Friday, September 9, 2011

The alleged conflict between science and religion

Some Spaniards hate some Romanians and are hated back by them (I assume so--there are enough Spaniards and Romanians in the world that this must be true).  It does not follow that there is hatred between Spain and Romania.

Some scientific claims conflict with some religious claims.  It does not follow that there is a conflict between science and religion. 

If it did, then by the same token it would follow that there is a conflict between science and science.  For there are plenty of scientific claims that are rationally incompatible with each other.  Scientists all the time make claims that other scientists deny.

Perhaps this is an unfair way to take the claim of conflict.  Maybe the people who claim a conflict between science and religion holds that some well-evidenced claims of science conflict with some religious claims.  But suppose some reasonable Spaniards hate some Romanians.  That's not enough to count as hatred between Spain and Romania.

What if we take a more symmetric approach?  Suppose we say that some well-evidenced claims of science are rationally incompatible with some well-evidenced claims of religion.   Is that enough to make for a conflict between science and religion?  I think not.  But in any case, if by "well-evidenced" we mean ultima facie probable, then it is not clear that this is ever going to happen.  For how could p and q be both ultima facie probable and yet rationally incompatible?  Surely, the evidence for p would lower the probability of q and the evidence for q would lower the evidence for p to such a degree that p and q would not be ultima facie probable.

Maybe the claim is that there are claims of science that are prima facie probable that are incompatible with prima facie plausible claims of religion.  But that kind of tension does not rise to the level of "conflict", or again we have to say science is in conflict with science.  For it does happen, not infrequently, that an experiment prima facie shows something that is incompatible with the consequences of a prima facie probable theory.  When that happens, the experimental conclusion is denied on grounds of some experimental error or the probable theory is abandoned or the credences of both are lowered.  And that sort of thing happens all the time in science and elsewhere.  So if this is the sort of conflict that is claimed between science and religion, there is nothing special to it: it is a phenomenon endemic to the intellectual enterprise.

Or perhaps the claim is this: there are claims of science that are scientifically ultima facie justified that conflict with claims of religion that are religiously ultima facie justified.  This would make for a conflict between these two systems of justification, I suppose.  But it wouldn't be something to worry particularly about.  It is easy to generate conflicts between "ultima facie justified" claims when the claims are only ultima facie justified with respect to different subsets of our total evidence.  This is even true within science.  It is not particularly surprising if there were one conclusion about some phenomenon one would come to if one considered only chemical evidence and another conclusion one would come to if one considered only evidence from particle physics.  This sort of "conflict" is not particularly surprising.  We need to form beliefs on total evidence, and partial evidence is, well, partial.  And in any case unless this kind division in the evidence was wide-spread or concerned really central cases, as opposed to concerning two or three issues, we would not call it a conflict between chemistry and particle physics.

Now, it may be that if the most important Spaniards hated the most important Romanians and were hated back, then that would count as hatred between Spain and Romania (though on the other hand, one might worry about why the elites get to define things).  Likewise, if there was rational tension between the most important scientific claims and the most important religious claims, one might say that there conflict between science and religion.  But nobody has made out a good case that this is so.  Consider two famous cases: (1) evolution and creation, and (2) evolutionary psychology and religious theories of religious and ethical experience.  In case (1), the conflict is only there on certain readings of the creation doctrine, and while it is a central religious claim that we were created, it does not seem to be a central religious claim that we were created in the way that the particular creation doctrine claims.  In case (2), it is clear that evolutionary psychology is not among the most important scientific claims.

So is there a conflict between religion and science?  If there is, it is at most there in a sense that is unimpressive and common in the intellectual life: some claims justified by one body of evidence conflict with claims justified by another body of evidence, and we need to decide what to do on the total evidence.  This kind of conflict is present within science whenever theory is in tension with experiment, and a revision is called for.

23 comments:

Jonathan Livengood said...

What do you say to those who think the conflict comes at the level of method, rather than at the level of claims? For example, some people say that science and religion endorse methods of inquiry that are incompatible. Does that get lumped in with your account of disagreement about what is ultima facie justified?

Dan Johnson said...

