Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Manual for Creating Atheists: Interventions & Strategies (Pt. I)

As we move to chapter four of Boghossian’s project, I think I need to point out to our atheist readers, one very important point that Boghossian has continued to ignore and that you might also think is a flaw in my rebuttal. Christian theism and atheist do not share the same criterion for justification or warrant. So when you read Boghossian’s talk about evidence and warrant, you must understand that I reject Boghossian’s notion that Christian theism must present itself in such a way as to meet his epistemological demands. That is part of our disagreement, and I might add, a critical component that he seems to be happy to ignore. You should know that if you are an atheist who feels as Boghossian does and you take up his charge, when you encounter Christians that refuse to budge in the conversation that it is not due to brain damage, but rather to the fact their criterion for knowledge is radically different from and intensely opposed to yours.

The main thrust of chapter four concerns methods for “deprogramming” the faithful from their religious delusions. Boghossian compares this process to that of a drug intervention. Once again, this tactic produces in the unsuspecting atheist, a false sense of superiority over the faithful. I am always on the lookout for Boghossian’s street epistemologist. The last scientist I encountered was on the verge of rejecting logic so that she could hand on to her empiricism. Atheist, beware, if you are speaking to intelligent and genuine believers who have actually bothered with these subjects, you will be overmatched. However, I encourage you to take up the cause and speak with as many Christians as you can. I will provide a hypothetical interaction with Boghossian at the end of this series so that you can see how a Christian theist should respond to his straw man paradigm.

Boghossian makes a very revealing comment in chapter four: “If you are reading this book you probably already possess attitudes that predispose you to rationality, like a trustfulness of reason.” I said in an earlier post that Boghossian has some faith of his own that he has not discussed in his project. It is here that we are now beginning to see his faith in the power of human reason. We will eventually ask Boghossian to justify his belief in the adequacy of human reason to deal with questions related to the existence of God and any other inquiry into the nature of reality, as far as that goes. We are interested in knowing from Boghossian why he thinks reason is possible in the kind of world he believes exists.

Boghossian instructs the SE to be willing to say to the Christian, “I don’t know.” The SE is informed that they should not worry about that. Well, if the SE approaches the right Christian, they will have the opportunity to say that quite a lot. Moreover, they should be ready to hear answers with which they disagree and reasoning that is fundamentally different from their own. For example, when the Christian says I believe the Bible is God’s word because it claims to be God’s word and on that basis alone I believe it. That kind of reasoning sounds odd to the atheist. But you must think of it from the Christian’s basic belief. If God exists, and He in fact created all that is, and He in fact has spoken to us in the Bible, then it is only reasonable that we take God’s witness of Himself as true. If we attempted to point to something other than God’s own word to show that God’s word is true, we would be saying there is a greater witness to God than God Himself. And if that were actually true, Christianity would be falsified. Now, if you can’t follow that argument, you have more work to do in terms of how you reason. And if you can follow that argument, then you know that breaking through that epistemology is going to take a little more than a small book on creating atheists.

Boghossian says, “Every religious apologist is epistemically debilitated by an extreme form of confirmation bias.” [Loc. 1263] He uses Gary Habermas as an example. Now, here is a critical question from critical thinker: does Dr. Boghossian expect us to believe that he has no bias concerning the claims of the Bible? Has he really found that state of pure objectivity? Boghossian criticizes Habermas for concluding the most outrageous of all claims, specifically, that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. Boghossian has a list of more plausible explanations that Habermas should first believe if he were really objective. But is this a display of pure objectivity? Does not Boghossian bring his own philosophical bias to the discussion? The Romans and Jews wanted to crush Christianity. Could they not have simply hung the rotting corpse of Jesus out for all to see? Or, is it really plausible to believe that the disciples of Jesus stole the corpse and then one by one, were tortured to death for something they knew was a lie? Once we remove Boghossian’s anti-supernatural bias from the equation, the only rational explanation for the empty tomb is that Jesus rose from the dead. Here we have a perfect example of a man engaging in extreme bias while he is in the process of criticizing someone else for being biased. Habermas is only unreasonable because he rejects Boghossian’s basic presuppositions about the possibility of miracles. I think Boghossian calls this doxastic closure.

