Friday, June 18, 2010

God as the Properly Basic Epistemic Foundation of Knowledge

Classical foundationalism has typically held, as phantomreader42 argues here, that the only beliefs that are properly basic are "true by definition (x=x, there's no such thing as dry water), evident to the senses...or a self-evident axiom..." But is this necessarily the case? Think about it, if we are formulating our epistemology on that statement, then it should be consistent within its own system, shouldn't it? But the statement "A properly basic belief needs to either be something true by definition (x=x, there's no such thing as dry water), evident to the senses (which your god isn't), or a self-evident axiom" itself is not true by definition, it is not evident to the senses, and it is not a self-evident axiom. It's simply an arbitrary definition adopted by some people in order to justify their belief system. In other words, poor phantomreader42 holds to a self defeating epistemology.

But surely, someone like phantomreader42 could say, this is a good epistemic rule by which to come to knowledge of the world. I don't think it is. If that were our foundation, we would have no reason to trust in the very things it proposes we rely on. If we are simply the products of chance and natural selection by means of random mutations 'choosing' survivable traits, then our brains have developed only to help us survive. If that is the case, then any studies or methods of coming to knowledge we have developed rest on this brain that evolved to survive. So if certain beliefs are beneficial to survival, they will continue to be utilized by the brain to continue our life. If this is the case, then there may be false beliefs that we think are true because they would help us to survive. If this is the case, then there is little reason to trust any of the beliefs we hold to actually correspond to reality. Even the belief that our studies have led us to the belief that our minds have evolved randomly would be suspect.

The naturalist would have trouble arguing against this, because they themselves postulate that humanity evolved religion, which in their minds is a false belief, to aid in survival. Not only that, but we could conceive of other false beliefs that would help us survive. Say a caveman thought that it is true that the best thing that could happen to him would be to be eaten by a dinosaur. Say too that he thinks the best way to go about being eaten is to run like heck every time he sees this dinosaur. Of course it is false that the best way to be eaten by a dinosaur is to run from it. But it helps our caveman friend to survive, yet it is a false belief.

With this in mind, it is hard to see any reason to hold that any of our beliefs would be true using this method of epistemology.

However, if we hold as our foundation that God exists and has created our minds to come to true knowledge, then we have a good, non-self-defeating epistemic foundation on which to build further beliefs. We can be assured that a maximally great being would not create our senses to fool us, but to give us pretty good information about the world we live in. Further, we could trust that our methods of reasoning and scientific inquiry would lead us to further truth if followed faithfully. We'd have a ground for the laws of logic, for different sorts of abstract objects, and for the ethical morality that is inherent in logical reasoning (ie it's bad to use fallacious arguments).

The Christian world view is reasonable, and is internally consistent, and I see no reason to not hold it as the foundation of one's belief system.

16 comments:

Skeptical Rationalist said...

I don't buy this line of reasoning and never have.

there may be false beliefs that we think are true because they would help us to survive. If this is the case, then there is little reason to trust any of the beliefs we hold to actually correspond to reality.

There most definitely are false beliefs that we think are true; any psychologist knows this. However, it's a slippery-slope fallacy to argue that because some beliefs and perceptions are bogus that nothing at all can be known. That's why the scientific method exists, to boil out the variances in perception, the confirmation biases, the conflicts of interest, the uncontrolled variables. That's why religion has never definitively nailed down a false belief, proved a theorum, or constructed a working theory to explain the world. Any religious pronouncement invariably carries the words "in my opinion" and has exactly as much weight.

The Christian world view is reasonable, and is internally consistent, and I see no reason to not hold it as the foundation of one's belief system.

Except everything in it suffers from the same problems that you ascribe to naturalism. If you haven't demonstrated that a god exists, everything that follows is just pablum piled on top of the initial assumption.

My assumption is that the world exists and we can learn things about it if we go about things rationally. It's very simple, reasonable, and internally consistent.

Your assumption is that a bodiless immortal, with a deep personal interest in human events, the ability to punish or reward humans for their moral choices, who created and maintains everything without leaving the slightest tangible evidence that he exists at all undergirds the universe.

