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Monday, April 28, 2003

What God might have said to Russell

What could God say to Bertrand Russell when He asks him why he should be held guilty for rejecting Him and Russell says "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!"? Here are some possible answers:

(1) "You didn't look hard enough." Russell assumes that it could ever be reasonable for him to be satisfied at some point to think that he thought adequately about the question and was satisfied that there was not sufficient evidence. But the state of being dilligent in investigation is incompatible with the state of being satisfied that there is not enough evidence. One cannot consistently hold to both as necessary states of mind for the justified agnostic.

(2) "You're begging the question." Russell insists on evidence understood as having to meet a particular picture of evidence, something that is either deduced from self-evident first premmises or which has a substantially high degree of support based on ultimately self-evident assumptions that establish prior probability. Since theistic arguments and Christian evidences fail both these tests, they do not support a reasonable belief in God. However, the world could be such a place that humans have reliable belief forming processes other than the one stipulated by Russell (mysticism say) and beliefs formed by these are warranted. If God exists and he is good, then he created us with such mechanisms that lead to a reliable belief in Him without arduous thought only capapble by a few. So Russell's view that no beliefs other than the one's he supports are properly formed already assumes that God doesn't exist.

(3) "You are too parsimonious." Russell unnecessarily assumes that all such proper evidence must by public, that is, it must be capable of being potentially sharable discursively. But suppose that there is some some evidence that is like a private synthetic a priori belief that provides basic compelingness to the idea that God exists. This differs from (2) in that such evidence would satisfy Russell's other requirements by being a self-evident truth but not self-evident to all except those who seek it. Russell should have been seeking the gift of basic self-evident belief and not rule it out a priori. (For more on this, see Dr. Peter Van Inwagon's essay here.)

(4) "You were too rash to conclude that the paucity of evidence was illegitimate." Russell assumes that an all powerful and all good God could not fail to provide evidence that fails Russell's standards. But this is not clear. If God had provided such evidence as that alone which Russell admits, human responsibility in freely coming to Him would be crushed. God wants people to exert there moral energies in seeking Him out, not undermine saint-making be preventing the search at the outset. So a good God might have good reasons for not providing Russell with the evidence he insists on.

These are all answers to Russell that I have seen in some form or another in print. Next post, I want to consider another I have not yet seen but which I think is as necessary to add.

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