeowner locked himself out of his own house. Likewise, before the days of powerlocks, drivers might inadvertently leave their keys in the car, then use a coathanger to unlock the car. Yet to a passerby, that looks like auto theft. 

In that respect, my initial belief might be unwarranted. Yet I might be still right. In addition, I might read a report in the newspaper that corroborates my initial impression. 

Most people assume their ostensible parents are their biological parents. It's possible that they were kidnapped as babies. Or the maternity ward mislabeled the babies. Or adoptive parents never told their adoptive kids. 

In that respect, my belief that my ostensible parents are my biological parents might be unjustified. For the preliminary evidence on which I base my belief is consistent with other scenarios. Yet my belief could still be true. Moreover, subsequent evidence like a DNA test might confirm my prior belief. 

Or suppose, as an atheist, I witness what I take to be a healing miracle in answer to Christian prayer. As a result, I become a Christian.

Now let's say I made a snap judgment without knowing enough about the diagnosis or prognosis to rule out a natural explanation. Yet my initial impression could still be correct. And the naturally inexplicable nature of the healing might be subject to medical verification. Suppose I have an opportunity to research the healing and discover that it's naturally impossible. Even though my initial conclusion was hasty, it turned out to be right. 

When Street Epistemologists query conversion testimonies, that's an exercise in misdirection. For even if the original experience a convert appeals to is less than probative, the real issue is whether his belief can be verified by reason and evidence after the fact. 

Mind you, it can be a good thing to scrutinize our beliefs, whether religious or secular beliefs–as the case may be. Some people convert to a false belief-system. Some people deconvert due to false or fallacious reasons. 

But Street Epistemologists deliberately ask the wrong questions. The important question isn't necessarily how you formed a belief in the first place, but whether that belief is justifiable–all things considered. In some instances, the precipitating cause might be sufficient. In other cases, the initial belief might have been underdetermined by the evidence, yet a true belief may be demonstrable by additional lines of evidence, which were not available or under consideration when the belief was first formed. 

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