The Tentative Apologist
9/20/09 at 10:30 PM 0 Comments

"God loves me" and other things I know

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Albert believes "God loves me". Can this be properly basic for Albert? That is, can Albert know it is true apart from some additional evidence for it? Atheists find the claim ridiculous. Albert, they tend to believe, cannot rationally believe that God loves him apart from evidence, and certainly he cannot know it.

Why not? What if there is a God? Couldn't Albert's belief that God loves him be properly basic for him in the same way that "I see an apple" is properly basic for Albert when he walks in the room and is appeared to apple-wise?

These same atheists see a crucial disanalogy between perception of God and perception of a physical object. The objection is stated by AnAtheist.Net in the threaded discussion to my previous post, "How to show that 'God loves me' is false":

We can describe how light waves at certain frequencies are reflected off the apple and enter a person's retina to produce vision. Thus, when somebody tells us that he saw an apple that does not strike us as a strange claim. We cannot describe in any meaningful sense how, say, invisible "god waves" envelope a person and make him or her feel the love of God. It is entirely a mental phenomena and as such indistinguishable from delusion or imagination.

Yes indeed AnAtheist.Net, God-perception is indeed disanalogous to sense perception at that point not least because God is a non-physical spirit while an apple is a physical object. But what follows? Though he does not exactly say this, I take AnAtheist.Net to be arguing that knowledge claims must conform to sense perception in order to constitute legitimate knowledge claims. To put it bluntly, we perceive (and come to believe rationally and ultimately to know) because we bump into stuff. You can't come to know what you can't bump into.

I'll call this the "ain't no perception like sense perception thesis" (ANPLSPT for short). In what follows I'll argue briefly that there is no reason to think ANPLSPT true and there are reasons to think it false.

First, there is no reason to think it true. We can begin with the spirit of science itself. Science does not stipulate a priori the way things must be; rather, it studies each given subject matter on its own terms. And attempts scientifically to declare the way things must be have a notorious history of being falsified. Think for instance of those who repudiated Newton's theory of gravity because *obviously* there is no action at a distance, so *obviously* the earth/sun relation cannot be explained by way of gravity. Nobody makes that argument anymore.

By the same token, we should be careful not to assume without argument that *obviously* it is impossible to perceive a non-physical reality. Rather, we need to investigate knowledge claims on their own terms without forcing them into our favorite procrustean bed.

Now fo the reason to think ANPLSPT is false. Let's focus here on rational intuition, specifically a quintessential item of synthetic a priori knowledge (that is, necessarily true but non-tautological knowledge) like 7+5=12. When we grasp 7+5=12 we know that it is true. In addition, we know that it must be true. But how do we do that? How do we grasp this truth which ranges magisterially across possible worlds?

We may know synthetic a priori knowledge through rational intuition, but if we do, it is a fundamentally different way of knowing from sense perception. We don't bump into anything, or at least certainly nothing physical. We may, however, be grasping abstract objects (i.e. Plato's forms) or perhaps divine concepts (as Augustine believed). But however we know such truths, the world of mathematics and other abstracta is no less real than the physical world, and we can intuit profound knowledge of that non-physical (and non-temporal) realm.

This type of knowledge provides a profound puzzle, as the eminent philosopher and atheist Colin McGinn admits:

"Let us candidly admit that a priori knowledge confutes dogmatic naturalism: it does indeed call for the attribution of non-natural mental faculties, capable of reaching out beyond space and the causal order. As divine revelation acquaints us with God, so the abstract world is revealed to us by miraculous methods."

Lovely. So unless the naturalist or atheist is willing to throw out 7+5=12 for failing to conform to sense perception, they should admit at least the possibility of God-perception on its own terms as well.

One final point: the advocate of ANPLSPTdoes not know it through sense perception. So on what basis do they purport to know it?

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