William Lane Craig Responds to Rumraket on Epistemology

Continuing the discussion from William Lane Craig on Historical Adam:

Bill responds on his podcast here:

I think what he fails to realize is that on the view enunciated by Reformed epistemologists we have a dual source of warrant for our Christian beliefs.

Bill’s response is worth reading in depth.

@Rumraket, it will be interesting to hear your thoughts. @randy gets quoted too! With some of their past comments in mind, it would also be interesting to hear from @pevaquark and @jongarvey too.

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Rumraket, I think, makes a false dichotomy because of the restricted sense “reason” has taken on in the Enlightenment. To classical thinkers, “reason” included more than intellectual logic, such as sound emotional judgement and moral character.

Therefore to go beyond [Enlightenment reason], which is what I think Bill is saying in effect, is not to become irrational, but to recognise a fuller picture of what it means to be a rational creature.

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Holy smokes what a pile of nonsense that all confirms everything I said to begin with. Craig goes through the motions of saying that no, of course Christians should not be unreasonable when argument and evidence contradicts the Christian faith, instead they should rely on the “witness of the Holy Spirit”. And by doing that, he’s being unreasonable. To insist on something so patently question-begging and self-serving is to be unreasonable.

“While the sands of arguments and evidence may be shifting and vacillating over time and geography and with differing educations and backgrounds of different people, there is this more fundamental witness to the truth of Christian faith which is the witness of the Holy Spirit. So, in answer to his question: When reason is not a minister of the Christian faith, what should we do? (I take that to mean, When we don’t have good arguments and evidence for the Christian faith, or when perhaps even the arguments and the evidence are against us, what should we do?) Be unreasonable? No, I’m not saying be unreasonable. I’m saying that rational belief isn’t based exclusively on arguments and evidence so that you are reasonable. That’s the whole point! You are reasonable in believing on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit.”

How is this not what I wrote to begin with? When arguments and evidence runs against Christianity, believe on the basis of “the witness of the Holy Spirit” instead. So abandon arguments and evidence when and if they are against Christianity, and instead still believe because of this other thing that isn’t argument and evidence.

“The view that I’m defending is that arguments and evidence are not necessary in order for Christian belief to be rational and even warranted, and, in fact, it can be rational and warranted to believe in Christian truth even when the arguments and evidence appear to be against it. It all depends upon whether or not there is this other source of warrant besides argument and evidence. And I think that the Scriptures clearly teach that there is this other source of warrant, namely it is the witness of the Holy Spirit.”

He also says that “the witness of the holy spirit” is not just some subjective religious experience. He says this.

“This is not a subjective feeling, something you concoct yourself – a religious experience. This is an objective testimony of God himself to our spirits that the great truths of the Gospel are, in fact, true.”

And what evidence does he bring to support that this supposed “witnessing” of the Holy Spirit is not a subjective feeling, a religious experience? It says so in the Bible!

“And I think that the Scriptures clearly teach that there is this other source of warrant, namely it is the witness of the Holy Spirit.”

Oh, scripture says it? Welcome to my tissue religion.

KEVIN HARRIS: We have the witness of the Holy Spirit throughout history in all cultures.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Then the second point was that if you adopt this view (called evidentialism or theological rationalism, which is again the view that belief is rational only if you have adequate evidence and argument) then I point out a person who had been given bad arguments would have a just excuse before God for his unbelief. He could say, God, those Christians only gave me this lousy banana argument from design for your existence; that’s why I didn’t believe . But the Bible is very clear in Romans 1 that all persons are without excuse before God for not believing in his existence. Therefore you cannot be excused even if you’ve been given bad arguments and evidence for the truth of the Christian faith because there is this other warrant for the truth of the Christian faith which you have to ignore and suppress in order to remain in unbelief.

So Craig says we should just continue to believe that Christianity is true when evidence and arguments run against it, because your subjective religious experience of “the witness of the holy spirit” isn’t really a subjective religious experience. No no, you just KNOW it’s true because you just DO okay? You just DO! The Bible says so in Romans 1.

No, sorry boys. You’re being unreasonable. Insisting strongly that you’re not with a hand wave to Romans 1, and the bare assertion that it’s totally not a subjective religious experience but “This is an objective testimony of God himself to our spirits that the great truths of the Gospel are, in fact, true.” - does nothing to alter that obvious fact.

