William Lane Craig is an Epistemological Solipsist, Revisited

Dr. Craig responds to similar questions I've raised about his claim that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit "trumps all other evidence" in his recent Q & A. Remember, I had claimed he was an Epistemological Solipsist and as such, similar arguments against both viewpoints apply. I made my argument here. Let me further comment on what he just wrote...

Dr. Craig wrote:
...most of our beliefs cannot be evidentially justified. Take, for example, the belief that the world was not created five minutes ago with built-in memory traces, food in our stomachs from meals we never really ate, and other appearances of age. Or the belief that the external world around us is real rather than a computer-generated virtual reality. Anyone who has seen a film like The Matrix realizes that the person living in such a virtual reality has no evidence that he is not in such an illusory world. But surely we're rational in believing that the world around us is real and has existed longer than five minutes, even though we have no evidence for this.
I find these examples to be strange ones, very strange. So let’s see if I can put this into perspective. He's arguing that since it’s rational to believe we’re not in The Matrix or that we have not been created five minutes ago, it’s also rational to believe in God without evidence. Is there truly no evidence against our beliefs that we were not created five minutes ago or that we're not living in The Matrix? These examples are bandied about among philosophers as if they are self-evident, including the evil demon and dream conjectures of Rene Descartes. We are told there is no evidence for what we believe about such things AND we are told by Reformed Epistemologists like Plantinga and Craig that these examples parallel their belief in the “great truths of the gospel.” Let’s look at these things in turn.

First, I think there is evidence to suggest we were not created five minutes ago, depending on what we mean by evidence. Evidence in its broadest conception includes anything and everything used to demonstrate the truth of a claim, which includes our arguments based on the things we’ve experienced. What we believe will be based on the probability of the evidence, all of it, as broadly defined. As such, I think there is evidence against the existence of a creator God. The arguments for the existence of God are not persuasive. I do not think such a God could create the first moment in time if he is somehow “outside of time.” And I do not think a spiritual Supreme Being could create a material world. Even if a creator God exists I find no evidence that he would create us into such a massively deceptive world five minutes ago anyway. Therefore there is evidence against our having been created five minutes ago. Now, could it be possible that we were created five minutes ago? Maybe. But if so, this is an very very slim possibility given the evidence.

The demon hypothesis of Rene Descartes, in which there might be a demon who is deceiving me right now, fails because of the same evidence just mentioned above with regard to God creating us five minutes ago. Descartes uses his extreme method of hypothetical doubt like a massive sword. The mere possibility that there is such a demon was enough to cast doubt on his knowledge about the external world. But why must we base what we believe or don’t believe on a mere possibility?

When it comes to the question of whether I’m dreaming right now a good case has been made by Norman Malcom [in his book Dreaming and Skepticism], and Bernard Williams [in his book Descartes], that there is a difference between dreams and our waking experience. The fact that we can distinguish between them presupposes we are aware of them both and of their differences. It’s only from the perspective of being awake that we can explain our dreams. Hence we can only make sense of this distinction if we are sometimes awake. And since this is the case, all of our experiences throughout our entire lives cannot be made up merely of a sequence of dreams.

What about the world depicted in The Matrix film? There are several responses to such a radical scenario which would upstage most every belief we have about our existence in this world. Such a scenario is a mere possibility, if it is possible at all, and a very unlikely one at that. I’d have to refresh myself on the story line but the story is just implausible. I see no reason why there would be any human resistance or knowledge of the Matrix at all by people living in the Matrix, since it determines all of their experiences…all of them. I also see no reason why a pill or a decision by Neo could make any difference at all while inside the Matrix. Apart from the story line itself I see no reason for the Matrix in the first place, and I see no reason why our bodies are better at fueling it than other sources. I’d have to watch the movie again to say more about it.

