When Bill watches a beautiful sunset he automatically forms the belief that God is providentially active in the world. Bill cannot articulate his belief with the sophistication of a theologian, but he senses in a basic way that a very powerful and very good agent is operative in the sunset.
There are many skeptics of Bill’s belief, people who believe he couldn’t have sensed God’s presence in the sunset in a basic way. In my experience the bulk of their objections can be reduced to two: a rebutting defeater based on the problem of evil and an undercutting defeater based on the plurality of beliefs people have about God.
I’m going to set aside the rebutting defeater from evil here. Nor will I respond to the undercutting defeater based on the plurality of God-belief in a comprehensive way. But I will point out the place for a little epistemic humility on the part of the skeptic.
Specially trained dogs can smell cancer. I still have a tough time getting my mind around that. They can smell cancer. We never would have thought such a thing were even possible if it had not been demonstrated to us. If dogs can sense the presence of cancer, what are the possiblities for human sensory abilities?
You might retort that we can test a dog’s ability to smell cancer, but we cannot test Bill’s ability to sense God’s presence in the sunset. True enough. But does that mean we should only believe people have particular sensory abilities when we can test then scientifically? That seems a little heavy handed, doesn’t it?
Let’s say that Bill’s profession is wine-taster. When I taste a glass of wine I say “that’s good” or “that’s gross”. When Bill tastes a glass of wine he says “It has a fine floral bouquet with hints of blueberry and blah blah blah.” I’m tempted to say that Bill is just puttin’ on because he likes getting flown around the world and paid to drink wine and eat cheese. But in my heart of hearts I know that Bill really does have a more finely tuned palatte. I can’t tell a Shiraz from a Merlot. Heck, I’d probably serve a Malbec with lime cheese cake simply because it was three bucks off at the liquor store. To my mind wine is either good or gross. That’s it.
But I have enough humility to recognize that Bill can sense things in a crushed grape beverage that may be lost to me. Have I not the humility to say he might do the same in a sunset?