Total Pageviews

Friday, January 30, 2004

The 'No Evidence' Objection: Another perspective.

Absolutely speaking, if no question begging evidence is allowed to count as genuine evidence for Christianity, then there is no evidence for Christianity and there in principle could be no evidence for it.. But since there could be no evidence for any position on this condition, Christianity is no worse off than any other view. Given the impossibity of providing evidence on this condition, we cannot be obliged to do so, since ought implies can.

But there is a religious aspect to the problem as well as an evidential one. It would be difficult to see the practical meaning of a religious faith if it did not make a practical difference in our lives whether we believed it or not, and if it did, this would be a kind of evidence for it to be true or verisimilitudenous. If Christianity did not make a difference there would be no motive to be one. This includes even the case if a religion only makes a practical difference only after death, since I think that skepticism is still an issue even if one were to have an afterlife experince. (Imagine: you could be standing in the heavenly throne room in the presence of glory and still wonder if reductive materialism is true.)

But perhaps the religious deminsion of making a practical difference, being a practical context, there is need to worry about the non-question-begging condition. The evidence for the truth of Christianity does not have to not be question-begging for practical purposes as long as a religious attitude toward life provides a context in which Christianity makes a discernable difference. It would not matter if philosophic objectivity is impossible for a Christian faith, if Christianity makes the best sense of experience within a religious perspective (not to be confused with the idea of having a religious experience).

It might be logically impossible even for an omnipotent God to provide evidence only on the condition that only the non-question begging condition be satisfied. But if the religious perspective is adopted it would be morally troubling if granting religious presuppositions there is no evident difference a particular religion makes. Of course, only those who really do surrendar to a religious perspective are in a position to se whether or not this is so.

However, this has to be contrasted with an approach to religion which, like Freudian analysis, is not open to criticism or falsification. The idea of a religious perspective has to be nuetral enough such that accepting a religious perspective does not entail an acceptance of Christianity no matter what. We may not able to specify in advance what evidencxe would lead someone to or away from Christianity but that such is the case is at least a possibility. I also think that the question "What counts as being part of a religious perspective?" is a valid question and can be answered by the comparitive phenomenology of religion.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

On the Intellect (A work in progress).

Both CS Lewis and Alvin Plantinga offer criticisms of naturalistic accounts of reason suggesting that metaphysical naturalism cannot be an adequate account of reason, knowledge, and/or justification. But there is an important difference in there approach.

Plantinga is not completely hostile to naturalism and even offers natural accounts for the formation of our beliefs. But he does argue that while natural mechanisms are adequate to serve as an explanation for how we believe, they are not adequate to account for the normativity of belief that even the naturalist sometimes wants when she insists that there is a way that belifs ought to be formed (e.g. by being based on adequate evidence). To account for the the required normativity, Plantinga first describes belif forming machines in terms of there function and then accounts for their normativity in terms of a design plan for that function. A belief formation machine works "right" if and only if it works according to plan, "the way its supposed to". Nature and normativity are this wedded together. But this solution requires a Designer, namely God. So if the the naturalist also wants to have an ethic of believing, you must be a theist. There are some replies to this argument, such as that evolution is held to sufficient to to explain proper function by means of natural selection, but leave that aside for now.

Lewis' idealism needs to do more since not even nature is available to serve in an adequate account of knowledge. Lewis distinguishes between two senses of "because"; the "because" of cause and effect "The ball flew because the bat hit it", and the "because" of consequent and ground "We know 320,572,034,576 is an even number because we know that it is divisible by two without remainder", or more simply, Lewis distinguishes between causes and reasons. According to the Lewis the naturalist must identify one sense with the other.

(X) Joe understands 8 to be an even number because Joe understands that it is divisible by two if and only if there is a brain state of Joe's which is the brain state "Thinking that 8 is an even number" which is physiologically caused by another brain state of Joe's which is the brain state "Thinking that 8 is divisible by two".

According to Lewis, however, (X) is NOT what we mean when we use "because" in the consequent/ground sense according to our own consciousness of the matter. Further, Lewis might also agree that attributing reasons to a mere physical system must only be metaphorical but that any metaphorical use of a term presupposes a legitmate non-metephorical use, but if there are no instances of reasoning there could be no possible non-metaphorical attribution of ground/consequent.

Lewis' point would apply as well to Plantinga as well as the naturalist. Not that Plantinga would mind necessarily since he is trying to work with constraints that naturalists accept and they would not accept Lewis' point. To them Lewis is commiting the "Superman" fallacy. (Lois Lane knows that Superman can fly. Lois Lane does not know that Clark Kent can fly. Therefore, Superman is not Clark Kent.) CS Lewis knows that determinig brain states is physically caused. CS Lewis does not know that determining thoughts is physically caused. Therefore, determining thoughts (reasoning) is not determining brain states (causality).
About relativism; there are four kinds.