As David Mitsuo Nixon argued, “The proper response to someone’s telling me that my belief could be false is, “So what?” It’s not possibility that matters, it’s probability, So until you give me a good reason to think that my belief is not just possibly true, but probably false, I’m not changing anything about what I believe or what I think I know.” [“The Matrix Possibility” in The Matrix and Philosophy, ed. William Irwin (p. 30)]

So even if the Matrix is a possibility, it’s an extremely unlikely one. To overturn nearly everything we believe in order to believe it would be to go against the overwhelming evidence (as defined above) about that which we claim to know. In fact, it would be self-defeating to believe it, for if we did come to believe in the Matrix then how do we know that THAT world isn't just another kind of Matrix? That is, if the belief in the Matrix leads us to distrust most everything we experience, then what reason would Neo have for trusting the experiences he had while supposedly outside the Matrix in the so-called “real world?” When it comes to Neo knowing the real world in distinction from the Matrix he has been given no reason to think one world is real and the other is illusionary. The red pill could have been nothing more than a hallucinogenic drug, for instance. So Neo would have no basis for trusting those experiences supposedly outside the Matrix in the real world, and as such he would end up as an “epistemological solipsist,” not having any reason for trusting there is a world outside his mind, something I accuse William Lane Craig of being.

Here’s what Professor Craig additionally said…
Plantinga does not to my knowledge clearly commit himself to the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Such a thesis is independent of the model as presented. But I have argued that the witness of the Spirit is, indeed, an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against it.
It is in this sense that I argue Craig is an epistemological solipsist. He claims that no other evidence can convince him or any other believer that they are wrong…none...apart from this so-called inner witness of the Holy Spirit, which always serves as an intrinsic defeater-defeater to this evidence.

Craig also wrote…
Many of the things we know are not based on evidence. So why must belief in God be so based? Belief in God and the great truths of the Gospel is not a blind exercise of faith, a groundless leap in the dark. Rather, as Plantinga emphasizes, Christian belief is part of the deliverances of reason, grounded in the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, which is an objective reality mediated to me from God.
Notice the impossibly huge leap Craig makes here. From the fact that we cannot be absolutely certain

(a) that we were not created five minutes ago, or

(b) that we are not living in a Matrix,

Craig claims,

(c) we can know with some real assurance that the Christian God exists and that the gospel is true.

I think a proper conclusion from what he’s argued can only lead him to conclude that since it’s possible that (a) and (b) obtains, it’s therefore possible that (c) obtains. But this is extremely problematic. As I’ve argued in my book, Christians repeatedly retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or “not impossible,” rather than what is probable. When they do this they are admitting the evidence is not on their side. They’re trying to explain the evidence away. Just because all of these things are possible he cannot conclude that what he believes is probable. A possibility is not a probability. How he slips in a probability because of a possibility is beyond me. The inference does not follow. It's a huge non-sequitur.

Just look at the analogous belief he thinks he has assurance about. In my debate challenge I asked what a potenital Christian opponent would like to defend. Here is what Craig must be assured of, depending on how he answers each question:
Would you like to defend the existence of the social Trinitarian God (versus an anti-social Trinitarian God) of the Bible (which had a long process of formation and of borrowing material from others) who never began to exist and will never cease to exist (even though everything we experience has a beginning and an end), who never learned any new truths, who does not think (for thinking demands weighing temporal alternatives), who is not free with respect to deciding his own nature, who revealed himself through a poor medium (history) in a poor era (ancient times), who condemns all of humanity for the sins of the first human pair, who commanded genocide, who allows intense suffering in this world (yet does not follow the same moral code he commands believers to follow), whose Son (the 2nd person of the trinity) became incarnate in Jesus (even though no one has ever made sense of a person who is 100% man and 100% divine) to be punished for our sins (even though there is no correlation between punishment and forgiveness) who subsequently bodily arose from the dead (even though the believer in miracles has an almost impossible double-burden of proof here) and now lives embodied forever in a “spiritual” human body to return in the future, who will return to earth in the parousia (even though the NT is clear that the end of all kingdoms and the establishment of God's kingdom was to be in their generation), who sent the 3rd person of the trinity to lead his followers into "all truth" (yet fails in every generation to do this), who will also judge us based upon what conclusions we reach about the existence of this God and what he has done (paralleling the ancient barbaric thought police), and who will reward believers by taking away their freedom and punish the dammed by letting them retain their freedom?

