Today this tweet from Douglas Axe (director of Biologic Institute who tweets here) caught my attention:
Since we humans always have to settle for something short of absolute proof, I'm not sure we have to qualify our certainty of God's existence in this way. We can be as confident of his existence as we can be about anything. https://t.co/6ojmKCXENN
— Douglas Axe (@DougAxe) April 4, 2018
Axe was responding in turn to this tweet from Alister McGrath:
“God’s existence may not be proved, in the hard rationalist sense of the word. Yet it can be affirmed w/ complete sincerity that belief in God is eminently reasonable & makes more sense of what we see in the world, discern in history & experience in our lives than its alternatives.”
I was interested in Axe’s claim that “We can be as confident of [God’s] existence as we can be about anything.” So I offered a reply and from there a short exchange ensued. What follows is the text of our exchange which has been converted from the cumbersome form of tweets to something resembling a conversation.
DA: “Since we humans always have to settle for something short of absolute proof, I’m not sure we have to qualify our certainty of God’s existence in this way. We can be as confident of his existence as we can be about anything.”
RR: “Not for me. I’m more sure that I exist than that God exists.”
DA: “We naturally start with greater confidence that we exist, but for this impression that we exist to be reliable, there must be a basis for rationality, and apart from God there doesn’t seem to be one.”
RR: “A conclusion is only as strong as its premises. I hope we agree that ‘I exist,’ where ‘I’ is indexed to a particular speaker, is an axiomatic premise for that speaker. Are your premises to support the conclusion that God is the sole basis for rationality at least that strong?”
DA: “The fact that we have no choice but to assume we exist and are equipped to think doesn’t make this assumption strong in the sense of being well supported. Having made the assumption (because we have to), the question is: What would have to be true for it to be justified?”
RR: “You seem to be claiming that ‘I exist’ is only pragmatically justified but not epistemically justified. If you are claiming that, my question is, on what basis do you claim that? If you aren’t claiming that, can you rephrase?”
That’s the end of our conversation to this point. If Axe replies, I’ll add that below. In the interim, I’ll simply note my view. As I see it, “I exist” (not to mention the more modest “I seem to exist” and “Either I exist or I don’t exist”) are more epistemically compelling than any non-trivial claim about God’s existence or the reliability of our cognitive faculties due to God’s existence. And I think it is simply mistaken piety and/or apologetic bravado when Christians like Axe insist that belief in God is at least as compelling as any other belief we might have.
(Footnote: In chapter 1 of my 2009 book Theology in Search of Foundations (Oxford University Press) I offer an extended critique of classical foundationalist attempts to secure maximal certainty for beliefs about God.)