Hey Alex,

This is really good. I think that you are assuming something, though, that many of those who push the "religious-scientific conflict" stuff reject: namely, you assume that there might be evidence for religious claims. Many who say that religion and science conflict have a picture of religion where its claims have absolutely no evidence for them, and in fact couldn't have any evidence for them. This is accompanied by a notion of "faith" where faith means something like belief without any evidence or against all available evidence.

In that case, there could be a conflict: a conflict between beliefs formed in accord with evidence and beliefs formed without sensitivity to evidence.

Interestingly, the Stephen Jay Gould non-overlapping magisteria stuff, which is an attempt to remove the appearance of conflict between science and religion, grants this assumption about faith. The only way to remove possible conflict, then, is to claim that religion and science are about different domains altogether and so the beliefs can't come into conflict. Gould shows by what he says that he thinks that automatically any time they do come into conflict, science automatically wins (and so the claims that science shows to be false aren't "really" religous claims at all, by his criterion). He must be thinking that religious claims just can't have any evidence at all for them, because they cannot adjust what we take the scientific evidence to show.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Dan:

So, suppose contrary to fact that no religious beliefs are formed with sensitivity to evidence and all scientific beliefs are formed with sensitivity to evidence. That still doesn't make for a conflict between science and religion. It only makes for a conflict between a very small handful of religious claims and a very small handful of scientific claims.

But of course it is plausible that some scientific beliefs are formed with little sensitivity to evidence and great sensitivity to various social forces (tenure process, grant availability, etc.). And it is obvious that some religious beliefs are formed with great sensitivity to evidence. Simply talking to various religious people who have intellectually agonized before believing makes that obvious, and it shouldn't be controversial (but of course it will be controversial whether they have evaluated the evidence correctly).

Jonathan:

I guess I'd need to hear some more about what incompatible methods of inquiry are. If we mean that methods M1 and M2 are incompatible provided that they sometimes come to contradictory conclusions, then that's just like something we often find in science: using one measurement method yields one result and using another measurement method yields another result. And then we need to do more study in the light of the total evidence--not a big deal.

Or perhaps we have the following kind of conflict: M1 yields the claim that M2 is epistemologically flawed. In that case, M1 is not the scientific method, since the claim that M2 is epistemologically flawed is not a scientific but epistemological claim. (Maybe one can try to do something with naturalized epistemology to make it a scientific claim. But that's a matter of future, not present, science.) I suppose it could be that the religious method could in principle yield the conclusion that the scientific method is epistemologically flawed, since the religious method is not limited in its subject matter in the way the scientific method is. But as a matter of fact, the religious method does not yield such a conclusion.

Mark said...

Dan,

One could believe that there is absolutely no evidence for claim P, and still believe that the claim P doesn't conflict with science. Even if there is evidence for the claims of science, and none for claim P, it doesn't follow that the claims of science would contradict claim P.

UNLESS there is reason to think that the nature of religious claims is such that, if they were true, they would necessarily conflict with science (if the scientific claims are true), then there is no prima facie reason for thinking that religious claims and scientific claims are, as classes of claims, incompatible or conflicting.

Why would someone think that there 'couldn't' be any evidence for religious claims?

That is to say, it's necessarily false that there exists an x, such that x is a fact/event/reason that counts as evidence in favor of claim P.

Or perhaps it cold be put as the negation of an existential. Either way, it's so bold. Do you really think anybody has ever given anything like an argument for such a claim?

Mark

Alexander R Pruss said...

And of course it's easy to give examples of religious claims for which there is good evidence:
1. The typical human being often does wrong. (A claim of Christianity.)
2. The Quran contains excellent poetry. (A claim of Islam.)
3. Greek paganism is false. (A claim of Judaism and Christianity.)
4. Mercy is praiseworthy. (A claim of many religions.)
5. Our lives should not be focused on the acquiring of material possessions. (A claim of many religions.)

In the end, I think the only way to deny 4 and 5 is by denying that any normative claims can have evidence. And if one does that, then one comes to the unhappy conclusion that there is no evidence that the scientific method should be used.

Heath White said...