Interesting hypothesis, if so. This is such a large claim. The larger the claim is, the harder it is to defend it.
In my book I marshal a great amount of evidence against that which Craig believes. I think I have more than adequately debunked any claim he has to believe AND ALONG WITH IT any degree of assurance that he has an inner witness of the Holy Spirit. What will he do with that evidence? Argue against it, of course. But what if he cannot argue against me on any issue that undermines a key belief of his? Will he continue to believe against it, despite the evidence? He claims he can and he will continue to believe. I think he should follow the evidence by rejecting his so-called inner witness of the Spirit.

Lastly Craig does say something about the evidence, when he writes:
What is true is that evidence, as it is defined in these discussions, plays a secondary role compared to the role God Himself plays in warranting Christian belief. Should we, then, ignore strong evidence if it shows that our faith is probably false? Of course not! My work as a philosopher exemplifies the effort to confront objections to Christian belief squarely and to answer them. But most Christians in the world don't have that luxury. For them they may have to hold to their Christian belief even though they lack an answer to the alleged defeater. What I insist on is that, given the witness of the Holy Spirit within them, they are entirely rational in so doing.
In essence what Dr. Craig is saying is that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives him all the evidence anyone needs to believe, even if he cannot show this evidence leads to God, and as I argued earlier, even if he cannot sufficiently defend the whole concept of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (which I find extremely puzzling, but this follows from what he says, because this so-called inner witness trumps even his own attempts to argue sufficiently on its behalf). So, does Craig ignore the other evidence? No. But this other evidence is "secondary." He believes that the other secondary evidence confirms what he already knows to be true by the primary evidence of this so-called inner witness of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to this other evidence, believers do not need it to believe, period, even if this other evidence does not support the Christian witness of the Spirit. No Christian needs supporting evidence to believe, not him…not anyone. That’s his position and why I claim again he’s an epistemological solipsist.


Adrian said...

If all that is necessary to hold a "rational" belief in this complicated Trinitarian God is that we aren't able to fully disprove the Matrix or Last Thursdayism, what beliefs are irrational?

Where does Craig draw the line?

Anonymous said...

by retreating into the "we can't be sure of anything" argument, he negates christianities authority since everything is on an equal footing, so he's got to pick a direction and go, so he chooses to believe that he wasn't created 5 mins ago with lunch,
but I don't think there is a truly rational basis to do that except from utility. It is more useful not to believe that we were made 5 mins ago. Also there is no "feeling of certainty" in believeing we were made 5 mins ago. It just doesn't "feel" right.

So we pick the direction, and that means we have to play by rules consistent with that, which means that rational principles and evidence come into play.

so we're back where we started, with the inner witness of the holy spirit being asserted as rational since it just "feels" right.

That means that since it just "feels" right to me to have ten chestnuts, no more and no less for dinner every night, that it is rational.

Ridiculous. I know its not rational to feel uncomfortable about less or more than ten chestnuts but I do it anyway.

There is an emotional element to being certain that adds that little bit of irrationality to us all. Thats one reason why humans can be unpredictable.

"It just feels right" as an argument is more irrational coming out of the mouth of a self-proclaimed philosopher than it is coming out of the mouth of a teenager because Craig should know better.

kiwi said...

"He's arguing that since it’s rational to believe we’re not in The Matrix or that we have not been created five minutes ago, it’s also rational to believe in God without evidence."

No, no, that's a strawman. His point is that there are things we believe without evidence, so to believe in God without evidence should not automatically dismissed as irrational.

The problem is: belief in God is not properly basic. (Otherwise we would all believe in God, without asking any question!) All attempts to draw a parallel between belief in God and properly basic beliefs like "the universe is not an illusion", or "the world was not created 5 minutes ago" miserably fail.

