Monday, October 19, 2015

Koukl responds (Updated)


Christian apologist Greg Koukl kindly sent me a response to my recent post about the discussion generated by his recent comments about atheism, natural theology, and Romans 1:18-20.  With his permission, I post it here.  I’ve been thinking of writing up a follow-up to my recent post anyway, and when I do I’ll comment on Greg’s remarks.  But for the moment, here is Greg’s response, for which I thank him: 

Feser’s concern, I think, is partly the result of taking general remarks made in a video blog about Romans 1 and asking of it the kind of precision not generally possible in that format.  In a brief verbal summary of an issue there is little opportunity for nuance regarding the kinds of concerns brought up in Feser’s thoughtful 2,500 word blog, which may account for my own remarks appearing “glib."

Maybe a few brief comments (versus a full-throated response) will add more clarity, though it probably will not alleviate all the disagreement.  No worries.  I can live with opposing views, even from people I respect (I thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read of Feser’s The Last Superstition).

Feser faulted me for lack of argument, yet my purpose was not to make a case, but rather merely to articulate what I take to be Paul’s assessment of man’s condition.

As to the comment, “'The Bible says so' is, of course, not a good argument to give someone who doesn’t accept the authority of the Bible in the first place,” I agree wholeheartedly, as those familiar with my work know. My comments in the video blog, however, were directed to believers (just as Paul’s were), not atheists, so a straightforward appeal to the text seems legitimate.

As to whether or not my take on Romans 1 is an “extreme interpretation” or not, I can only commend you to Paul’s wording itself.  I don’t think it is the least bit vague, ambiguous, or moderate.  He says that certain of God’s attributes have been “clearly seen” and “understood” (1:20), and certain particulars about God are “known” being “evident within them,” since “God made it evident to them” (1:19).  Yet men still "suppress” (katecho, "to hold down, repress," Wuest) these truths “in unrighteousness.” It’s difficult to see how a more moderate (vs. my “extreme”) understanding of the passage could actually be faithful to Paul’s words.

Further, if our knowledge of God is merely “general and confused” (Aquinas), it’s hard to see how God can hold us accountable for it (“without excuse” 1:20), making us properly subject to his “wrath” (orge, 1:18).

Even after reading Feser’s critique (et al), it still strikes me that, regarding man’s innate knowledge of God, Paul is saying something quite a bit stronger than that man has “a natural inclination of the weaker and inchoate sort." Thus, his unbelief is properly culpable.

For the record, I take this knowledge to be dispositional (known even if not currently or consciously aware of), not occurent (in mind and currently aware of) for the reasons that Feser (and others) pointed out.  So man’s state of awareness of God, and his heart’s disposition towards rebellion against God are both sub-conscious.

Thus, though many atheists are not consciously aware of their rebellion (some are, of course) and may feel they have intellectual integrity in their atheism (some demonstrate a measure of integrity in their reasoned rejection of God), still, when all the cards are on the table in the final judgment, when men’s deepest and truest motives are fully revealed (Lk. 12:2), rebellion will be at the core.  This rebellion-at-the-core, I think, is what Paul had in mind in Rom. 1—a fairly ordinary, run of the mill biblical point, it seems.

Regarding beleaguered Emil, I am inclined to agree with Feser: "A religious believer is not like someone trying to hold a beach ball underwater; rather, he is like someone trying to get a submerged beach ball with a leak in it to come back up to the surface." Nicely put.

Remember, Paul’s point is that fallen humans are in rebellion and unbelief.  But regeneration changes that, does it not?  Those who have come to Christ (e.g., “Emil”) are not the subject of his concern.  Doubt may still crop up, but for completely different reasons, I think.  So the alleged reductio simply does not apply here since the scope of Paul’s comments (along with my reflections on them) is limited to man in rebellion, not to believers who have laid down their arms.

However, even deeply distressed Emil (and atheists with his same complaint) must account for the objective morality that was violated by the massacre, and no subjectivist account (biological or social) is going to be adequate. Ultimately, even man’s ubiquitous complaint about real Evil in the world (a complaint I share), ultimately and irrevocably (I think) points back to the God who alone grounds the Goodness necessary to make the problem of evil intelligible to begin with.

So, it seems to me that my general remarks about Romans 1 and atheists are defensible given the video’s intended audience and scope, and given the specific language of Romans 1.  In the future when I address this issue, I will try to remember the “dispositional knowledge” qualification that might alleviate some confusion.

One final thought.  Though I do not think it helpful to bandy this phrase about in the public dialog, the statement, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God,” is not mine, but God’s.

Greg Koukl

Stand to Reason

UPDATE: Greg Koukl’s response has now been posted also at the Stand to Reason blog.  And Randal Rauser comments on Koukl’s response at his own blog.

107 comments:

RD Rauser said...

It is difficult to know where to begin with Koukl's comments. So let me begin with this: If you're going to make sweeping moral indictments of an entire class of people, whether they be immigrants, women, Republicans, or atheists, you better be prepared to defend it. If you can't defend it in a two minute video, perhaps you shouldn't present it in a two minute video to begin with.

Second, Koukl's reading of Romans 1:20 indicts countless Christians as well. In this verse Paul writes: "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." If God's invisible qualities are really always clear to all as Koukl apparently thinks, then why is it that so many Christians have deep struggles with doubting the goodness, and even the existence, of God. (In "Is the Atheist My Neighbor?" I provide the well known example of Mother Teresa, but of course there are countless others.)

The dilemma for Koukl is clear: if atheists are morally culpable for suppressing God's revelation, the doubting Christian is as well. So if Koukl wants to retain this reading, then he can do so. But if he wants to be consistent, shouldn't he start condemning Christians who doubt for willfully suppressing God's revelation to them?

Third, if Koukl thinks empirical evidence can be disregarded in inferring truth claims from particular biblical verses, then why doesn't he conclude that geocentrism is true based on Joshua 10:13? If, on the other hand, he thinks scientific evidence for heliocentrism is relevant to reading Joshua 10:13, why doesn't he think the diversity of empirical evidence for belief and doubt is relevant when reading Romans 1?

Fourth, Koukl writes that doubting Christians like Emil (a hypothetical example I provide of a suffering, doubting Christian) and atheists "must account for the objective morality that was violated by the massacre, and no subjectivist account (biological or social) is going to be adequate."

If I may be blunt, this comment seems pastorally tone deaf. Koukl thinks that people in the depth of agonizing pain and loss are obliged to think clearly about questions of moral ontology? Really?

Further, as regards moral ontology surely Koukl is aware that there are many atheists (e.g. Erik Wielenberg) who offer defenses of moral objectivism? If he wants to offer a rebuttal to Wielenberg's work, he's welcome to do so. But suggesting, as Koukl seems to be doing, that atheists only have moral subjectivism is uninformed at best.

Finally, Koukl closes by citing Psalm 14:1/53:1 in the apparent belief that these verses are directed at atheists. This is a lamentable instance of the old maxim: A text taken out of context is a pretext for a proof-text. For a rebuttal of this common abuse of this verse, please see my book "Is the Atheist My Neighbor?"

Edward T. Babinski said...

Randal makes a good case.

Paul's claim "what can be known about God is plain," and people are "without excuse" seems to be a challenge not just to polytheists in ancient Rome, but to modern day atheists as well. It sounds like a universally applicable claim or challenge. But as such that means everyone is depicted as being in "rebellion" and atheists are not being specially targeted in the Bible.

Of course one must also keep in mind that theists (and even polytheists such as those Paul faced in Rome) assured themselves for millennia that the existence of "the divine" was plain to all. Nowadays theists have to consider that they might be talking to people who do not find the existence of "the divine" plain at all.

At any rate I suspect Paul borrowed his ideas in Romans from a Hellenistic Jewish work, The Wisdom of Solomon. What do inerrantists make of the comparisons between portions of Romans and The Wisdom of Solomon--scroll halfway down the following page to read such comparisons for one's self: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-apostle-paul-fanaticus-extremus-all_11.html

Anonymous said...

Why does everything always have to turn out to be Christian?
And what the bleep has anything in "Romans" got to do with enabling anyone to understand the human/Divine condition in the now-time quantum world in which everybody is instantaneously interconnected?
Why not for instance check out these books by Richard Thompson
Vedic Cosmology & Astronomy
Maya The World As Virtual Reality
God Science & Divine Causation

Patrick said...

From the following contribution one can draw the conclusion that science confirms Koukl’s view:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/richard-dawkins-take-heed-even-atheists-instinctively-believe-creator-says-study-1505712

Scott said...

What happened to Ed's point that St. Paul can (and should) be understood to be referring to atheism and idolatry as mass phenomena? That seems pretty important.

JohnD said...

RD Rauser,

You said, "The dilemma for Koukl is clear: if atheists are morally culpable for suppressing God's revelation, the doubting Christian is as well. So if Koukl wants to retain this reading, then he can do so. But if he wants to be consistent, shouldn't he start condemning Christians who doubt for willfully suppressing God's revelation to them?"

Christians don't wilfully suppress God's revelation. They submit to it. Even when they have doubts, they submit to God and His revelation of Himself/attributes. When a person fails to submit to it and allows the doubts to lead him or her to settled unbelief, then he or she ceases to be Christian in the formal sense. So, your dilemma misses the mark: there is no one in the second category who is at the same time Christian and wilfully suppressing God's revelation of His Divine attributes and Divine nature.

RD Rauser said...

JohnD,

You're free to take the position that a self-described Christian who doubts is willfully supressing God's revelation and thereby is, in fact, not really a Christian. I don't agree with you, but at least you're consistent.

My point is simply that Koukl should recognize this is the implication of his position and he should respond by calling out all those "doubting Christians" in the pew as the rebellious, insubordinate apostates they are.

Vasco da Gama said...

Maybe I don't understand the debate on the "Christian who doubts", as I fail to see any relevance on this matter.

Christians know very well that we are far from perfect. We fail and sin (I expect that this is not my particular peculiarity) much more often than we would like. We realize that our faith is not so strong as it should be, and we seek and pray for the strengthening of our faith.

RD Rauser said...

Vasco,

Based on Koukl's reading of Romans 1, the existence and nature of God is always "plain and clear" to all. Thus, if at some time the existence and/or nature of God appears not to be plain and clear to a particular individual, it is because that individual is actively rebelling against God, suppressing God's plain and clear revelation. On Koukl's view, this should apply not only to atheists, but to the doubting Christian as well.