The claim that science and religion conflict centers around a small number of flashpoints:

1. The Galileo controversy
a. Whether the earth is stationary
b. Whether all explanations are mechanical explanations, or do we need a notion of form
2. The creation/evolution controversy
a. Whether the universe was created in six days
b. Whether early humans had non-human ancestors
c. Whether all species evolved from a common ancestor
d. Whether death is a product of human misdeeds
e. The age of the earth
3. Ancient history
a. Did anyone ever live nine centuries
b. Did the Exodus and subsequent events occur as related in the OT
c. Did David kill Goliath
d. Many cases similar to these (these three are somewhat diverse)
4. Miracle stories (maybe)
a. Whether Jesus rose from the dead
b. Whether Mary was a virgin when her son was conceived
c. Whether the Bible/Koran/etc. has a supernatural cause
5. Evolutionary psychology (maybe) – see also Durkheim, Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, etc.
a. Whether religious beliefs can be explained as products of [evolution]
b. Ditto for moral beliefs

The common denominator in these flashpoints, it seems to me, is a question of where epistemic authority lies. Or in different terms, what counts as “evidence” and what determines how strong any given piece of evidence is. “Religion” has a fairly high view of certain kinds of testimony, namely the ones mediated by religious institutions and writings. “Science” has a very low view of such evidence, or regards it as no evidence at all. When the testimonial and the empirical sources of evidence conflict, “religion” regards it as sacrilege and impiety not to believe the testimony; “science” regards it as superstition not to believe the empirical data.

Main point: the fundamental conflict is at the level of epistemic norms, not beliefs.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't know if you're endorsing the description of the evidential practices. We could also say that Christianity has a high view of testimony. And so does science. It relies on it all the time, since no one can replicate all the experiments on which she relies.

There may be subtle and important differences in how the testimony is weighed. But that testimony is to be weighed in this way or that way is not a scientific claim, and in fact scientists no doubt differ widely in how they weigh the testimony of other scientists.

Heath White said...

I would endorse these descriptions of the epistemic practices. I think there are broad-brush versions which conflict pretty sharply and then a lot of nuanced positions in the middle which allow people who respect both science and religion to muddle along.

To say that Christianity has a high view of testimony, as does science, is to cut things too coarsely. Everybody, of necessity, has a high view of some testimony. But the “religion” under discussion here has a high view of testimony from the Bible(Koran, etc.) and Church authorities, while the “science” has a high view of testimony from scientists qua scientists (not qua Christians or whatever). I don’t think this difference is subtle at all.

It is true that the epistemic practices of “science” are not themselves the object of scientific proofs. But again, that is to construe “science” as a body of propositions rather than as an institution or a research program. The practices (or claims about them) are scientific claims in the sense that they are part of scientists’ understanding of what they are doing and how to do it well.

Mark said...

Heath,

Let's think about exactly how different sorts of testimonies are given weight in the Christian picture.

Christianity actually gives a lot of weight to the testimony of people who are not (were not) religious authorities; like the poor and the sick and the outcasts. It is the testimony of such people that is a part of the case for believing in miracles.

These testimonies attest to who Jesus is. Once we have faith in who Jesus is, then we have faith in the truth of His sayings.

So, if Jesus says group x of persons will be infallibly guided to lead the Church in matters of doctrine and Christian living, then we consequently (because we have reason to believe that He is who He says He is) have reason to believe that such persons in group x actually are infallible. This is how religious authorities enter into the picture in Catholic Christianity; Reformed traditions don't believe in a perpetual infallible magisterial authority established by Jesus.

This second element of where Church authorities come in the picture is exactly where we run into a (I think) fundamental problem of the Reformed paradigm. Put succinctly, protestants believe that the apostles (and nobody else) are the people that functions as infallible transmitters of God's revealed truths. But they can't trace all the texts they believe to be divinely inspired to this group of people, so we're left wondering why they believe all the texts to be divinely inspired. In the case of competing claims of divine inspiration of texts, they have no court of appeal since the Apostles are not around to make the verdict (even if all Christians agreed, that wouldn't make it the case- on this paradigm-that we all right about what we agree on; we are not the Apostles).

So, there's a real coherency, consistency, and cohesion to the story on the Catholic paradigm, so that's the one it's best to question/challenge if you're looking to challenge the Christian picture's reliance on testimony for theistic beliefs.

This is rough, but just wanted to reply timely so that you could see it.

Mark

Heath White said...

Mark,

I appreciate the reply.

