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July 30, 2007

Comments

Hm, these are good tactics. I would've never thought of the first one, even though it seems like an obvious question to ask anyone.

You know, it just struck me that Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons cannot be relativists. If they believed the 'it's true for you but not for me' line, they wouldn't be knocking on doors!

I've never thought of asking the 2nd question. I'll give a try when I get an opportunity.

I've asked the 1st question many times and I preface it by always telling them that I realize that I could be wrong and would be willing to change my views if proven wrong. Then I ask them if they're willing to commit to the same thing.

Given that Evangelicals cannot give "objective" evidence for their faith, isn't it a little presumptuous to demand such from others? Furthermore, doesn't your question assume that faith demands "objective" evidence?

Of course, the very notion of "objective" you are utilizing wasn't even conceptualized until around the 17th century. Yes, bits and pieces of it can be found in earlier writers, but the ontological ground on which it rests (in particular, the inner/outer distinction) wasn't thematized till that time. Aristotle certainly didn't accept that notion as "the way things are" isn't necessarily the same as "the way things objectively are."

It just seems to me like those are loaded questions. Certainly you are taking them off their "script," but only by making a covert attempt to force your philosophical presuppositions on them when they either do not accept or know little about them. It's philosophical trickery, much like how many evolution proponents try to force naturalism on their listeners/readers by assuming that it is uniform, universal.

It's philosophical trickery to ask for evidence for what they believe?

That depends: does the evidence have to be "objective" in some extra-Biblical sense? The "objective" is what I have issues with because it carries with it a good number of important, constitutive philosophical presuppositions that the person Alan is talking to will most likely be ignorant of. Thus his question in and of itself demand that the person questioned tacitly accept Alan's understanding of those terms when they have never had to chance to really ask what they mean. The questioned will be working from an unclear understanding, not only of the nature of that evidence but also on whether such evidence (as Alan or the philosophical tradition understands "objective") is actually necessary for their faith or genuinely possible. It would be a miracle if they don't stumble over their response or experience doubt when Alan demands of them something that they are unequipped to discuss. Almost certainly they would not be philosophically savvy enough to actually question the meaning of Alan's demand, which makes the question all the more underhanded.

One more way to say the above: Alan is not starting his discussion at the interlocutors level, but is immediately from the start demanding of them more than they could accurately provide at the time. It's overwhelming by force, but by subtly demanding that the interlocutor takes a stand on issues that they are unfamiliar with.

When I heard this, I heard a request for evidence that:

1. Was persuasive to the speaker.
2. Would also be persuasive to the hearer.

That is, the same chunk of evidence must work for both people. We can discuss the resurrection of Christ, or the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Two examples of non-objective evidence: A burning in the bosom might persuade you, and a close personal relationship with Christ might persuade me; but YOUR burning in the bosom can't possibly persuade me, and MY close personal relationship with Christ can't persuade you.

Kevin, you have a decent point anywhere people have a tendency to understand the word 'objective' in some other way. In that case it would behoove us to think of an alternate phrasing that doesn't risk misunderstanding.

William,

But then is something beyond a "close personal relationship with Christ" really needed? Why must so-called "objective," third-person "evidence" be brought in or be tacitly demanded, as in Alan's question?

William,

A question on your two criteria for what you thought Alan was asking: how often is it possible to find "evidence" that is acceptable to both parties? It certainly rarely happens in the ID vs. evolution debate, even rarer in religious apologetic discourse. Doesn't this further complicate Alan's question when what is considered "persuasive" radically differs from person to person? Or, put one more way, "persuasive" is not an "objective" quality.

Kevin - you should run for office. You would do well.

Hi Kevin,

What is a "lie", on your view?

Also, what does it mean to "know for certain" that something is the case?

>>Given that Evangelicals cannot give "objective" evidence for their faith, isn't it a little presumptuous to demand such from others?

I think you're using a different definition of "objective" than what either Alan or most of us have in mind when we draw the distinction between objective and subjective, because the above seems ludricrous to me in light of some of the books on the shelf next to me. This tells me there is probably some equivocation going on here. But I'm not sure, since you also said:

>>Aristotle certainly didn't accept that notion as "the way things are" isn't necessarily the same as "the way things objectively are."

