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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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It seems to me that Grayling's point in the above is that it is hypocritical for theists to take offense at his attitude toward them when they have the same attitude towards others. And as far as that goes, he is correct. His mistake is in assuming that everyone is as patronizing and closed-minded as he is, or that the existence of some theists who are patronizing and closed-minded justifies his rudeness to all theists.

The Christian view of other religions isn't that that they are "deluded" --implying a mental incapacity, but that they are misled --implying a failure of their culture.

What is delusional is the belief that religious questions can be answered by intellect alone and that therefore anyone who disagrees with you is suffering from mental deficiency. People who believe this, are under the delusion that they have grasped in their minds some collection of evidence and argument that proves their point beyond all doubt, yet they clearly have no such thing in their minds or they could express it in such a way as to persuade open-minded theists.

Dave,

"What is delusional is the belief that religious questions can be answered by intellect alone and that therefore anyone who disagrees with you is suffering from mental deficiency."

I think that is not quite correct, but close to truth, and that anyone who has a belief concerning ANY issue which, as he thinks, can be resolved by intelellect alone (HOWBEIT non-conclusively) at least sometimes can reasonably credit his opponents with some kind of defficiency: the opponents are uninformed or irrational (i.e., slow-witted, emotionally blocked or intellectually dishonest).

It has been discussed briefly here:
http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1224459787.shtml
http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1221693951.shtml
http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1167847646.shtml

Grayling's argument is as follows.

1. No reasonably orthodox Christian believes in Aphrodite or the rest of the Olympian deities, or in Ganesh the Elephant God, no reasonably orthodox Muslim believes in Aphrodite or the rest of the Olympian deities, or in Ganesh the Elephant God &c.

2. The atheist merely adds one more deity to the list of those not believed in by other believers

3. The atheist's view that religious belief lacks intellectual respectability, evidentiality, rationality is therefore no more insulting than the view of most orthodox believers.

Which in no way resembles your paraphrase of it above.

>>The conclusion is clear enough: Religious belief of every sort is irrational, unsupported by evidence, and not intellectually respectable.

No, the conclusion is that saying that religious belief lacks intellectual respectability, evidentiality, rationality is not insulting.

>>It is so bad it takes the breath away

No.

Grayling's conclusion here is not as has been suggested that:

>>The conclusion is clear enough: Religious belief of every sort is irrational, unsupported by evidence, and not intellectually respectable.

The average 'militant atheist' has I dare say other more solid and rigorious arguments which attempt properly to prove this point. The idea is simply to show that umbrige at the atheist assertion that all religious belief is irrational, unsupported by evidence, etc. is hypocritical. So to answer the original question it is in my opinion anyway not an argument at all. It has already been shown that taken as such it totally lacks any chance of validity. Taken instead as I believe was intended, namely as a critism of the offence taken by some theists, on the assertion that religious fervour is absurd by pointing out that they indeed (admittedly to a slightly lesser extent) share the position it doesn't seem nearly so bad.

I am going with either Dave or ocham here in the comments, they seem more charitable interpretations of Grayling's argument.

While I agree with Dave for the most part, I'd like to press him on this: "The Christian view of other religions isn't that that they are "deluded"--implying a mental incapacity, but that they are misled --implying a failure of their culture."

This seems to me to raise a dilemma. A Christian, then, can claim EITHER to know (or to be justified in knowing) that adherents of other religions are misled, thus "implying a failure of their culture" but not of their mental capacity, OR to not know that.

(1) If s/he does claim to know..., then doesn't this just delay the charge of mental deficiency one step back?

(2) If s/he doesn't claim to know..., then they are in the same boat as the adherents of other major religions in the world (e.g., take Pure Land Buddhism in China/Japan or Vaishnavism--both religions that tend toward monotheism, and emphasize salvation by grace of the divine being in question and faith on the part of believer). No epistemic privilege can be claimed.

I've often puzzled about this, but Option (2) seems plausible to me. The majority of the people who were Christians have come by their religion not through their own intellectual acuity but by luck (or divine grace/providence if you will).

"No reasonably orthodox Christian believes in Aphrodite or the rest of the Olympian deities, or in Ganesh the Elephant God or the rest of the Hindu pantheon, or in the Japanese emperor, and so endlessly on - and officially (as a matter of Christian orthodoxy) he or she must say that anyone who sincerely believes in such deities is deluded and blasphemously in pursuit of 'false gods'. "

Am I missing something here? In fact, many Christians "believe in" (in the sense of acknowledging the existence of) either these entities or spiritual forces behind them. Many Chrisians for example believe that the gods of Hinduism are really evil spirits.

>> many Christians "believe in" (in the sense of acknowledging the existence of) either these entities or spiritual forces behind them.