Eric MacDonald said...

Quite aside from the arguments from Aquinas, Koukl is using Romans 1.18-20 illegitimately. In order to understand the point here, we don't have to take the passage as much more than two-pronged assault on human sinfulness, not as in itself an argument. It is either a valid argument or it is not. Revelation can make no difference here.

In Romans 1 Paul’s intention is to indicate that all are without excuse. Jews and Gentiles are both at fault. Since Gentiles have not received the revelation to the Jews, Gentiles must be blind to the truth in another way, so Paul argues they are blind to natural theology. Here he argues that the 'the things [God] has made' should be all the proof you need in order to acknowledge God as creator. So, Jews and Gentiles all stand under God's judgement; the Jews because they misunderstand their own scriptures; the Gentiles because the evidence is close to hand for anyone who can see. But adverting to an argument is not to make it.

Scott said...

Continuing my previous point: The entire passage refers to a plural "they." And surely we're not to understand from Romans 1:26-27 that every individual man and woman practiced homosexual sex. Why should we understand 1:28-32 "individually" or "severally" rather than "corporately" and "jointly" (as it were)? Is this not a comment on a culture rather than on every single person within that culture?

Scott said...

(And should we not therefore understand 1:18 as a statement about a culture that suppresses the truth of God by its wickedness rather than as a statement that the existence of God should be plain and obvious to any and every individual person no matter what?)

Vasco da Gama said...

Rauser,

Thanks, I see what you mean, I was missing the point of the discussion (sorry). I can't agree with Koukl, it just doesn't make sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Below is a quote from Aquinas' commentary on Romans; he seems more in line with Koukl instead of Rauser. Thoughts?

In regard to the first it should be noted that ignorance excuses from guilt, when it precedes and causes guilt in such a way that the ignorance itself is not the result of guilt; for example, when a person, after exercising due caution, thinks he is striking a foe, when he is really striking his father. But if the ignorance is caused by guilt, it cannot excuse one from a fault that follows. Thus, if a person commits murder, because he is drunk, he is not excused from the guilt, because he sinned by intoxicating himself; indeed, according to the Philosopher, he deserves a double penalty. 125. First, therefore, he states his intention, saying: So, i.e., things about god are so well known to them, that they are without excuse, i.e., they cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance: "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (Jas 4:17); "Therefore, you have no excuse" (Rom 2:1). 126. Secondly, he proves his statement at For, although they knew (v. 21). First, he shows that their first guilt did not proceed from ignorance; secondly, their ignorance proceeded from this guilt, there [v. 21b; n.
128] at but became vain. 69 127. That their basic guilt was not due to ignorance is shown by the fact that, although they possessed knowledge of God, they failed to use it unto good. For they knew God in two ways: first, as the supereminent being, to Whom glory and honor were due. They are said to be without excuse, therefore, because, although they knew god, they did not honor him as God; either because they failed to pay Him due worship or because they put a limit to His power and knowledge by denying certain aspects of His power and knowledge, contrary to Si (43:30): "when you exalt him, put forth all your strength." Secondly, they knew Him as the cause of all good things. Hence, in all things he was deserving of thanks, which they did not render; rather, they attributed their blessings to their own talent and power. Hence, he adds: nor did they give thanks, namely, to the Lord: "Give thanks to Him in all circumstances" (1 Th 5:18).

https://sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/romans/st-thomas-aquinas-on-romans/chapter-1

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Below is a quote from Aquinas' commentary on Romans; he seems more in line with Koukl instead of Rauser. Thoughts?

Aquinas says that "ignorance excuses from guilt", but Koukl says of the unbelief of a man that "his unbelief is properly culpable", and seems to clearly indicate that there aren't any circumstances which might be mitigating. Nothing of what I've seen thus far of Rauser indicates to me that he would agree with Koukl on that point. It seems to me, then, that it is Rauser with whom Aquinas is more in line with. (Although... Aquinas preceded Koukl and Rauser, so the question should be which of the two is more in line with Aquinas, and my answer, as might be guessed, would be Rauser.)

The Masked Chicken said...

"Aquinas says that "ignorance excuses from guilt", but Koukl says of the unbelief of a man that "his unbelief is properly culpable", and seems to clearly indicate that there aren't any circumstances which might be mitigating."

If Koukl were to believe this, he would be contradicting Christ, himself (Luke 12: 47 - 48):

"And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating.

But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more."

The Chicken

Anonymous said...

@ Glen I do not believe you read the whole passage. What you qouted is what Aquinas says is not the case when it comes to Romans 1.

But if the ignorance is caused by guilt, it cannot excuse one from a fault that follows. Thus, if a person commits murder, because he is drunk, he is not excused from the guilt, because he sinned by intoxicating himself; indeed, according to the Philosopher, he deserves a double penalty. 125. First, therefore, he states his intention, saying: So, i.e., things about god are so well known to them, that they are without excuse, i.e., they cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance: "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (Jas 4:17); "Therefore, you have no excuse" (Rom 2:1).

Eric MacDonald said...

Koukl makes a number of tyro mistakes. Take this, for instance:

"I take this knowledge to be dispositional (known even if not currently or consciously aware of), not occurent (in mind and currently aware of)."

And then he goes on to the idea that our knowledge or suppression of our knowledge of God is subconscious. But this is not what 'dispositional' means. It means that a person who believes "X", will, when the opportunity arises to speak of "X", he has a disposition to say that he believes "X". All of our beliefs are dispositional in this sense. But that does not mean subconscious. It means just what it says. They are beliefs that we hold consciously in appropriate circumstances. We cannot be rehearsing all that we know at any given moment of time.

Nor is Aquinas' response to Romans 1 all that relevant (not that his arguments are not otherwise of value). The question at hand is what Paul was trying to do by saying what he does. And Paul had a problem. Romans clearly thematises a condemnation of the Jews. But he cannot condemn the Jews alone. He must show that we are none of us guiltless, and for Paul that goes for Jews and Gentiles, believers and unbelievers, for we have all fallen short of the glory of God (3.23). However, what he says about the guilt of the Gentiles is not enough for his purpose. He needed to make an argument, which he does not do. He cannot just say that the existence of God is evident in the things God has made. He must show how this works out in an argument. Here Aquinas is relevant, since he makes the argument, but not with respect to Paul's pointing towards a possible argument.

Anonymous said...

I knew it!
I knew Babinski would find his way here.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

@ Glen I do not believe you read the whole passage. What you qouted is what Aquinas says is not the case when it comes to Romans 1.

That is true: what I quoted is what Aquinas says is not the case when it comes to Romans 1. However, although Koukl appeals to Romans 1 for support, it is of atheists today which Koukl speaks. Koukl's thesis is that atheists today are "properly culpable" for their unbelief just as were the "they" in Romans 1. But Aquinas points out (in the passage) that the "they" of Romans 1 previously "possessed knowledge of God" (Romans 1:21 indicates the same thing), and it is at least somewhat dubious whether it can be rightly said that each member of the class of atheists today previously "possessed knowledge of God". Can the unbelief of an atheist who has not previously possessed knowledge of God be "properly culpable"? It was in regard this question (the answer to which I say is "no") that I quoted Aquinas saying that "ignorance excuses from guilt".

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

I should add that I took what you wrote (Below is a quote from Aquinas' commentary on Romans; he seems more in line with Koukl instead of Rauser. Thoughts?) as an invitation to comment on which of Koukl and Rauser might be more in line with Aquinas, not with respect to Romans 1 specifically and without extrapolation from it, but in attempting to apply it to atheists of today (even though, admittedly, that may not be what you had in mind at the time).

Glenn said...

(I misspoke: s/b "Koukl's thesis is that the unbelief of atheists today is "properly culpable".)

Glenn said...

Suppose Emil is walking in a field which, unbeknownst to him, is populated with left over land mines. Since Emil does not know that the field is populated with left over land minds, he does not know -- indeed, cannot know -- that there is a land mine just where his next step is about to fall. Emil takes that next step. Kaboom. Emil is no more. Did Emil just commit suicide? If not, why should it be said of the unbelief of an atheist who has not previously possessed knowledge of God that it is (necessarily) "properly culpable"?

Brandon said...

Rauser to JohnD:

You're free to take the position that a self-described Christian who doubts is willfully supressing God's revelation and thereby is, in fact, not really a Christian. I don't agree with you, but at least you're consistent.

I read JohnD's point in a different way, namely, that taking the doubting Christian to be "suppressing God's revelation" in the sense an atheist does is equivocation: if the doubting Christian were actually "suppressing God's revelation" in the way an atheist does, he would stop being a Christian, for the same reasons atheists aren't Christians. And, indeed, this is a genuine problem with this entire line of argument: since there are relevant differences in mindset between a doubting Christian and an atheist, which are precisely what allow one to classify the one as a doubting Christian and the other as an atheist, it follows that it is entirely possible on Koukl's supposition to take the moral situation of the other to be different from the moral situation of the other.

RD Rauser said...

Brandon, you write that for "the doubting Christian to be 'suppressing God's revelation" in the sense an atheist does is equivocation'".

But that is not correct. On Koukl's view, anybody who fails to recognize the "plain and clear" evidence of God's existence and nature is culpable, whether that person identifies as an atheist, an agnostic, or a theist.

Consider an example. Let's say that you say Tom's shirt is red, and I say Tom's shirt is blue. So I say, "Tom, come stand here in the light." Tom does so, and it is plain and clear that his shirt is blue.

If you respond, "No his shirt is red," you're like the atheist, denying the plain and clear evidence of Tom's shirt.

If you say, "I guess his shirt is blue. But I'm not entirely sure. It could be red. I don't know what to think", you'd be like the Christian who is doubting.

In both cases, if the shirt is red and this is plain and clear to every objective observer, then the fellow who offers a milquetoast and middling defense of blueness is morally culpable just like the person who offers a ringing endorsement of redness.

Both are failing to respond appropriately to the plain and clear evidence available to all.

Thursday said...

What exactly is wrong with saying that doubting Christians are, to some extent at least, morally culpable for that doubt?

RG said...

To: RD Rauser
The observation of Joshua 10:13 is a piece of data, not a theory about astronomy.

JohnD said...

