I have been arguing with Joe Hinman (again) over his "warrant for belief". This is an issue that crops up over and over again in any discussion with Joe, whenever the topic turns to evidence, or reasons for belief. Joe invariably cites his supposed "200 empirical studies" that he claims provide a scientific basis for his thesis that belief in God is empirically warranted. And this is the thrust of his book, The Trace of God. Ever the salesman for his book, Joe rarely misses an opportunity to drum up a few sales by bringing those 200 studies into the discussion, even when that was not the topic. In the latest round of discussion, he makes this juvenile claim: "I have 200 studies and you have none." My response to that is that those 200 studies don't prove what Joe thinks they do. But that brings up a whole new issue: Is Joe actually trying to prove something with his empirical studies? If so, what is it?
Let me put this question into perspective. Joe is always very careful to say that he has demonstrated that there is "warrant for belief" in God, not that he has "proven" that God exists. In his own words:
Since I decided to wrote my book imn 2007 I have made a stanch practice of never claiming to prove the existence of God. I do claim to prove somethings but God is the context we were speaking of now - HinmanAnd that position is quite reasonable. It is actually one of the few things about which I am in agreement with Joe. When he says 'warrant' he is talking about epistemic justification for belief. In particular, he is talking about justification based on empirical evidence. I applaud Joe for that. He is making an empiricist claim, as opposed to the warrant for belief in the absence of any objective evidence that Alvin Plantinga claims. But warrant is not the same thing as proof. I get that. In epistemology, we speak about properly basic beliefs as being justified (or warranted). For the empiricist, evidence of the senses provides properly basic belief. Basic beliefs are the foundation on which all beliefs are built. But there is no claim of absolute proof for anything. To the extent that we can't be absolutely certain that our senses give us proof of the things in the external world, nothing can be proven absolutely. So Joe is quite right. His claim of warrant for belief based on empirical evidence does not constitute proof that God exists.
Still, Joe uses the word 'proof' or 'prove' very often in his writings, and so do I. What should we take that to mean? I don't know that I can speak for Joe, but I can tell you what I mean by it. It's never absolute, but is typically used in a somewhat looser sense. In the context of a logical argument, it means that if we accept foundational beliefs as being true, or other beliefs that are based on them, we can use those truths as premises to a deductive argument that proves something. The proof is entirely dependent on the the truth of the premises. If the premises are epistemically justified and the argument is valid, then we can say that the conclusion of the argument is proved. This is not absolute proof, but it is reasonable proof, consistent with common usage of the term. When employing deductive logic, "A sound argument is a proof."
Joe has made a deductive argument that supposedly justifies his claim that belief in the divine is warranted, based on mystical experiences and their effects on the people who have them, as supposedly demonstrated by those 200 studies that he keeps touting. He calls it the Argument from God Corrolate [sic], which I repeat here:
(1) Real effects come from real causesThis argument fails on two important levels. First, it is not logically valid, as I show in my own rebuttal, here. In addition to that, the scientific data he cites does not establish a valid basis for the claim he makes that mystical experience is the cause of all those positive effects, which he asserts as a premise to his argument (statement 3). There may well be a correlation, but the causal relationship is not demonstrated by those studies. This is cause for the immediate rejection of a key premise to his argument, and makes the argument unsound, regardless of its logical validity. Joe takes great umbrage when I tell him that his 200 studies don't prove what he thinks they do. In response, he diverts to a different issue - the claim that his argument doesn't attempt to prove anything, and specifically not God's existence. It merely establishes a warrant for belief, as you can see in the conclusion (statement 8).
(2) If effects are real chances are the cause is real
(3) the effects of mystical experience are real
(4) Therefore, the cause of mystical experience is real.
(5) the content of mystical experience is about the divine
(6) Since the content of ME is divine the cause must be the divine
(7) Since the cause is real and it is divine then the divine must be real.
(8) Therefore belief in the divine is warranted by ME
But is that true? As I noted earlier, a deductive argument is a proof. If this were a sound argument what would it establish? Let's take another look, and ignore the problems that make it unsound. If you consider statements 1 through 7, it appears that a complete argument is presented, with its conclusion given in statement 7. And what is that conclusion? "The divine must be real." It seems that statement 8 is just a superfluous add-on. There's nothing provided before statement 8 that says anything at all about 'warrant', or establishes why belief should be warranted. But everything else in the argument leads up to the actual conclusion - that the divine is real. Oxford Dictionary defines the noun 'divine' as "Providence or God". So what does it mean to say that the divine is real? It means God exists. Despite its unsoundness, this is what Joe's argument is trying to prove, whether he admits it or not.
So why is Joe being coy about what his argument shows? I can only speculate. If he claimed that he has come up with yet another "proof" of the existence of God, how would that be received by the rest of the world? Right. Another phony argument for God. We've seen enough of them before, and we already agree that it's something that can't be proved. But what if Joe makes a few little changes to his argument? Instead of saying "God exists", he can say "the divine is real". And instead of leaving the argument with that as a conclusion, add on another line that says "Therefore, belief is warranted". Yeah, that's the ticket. Sounds sophisticated, doesn't it?