Your double negative here is confusing. Would you mind saying this another way so I don't risk misundersanding you?

Kevin -

'Given that Evangelicals cannot give "objective" evidence for their faith...'

Why do you assume that to be the case? There are plenty of factors to be considered, such as archaelogy and history, the consistency of the texts themselves, etc. Why wouldn't it be fair to ask for similar things from them? If their religion is the 'right one', as they are asserting by coming to knock on your door, then there's going to be some sort of evidence for that, outside of themselves and their own emotions.

Why is it 'philosophical trickery' to ask them to give some sort of evidence for why they believe what they believe? It's a fair question to ask anyone - on any topic, not just religious.

Aaron,

To lie is to deliberately mislead someone else with a falsehood. I do accept some version of the correspondence theory of truth, but I find "the way things are" to be a very fluid phrase: from what perspective?

For example, you can ask me what a sunset is and I could answer from various perspectives: I could be poetic and speak of the beauty and perhaps even sadness of the sun's setting; I could be a physicist and respond with propositions about gravity and light scattering; I could be a painter and discuss the play of colors on the landscape. Yet all of these are "true" accounts and I don't think anything but the naivette of an assumed scientism could claim that one is "more true" than any other. All disclose beings in a particular way, but all are finite, incomplete. The being never becomes completely transparent as there are a practically infinite number of ways that it can be brought to light depending on the way in which one discloses it.

This also has relevance for your second question: if we assume that knowledge is *only* justified true belief, taking with that the assumption that knowledge is essentially propositional or rule-based, then I don't know if "certainty" is possible.

But there are other levels of understanding where a kind of 'certainty' applies: I know how to make my way around in the world, move around obstacles, open doors, etc., yet I wouldn't say that I "know" such things in a propositional sense. That knowledge is not propositional, but they are things that I can do, often without even thinking about them. Yet they are also dynamically related to my context: they are not mindless, but my body artfully moves within my context and makes the appropriate changes from moving more to miss an object to standing the 'proper' distance from my interlocutor (don't enter the 'personal space').

I cannot provide "objective" justification for them, but I simply do them. It is, for want of a better term, enactive knowledge. You could go the way of Searle and say that I can make propositions about what I may be doing wrong when I'm trying to do open a door, but even making those propositions fundamentally depends on my embodied grasp of the act. It's not that I have hundreds of propositions "stored" in my head that bring about the act, but just that my body is naturally geared to those objects and moves accordingly (the logic of embodied practice is different from the logic of hypothetical reasoning).

Thus to ask for logical justification is just silly. Yet I "know" how to do them. I don't think that even the classic distinction between "knowing-how" and "knowing-that" will do this justice as this knowing-how (when properly understood) grounds the knowing-how and even knowing-that must in the end be seen as a form of knowing-how, as a knowing how to access beings of a particular type. This is a complicated topic and I certainly don't have the space or time to get into it fully here.

Either way, why is "certainty" needed or desired? This goes back to my basic question: why should Alan implicitly demand of the JW or Mormon that they provide such "reasons" for their belief? In other words, why do we put so much priority on the third-person account (as understood through the inner/outer distinction and its ontological presuppositions, both of which are questionable)?

Mo,

"Why do you assume that to be the case? There are plenty of factors to be considered, such as archaelogy and history, the consistency of the texts themselves, etc. Why wouldn't it be fair to ask for similar things from them?"

For many reasons, but I will continue with the one I've been talking about: there is no "objective," subject-transcendent "evidence" (the subject/object dichotomy itself is problematic). Not only is the discrepancy between what various people will *accept* as "convincing" evidence problematic (such that one will find one thing convincing and the other will not all the while deploring whatever fault in the other does not allow them to see what is 'obvious'; e.g. ID vs. evolution debate), but all evidence, if it is meaningful, will be done against a background understanding that is not uniform among people (which also ties to the first point). We cannot assume that we have all the relevant facts and, thus, are in a position to authoritatively judge in these matters; humility is needed in truth claims. There are too many variables and too many approaches/methods. Put in the starkest terms: there are no "objective" means of verifying truth claims. To claim otherwise is to deny our humanity, or what it means to be human.

