SE Chat Room #5

Author: Jeff_Goldblum ,

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  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    Thanks to Pendragon for accepting.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    Ok, friend. Thank you again for accepting. Let's begin.

    How do you describe your God belief? To be clear, I am not yet asking you to justify your belief. I am merely asking you to describe the belief.

  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Hello!

    It's not clear what you're asking. Can you expand on the distinction between a description of my belief in God versus an explanation of why I believe in God?
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    In this context, I would explain the difference between description and explanation by referring to argumentative writing. A debater states a claim "I believe the Christian God exists," (description) and then provides a justification for why they support this claim (explanation).

    If this distinction isn't workable for you, please just feel free to begin introducing your God belief to me in whatever manner is most comfortable.
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I think I get it now. I believe that God exists in the sense that I believe there exists a personal Creator of the universe who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Moreover, I believe that God has specially revealed himself in Jesus Christ, that Christ himself is God. I thereby identify myself with a Christian theistic tradition. 
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    Great, thank you!

    On a scale of 0-100 (with 0 meaning "not at all" and 100 meaning "without a doubt") how confident are you that your belief is correct?
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I don’t think that I can quantify my degree of confidence of belief in God to that level of precision. The best I can do is to say that my confidence that God exists is well above 50%, above at least 75%, but it does not reach 100% because I am not certain that God exists. Beyond that, I just don’t know how to place more numbers to it.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    That's perfectly fine. I appreciate that interviewees can be slightly baffled by the 0-100 scale. Your answer as it stands is perfectly fine. Thank you! So, on to the next question.

    What is/are the main reason(s) for your confidence in your belief? Note that an in-depth defense of your reasons is not necessary. Because this is an interview, all you really need to do is outline your reasons.
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Two reasons for my confidence. First, I experience God in my life, and that is the primary reason I believe in Him. I have always had an innate sense that God exists, and no reason to doubt that experience.

    Second, there are good arguments for God’s existence. Here I would point to arguments from the universe to a Creator, from morality to a perfectly good God, from fine-tuning in nature to a designer, and so on. Moreover, there is good historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, which is why I am not just a theist but a Christian theist in particular. That’s the short answer, anyway!
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    For the sake of my own understanding, I'll repeat what you said back to you in my own words. Let me know if I'm misunderstanding anything.

    Your three main reasons for belief are:
    1) Innate sense - you feel it in daily life and the feeling makes you confident
    2) Logical arguments for God's existence
    3) Historical evidence apropos Jesus

    Further, I understand that 1) is your main reason. For this reason, I'd like to dive a little deeper. Can you provide an example of how this works? What does it mean to experience God in your life?
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    You've got the essence of what I've said. However, I'd organize my reasons differently. I only see two categories of justification/warrant/reasons for my belief in God: (i) privately accessible ones, and (ii) publicly accessible ones.

    Category (i) is my experience of God. This type of reason for belief is not something the atheist (or anyone else outside myself) has access to because it is an experience, and experiences generally are only privately accessible. Now, I think that my experience, though subjective, is of an objective reality (God). For example, sensory experiences are subjective, but presumably, they are experiences of an objective, physical world. Moreover, we are all rational to believe in an external world even though we could never give a non-circular argument for its reality, and in the same way, I am rational to believe in God because I experience Him, even if I don't have an argument for God per se. To answer your question, "What does it mean to experience God in [my] life?", it's not as if I literally hear God speaking or have visions of God. It is more sublime and probably more along the lines of an intuitive sense of God. 

    Category (ii) is generally what people mean by "evidence": publicly accessible arguments for some proposition. In that way, though I am rational to believe that God exists even without arguments or evidence, I think we do have evidence: philosophical arguments for God (what you refer to as logical arguments), and historical evidence for Jesus, his claims, resurrection, and so on.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    Ok, I appreciate your further explanation. I find the distinction between privately accessible intuition and publicly accessible evidence to be very helpful for my understanding.

    With the two categories understood, I'd like to ask my next substantive question:

    What is the relationship of the two categories as they relate to your belief confidence? Or, more specifically, if we took one of the categories away, what would happen to your confidence level? For example, if you decided your privately accessible intuition was not supportive of your belief, would the publicly accessible arguments maintain your belief, and if so, at what level of confidence? I'm also interested in the inverse situation - what if you decided the publicly accessible arguments for God were not reliable, thus leaving only your intuition to rely upon?