Is there any person at any point in life who ends up thinking the world was created 5 minutes ago?

Anyway, I think we've already said enough, and all attempts to defend Craig have been unsuccessful. I'm sure even Plantinga would strongly disagree with him with some details, as Craig position is deeply irrational.

Craig is far too intelligent to not realize his position concerning the Spirit doesn't make any sense. However he's dealing with highly sophisticated philosophy, so he knows fully well his position will appear rational to the casual reader. And that's really just what he is paid for

zilch said...

Christianity and the Matrix actually have a lot in common. Their similarities, and differences, are well worth considering.

Firstly, the viewpoint from the outside, from the point of view of the filmgoer/believer: to believe in the movie at all requires a suspension of disbelief involving several leaps of faith. For instance, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is violated here: raising animals consumes energy, it doesn’t give you energy. The machines would have had to feed the humans more than they would get back. Fundamentalists are fond of brandishing this law as a proof of the impossibility of the evolution of order from disorder, whereas all that it shows is that for order to develop, it must extract energy from the environment.

Secondly, the viewpoint from inside the film. Living in the Matrix is like being a fundamentalist: thinking that what you perceive and believe in is the real world, and not wanting to hear or see otherwise. Being an atheist is like being unplugged from the Matrix, although I must say the food is often better here.

Third, the world of the Matrix, and the world of belief, are defended and furthered by a complex interaction of evolved structures (the memeplex for faith, the Machine world) and the humans who believe (in God or the Matrix). There's even Original Sin of a sort in the Matrix, at least in the mind of Smith, whose license plate, by the way, is IS 5416 (Isaiah 54:16: Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.) Smith tells the captured and drugged Morpheus that all the animals on Earth have evolved to live in equilibrium, except for humans and viruses, which are like diseases that spread out everywhere. This is of course nonsense, just as Original Sin, similarly pertaining only to humans, is: biological ignorance in both cases.

Admittedly, we all live in our own self-made matrices, atheists no less than believers, but (at least I like to think, not wanting to burn in hell any more than the next guy) atheists at least dimly perceive the walls of their preconceptions. And we have more fun.

cheers from drizzly Vienna, zilch

Insanezenmistress said...

Zilch, "we have more fun" is a matter for oppinon isnt it? I mean it is way groovable to pretend meaningfully that god is sysnomious with love and life. ANd a philisophincally appealing metiphore for various ways to interpret master, control and otherwise be the best ourselves that we can be and discover knowledge and wise uses of the same. But silly me, most people's religions foster concern for non of the above. It has to come from someplace deeper, and deeply desired. Something real and impenatrible; some people believe it is love, and life. but most dont seriously care to discover wise use of it.

zilch said...

Hey izm, long time no hear! You are, of course, absolutely correct: it is a matter of opinion, whether atheists have more fun than believers or not. I won't swear to it; I just tossed it out there to be silly. And I agree with you about wise use of knowledge: we humans have been blessed, and cursed, with the ability to accumulate great amounts of knowledge, but our inability to use it wisely has wreaked havoc on ourselves, our fellow living beings, and the fragile planet that is our only home.

kiwi- what you said. One nit to pick:

The problem is: belief in God is not properly basic. (Otherwise we would all believe in God, without asking any question!) All attempts to draw a parallel between belief in God and properly basic beliefs like "the universe is not an illusion", or "the world was not created 5 minutes ago" miserably fail.

I don't see the distinction between "properly basic" beliefs and "not properly basic" beliefs. Could you tell me how to distinguish them, please? Tibetan Buddhism, for instance, holds that the material Universe is indeed an illusion. And it's just an accident of history that there is no religion (as far as I know) that claims the world was created five minutes ago.

openlyatheist said...

kiwi said...
"The problem is: belief in God is not properly basic."

But when Tyro said…
“I would be content if you are arguing that a belief in the existence of God is like a moral belief”

Mark D. Linville said...
“…I think that both are properly basic.”