I have an inner witness of the truth of atheism, and it’s not just some subjective feeling, something that I concocted myself, a religious experience. It’s an objective testimony of reality itself to our knowledge that the great truths of Tissue are, in fact, true. And you are all without excuse.

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That sounds good. But you don’t know that Christianity is true by “sound emotional judgement and moral character”.

I certainly understand that Craig thinks there’s some other rational justification for belief besides arguments and evidence. It’s that “witness of the Holy Spirit” thing he talks about. Which is this pleasing positive feeling he gets that once made him run out under a starry night sky and cry after he was depressed as a teenager and talked to a happy Christian girl in his class.

Problem is this feeling has zero Christian content. I’ve had this feeling many times. It is perhaps the best feeling imaginable. But that’s just what it is. A really, really, really good feeling. Craig has convinced himself this feeling comes from the Christian God. There’s zero evidence of that.

And now I will be told that it’s totally not that feeling I’m referring to, no no, mine was just some subjective religious experience. But the one Craig has isn’t. Just isn’t, because it just isn’t. Because it just really isn’t. Because Tissue! Sorry, I mean the Bible.

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I haven’t so much failed to realize that as I simply don’t believe the truth of that claim. I have assessed the arguments for that position and I find them nothing short of delusional. Childish, to be completely frank.

No, your personal religious experience (very moving positive feeling), aka “the witness of the Holy Spirit” isn’t another way to know that Christanity is true. You’d like that to be the case so very much, and that is why you find the claim persuasive.

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In one thing I actually agree with Craig. When he writes that this is only to convince other Christians to adopt this “epistemology”(I’m being charitable in even calling it that) that makes perfect sense. Someone who isn’t already deeply committed to Christianity could not possibly find the advocated position persuasive, much less rational.

So, in answer to his question: When reason is not a minister of the Christian faith, what should we do? (I take that to mean, When we don’t have good arguments and evidence for the Christian faith, or when perhaps even the arguments and the evidence are against us, what should we do?) Be unreasonable? No, I’m not saying be unreasonable. I’m saying that rational belief isn’t based exclusively on arguments and evidence so that you are reasonable. That’s the whole point! You are reasonable in believing on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit. And I give a couple of arguments for this view that are intended to appeal to my fellow Christians – this is not apologetics for non-Christians, this is to persuade other Christians to adopt this epistemology.

We’ve seen this phenomenon before in many other places. It’s the “it doesn’t work now because there’s so many skeptics around, you have to already believe it first”-excuse offered by astrologers, fortune tellers, crystal healers, water-diviners, ghost-busters, and so on. If you can make yourself believe first, your critical faculties can be bypassed and then because you find that you like believing this thing, you can make yourself think it works even when it doesn’t.

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@Rumraket, tell us what you REALLY think. Don’t hold back so much :crazy_face:

Hehe.

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A lot of people miss this very basic point: the point of Reformed Epistemology is not to provide an argument that the Christian faith is true. Rather, the point is to provide an epistemological warrant for Christians to believe that the Christian faith is true, assuming that it is true in the first place. To phrase it again:

  1. Christianity is true
  2. If Christianity is true, then Christians are justified in believing Christianity.
  3. (MP 1, 2) Christians are justified in believing Christianity.

The point of “regular apologetics” is to argue 1). The point of RE is to argue 2). This is why it seems so unconvincing to atheists who don’t already think Christianity is true.

Thus, the bulk of your posts criticizing Craig as delusional simply misses the point.

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Obviously I disagree with that. It’s homing in on the very point point: Even if you are already a Christian, you should not adopt this “reformed epistemology” position as it would be irrational to do so. You have no good reason to think that “the witness of the Holy Spirit” somehow means that you know Christianity is true. Romans 1 doesn’t make it true by fiat. And the “Holy Spirit” experience itself has no knowledge content. It just feels good. Use whatever superlatives you feel the need to, to describe it, but it’s not a knowledge experience. It’s a kind of emotional and physical pleasure. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. By all means, feel it as often and as much as you can. But don’t delude yourself into thinking that you know Christianity is true because you can enter into this kind of state of experience.

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I think I’m going to get this on a t-shirt.

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Neither Craig nor Plantinga are primarily referring to mystical visions or transcendent private religious experiences when they talk about the “witness of the Holy Spirit.”

