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 Post subject: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2018 11:00 pm 
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Wikipedia, in one of the least intelligible and least coherent articles I have ever read on that site, defines 'evidentialism' as

Quote:

They argue that if a person's attitude towards a proposition fits their evidence, then their doxastic attitude for that proposition is epistemically justified. Feldman and Conee offer the following argument for evidentialism as an epistemic justification:

(EJ) Doxastic attitude D toward proposition p is epistemically justified for S at t if and only if having D toward p fits the evidence.

For Feldman and Conee a person's doxastic attitude is justified if it fits their evidence. EJ is meant to show the idea that justification is characteristically epistemic. This idea makes justification dependent on evidence.


In layman's terms, what in the hell does any of that gibberish mean?

And yes, in case you are wondering, I am interested in this because of my interest in "Reformed Epistemology", which, as I understand it, is the proposition that belief in God is 'properly basic' i.e. it need not be inferred from other beliefs to be rationally warranted.
Of course, 'warrant' is a technical term itself, but one I think I understand, at least in the sense that Alvin Plantinga defined it.


Every single writer who defends Reformed Epistemology always criticizes 'evidentialism', which, I would assume, is the principle that every belief has to be supported with evidence to be rationally warranted, in particular, the existence of God, i.e. more or less the opposite of Reformed Epistemology. That seems to be the sense in which these writers use the term.

But I wanted to be sure that I understood evidentialism properly, so I looked it up and BOOM! I'm met with that wall of verbal spaghetti.

I don't think I'm a stupid person, I can understand abstract philosophical ideas, but not when they are expressed in these kinds of terms.

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 Post subject: Re: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 6:52 am 
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Quote:
if a person's attitude towards a proposition fits their evidence, then their doxastic attitude for that proposition is epistemically justified.


So there is an assumption here that what we believe can be expressed in propositions. So say I believe the proposition "the cat is on the mat", my doxastic attitude is "belief" and that attitude can only be justified if "the cat is on the mat" "fits" with the evidence I have.

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 Post subject: Re: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 12:03 pm 
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"The cat is on the mat" is not a good example, because no one could reasonably regard that as a 'properly basic' belief, it is with regards to properly basic beliefs where evidentialism and Reformed Epistemology part ways.

If 'evidentialism' is defined the way you defined it, namely 'the assumption that all the truths we believe can be expressed in propositions', then I don't see how anyone can defend this idea. In the words of Boris Pasternak, in his novel 'Doctor Zhivago': 'that which is ordered, logical, factual, will never be enough to express the whole truth.' I don't see how anyone can reasonably deny that assertion, which seems to me to be just common sense.

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 Post subject: Re: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 1:25 pm 
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It's been a long time since I studied the reformed epistemology debate, but from (my faulty) memory, you're understanding the word salad properly. Evidentialism is, without taking it too far, just the claim that you need evidence before you assert something. That evidence may be of a very strong type or it may just be simple observation or even personal experience, but the more a particular claim is scrutinized, the stronger your evidential claim needs to be.

Reformed thinkers don't tend to like this line of thought. They want, as you note, to be able to say that belief in God is properly basic, something that they just know by virtue of being elect. They think that's just a part of what it means to be elect -- the foolishness of God vs the wisdom of the world, and so on. For them, the idea of trying to prove something like God's existence or doctrines relating to him is just asking a dead man to do calculus. Moreover, they want to take the observation that we all have prebuilt worldviews and presuppositions and make that the entire basis of their epistemology: God's elect have certain presuppositions, not merely intellectual ones, but ones irresistibly granted and known by faith, and these presuppositions (because they come from God, they are true) lead one to know truth; the non-elect, however, have differing presuppositions (that they take from their fallen nature) and thus cannot see the world clearly no matter how hard they try. For them, it is a waste of time trying to provide rational warrant or evidence for these types of issues, because the worldview or presuppositions of the non-elect rule out the truth from the beginning.

Not surprisingly, I'm not a fan of presuppositionalism (or reformed epistemology more generally) and tend to like evidentialism. The statement you're struggling with is correct even if needlessly complicated:

Doxastic attitude D (What I'm affirming or the basis for affirming) toward proposition p (the question being affirmed or denied) is epistemically justified (rationally warranted) for S at t (for that person at that time) if and only if having D toward p fits the evidence (if the evidence for p is sufficient to affirm).

Yeah, in other words, you only get to say your position is rational if you have evidence for it. Reformed thinkers don't like that, because they don't think you need evidence for God. They just know it by direct revelation to their spirits (William Lane Craig regularly makes this point in his debate), and non-elect can never know it because, well, they are non-elect.

If you want a long and detailed defense of reformed epistemology, I'd recommend John Frame's Apologetics to the Glory of God and this his follow up The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Both of those provide a very complete theological and philosophical defense of reformed epistemology, and (again from memory), his books are where I'm getting these claims.

