What Is Evidence?
I’ve served on a jury just once in my life. The case involved the rape of a child. The direct evidence consisted almost solely in the testimony of the victim. The defense introduced what I would call “defeaters”—reasons to doubt the veracity of the testimony. Being an epistemologist, I paid careful attention to how both attorneys built their cases. When the trial concluded, the judge sent us into a private room to deliberate, and the jury chose me as foreperson. I found the procedure quite simple. There were several charges, written in propositional form. Each juror was to indicate whether they believed or disbelieved (or stood undecided on the truth of) each charge. I read them one at a time, and each juror stated their position. No one doubted, no one disputed. We unanimously affirmed each charge as true. The swiftness of the process surprised me. The prosecution had presented a powerful case, and the defense was weak. The man was convicted.
This all sounds quite reasonable. Beliefs, especially about important things, should be carefully formed and supported by evidence. This includes beliefs about God or the absence of gods. But I think a great deal of confusion and clutter arises because we have misconceptions about what evidence is and how it supports beliefs. What kinds of things can support our beliefs? Probably just two things: experiences and other beliefs. For example, what supports my belief that the computer in front of me is black? Well, one thing that supports this belief is my visual experience of the computer. It appears black to me. That is my primary source of evidence. What supports my belief that this computer, if tossed into a lake, will sink? One thing that supports this belief is another belief: the belief that things of a certain density and configuration cannot float in water. Both my beliefs—about the color and buoyancy of the computer—seem perfectly rational given my evidence. My jury experience was similar. My belief that the suspect was guilty was supported by my experience of listening to testimony and other beliefs about the situation, like the reliability of that testimony.
So how does all this help us in thinking about the rationality of belief or disbelief in God? One person believes there is a God, and one person believes there are no gods. Both are belief-states. This has nothing to do with certainty or claims to “know.” Some may say that disbelief in gods is a “lack of belief.” But this isn’t quite accurate. If I lack a belief about some matter, it means I’ve never considered it at all. Five seconds before typing this sentence, I lacked a belief about whether pigs are descended from unicorns. I had never considered it. I didn’t affirm it, I didn’t deny it. I wasn’t even “undecided.” I just had no mental state about it whatsoever. Now I do—I deny it. Anyone who has thought about whether gods exist has a view about the matter, and any view you hold (even being undecided) requires support from reasons (evidence) to be considered rational.
The Rubber Meets the Road
So, if you are a God-believer, what is your evidence? If you are a god-denier, what is your evidence? You might appeal to some combination of experiences and beliefs that you have. But there are still at least two questions that come up, one for theists and one for atheists. (1) Is there really evidence for God? And (2) what should we believe if there is no evidence for God?
This may shock you, but I’ve never met a theist who has no evidence for their belief. It is almost impossible to form a genuine belief without evidence. For theists, this includes “religious experiences,” testimony, philosophical arguments, etc. However, not all evidence is created equally. So, if you are a skeptic about God, rather than tell the theist she has no evidence, inquire about the quality of that evidence. Still, even if a theist’s belief is only supported by misleading evidence, this does not make her irrational. Suppose a person unknowingly lives in the Matrix. That is, all her perceptions are being fed to her by a super-duper neuro-computer that can simulate anything. She now believes she is climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower, but in reality, her body is sleeping in a plastic tube. Is she rational to believe that she is climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower? Certainly. Her belief is supported only by misleading evidence, but she is being quite rational and epistemically responsible in taking it all at face-value. So, as I argued in the last post, rationality and truth can come apart. Similarly, even if there are no gods, theism can be quite rational (although rather tragic). The break-down in the analogy is that, unlike those trapped in the Matrix, we do have access to counter-evidence and friends who can help us identify bad beliefs.