    Note: having watched many Street Epistemology YouTube videos, I've noticed that sometimes interviewees find these type of hypotheticals disagreeable. If you'd rather offer a critique of the question than an answer, I'll keep an open mind. 
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    If I no longer had an intuitive sense that God exists, my confidence that He does would decrease significantly, but not drop below 50%. I would still believe in God. If the public evidence for God were refuted, I would still believe in God, though my confidence would decrease (so it would stay above 50%). In short, the two categories of justification for belief in God reinforce one another. Again, attaching numbers to my belief confidence is not something I can do in good faith. Would it go from 92 to 56? From 85 to 73? I have no idea, nor do I know how to assess my belief confidence to access that kind of information.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    I don't blame you for finding the numerical scale disagreeable, and I appreciate your best efforts to work with it regardless. If you don't mind, I'd like to take a closer look at this intuitive sense category.

    In re-reading your previous writing on this category, two passages struck me:
     we are all rational to believe in an external world even though we could never give a non-circular argument for its reality, and in the same way, I am rational to believe in God because I experience Him
    and
    it's not as if I literally hear God speaking or have visions of God. It is more sublime and probably more along the lines of an intuitive sense of God. 
    I was hoping you could expand on this idea generally, potentially with an eye toward these two passages. This assumes I have in fact identified key passages and haven't accidentally misunderstood their importance.

    Also, specifically, I'm wondering what this intuitive sense of God is like?
  • RationalMadman
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I guess that gaslighting all believers and trying to convince them that they are hallucinating didn't work out for your interviews' longevity?

    I am not asking to spite you, I am letting you know that if you genuinely intended to get to know their belief's basis and to explore what they hold dear, you went about it all wrong.
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I'm working under a foundationalist approach to epistemology. According to this view, we have two types of beliefs: inferred and basic. Inferred beliefs are those that are based on other beliefs. My belief that my boyfriend went to work this morning is based on my belief that his car wasn't in the garage. The second belief is evidence of the first. However, my belief that my boyfriend's car was not in the garage this morning is not inferred but is basic. Basic beliefs are not inferred from any other belief but are instead grounded in experience (the basic belief in this example would be grounded in my memory of seeing an empty garage). Basic beliefs cannot be proven. Take other examples of basic beliefs: beliefs about the existence of an external world (how do you know you're not dreaming right now?), the reality of other minds (how do you know that everyone around you isn't a robot devoid of consciousness?), the reality of the past (can you prove that world wasn't created five minutes ago?), and so on are foundational beliefs that form the bedrock upon which all our other beliefs ultimately rely, yet we could never give an argument for the truth of any of them. However, they are not arbitrary but are instead properly basic because they are grounded in experience, and we have no reason to deny what experience tells us. My experience of seeing a tree in front of me grounds my basic belief There is a tree, so, in the absence of a reason to think that my senses are deceiving me, I am rational to believe that, indeed, there is a tree in front of me.

    My claim (or philosopher Alvin Plantinga's claim) is that my belief in God is properly basic. For example, when I pray, I feel God's comforting presence and this experience grounds my belief God loves me, which of course entails the belief God exists. Just as I can believe that there is an external world of physical objects even though I have no argument for that claim, I can believe in God even if I have no argument or evidence for His existence, simply on the basis of my religious experience of God.

    None of this is to say belief in God cannot also be inferred, and that would be my second source of justification for belief in God: there are powerful arguments for God's existence. If that is right, then belief in God is both grounded in experience and supported by several lines of evidence.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    Wow, thank you! You can probably tell that I am not as philosophically inclined as you are, so this concept of basic and inferred beliefs is very enriching for me. I've pondered the basic brain-in-a-vat problem before, but this is a very neat way of categorizing things.

    At the risk of losing focus: what's the rationale for accepting un-provable basic beliefs as true?

    And more to the point: why is God belief basic instead of inferred?
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    To your first question, what you're getting at is what justifies fundamental beliefs. Foundationalists differ on how to answer that question. Some will say that the rationale for accepting them is that they are appropriately grounded in one's experience. Because these beliefs are fundamental, they cannot have other beliefs as their justification or basis. They must, therefore, have a non-inferential justification. Take the conclusion that there is a computer screen in front of me. Why do I believe this? Not because I infer that the hypothesis, "There is a computer in front of me," is the best explanation of my sensory experience. Instead, my perception of a computer screen justifies my belief There is a computer in my lap. It is not an inferred belief but a basic one that is adequately grounded in my perceptual experience. Now, if you came along and gave me evidence that I had taken hallucinogenic drugs, I would no longer be rational in accepting any of my sensory beliefs. That would include my belief that I am on the floor of my room typing on my laptop. However, in the absence of that evidence, I am rational in accepting what experience tells me. According to this school of foundationalism, basic beliefs are capable of being refuted. They are justified only in the absence of some reason to doubt them. 