"If their religion is the 'right one', as they are asserting by coming to knock on your door, then there's going to be some sort of evidence for that, outside of themselves and their own emotions."

And why do you assume that? Why must we assume that if there is a truth claim then there *must* be third-person evidence for or against it? Such seems idealistic and naive.

"Why is it 'philosophical trickery' to ask them to give some sort of evidence for why they believe what they believe?

The "trickery" lies not in asking for evidence, but the presuppositions behind the question that the individual qustioned simply would not grasp but which are implicitly demanded by the question itself. Alan is asking for "objective" evidence, as if nothing else will do, and thus demands that such should be necessary for the JW or Mormon believer. But is it? Alan's question demands it, but one who doesn't know that he's doing so or even if it is a good question in the first place is unequipped to adequately deal with the question. It is, in effect, a loaded question for the given audience: as they cannot challenge it, they must conform to it and thus are bullied into it without knowing the ramifications of their submissive acceptance.

Kevin said: "But then is something beyond a 'close personal relationship with Christ' really needed?"

I don't know what the word 'beyond' means here. But you do need something more than the vague word 'relationship'. Even qualifying with 'personal' doesn't tell you anything -- is the relationship one of enmity or amity?

"Why must so-called 'objective,' third-person 'evidence' be brought in or be tacitly demanded, as in Alan's question?"

I believe it was explicitly demanded; a "tacit" demand would have remained unspoken.

Because the Mormon evangelist is coming to my door and making a truth claim. That implies that something that's true for the Mormon is also true for me. That's what I mean by "objective". Thus, I ask for a type of evidence which is well-suited for objective reality.

"A question on your two criteria for what you thought Alan was asking: how often is it possible to find 'evidence' that is acceptable to both parties?"

All the time. It's the foundation of civil dialogue. If we can't, we're both stuck; we can't communicate (whether to agree or disagree) on that issue. Non-objective proofs may work to convert a person, but to what are they being converted? There's no way to even guess.

"But there are other levels of understanding where a kind of 'certainty' applies..."

But what does this have to do with the simple definition of 'objective evidence' we're asking for? I'm not asking if Mormons can open a door; I'm asking if they can explain their beliefs using ideas we both share. It's about common ground, not abstract metaphysics.

"Either way, why is 'certainty' needed or desired?"

You're the only person in this discussion to even USE the word (or any word derived from 'certain'). Why do you think it's desired?

"This goes back to my basic question: why should Alan implicitly demand of the JW or Mormon that they provide such 'reasons' for their belief?"

I don't understand why you're still asking that question. Can you explain why all our answers thus far are unacceptable?

"In other words, why do we put so much priority on the third-person account (as understood through the inner/outer distinction and its ontological presuppositions, both of which are questionable)?"

I simply have no idea what you're talking about here. Sorry. I think you're diving into deep philosophy.

-Billy

Aaron,

Perhaps you are right that there is equivocation going on here, but that is also part of the problem: Alan, with his background in apologetics, will not mean the same thing as those he questions. However, the latter, because of their inadequacy, do not know what presuppositions they are accepting when they "go along" with Alan.

On my statement, here's another try: Aristotle certainly didn't accept the notion of "objective reality"; "the way things are" doesn't necessarily mean the same as "the way things objectively are." The former is much looser in its ontological demands; the latter has a much better defined history with various implications.

Billy,

"Because the Mormon evangelist is coming to my door and making a truth claim. That implies that something that's true for the Mormon is also true for me. That's what I mean by "objective". Thus, I ask for a type of evidence which is well-suited for objective reality."

Ah, but you can also believe by praying to God and getting a witness for yourself. This doesn't demand some third-person empirical evidence, only the existence of a benevolent God who is willing to speak to his children. There's barely even the need for a Bible in such a case, as Adam's talking with God before any such text attests. All that is needed is yourself and God. Why is that inadequate?

"All the time. It's the foundation of civil dialogue. If we can't, we're both stuck; we can't communicate (whether to agree or disagree) on that issue."