If I didn’t know better, (and I do), I would say that Plantinga’s entire “properly basic” gimmick is just a pile of rhetoric. Does anybody know what chapter and verse of the Bible explains properly basic beliefs?

Steven Carr said...

Why is rational to believe the universe was not created 5 minutes ago?

Because we have no evidence of any being so powerful as to be able to do such a thing?

MC said...

This post and the others like it are the things that make this blog one of the most important and interesting on the internet. Very, very well done, John.

“[A] fideist will not listen to […] critique, by denying the validity of rationality, fideism immunizes itself from any philosophical criticism or rationality. It is like a criminal who refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the court trying him. The fideist may refuse to be recognize the court of rationality, but the court of rationality must go on to try him anyway.” – Michael Young

Zachary Jones said...

about the properly basic thing...
the distinction between properly basic truths and those that are not properly basic is how universally they are held. Buddhists you say, believe the universe is an illusion (as do idealists) but they do not act as though nothing around them is real. Hume didn't believe in cause and effect, but he acted as though it existed because he couldn't act otherwise. The existence of the material world, the continued independent existence of objects, cause and effect, and the existence of other minds are all properly basic beliefs. A belief in God is clearly not.

Steven Carr said...

Craig's personal testimony is that he believed 'the great things of the Gospel' before he had any personal experiences.

He learned and believed the 'great things of the Gospel' by reading the New Testament.

This is what he himself claims.

His personal experiences are not evidence that Jesus was resurrected, or even evidence that Jesus lived.

His personal experience is that he was once very happy and this was because he had decided to become a Christian.

Being joyful that you had decided to become a Christian is not evidence for God, let alone self-authenticating evidence.

Anonymous said...

Not to go completely off topic, but the idea that the Matrix used humans for power isn't really the whole story.

Humans had waged a war against the machines and the machines had won. In order to quell future rebellions, the machines captured humanity and put them in bottles.

There's also conjecture that the human mind was also used by the machines as massively parallel computation devices, though this is never mentioned in any of the subsequent movies.

If you're interested in more of the backstory, I highly recommend "The Animatrix." It fills in a lot of the gaps between the first movie and the last two.

zilch said...

You are correct, icelander, and I'll second your recommendation of Animatrix. I forgot to mention another similarity: both Christianity and the Matrix have large cult followings, and I'm a big admirer of both, as long as you don't take them seriously.


Sounds like the classic Camel's Nose in the Tent idea:

You can't prove my belief isn't possible. If it's possible, then it might be probable. Since it's probable, then it might be true. And since anything that might be true probably is true, therefore, my belief is true.

Unknown said...

I take issue with statements like "The proper response to someone’s telling me that my belief could be false is, 'So what?' It’s not possibility that matters, it’s probability, So until you give me a good reason to think that my belief is not just possibly true, but probably false, I’m not changing anything about what I believe or what I think I know.".

Of course, the sentiment that the statement is trying to express is profound and everyone would be much better off if we all grasped it. However, the word "probability" is misleading and somewhat intellectually dishonest. (I may just be nitpicking semantics here, but this irks me, so I thought I'd share.)

"Probability" makes it seem like there are is some element of chance established "objectively", outside of and independent of any human minds, much like the probability that a coin will show heads after being flipped. This is wrong. What is really meant is something much more subjective like "plausibility".

Whenever one makes a statement like "Metaphysical Claim A is more probable than Metaphysical Claim B", this is a statement not about A or B, but about the speaker: the speaker thinks finds A more convincing than B. Of course, this seems like a much weaker statement. It is. By using "probable" and forming sentences as if they're statements about objects external to the mind, one passes subjectivity off dressed up as objectivity, and in so doing building up a false air of intellectual strength and authority. This is intellectually dishonest.

In the Philosophy of Science, the word "projectibility" is used, which means roughly "plausibility in light of the best available science". This maintains the intellectual honesty about the statement being a subjective judgment while also invoking the authority of the experts in the scientific community.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share my two cents about something that's been irking me in atheist writings for a long time :).