First, I am not “looking to challenge the Christian picture's reliance on testimony”. I am a Christian and I, like all other Christians, believe most of the important things about Christianity on testimony of one form or another. Rather, I was trying to draw a distinction between the epistemic norms of “science” and “religion”, which means institutionalized Western science and Christianity, in such a way that the claim that there is a conflict between them has a little more truth to it than Alex originally suggested.

(As an aside, I think the Catholic high view of human reason makes the idea that there is such a conflict somewhat painful and they wish it would go away. Whereas the Protestant low view of human depravity is willing to countenance corruption just about anyplace, so the idea that science could be in conflict with religion is not too surprising. That is not a way of saying that one view is unconditionally correct and the other unconditionally wrong. There is more to say about the historical roots of these attitudes toward science, too, but I’ll leave that for later.)

In terms of your leading argument, I’ll just note that we do not have widespread first-person testimony from poor, sick, and outcast individuals for Jesus’ miracles. We have, rather, testimony mediated by religious institutions that there were such people who gave such testimony. Nor do we have the sayings of Jesus directly; we have testimony about Jesus’ sayings. And while I, personally, am prepared to believe all or most of this testimony, there is a rather large industry, which thinks of itself in “scientific” terms, devoted to undercutting or denying the evidential force of it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

I think we should distinguish three cases of testimony in the religious case:
1. The testimony invoked in religious apologetics.
2. The testimony that becomes justified if religious apologetics is correct.
3. The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.

The first one is continuous with testimony from the testimony of fellow scientists. One asks such questions as what the person would have to gain by lying, how likely a lie is given the chance of getting caught and the character of the individual, how many people confirm the testimony, etc.

Moreover, scientists do not--or at least should not--think that scientists are somehow more likely to be honest in their observation reports than ordinary folk. Certainly, scientists like ordinary folk are known to lie in their self-interest. Rather, the focus on the reports of scientists is simply due to the fact that a lot of the observations are of a sort that training is needed for.

And, in fact, scientists are quite happy to pay attention to the testimony of those who are not scientists, as long as they are competent to make the requisite observations.

One family of examples is where scientists rely on amateur observations. For instance, astronomers rely on observations of the brightness of variable stars made by thousands of amateurs. Frequently, they make requests of the amateur community to make such observations. The amateurs they trust are, in fact, random people they've never met with telescopes and either eyes or CCDs (and in the past, just with eyes--one can do quite well by comparing a star's brightness to the brightness of non-variable stars around). They need have no training in the scientific method, just in locating stars and estimating their brightness.

Similarly, people with minimal training may be employed to do surveys, and sociologists rely on their testimony that respondent 45 chose option b to question 12.

Nobody would think an experiment was unscientific if the scientist hired a non-scientist as an assistant whose job would be to write down the number on some dial every hour. At that task, a non-scientist is as good as a scientist.

Well, non-scientists are quite good at recognizing life, death and personal identity. They are quite good at diagnosing blindness (though only in a few cases its causes). Their judgment of trustworthiness is no worse than that of the typical scientist, and there will be classes of non-scientists who will be better than most if not all scientists. (If an experienced businesswoman and an experienced particle physicist disagree on whether someone they both know is trustworthy, ceteris paribus I would go with the businesswoman on that.)

So I do not think there is conflict in regard to the first, apologetic use of testimony in religion.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Now, the second use of testimony there seems to be more of a difference. Here the testimony carries authority.

But we can see this as a post-theoretic reliance: there is a theory that is claimed, correctly or not, to be justified by evidence gathered through the unproblematic first sort of testimony, and that theory entails or makes plausible that certain other kinds of testimony are perfectly or extremely reliable.

We can imagine scientific cases like that. For instance, recently scientists claimed that if you put strong magnets near certain portions of the brain, the patient becomes unable to lie. Given this theory, certain kinds of testimony are close to infallible: namely, testimonies by a subject with such a magnet about things that the subject is very unlikely to make an honest mistake about (such as testimony about what the subject thinks she has observed).

The third kind of testimony--the direct testimony of God--is a different matter. But it isn't a part of scientific methodology to not believe on such testimony. It is only, I think, a part of scientific methodology to not count beliefs based on such testimony scientific. Consider a different case. Nobody says that there is a conflict between science and ethics just because we form ethical beliefs in a way that does not adhere to the scientific methodology. (If they say there is such a conflict it's for other reasons.)