Brandon and RD Rauser,

Brandon, thank you for interpreting my comment correctly, and RD I’m sorry it was not as clear as it could have been.

RD, you said, “On Koukl's view, anybody who fails to recognize the "plain and clear" evidence of God's existence and nature is culpable, whether that person identifies as an atheist, an agnostic, or a theist.”

The ambiguity here is in the phrase “fails to recognize” since the atheist, agnostic, and theist to not “fail to recognize” God’s existence and nature in the same way, and hence they are not all culpable in the same way. An atheist has a settled view that entails a denial of the plan and clear evidence. A Christian has a settled view that entails an acceptance of and submission to God’s nature manifested by evidence even if its plainness or clarity is doubted on some point or other or at some time or other. The Christians doubts are culpable in the sense that the atheists/agnostics are culpable only if the Christian gives up this submission/acceptance of God. So, while Christians can indeed be culpable for doubting God’s presence or power; they are clearly not culpable in the same sense the atheist is.

RD Rauser said...

RG,

I never said Joshua 10:13 is a "theory about astronomy". However, it attributes an action to God -- that of halting the movement of the sun through the sky -- which we know to be inconsistent with the heliocentric model of the Solar System.

Max_W said...

To Thursday:

I think that an argument can be made that a short-duration doubt or crisis of faith is not necessarily a sin or a moral failing, particularly if the crisis/doubt occurs as a result of physical or psychological stress. The evidence for this is in Mathew 27:46 in which on the cross, Jesus said "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Since Jesus did not sin and was morally perfect, it would seem to follow that a short-term crisis of faith is not necessarily a sin or a moral failing.

RD Rauser said...

JohnD,

I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean when you say that atheists and Christians each have a "settled view". The fact is that individual atheists and individual Christians are all over the map in terms of their degree of conviction in their beliefs, their openness to new evidence, etc.

I also don't understand what you mean when you say that Christians are culpable "only if the Christian gives up this submission/acceptance of God."

But regardless of the precise meaning of your claims, those are your views, not Koukl's. As I pointed out, Koukl's indictment of atheists based on the "plain and clear" teaching of scripture applies as a moral indictment to anybody who fails to affirm the same claims with the appropriate level of conviction that something plain and clear requires. Since Christians often fail to affirm God's existence and/or nature with the degree of conviction appropriate to something that is "plain and clear", Christians are to that extent subject to the same moral indictment that Koukl applies to atheists.

Brandon said...

On Koukl's view, anybody who fails to recognize the "plain and clear" evidence of God's existence and nature is culpable, whether that person identifies as an atheist, an agnostic, or a theist.

This seems to make the obvious error of conflating first-order and second-order recognition of plain evidence as if they were the same thing, which they are not. The distinction is an easily recognizable one in everyday life. To accept plain evidence is not the same as recognizing the plainness of the evidence in one's reasoning; the former requires no reflection, but the latter does.

To put the same point from a different direction, your claim merely propagates the problem: "fails to recognize" in what way? Quite clearly the doubting Christian cannot "fail to recognize" things that point to the existence and goodness of God in the same way that an atheist "fails to recognize" things that show the existence and goodness of God, because ex hypothesi he is a doubting presently Christian, not a formerly Christian atheist. You have literally done nothing to show that the failure to recognize in each case is the same kind rather than different kinds of mindset that happen to be able to be described, if one is loose and vague, in broadly similar terms. Indeed, we see the obvious worry that you are absurdly conflating very different things under similar terminology in your example of Mother Teresa: in what way can it actually be said that the doubting mindset of Mother Teresa, continuing and active Christian seeking to live a Christian life in imitation of Christ and continually and actively praying to God and hoping for interaction with him despite aridity, is just the same kind of mindset as the disbelieving mindset of Richard Dawkins? From how many potentially relevant particular details do you have to abstract to smash those two into the same category for any and every possible purpose of moral assessment?

And, indeed, your analogy simply underlines the point: the two mindsets described in the color case are not even plausibly the same kind of approach to evidence.

RD Rauser said...

Brandon,

I make no reference to a "mindset". I refer simpy to certain set of propositions (incidentally, propositions which Koukl has yet to identify) regarding the existence and nature of God. The atheist believes those propositions to be false, the doubting Christian fails to accept them as true with the adequate degree of conviction required of propositions the evidence of which is plain and clear.

Luke said...

Rauser,

Do you know that Koukl would not/ does not ascribe the same moral indictment to Christians? Why wouldn't he?

RD Rauser said...

Luke,

If Koukl believes that every Christian who ever has any doubt about God's existence and/or nature is thereby sinning, he should say so. Preferably at the same time that he impugns the morality of atheists.

scbrownlhrm said...

Rauser,


I agree with most of your points about specific knowledge relating to "God X", and I also don't think Romans 1 is speaking of that sort of knowledge. It seems to be speaking of something far more ubiquitous, such that Mankind is thematically entrenched in Paul's thesis.


However, it's unclear what you think of Mankind's culpability where Knowledge/Perception is concerned. Is there, on your view, a reference in Romans 1 to Mankind at all, or is it all a statement about a regional issue, say, with Religion X, so to speak?

The reason I ask is that it does not seem to me that you and Koukl are stating different things - rather it seems to me that the two of you are simply weighting different locations and tendencies (pleural) of Mankind's nature (singular).

To be clear, in order to speak of an *individual* person one *must* find a level, or layer, wherein that person shares what all of Mankind shares (on this topic). Internal - conscious - culpability via an affront against truth is ubiquitous - and that is so concrete that the proof is found immediately should any of us, here, today, claim the moral spotlessness which Christ claimed for Himself - as should you or I do so the reaction against such a claim would be - simply - both ubiquitous and concrete.

It doesn't seem to me Koukl is going as far as you think he is on "perceived truth volitionally traded away for the sake of the self" such that, shall it be the Truth (whatever that truth is) or shall it be the Self, well the volitional trading away of Truth in favor of the Self ensues.

The question is, it seems, not *if* such trading goes on - just claim to be morally spotless and wait for the proof that such an affront to truth in our own trading bites the consciousness (awareness) of Mankind. Rather, the question(s) is/are A: what sort of trading away truth is Romans 1 leveling against Mankind and/or B: Is Romans 1 even referencing Mankind at all on your view?

I tend to agree with both Feser and Koukl in their direction - as such is towards the *ubiquitous* nature of the charge - on Mankind - where Feser points to the less specific and more general and Koukl points to something which he affirms is not always conscious per se but is still enough to grant culpability when perception/truth/trading comes to the surface. On reading Koukl I don't hear him saying anything about the specific knowledge of "God X". He seems to be speaking of something less specific. Whereas, I get the sense that you take Paul's theme to be a complaint against, not Mankind, but against a regional "happening".

On Koukl's "less specific" it seems to be nothing more than what Romans states - the hazy lines of "power" and of "deity", which echoes what C.S. Lewis termed, not God, nor god, but that particular something which he called the Other, the Outer.

Now, if that is too far on your view, that is fine. I'm not trying to clarify if "that is too far" on your view. Rather, I am interested in questions A and B above, on your view.

Irenist said...

@Edward T. Babinski:

I suspect Paul borrowed his ideas in Romans from a Hellenistic Jewish work, The Wisdom of Solomon. What do inerrantists make of the comparisons between portions of Romans and The Wisdom of Solomon?

We Catholics are inerrantists, although not literalists like some Fundamentalist Protestants. So what do we Catholics think?

Well, considering that, like the Orthodox, we regard the Book of Wisdom (a.k.a. The Wisdom of Solomon) as a (deutero-) canonical part of the Old Testament, I'd say that any parallels are merely to be expected, since Scripture references the rest of Scripture constantly. Why do you ask?




MikeT said...

Scott,

Paul is using the extreme case in order to show that his claim applies to all people. Each and every one. Paul is saying that every person, even the individual who is rebelling against God and whom God has given over to a debased mind, even he knows God.

Rauser,

Why do Christians have doubts? Because Christians still struggle against their fallen sin-scarred nature. That's the idea behind progressive sanctification. And as they pray, meditate on scripture and become more like Christ this knowledge becomes more obvious (the beach ball rises toward the surface). Hidden knowledge becomes obvious. I have a friend like this. To the best of my knowledge she doesn't know a thing about any sort of apologetics. Its simply obvious to her when she looks at nature that God exists. That's what I am talking about.

And the reason the believer is not culpable for his doubts is that he struggles against his fallen nature. He doesn't want to be this way. The unbeliever does.

RG said...

RD Rauser said...
I never said Joshua 10:13 is a "theory about astronomy". However, it attributes an action to God -- that of halting the movement of the sun through the sky -- which we know to be inconsistent with the heliocentric model of the Solar System.

Actually, Joshua 10:13 is inconsistent with geocentric astronomy, too: the sun and moon are supposed to keep moving. Those who construct models and theories have to deal with outliers, which in this case would no doubt be deleted. So much for miracles.

abcde234324 said...

I don't get the argument at all. Why can't the verse be talking about perspective? Whatever action God took, it caused from a human perspective the sun to stop moving across the sky.

Brandon said...

I make no reference to a "mindset". I refer simpy to certain set of propositions (incidentally, propositions which Koukl has yet to identify) regarding the existence and nature of God. The atheist believes those propositions to be false, the doubting Christian fails to accept them as true with the adequate degree of conviction required of propositions the evidence of which is plain and clear.

This is an extraordinary study in non-answering. You do grasp that the entire subject of the discussion is moral psychology, do you not? You do grasp that mindset, state of mind, disposition of character, are all things that cannot be ignored in a discussion of moral evaluation, do you not.

Brandon said...

The atheist believes those propositions to be false, the doubting Christian fails to accept them as true with the adequate degree of conviction required of propositions the evidence of which is plain and clear.

And let us not ignore that this completely arbitrary definition pf the doubting Christian fails to address the specific point of my argument, which is that you have done nothing to indicate that the moral situation involved in the latter case is actually the same kind of thing for the kinds of moral purposes at issue here.

Brandon said...

While both of my previous comments are, I think, quite right, I want to state the point in a way that will make my meaning quite clear:

(1) Koukl's repeated emphasis throughout has been on, in the phrase he borrows from Paul, "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness", which he repeatedly characterizes as a morally culpable act with regard to evidence and claims results in "false religion or no religion". He is thus not concerned with "degree of conviction" in propositions but with psychological acts and moral states of mind.

