I don’t think Alex Comfort ever mentioned an epistemic position…?

When I want to be honest about what I do; when someone asks me exactly what doing philosophy is all about, I tell that person that I’m in the business of opinions. Well reasoned opinions, mind you, but opinions nonetheless.

However, one opinion you’ll rarely, if ever see is my opinion on religion.

On the subject of god worship, I tend to think to each his own. A person is free to worship whatever or whoever (whomever?) they choose. I say, you can worship Allah, Jehovah, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, invisible pink unicorns, the devil, a head of lettuce, or the cat next door, so long as your god of choice doesn’t want to interfere with my business, I could care less what you believe in.

I know that some people disagree with me on this.

I know that as laid back as my attitude is about religion, there are folks out there who take the business of worshipping a deity as seriously as I am apathetic towards the topic. I’m talking about the kind of people who are willing to blow up you, your mom, your neighbor’s dog, or anyone within several square blocks if you say you don’t believe exactly as they do.

With this in mind, I often fail to understand why philosophers would want to get involved with religion.

But they do.

CAUTION: FLASHBACK AHEAD

I remember I once told a professor of mine that I thought that philosophers shouldn’t get involved with religion. You see, I argued that the average Joe or Jane wouldn’t be inclined to visit their local philosopher of religion if they were stuck in a crisis of faith. A person who is struggling with the question whether to believe or not believe in God isn’t likely to be swayed by logically correct arguments or a theodicy that claims to solve the problem of evil. What the average Joe wants, I said, is to have a reassurance of faith — and faith, a belief or trust without logical proof,  is exactly what philosophers claim philosophy is not about. I said that philosophers should abandon philosophy of religion and leave the God debate to the pastors, priests, and theologians.

My professor told me I was in no epistemic position to make that kind of judgment.

I guess he was right.

Robert Audi, William Lane Craig, John Hick, Anthony Kenny, William Alston, Paul Draper, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, and Peter van Inwagen are a just a few philosophers who have decided to throw their hats into the ring they call philosophy of religion. Wait, you say. You say that you heard somewhere that philosophers are all godless reason worshippers who cram their Randian rational self-interest down the throats of defenseless college students and claim that we should be reading atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris instead of studying the blessed eternally true Word of Jesus Christ.

Actually that’s a fairly true statement about philosophers.

Epistemologists, anyway (rimshot).

Really, there are many philosophers that not only worship a supreme deity, but argue that believing in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly good being makes philosophical sense. Believe it or not, there are philosophers out there, right now, that argue that God exists. There are other philosophers who argue that even if we can’t prove that God does (or does not) exist, we are perfectly rational for believing that God is as real as you and me.

If you think I’m lying to you watch this:

You know something? Even though I’ve seen and read a few philosophers of religion, I think that philosopher are missing something. Sure, philosophy brought the world Warranted Christian Belief, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument and divine command theory (that’s an ethical theory, in case you didn’t know), but I’m still convinced that philosophers are missing the point. There’s a reason why more people read Rick Warren than William Lane Craig — and it’s not because Rick Warren is sexier.

The reason why we turn to the church when we want to contemplate God is because churches, unlike the hard, logical arguments of philosophers, offer believers emotional comfort. Philosophy isn’t about comforting people and it certainly isn’t about emotions. Philosophers don’t really like it when you tell them that you believe on faith or that you feel that your belief in God is right. Be honest, if you wanted to feel God’s presence, would you rather watch this:

or this?

 

Plantinga seems like a swell enough fellow, but you don’t have to be in any epistemic position to know which one you’d choose.

Am I right?

By the way, what the frak is an “epistemic position” anyway?

 

 

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3 thoughts on “I don’t think Alex Comfort ever mentioned an epistemic position…?

  1. Fantastic post!

    Rather than just address religion and religious faith I’d like to broaden the dabate to include all supernatural phenomena, epistemologically it makes more sense. I have always thought there is a simple and very effective test that can easily be applied to just about any question of the existence of the supernatural.

    Can you show evidence that is neither anecdotal or faith based that demonstates the existence of a supernatural entity or ability?

    In the whole history of mankind no one ever has done so, even a relatively simple supernatural power such as telepathy cannot in any sense be said to have been demonstrated let alone the existence of a god or gods. Proof or evidence that a Deistic supernatural entity might be responsible for our universe simply doesn’t exist. A philosophical arguement for a deistic creator however cannot be entirely ruled out, without knowing the exact and complete process by which the universe came be, it is impossible to rule out entirely the existence of such an entity and therefore it is entirely valid for someone to argue for this deistic position, however it is not that easy to move from a deistic to a theistic position, there simply isn’t a single peice of evidence to support such a leap of faith.

    The argument for faith or belief put forward by messers Swinburne, Plantinga and Lane Craig is that the knowledge of faith or belief is epistemologically valid, it is in effect another form knowledge that is somehow beyond our attempts to rationalise and in a sense requires no logical, reasoned or empirical proof. There is one serious flaw with this argument, if this faith based epistemological argument is true for the Christian system of belief then it must be true not only for all other gods and creation mythologies but also true for all other belief systems, even the ones we knowingly creates to parody. This leads to a paradox because if Christianity is true then surely worship of other gods must be false, therefore this is not an epistemology, two contradictorary things cannot be true.

    Swinburne, Plantinga and Lane Craig all claim to be analytical philosophers, yet they fail consistantly to analyze their own argument. Again I say this is sophistry not philosophy and I do feel epistemologically qualified to say so.