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 Post subject: Re: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 3:47 pm 
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I think you're misstating both the meaning and the motives of the Reformed Epistemology position, at least as far as the more sophisticated thinkers in that position hold to it, such as Plantinga, Cornelius Van Til etc. It certainly is not true that they think that they don't need evidence because they are members of the elect, nor do they generally think that proofs of the existence of God are impossible or even unnecessary.


I'll go with Plantinga because he is the guy I am most familiar with, and because he is almost universally regarded as the greatest Christian philosopher of the 20th century. Plantinga not only doesn't reject proofs of the existence of God, but he even constructed his own, which has proved quite influential, the modal version of Anselm's ontological argument. Plantinga is actually one of the few philosophers on the planet who regards Anselm's argument as logically valid.

Their motivation for believing that human beings don't need a rational proof to know that there is a God is that this is clearly the teaching of scripture, especially in Romans 1:

Quote:
"The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. (emphasis mine) Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. (NAB Revised New Testament 1986)


Now, some Reformed Epistemologists are indeed hostile to the idea of proving the existence of God through rational argument, but I don't think the smarter ones (e.g. William Lane Craig or Plantinga) hold to a view that extreme, but rather hold a much more nuanced position.

Surely, neither Craig nor Plantinga believes that it is impossible or unnecessary to prove the existence of God as both men have devoted significant periods of their lives to creating fairly complex and sophisticated arguments for the existence of God, arguments which, even if I am not sure I accept them, I think these arguments deserve to be taken seriously and not simply dismissed.


Anyway, there is a lot of evidence to support the Reformed Epistemology view that knowledge of God is innate from psychology. Psychologists have shown that children as young as 1-2 years old seem to already know who and what God is, and don't need to be told and that when told of God, they instinctively believe it. Some atheists argue that everyone is born naturally atheist, and no one would ever believe in God unless they were, in effect, 'brainwashed' into it. But all of the studies that have been on this issue show the exact opposite. All of them, there has never been a study that supported the idea that atheism is 'natural'.

Moreover, evidence shows that human beings have a natural tendency to describe their lives in teleological terms, and this is true even of people who describe themselves as 'atheists'.

One study asks someone who described herself as an 'atheist' to describe an event she went through or a challenge she overcame that changed her for the better. I think you will agree that this is an extremely vague question which allows for a lot of insight into a person and which does not lead the subject to make any kind of statement that the researcher might want.

The example she gave was of an exam when she was in graduate school that was really important which she failed. The researcher asked why she thought she failed the exam. Again, it is important to note that this an extremely vague question and that by asking this question the researcher was not 'leading', the subject towards any specific kind of statement.

The subject could have said that the reason she failed the exam was that the exam was too hard and she wasn't smart enough, or she didn't study hard enough, or the exam was unfair, the grader was biased, or any number of possible 'natural' explanations. Instead, she provided a teleological explanation by saying 'I guess that the reason I failed was that at that time, I was taking a very serious attitude towards my studies, I thought that passing or failing was the most important thing in the world, that if I failed, my life would be over. I think I failed because I needed to learn that failing isn't the worst thing in the world, that is possible to fail, and move on with your life.'

It is important to note that this study was a blind study in the sense that the subjects were never told that the real reason for the study was to determine whether people had a natural tendency to believe that their lives were guided by an outside force. Did people have a natural tendency to assume that their lives were headed towards some goal, did they have a natural tendency to think that there was some kind of benevolent outside 'force' trying to help them through their difficulties, or did they have a natural tendency to think that their lives were random and purposeless, with everything having a completely natural explanation?

The solicitation for this study simply said that they were looking for people who would be willing to share anecdotes about important events in their lives and how these events impacted them. The subjects were asked open-ended questions which were not designed to lead them to say any specific kind of thing.

The assumption they made at the beginning was that religious people would try to explain the events in their lives by appealing to divine intervention, but atheists and the non-religious would offer purely natural explanations.

And yet, this is not what happened. What happened is that almost all of the subjects, including the ones who called themselves 'atheists', offered a teleological explanation for the events they described and they did it without any kind of prompting from the researchers. The researchers ended up concluding that people that there was strong evidence that people have a natural tendency to believe that their lives are being guided by some benevolent outside force.


These kinds of studies offer strong evidence, I think, that the Reformed epistemologists are onto something when they say that belief in the existence of God is 'properly basic.'

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 Post subject: Re: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 5:08 pm 
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I didn't say they are hostile to proofs for God's existence. Even Plantinga will say that if you come to faith in God, it's not because you were rationally persuaded. They would equally say that God can use rational arguments as the instrument by which He applies His irresistible grace. But philosophically the fact remains that this knowledge is based on God's acts and not on rational warrant in and of itself. It is, in a way, an over-attempt to avoid a sort of intellectual semi-pelagianism.

edit:

As I said before, I recommend Frame to you. He's a competent philosopher but more primarily a theologian. In particular, he is known for his scholarship on Van Til. You might find him helpful.

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 Post subject: Re: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 5:25 pm 
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Dagnabit, Doom, you've got me chasing a rabbit . . .