(2) As noted by JohnD, the doubt of the doubting Christian will not obviously involve the same psychological acts as those of the atheist, and we have some reason to think that there are significant differences given that the one is in fact, ex hypothesi, still Christian, and the other is not a believer at all. In trying to conflate the case of the atheist and the doubting Christian, Rauser repeatedly seems to conflate first-order considerations (whether someone accepts truth on the basis of evidence that is plain and clear) and second-order considerations (whether someone treats the evidence as plain and clear in reflection, reasoning, and action). It is quite clear from Koukl's comments above, on the other hand, that he does think that the cases of the atheist and the doubting Christian do not share the same underlying moral psychology, and what he says is at least consistent with taking the distinction between first-order and second-order considerations to be important. (And similar such distinctions are commonly important throughout moral psychology. Consider, for instance, the distinction between sinning and being strongly tempted to sin. This is a fundamental moral distinction, without which we only get a rather shoddy account of moral psychology. But it seems that one could easily run an argument parallel to Rauser's which would erase the distinction entirely.)

(3) Rauser has repeatedly appealed rhetorically to what we would in colloquial terms call the doubting Christian -- for instance, with his talk above about "a self-described Christian who doubts" or his claim that Koukl should be condemning Christians who doubt. He has also claimed that "the doubting Christian fails to accept them as true with the adequate degree of conviction required of propositions the evidence of which is plain and clear." But he has not established that any case of what we would normally think of as doubting Christians actually fits his description, because he has not actually given any argument (other than a few vague comments that, again, seem to conflate first-order and second-order considerations) for what "the adequate degree of conviction required of propositions the evidence of which is plain and clear" is. He is not getting any such standard from Koukl. Koukl, remember, talks about moral states of mind and psychological acts, not degrees of conviction, and he pins the moral blame on suppression of truth resulting in "false religion or no religion", distinguishing such cases from the cases of Christians, in which, he says above, "Doubt may still crop up, but for completely different reasons, I think."

scbrownlhrm said...

Rauser,

There are a few key elements you may be missing in your analysis which seem to be, well, relevant.

scbrownlhrm said...

Rauser,


There are several key elements you may be missing that are, well, relevant. Given the length of the comment I've posted those observations at Stand To Reason's page on this topic (linked at the top) at the thread for "A Response to Edward Feser on Romans 1".

Scott said...

MikeT:

Paul is using the extreme case in order to show that his claim applies to all people. Each and every one. Paul is saying that every person, even the individual who is rebelling against God and whom God has given over to a debased mind, even he knows God.

Fine, but that's still not a statement that the existence of God should be equally plain and obvious to everyone no matter what, or that everyone is culpably ignorant in the same way and to the same degree. What you've described is entirely consistent, as far as I can see, with Paul's remarks being fundamentally an indictment of a culture, while also affirming that every individual person in that culture is in some way affected.

Scott said...

To borrow at least part of a point from Brandon, it seems consistent with there being some in the culture who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" and others who, as a result of their influence, are tempted by doubt and perhaps give in to it.

MikeT said...

Scott,

I agree that not everyone is equally culpable. I addressed that point later in my post. Please read my entire post.

Scott said...

MikeT:

I agree that not everyone is equally culpable. I addressed that point later in my post. Please read my entire post.

If you mean your reply to Rauser, I did read it. It addresses an important difference between believers and unbelievers and gives a reason why a believer specifically isn't culpable for his doubts. As far as I can see, it doesn't (and isn't intended to) address the claim of Ed's that I was expressly concerned with, which I reproduce here for convenience:

St. Paul need be understood as claiming merely that atheism and/or idolatry [which are obviously the beliefs and practices of unbelievers, not of doubting Christians] on the large scale, as mass phenomena are maintained by a kind of sinful suppression of the natural inclination in question. And I think that’s true.…

However, it simply does not follow that
every single atheist ,[again, we're talking not about a doubting Christian but about an active unbeliever] is fundamentally motivated by pride, lust, or some other vice -- as opposed to simply making an honest intellectual error or set of errors -- and Romans 1:18-20 need not be read as asserting this. It is perfectly possible for someone mistakenly but sincerely to believe that there are good arguments for atheism, and thus good arguments for resisting our natural tendency to believe in some sort of deity.

Now, there's no reason why your reply to someone else should address a point of mine, but the fact is that it doesn't.

Scott said...

(In fact, if anything, on the face of it, you seem to be disagreeing with Ed's claim that some individual atheists might be guilty of honest intellectual error and that St. Paul might not have meant to imply otherwise.)

Glenn said...

Extract from Copi on the fallacy of division:

"The second type of division fallacy is committed when one argues from the attributes of a collection of elements to the attributes of the elements themselves. To argue that, since university students study medicine, law, engineering, dentistry, and architecture, therefore each, or even any, university student studies medicine, law, engineering, dentistry, and architecture would be to commit the second kind of division fallacy. It is true that university students, collectively, study all these various subjects, but it is false that university students, distributively, do so."

How might this be relevant to Ed's claim reproduced by Scott for convenience?

Ed is ostensibly saying that there exists a truth which is a collective truth but is not also a distributive truth, i.e., that there exists a truth which is applicable collectively (to the entire class of atheists), while simultaneously not being applicable distributively (to each and every member of that class).

Scott said...

Glenn:

Thanks for the well-chosen brief yet Copious extract. And to connect its point with my own earlier posts, I think St. Paul's use of the plural "they" throughout the passage in question (including parts that, on the face of it, clearly don't apply individually and severally to each member of the class) supports Ed's claim that the truth in question is intended to be collective rather than distributive.

Brandon said...

Glenn,

I like the suggestion that we should distinguish the collective and the distributive sense here; I think you're also quite right that this would likely be a good way to put Ed's point. (Despite the fact that I think the doubting Christian argument is a complete non-starter, I think we do need to make a few distinctions here, and this is likely one of them.)

MikeT said...

Scott,

I'm not sure what the problem is. As I pointed out earlier, Paul is making the point that even the most debased individuals, the ones farthermost from God, know God and are suppressing the truth. Paul points out that his attributes are not just seen but clearly seen. And if this condition applies to these people it applies to all unbelievers. The only way I see around this conclusion is to argue that these "more open minded" people with their "honest intellectual doubts" are somehow blinded to the very same truth that is clearly seen by the reprobate. So God can "get thru" to the reprobate but for some reason he can't "get thru" to these honest, open minded unbelievers. I think that would be an argument born out of desperation. So I am not committing the fallacy of division by applying this to all unbelievers.

Remember how self-deception works. Paul refers to this as "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness". They have chosen to believe a lie rather than the truth because the truth is unacceptable. So on a conscious level they truly do believe what they are saying. But deep down inside they know the truth. They are culpable before God.

ChristianTrader said...

One quick question concerning who in the Apostle Paul going addressing in Romans 1: If it is not every person who has lived, then how does final judgment day look for the people that are not "without excuse"?

Scott said...

MikeT:

I'm not sure what the problem is.

Nor am I. On my side, at least, I've been trying to work out what your objection was and indeed whether you had one. Your latest post has cleared up a lot, though, so thank you for that.

First let's be clear what the question is. It is not whether atheists (etc.) are culpable before God for their unbelief; of course they are. It is simply whether Ed is right to say that Romans 1:18-20 does not support the claim that the existence of God is so obviously clear to everyone that "every single atheist is fundamentally motivated by pride, lust, or some other vice -- as opposed to simply making an honest intellectual error or set of errors" [emphasis Ed's]. I'm agreeing with him that it doesn't.

You appear to be disagreeing and arguing that it does. The basis of your disagreement, as I understand it, is that you take the passage to be making an a fortiori argument: if the existence of God is clear even to the most reprobate, then it must also be (at least) that clear to the "more open-minded."

The problem is that this simply doesn't seem to me to be the logic of Romans 1. I can address that further if you like, but I'll wait to make sure I've understood you correctly first.

ChristianTrader said...

Scott,
Is not the logic of Romans 1, that Paul is stating that no one has an excuse, and he is defending the claim by saying that God has clearly revealed his attributes and power so that every single person is culpable?

But taking a step back, if you believe that people are culpable for their unbelief, then how does it makes sense to say that they are culpable when they simply made an honest mistake? As far as we are talking about an honest error, then the claim of culpability seems to lose its potency.

Scott said...

ChristianTrader:

Is not the logic of Romans 1…

Here's the post in which I quoted Ed's (second) claim about Romans 1, including the claim that St. Paul's "they" need not be read as referring severally/distributively to "every single individual atheist" [the phrase is emphasized in Ed's original post]. There's also a link there to Ed's original post, in which the relevant passage begins with the sentence Certainly Koukl does not give a good argument for his extreme interpretation of the thesis that a tendency toward theism is natural to us.

But taking a step back…

No, I'd rather not "take a step back" at this point. I'm addressing a very specific and tightly focused question: whether, contra Ed, Romans 1 gives specifically the a fortiori argument that MikeT seems to be describing and thus supports the claim that the existence of God is just blindingly clear and obvious to all.

The question about general culpability for unbelief is a genuine and important one, but it's a different one. (And I see no reason why, again contra Ed, such culpability must be due to "grave vices" rather than "wrongheaded[ness].")

MikeT said...

Scott,

You understand me correctly. The only point I would make is when you indicate that my position is that every unbeliever is motivated by some sort of vice. I don't believe that all unbelievers are motivated by lust or greed or something that we would commonly consider to be a grevious vice. I believe that the ultimate reason the unbeliever is an unbeliever is the desire for human autonomy. They want to run the show - not God. And that desire comes from pride. And God does consider that a sin.

Scott said...

MikeT:

Fair enough; thanks for the confirmation, clarification, and elaboration.

Now, if you don't believe that all atheists are motivated by those grave or grievous vices, then you're agreeing with Ed on what I take to be his essential point in the two paragraphs I quoted.

And I agree both that pride is a sin and that it at least partly motivates even the most intellectually honest unbelief—either directly (through a desire to be "autonomous" and independent of God) or indirectly (though a belief that human reason can be exercised "autonomously" even if such exercise leads to atheism), and in either case culpably.

In that case the question of how to interpret Romans 1 may be moot; you don't seem to take St. Paul's argument to be that the existence of God is so patently obvious to everyone that any individual atheist could be personally motivated only by the heinous vices of reprobates.

