This morning, I noticed an exchange between Angry Grasshopper and Ron H. on my blog regarding the nature of evidence for theism. I have excerpted the relevant bits below, but you can read the fuller exchange starting here. After that, I’ll offer my own comments.
Angry Grasshopper: “I don’t reject ‘mere’ theism because it doesn’t have a good narrative. You have it a bit backwards. I reject ‘mere’ theism for the reason I gave: I have never seen evidence or a compelling argument sans well known fallacious reasoning for a god, less so for a personal god needed in mere theism. If you have such evidence I would be glad to see it.”
Ron H: “I think we all know that the ‘There’s no evidence!’ claim is something of a sophomoric point, right? There’s plenty of ‘evidence’ — it’s circumstantial and not at all conclusive, to be sure, but there are vast numbers of incredibly smart people on all sides of the question who are persuaded in one direction or another by the same ‘evidence’.”
Angry Grasshopper: “Even if you uncharitably approximate what I actually said to mean ‘There’s no evidence!’, I have a well established history of explicitly stating a more refined view. Namely that there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief. That’s not the same as ‘No evidence!'”
I want to focus on AG’s clarification of his position. It’s not that there is “no evidence” for theism, he says. It’s that “there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief.”
Apparently, that’s supposed to be an improvement.
First off, insufficient evidence for whom? For every single person on earth living today? What an extraordinary claim that would be. I’d love to see the evidence for that.
How about we narrow our scope. There is insufficient evidence for everybody who happens to comment at randalrauser.com. Since I comment at randalrauser.com, and since I am a theist, and since I have defended the warrant of Christian belief (let alone mere theism) in several books beginning with Theology in Search of Foundations (Oxford University Press, 2009) as well as in literally dozens of articles and several public debates, I’d also love to see the evidence that I don’t have warrant.
Second, how is warrant defined? Is it equivalent to rationality? Or justification? Or rationality + justification + whatever else must be added to a true belief to make knowledge?
Third, what is AG’s epistemology, anyway? His statement — “there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief” — implies some sort of evidentialist view. But like many Christian epistemologists, I explicitly repudiate that assumption. Most of our beliefs are not formed based on explicit reasoning from evidence. Rather, as Thomas Reid points out, they are properly basic when formed in the right conditions absent any defeaters. If this is true of sense perception, memory, proprioception, rational intuition, testimony, et cetera, why not think that it is equally true of belief in God?
So yeah, when people say “there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief”, I always want to hear more.