Furthermore, you can slot ANY religion into your theistic epistemology and it works just as well. That is to say, badly. Religionists can't agree on the attributes of this maximally great being, they can't agree on the nature of abstract concepts, they can't agree on ethical morality. It's all opinion, feeling, and assumption.

I'll believe it when it gets demonstrated.

bossmanham said...

However, it's a slippery-slope fallacy to argue that because some beliefs and perceptions are bogus that nothing at all can be known.

You'll see that this isn't the argument. The argument is that if our minds are the result of a process that only relies on survival, then there is no reason to think anything we believe is anything more than an adaptation for survival.

That's why the scientific method exists, to boil out the variances in perception, the confirmation biases, the conflicts of interest, the uncontrolled variables.

The scientific method presupposes that our minds are geared to come to some sort of truth.

If you haven't demonstrated that a god exists, everything that follows is just pablum piled on top of the initial assumption.

Not if belief in God is properly basic. That's the argument here.

My assumption is that the world exists and we can learn things about it if we go about things rationally. It's very simple, reasonable, and internally consistent.

Mine too, but only because I think I can rely on my senses to apprehend true conclusions.

Your assumption is that a bodiless immortal, with a deep personal interest in human events, the ability to punish or reward humans for their moral choices, who created and maintains everything without leaving the slightest tangible evidence that he exists at all undergirds the universe.

That's not my presupposition, but rather a silly, atheist formed characature of it.

Furthermore, you can slot ANY religion into your theistic epistemology and it works just as well.

No you can't because most religions are inherently self contradictory.

Religionists can't agree on the attributes of this maximally great being, they can't agree on the nature of abstract concepts, they can't agree on ethical morality

Whether this is true or not, I'm not sure why you think it matters. What does disagreements about said being have to do with whether He exists or not?

I'll believe it when it gets demonstrated.

Can you demonstrate that that is a good way to come to truth; for it to be demonstrated? What if our minds, which are accidents of evolution geared for survival, take the sensory input in a way which does not actually correspond to reality because it will help us survive better?

bethyada said...

Property basic beliefs can be disproven. But they are appropriate as a starting point. If God is considered property basic it does not mean that there are no arguments against God. But if one rejects God their property basic is that God does not exist, clearly a secular bias.

bossmanham said...

Properly basic beliefs, as defined in this situation, would be a coherent and reasonable belief that serves as the foundation of a worldview where belief in God is basic.

If one attacked that, they'd need to give good reasons to not believe in God, and then come up with a better and equally rational and consistent epistemology.

bethyada said...

I agree Brennon. I see the argument that God cannot be part of property basic as fallacious. Those who wish it not be the case have their own beliefs that do not reside within the system they claim. As you point out in your fist paragraph.

I was pointing out that having a belief that is a property basic belief does not make it intrinsically unprovable.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

You keep using that word "presupposition." Every time you do, I see "beg the question." Your argument only looks good to other Christians. You say we both believe the world exists and we can learn something from it--that is a properly basic belief, and piling additional assumptions on top of that I see as unnecessary and unhelpful.

Furthermore, you can slot ANY religion into your theistic epistemology and it works just as well.

No you can't because most religions are inherently self contradictory.


Religionists can't agree on the attributes of this maximally great being, they can't agree on the nature of abstract concepts, they can't agree on ethical morality

Whether this is true or not, I'm not sure why you think it matters. What does disagreements about said being have to do with whether He exists or not?


Because every attribute I've ever seen assigned to anyone's perception of a god has been entirely arbitrary, based on faith and feeling. Attributes like "maximal greatness," upon which you've depended "would not create our senses to fool us." Every aspect of this being which qualifies it as being properly basic has just been arbitrarily assigned, just like "necessary existence" is arbitrarily assigned in the Ontological Argument. (No surprise there, as Plantinga's name pops up all over "reformed epistemology" too.)

bossmanham said...

You keep using that word "presupposition." Every time you do, I see "beg the question."

We all have presuppositions. I want to know if the ones we have are reasonable.

Your argument only looks good to other Christians

I think it's reasonable. What's wrong with it? Do you have a better way to formulate an epistemology?