    If that sub-view within foundationalism is correct, then our fundamental beliefs are rationally grounded in experience so long as we have no reason to deny what our experiences 'report to us' about the world. So, if I have an experience of God in my life and no strong reasons to think that atheism is true, then I can have a properly basic belief in God.

    To your second question, I think that belief in God can be both fundamental and inferred. If that is correct, then one can have two sources of justification for faith in God: (i) direct experience, and (ii) arguments and evidence. Now, you may be willing to grant (i) given that you probably don't think religious people are lying when they report an experience of God. But you might object to (ii), and that is perfectly fine. That's what philosophy is all about, after all: debating controversial questions. Of course, you might still object that, while belief in an external world can be basic, it is not clear that faith in God can be rationally or properly basic. I've given some explanation for how it can, but for a fuller but succinct answer, you can check out Alvin Plantinga's article, "Is belief in God properly basic?" available here: http://andrewmbailey.com/ap/Belief_in_God_Properly_Basic.pdf.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    Thank you for your response. Your explanation about your adherence to the view that basic beliefs can be refuted was helpful.

    I also read the article you shared. To my understanding, Plantinga ends the paper by rejecting standards for determining basicality that have been proposed by others, yet he doesn't provide his own standards. Even so, he seemingly feels comfortable that God is a basic belief while the Great Pumpkin is not. I don't understand how Plantinga can reach these conclusions without his own standard for basicality. Am I missing something?

    Moving away from Plantinga, if only slightly, I'm wondering if a Muslim could use your understanding of basic beliefs to come to the conclusion that Allah exists. What do you think?
  • BrotherDThomas
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    IRRATIONAL MADMAN, REGARDING YOUR POST #15, GET YOUR SORRY ASS OUT OF THIS THREAD, THIS IS NOT YOUR INTERVIEW, REMEMBER WHAT YOU SAID TO ME IN THE SAME INSTANCE? HYPOCRITE!
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I appreciate you going the extra mile by reading Plantinga's article! I will return the diligence you've put into this interview in kind.

    You've missed a critical point that Plantinga makes throughout pages 49-51. To recognize examples of properly basic beliefs, you don't need criteria for proper basicality. A different case will highlight the point: standards for knowledge. Under what rules or conditions can I be said to know a proposition, S? Plato originally proposed the requirement that to know S, my belief in S must first, be true, and second, be justified. Philosophers have since come to reject this account and have proposed dozens of competing conditions for distinguishing knowledge from non-knowledge. But notice, we judge whether these standards succeed based on how well they align with our previously established cases. It is not as if we go out into the world, armed with necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, and test various beliefs until we find ones that qualify as knowledge. No, the situation is much the opposite: we recognize that we know different things, and then we formulate criteria that do justice to what we already know and do not know.

    Similarly, we recognize examples of properly fundamental beliefs, and only then can we formulate standards for what qualifies a belief as properly basic. So, the short answer to your question is that you've missed Plantinga's point that we arrive at standards for basicality (or knowledge) inductively by using previously established paradigm examples. We know that some beliefs are irrational (like belief in the Great Pumpkin, for which there are no apparent grounds at all). Some conclusions are properly basic (the belief that I am once again on the floor of my room typing on my laptop). We know these things independently of what precise criteria distinguish properly from improperly fundamental beliefs. Indeed, we judge those standards based on how well they comport with the paradigm examples, not the other way 'round. I am confident that someone who experiences God can have a properly basic faith in Him, wholly apart from what standards qualify a view/belief/conclusion as appropriately basic.

    As for a Muslim's faith in Allah, I think that they can have a basic belief in God, grounded in their religious experience. That conclusion does not commit me, however, to the view that Islam and Christianity are equally plausible worldviews. As I indicated above, fundamental beliefs can be refuted. Basic beliefs are only justified in the absence of some reason to deny them. So, the Muslim who 'encounters' Allah in their religious life does have a properly fundamental belief in Him. Still, I think one can subvert that justification because there are good reasons to deny that God has revealed Himself in the Qur'an. Those reasons break the symmetry between a Christian and Muslim claim to experience God: we have reasons to think that Islam is false, whereas we do not have similar evidence against a Christian experience of God. That claim is hugely controversial, but I only want to make the conditional point that if there exists evidence against Islam and no similar evidence against Christianity, then only the Christian is warranted in their belief in God, all things considered.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    Regarding your sub-view of foundationalism:
    According to this school of foundationalism, basic beliefs are capable of being refuted. They are justified only in the absence of some reason to doubt them. 
    You've given the example of sitting on the floor in front of your laptop as a basic belief. You say it is basic because your sensory experience tells you this is so, and you have no reason to doubt your sensory experience. Therefore, you hold the belief that you're sitting in front of your laptop as basic. As you pointed out, this basic belief is subject to refutation, for instance, if you learned you were on drugs, this would cause you to doubt your sensory experience.

