Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Apologetic Tuesday: A Belief Argument for God

Well, here is one of the new features I have been telling some of you about: apologetic Tuesday! It's not where I say sorry for something every Tuesday; rather, it's where we will discuss some issue directly applicable to apologetics each Tuesday. There are more changes coming, but the next one is the Friday Mailbag! Don't forget to send your questions by e-mail to me @ randyeverist dot com or go on Facebook to the Possible Worlds page.

1.     Probably, there are things we ought to believe.
2.     Probably, if there are things we ought to believe, then we ought to be rational.
3.     Therefore, probably, we ought to be rational.
4.     The best explanation of rational duties (3) is God.
5.     Therefore, probably, God exists (from 3-4).

Christians will automatically agree with (1), seeing as most of us believe that we all have an obligation to believe the Gospel (and revealed doctrine and truth). However, most everyone intuits that there are things one really ought to believe, and not just in a functional way (e.g., you ought to do this if you want that). You really should believe rape is evil and not good; you really should believe it’s wrong to steal and murder. Now these are moral claims, and so I feel quite comfortable in asserting that the vast majority of people have intuitions of this sort. It is only upon reflection, with some other truths, that they may reject this.

But there are more interesting things that mere moral oughtness to believe moral truths. In fact, I think it’s quite plausible that people believe, all things being equal, that one ought to be rational (given that he has the capacity to do so). We become flustered with the person who ought to know better, but instead continues to act irrationally. This is the justification for (2); (1) serves as evidence for (2), if you will.[1] In this case, the conclusion, “probably, we ought to be rational,” follows.

(4) will be the most controversial, in my opinion. But it shouldn’t be. Just think: why should we think we have epistemic duties (such as to be rational or believe certain things) if God is not the explanation of it? Notice I’m not here claiming that another foundation is impossible (though I think it is). I’m merely claiming that the best explanation of epistemic duties lies in a super-rational being who also is owed moral duties, best explained by the classic conception of the monotheistic religions.

Here’s the negative case: we can’t have genuine moral duties to believe certain things (or to be rational) simply to each other, for these are objective duties and so cannot be explained by society. Maybe we will say they simply exist, as brute facts. Well how remarkable it is that we are the type of creatures to which this applies! This is a well-known tactic in discussing objective moral values. However, this is a different part of that discussion. This is in reference to our moral duties. What is it about moral values that constitute a duty? As far as I can tell, that’s simply moving from an “is” to an “ought.” That’s what makes the concepts of values and duties separate: values are what “is” and duties tell you what “ought” to be. I can’t see any real reason to say that the duties exist in a brute fact manner either. In fact, it must be pointed out that to claim that the duty to be rational is explained by its mere existence is no explanation at all. So, what if we claim that a god could explain it, but it is multiple gods? Remember, I am only going for the best explanation. If one God can do it, then more are unnecessary, and so violate simplicity issues when dealing with explanations.

Here’s the positive case: a good explanation for some thing, fact, or event will be one that accounts for the various data on its own (without being combined with other explanations)—at least, that type of explanation will be preferred to other types, all else being equal. God is just such an explanation. First, the Christian God is a super-rational being. Jesus, who equates himself with God, claims that “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” (cf. John 14:6), and those that worship God must do so “in spirit and in truth” (cf. John 4). God cannot lie, created everything, etc. He has the truth part down pat. Next, God is consistent with a being who can account for the duty one has toward his doxastic states. In other words, he is someone to whom you can owe an obligation. In explaining the rational and moral sides of this epistemic duty, he outstrips other explanations. In that case, it follows by logical implication that God exists!

So, perhaps one wants to go back and deny that we ought to believe anything at all. “After all,” he may reason, “I do agree that if there is no God, we probably wouldn’t have any obligation to be rational.” Here’s where it gets tricky. If the only reason one would deny that premise is because he wants to avoid God, then he is begging the question against the argument. If one intuits that we ought to be rational, or ought to believe some things, he must have a stronger argument that overrides this intuition.

In the absence of this, however, it must still be stated that God exists. And this I call my “doxastic duty argument for God’s existence.”

[1] This might not be a quite right way of putting it. One could reject (1) and still affirm (2), by saying, “In the case that we were to have an imperative to believe something, then we have an imperative to be rational, but we have no such imperative.”

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