Many theologians and Christian apologists have recognized they cannot supply rational arguments or evidence for the existence of God. They have turned to epistemology—the study of how we know and come to believe—to argue that despite the lack of evidence and the failure of logical arguments the believer is nevertheless warranted in holding his belief through his personal experience of God, which, they say is "self-authenticating,"and therefore has no need to answer the arguments of atheists against belief.
In other words belief does not require authentication through evidence or rational argument because it is in and of itself well-founded and basic. The most prominent philosopher arguing this line is Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame, who has been advancing this point of view for some time. It is unusual for the work of modern philosophers to penetrate the domain of Christian apologetics, but William Lane Craig has adopted Plantinga's point of view. Craig writes (note point 6 below):
I have elsewhere characterized the witness of the Holy Spirit as self-authenticating, and by that notion I mean (1) that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistable or indubitable) for the one who has it and attends to it; (2) that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; (3) that such experience does not function in this case as a premise in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself; (4) that in certain contexts the experience of the HolySpirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religon, such as "God exists," "I am reconciled to God," "Christ lives in me," and so forth; (5) that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity's truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; (6) that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for the one who attends fully to it.
I suppose that apologetics might make the argument that our subjective experience of emotional states—love, anger, compassion—is proof of their existence and in fact the only proof we can have and all we need. Plantinga in his first book on this subject, God and other minds, argues that our evidence of other minds is entirely subjective and therefore not well founded. He then claims that our evidence of God is on the same level and hence warranted at least to the extent that our evidence of other minds is warranted. I believe this is not his current thinking anymore.
Hey Allan, nice find.
that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God;
If this is the case why is there a need for proselytizing? Proselytizers would only have to make their case once and we would all become Christians.
... the immediate experiencing of God himself
Again, if this is the case, there would no need for the "Good News"
that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity's truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth;
???????, How can a subjective experience be evidence of an objective experience?
that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for the one who attends fully to it.
This means: What every I think is true, is true, regards of any contradictory evidence.
I would like to counter William Lane Craig, but I don't think there is a counter argument to any of his statements. I can dissect his statements and state why I think they are self contradictory or meaningless, but there is no counter argument to them. Maybe a blank stare and a long silence would be the go.
You are quite right not to understand their use here. As I understand it, veridical, means truthful in the sense of corresponding to reality. Presumably he means that experience of what he calls the Holy Spirit is an actual experience of an existing entity. But then you have the problem of distinguishing that experience from hallucination.
There are a number of people who believe in their subjective experience of abduction by aliens or in near death experiences. Presumably in Craig's mind they would deserve the same credence as those who claim experience of the Holy Ghost. Isn't their experience also "self-authenticating?"
I have known many sincere Christians, but not one who has ever claimed experience of the Holy Ghost.
If I'm understanding this correctly, this is making reality completely subjective: "Since I have had this anecdotal experience, it is true." Okay, I am actually willing to deal with a believer who admits that he has no proof of what he believes and just feels it's "true to him," but when he starts trying to somehow say that since it's true to him, it's therefore objectively true for all, I'm gonna have to call shennanigans.
Exactly. It seems to make the case that certain kinds of personal experiences are objective in the sense of linking the individual to reality without any question of what his mental state may be or what the experience of others may be.
That brings into question what the meaning of objective is and how you judge whether a personal mental experience is objective. If one person sees the Holy Ghost and all the others in the room do not, we usually consider that to be subjective experience.
I still want to know how ANY experience can be "self-authenticating." If I have a repeated experience which is consistent and relatively invariant, that's one thing. If multiple people have the same experience, particularly if it occurs under similar conditions or is condition-independent for all parties, then maybe you'd have something. But to assert that a given SUBJECTIVE experience is universal and can be interpreted in no other way than that which Craig outlines is presumptuous in the extreme.
Which should be his middle name, anyway...
Good point. It looks like an attempt to avoid having to supply any evidence for the truth of Christian beliefs by simply asserting they are based on "self-authenticating" experiences. The notion seems to be that the truth of the experience is so overwhelming that it cannot be denied, but clearly the case is exactly the same with people who have hallucinations—the feeling imparted is so real that they cannot deny it. That was, I presume, the appeal of LSD.
This kind of argument is what Plantinga calls a "defeater"— an argument so powerful that no argument can be effective against it. Plantinga claims to have a defeater for naturalism, but in fact it is full of holes and what's more they are obvious holes. I do not understand how these kinds of arguments pass for wisdom in the religious philosophy community.
Cornelius Van Til, a Christian apologist of the past, used to argue that rationality came from Christianity itself and therefore those outside the Christian community could not be properly rational because of their disbelief in the fundamental truth that guaranteed it. When he was accused of circular reasoning, his reply was that all reasoning is circular since it starts with God and ends with God.
The only instance of subjectivity, I can think of, that might be considered objective, is empathy. Which kind of fits into what you have said.
So if I empathize with Craig, my only conclusion is self delusion. If Craig is suffering from self delusion, then I too must be capable of self delusion. The problem with self delusion is, it's really hard to know when you are deluding yourself.
Empathy may be a good quality as regards the maintenance of the collective, but it remains a SUBJECTIVE quality. As such, I don't trust it, because one person might experience it while the one next to him may NOT. Two thousand centuries ago, humankind lived or died on empathy. These days someone can very seriously contrive to be self-sustaining, "an island, entire of itself" ... and free to do as he or she pleases.
I Do NOT Trust Subjective. I am not certain that I ever will.
Not trusting the subjective can be traced back to Bacon, I guess.
And if empathy has been around as long as you suggest, it is probably an evolutionary trait that may be hard to realize and also hard to discard.
One interesting example of subjectivity is the subjectivity of words. Are words subjective or objective? Or a bit of both? Most people believe them to be subjective. If they are subjective, how can we trust what we hear and read from others?
Richa Achara Parome Vyoman - Knowledge is structured in consciousness.
-- Rig Veda
Sure, words are subjective ... because there may be a difference in perception of meaning between the person saying them and the person hearing them. I mean, how many arguments have we seen about the definition of the word, "Atheism?!?" Certainly, the purpose of words is to have a common mechanism for referring to things and processes we see in the world around us. But each person's internal perception ... and their biases and preconceptions ... can alter that supposed commonality, and the degree to which those internal manipulations skew definitions is the degree to which the transfer of knowledge can be equally skewed.
How do we rely on others, then? Through conversation and confirmation of critical terms, particularly if we suspect some deviation here or there. Consensus and agreement are what have given us society as it is. That process will always be ongoing, because change is the nature of life, and trying to establish something that does NOT change - meaning - is a slippery business at best.
As for empathy, I DO like it. I'm not quite like Blanche Dubois, who always depended on the kindness of strangers, but it is a worthy quality which helps keep humanity together. However, having seen attitudes like those of the TEA Party and their determination to make this an "every-man-for-himself" environment, I do not rely on it as a matter of course.
I rely on me ... because when you boil it down to the bones, I am all I got.
In fact I would say that in some primitve sense the notion of avoiding subjectivity goes all the way back to Deuteronomy 17:6
At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
The most basic attempt to obviate the risk of purely subjective views is to obtain the consensus of more than one witness.