So what about the second question? If you believe there are no gods, and your basis for this is the claim that there is no evidence for gods, is this a rational position? This will depend on your total evidence. It is true that you shouldn’t believe something without evidence for it, but it is also true, in the same way, that you shouldn’t disbelieve something without evidence against it (or evidence for disbelief). For example, if your position on extraterrestrial intelligence is that there is none, you should be able to give a reason for your position. If I asked you about it, and you said, I don’t know, that’s just my view,” I would consider that an irrational position. Would it be enough to say, “there’s no evidence of E.T.?” Well, it depends on whether we should expect evidence for E.T.. If I believe that there are no living dinosaurs in my bedroom, I don’t need much evidence for this view to be rational. It is the absence of evidence that matters here because it is indisputable that there would be evidence if there were a living dinosaur in my bedroom. My evidence is an inferential belief — if there were dinos here, there would be evidence; there’s not, so there are no dinos. But the key is that it must be more or less agreed on by all parties that evidence for the thing in question is expected. In E.T.’s case, I don’t think we should expect to see evidence, given the size of the universe.
So, if the atheist lacks evidence for God (perhaps they’ve never had a religious experience or credible testimony), and she possesses evidence for disbelief, then she may be rational in her disbelief. But now you must be prepared to face-off with the theist on even terms. You both make a claim, you both must offer a defense of your position. Alternatively, if you think there’s simply no evidence whatsoever (either way) regarding the question of whether gods exist, then the rational position is to be undecided (sometimes called being ‘agnostic’). This is the “default” position, for those who have considered the question.
15 thoughts on “Theism, Atheism and Being Irrational, Part 2 (Evidence)”
You are throwing about a lot of material in your post. For the sake of readability, I would like to respond to a couple of the key points contained within – perhaps at the risk of seemingly granting certain assumptions that might better be fleshed out in another setting. From one academician to another, I know you’re familiar with the following concepts. Please take them as a means by which I frame my points, and to potentially include a wider reader base. I am in no ways intending to be condescending.
First, it is possible (common?) to construct logically valid arguments which are factually incorrect. Logical fallacies abound, and simply in interest of sharing one resource on the matter would reference https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com. As epistemologists (how we claim to know things), our interests prompt us to examine how our logical arguments align with reality or (a) truth. To establish sound logic or justifiable belief (knowledge) requires the proper construct of logic as well as a factually true component.
Next, when constructing our logical statements, are we proceeding from a deductive or inductive construct? (primer at http://www.iep.utm.edu/ded-ind). Deductively, it is very easy to make a claim of knowledge, and then build a valid logical argument which is nonetheless unsound. This equates to rationalizing. It is this assumption of knowledge that religion claims which it throws at the non-believers’ feet to be disproved. Without digging too deeply into the ontological (what things are knowable?) implications of the claim, it is easy to take an assumption at face value based on the sensibility of its logical construct. Charlatans and Sophists use this very well to their own ends. I am not lumping all who use this process of necessarily ill-intention. It is an easy mistake to make, and one of the wonderful things about a peer-review process. Others see our blind spots much better than we can… particularly if we are not even bothering to look for our own biases.
Humanity leans heavily on heuristics, or learned patterns that provide a functional outcome irrespective of whether it is correct or optimal. From an evolutionary perspective, survival favors the paranoid. A rustling in the bushes might be generated by any number of things, but if we assume that to be a potential predator and take a defensive response, it is likely that the odds of our survival are better than those who never adopted the heuristic. It is the same mechanism by which we conduct our day-to-day decision making, and dominates our thought process.
To further confound matters, I assert that religious belief is largely a matter of culture. This is true of a great many beliefs, but as we are discussing religious belief, it is being singled out for discussion. Even in its most benign forms, it prevails as a societal norm – whether in terms of “acceptable” behaviors or ceremonial deism. In more malicious form, one might question the ethical implications of indoctrinating children and youth who are too mentally unsophisticated to properly assess the claims with which they are being inundated. Never mind the fact that it is typically the parents and adults who, knowingly or not, draw upon their influence as authority figures to further cement these notions as truths in the minds of trusting youth.