I think you sorely misunderstand mutual understanding: you don't understand me because we have deduced mutual truths, but because we share a similar lived context. Our shared everyday understanding is of a much different nature than logically deduced truths from "objective" evidence. In fact, the latter is possible only on the grounds of the former (insofar as "objective" is itself a construct that emerged from a particular philosophical context). I would suggest Tim Ingold's _The Perception of the Environment_ as an incredibly good anthropological study (or set of studies) on how enculturation works. It's not by logical inference nor is it by cognitive schemas imposed on "objective" facts.

"But what does this have to do with the simple definition of 'objective evidence' we're asking for? I'm not asking if Mormons can open a door; I'm asking if they can explain their beliefs using ideas we both share. It's about common ground, not abstract metaphysics."

Well, for starters you are already *assuming* that the shared ground is propositional in nature, which is your first ontological mistake. This is why I brought up other ways of knowing that are not compossible with shared "ideas." I would suggest one of Charles Taylor's papers on Merleau-Ponty for a further elaboration (http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~hdreyfus/188_s05/pdf/Charles_Taylor_Background.pdf). Shared knowledge is more embodied than it is "ideas."

"You're the only person in this discussion to even USE the word (or any word derived from 'certain')."

Well, Aaron explicitly asked, "what does it mean to "know for certain" that something is the case?" I guess I thought "certain" and "certainty" were cognates...

"I don't understand why you're still asking that question. Can you explain why all our answers thus far are unacceptable?"

Because you are all simply assuming that "objectivity" exists and that it is a good philosophical category. You do not question it, you do not doubt it, you merely assume that such a thing exists and then move forward accordingly. For myself, I see it as a pseudo-concept that is based on an inadequate understanding of the human mode of being (i.e. what it means to be human). I also see the ontological underpinnings of the concept that put it into even more doubt. That is why I am calling the question underhanded: the average JW or Mormon who comes to Alan door will be quite ignorant of such things and, thus, will agree to an inadequate metaphysic (that grounds an inadequate epistemology) by default. Granted, Alan's underhandedness is not conscious; I am not in any way imputing Alan's character. But the question itself, with what it assumes and what it demands of the questioned, is underhanded.

That link was (I'm breaking it up so it fits):
http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/
~hdreyfus/188_s05/pdf/
Charles_Taylor_Background.pdf

Forgive me if I sound like a nitwit, but I (along with everyone I've ever known) have always understood the term "objective" to mean "the ability to be examined." The dictionary defines the word "dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality." I can't examine a Mormon's burning in the bosom, but I can examine his claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book ever written. I can examine the Book of Mormon's claim that there used to be a civilization to rival the Roman empire on the this continent. There either was or their wasn't...there should be evidence that exists outside of their own mind to support their belief that there was. The point of the question is simply to find out if they even have any reasons for believing what they believe, not to be underhanded and trick them into doubting themselves. If someone is coming to my house in an attempt to convince me that I'm wrong about my religion and they're right, I would hope they are prepared to answer some tough questions. If not they need to stay home.

Schwan,

On one point: the Book of Mormon does not "claim that there used to be a civilization to rival the Roman empire on the this continent." That's just overblown rhetoric.

As for the rest, answer me this: if God were to come down with you and reside with you for one hour each day for a whole month and you were given the chance to ask him questions and so on, would such be "evidence" for believing in God? Let me add the proviso that during this time no one else can see God so this is your experience and your experience alone. Yet it is not, by your own words, "objective." Is such not "evidence" or must something be inherently sharable between individuals to be considered "evidence"? If you feel compelled to answer that it is not evidence because it is not "objective," then you are demonstrating my point: we are enslaved to an ideal of third-person accounts.

Schwan,

"The point of the question is simply to find out if they even have any reasons for believing what they believe, not to be underhanded and trick them into doubting themselves."

Again, the trickery is not in merely causing them to doubt, but that in answering Alan's question without any understanding of the ontological presuppositions inherent to the question will trick them, by default, to accept those presuppositions unknowingly. In other words, they will not see that it is a bad question and, thus, will not be prepared to answer it because, put simply, they will *try* to answer it.