That’s a good point. And correct, I think, see e.g. Augustine City of God, and particularly book II. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120102.htm

It is clear Augustine is not just blaming the corruption and fall of the Roman empire on the belief in the existence of the ‘false gods’. For he believes in the existence of them himself, seeing them as evil and malignant influences upon the world of the empire.

“But the devils, whom these men repute gods, are content that even iniquities they are guiltless of should be ascribed to them, so long as they may entangle men's minds in the meshes of these opinions, and draw them on along with themselves to their predestinated punishment: whether such things were actually committed by the men whom these devils, delighting in human infatuation, cause to be worshipped as gods, and in whose stead they, by a thousand malign and deceitful artifices, substitute themselves, and so receive worship; or whether, though they were really the crimes of men, these wicked spirits gladly allowed them to be attributed to higher beings, that there might seem to be conveyed from heaven itself a sufficient sanction for the perpetration of shameful wickedness.” (bk II. C. 10 “Chapter 10.— That the Devils, in Suffering Either False or True Crimes to Be Laid to Their Charge, Meant to Do Men a Mischief.”)

Boram, option (1) can be defended. It is possible to be misled without being mentally deficient. It is even possible to be misled whilst being mentally superior to someone not misled. For example, suppose Bill is my intellectual superior. Nevertheless he may be misled in thinking that Peter Falk played Quincy, and not Columbo. He may even be misled in an area closer to home, like whether hylemorphic dualism is flawed. Nevertheless, this would neither prevent him being mentally superior to me, nor would it make him mentally deficient. I could be misled on every other issue where we differ.

In the above post Bill reinterpreted a passage from Grayling in the form of a deductive argument. He has shown that the argument so recast is not a valid deductive argument. I do not think this claim is disputable. The premises of Bill’s reconstruction are about what every believer in a religion *believes* about the God’s of other religions: namely, that they are irrational. The conclusion, on the other hand, is the proposition that every religious belief is irrational quite independently from and regardless of what anyone believes. Recast in this form, the argument is not a valid deductive argument. As Bill points out, the second version of the argument is valid but not sound.

I have tried to reconstruct the argument as an inductive argument. But even in an inductive form, the results are uninteresting and do not yield the conclusion Grayling most likely wishes to convey. So here is an alternative proposal.

Grayling intends to establish the conclusion that the belief corpus of all religious believers who maintain that their religious beliefs are superior to the religious beliefs of other believers is *internally inconsistent*; this conclusion applies to theistic believers as well. The argument can be illustrated regarding theistic believers as follows.

On the one hand, theists believe that the religious beliefs of non-theistic believers are irrational in the sense that they are not rationally supportable. So theists believe that non-theistic believers are irrational to hold religious beliefs that are rationally unsupportable. On the other hand, theists themselves have religious beliefs that are of the same kind as the religious beliefs of non-theistic believers. Hence, the religious beliefs of theists are also irrational in the sense that they are not supportable. Therefore, the atheist maintains, theists believe that non-theistic believers are irrational to hold religious beliefs that are not rationally supportable yet their own religious beliefs are not rationally supportable. Hence, their corpus of beliefs is inconsistent. They must either abandon their belief that non-theistic believers are irrational or abandon their own theistic beliefs or show in what way their own religious beliefs differ in the relevant respect from the religious beliefs of non-theistic believers.

The first option is not attractive for theists because then their theistic beliefs are on a par with non-theistic beliefs. Yet theists maintain that their beliefs are superior overall and also with respect to their rational cogency. The second option is of course not a viable option for the theist. So in order to avoid internal inconsistency, the theist must demonstrate that theistic beliefs differ in some essential way with respect to their rational supportability from the religious beliefs of non-theistic believers. But that they cannot do. Hence, all religious believers who allege that their own religious beliefs are superior with respect to their rational acceptability as compared to the alternatives are internally inconsistent.

This argument has two problems. First, it does not entail that any particular religious belief is in itself irrational let alone that all of them are. It entails at most that the belief corpus of religious believers who view their own religious beliefs as rationally superior to alternative religious beliefs is internally inconsistent.