    A theologian and former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, put forward a much better and more consistant argument in the 1980’s and was widely castigated for it by Christians, I shall attempt to paraphrase:

    Belief in the supernatural, the vigin birth, the miracles, the resurerrection, the creation, etc are just the mythology Christianity, one could choose to accept them literally or just as a literary creation in order to convey a message. The real miracle is the message of forgiveness and love, caring for one’s neighbour and one’s community, showing that in one’s life and one’s actions. When we come togther in church, we come together to show our communion with each other, that communion is god, that shared experience and the will to make a better world is our place in heaven. The truth of the life of Christ is metaphoric and it is the metaphorical truth which is important not the literal history.

    Those of us with a knowldge of the history of philosophy are fully aware that Socrates cannot be proved to be a real person, yet we accept the Socratic method for what it is. Jenkins was attempting to make the same argument for Jesus Christ and Christianity and it was Christians that we most upset by his argument. Faith and fact cannot be reconiled and the attempts by apologists to do so really isn’t edifying, it is neither philosophically or theologically valid, it is simple an attempt to convince those with faith that their faith isn’t completely irrational. By postulating such arguments they actually damage the case for faith and do nothing to address the concerns of those who do not share their faith,

    • Although I will, in no way, suggest that I completely understand the arguments of either Plantinga and/or Swinburne & Craig, I will agree that there is one glaring, if not perplexing problem with the idea of belief based on faith (in particular Plantinga’s endorsement of the sensus divinatitis) — namely, for every believer that claims that their belief is rooted in a brain structure that intuits god’s existence, there is a non-believer who says he feels no presence of god (or other deity) at all. From my own experience, I was once a Christian. I believed that I felt the presence of the lord (I assume that god was affecting my sensus divinatatis), but one Sunday morning during service, I stopped feeling the presence of god. It was as if someone had shut off a light. I could argue that I don’t feel god, and by that experience, reason that god does not exist. And if our argument boils down to what we feel in our brain, then my claim is just as valid as Swinburne or Plantinga.
      And I completely agree that if someone feels the presence of Allah and his Prophet Mohammad, then why is it less likely that a Muslim is wrong? I realize that I am simplifying Plantinga and Swinburne’s arguments terribly, but I suspect that at their core, what each is truly arguing is a simple ‘I believe god exists because I believe god exists’.
      We both know the problem with that kind of argument.
      On religious matters, I tend to go with Hume. In “Of Miracles”, Hume argued that the less an event is likely to happen (given the laws of nature), the less willing we should be to believe it. Of course Hume’s empiricism can’t completely rule out the possibility that god exists, but judges based on the likelihood that miracles can happen (and by extension, that an all-powerful being can exist) — which is not very likely.

      • Having done a little more reading I’m still very much at odds with the neuroscience basis for Sensus divinitatis, it would seem to me that in order for Swinburne, Plantinga, Lane Craig to make this claim and therein the claim of a manifestion of god or the religious in physical effect then this would have to be a universal, something experienced by all humans and not something that manifests itself only in a proportion?

        Neuroscientist Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Ontario has postulated that Extremely Low Frequency Electro-Magnetic Waves (ELF) can in the brains of some people create a sense of the spiritual (the presence of god) and in more extreme cases even cause hallucinations (visions of the Madonna). I see this entirely different way to that of the apologists, this to me would seem to reduce god or the religious to something akin to the experiences of someone taking LSD or the use of another narcotic, ELF is merely triggering a neurological response and that neurological response is then serving to reinforce an already held spiritual belief. This is similar to shamanistic tradition or perhaps to snake handling in a the American Pentacostal church, obviously the neurochemical response to handling a venomous snake will be quite profound. None of this does anything to strengthen the arguments put forward by the apologists, if anything it likens the case for god to a minor phenomena of neuroscience.

        All of the arguments put forward by the analytical philosopher apologists only work in a deistic context and these arguments science isn’t in a position to dismiss completely, however there is no evidence to support any kind of theistic belief or beliefs.

        Richard Swinburne put forward two very simple principles:

        Principle of Credulity – with the absence of any reason to disbelieve it, one should accept what appears to be true.

        Principle of Testimony – with the absence of any reason to disbelieve them, one should accept that eye-witnesses or believers are telling the truth when they testify about religious experiences.

        On the surface these seems to relatively uncontroversial, however with his Principle of Credulity, I’m not always inclined to always believe what my eyes and ears are telling me, many a cheap conjurers can appear to walk on water and turn water into wine, I’m fully aware that senses do deceive and the truth is ofen more complicated than it first appears. I repeat throughout the entire history of humanity there is no hard evidence of anything supernatural ever happening. To his Principle of Credulity, I don’t dispute that eye-witnesses and believers believe they are telling the truth about their experiences, however, this doesn’t mean what they have seen or experienced is real and if it defies the laws of nature I require more evidence than the testimony of believers.

        Plantinga’s argument seems to be the we need proof for the existence of god, in much the same way that we need no proof for the existence of the past, it is simple, it is obvious. This is a rather spurious argument for an analytical philosopher, the past is manifest in reality, we see change happening, flowers growing, the sun setting, the vapour trail left by an aircraft. No one has ever seen the effect of god. I know of the Greek myths, and I suspect these are legends of once of real people, retold to make the interesting and engaging miraculous, surely if we know this of Greek myth we can apply the same reason to Christianity, Judaism and Islam? Plantinga’s argument adds nothing, it really isn’t saying anything, it doesn’t even defend theist belief against the most simplistic critique.

        Since Thomas Aquinas theologians and philosophers have been trying to find evidence for god or gods in the natural world and failing, they make arguments, postulate and always end up back where they started with faith. I just wish they’d be honest with everyone and say to the world, faith in god cannot be proven, rationalised, it is a form of delusion, but it what I believe, please respect it. People should be free to believe what they wish, but not to call themselves philosophers and try to convince others they have proof of the existence of their god or gods, when they have nothing more than a few feeble attempts.

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