Where I Cram My Ideas

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Disagreement and Religious Belief, part 1

Two philosophy candidates visited my university during the last few weeks, and I'd like to write posts to cover their lectures. I'll start with the one I liked least, King's lecture on competing views on "the truth and rationality of religious beliefs."

Religious Diversity and its Challenges to Religious Belief

King began with definitions, which need to be noted.

Exclusivism: One's own religion is privileged over other religions in its truth claims or its capacity to bring people to salvation, or both.
Pluralism: All religions are on par with respect to their truth claims or their capacity to bring people to salvation, or both.
Inclusivism: A middle ground between exclusivism and pluralism.
Skepticism: In cases where people become fully aware of religious diversity, their beliefs cease to be rational. In many cases, rationality requires that religous persons give up their beliefs about the supernatural - withholding belief is the only rational response to religious diversity. *
Naturalism: There exist no supernatural beings.

Salvation vs Doctrine

It should be further noted that King distinguishes between these "isms" and their soteriological doctrinal significance.

A primarily soteriological view suggests knowing the truth about religious doctrines is valuable as a means to salvation.

A primarily doctrinal view suggests that one's view about salvation is influenced by one's view about the status of doctrine (for example, one may not believe that Jesus is the way to salvation unless one believes that Christian doctrine is true).

Competing Views

"I will defend doctrinal exclusivism against its rivals, doctrinal pluralism and skepticism"

King's criticism of religious pluralism was based on an understanding of John Hick, but since I have neither read Hick nor care about either argument, I'll move on.

I must now discuss the * I inserted above. King's definition of skepticism is what I would refer to as "agnosticism." In King's sense of the word, however, a skeptic's view - that the reality of religious disagreement allows us to throw up our hands and say "who knows?" - is justified when a Christian and a follower of another religious tradition butt heads with a "God exists vs God doesn't exist" disagreement.

King's final response to such skepticism is to say that Christians can demonstrate that their belief in God is rational in the face of disagreement simply by holding onto their belief in the face of disagreement.

My Perspective

First things first, it is not a rational argument to say - independent of further explanation - that "no God exists." Especially in the deistic sense, any argument in favor of a universal negative is unsound. So, the Christian and the other religious person are arguing "God exists vs It is unlikely that God exists/no God exists who interacts with the world."

At any rate, an agnostic response is not the best. When faced with two truth-claims from two religions, it is safe to place the burden of proof upon them to demonstrate whose truth-claims are more rational and evidenced by reality. This is, in a sense, a skeptic's view... but more importantly, it is atheism. The atheist view toward various mythologies is the same as his view toward various mythical animals - why believe things like dragons or unicorns exist until sufficient evidence is provided?

It is not rational to say "We may disagree, but since I'm still convinced I'm right about God, my belief is justified," which is what King advocates for the Christian in his lecture. Stay tuned for something just a little bit better and more interesting.


Rhology said...

But sufficient information proving the existence of the God of the Bible is out there, so...

G-man said...

That would be exclusivism - what King called "the G.E. Moore shift."

The Emergent church and other more liberal branches of Christianity seem to be more tempted to abandon that view these days, but King would seem to approve of your statement.