Because every attribute I've ever seen assigned to anyone's perception of a god has been entirely arbitrary, based on faith and feeling

That doesn't mean that there aren't people that base their concept of God on reason, evidence, and objective sources. It's a rather modern development for Christians to disregard reason and evidence for a blind faith. On that, I'll share your frustration.

However, personal experiences give one a fully justified and reasonable reason for them to accept the truth of Christianity.

Every aspect of this being which qualifies it as being properly basic has just been arbitrarily assigned, just like "necessary existence" is arbitrarily assigned in the Ontological Argument.

It's not arbitrary, rather it flows from the concept of a maximally great being, or being which no greater can be imagined. If you could conceive of a really powerful being who would have the moral flaw of trickery, you could then conceive of one greater; namely one who has no moral flaws.

(No surprise there, as Plantinga's name pops up all over "reformed epistemology" too.)

Plantinga's not the only one who offered ontological arguments. And he pretty much articulated reformed epistemology, so it's no surprise his name would be associated with it.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

::Because every attribute I've ever seen assigned to anyone's perception of a god has been entirely arbitrary, based on faith and feeling::

That doesn't mean that there aren't people that base their concept of God on reason, evidence, and objective sources.


All I can say is the next one I see will be the first. I'm not aware of any argument or evidence for god that meets any of those criteria and stands up to scrutiny.

It's a rather modern development for Christians to disregard reason and evidence for a blind faith. On that, I'll share your frustration.

Sidebar: one of the interesting things I see in the bible is that in the O.T., "faith" generally is read "loyalty and/or obedience." With the N.T., when spreading the gospel meant accepting someone else's claim about an extraordinary event, we see a shift into faith being conflated with credulity. As far as it being a recent development, I couldn't disagree more. It was Paul who wrote that faith is to treat hopes as expectations, and to act as though things not seen are true. It hardly seems reasoned, supported, or objective.

It's not arbitrary, rather it flows from the concept of a maximally great being, or being which no greater can be imagined. If you could conceive of a really powerful being who would have the moral flaw of trickery, you could then conceive of one greater; namely one who has no moral flaws.

And I've already given you my objections to the Ontological Argument in the recent thread on the subject: the only relevant components of "maximal greatness" are those that you insert to fuel the argument du jour. You still haven't demonstrated that it's real, that it's anything but imaginary. We could wax rhapsodic about the superlatives that a maximally great being would possess until we collapsed in ecstasy but it wouldn't prove it exists. Furthermore, we get into territory with shades of the Euthyphro Dilemma, namely, by what standard is greatness defined? It renders the definition of maximal greatness to be a simple tautology--Greatness is God, therefore God is Great.

re: Plantinga--his is the name I associate with the most recent iterations of the Ontological Argument via W.L. Craig, both names being reliable indicators that I should prepare for something staggeringly absurd shortly to follow.

bossmanham said...

All I can say is the next one I see will be the first. I'm not aware of any argument or evidence for god that meets any of those criteria and stands up to scrutiny.

That's weird, I think the same thing about materialists.

It was Paul who wrote that faith is to treat hopes as expectations

This is somewhat telling, as Paul appeals to reason and evidence in his apologetic. The New Testament is where we get the word 'apologetic' from. We are to be ready to give reasons for why we believe as we do. Right off the bat in the early church you had great philosphers crop up to give an apologetic to the surrounding culture. SR, it really appears as if you've done no digging into the subject. The Christian chruch has been about the business of reasoning through their faith from the beginning.

And I've already given you my objections to the Ontological Argument in the recent thread on the subject

I'm not making an Ontological argument here, though your objections weren't substantive.

You still haven't demonstrated that it's real, that it's anything but imaginary.

You haven't demonstrated it's impossible. If it's possible, it's real; something ultimate exists. That's what the argument shows, and there are very few philosophers who argue with the logic.

Furthermore, we get into territory with shades of the Euthyphro Dilemma, namely, by what standard is greatness defined? It renders the definition of maximal greatness to be a simple tautology--Greatness is God, therefore God is Great.

