Thursday, September 1, 2016

Religious Belief is Warranted: Answering Stephen Law


Stephen law makes a very long argument about the principal of material causation as a means of arguing against irrationality of belief in God. the argument is way too long to include in full here.,I will try to summarize it briefly.

Summary:  Humans generate a lot of appealing ideas about reality, most of these ideas can't be proved empirically but they are beveled based upon personal experiences (x-claims). A high rate of these x-claims--ideas are based upon unseen agents with mysterious powers. The hit rate for disproof of x claims is high, That is to say claims have poor rate of being corroborated. The rates for claims to be proven false is high, on this basis he concludes that belief in God is not warranted. In answering a particular argument he summarizes the argument this way:

My claim is that we are highly prone to false positive X-claim beliefs when they are grounded in just ... [experience or testimony] and this provides us with a rationality defeater for such beliefs. Note, first, that the claim that such beliefs can be explained naturalistically plays no role in my argument. It's not the likely correctness of some naturalistic explanation for our proneness to false positive X-claim beliefs that provides the rationality defeater, but that proneness itself, which various naturalistic mechanisms have been invoked to explain. Indeed, even if it turned out our proneness to false positive X-claim beliefs had some non-natural cause (it turned out, say, that some mischievous demon is causing us mistakenly to suppose our dead ancestors, gods, etc. are revealing themselves), that wouldn't undermine the X-claim argument. Secondly, while diversity of X-claim belief plays some role in supporting the claim that we're systematically prone to error when it comes to X-claim beliefs, it is not - as it is in the argument from religious diversity - diversity alone that is supposed to generate a defeater, but that diversity in combination with considerable evidence for a proneness to false positive beliefsIt's that further evidence that gives the X-claim argument two significant advantages over arguments from diversity: it avoids both the 'proves too much' objection and the problem of self-defeat.

The diversity argument says  that diversity is weakness in belief. All the religions of the world claim to be validated by experience they all offer different solutions and different ideas. I will be dealing with that separately, another time. His defeater philosophy is crucial to the augment, The notion that new information undermines the basis upon which the belief came to be made in the first place negates or undermines the epistemic claims of the belief. Of course the examples he gives are tailored to show his argument is right. They have nothing to do with religion,  In choosing examples like this he may think the principles are shown as valid apart from the subject matter but it also biases the issue. One example is that of a factory worker who thinks they are producing red objects, Then he learns there's a red light that makes objects appear red. The new information negates the workers ability to hold the belief based upon personal observation. But this would matter exactly what the subject matter was,. As will be shown not all negations of testimony are equal.

I have tree objections:

(1) Anomalies can be absorbed into the paradigm:

If one merely examines the overall rate of false claims in a given religious tradition, or in thew of a given believer, it appears there many false claims. Yet belief is not based upon the net result of all of these claims, Most false claims pertain to minutia, they are unimportant. It's only the key ideas upon which faith rests. If we consider Thomas Kuhn's model of paradigm shits, which I think is indicative of how humans learn, it doesn't matter how many anomalies are found in a given paradigm as long as they can be absorbed into the model, then they are dismissedv asmere anaomolies. 
(2) Key beliefs can be substantiated

The epitome of the kind of claim Law called "x-claims" would be mystical experience. This is a particular kind of religious experience based upon feelings about God's presence and the sense of undifferentiated unity, It's not about visions or voices. Visions and voices might always be wrong but that not effect mystical experience. Because it is a personal experience mystical experience should be taken to be the most subjective and thus the epitome of the x-claim, Yet It is empirically validated with 200 studies peer reviewed psychology journals. This is the subject of my book, The Trace of God by Joseph Hinman, These experiences have long term positive effects and have been validated over and over, Their study is empirical and scientific, I wrote a book about it.  [2] See my article [3]

(3) Religion does what it is supposed to do, it works.

Religion is not about spirits and ghosts and unseen forces. It was, but humans have evolved in our understanding  beyond that point, It's about understanding the human problematic, the clusters of problems at the heart of being human that produce the human condition, That is what mystical experience is about, All religions mediate between the human problematic and ultimate transformative experience that resolves the problematic, The studies on mystical experience show that this process works quite well.


[1] Stephen Law, "the X-claim argument against religious belief (pre publication drat),"Stephen Law July 25, 2016, blog URL:  (access 8/12/16)

[2] Joseph Hinman, The trace of God: Rational Warrant for belief. Colorado Sprimgs: Rand Viaduct. 2014 availavle on Amazon: URL

[3] ____________. "Mystical Experi9ence: Empirical Knowledge of The Supernatural," Metacrock's blog July 17,2016 URL: (accessed 8/17/16)


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