Friday, October 12, 2007

Faith and Evidence III

The Professor at "Evangelical Realism" has responded to my response to the response to my response to the response to Macht's post. It's a much better response, and worth reading, but I am certain it still does not adequately address the issue.

The Professor says:

I am not making an abstract argument about “x is inversely proportional to y, therefore x belongs to a category of things that have a certain property (z), and y is a member of a category of things which do not have property (z).” What values would you fill in for x, y and z in that equation? According to Geisler and Turek, x might be “evidence” and y might be “faith” (or vice versa), but what would z be? It appears that z should be “evidence” also, since Brandon wants to claim that I’m fallaciously concluding that faith is belief without evidence, but that messes up the formula.


The Professor is right that I misstated it; but this doesn't resolve the problem. So I will quote the relevant passage from the Professor again:

Knowledge and faith can exist side-by-side, but even when you have both of those categories existing side-by-side, the knowledge category contains the things supported by verifiable evidence, and the faith category contains the other stuff.


The full context of this is:

Does not the term “knowledge” apply to the part for which you do have evidence, and “faith” apply to the part for which the evidence is lacking? Brandon seems to be building a strawman argument about faith requiring an absolute vacuum — that there cannot be any evidence at all. But that’s not what I’m saying nor is it what Geisler and Turek are saying. Knowledge and faith can exist side-by-side, but even when you have both of those categories existing side-by-side, the knowledge category contains the things supported by verifiable evidence, and the faith category contains the other stuff.


Let's start with the rhetorical question, "Does not the term 'knowledge' apply to the part for which you do have evidence, and 'faith' apply to the part for which the evidence is lacking?", to which the obvious answer is, No, that would be an unreasonable use of terms. It is what is assumed here that presupposes the move in question. It assumes that, because faith and evidence are in inverse ratio, that faith is privation of evidence. But the latter does not follow from the former. The former is the claim:

x and y are in inverse ratio (i.e., the more x, the less y, and vice versa)

Where x can be taken to indicate the property or feature 'being evidentially supported' and y 'involving faith'. The latter is the claim:

No belief in the category of things that have property x is in the category of things that have property y.

But the one does not follow from the other at all. One can have beliefs, for instance, that are in category x (evidentially supported) but that are also in category y (involving faith in Geisler's sense); Geisler occasionally uses (as he does in the passage quoted below) the example of someone getting on an elevator: a person getting on an elevator may believe it will hold his weight, and on good evidence. But their belief may fall short of certainty, because their evidence doesn't support it to the level of perfect knowledge. The inverse ratio claim holds in such a case, but the categorical distinction claim fails. The reverse incidentally can also be true: if 'knowledge' applies to those things that are evidentially supported, and nothing that involves faith is knowledge (as the part I originally quoted says, and as is also required by the rhetorical question), nothing about this implies that faith and evidence are in inverse ratio.

Of course, the claim that everything that is evidentially supported receives the label 'knowledge', where 'knowledge' is understood as something other than 'faith', is not a claim that can be attributed to Geisler. It is a foreign intrusion, and certainly can't be used to interpret Geisler's own claims about faith, since he would not claim that everything evidentially supported is knowledge. Some of it is belief accepted on faith.

This is one of the two major errors involved in the Professor's interpretation: an inverse ratio claim is read as an exclusion claim. This is not a move that can be attributed to Geisler, and is in general fallacious. The other major error is that beliefs are chopped up into evidence-parts and faith-parts, which is not a view that can be attributed to Geisler, either.

We see this when the post goes on to say:

So for 100% of the conclusion, we have 95% evidence, and (wait, let me get a calculator), 5% faith. The amount of faith is small because the evidence is large, as per Geisler and Turek. Notice I used the word “conclusion” instead of belief here. Brandon’s error is an equivocation error: he’s equivocating between what faith contributes to the conclusion, and the conclusion itself. The conclusion is based on 95% evidence and 5% faith; the faith part of that sum is the 5% for which there is no evidence. Brandon, however, is using the term “faith” to also refer to the conclusion, and hence his indignation that anyone would dare suggest that faith is belief minus evidence.