Now maybe a difference between the ethics case and the religious case is that in the religious case there are cases (thanks for listing them) of first order conflict between the religious beliefs and the scientific beliefs, while there is no conflict between ethical beliefs and scientific beliefs, perhaps. But I think we were looking for a different model of the alleged conflict, not a first-order disagreement model. There just aren't enough first-order conflicts.

Maybe the difference is modal. While there can be conflict between scientific and religious beliefs, there in principle can't be a conflict between scientific and ethical ones.

But I dispute the second part. We could imagine, for instance, scientists discovering some machine that answers questions, and the best theory of the machine's operation says that the machine only utters truths. And the machine could occasionally make ethical claims. Or for a less far-fetched example, it could be that ethicists establish that ought implies can. Then an ethical claims that humans ought to refrain from murder and that certain killings would count as murder entails that humans can refrain from such killings--an empirical question.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

Notice, though, that while there is a large industry devoted to refuting arguments from alleged miracles, most of the refuters are not reputable scientists working in a relevant field of science. What's the relevant field of science? I don't know. If there is none, then what I said is clearly true. Maybe it's history, if that counts as a science.

And it's also worth noting that in recent decades, Catholic canonization proceedings have focused on healing miracles and have been centered on the testimony of disinterested medical or scientific evaluators who are not informed that the case they are evaluating has religious import.

Scott H. said...

Hi Mark,

You say this:

"Put succinctly, protestants believe that the apostles (and nobody else) are the people that functions as infallible transmitters of God's revealed truths. But they can't trace all the texts they believe to be divinely inspired to this group of people, so we're left wondering why they believe all the texts to be divinely inspired."

Is the following a fair way to restate your argument?

1) One is justified in believing that a source of evidence is infallible only if one is told that that source of evidence is infallible by an infallible source of evidence.

2) If Protestantism is true, then we are not told that scripture is an infallible by an infallible source of evidence.

3) So, if Protestantism is true, then we are not justified in believing that scripture is infallible.

Heath White said...

Alex,

I basically agree with you. The first kind of testimony is continuous with the testimony invoked in science, and it is the second kind of testimony where all the action is. And there, what is going on is that for whatever reason, the “science” wing does not believe the validity of this second kind of testimony is well-established on the basis of the first kind of testimony.

I would add that, insofar as evidence is driving conclusions in these matters, the pattern is that the first kind of testimony (of biblical miracles, the virgin birth, the age of the earth, human origins, etc.) is prima facie incredible and contrary to our ordinary experience and/or scientific or historical understanding. For the “science” wing these priors overwhelm any testimonial evidence to the contrary, whereas for the “religion” wing the testimony wins out. I don’t think that’s a terribly controversial description of the disputes (I have lived through it many times myself) and that is basically what I meant by pointing to a difference in epistemic norms.

Maybe you would agree with the previous paragraph, but deny that this difference in priors has anything to do with science, properly so-called. I don’t have a great deal of interest in the label, but I think the idea of calling it a conflict between religion and science is that the evidence that makes biblical testimonies prima facie incredible is either repeatable empirical observations (dead men don’t resurrect, virgins don’t give birth) or scientific theories based on such repeatable observation (modern geology and biology). Failure to give this kind of evidence a great deal of weight would be incompatible with being a scientist or pro-science.

Mark said...

Not sure if I would agree with 1. Depends on what it means to be told by an infallible source of evidence. For example, we might word it as, we are told by an infallible source when we are told by Jesus. BUT, you might describe it as we are told by an infallible source (Jesus) via a fallible source (the people who recorded it down).

BUT, no Christian accepts this picture, and thinks that in some way we are told by an infallible source (Jesus) via an infallible source (for protestants, this is the apostles, and the authors of Scripture...and for Catholics, this is the Church with an infallible magisterial authority).

The problem is that protestantism cannot link the content of it's beliefs back to this second infallible source, while Catholics can. And this is good reason for thinking (I think) that the content of your beliefs is unjustified, once you realize that you are missing this link, and realize that it exists in another Church form which you are in schism.

I would say that 2 is true, for the reasons in my last paragraph. It just isn't true that protestants have been told by an infallible source that Scripture is infallible. At least, it's not the case that they have been told by an infallible source whom they actually believe to be infallible (you might think that they rely on the Catholic Church for the content of their faith, and so in a sense have been told by what I believe to be an infallible source, but just don't actually believe that this source is infallible).