Boghossian talks about evidence, but then he dismisses the documents of the New Testament out of hand. It is as if they do not exist. You see, what qualifies as evidence is not just an insignificant question. It is at the heartbeat of Boghossian’s project. It is a project that in my opinion is becoming more insubstantial the more we learn about it. Boghossian finally begins to discuss justification. He talks about two primary schools regarding justification for belief (coherentism and foundationalism) and lands on foundationalism.
I agree that a belief structure must rest upon a foundation. In that sense, I am a foundationalist. However, I think Boghossian is wrong when he says that faith is the foundation. It is certainly wrong when it comes to Christian theism. The foundation of Christian theism is Christ Himself. The question is this: can genuine faith in Christ be destroyed by anything, to include naturalistic rationalism? Scripture teaches that it cannot.

Boghossian sees God as the conclusion of a faulty reasoning process. The problem as he sees it is faith. But not all Christian apologist take this approach. In fact, there are many with a high view of Scripture that see God, not as the conclusion of reasoning, but as the necessary precondition for reasoning from the start. In other words, some apologists ask the question, “what else has to be true in order for reason to exist?” The answer is that God is the necessary precondition for both reason and faith. Attempting to destroy either one will do nothing to impede God. If God does not exist, then intelligible experience does not exist (since God is the necessary precondition for intelligible experience). However, intelligible experience does exist. It is not the case that God does not exist. Boghossian seems to be interacting only with those who either, have a false faith or a very thin argument for why they believe.

Boghossian is clearly a foundationalist. Repeatedly he talks about evidence, warrant, and justification. He indicts faith for apparently contributing to the formation of beliefs without the proper justification. While the Christian views Scripture as their epistemic authority, Boghossian contends that human reason is his epistemic authority. Since Boghossian and I are both foundationlists, so to speak, the question remains, why is he a strident atheist while I am a Christian theist? We both believe that a belief structure must have a foundation or an anchor if you will. We both believe in the value of human reason. Our only difference seems to be on the question of faith. The answer to this mystery is not located in our epistemological differences. The answer is ethical. I will address the real reasons for faith in my final review of Boghossian's project.

What Boghossian is actually talking about when he talks about a foundation is a noetic structure. “A person’s noetic structure is the set of propositions he believes, together with certain epistemic relations that hold among him and these propositions.” [Plantinga, Faith and Rationality, 48] Now, the foundation of a noetic structure must rest upon something other than the structure. Beliefs about the validity of reason or the laws of logic cannot rest upon the laws of logic. Humans form beliefs on the basis of other, more basic beliefs until we get to our foundational beliefs. These foundational beliefs are beliefs that are self-evident. We do not believe them because of other beliefs. They are self-justifying. They require no evidence or warrant. They are by definition, properly basic beliefs. This is so far, so good where the Christian theist is concerned. But if I were an atheist, I would be getting quite nervous at this point.

A properly basic belief “must be capable of functioning foundationally, capable of bearing its share of the weight of the whole noetic structure.” [Ibid. 55] What then is Boghossian’s view of a properly basic belief. Typically it is just this: a belief is properly basic if it is a) self-evident, or b) incorrigible, or c) evident to the senses. Now, here is the elephant in the room when it comes to foundationalism: foundationalism itself is self-referentially incoherent. In other words, foundationalism is not self-evident, or incorrigible, or obvious to the senses. Foundationalism that rests upon a non-transcendental foundation then collapses upon itself. If the base is this weak, one has to wonder just how weak the rest of the structure could be. The nature of Christian truth is unlike that of logic or mathematics. Boghossian repeatedly fails to represent Christianity as resting on its own foundation. He reasons that faith must rest upon reason when the truth is that in Christian theology, reason rests upon faith. Christian epistemology is not empirical nor rationalistic in nature. On the contrary, a distinctly Christian epistemology it is revelational in nature. “All knowledge of God rests on revelation. Though we can never know God in the full richness of his being, he is known to all people through his revelation in creation, theater of his glory.” [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, 53]

Boghossian’s failure to understand the nature of Christian knowledge of God leads to multifarious errors in his criticism and regrettably for his lofty project. Christians do not come to know God on the basis of argumentation and evidence. The starting point for the Christian is Scripture. Our faith rests in the authority and reliability while Boghossian’s faith rests in his own ability to create a noetic structure that can sustain itself without becoming self-referentially incoherent. The type of belief we are talking about when we talk about belief in God is like belief in the self, other minds, and the external world. In none of these areas do we typically have proof or arguments, or need proof or arguments. [Plantinga, Faith and Rationality, 65]

I must apologize for having to review chapter four in two parts. It is by far the longest chapter thus far.

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