I'm not sure why this is a problem. If there is a being who exemplifies these attributes to the degree that they cannot be any greater, then I think it's obvious by whom we need to measure the standard off of.

both names being reliable indicators that I should prepare for something staggeringly absurd shortly to follow.

Funny I've never seen a convincing response to either of them.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

You haven't demonstrated it's impossible. If it's possible, it's real; something ultimate exists. That's what the argument shows, and there are very few philosophers who argue with the logic.

Shifting The Burden of Proof and Begging the Question in as many sentences. Nice.

Very few philosophers who argue with the logic? Citation, please. I might believe "very few philosophers waste their time on something so transparently silly."

Funny I've never seen a convincing response to either of them.

I am quite sure that you have never seen any response to either of them as convincing.

bossmanham said...

Shifting The Burden of Proof and Begging the Question in as many sentences. Nice.

If you claim I am begging the question, you need to demonstrate that.

I might believe "very few philosophers waste their time on something so transparently silly."

Many people with uneducated minds think sophisticated philosophical arguments are silly. That isn't the fault of the argument, but rather the individual. The ontological argument isn't so silly that it's been talked about for almost 1000 years.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

I covered the question-begging in your post on the Ontological Argument. It has "necessary existence" hidden in the definition of "maximal greatness." When your conclusion is one of your premises, you don't have a valid argument.

No citation for your "most philosophers" assertion, and an Ad Hominem! Keep the fallacies coming, you're on a roll.

bossmanham said...

I covered the question-begging in your post on the Ontological Argument. It has "necessary existence" hidden in the definition of "maximal greatness." When your conclusion is one of your premises, you don't have a valid argument.

And I covered why you are incorrect about that assumption. Nowhere in the premises is it stated that a necessary being does exist. Rather, the argument shows that if it is possible that such a being exists, then said being does exist. You have to learn the logic before making wacky assertions about it. You're just looking ignorant as of now.

No citation for your "most philosophers" assertion, and an Ad Hominem! Keep the fallacies coming, you're on a roll.

Show one verifiable fallacy here. Don't just assert it. Not responding to your silly request isn't a fallacy, it's purposefully ignoring your request because it's not going to get anyone anywhere. However, to show the utter silliness of your presumptuous hubris:

"Under suitable assumptions about the nature of accessibility relations between possible worlds, this argument is valid: from it is possible that it is necessary that p, one can infer that it is necessary that p" (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/#PlaOntArg).

and: "Most philosophers would agree that if God's existence is even possible, then He must exist" (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6831).

The reason you're having an issue here is you don't like the burden of proof it leaves you with. If you don't accept it to be possible that God exists, then the argument would show He doesn't, but it's awful hard to bite that bullet, because it certainly seems possible for God to exist.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

I never said it stated that a necessary being does exist. I specifically said, in fact, that it was hidden.

The issue I have that is that you insist on pretending that "if it is possible that a necessary being exists, then said being does exist" is anything more than an obfuscation of "A maximally great being exists." It inserts the conditional only to hide the unstated premise. You're applying "necessary" in the definition of the being in question, and to pretend that it's legitimate to shift the burden of proof away from such a claim, to prove instead that it's impossible, makes you appear quite dishonest.

bossmanham said...

Saying if it is possible that said being exists is not the same thing as saying that being does exist in the strict sense. But following the logic it would be. Why don't you just deny the possibility? Give a good reason to. Otherwise, if you accept it's possible that God exists and are going to remain logically coherent, you must renounce your agnosticism/atheism.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

If "he might exist" is tantamount to saying "he does exist" then I fail to see the difference as anything more than semantic trickery.

I accept that a god is possible. Any god. Unlikely, but if I'm not the one making the claim, I'm not the one with the burden of proof (another prima facie indication the Ontological argument is fundamentally dishonest.)

But as to what qualities, attributes, descriptions it would possess, I don't include "necessary being" on the list. You do. And that is where you beg the question, because "necessary existence" I fail to see as anything other than way to lie about what you are trying to do--lying to one's self as well as others, perhaps, but still a deception. All your protests about "it's not the same thing in the strict sense" is semantically identical to saying "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

Anyway, I fail to see why one would need one logic-based "proof" of something which, if it existed, ought to be empirically obvious.