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So you say.

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I don’t find Craig remotely convincing on these points.

That’s a red flag right there.

That is not reasonable.

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The really amazing thing to me is the apparently credulous willingness to believe that one fully understands, and can therefore effectively refute, the “epistemology” of another, based upon mere online exchanges of words, rather than in face to face dialogue and interchange. Such online monologues and diatribes usually do little more than huddle the herds into their already chosen camps.
Despite the appearance of being in dialogue, they are simply instances of two ships passing in the night.
This is precisely where Christians HOPE that the “witness of the Holy Spirit,” Who is conceived of as speaking quietly to all people at all times, including to skeptics and all those uninclined to so believe, --i.e. whether apprehended or not, will make the bridging difference which can lead to mutual understanding, and possibly even the basis for a new agreement where there seemed to be none.
This hope is not “antirational,” it is “suprarational.”

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I did not mean to imply that everyone who is a Christian finds Craig’s argument here persuasive. Craig is in part writing to convince other Christians to adopt this stance, and appears to scold those who don’t.

I happen to applaud the Christian who adopts the attitude that Craig finds makes him tremble.

DR. CRAIG: (…) Now, I disagree heartily with this nonchalant stance of the Christian apologist who says, I am willing to change my mind if the evidence contradicts it . That makes me tremble.

It seems to me this scary and nonchalant stance is how we should all strive to be. To be willing to change your mind if evidence contradicts your beliefs. Including if you have transformative religious experiences.

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“whether apprehended or not” is a kind of hedging the bet against arguments that your personal religious feelings are felt by everyone, and so has no actual theistic, much less Christian content.

The problem with using that turn of phrase is that you can always just fall back on that excuse. You can concede that someone else, of a different religion, or even a nonbeliever, can get the same feeling and experience that you do, but just rationalize that they’re somehow not properly “apprehending” the experience as a “witness of the Holy Spirit” that confirms the truth of Christianity.

But that is all that is, a rationalization you’ve internalized, to regurgitate for this exact situation. Where evidence from the real world(that other people have similarly powerful religious experiences) should cause you to think that perhaps yours isn’t from “the Holy Spirit” after all, you have been provided this fall-back excuse.

In a way this is similar to what conspiracy theorists and Flat-Earthers do when you provide them a satellite picture of Earth, depicting a sphere in space. They then automatically go to their rationalization that the picture is fake, and has been photoshopped.

You can always just rationalize in the same way that Craig does, that “I merely happen to be in some historically contingent circumstance, so even though now the evidence is against me, I can fall back on my internal feeling of the Holy Spirit and remain a believer even if the evidence remains against me for the rest of my life, or until such a time that new evidence that turns the situation around is found again”.

Once you allow yourself to be persuaded to adopt these fits-all rules that can always be invoked in ad-hoc manner to dismiss and explain away any imaginable contradictory evidence, then you have made it impossible for yourself to discover if you are actually wrong.

To adopt Craig’s stance here is to seal yourself off emotionally and intellectually from the possibility that your position is wrong. A sort of epistemological valve that will allow you to enter into the Christian faith(or whatever belief it is), but from which you can’t escape again because now this internal rule that becomes active on the inside won’t allow you to conclude that you are mistaken.

That’s a bug, not a feature. An epistemology that allows you to move into such a sealed state of mind is patently irrational.

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I think Pascal’s 3 orders is the right framework to understand what WLC has in mind when he is referring to the « witness of the Holy Spirit ». Here is a quote from fragment 308 where he distinguishes three faculties of knowledge:

« The infinite distance between body and mind symbolizes the infinitely more infinite distance between mind and charity, for charity is supernatural. All the splendor of greatness lacks luster for those engaged in pursuits of the mind. The greatness of intellectual people is not visible to kings, rich men, captains, who are all great in a carnal sense. The greatness of wisdom, which is nothing if it does not come from God, is not visible to carnal or intellectual people. They are three orders differing in kind. »

And here is a nice video on the same issue

Face to face communication isn’t a cure-all.

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You are free to reject the suprarational, of course. But, the very fact that I remain open to Someone Else, viz., the Holy Spirit, continuing to correct or at least influence me means it is most definitely not a closed frame of mind. I remain open to that leading, and even hopeful that you and I may find more common ground. Cheers!