The second problem is that it contains a premise that requires independent support; namely, that theistic beliefs, for instance, are on a par with other religious beliefs with respect to lack of rational supportability. So the cogency of my version of Grayling’s argument depends in the end upon the familiar question: Is theistic belief rationally supportable or at least more so than alternative religious beliefs? I do not see in this passage any argument Grayling offers for a decisively negative answer to this critical question. Perhaps he thinks that such a conclusion follows inductively from a set of premises each of which lists a particular religious belief that is not rationally supportable and culminates with the proposition that it is *very likely* that theistic belief, for instance, is also not rationally supportable. Perhaps, this is the inductive step in the argument. However, I doubt that the present form of such an inductive argument is cogent, but I am not confident in this conclusion. I suppose it needs to be examined more carefully. Perhaps Prof. Grayling has an argument that supports the cogency of this inductive step in his argument. As it stands it appears to me to be a very weak inductive argument.

peter


Peter,

You write (in your presentation of Grayling's argument) >> So in order to avoid internal inconsistency, the theist must demonstrate that theistic beliefs differ in some essential way with respect to their rational supportability from the religious beliefs of non-theistic believers. <<

I can suggest three ways the theist could do this:

1) He could appeal to historical evidences (miracles, fulfilled prophecy, whether it is plausible to take a body of books which state that theism is true as divinely inspired, and so on).
2) He could appeal to 'existential' evidence (a theistic God fulfils life's meanings in a way no other religious belief does, a theistic God is the best ground for morality, and so on).
3) He could also claim that the most plausible cases of genuine religious or mystical experience occur in the theistic tradition.

Lastly, it is definitely worth noting that theism survived the intellectual assault that some of the best and brightest minds heaped on it last century, and is presently thriving in philosophy departments. The same can NOT be said of the New Age movement, Hinduism, or of belief in the gods of Olympia, etc.

But Grayling fails to interact with all these strands of evidence.

Matt.

The book "Against all the Gods" by A.C.Grayling was reviewed (and, in my opinion, demolished) by Christian philosopher Peter Williams:

http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_contragrayling.htm

It's surprising how a professional philosopher like Grayling can argue against christianity and religion in general in a so amateur level. He attacks the weakest points and obvious misrepresentations, as proved in detail by Peter Williams in his review.

I think it was Popper who said that you should to address the "best arguments" of your intellectual opponents, not only the weakest ones.

I think the only explanation of Grayling's straw men and low level arguments is a emotional hate against religion, and a posteriori rationalizations of that emotion. I doubt that Grayling would argue like that in discussions on epistemology, logic or phiosophy of language (I have one of Grayling's books, and he's clearly a brillant man. So, you can imagine my dissapoint with Grayling's "critique" of religion and God.).

I'm not religious, but I'm dissapointed with some secular criticisms of religion and christianity. I'm sure real philosophy is more than hate and rationalizing defenses of preconceived positions.

I'm glad someone pointed out that not all christians automatically reject the existence of other faiths' gods. I'd like to add another perspective: Christians can (and in my view, often do) view other religions as having a very imperfect, yet in many ways correct, grasp of the same God that Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) themselves worship. Saint Paul made reference to the altar to an unknown god when trying to communicate the idea of the God of Christianity/Judaism. Aquinas interacted heavily, and positively, with the work of Aristotle and Plato in his discussions of God's existence and what God is taken to be.

So for me, Grayling's quoted argument fails right at line one. As a catholic, I don't regard the believer in Ganesha, Zeus, some 'world spirit', or otherwise as automatically on par as a believer in fairies. In fact, right off the bat I'd regard their seeking and accepting of some kind of higher power to be reasonable and well-grounded at its core. I can believe they have things wrong, even wildly wrong, about the aspects and properties of their god/gods - but some amount of disagreement exists among holders of the Abrahamic faiths, and even within individual sects, so that doesn't automatically get me to 'they believe in fairies'. Addressing those disagreements can come down to the three avenues Matt Hart lists, though I'd also add broader philosophical arguments to the mix.

Zetetic chick,

Thanks for the link to the review of Against All Gods. Interesting site you have. Makes me want to learn Spanish!

Joseph A,

You make good points. The ignorance and superficiality of these New Atheists runs so deep -- to put it oxymoronically -- that dialog with them is out of the question. It is like trying to have a dialog with a typical member of the Rand cult.

Matt,

The three ways you suggest a theist might wish to demonstrate theism's superiority over other religions are indeed plausible. However, each of your ways can be challenged by both atheists as well as adherents to non-theistic religions. Such a discussion will undoubtedly raise several epistemological and other issues of interest. In any case, what I have tried to do in that previous post is to reconstruct Grayling's argument in a form that might lead to such a discussion, regardless of his own intentions.

I myself am an atheist. But I object to disrespectful attitudes toward theists or others. I find that theism, as well as other religions, presents serious philosophical issues that are worth discussing (and I have done so on this very site).

As philosophers we must resist at all cost permitting the battles that rage on the political arena about this matter to infect our attitudes toward our intellectual opponents. For the minute we allow ourselves to be swept by the political calculus, on either side of the fence, we left philosophy behind and we no longer conduct ourselves as philosophers.

peter

Peter writes,

>As philosophers we must resist at all cost permitting the battles that rage in the political arena about this matter to infect our attitudes toward our intellectual opponents. For the minute we allow ourselves to be swept by the political calculus, on either side of the fence, we leave philosophy behind and we no longer conduct ourselves as philosophers.<

I agree that we leave genuine philosophy behind when we enter the arena of polemic. But then what do we do about ideologues such as Grayling? He leaves philosophy behind on a regular basis. (See in particular the passage from him I quote in the post on whether religion is a form of child abuse.) Are we not permitted to reply in kind when grave matters are at stake?