Additionally, the Abrahamic religions are replete with various triggers which serve to safeguard against analytical thought by their very nature. Admonitions against using logic in lieu of faith, eternal torment, authoritarianism, external locus of control, and other precepts which discourage analysis and serve to evoke a visceral response. This visceral response is now understood to be key in triggering amygdala hijacking (primer http://neurosciencefundamentals.unsw.wikispaces.net/The+limbic+System), another isolating factor from inquiry.
The same notion of indoctrination is what some religious adherents use to condemn “liberal” ideology in our institutes of learning. This is an appropriate concern only where there are value-laden concepts being discussed. Natural sciences and empirically-based knowledge that may pose a threat to beliefs should not be drug into culture wars and the courts of public opinion. The outrage may be indicative of the more fanatical fringes, but there remains a large population who express tolerance or indifference that should (in my opinion) be more outraged by attempts to muddle the distinctions of empirical science and religious claims. Want to challenge history and humanities courses? Be my guest. However, we should never conflate the qualities of knowledge attained by empirical claims with that of abstract philosophical assertions (such as religion).
So, shy of publishing a thesis here, I would like to summarize my position on “disproving” religious claims. First, I reject the notion that it falls to the non-believer to substantiate their position by disproving a non-empirical claim. At best, any inductive argument can only approach an approximation of certainty, which seemingly places it at a disadvantage with nearly any deductive claim (factuality notwithstanding). Alternately, attempts to form a series of deductive arguments sufficient to prove a null hypothesis is an extremely weak exercise, particularly when the topic is so abstract and based on something so easily deflected given the expanse and nature of biblical claims.
There are many schools of science and philosophies that have adequately explored and replicated the mechanisms by which humanity tends to form their beliefs. Barring exploration of biblical empirical claims which science has adequately answered through fields such as physics, geology, astronomy, chemistry, biology, neurology, etc.; even the more subjective and abstract facets of psychology, neurology, and sociology have numerous adopted theories to better explain the complexities of mind than subjective anecdotal experiences born of cultural impression.
Given that religious belief is particularly codified and impressed upon young developing minds, reinforced through social norms, widely unchallenged by opposing thought (changing with internet and globalization), and typically assessed in terms of cognitive dissonance or heuristic models of behavior – not disciplined, deliberative, and analytical thought – this culture has heaped more barriers to elucidation than it has established any substantial evidential claims.
In an attempt to pare the influence of culture from belief, imagine that a person was raised in an environment (culture) devoid of any knowledge of godhead or religion (or given belief claim). If they were to be provided the tools of scientific inquiry and a basic knowledge the sciences, what evidence for a god (or belief) would they find in such a world?
If a particular claim such as “Christianity is True” (capital T) is as it claims, wouldn’t there be the expectation that these Truths would be observed and apparent to an inquirer armed with no knowledge of the belief system itself? In the above scenario, what is the likelihood that any inquiry into the nature of reality or Truth would result in anything remotely resembling Christianity?
If this can be satisfactorily answered, then we will have a point from which we are on even ground to discuss the nature of our disparate claims. Otherwise, I can only state that the strengths of the claims are weighed, and I find the religious claims and claims of evidence substantially weaker.
Hey Chad, let me think over your comment and get back to you. Lots to think about! Thank you.
Chad, I’ll try to reply to each section of your comment.
You wrote: “First, it is possible (common?) to construct logically valid arguments which are factually incorrect. Logical fallacies abound, and simply in interest of sharing one resource on the matter would reference https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com. As epistemologists (how we claim to know things), our interests prompt us to examine how our logical arguments align with reality or (a) truth. To establish sound logic or justifiable belief (knowledge) requires the proper construct of logic as well as a factually true component.”