    I have two questions about this view of basicality.

    First, I'm wondering if there is an alternative sub-view within foundationalism that would approach this situation differently. For example, could someone look at the facts and say: "The basic belief is that Pendragon sees the laptop in front of him. The inferred belief is that there is a laptop in front of him." Under this interpretation, the existence of your laptop is inferred because it is based on two basic beliefs: 1) his sensory experience says the laptop is in front of him. 2) he trusts his sensory experience. I'm asking this question on the understanding that a basic belief is both unprovable and based on no other beliefs. I suppose there's a level of semantics here. When is one belief to be viewed as based off another and when is it to be viewed as a genuine origin point?

    Second, putting aside this alternative view of foundationalism I'm asking about, I was hoping you could make explicit the connection between your laptop example and your basic belief in God. I understand that you have a sensory experience of your laptop, which you have decided you have no reason to doubt. Do you similarly have a sensory experience of God? You've previously described your sense of God as "innate" and intuitive. Are these senses analogous to the sensory experience of the laptop?
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    To answer your first question, if my belief, "There is a laptop in front of me," is not fundamental, then it must have a further belief x as its basis. What might x be? Perhaps, "I am experiencing a laptop in front of me"? The problem here comes when asked how it is I know that my experience is genuine, rather than illusory, hallucinatory, or part of an elaborate dream. What reasons could I give to deny those alternatives? I cannot think of any that would not ultimately prove circular (and I venture most philosophers agree with me here). If that is correct, then my belief that there is a real, physical laptop in my proximity (rather than a mere appearance of a computer) must be primary, grounded in my sensory experience. Moreover, at some point, our structure of beliefs must reach bedrock (if we accept foundationalism). Whether it be beliefs of the form, "There is an x," or "I experience x," the Christian can claim regardless that faith in God can and does feature into that foundation.

    Your second question is well-put. I don't think a Christian who has a properly basic belief in God is committed to claiming that they have sensory experiences of God. Not all experiences are sensory ones. For instance, when I contemplate the murder of an innocent person, I feel that the act is objectively evil. That feeling is not sensory but is a category unto itself that we might call moral experience. Our core ethical beliefs, moreover, are plausibly appropriately basic.  Or again, memory can ground fundamental beliefs, yet memory as a cognitive faculty is not a sensory experience (after all, you can close your eyes and still 'see' the objects of your memories).

    Turning to religious experience, when I pray, I feel that God is listening to me. When I look into the night sky, far away from the city, I have a profound sense that a good and beautiful God created the world. Some of these religious experiences have experiential components (in the first example, a sort of perception that God is listening). But other times, it is a simple but powerful natural inclination to believe in God under certain circumstances (when looking at the night sky or a sunset on a clear day) In either case, the relevant circumstances ground belief in God for the person who has them. If that is correct, then just as I do not need an argument to believe in the external world or the reality of the past, I do not need evidence to be rational in believing in God.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Pendragon524
    Hey! Sorry for not replying for a while. I missed the notification indicating you replied, and I just assumed you had forgotten about this thread.

    I really appreciate your patience and clarity in explaining the structure of your beliefs. I think I am ready to end this 'interview,' assuming you are as well. Under most circumstances, the goal of Street Epistemology is to cause the interviewee to realize their confidence in their belief is out of proportion to the justification they can provide. However, this is obviously not the case for you, and I have no doubt that if we continued, your confidence level would not change.

    A knock-off benefit of Street Epistemology is that the interviewer gets to learn about another person's beliefs. I think this dialogue has served that purpose very well. You have exposed me to philosophical concepts I otherwise would've never encountered, and I've definitely developed a deep understanding of how you've arrived at your beliefs.

    So, assuming you're ok with it, I'm happy to end the interview here.

    If you want to do any kind of de-brief, in which we talk about our conversation, that's fine by me.
  • Pendragon524
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Hello Jeff! I’ve appreciated our interview. It has helped me clarify my own thinking in the subject, and I found your insightful questions very helpful and germane.