For the record, though, that's where my interpretive disagreement would have lain. The a fortiori argument I thought you were summarizing seems to require as a premise that God's existence is that patently obvious obvious even to complete reprobates. But St. Paul's claim seems to be rather that certain persons, having already suppressed knowledge of God (admittedly through wickedness), were given over to reprobation as a consequence and have therefore lost the knowledge they once had by having their hearts darkened.

Scott said...

(Oops, sorry about the doubled "obvious" in the last paragraph.)

Scott said...

Hmm, I think the first sentence of my final paragraph is wrong as it stands. Please regard it as replaced by this one:

For the record, though, the following is where my interpretive disagreement would have lain.

MikeT said...

Scott,

Thanks for the clarification. I see your point and agree.

Alex said...

Disappointed by the picture for this article. You could have at least photoshopped a cape onto him.

Scott said...

Thanks, MikeT, and thanks for the exchange.

ChristianTrader, if you want to take that "step back" now, we can go ahead and discuss any issues that remain; I just wanted to focus on that specific point first. I'll be unavailable for most of the rest of the day, but if not all of your misgivings have been addressed, let me know and I'll reply when I can.

ChristianTrader said...

Scott,

My take on interpreting Romans 1 is best found here (I did not write this)- https://www.dropbox.com/s/c9bk9wtce8qip9r/inex_.pdf?dl=0

But my main question is do you think Paul is leaving room for some people to have excuses concerning belief in God etc?

Next, isnt saying that a position is due to an honest mistake, giving an excuse for the position/behavior?

MikeT said...

ChristianTrader,

I think that Scott answered your question in the paragraph I have reproduced below:

And I agree both that pride is a sin and that it at least partly motivates even the most intellectually honest unbelief—either directly (through a desire to be "autonomous" and independent of God) or indirectly (though a belief that human reason can be exercised "autonomously" even if such exercise leads to atheism), and in either case culpably.

ChristianTrader said...

MikeT,
Thank you. The problem still continues because then we simply have to ask, how intellectually honest is the belief that one has no excuse for holding? As far as it is intellectually honest, then it is not culpable.

We may be simply talking past each other, but I am having a hard time seeing where this is simply a semantic dispute.

Tim Finlay said...

I agree that the distinction between the collective and the distributive sense mentioned by Glenn is important to this discussion. Here is another distinction that I think is important. Ed argues: "Few people have the leisure or ability to carry out the philosophical reasoning required [to realize that classical theism is true], and even the best minds are liable to get some of the details wrong." This is surely right with respect to people working out for themselves why God must exist. However, I would argue that it is much less the case for somebody presented with an excellent account of the arguments for God's existence. By analogy, I would argue that you would have to be a genius, or near genius, to arrive at the truth of the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic by yourself (given just the basic rules of arithmetic and the definition of prime numbers), but that the majority of students with a high-school education are capable when presented with the argument for the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic of realizing the truth of that argument. The same could be said for the arguments for theism. Ed himself said that in his atheist days, the versions he read of the cosmological argument were not explained properly or fully (e.g. that he was misreading them because he misread terms such as "cause.")

Tim Finlay said...

Christian Trader,
Islam is false. However, if you are brought up Muslim from birth, taught Islamic teachings constantly and are never presented with the evidence that it is false, you could be an intellectually honest Muslim to a considerable degree. Why couldn't the same be true for an atheist? The atheist may be constantly taught atheism by his parents and acquaintances, and never presented with any real arguments for theism (except perhaps straw man arguments that have the effect of strengthening his atheism). It is true that the atheist would still have the evidence from nature from which he could theoretically conclude that atheism was false--but most people in that situation would not have the aptitude to get it right. It seems to me that just as you can have a Muslim that is intellectually honest to a large degree, so you could have an atheist that is intellectually honest to a large degree.

ChristianTrader said...

Tim,
I understand your position, but I dont think that it makes sense of Romans 1. It seems that you are saying that various people have excuses due to their upbringing etc. Therefore people must not be talking about them when he writing about being without excuse because of the clarity of general revelation. However, it seems that the point of Paul's argumentation in Romans 1 is to say that no one anywhere has an excuse.

If I am reading you wrong, I am open to correction.

Scott said...

ChristianTrader:

I'm afraid I have time for only a brief reply at the moment, but I'm not convinced the problem is a very deep one. An intellectual error is, after all, objectively an error, and even if one makes it honestly (i.e. not deliberately or maliciously) one can still be culpable for that error—if, for example, one should have known better, or is responsible for putting oneself into a condition in which one is unable to know better. Intellectual honesty all by itself doesn't strike me as an "excuse"; surely lots of people believe things honestly that they nevertheless shouldn't believe and have no epistemic right to believe.

ChristianTrader said...

Scott,
As far as you have written here, I can agree. However, honest error and inexcusability are simply not compatible.

I think to some extent we are disagreeing over how to use the phrase "honest error". An example from my perspective is that a person is learning some basic physics and they make an error in setting the problem up etc. It is objectively an error and we call it honest, but we could not simultaneously call it inexcusable.

Tony said...

The question about general culpability for unbelief is a genuine and important one, but it's a different one. (And I see no reason why, again contra Ed, such culpability must be due to "grave vices" rather than "wrongheaded[ness].")

An intellectual error is, after all, objectively an error, and even if one makes it honestly (i.e. not deliberately or maliciously) one can still be culpable for that error—if, for example, one should have known better, or is responsible for putting oneself into a condition in which one is unable to know better.

I would make 2 points. First, sin is an evil that is in the will, not in the intellect. If person holds error in the intellect, and if there is guilt (i.e. culpability), it must be ascribed to what he has willed (or omitted to will), not to what he knows. Unless an error arises through a fault of the will, we DO call that error "excusable". It is, still, his own mistake. It is, therefore, his doing, in one sense. But that "sense" is particular. Suppose you throw a ball to your son and accidentally hit him in the face, giving him a bloody nose. It was an accident - you didn't mean to hit his face. Yes, you threw the ball, but you miscalculated the aim / force and the throw you wanted didn't come out of your arm and hand. That you would throw the ball was "in your will", you willed to throw it; that you would mis-throw it WAS NOT in the will. That was outside of your will, it was due to deficient causes, your inability to command your hand perfectly. IT WAS AN ACCIDENT. What we mean by accident is that some aspect of it was not intentional, was not willed. And was not, therefore, culpable. So also, with making a mental mistake that has no place in the will: it is an accident, it is "your doing" only as to part, not as to the error involved. You are not culpable.

Secondly, we universally admit that a man can make non-culpable error about matters separated from morals: errors in math (both simple computational ones and failure to notice a flaw in a proof); failures in logic by not noticing / realizing the distinction between, for example, the collective vs the distributed sense, and so on. Men make errors while TRYING to not make such errors, because we are flawed. But these are not evils of the will: we are not to suppose that every mental mistake arises because a man either WILLED something inordinately, or OMITTED something he was obliged to do.

Now, I grant that many errors of the mind arise just as Scott suggests: either directly (through a desire to be "autonomous" and independent of God), and if, for example, one should have known better, or is responsible for putting oneself into a condition in which one is unable to know better. A classic case of the latter is this: a man's conscience does not tell him that cheating on his tax return is wrong, but the reason he is in this state is that he has made no attempt to inform his conscience regarding his just obligations to the state. This is an error of the intellect that exists because of a culpable omission of the will.

Tony said...

Now, the existence (or not) of God is of such grave importance to man that, like the question "what is the end of man", it is a question nobody (past the age of reason) can ignore persistently without fault. So all those who don't believe in God because they refuse to ask the questions in a reasonable way are not excused.

And generically, the evidence of the world objectively supports - nay, strongly supports - the existence of God. But it is also true that atheist parents can raise a child to misunderstand and misconstrue the generic evidence in favor of there being a God. For, just as with math and physics and sociology and what-not, a person can non-willfully err as to how to understand or apply evidence in arguments; there is no way to "carve out" the evidence of God as "special" in that sense: it is like all other material about which we reason - and about which we make non-culpable, accidental mistakes. Such a child can, it would seem, make a non-culpable error that there is no God.

MikeT said...

ChristianTrader,

I think you hit the nail on the head when you asked about the meaning of "honest error". Remember, we are talking about self-deception here. What Paul refers to as "suppressing the truth". The unbeliever has deceived himself into believing a lie. Thus, the unbeliever holds beliefs at the conscious level that are false. Such as his belief that his doubts are intellectually honest. However, at the subconscious level, he knows his true motives. Its not like a math error. You don't have a conscious level belief that a math problem was correctly solved while knowing in your heart of heart it wasn't. That's why one sort of error is morally excusable and the other isn't.

Several articles by Greg Bahnsen discussing the role of self-deception in apologetics are on the web. You might want to look them up.

Scott said...

I'm sure I'm not alone in finding Tony's posts on this issue enormously helpful.

Of course as both he and MikeT have emphasized, atheism is different in a morally significant way from a mere error of mathematics—making a mistake in adding up a column of figures, for example. In and of itself such an error doesn't involve the will and therefore, as Tony says, isn't sinful/culpable.

However, because (as I emphasized) it is an error, it can be sinful if our will is involved in some other way. Inspired by Tony's example of a man cheating on his taxes, I suggest that even an "honest error" in adding a column of figures can be culpable in that sort of context: the error itself may be "intellectually honest," but in that context, but because there was more at stake than just the intellectual result, one had an obligation to take steps to make sure that result was correct.

Atheism, as an intellectual error, is that latter sort of error. ChristianTrader is, as MikeT says, asking the right question about whether, and how, such an error can be an "honest error." Perhaps it can't be; at any rate I don't claim to be able to articulate a full and sound answer myself. All I would say here is that the error in and of itself may be intellectually dishonest and, in agreement with Ed, that the existence of God is not so blindingly obvious that it must be directly due to e.g. willful rebelliousness.

That doesn't alter one's obligation to "check one's figures," as it were, or imply that no sinful wilfullness is involved even indirectly.

Scott said...

"[O]ne had an obligation to take steps to make sure that result was correct…" and, importantly, the ability to take those steps.

Scott said...

Oops. "All I would say here is that the error in and of itself may be intellectually honest" (meaning that it doesn't depend directly on a willful perversion of the intellect even though such perversion may result from other errors that do involve the will).

malcolmthecynic said...

