Thursday, 28 September 2017

A Subjectively True God?

There’s a curious move that some theists make when arguing their position.  They will back away from the appearance of making claims with certainty.  Here’s a real example:

My belief system is more than a shell of faith, so for me - there is a great deal of subjective evidence as well as personal convictions regarding the conclusions I've accepted from the cosmological, teleological, and contingency arguments. I'm well aware that skeptics such as yourself reject subjective experience and personal convictions (as evidence cited to convince others), so there's really no further need to discuss them.

The exchange started with this claim (from the same person):

The means and ends of God's creative acts are beyond our scope of knowledge or understanding. So while I don't know for certain, I have a good idea based on the premise of theology and faith I have in God.

There is a benefit for the believer who takes this sort of position in that it makes their assertions unassailable.  We don’t have access to another person’s “subjective evidence”.  Even if we could get some sort of access to the believer’s “subjective evidence”, there’s little we can do with it.  Personal convictions are, well, personal – perhaps we might be able to mock someone for holding convictions that are clearly bizarre to us, but from their perspective it’s clearly not bizarre to hold those convictions and our unpleasantness may well just contribute to cementing their position.  I do think though that a person’s personal convictions are, in the final analysis, going to be based on some sort of evidence.  This opens up the possibility of challenging a believer’s personal convictions via evidence (better evidence or evidence of a different kind).  But if the original evidence that set the believer’s personal convictions is subjective, and that’s the sort of evidence they like, then there’s no guarantee that our objective evidence, no matter how good it is, will be at all effective.

There is however a problem for the believer taking this approach ... 

Say that you are training to be a pastor or a priest (as the person quoted above was) or you are a parent and you want to pass on your faith to your children or even if you are some sort of amateur apologist, and you have taken this defensive position.  If your god is only subjectively true, noting that you can’t claim any more than that using "subjective evidence" and "personal convictions", then you are going to have difficulties justifying your right to impose your views about it onto others.  There’s no way for you to know whether your subjective truth is any better or worse than someone else's subjective truth (even that of a child).  You're certainly not in a position to say anyone else is wrong with their position, including those pesky atheists who would say that your god simply does not exist.

To be intellectually honest, you would have to be willing to say that while you are personally quite convinced, you might well be wrong.  You'd also be bartering away any firm claim about the nature of your god, like its omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent (3-O) nature.  And if any of your divine existential arguments relied on the claim that your god is a 3-O god (and they mostly do), then you’d need to abandon those.  If you wanted to be intellectually honest.

If you didn't care about intellectual honesty, then I suppose you could go down the path to mysticism, which takes a wide detour around the divine existential problem.  If you became a mystical pastor, then you could talk about the nature and motivations of your god without troubling yourself with evidence at all.  (The reader might notice that I have issues with mysticism, as I have discussed before.)

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