I'm sure you know Van Til's dissertation was titled "Reformed Epistemology." So there's a history within reformed theology of using the term the way he does in that work. Apparently, Plantinga is using the word in a different way. Here's a paper I found interesting (in skimming):

That, in addition to Frame's appendix on reformed epistemology in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God might (or might not, of course) provide you with a helpful perspective in your studies.

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 Post subject: Re: What is evidentialism?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2018 8:00 pm 
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theJack wrote:
I didn't say they are hostile to proofs for God's existence. Even Plantinga will say that if you come to faith in God, it's not because you were rationally persuaded. They would equally say that God can use rational arguments as the instrument by which He applies His irresistible grace. But philosophically the fact remains that this knowledge is based on God's acts and not on rational warrant in and of itself. It is, in a way, an over-attempt to avoid a sort of intellectual semi-Pelagianism.

edit:

As I said before, I recommend Frame to you. He's a competent philosopher but more primarily a theologian. In particular, he is known for his scholarship on Van Til. You might find him helpful.


There are some who are indeed hostile to rational proofs of the existence of God. Certainly, Calvin, who was a bitter opponent of Thomism, was deeply hostile to any attempt to rationally prove the existence of God. And this has been the traditional Reformed position. It has only been in the 20th century, and largely as a result of Plantinga's influence, that the Reformed have come around and started to think more positively about attempts to prove God's existence. But even Plantinga has only been able to go so far, he retains the traditional Reformed hostility to Thomism, and he rejects each of St Thomas' 'five ways' because they are based on Aristotle's metaphysics, which he also rejects. In his first book, 'God and Other Minds' he devotes the first half of the book to trying to refute each of St. Thomas' 'five ways.'

Calvin's reasons for hating scholasticism are complex, but it was mostly due to his dislike of abstraction and speculative theology and his commitment to nominalism. Prior to William of Ockham, the scholastic philosophers held that the most important divine attribute was his intellect. The scholastics thought of God as being like a kind of super brain thinking all the greatest thoughts.

William of Ockham and the nominalist tradition that he started held that the primary divine attribute was his omnipotence, and they took the notion of omnipotence to an extreme. For example, the traditional scholastic position was that God could not lie or break a promise because God is goodness itself and lying or breaking his promise would be contrary to his nature. The nominalists held to the 'divine command' theory of morality, that something is wrong only because God says it is wrong, but tomorrow, he could change his mind and lying would be right and telling the truth wrong. Today, he puts the righteous in heaven and the sinners in hell, but tomorrow he could change his mind and put the sinners in heaven and the righteous in hell, it's all just a matter of God's will, which is completely arbitrary and unpredictable. To the nominalists, God's omnipotence meant that he could absolutely anything that wasn't a logical contradiction.

Now, you might think that I am exaggerating about how extreme Ockham's view of omnipotence was, but I'm not. Both of the examples I gave you, God declaring that lying is righteous and telling the truth a sin, and putting the sinners in heaven and the righteous in hell, are examples that came straight from Ockham's own writings.

Now, in this extreme notion of divine omnipotence taught by the nominalists, you can see the intellectual foundations of the Reformation. In particular, you can see the foundations of the doctrine of predestination and the doctrine of justification by faith alone and forensic justification. Under nominalism, forensic justification makes complete sense, the sinner is 'righteous' because God says that he is righteous, and God's omnipotence is such that he can decree that something which is evil is actually good and something which is good (i.e. good works) is actually evil. And since evil and good are just an expression of God's completely arbitrary will, and not an expression of any external reality, because God says the sinner is righteous, that makes it real. Forensic justification can make sense only under a nominalist metaphysics, and not under any other.

And the Reformed tradition rejects divine simplicity because they consider divine simplicity to be a limitation on God's omnipotence. And this is why both Calvin and Plantinga reject Thomism.

But anyway, the reason why Plantinga et al hold that no one comes to believe in God solely due to rational persuasion may have something to do with irresistible grace, but he also holds it because it is so obviously true.

Let's put aside the issue of God's existence and look at an example less abstract. Let's look at politics

. Now, when you're dealing with political scientists and political commentators, I don't think it's accurate to say that the left and the right 'don't understand each other'. Sure, when you're arguing with people on the Internet on a news blog, it probably is true, but among the intelligentsia, I don't think it is. I don't think it is true that say, William F Buckley Jr, and, say, Alan Colmes 'didn't understand each other'. Buckley knew the liberal view inside and out, he could make better arguments for liberalism than many liberals themselves could, and Alan Colmes certainly understood the conservative view, sometimes he understood it so well that he could argue for conservativism better than many conservatives.

So, given that there are many liberals who understand conservative arguments perfectly, and many conservatives understand liberal arguments perfectly, how come there is disagreement? Why don't two people who know every argument and every fact agree about everything? Why does one person find a particular argument persuasive and another not?

Clearly, merely intellectual persuasion is not enough!

So, if we can't even explain why liberals and conservatives can't agree even though they have the same facts and the same arguments, how can we possibly think that mere intellectual is enough to turn an atheist into a Christian?

There are atheists who understand Christianity just as well as any Christian, how come they don't convert? Because rational persuasion is not enough.

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