From "The Great Divorce":

[In response to “...honest opinions fearlessly followed – they are not sins.”]

“Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?”

Tim Finlay said...

Tony,
Like Scott, I do find your posts to be very helpful. The question "What is man's end?" is so important that those who don't consider it are morally defective. And I agree that atheists can raise a child to misconstrue evidence which in itself points strongly to God. There is surely a sense in which atheist parents are considerably culpable for the child's atheism. And to the extent that the child's atheism is a result of its upbringing, the child is nonculpable. What will often happen is that the child will become more culpable over time as it personally displays the parents' vices of pride etc and further darken its own mind.
There is a spectrum of intellectual honesty/culpability. Paul's argument only requires a tiny bit of culpability for them to be without excuse, and this there is. [Remember that I talked about intellectually honest to a considerable degree.] But not all atheists are as willfully guilty of various vices as some Christian apologists seem to think.

scbrownlhrm said...

What a helpful series of exchanges here which have all been very constructive in bringing some clarity to the nuances in play – particularly in distinguishing the collective from the distributive as well as teasing out other layers or distinctions of culpability vs. intent vs. perception. STR’s com-box on this topic offers a few extra views which may or may not complement those here, FWIW. The suggestion here to look at Greg Bahnsen’s work was a good one – he discusses Romans 1 and self deception and he also has a somewhat longer PDF version of the same. The trading away of the irreducibly obvious – of both logic and love – for the gain of the obscure, for the gain of the unintelligibility of the eliminative sums to the trading away of the truth for the sake of the Self. This all men do, both Christian and Non-Christian, at many and varied seams amid interfacing with The-Real. We find that love's peculiar acquiescence of the Self – being found ceaselessly within the Triune God – is not a motion which Man ought to think he can simultaneously avoid and yet somehow come to know fullness. The Self-Sacrificing God makes Man in His Own Image and – therein – is the way of it.

Tony said...

That doesn't alter one's obligation to "check one's figures," as it were, or imply that no sinful wilfullness is involved even indirectly.

Oops. "All I would say here is that the error in and of itself may be intellectually honest" (meaning that it doesn't depend directly on a willful perversion of the intellect even though such perversion may result from other errors that do involve the will).

I think Scott is proposing that we recognize 3 distinct categories of error: (1) "simple" mental error that involves no defect in the will of any sort; (2) "dishonest" error that involves the kind of defect in the will that is at least in part overt, intentional, or a self-aware willed act shying away from truth; and (3) an error that arises as an indirect result of a defect in the will, say, either an omission or a defect not principally about "truth" but about some other moral obligation, which Scott would not call "dishonest" but still involves culpability. Especially if the defect is a sin of another category (lust, pride, hatred, etc) rather than a sin against truth, it makes less sense to describe it as "dishonesty".

What I am not clear on, Scott, is whether you are asserting that it is impossible that a person hold the error "there is no God" in the manner of the first above, (1) the "simple" mental error without any culpability thereof.

I will note that I have seen a few people propose that it is impossible for the intellect to err without moral culpability. For, (so the argument goes) the intellect is, as such, a faculty for grasping truth. It's faculties are designed rightly for grasping truth, and there is no INHERENT directedness toward error. The only way it can fail (to err) is for another power either outside you (such as another person) or inside you, such as your will, to distort the movement of the faculty and thus introduce error.

I will not debate the theory directly. I will merely note that part of the correct, proper intellectual behavior of a person is the mental act of belief, the act of assenting to one whom you ought to trust. A child of 7 ought to trust his parents. Thus, when he assents to their explanation why "there is no God", he is not making an interior act of distortion to the nature and purpose of the faculty, it is not an INTERNAL "mistake" at all. The mistakeness is all external to him. It is morally appropriate for him to trust them. It seems to me that there is no basis to assert, a priori, that he MUST have moral culpability on his part because he arrived at the error "there is no God."

Similarly: if a person's mental furniture holds - non-culpably, via acts of appropriate belief as above - defective criteria on how to weigh and measure evidence, he may take the evidence in the world that objective does lead to the conclusion there is a God, and mentally organize that evidence unsuccessfully. It seems to me that again, the cause of the unfruitful mental act is primarily a distortion EXTERNAL to him, it is neither a distortion in his will directly, nor in his intellect on account of a distorted voluntary act. I don't see how a priori we can rule out such errors.

DNW said...

"Remember, Paul’s point is that fallen humans are in rebellion and unbelief. "

Not sure I have much of a contribution. A rumination, maybe ...

The entire discussion is for me somewhat problematical in that I don't know that I have ever had a very clear and distinct idea of just what is meant by "belief" or "to believe" as used by religious persons.

The Online Etymology Dictionary [I don't have my "Buck's" handy] says, "Belief used to mean "trust in God," while faith meant "loyalty to a person based on promise or duty" (a sense preserved in keep one's faith, in good (or bad) faith and in common usage of faithful, faithless ..." and " ... belief had by 16c. become limited to "mental acceptance of something as true," from the religious use in the sense of "things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine" (a sense attested from early 13c.)"

If belief is then taken as meaning exactly "trust in God", it is easy to imagine that many persons would have little of that. If it merely means, "mental acceptance of something as true ", in the sense of an undoubted acceptance, then it constitutes a proposition that is itself equally liable to doubt.

But despite the Online Dictionary's relating of "believe" to an even earlier Germanic sense of "dearly loved", "belief" also carries a very early related sense of "agreeable to" or "approved of", and of "rather", through the A-S "lief". (This latter sense connection is sourced through Wiki Source, not the Online Etymology Dictionary)

So, any questions of the Greek aside (which like the Old English seems to carry a sense of not only "trust" but of "to credit" as well) [http://biblehub.com/greek/4100.htm], there is a sense in which, as I have probably claimed here before, the meaning of "belief" can be said to reflect a notion of what possibly involves an as yet undefined but presumably implicit mental disposition: what, in All-American "hillbilly-speak", comes out as "allowing as how" in its first public pronouncement.

In this case, to believe, psychologically understood, would be a more complex matter than that which the naive sense of simply trusting in a promise implies, or even than that which is involved in the giving of mental assent to a proposition per se.

To get to a condition of belief would entail a certain psychological precondition of assent that this, or that, might in fact be so.

Whether certain filters of the will, a moral willingness to "allow as how", might be involved here, I could not say.

Scott said...

Tony:

What I am not clear on, Scott, is whether you are asserting that it is impossible that a person hold the error "there is no God" in the manner of the first above, (1) the "simple" mental error without any culpability thereof.

I am not, and I agree with your own example of the child taught by his parents that there is no God and not yet able to reason about the question independently. I don't see how such example can be ruled out a priori either.

DavidM said...

Great discussion here. Thanks to all contributors.

Tony wrote: A child of 7 ought to trust his parents. Thus, when he assents to their explanation why "there is no God", he is not making an interior act of distortion to the nature and purpose of the faculty, it is not an INTERNAL "mistake" at all. The mistakeness is all external to him.

On this point, I think Tony's analysis is incorrect and even incoherent. First, the intellect's purpose and nature are clearly not to directed towards assenting to every explanation given by one's parents - and no child (even the most docile) consistently thinks or acts as if it is. Even before a child is said to "have the use of reason" (or even the use of language), he has and uses his will and intellect (which are capable of receiving the sanctifying grace of baptism at birth) in ways more or less upright, which God alone can judge. (Thus it is that all human beings are subject to the justice and mercy of God.)

Second, it is in the nature of the intellect that it is impossible for it to make a mistake that is not at all internal. Acts of the intelect are inherently internal. There can be no such thing as a purely external act of the intellect. That is to say, genuine acts of the intellect are inherently free (even if only to a small degree).

DavidM said...

...and I suppose I could add that Tony's assertion that it is "the mistakenness" in particular that "is all external" might be defended by making a distinction between the intellectual act as such and the (purely external) mistakenness of that act. But it is hard to see how to plausibly conceive of a thoroughgoing 'externalization' of the mistakenness of assenting to the proposition "there is no God."

DavidM said...

[Fear and pleasure are of course potent 'externalizing' forces on the intellect, but the influence of such things is to inhibit the activity of the intellect, not specifically to induce it towards error.]

scbrownlhrm said...

The problem of presuppositional confrontations, which is by Vincent Cheung, ties into Romans 1, in part indirectly and in part directly. It begins with “the preconditioning of meaning” and then moves into the suppression of truth on page 8 of an 83 page PDF, and, then, it subsequently moves on into the wider arena of presuppositional confrontations. A few pages in:

“Paul says that this is what humankind has done with their knowledge about God. He states that some knowledge about God is innate, so that every person is born with some knowledge about God, but because man is sinful, he refuses to acknowledge and worship this true God, and thus suppresses and distorts this innate knowledge: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:18-21, NASB)

People often complain that there is insufficient evidence about God and Christianity, but the Bible says that they already know about this true God, only that they are suppressing this knowledge because they refuse to acknowledge or worship him. Knowledge about God is "evident within them," because he "made it evident to them." The problem is not a lack of evidence, but an artificially manufactured set of presuppositions that suppresses their knowledge about God. Some think that this passage provides justification for empirical arguments that lead to a knowledge of God. However, we have established by our illustrations and by biblical examples that observation can provide no intelligible meaning or information. Therefore, the passage cannot mean that an observation of creation can provide knowledge about God; rather, certain ideas about God are already resident in the mind apart from any experience or observation.”

Of equal utility on these fronts is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the problem of induction and also on the problem of perception.

Scott said...

Vincent Cheung…

Isn't that the guy who so thoroughly fails to differentiate between primary and secondary causation that he describes God as "The Author of Sin" in a publication of that title?

Scott said...

(I mention that not as a "gotcha" but because it's profoundly relevant to his views about the sort of causation by which God reveals His existence to us.)

Scott said...

(…in the manner specifically at issue in Romans 1, that is.)

scbrownlhrm said...

Scott,


Romans 1 is the key as to start/stop points on claims here.


Feser noted in his “The Road From Atheism” the following point of relevance: “If God really exists there should be solid arguments to that effect, and there just aren’t, or so I then supposed. Indeed, that there were no such arguments seemed to me something which would itself be an instance of evil if God existed, and this was an aspect of the problem of evil that seemed really novel and interesting. I see from a look at my old school papers that I was expressing this idea in a couple of essays written for different courses in 1992. (I think that when J. L. Schellenberg’s book “Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason” appeared in 1993 I was both gratified that someone was saying something to that effect in print, and annoyed that it wasn’t me.)”