I agree with your initial statement, and this is an important point I highlighted in my post (and previous post). A valid argument may have false premises, but remain logically valid nonetheless. This is important because I am defending the rationality of certain views. Being wrong about God’s existence doesn’t make theists irrational, any more than it was irrational to believe 75 years ago that smoking was a harmless hobby. Now, perhaps what you are highlighting here is that believing something based on a valid, yet ultimately unsound, argument is NOT an ideal epistemic position to be in. YES! But all that rationality requires is (roughly) that your belief is epistemically justified, and this can happen even if your beliefs are all false (like Neo in the Matrix, pre-red pill). And this can be the case in both deductive and inductive arguments, though for inductive we would say the argument is strong but not cogent.
(Replying to paragraph 2 of Chad’s comment) I think I understand what you’re getting at here. Are you worried that theists are *intentionally* starting with premises they know are false or unsupported, and then building a valid argument on them? That would be a kind of sophistry. I don’t think the majority of theists I know, whether professional philosophers or apologists, are doing this. They sincerely believe their premises and take them to be quite rational. Now, perhaps you’re worried that theists are unwittingly starting with false or implausible premises. If you think this is the case, then the thing to do is show that the premises are false. It isn’t enough just to say, “Well, that’s crazy!” or “That’s obviously false.” If it is so obvious, it should be easy to give a quick argument refuting it. But you can’t simply assert that a premise is false and think you’ve refuted the argument. That’s not argument, that’s contradiction! No it isn’t! Yes it is! hahaha (Hope you get the Monty Python reference.)
OK, replying to paragraph 8: (your text below) — Hmmm. I think I agree that we shouldn’t require non-believers to disprove a non-empirical claim. I don’t think you have to disprove anything. (I avoid using the term ‘prove’ or ‘proof’ unless we’re talking about symbolic logic, geometry or mathematics.) But what rationality does require of all adults is that they can give some reasons for their belief. So I simply said that those who believe that *there are no gods* ought to be able to give reasons for this belief. If you say, “I don’t need reasons because it is the default mental state of humans,” then I would point out that the default mental state of a human with regard to any proposition is to have no opinion either way. Once you consider a proposition, you can’t help but take some doxastic attitude toward it — belief, disbelief or withholding. And each of these must be supported with reason to be rational for you. I just don’t see any way out of this. To be clear: having no thought of a proposition (like, “All tetrons are blue with hexagonal eyes”) means you’ve never, ever considered it’s truth value before. But this is NOT equivalent to thinking it is false. To take it to be false IS a position that requires reasons to be rational. Does this make sense?
You wrote: So, shy of publishing a thesis here, I would like to summarize my position on “disproving” religious claims. First, I reject the notion that it falls to the non-believer to substantiate their position by disproving a non-empirical claim. At best, any inductive argument can only approach an approximation of certainty, which seemingly places it at a disadvantage with nearly any deductive claim (factuality notwithstanding). Alternately, attempts to form a series of deductive arguments sufficient to prove a null hypothesis is an extremely weak exercise, particularly when the topic is so abstract and based on something so easily deflected given the expanse and nature of biblical claims.
Reply to Chad’s penultimate paragraph: (text below) This is interesting. So, if say, an alien came to earth, and we said, “God exists,” and the alien had no concept of god, then what would happen? (I’m starting with god only for simplicity.) Our alien, Zark, through some kind of interpretive device, would say, “what is a god?” We would then describe God, let’s assume just a simple divine, omni-whatever being. Zark might ask, “how do you know this?” Then we would start giving reasons and evidence. Seems fairly straightforward. Would Zark come to believe in God? I have no idea. Lots of people don’t. Lots of people fail to believe all manner of sensible things. What about your challenge that Zark could come to conclude that Christianity is true, based on his earthly investigation? I imagine Zark would go about this exactly as any reasonable person would, yet maybe with less bias? I don’t know. Zark would read the accounts of Jesus’ life and miracles, death and resurrection. Zark should then launch some sort of investigation as to how reliable these documents are. Zark might interview people who have had (alleged) experiences of God, or seen (alleged) miracles. Zark might contemplate their reliability. Zark might pray, go to church, seek revelation (because, presumably, if there’s a God, you ought to be able to do such a thing). I don’t know. Seems like a straightforward process. Zark might conclude it’s true, Zark might conclude it’s false, Zark might decide there’s not enough evidence either way to decide. Certainly I don’t think it counts against Christianity in any way that an unbiased inquired might not come to believe it is true. I think the public evidence is somewhat ambiguous. Is there any reason that we should expect that an unbiased inquirer MUST become convinced? I don’t see any reason. I know lots of reasonable, smart people who fall into all three camps: belief, disbelief and withholding.
