This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr Craig
There has, recently, been a lot of academic discussion about the epistemic significance of religious disagreement. This has given rise to a fairly popular argument against theistic belief, and in favour of agnosticism. Roughly, the argument goes that when peers -with equal insight, intelligence and access to the relevant evidence- disagree about a proposition, they should both suspend judgement. Now, academic peers who meet these conditions disagree about theism. Therefore, they should suspend judgment. It seems to follow that those without such expertise should follow their example, and also suspend judgment on the rationality of theistic belief. We should all remain agnostic. Call this argument the “agnostic argument from epistemic humility”.
Now, to be honest, it seems to me that this argument is self-defeating. Academic peers would disagree about the power of this argument (Plantinga, Van Inwagen and you have argued against similar objections). Therefore, we should all suspend judgment about the “agnostic argument from epistemic humility”. The argument also seems to ignore the importance of tenacity in belief. If Galileo had abandoned his commitment to heliocentrism in the face of peer disagreement we would all be the poorer for it.
However, it also seems reasonable to give some weight to the fact of disagreement. (I would argue that the dogmatism of New Atheism led to its downfall).
So, in your view, how should we factor the disagreement of our peers into our judgments? And how do we avoid dogmatism while remaining completely committed to our faith?
Yours in Christ,
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
Graham, I’m so impressed with how adroitly you showed the self-defeating nature of this objection! The objector truly pulls the rug from beneath his own feet.
Here’s how I would assess the significance of disagreement on the part of colleagues whom we respect. The fact of disagreement itself does nothing to undermine the reasons for which I hold a view. Rather the fact that some intelligent and, to all appearances, honest person disagrees with me ought to prompt me to re-examine the reasons for which I believe as I do to see if I’ve made a misstep. If, upon reviewing my reasons, they continue to strike me as convincing, then I should go on believing as I do. I and my colleague can just agree to disagree. I don’t have to abandon my view just because he disagrees with me. Rather I should abandon my view if I come to see that I have made a mistake in logic or a factual error. It will be the discovery of error that leads me to alter my view, not the mere presence of disagreement.
So colleagues can, indeed, be very valuable sounding boards for testing our ideas. We thereby avoid dogmatism. We should share our arguments with them to get feedback on our arguments. If they expose mistakes in our reasoning, then we may revise our views and thank them for the correction. But if we just disagree, then no reason exists for abandoning what we esteem to be true.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.