GREAT QUESTIONS!

QUESTION #1 - "If you discovered you were mistaken about your faith, would you be willing to change your religion?"

ANSWER - Of course I would. That's exactly what I did when I found out my previous religion was teaching lies not based on the Bible. Of course, I had to do a lot of research first to prove this to myself. (Acts 17:11)

QUESTION #2 - "Can you offer me three objective reasons or evidences for why you believe your religion is true?"


REASON #1 - John 13:34,35 - The mark of Jesus' true disciples is showing true love among each other. J's Ws will not participate in war of any kind. If we did, we would be killing our own spiritual brothers, as we are a worldwide religion which has no racial, ethnic, economic, or national divisions. (1 Corinthians 1:10; Acts 10:34,35)

REASON #2 - Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10; Ezekiel 18:4 - This is the only religion that teaches biblical truth about death. (Proverbs 2:21,22)

REASON #3 - Matthew 24:14; 1 Corinthians 9:16 - J's Ws are the only group in which all members are organized to preach the good news of the Kingdom on a global scale, thus fulfilling Jesus' command at Matthew 28:19,20. (Isaiah 43:10,12; Romans 10:13,14)

I too think your questions are fair. In fact, I offer your first point of reason myself, since I truly would accept a religion that's better than what I believe is the best. As a witness, I concure with the last post but what really convienced me is the fact that Bible translators have underhandedly mistranslated. This was all done to take the honor from the Father and give it to the Son. Just a little research should convience any reasoning person that the translation of God's name (the tetragramaton) was originally not meant to be changed to the mere titles of LORD or God. YHVH translated as such was/is a lie, pure and simple. The NWT sets this matter straight. And second; to label our heavenly Creator as a loving God and then say he has a place of eternal torment is totally ludicrous. Come on, we don't still live in the dark ages. That too is a total lie, pure and simple, not taught in the Bible. Lastly, my religion teaches that man has no answers to our problems. God is allowing time to prove that and man is doing a really good job at showing that he can't and never will solve our problems, such as old age and death, being peaceable humans (NOT animalistic war hungry beasts)But instead should be lovers of fellow humans even while they're still in their mother's womb. How sad, no how sick has man become! where abortion is allowed. Yes, show me a religion better and I'll change.

Deny -

This is going off track, but on your quote:

'And second; to label our heavenly Creator as a loving God and then say he has a place of eternal torment is totally ludicrous. Come on, we don't still live in the dark ages. That too is a total lie, pure and simple, not taught in the Bible.'

I don't know what Bible you're reading, but it's not the one I've always seen and read. I'm guessing you'rve never read Revelation?

Kevin - We do not have to have possible fact about every subject we speak on, in order to have reasonable evidence for something. Not even the law works that way.

'there is no "objective," subject-transcendent "evidence" (the subject/object dichotomy itself is problematic).'

Are you saying objective truths do not exist at all? Or only in the topic of religious assertions?


'We cannot assume that we have all the relevant facts and, thus, are in a position to authoritatively judge in these matters; humility is needed in truth claims.'

We do not need to know every single possible detail about a topic in order to make an argument that is strong, reasonable and based in fact.


'Put in the starkest terms: there are no "objective" means of verifying truth claims.'

Says who? Here's a statement: Gravity is real. If someone jumps off a 100-story building, they will hit the ground and die. Would that be objective or subjective? Do I need to know every detail of how gravity works in order to know this?


We make these arguments so very complicated, when they do not need to be. We live our lives day to day, based on objective truths. If I need to get to work and I know Train A is the correct route to get there and Train B takes me in the completely different direction, which do I choose? Do I need to know every single fact about where train B stops, when the route was created, who created it, etc.? No. It's the wrong train and I let it pass by.


'Why must we assume that if there is a truth claim then there *must* be third-person evidence for or against it? Such seems idealistic and naive.'

Because that's how we live life, every single day. Either somehing is true, or it is not.


'Alan is asking for "objective" evidence, as if nothing else will do, and thus demands that such should be necessary for the JW or Mormon believer. But is it? '

Absolutely. People can believe anything they choose to believe, but that does not mean that what they believe is true and based in fact. Many kids believe in a Tooth Fairy or in Santa Claus. They believe it sincerely. It does not mean these things are true.

