Monday, February 20, 2017

Randal Rauser convinces me on the rationality of specific religious belief

I've done a bit of posting on whether or not there is rational justification for belief in a specific religion.

David Marshall tried to get "inside" the argument and state that one could justify belief in specifically Christian miracles. My last post was a long reply about why that isn't at all convincing.

Randal however took the opposite approach, going "outside" the argument to reject my overall approach.

After some back and forth in his comment section, he's convinced me that the argument I'm going after isn't going to undermine rational belief in a specific religion. Here's the relevant text from his comment that really brought the point home:

"By attempting to show that virtually all people who hold religious beliefs are thereby irrational, you have taken on an absurdly strong thesis. It's like attempting to argue that all people who hold particular beliefs about economics or politics are thereby irrational.
Any such argument would depend, first of all, on a definition of "religious belief". So long as you are focusing on religious beliefs rather than belief more generally, you need to explain what is required for a belief to count as religious.

Next, you need to define and defend an underlying conception of reason and knowledge. Some folks get frustrated when I point this out, but the reality is that when people want to begin to ascribe the charge of irrationality to others, they do need to articulate the epistemological framework by which they're doing that. There are many different incompatible epistemological conceptions of reason and knowledge, so if you're going to ascribe irrationality to a vast group of people you need to do so relative to a definition of reason that you've articulated (and which you are able to defend).
I've done that work in several of my books and according to the theoretical account I've defended, Christian theists can be perfectly rational. I'd only ask that critics do the same.
The fact is that I think it is unwise to attempt to restrict an epistemological critique to religion. First off, that looks like bald motivated reasoning. But more importantly, it's futile. The fact is that any objections you attempt to present will apply to belief generally if at all.
As I already noted (and have argued more extensively elsewhere) the social formation of belief is a general phenomenon across all beliefs: religious, political, scientific, economic, etc. And in all these cases we retain beliefs despite the fact that other people disagree with us, even when we have not as yet considered the reasons for their alternative views. That's as true of you as it is of me."
This really is convincing. I agree that I would need to define religious belief in a specific way, and then justify/defend an epistemology which would include providing a link between reason and knowledge.

Here's the thing though. Lets say I did go through and do all of that, and lets say I was "successful" in showing that given my defensible epistemology, specific religious belief was irrational in a way that specific political belief was not.

All the theist would do is reject my epistemological approach and go with their own defensible epistemological approach.  So this kind of argument is roughly as pointless as most metaphysical arguments: it's going to get inconclusive at best. The theists are going to keep their theism, and the atheists will keep their atheism.

That all said, this doesn't mean that I think the argument I present doesn't have its uses. For instance, I think it can work as a solid rebuttal to arguments for belief in historical miracles, at least in the context that those arguments are presented to non-believers.  This is the general kind of objection that if we are to follow the historical method combined with the background knowledge regarding miracle claims (and the lack of repeatable miracles by a given religion), that we can't accept the resurrection as "historically supported".

This also might have an affect on believers, since the point of such arguments, even if they're not definitive (like it seems almost all arguments of these sorts will be) it can undermine their faith.  I can remember back before I started deconverting, I realized that while I believed I couldn't find a way to convince non-believers in any kind of objective way.

I didn't realize it at the time, but this was one of the seeds of doubt that were planted which eventually blossomed into my apostasy.

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