As it turns out, from 1993 to 2015, now 22 years later, Schellenberg has released his latest attempt at the same insolvent chain of IOU’s, entitled, The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy's New Challenge to Belief in God.


Cheung may be a hyper-Calvinist, but I don't recall. Not being one myself, the only utility claimed there lay in the arena of presuppositional starting points as we assert that we "have" or that we "have not" spied this or that contour of the Divine (and not in any of the hyper-Calvinist's brand of nonsense which may be there). For example, the sight of God's "contours" are, per Romans 1, both unavoidable and ubiquitous. Presuppositional start/stop points emerge and we easily find use for Feser's reference to Nietzsche's "deicide" (Road From Atheism) as we move further downstream:


There is no (metaphysical) possibility of encountering, tasting, perceiving, some contour of the Good, (or truth, or love, or ought, or logic......) without tasting some contour of God for (on Christianity) *any* contour or elemental constitution of “reality” that is Good just is some contour of Goodness Itself, and there is but *one* metaphysical path to such a paradigmatically irreducible (non-eliminative) actuality, and that is, simply, God. Nietzsche’s deicide defines a part of (though not all of) the ontological real estate which comprises the madness that is all of our own, or each individual's, or Mankind's own ubiquitous tendencies of trading away truth for the sake of the Self (discussed elsewhere in some linked items). To claim immunity for oneself amid humanity’s painfully ubiquitous stock exchange there is to claim moral spotlessness and such leaves one either a liar or else a lunatic (as C.S. Lewis in part alluded to). As Feser notes in his "The Meaning of the Passion", there can be no obliteration of truth by the Self (in said deicide's truth-trading) without the volitional obliteration of this or that contour of the Divine. It is in this sense where Romans 1, observational reality, and sound metaphysics begin to break down that insolvent chain of IOU's foisted by Schellenberg now 22 years later.

scbrownlhrm said...

Scott,

Correction:

Neitzchei's "Deicide" is in the Meaning of the Passion, not in the Road From Atheism.

Scott said...

So that's a yes, then.

scbrownlhrm said...

Scott,


As it's irrelevant to my approach to Shellenberg's asserted "problem" against Theism, I'm not interested. As noted in my reply, Calvinism's brand of nonsense is of no interest to me, nor of any use here - hence the irrelevance. However, the nature of presuppositional confrontations, as far as such goes, is a valid element in approaching Shellenberg's chain of IOU's. One has to be able to find, and use, the good. And leave the rest, so to speak.

scbrownlhrm said...

Scott,

BTW: On your (important) point about the nature of how it is God, or God's contours (there is no difference) manifest in (or to) the sight of Man, Calvinism's terms leave Romans 1 in shambles.

scbrownlhrm said...

Atheism finds itself to be mere therapy, the Opiate of Unbelief.

As such, it has no choice but to persistently fail at grasping the point.

This is the case on all philosophical questions. Being and Physicality – Being and the Cosmos – and so on – is but one, tiny little line in the Matrix that comprises such questions. But, even on that one, tiny little line – never mind the rest of the show, we find Atheism’s opiate of unbelief ever in the hedges of equivocation, of conflation, that is to say, ever in the surfs of failing to grasp the point.

From David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God”, a quote which is posted in a few separate posts to accommodate space requirements:

“Perhaps, however, it is a mistake to presume good will here. It may be the case that not every party in these debates is especially willing to acknowledge the qualitative difference between ontological and cosmological questions. A devout physicalist is likely to find it not merely convenient but absolutely necessary to believe that the mystery of existence is really just a question about the physical history of the universe, and specifically about how the universe may have arisen at a particular moment, as a transition from a simpler to a more complex state within a physical system. At least, it often seems pointless to try to convince such persons that none of the great religions or metaphysical traditions — absolutely none of them — thinks of the “creation of the universe” simply in terms of a cosmogonic process, and that the question of creation has never simply concerned some event that may have happened “back then,” at the beginning of time, or some change between distinct physical states, or any kind of change at all (since change occurs only within things that already exist), but has always concerned the eternal relation between logical possibility and logical necessity, the contingent and the absolute, the conditioned and the unconditioned. And I suspect this is not simply because they are incapable of understanding the distinction (though many are) but also because they have no desire to do so. The question of being is not one that physics can shed any light upon at all, and so the physicalist has no choice but persistently — even sedulously — to fail to grasp its point. To allow the full force of the question to break through his or her intellectual defenses would be, all at once, to abandon the physicalist creed."



Continued.........

scbrownlhrm said...

Continued........


"Here, however, I suppose one has to exercise a degree of sympathetic tact. Materialism is a conviction based not upon evidence or logic but upon what Carl Sagan (speaking of another kind of faith) called a “deep-seated need to believe.” Considered purely as a rational philosophy, it has little to recommend it; but as an emotional sedative, what Czeslaw Milosz liked to call the opiate of unbelief, it offers a refuge from so many elaborate perplexities, so many arduous spiritual exertions, so many trying intellectual and moral problems, so many exhausting expressions of hope or fear, charity or remorse. In this sense, it should be classified as one of those religions of consolation whose purpose is not to engage the mind or will with the mysteries of being but merely to provide a palliative for existential grievances and private disappointments. Popular atheism is not a philosophy but a therapy. Perhaps, then, it should not be condemned for its philosophical deficiencies, or even treated as an intellectual posture of any kind, but recognized as a form of simple devotion, all the more endearing for its mixture of tender awkwardness and charming pomposity. Even the stridency, bigotry, childishness, and ignorance with which the current atheist vogue typically expresses itself should perhaps be excused as no more than an effervescence of primitive fervor on the part of those who, finding themselves poised upon a precipice overlooking the abyss of ultimate absurdity, have made a madly valiant leap of faith. That said, any religion of consolation that evangelically strives to supplant other creeds, as popular atheism now does, has a certain burden of moral proof to bear: it must show that the opiates it offers are at least as powerful as those it would replace. To proclaim triumphally that there is no God, no eternal gaze that beholds our cruelties and betrayals, no final beatitude for the soul after death, may seem bold and admirable to a comfortable bourgeois academic who rarely if ever has to descend into the misery of those whose lives are at best a state of constant anxiety or at worst the indelible memory of the death of a child. For a man safely sheltered from life’s harder edges, a gentle soporific may suffice to ease whatever fleeting moments of distress or resentment afflict him. For those genuinely acquainted with grief, however— despair, poverty, calamity, disease, oppression, or bereavement — but who have no ivory tower to which to retreat, no material advantages to distract them from their suffering, and no hope for anything better in this world, something far stronger may be needed. If there is no God, then the universe (astonishing accident that it is) is a brute event of boundless magnificence and abysmal anguish, which only illusion and myth may have the power to make tolerable. Only extraordinary callousness or fatuous sanctimony could make one insensible to this. Moreover, if there is no God, truth is not an ultimate good— there is no such thing as an ultimate good— and the more merciful course might well be not to preach unbelief but to tell “noble lies” and fabricate “pious frauds” and conjure up ever more enchanting illusions for the solace of those in torment."


Continued........

scbrownlhrm said...

Finally.......


"No need to argue over the point, however. Religions of consolation belong principally to the realm of psychology rather than that of theology or contemplative faith. At that level, all personal creeds— whether theist or atheist— stand beyond any judgments of truth or falsehood, morality or immorality, rationality or irrationality. One cannot quarrel with sentiment, or with private cures for private complaints. It probably makes no better sense to contest popular atheism on logical grounds than it does to take a principled stand against the saccharine pieties of greeting cards with “religious” themes. In either case, what is at issue is neither belief nor unbelief (at least not in any intellectually important sense) but only the pardonable platitudes of those trying to cope with their own disaffections and regrets. What makes today’s popular atheism so depressing is neither its conceptual boorishness nor its self-righteousness but simply its cultural inevitability. It is the final, predictable, and unsurprisingly vulgar expression of an ideological tradition that has, after many centuries, become so pervasive and habitual that most of us have no idea how to doubt its premises, or how to avert its consequences. This is a fairly sad state of affairs, moreover, because those consequences have at times proved quite terrible.”

Andy Simmons said...

Koukl is correct. Mr. Feser, you are wrong. His arguments come from the Holy Bible, yours come from Papal bull. You don't want to condemn atheists like they deserve because Catholics and atheists are the same thing who go to the same place when they die.

Mr. Feser, you do not follow Jesus, you follow a pagan shaman in a white robe followed by munchkins in red. You do not trust in Jesus for your salvation; you trust fortune cookies administered by black-collared sodomites. You do not pray to Jesus; you make graven images out of statues of Mary. Unless you become part of the Bride of Christ by accepting Jesus as your personal savior and leave the Great Whore of Babylon you will burn for eternity in the Lake of Fire right alongside Krauss, Coyne, Dawkins and the rest of the atheists you claim to be against!

scbrownlhrm said...

Mr. Simmons seems confused, and even rather unscriptural in his approach to definitions.

The comment, “Catholics and atheists are the same thing…..” seems bizarre given the many, many Catholics I know (I’m not Catholic myself) who are, simply, placing all their hope in nothing less than Christ and Christ’s work. Of course, perhaps Mr. Simmons knows both Mr. Feser personally and all Catholics personally – in which case he has the advantage of an immediate access to the soul-psychology of Mr. Feser and several million Catholics. That seems like a lot of locations to frequent – though perhaps time travel and other modes of interfacing are accessible to Mr. Simmons. Who knows.

The comment, “…you …..do not trust in Jesus for your salvation….” again is out of my reach to comment on given that I don’t have immediate access to Mr. Feser’s soul-psychology. Of course, Feser’s approach to the Atonement of Christ finds all his weight leaning upon that work. But, again, I’ve no immediate access to Mr. Feser’s soul-psychology so I can only go on what he writes.

The comment “You do not pray to Jesus……” seems bizarre given that, being a Trinitarian, the Christ on which Mr. Feser seems to be hedging all his bets is none other than God and, it seems likely that he perhaps prays to said God given that he is leaning on Him.