Religion is not meant to be a fairy tale. Either your religion is true and there is evidence to support that claim, or it is not.

And that's true about anything. For example, if you make the claim that you work at a certain company, then it would not be too difficult to provide evidence of that: The name of the company, which can then be looked up and visited, if need be. Paycheck stubs/bank statements to show a salary given to you. HR records of date of hire. Coworkers who can verify that you indeed are a real person and that you work there. Email/voice mail records. Etc.

Aren't all of these things objective things that can be examined? If that claim was made and this support for that claim was produced, doesn't it make a strong case that what you say is objectively true - that you do work at this company?

Why do we make these discussions so incredibly complicated? Can you imagine waking up in the morning and not being able to even get out of bed to start the day, because you're deciding whether the bed, the floor, the bathroom, your clothes, your car, your workplace, etc. are objective or subjective things? Ridiculous! We do not live that way.

"if God were to come down with you and reside with you for one hour each day for a whole month and you were given the chance to ask him questions and so on, would such be 'evidence' for believing in God?"

I'll grant that. I'll grant further (for the sake of argument) that God could give me a "burning in the bosom" that could somehow persuade me that a specific set of doctrines about Him were real.

But so what? When I come to YOUR door, I can't present the burning in *my* bosom to you... I could claim that if *you* got a burning in your bosom you should accept it as meaning the same thing I think it means, but how do I communicate that? How do I even know to believe it?

More to the point, Billy & Kevin, what if MY burning in the bosom told me the opposite of what YOUR burning in the bosom told you? What then?

Deny,

>>Yes, show me a religion better and I'll change.

By "better", do you mean more personally preferable, or more true?

>>Bible translators have underhandedly mistranslated. This was all done to take the honor from the Father and give it to the Son.

Care to document that? Please take into account the scholarly reason given by traditional translators, who perhaps may be less underhanded than the original "translators" of the NWT (of those on that team, the only person with any background in Biblical languages had only taken two years of New Testament Greek).

Not all theological questions are of the same nature. For example, the claim that the Nicean doctrine of the Trinity is coherent is not an "evidential" question. It is a conceptual one. The question of whether Jesus rose from the dead is an historical question. The question of whether God exists is a philosophical one for which evidence--including arguments, personal encounters with the divine--is relevant, though not dispositive. With JWs, for example, the questions are largely conceptual ones, not evidential ones. For example, is the Arian heresy a correct understanding of God the Son or did Nicea get it right? "Evidence" here is necessary, but not sufficient, since one's theologizing on this issue involves textual evidence, the church's historic teachings, conceptual questions, etc.

Theology is more like eye surgery than it is like hammering nails. For the person who thinks of theological problems as nails, every solution is a hammer.

Beckwith: "Theology is more like eye surgery than it is like hammering nails. For the person who thinks of theological problems as nails, every solution is a hammer."

As much as I respect you, I regret to admit that metaphor makes my eye hurt. Please use it wisely.

-Billy

"I too think your questions are fair."

Thank you. I appreciate you two weighing in on this. It's worthwhile, I think, to mention that accepting those questions shouldn't be considered mandatory. It's true that I wouldn't carry on a discussion in my house with a stranger who refused to consider any rules of evidence; but on a discussion board or with a friend I'd be more than willing to venture into philosophy.

So it's dependent on context.

Your posts -- both of yours -- are strongly tied to appeals to moral truth and common sense, although you don't make either one very explicit (i.e. rather than explaining that hell is immoral, you simply state that God wouldn't do anything like that). I'd say that moral arguments (hell is a wrong thing) are a worthy and objective subject of discussion, but common-sense arguments (the Trinity doesn't make sense, Christian translators are trying to steal glory from the Father) are more subjective. At least as you stated them.

Note that I'm not responding to your arguments, simply discussing them according to the categories in this post.

Jehovah's Witnesses love to be asked questions. I'm looking forward to coming to YOUR door.

Here's a question for you and you don't even need to spend money on gas.

Please name one Greek scholar who worked on the NWT.

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