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Friday, February 13, 2004

Objections to Natural Faith vs Supernatural Faith

(Note: "Classical Apologetics" refers to the attitude that our current approach to defending the faith should be continuous with typical approaches of the church in the past (patristic and medieval). More specifically, it refers to the scholastic realist strategy endorsed by R. C. Sproul as opposed to the presuppositional idealism of Cornelius Van Til.)

It is worth asking whether it is absolutely possible to show all our belief forming mechanisms as being unreliable. It does seem like that is impossible since we will always have to rely on some to refute the others. However, it is possible to criticize some of our belief forming mechanisms and no longer trust some of them. For example, we might have thought that since heads has not come up in a regular coin toss for a while, it is more likely to come up on the next toss. Such "intuitions" are quite pervasive and persistent even in trained thinkers. But a moments calculation will show us that such a belief is false and that in general our intutitions about likelyhood are unreliable.

A more serious possibility is that someone will come up with a better alternative to explain the reliability of our natural belief forming mechanisms than postulating God. For example, our most reliable belief forming mechanisms and those that have made genuine progress are those empirco-mathematical procedures associated with the develoment of science. Compared to things like intuition and religious experience -- or even eye-witness tsetimony that is used in courts of law -- the superiority of science is well evident. Consider how many jury verdicts are overturned by the development of DNA testing. One might conclude that we are more reasonable then in trusting science relative to our trust in our ordinary untrained powers and therefore our trust in science should be proportionately higher. Further we can for a great extent determine whether a scientific procedure is relaible where for all we know our other procedures may just get it right half the time -- not sufficient success track record to justify a faith in it as a reliable belief procedure.

Given the tie between natural science and interaction with the physical world, it is not so far fetched to suggest that science is connected withour survival as a species and contribute to our fitness and so the only thing that needs to account for our having successful scientific procedurres in natural selection. We don't need God to explain the success of natural science. The cultural uses of reason (art, ethics, religion, philosophy, political thought, whether tables and chairs exist, etc.), on the other hand, are notoriously fuzzy and we have no sense of any track record of their success or failure with them. Even if they get it right half the time that is not an evidently reliable record to warrant faith in them. It could be just a case of dumb luck so we don't need God to explain those either. The are just epiphenomenal, even though they contribute the most to what constitutes the human mind. So we do not need to postulate God to account for the proper proportion of faith we put in our natural processes. Evolution is sufficient.

This, by the way, is why I was careful to call the reliability is question an assumption that mechanisms are "typically" or "standardly" reliable, which I distinguish from a statistical notion of reliability. This is a much weaker and non-precise notion of just taking something to be reliable for all practical purposes in cases where we cannot be more precise but have no reason to doubt it either. Maybe cognative science will come in someday and give us a better account, maybe not. It is clear that the sort of belief mechanisms that lead us to postulate God must also include relying on the cultural belief forming mechanisms and not just science and relying on them in a more stipulative way than we need to do scientific cases. Further, it is also relying on what must be "single-shot" belief forming mechanisms that only work once (as must be the case in beliefs about events) where no track record is possible even in principle. Here Plantinga's "proper function" account where a belief is warranted iff the belief forming mechanism does what it is supposed to. Here we have to postulate God because in order to have normative the normative aspect we need a mechanism Designer who works in single case settins. It is clear that the natural faith that supports theism is much mush weaker and is more genuinely a "faith" when it comes to our cultural beliefs than with scientific beliefs. Here is the area I think that Classical Apologetics has been most unforthcoming.

As far as the normativity issue goes, it still remains that even on a natural faith account natural beliefs about God are inadequate to do anything more than make mankind culpable for not seeking after God. Humans cannot use natural theology to develop an adequate approach to God and this is due to the seperation between man and God after the fall. Only communion with God that God initiates will help. But this has always been part of the account and presups have been terrible at misrepresenting Classical Apologetics here. This weakness is intrinsic as well as extrinsic. I don't believe in God on the basis of my natural belief forming mechanisms. Natural theology does not contribute to my religious creed. Everything that I believe in God about religiously is based on testimony only. The status of my opinions based on "natural faith" is as different as the content of such opinions.

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