This simply assumes the move noted above. For Geisler, what is actually being divided up, so to speak, is a belief, not a conclusion (the point is not semantics, because by changing the term to 'conclusion' the Professor has simply changed the subject entirely); but it is not divided up into parts (so that one part is evidentially supported and the other is not). The division is relative, not qualitative. For a belief to be 95% evidentially supported, recall, is to be a belief of the sort that it approximates knowledge to 95%; faith is just the same belief insofar as it is accepted despite that 5% uncertainty (although, as I noted before, often Geisler and Turek mean instead the disposition to accept what is claimed despite that 5% uncertainty; which they have in mind at any given point has to be determined by context). Thus we cannot conclude from this that an interpretation of belief along these lines commits anyone to the conclusion that faith is belief without evidence. If we take it in its occurrent sense, faith is a belief, but it is not without evidence. If we take it in its dispositional sense, faith is not even a belief but a disposition to accept a claim -- something that may be exercised by belief or not. Either way, the conclusion doesn't follow. And either way, the equivocation is the Professor's, namely, the conflating of division according to relations (in the way that someone may be distinguished according to his relation as brother and according to his relation as son) with division into parts.

The basic points still remain:

(1) From a claim of inverse ratio (such as Geisler and Turek make) can we necessarily conclude a corresponding claim of exclusion (such as the Professor has explicitly stated)?

No. There are many claims of inverse ratio that not only do not require such a conclusion, but exclude such a conclusion entirely.

From this it follows that the G&T inverse ratio claim can't be used to saddle them with the view that faith is belief - evidence.

(2) Does Geisler elsewhere say things that rule out the notion that faith is belief without evidence?

Yes, and in many places. To use an easily accessible example, in his paper, What Is Apologetics? (PDF), Geisler says:

People rightly refuse to believe without evidence. Since God created humans as rational beings, he expects them to live rationally, to look before they leap. This does not mean there is no room for faith. But God wants us to take a step of faith in the light of evidence, rather than to leap in the dark. Evidence of truth should precede faith. No rational person steps in an elevator without some reason to believe it will hold him up. No reasonable person gets on an airplane that is missing part of one wing and smells of smoke in the cabin. People deal in two dimensions of belief: belief that and belief in. Belief that gives the evidence and rational basis for confidence needed to establish belief in. Once belief that is established, one can place faith in it.

Other passages could be adduced.

Thus there is excellent reason to think that the attribution of 'faith is belief without evidence' to Geisler and Turek has more to do with the Professor's confusions than with Geisler's or Turek's.

I should say, with regard to the opening bit of my original post, that it was not my intention for it to sound like poisoning the wells; and I apologize if it came across that way. The point, as the next part of the sentence goes on to say, is that I have a very different interest in the matter than the Professor. I do not approve of philosophical busybodies going around making trouble without good reason, since people have to be given a bit of leeway for their errors due to all the things we don't know about them, and due to the fact that the busybodies themselves are not immune from error. But people also deserve, as fellow rational animals, to be warned when error's about; and likewise, errors are excellent occasions for noting salutary points about various subjects. So on the one hand, the error needs to be corrected; but on the other, and just as importantly, the people who made it deserve not to be shut down or bullied if they try to respond. I therefore try to make sure that people I criticize have the opportunity to have the last word when I've said all that I needed to say about the matter, particularly when I was blunt originally, which I sometimes am and in this case certainly was. That way I'm not trying to force the issue, like a bully, but can instead leave it up to readers to draw their own conclusions about the matter. My difficulty with my previous post was that I wasn't sure at all whether I had said all that I needed to say about the matter. I had some more things I could say, of course, but that's always the case, and why some arguments are interminable; but I had pointed out the fallacy and a few things I thought were telling against the whole line of reasoning. Was this enough? The difference in interest particularly had to be taken into account, because for me the interest was certainly abstract (not impersonal), the abstract interest in collecting and displaying what was wrong with a particular form of argument. Geisler's view is not mine, nor is Macht's, although I think they get some important things right, and certainly more than anyone who thinks of faith as belief without evidence; so I am not in any way under examination here. The interest on the Professor's part, though, was personal (not in the colloquial sense of taking things personally, but in the straightforward sense that it was the Professor who was being held up as the person in error, which is a personal interest if there ever was one). I'm certainly risking very little; at worst I have simply misunderstood the Professor's argument and read as fallacious an argument that is not. That's easy for anyone to do on occasion. But if it's not true that I've misunderstood, the Professor not only misunderstood Geisler & Turek but also in doing so has personally made some rather serious, and rather basic mistakes. As I said, it's not really even; due to the circumstances of the discussion I have an advantage that can bias evaluation, and must be taken into account. My worry was whether I was doing so adequately.

And it's still there. I do think that at this point I've said all I really have to say on the subject. If the Professor decides to say something in response that seems to take things in a new and interesting direction, I might respond, but regardless, for the reasons I've given, I think the Professor should get the privilege of the last word.

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