They haven't been told by Jesus or the apostles--and these just are the infallible sources on the protestant picture. Again, we could say that they have been told by Jesus and the apostles, insofar as Jesus and the apostles authorized the Catholic Church and prostetants rely on the Catholic Church---but i would still be true that they don't believe they have been told by such infallible sources.

I would say that 3 is true, with a caveat. Depending on how strict your criteria are for justification in such a belief, you might think 3 is true full stop. If your criteria allows such a belief to be justified, without requiring that the believer be able to answer the questions/objections/epistemological problems that I have raised, then 3 might only be true for those who have actually encountered these problems in their thinking experience.

So, I would say that for people who are able to understand the objections I have raised, and they are not hard to understand (and could be stated in a real common sensical way, which I might not be very good at because I'm around academics too much), then they would be unjustified in remaining a protestant and still believing Scripture to be infallible.

Mark

Mark said...

Mistake in my last paragraph. I said:

"So, I would say that for people who are able to understand the objections I have raised, and they are not hard to understand (and could be stated in a real common sensical way, which I might not be very good at because I'm around academics too much), then they would be unjustified in remaining a protestant and still believing Scripture to be infallible."

I should have added the following: they actually do understand or reasonably grasp the objections I have raised. Not only must they be ABLE to see it, they must have ACTUALLY seen it.

Mark

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yet science is open to the idea that a well-confirmed generalization might not apply in a particular case because that case is relevantly different from the other cases. Suppose I observe that the boiling point of a simple of water decreases after I increase the pressure, contrary to what we have always seen. I am unable to duplicate this observation with any other sample of water, but am quite sure of it. (And it makes little difference here whether I made the observation or it was made by someone I have good reason to trust.) Unfortunately, in my experimentation the sample of water is lost.

In this case, scientific norms do not, I think, tell me to doubt my observations. It seems quite scientifically respectable to say: Something was different about this particular case, but I haven't been able to figure out how it is different. This seems a quite reasonable conclusion.

Suppose further I can point out some non-repeatable differences between this case and the other cases and offer a theory as to how the difference could be explanatorily relevant (maybe there was a particular comet near the earth then, and this comet is never going to come back). Then it becomes even more rational to stick to one's guns. (Compare: The person who rose from the dead is different from everyone else who died because he not only claimed to be the almighty God but also was sane and morally good.)

The scientific method does not provide us with much guidance as to when one throws out one's own observations or the observations of trusted others. Obviously, sometimes one does toss them out. But the fact that the observations do not fit into presently well-confirmed theories is not sufficient for tossing, especially if one can offer some other theory that fits with the original data and the new observation. (E.g., if we only had the resurrection of Jesus to account for, we might say that dead people stay dead unless a true prophet predicted their resurrection.)

It's worth noting that fraud or self-deceit is very rarely given as the best explanation of some anomalous scientific data report. When it is, typically corroborating evidence is called for beyond the fact that the data conflicts with an existing well-confirmed theory.

Suppose I tell a friend in a serious voice and context that I've been analyzing SETI and have found a pattern, and I've spent ten years secretly analyzing the pattern and I was able to decode it. Once decoded, it became a message in a straightforward agglutinative language giving an astronomical description of our galaxy that, whenever it overlaps with our best observations, matches our observations. But the observations also include data about the orbital dynamics of diamond planets of a level of detail that could only be gathered by traveling there (unless they were made up). Moreover, my calculations show that the alien data contradicts Einsteinian mechanics. It seems quite possible that my friend, based on judgment of my demeanor, could reasonably believe me, and thereby conclude that Einsteinian mechanics is subtly false in the case of crystalline objects. And there would be nothing unscientific in my friend believing this.

Scott said...

Hey Mark,

"The problem is that protestantism cannot link the content of it's beliefs back to this second infallible source, while Catholics can. And this is good reason for thinking (I think) that the content of your beliefs is unjustified, once you realize that you are missing this link, and realize that it exists in another Church form which you are in schism."

Thanks for your reply/clarification.

Why can't the protestant say this?

Scripture is the only infallible source of evidence. But it is not the only reliable source of evidence regarding theological facts. Tradition, for example, is a reliable source of evidence regarding such facts. But Tradition is not infallible.