You wrote: If a particular claim such as “Christianity is True” (capital T) is as it claims, wouldn’t there be the expectation that these Truths would be observed and apparent to an inquirer armed with no knowledge of the belief system itself? In the above scenario, what is the likelihood that any inquiry into the nature of reality or Truth would result in anything remotely resembling Christianity?
In reviewing my post, I can see where you would come up with this scenario. Rather than an “Outsider Test for Faith” (John Loftus) as you elaborated upon, I was attempting to post a scenario where there was no cultural information to steer the observer. This being the case, where would any evidence point to a reality resembling a god, let alone that of the specific Christian faith and claims?
Throughout my life, even the first 16 yrs where I was raised in a devoutly Christian home – and for my part, believed strongly in my youth – I have seen no evidence of a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” that could not more satisfactorily be satisfied through the “human wisdom” of social sciences.
At best, a weak argument might be made for a Prime Mover – but this would only be a “god of the gaps” argument to fill in those existential questions which are too abstract to prove, and serve to keep us from going insane pondering the infinite and (seemingly) unanswerable.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5 reads, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” This reads as an admonition to reject worldly knowledge and trust in the claims of a powerful cultural image which nonetheless strains credulity to the breaking point where matters of evidence are concerned. Or, in the case of many self-appointed prophets, messiahs, or shepherds… trust in their representation of God’s will as you are unable to directly commune. And what is the harm in assessing a tithe when you have eternal torment on the line? Better play it safe.
Here’s the trick. As dishonest as that last bit sounds, it is entirely feasible that one could go through the necessary mental contortions to justify their belief by rejecting “human wisdom” (e.g., “don’t look too closely”), but rather project the locus of control by trusting in the Spirit (e.g., “God would let me know if I weren’t supposed to be doing this”). Do this within a culture primed of the same beliefs and thought process, and it is easy to develop this heuristic – because there is neither cognitive dissonance nor true intent of meaningful inquiry. And to point, this still has said nothing on the nature of the divine, but has everything to do with culture and human nature.
Quickly bouncing back to Q1, based on your elaboration, I concur that it is unfair to consider Christians irrational, by and large. This raises another disturbing problem, however. If the premise of your mental exercise is called into question, it seems intellectually dishonest to hold to it un-waveringly and point to the logical constructs as reasonable, thus supporting that the “premise is true.” That is sophistry in a nutshell, intentional or not.
We might build the most beautiful logical construct, and marvel at its awesomeness. In the end, though; “garbage in is garbage out.” Building the construct is only part of the equation. If we are isolating this one aspect, I can get on board with the notion that Christians are not necessarily irrational. The remainder of the equation is, as I previously mentioned, perhaps more troubling still.
Hi again Chad! You wrote: “If the premise of your mental exercise is called into question, it seems intellectually dishonest to hold to it un-waveringly and point to the logical constructs as reasonable, thus supporting that the “premise is true.” That is sophistry in a nutshell, intentional or not.”
I hope I didn’t give the impression that I don’t have a very high degree of confidence in the premises of arguments for God’s existence! I do! When a friend calls them into question, that isn’t necessarily going to produce doubt. It depends on the quality of the counter-arguments. The premises I’m thinking of are things like, (a) I had a powerful religious/mystical experience, (b) I find the testimony in the New Testament to be generally reliable, (c) I think there are many strong arguments for God’s existence, (d) I’ve heard reports of miracles from trustworthy sources, (e) I find the Christian message to wield unique existential power among all the religions I’ve studied, etc. I believe all these things and I’m not using them in any sophistic manner.
