Friday, March 21, 2014

"God agrees with me" and "I have the truth"

Suppose I am convinced that God exists. Then if p is true, God believes p. So it seems that whenever I have the right to assert p, then as long I should also be willing to say: "And God agrees with me." But to say that God agrees with me sounds awfully arrogant!

I suppose some of the apparent arrogance comes from the implicature that I have independent evidence that God agrees with me—a special line to God. But of course in the typical case, my evidence that God agrees with me about p just is my evidence for p (plus my evidence that God exists and that I believe p).

Or maybe it's that one implicates certainty. (Why? Is it because there is a stereotype that when people make claims about God they are certain of them?)

There is a similar impression of arrogance one conveys when one says: "I have the truth about p." Yet, of course, if one is justified in believing p, one is typically justified in believing that p is true, and hence that one has the truth about p. Again, maybe the issue is that saying one has the truth implicates certainty?

There is, indeed, something odd about claiming that God agrees with one or that one has the truth on a subject where one has only a weak opinion. I am about to have choose a number between 1 and 10, both inclusive. I think that the number will be smaller than 10. But it would be odd to say: "God agrees with me" or "I have the truth on that." Yet, my evidence that I have the truth on the number being smaller than 10 is almost as good as my evidenec that the number will be less than 10, and my evidence that God agrees with me is very good, given that I have very good evidence that God exists. (Oh, and I was right. The number turned out to be 1.)


Heath White said...

Maybe part of the issue is that many of our “beliefs” are more justifiably thought of as partial credences in some proposition. E.g. when you “think” your random number will be less than 10, really what you ought to have is a 0.9 confidence level in that proposition. “I think my number will be less than 10” is compatible with that understanding of your mental state.

But “God agrees with me about p” and “I have the truth about p” don’t lend themselves to this interpretation. If you say, “I have the truth about the fact that my number is less than 10” this doesn’t implicate that you have a 0.9 confidence level in the proposition that it is true that n<10. Rather, it implicates that n<10 is true, full stop, and you believe it. Similarly, (unless we are open theists) God does not have confidence levels, so if you say “God agrees with me about n<10” you are implicating that his mental state on the question is equivalent to yours, and thus that you are 100% confident of it.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that these phrases do implicate certainty, and thus give the impression that you are more confident in your beliefs than you have an epistemic right to be.

Alexander R Pruss said...


But if "I think my number is less than 10" is compatible with a report of a partial credence, why isn't "I think God agrees with me" compatible with a report of approximately the same partial credence?

Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

There may be social reasons why "God agrees with me that . . ." or "I have the truth about . . ." seems arrogant: Because saying that is sometimes, though certainly not always, a form of silencing.

Alexander R Pruss said...


1. I've never actually heard anyone say "God agrees with me that..." I am not sure I even heard "I have the truth about..." either (though I might have said the latter at some point).

2. I guess there could be a Gricean explanation for your suggestion. It's obvious that when you believe p, you're committed to True(p), so there has to be some *point* to asserting True(p) instead of just the briefer p. And maybe silencing is the point.

Not sure I find the Gricean point convincing, though, since to many people the biconditional "p iff True(p)" is not obvious.