The comment, “……the atheists you claim to be against!” is simply unscriptural. God loves every person, though not all *isms*. Given the frequent bluntness with which Mr. Feser levels criticisms against the athe*ism* of many and varied Atheists, it seems Mr. Simmons has it exactly backwards. Granted, reading things like “words on a computer screen” can be difficult – especially if one is trying to read said words while one is having disorganized thought processes summing to a fixed, false belief that one has immediate access to the author’s soul/psychology.

Mr. Simmons’ comment about Koukl and Feser seems as uninformed and indiscriminate as his other comments. Like most sane apologists, Koukl affirms rational disbelief. Like Mr. Feser, much of Koukl’s work is ipso facto engrained in the oh-so-tedious interfacing with our own culture’s peculiar brand of Atheists – observing the unfortunate fact of rational disbelief: “But arguments have limits; they don’t always work. When that happens, some are tempted to think that arguments themselves are useless. This is a mistake. If you’re searching for that perfect line of logic capable of subduing any objection, you’re wasting your time. There is no magic, no silver bullet, no clever turn of thought or phrase that’s guaranteed to compel belief. Yes, rational reasons can be a barrier to belief. The Christian message simply doesn’t make sense to everyone, or it raises questions or counter-examples that make it difficult to even countenance Christianity until those issues are addressed.”

Today’s culture is ripe with that and to disaffirm the very real intellectual and existential “locations” of different human beings as they (perhaps for the first time) encounter these kinds of questions would be assuming the role of the ostrich. Fortunately, neither Feser nor Koukl have their head in the sand – though Mr. Simmons’ does seem somewhat befuddled. But that’s okay – because God love’s every single one of us – regardless of our messy beliefs.

scbrownlhrm said...



Of possible utility:


In 3 posts to accommodate space requirements.......


Feser renders a meticulous picture of the process that is self-deception. The following quote concludes with this: “So, though I don't doubt that some of these folks in some sense sincerely believe what they say, that doesn't absolve them of the charge of intellectual dishonesty. Self-deceived people would not be self-deceived if they didn't in some sense really believe what they say.” The path to get there is not a pure, isolated box called “I-Will-Now-Deceive-My-Self” but is – as all human psychology is – comprised of an array of “boxes”.


Here’s the quote:


I agree that one must always be very careful about "psychoanalyzing" an opponent. However, there is a distinction to be made between:

(a) purporting to answer an argument by "psychoanalyzing" the person giving it, and

(b) "psychoanalyzing" a person in order to try to understand some odd behavior he is exhibiting.

Doing (a) amounts to a kind of ad hominem fallacy. But doing (b) is not fallacious. Now, what I was doing in the post above is (b). I was not saying "Coyne and Co. raise such-and-such objections to the cosmological argument. Let me answer those objections by uncovering what I take to be Coyne's hidden psychological motivation for raising them." That would be ad hominem. Nor, of course, did I ignore his actual objections. Instead, I explained how they rested on misunderstandings of the arguments he's attacking. And of course, neither did I say (nor would I ever say) that atheists in general have the psychological motivations described in my post. (Of course they don't.)


Instead, what I was saying is: "Coyne and others of a specifically New Atheist bent have a tendency to attack the same straw men over and over and over again, to ignore attempts to explain why they are straw men, to lash out even at fellow atheists who try to point out why these are straw men, etc. This is very odd and unusual, especially since these people are mostly not stupid. It cries out for explanation, and I think the explanation is this..."


But I agree that one needs to make sure that in doing (b) one does not slide into (a). And if Coyne ever actually tried seriously to respond to something I wrote, I would certainly not even get into (b) in replying to him, let alone (a).


Indeed, four years ago I really thought Coyne might do so when he said he was "dead serious" about wanting to find out what the best arguments for theism were, said he would read up on Aquinas, etc. I thought "Great, maybe he's a decent guy after all and this could lead to a more interesting exchange."


Hence it was very disappointing to see him almost immediately slide back into New Atheist hack mode and to see his pledge to look into the best arguments, study Aquinas, etc. go right down the memory hole.



Continued.........

scbrownlhrm said...


Continued.......


Hence it was very disappointing to see him almost immediately slide back into New Atheist hack mode and to see his pledge to look into the best arguments, study Aquinas, etc. go right down the memory hole.


I also want to emphasize that I don't dismiss the work of Coyne, Dawkins, Dennett, or other New Atheists in general. I think that Dennett, for example, has very interesting things to say on issues in philosophy of mind despite the fact that I think his whole project there is misguided and ultimately rests on certain key fallacies. In general, you can really learn from someone who thinks through a position thoroughly and systematically, even when the position is ultimately doomed. In part this is because an erroneous position typically takes one aspect of the truth and exaggerates its importance, and often people who do that will see things that are missed by people who don't make the same exaggeration. In part it's because an intelligent and systematic thinker is unlikely in the first place to be wrong about everything, but will make important discoveries which can be disentangled from his errors. And in part it's because errors themselves can be instructive in that we can learn how and why certain ideas and lines of argument which seem attractive ultimately won't work. Similarly, I'm happy to learn whatever I can from Coyne and Dawkins when they write on biology and other areas in which they have some real expertise.


The trouble is that these guys simply don't have anything interesting to say on religion, specifically. Many atheists do -- e.g. Mackie, Sobel, Oppy, and many others I've mentioned over the years -- but not the New Atheists. And it's such a glaring defect in the thinking of otherwise intelligent people that, again, it cries out for a type (b) treatment.


.....[There] is the question of what we mean, or should mean, or might mean, by "intellectual dishonesty." Certainly I don't think Coyne or the more unreasonable people in his combox are consciously and explicitly thinking "I know this isn't what theists mean, but I'm going to pretend otherwise for rhetorical purposes." But I don't think that intellectual dishonesty is usually as blatant or self-conscious as that. I think it is usually a kind of self-deception, and self-deception is, of course, by its nature less than fully conscious. It involves a tendency to avoid letting one's attention dwell on unpleasant facts or ideas, a tendency to try to focus one's attention instead on evidence and ideas that will reinforce what one wants to believe, and so forth. It also typically involves a kind of touchiness when some other person raises some uncomfortable piece of evidence that might jeopardize the self-deceiver's attempt to convince himself that the thing he wants to believe is really true. Think of the alcoholic who doesn't want to face his problem, lets his mind dwell only on ways of interpreting his behavior which make it seem within the normal range, minimizes behavior that other people would take to be clear evidence of addiction, gets touchy and defensive when the subject arises, etc.


Now, when someone like Coyne keeps attacking the same straw men over and over and over again, over the course of many years and despite the fact that even people who otherwise agree with him gently advise him to stop doing it, when he gets touchy even with atheist readers who call him out on it, when he doubles down on the rhetoric about how obviously stupid his opponents' arguments are, etc. -- well, that sort of behavior is pretty consistent with that of someone who is interested in convincing himself that he was right all along rather than that of someone who really wants to find out if he is in fact right. That is to say, it sounds like classic self-deception. And that's the kind of intellectual dishonesty I'm talking about.


Continued..........

scbrownlhrm said...

Finally......


That is to say, it sounds like classic self-deception. And that's the kind of intellectual dishonesty I'm talking about.


Second, it is true that analytic philosophers do, at least "officially" if (unfortunately) not always in practice, highly value a willingness and ability to try to reconstruct an opponent's arguments in as plausible and fair-minded a way as possible. Certainly that was something drilled into me in grad school, and I have always been grateful for it. Again, there are analytic philosophers who do not live up to this ideal, and I can certainly think of some analytic philosophers with a prominent online presence who do not even try to live up to it at all when they think that refraining from doing so might further some political cause they favor. Still, it is an ideal that analytic philosophers all know they should strive to live up to. It is also an ideal that Scholastic philosophers value highly.


Now, as a Scholastic trained in analytic philosophy, it is certainly an ideal I value highly, and I confess that I have very little patience for academics and other intellectuals who don't value it. I make no apologies for that, because the reason analytic philosophers and Scholastics value it is that philosophy, science, and intellectual pursuits in general are about truth, about finding out how things really are and not merely confirming prejudices, furthering agendas, etc. Trying to give an opponent's views a fair-minded reading is just part of this project of attaining truth, both because you never know when an opponent might have seen something you've missed, and because getting into the practice of reading an opponent's views fairly is a good way of training oneself not to be blinded by one's own prejudices.


So, I don't see a willingness to try accurately to represent an opponent's views as merely a special interest of professional philosophers. I would argue that it is partially constitutive of serious inquiry of any kind, and thus of intellectual honesty. Hence, if someone is unwilling to make an effort to represent an opponent's views accurately, I would say that he is ipso facto intellectually dishonest. So, since Coyne and other New Atheists have demonstrated this sort of unwillingness, they have to that extent shown that they merit the charge of intellectual dishonesty.


Furthermore, Coyne and Co. make a very big show out of how much they allegedly value evidence, not letting preconceptions color one's inquiry, etc. So, they can hardly complain when they are asked to look at the evidence concerning what their opponents actually have said, and when they are expected not to let their own preconceptions about what theists believe color their interpretation of arguments like the cosmological argument. And they certainly get touchy when they think their own arguments have been misrepresented. So, they can hardly complain when someone expects them to show the same courtesy to their opponents.


So, though I don't doubt that some of these folks in some sense sincerely believe what they say, that doesn't absolve them of the charge of intellectual dishonesty. Self-deceived people would not be self-deceived if they didn't in some sense really believe what they say.


End quote.

laubadetriste said...

@Andy Simmons: "Koukl is correct. Mr. Feser, you are wrong. His arguments come from the Holy Bible, yours come from Papal bull. You don't want to condemn atheists like they deserve because Catholics and atheists are the same thing who go to the same place when they die. / Mr. Feser, you do not follow Jesus, you follow a pagan shaman in a white robe followed by munchkins in red. You do not trust in Jesus for your salvation; you trust fortune cookies administered by black-collared sodomites. You do not pray to Jesus; you make graven images out of statues of Mary. Unless you become part of the Bride of Christ by accepting Jesus as your personal savior and leave the Great Whore of Babylon you will burn for eternity in the Lake of Fire right alongside Krauss, Coyne, Dawkins and the rest of the atheists you claim to be against!"

Five'll get you ten Andy is actually a high school Catholic apologist with a crude sense of satire, catfishing to make Protestants look bad.

Douglas Shaver said...

Not a bet I would take. Poe was right.