There may be another post where we could discuss some of the other issues you’ve raised about the truth of Christianity, but I’ll stick to rationality for now.
I would like to alter my statement on sophistry and nutshells as follows: Sophistry is a purposeful tactic, and as such, does not warrant being leveled as a term at those who simply posit a premise that we find inadequately substantial. Although the end result might be similar, the intent guiding a sophist’ argument is persuasion… not truth. On that note, please permit me to insert a similar dislike of debate for much the same reason.
As mentioned, the nature of the premise remains an outstanding topic, but for a future thread. However, I no way meant to accuse you of actual sophistry. My apologies for not being more precise in that nutshell statement.
“Certainly I don’t think it counts against Christianity in any way that an unbiased inquired might not come to believe it is true. I think the public evidence is somewhat ambiguous.”
This would seem to count against the common presentation of the Christian god though Chris.
Certainly, Jesus does not appear to say anywhere ‘Go ye and seek first a PhD,’ right? In fact, he does just the opposite – he says, seek and ye shall find, ask and it will be given, knock and it will be opened. He does miracles to convince people. And he calls to him, particularly, people who would have no ability to understand or make complicated rational arguments. I think this idea of an ambiguous god would fly in the face of the moral judgement of many Christians.
Do you think a god of love creates ambiguous circumstances that result in millions going to hell – whether you think that’s annihilation or eternal torment – contrasted vs some other divinely-known possibility that god could have done differently – slightly less ambiguously, say?
Also, I would just like to point out that as an atheist, it always strikes me pretty strongly that your characterizations (so far as I have seen, it’s my impression only) of investigations by neutral parties do not seem to involve other religions or the context of supernatural claims in general. I only say this to point it out, not to say that I can prove anything by it. It is like hitting a splinter running your hand over (relatively!) smooth wood. 🙂
Hi Cory — Now we’re getting into new territory — deep waters! You’re asking for a theodicy. But I want to roll it back and try and stick to the discussion at hand. Otherwise we just go on a never-ending series of tangents and rabbit trails, as interesting and important as they may be.
I’m not sure why somewhat ambiguous public evidence counts against the truth of Christianity. Maybe you could elaborate. I’m also not sure how the ambiguous public evidence connects to your comment about PhDs. There is a difference between public and private evidence. I have had experiences that count as part of my total evidence, but these experiences cannot be part of your total evidence. So we have different total evidence. This is true for almost all beliefs — we all have different total evidence because we each have a unique set of experiences. But still, I think even the public evidence is sufficient for belief, though not overwhelmingly so. It is ambiguous enough to leave room for skepticism. No PhD needed — this evidence is available to all. Observing nature, observing our inner moral compass, testimony from others, etc. Very user-friendly for kids. But how we perceive that evidence depends on non-cognitive processes in our minds and wills as well.
Finally, we’ve only discussed two specific things so far: (1) does god exist? and (2) is Christianity true? Neither of these questions REQUIRES investigation of other religions to answer. It MAY lead one to investigate elsewhere, but not necessarily. #1 doesn’t require investigation into ANY religion, as far as I can see. Though it might be helpful.
I thought I stated it pretty clearly the last time, so I may actually muddy things more attempting to clarify. Please say so if this just seems to be a morass.
You hold that the Christian god exists, and you stated the public evidence is somewhat ambiguous – and I agree with you. And I’m suggesting that the common definition of that god is in conflict with your statement which I explained and supported. I’m not asking for a complete solution to the problem of evil, I am only saying that there are large stakes depending on the level of ambiguity, so it matters, and, to my eye, most Christians, and the bible, seem to present this contradiction to your statement (ie; they disagree with reality as it is and that you and I agree upon the fact of ambiguousness of the evidence whether we agree upon the degree or not is irrelevant). To put it as simply as possible, it seems salvation should be there for the asking, and you and I seem to agree that it is – to some degree or other – not.