(I don't mean that as an absolute fact. There are many complex ways that issues of relativity may enter into thought. This list is just suggestive of some interesting ones.)

There is harmless relatvism: that is there are many ways in whuch things are true or important relative to a position or perspective but in a way that is not epistemologically or otherwise problematic. For example I could be closer to a tree that we are both looking at than you and thus the tree looks bigger to me than it does to you. So you might say that the the tree looks taller relative to than it looks relative to you. But in this case, its relativity (of perspective) that explains the apparent discrepancy. In this case, relativism is the answer rather than the problem.

There is serious relativism: The problem here is the fact that all of our beliefs are according to one or another perspective. Human beings do not have beliefs at all except that they have them from some or another point of view. This leaves open the possibility that while it may appear to me that p is true but to you that p is false, there is no ultimate perspective which either one of us can entertain which will settle absolutely whether or not p is true independent of all perspectives. This is the problem of relativism. The next two kinds of relativism are responses to this problem.

There is hyper-relativism: The hyper-relativist argues that we underestimate the problem with serious relativism. It is not merely that each person or group has there own "truth" from their own perspective. The fact is that we pass through an indefinite number of perspectives every second of our experience. We are alternate perspective generating machines, each one of us at every moment has a radically distinct perspective on everything than they had the moment before. Further, if we could per impossible stop time and develop our perspective of the moment we would see that each perspective generates a completely alternative worldview with its own inner coherence. The serious relativist thinks that the problem involves the inability to select the truth from perhaps a "handful" of different world-class worldviews that are all equally credible. The hyper-relativist goes further and says that in fact there are a potentially infinite number of worldviews that we occupy moment by moment, just by occupying time, that are all ultimately incomensurable with each other so that the idea of choosing a worldview at all is radically absurd.

There is what I call soft relativism. This group points out that while the problem of serious relativism is important, it is not completely hopeless. The hyper-relativist position itself reduces to an absurdity since it implies that we really do not communicate even with ourselves much less each other and that seems evidently false. Further, some perspectives are clearly mistakes in that they are internally self-destructive. Further, also it seems evident from the phenomenology of culture and from descriptive metaphysaics that there is such a thing as the common perspective of the human species such that qua being a member one has at least some point of contact with other human beings that makes truth and communication possible.

So we can at least narrow the field to certain perspectives that hold up better than others. The further point that Polanyi, Newbigin, and MacIntyre are making in various ways is that these viable perspectives have longstanding histories and positive track records of coping and accomodating to cognative challenges which they have met with impressive success. (There are examples of perspectives that have survivied for thousands of years without any development at all because the society which holds them never faced any cognative threats -- one thinks of tribal amazonian cultures like in the movie "The Emerald Forrest" ("Funny, I don't remember the Edge of the World being this close to the village before.").) So surviving perspectives have been tested and continue to be teasted by encountering circumstances and being exposed to other world perspectives. So while not able to describe themselves as absolute truth, they arguably have a viable verisimilitude given their track record.

This is still a soft or mitigated relativism in that the situation remains that two solid perspectives may come up with competing verdicts about the truth of a judgement about something with a solution. But defenders point out that a completely perspectiveless view is not really possible or desirable. A "God's eye view" or a "View from Nowhere" can only see the world as utterly devoid of personal points of view and would only see the world as it would appear without activity, intentionality, purpose, representation, etc., a completely passive homogenious object (which is what you have with the ice block view of the universe). Subjectivity and relativity are an important and necessary aspect of philosophy and truth seeking, not just pure objectivity.

Where this may lead to Lewis's one great ethical tradition ("the Tao") is in the necessity of recognizing a common human nature and perspective which would also include the moral point of view.
The Post-modern Gnu

I think that I am finally beginning to concede the futitlity of trying to salvage analytic philosophy from scepticism and overcoming the suspicion that all my beliefs are illegitimate, thanks to resources and friends off the beaten path. After teaching history of philosophy for awhile it seems clear that philosophy has taken a post-analytic epicycle several times in history ever since Aristotle dissed Socrates on "The Good", Leibnez recovered a dynamic view of substance, and Hegel saved metaphysics from Kant's analytic. The key is the realization that there is no solution to problem of scepticism except the fact that were their is no solution there is, after all, no problem.

Another factor is the fact that professional analytical philosophy is also a trap for my personality flaws, which are something for me like obsessive perfectionism. The threat of having morally illegitimate beliefs in the absence of some cunning detail left out by a likely lack of imagination on my part played right into all my self-destructive tendencies and made it difficult to even see the institutionalized programmatic "obsessiveness" as something that can be entertained with detachment.

Consequently I find myself able to get back to more classic themes like positing the intellect of St. Thomas as a starting point of thought and as providing a defence for theology on the basis that the value such an account is more apparent when one realizes that what really matters to us finite thinkers is not certain reasoning but successful reasoning.