Why does the Protestant believe that Scripture is infallible? Because a reliable source of evidence, namely Tradition, says so. A reliable source of evidence is good enough for knowledge. You don't need an infallible one.

I wonder whether you find this line of thought on behalf of the Protestant to be plausible.

Also, I've heard the sort of argument you make raised in informal conversations with people. But I've never seen the argument in print anywhere. Do you know of any place where I can find the argument in a journal or book or old theological work? Is there a particular author that would be good for me to look at?

Thanks,
Scott

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think one problem with a Protestant saying that the belief in the infallibility of Scripture comes from a fallible Tradition is that Protestants want to say that if Scripture and Tradition conflict, then Scripture always trumps Tradition. But if your belief that Scripture is infallible rests on Tradition, then you can't have the trumping view.

Now, I think Scripture and Tradition do not conflict. But if they did, we could have a case like this. Tradition says:
1. Scripture is infallible.
2. p is true.
3. q is true.
4. r is true.
Scripture says:
5. s is true.
And it could be that logic tells us that s is incompatible with p, and s is incompatible with q, and s is incompatible with r.

Then we basically have two choices:
Option A: Deny 1 and 5.
Option B: Deny 2, 3 and 4.

It might well be the case that then Option A is the more rational of the two, since it requires only one departure from Tradition--the denial of the infallibility of Scripture--plus one departure from a Scripture that is now taken to be fallible, while Option B requires three departures from Tradition.

Of course, fortunately, such things don't happen, unless one misinterprets Scripture or Tradition.

Mark said...

[Scripture is the only infallible source of evidence. But it is not the only reliable source of evidence regarding theological facts. Tradition, for example, is a reliable source of evidence regarding such facts. But Tradition is not infallible.]

I think I would agree that this would be a case of having two true beliefs. So the question is whether we will have two cases of justified true belief. That, is what I think is missing on the protestant picture.

Another side question that's important, but not directly related to answering your question: how does one non-arbitrarily decide what data of tradition counts as 'evidence' for a doctrine. Does one just choose those facts that look like they're really compatible with your pre-formed conclusions about what is expressed in the Scripture? If it turns out to be arbitrary in such a way, is such a method even justifiable?


[Why does the Protestant believe that Scripture is infallible? Because a reliable source of evidence, namely Tradition, says so. A reliable source of evidence is good enough for knowledge. You don't need an infallible one.]

S is reliable.
S asserted P.
P is true.

S- tradition
P- x set of books is divinely inspired.

The inferential warrant seems reasonable if these premises are true. However, whether the premises are true, depends on how you define 'tradition'.

When you fill in tradition with the sense of tradition of the protestant paradigm, what reasons is there for thinking that tradition is reliable? So, the firs premise might just actually be false not he protestant understanding of tradition.

I found this topic discussed at a blog: calledtocommunion.com. They have written a few articles on the blog, and the discussion has been extensive over there, so you should check it out.

I too am on the hunt for a good treatment of this topic, preferable by an analytic philosopher. I prefer an analytic take mostly because it stresses the logical structure of the arguments, making it easier for actual philosophical disagreement/discussion to take place so that we go back and forth for years forever talking past each other.

Aside form just being a philosophical problem with protestantism, it's a philosophical problem for the case for Christianity in general. How do we give a philosophical account of the justification of our beliefs in Christianity.

Of course, people disagree about exactly how much we need to justify our beliefs. But, I think nearly everybody thinks that you ought to have a good answer to the question when somebody asks, 'why do you believe you have the right set of books when some books were taken out, or some were added'. You hear atheists asks Christians this all the time.

Mark said...

Typo correction, and this matters. Where I said:

"When you fill in tradition with the sense of tradition of the protestant paradigm, what reasons is there for thinking that tradition is reliable? So, the firs premise might just actually be false not he protestant understanding of tradition. "

I meant to say, in that last part, "the first premise might just actually be false ON the protestant understanding of tradition".

Mark

Mark said...

Alex,

The sense of tradition you have in mind must be, I think, referring to those beliefs traditionally held. But it can't just include all beliefs that have ever been held in the past, right? They have to be ones that were esteemed in a particular way. But what exactly is this 'particular way', and how would this make sense on the protestant paradigm?