I grant you that we cease to comport ourselves as philosophers when we polemicize. Philosophy is a species of rational inquiry into the truth. It is as inappropriate to polemicize in philosophy as it is to do so in mathematics or chemistry. But it does not follow that we must always comport ourselves as philosophers. It is arguable that there are circumstances in which we may, and perhaps must, reply in kind. There are times when the truth needs defending, and we are justified in using means in its defense that would be inappropriate in the precincts of pure inquiry.

Just as you would not comport yourself as a philosopher in a situation in which you and your famly are under physical assault, but answer deadly force with deadly force, and be mnorally justified and indeed morally obligated to do so, it is at least arguable that we need not and perhaps may not comport ourselves as pure philosophers when our values are under ideological assault.

Tell me what you think, Peter. And thanks, as always, for your commentary. This is just the tip of an iceberg of deep and difficult considerations.

Bill,

We both agree that we must distinguish between a reaction that is philosophical in nature from one which is not. And I do not deny that under certain circumstances polemical or other non-philosophical means are acceptable, if one so chooses, in order to defend that which one values. The means and methods of such a response depend upon the nature of the assault, the context, and the assessment of the potential gain, among other things.

My own preference is to respond first on the philosophical level and show, just like you did in the above post, that the polemic does not withstand philosophical scrutiny. Once this point is made, then it becomes apparent that the only force it has is polemical and political. It is then justified to opt to respond in kind.
I am, however, less convinced that polemical responses are the most effective method in the long run. While they do resonate with similarly minded people, they rarely change anyone's mind about the fundamental issues. They tend to deepen the divide that already exists and make it less likely that rational debate can take place.

As strange as it may seem, I would ideally rather follow here Jesus' own teaching: If verbally slapped on my face, I would offer the other cheek and invite the assailant to sit down and talk about it. Thus, showing that I am afraid neither of being verbally assaulted nor from a critical examination of things.

I emphasize: Ideally! That is, I wish I could always follow this advise. For I believe it is a good one!

peter

In addition to the logical flaws Bill points out in Grayling's argument, it also suffers from a reactive and unstudied understanding of the phenomena of religion generally, both contemporary and historical.

Grayling was born into a Christian culture (as a British expat in Zambia), and tends, like most professional atheists, to view other religions much as many Christians do; that is, as competitors for a divine mantle. But this is not how Christian ontology is universally received in other cultures. It would not be, for example, a traditional Hindu response that Vishnu and Shiva are "real" gods, but Christ is not. Buddhism, too, doesn't reject Abrahamic religion as "false," but invites a reexamination of the nature of what or who god "is." And there are perfectly coherent Buddhist interpretations of the Christian gospels.

Orthodox atheism embraces the Abrahamic ontology of the cosmos as "creation" more or less wholesale with only the minor modification of replacing the creator with a sort of cosmic clockworks. It is only by sweeping aside the question of alternative ontologies that "un-Christian" atheism can plausibly argue that it it is more accurate than "religion" because it has dethroned all the gods.

I hadn't read through all the comments when I posted that, so let me at as an addendum:

In the Williams article Zetetic chick links to, he quotes Grayling's defintion of religion (one that is explicitly shared by Dennett and Dawkins in their recent works).

‘by definition a religion is something centred upon belief in the existence of supernatural agencies or entities in the universe; and not merely in their existence, but in their interest in human beings on this planet; and not merely their interest, but their particularly detailed interest in what humans wear, what they eat, when they eat it [etc.]’

That this flies in the face of actual scholarship of religion over the last two centuries seems to interest Grayling very little, which seems to support Z-chick's hypothesis that his real campaign is to wound or discredit god-belief generally, regardless of actual rigorous conversations about the nature of religion and its relationship to reason.

Joseph A., I'd be interested to know what is, in your eyes, the imperfection that prevents a Hindu or New Ager from believing in the putatively more accurate view of your Catholicism. I appreciate your recognition that there is something deeper than "faeries" going on in other religions (keeping in mind that what faeries once meant in pre-Christian Europe was something much more important than what they signify today). But it seems to open up an epistemological problem. On what grounds can it be philosophically argued that Catholicism is more "true" than other religions, or that the Hindu or Greek pagan is "wildly wrong"?

Chris Schoen writes, "It would not be, for example, a traditional Hindu response that Vishnu and Shiva are 'real' gods, but Christ is not." That's an important point, and it's correct.

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