The lofty logical arguments for god are what I’m saying “require a PhD”. The public obvious evidence that you cite is just as much evidence for other religions, in my opinion, and it’s in conflict with science, for the most part, so it’s not clear either. Children or unsophisticated adults are not, presumably, capable of sorting out these questions. Ambiguity reigns IMO.
Observing nature, moral compass, testimony from others. All could easily be applied to other religions as well, and are, from what I see. I’ll throw in personal experience because it’s conspicuously absent and applies as testimony anyways.
Your last paragraph brings to mind something that I felt has been hanging around the edges of a couple of conversations we’ve had and that is something like an idea of a duty of care for believing. I’m not sure where you stand on this but you _seem_ to keep wanting to approve of people standing on the lower end of that duty of care, and yet, I have a hard time believing that’s the case, so I may be misunderstanding.
OK, so is this what you’re getting at? –> If Christianity is true, then the evidence should not be even slightly ambiguous. But I’m saying that it is somewhat ambiguous, so, problem — right? If that’s the complaint, then I suppose I would simply reject the first conditional statement. I think it’s fine that the evidence is ambiguous. I can explain more, but I don’t want to get too far off course here. But the complaint you’re making is a common one and not unreasonable.
You’re absolutely right that the common public evidence I referred to would be helpful for most religions. I was being a bit sloppy there. “Natural revelation” as they say really only gets you to theism, not Christianity. But then there is the testimonial evidence available. Once one becomes an adult and learns more about the world, I think there may be an obligation to explore the question of why Christianity is uniquely true. But I think the case can certainly be made, and it doesn’t take a PhD. Expert testimony helps here — it is something we all rely on. This blog comment section might not be the forum for trying to defend the unique truth of Christianity, though. Another blog.
Your last point is interesting. I think we often do have a “duty of care” in believing. The requirements of that duty are relative to persons. It isn’t always easy to know when a person is believing irresponsibly. But it is possible to be epistemically justified and duty-fulfilled without doing much research — just relying on testimony and personal experience, for example. It all depends whether a person has doubts or *should* have doubts. But that’s hard to cash out.
I hope I’m addressing your concern.
I wouldn’t put my objection as “Christianity should not even be slightly ambiguous” I think I would frame it as “To any extent to which Christianity is ambiguous, it contradicts its definitional framework. As ambiguity increases, the greater the contradiction. ” The result of that being, at a low ambiguity maybe it’s within our margin of error, but as ambiguity climbs, jeopardy increases. I’ll accept your response on that though for this go around.
You say we can rely on experts – Who or what qualifications makes one an expert on god’s existence enough to assure other people, by your lights? Keeping in mind, again, that being wrong about Christianity doesn’t just mean there is no heaven or hell so no big deal – it may well be that another religion is true and unbelievers go to that hell so jeopardy could be high – perhaps even infinitely high?
Your last paragraph on duty of care is extremely interesting to me. I hope you expand on that in another article perhaps. It might give me some insight into your viewpoint that I’m lacking so far.
Thanks for the discussion 🙂
One point of clarification — I think the best way to think of contradictions is as a binary concept. Two propositions either contradict or they don’t. Maybe a silly technical point, but hey. But I think what your saying makes sense — the more ambiguity, the bigger the inconsistency with some other claim about Christianity, like “God has made himself not too hard to find” or the like. I sometimes hear this called “the problem of divine hiddenness” and it is very significant.
Who’s an expert? Well, there are experts on the New Testament, experts in philosophical argument, experts in theology, experts in comparative religion, etc. They could all be helpful. Is this what you meant? There are even experts in divine experience, like the great mystics in the history of the church — Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, etc. I think their testimony is especially valuable.
My dissertation was mostly about the “duty of care” as you put it. I called it “epistemic duty.” I’d love to talk about that more. Maybe a post.