Once again, lots of comments in that discussion on evil. There for a while it verged into the area of epistemology. Now that's been a big topic of discussion for me and I'd written a fair bit on it way back (such as this post on the failure of religious experiences) My approach, for those who can't remember back that far, is basically a Peircean one. What one believes isn't ultimately volitional. What one has to do is continue to inquire and that entails never taking things for granted and looking at alternatives. If one does ones duty in this regard and still is unable to doubt then one can be said to know. This applies to scientific knowing or religious knowing. The key is inquiry.
Anyway, a few comments to the comments from that thread.
The Coming Into Question of Beliefs. I think Rich is right that the only beliefs we question are those that come into question. The issue then becomes whether we are doing our duty in terms of inquiry. The person who just accepts the religious beliefs they grew up, never investigating, never progressing, clearly isn't doing their epistemic duty. So the question is whether people inquire. Clearly most don't. Of course this is true not only of religious questions but just questions in general. People, for the most part, accept the beliefs of their peers.
What inquiry does is to provide the experiences that allow questions to be raised. Where religious experiences come to play is to provide a groundwork to at least raise questions about religion. So to deny the relevance of religious experience for religious questions (like the existence or nature of God) seems odd. It's akin to saying scientific experiences are irrelevant for raising scientific questions.
I think Rich is also quite correct to say that knowledge as knowledge allows questions to be asked that couldn't previously. That is to say knowledge provides growth. We are talking about processes here - processes of growth.
The Epistemic Role of the Problem of Evil. I think the question of the problem of evil demands that we inquire about the nature of God's purposes. There are two ways to take this. To deny purpose, and (logically) thereby to deny the existence of God in any useful sense. (One might become a Deist of some sort, but a personal God becomes rejected) The other alternative is to arrive at theories regarding purpose. Those will in turn affect how we view the nature of God. That will in turn lead to new experiences, questions and so forth. So long as inquiry continues ones knowledge increases.
The problem I have with using the problem of evil to deny God is that it seems to typically cut off inquiry. I can certainly understand doubting God's existence or various religious theologies due to the problem of evil. But to simply eliminate God seems typically to simply stop thinking about the issue. Which, given my view of epistemology, seems wrong. Of course, as I said, doubts are not volitional as I see them. So we aren't necessarily free to believe or disbelief. But we most certainly are free to inquire.
Clark:The problem I have with using the problem of evil to deny God is that it seems to typically cut off inquiry. I can certainly understand doubting God's existence or various religious theologies due to the problem of evil. But to simply eliminate God seems typically to simply stop thinking about the issue.
I'm afraid I have to disagree with you, Clark. I don't think that denying the existence of God cuts off inquiry-- quite the contrary. I think it opens a space for further inquiry, unhampered by dogma. It doesn't mean to stop thinking about the issue; rather, it means to begin thinking about the issue without the guardrails of alleged "truths" taken on faith.
Could you perhaps clarify the (or a) style of inquiry you have in mind.
I think in terms of doing ones duty inquiry will always be context related - i.e. in terms of what we already know. To draw an analogy the style of inquiry for a scientist in the 17th century is quite different from someone working today at the dawn of the 21st. Yes there is a broad, vague method called "the scientific method." But if we are being vague then we can just talk in terms of abduction, induction, and deduction. There really isn't a fixed "style" in any useful sense of the term.
What one must do is take seriously the questions raised by the experiences one has and then inquire. To cut off inquire (a rather common phenomena) is what is significant. One can debate about how fruitful an avenue of inquiry is. And I suspect that is what you are getting at. I see that as a tad more complex - and by no means always "obvious." Once again consider science and the debate over something like string theory. Is this fruitful inquiry? Who is "wasting" inquiry? It's not at all obvious and seems quite tied to the individual scientists and their commitments - i.e. those elements of belief they can not doubt.
Michael, to deny the existence of God is a form of dogma.
Now perhaps one can't believe in God. (Once again the issue I raised about beliefs not being volitional) But to deny inquiry about God's existence is to cut off inquiry.
Once again though the real question I think you, like "Small Axe," are asking, is how to optimize ones inquiry. Obviously we are finite beings who must prioritize our actions. As I said though, it's not at all obvious there is an easy and obvious answer to the prioritization question since it is so context dependent.
Consider myself. I've cut off most inquiry this summer because I'm so busy with work and family. Is this ethically wrong? Of course not. Indeed I think it would be ethically dubious to continue to study philosophy and these questions when there are so many more pressing matters.
What I'm suggesting is that these epistemological issues are very much bound up into larger ethical questions. Not in the traditional (largely epistemologically oriented) questions of ethics, but much more practical ones.
Clark, I think we may be talking past each other. I'm not suggesting that one deny inquiry about God's existence-- I'm just saying that if one's inquiry leads to the conclusion that there is no God, then that does not in itself cut of further inquiry but rather shifts the terrain of the inquiry.
Furthermore, I don't believe that denying the existence of God is a form of dogma, at least not generally speaking. Denying the existence of things one finds no evidence for is not dogmatic, but simply pragmatic. I'm not denying the existence of God out of any prior commitment to that position, or because my parents raised me to, or because I read it in a book (or on golden tablets) somewhere-- I deny God's existence because I see no evidence of it, and it seems like an absurd hypothesis to me. Naturally, I'd change my tune if I ran into some real evidence of God (or the Easter Bunny, for that matter.)
Oh certainly, so long as one continues to inquire. Just as if ones inquiry leads to a belief in God shouldn't cut off inquiry.
Any positive strongly held belief is a dogma, unless one is talking in a more formal sense of the dogma of an institution.
Clark, I was using the more formal sense-- I am not committed to any institution that holds the non-existence of God as a dogma.
Clark: So long as inquiry continues ones knowledge increases
Is God, being omniscient, beyond inquiry? And what does it mean to know all things? To exist in the epistemological equivalent of the 'always already'. Is eternal (endless) knowledge just the kind of knowledge that God has?
It all depends upon what one feels the limits of omniscience are. It literally means "all knowing" but is it limited by what exists? Is there a distinction between potential and actuality? 'When' is the actual actual. There's a lot to unpack there and a lot of disagreement over how to unpack it.
There's an old but good post that does a good job of expressing my views on why "spiritual" experiences (do I have to use the scare quotation marks forever?) are overemphasized in typical LDS folk epistemology. Ultimately, these experiences don't justify the claim that "I know x is true" (in testimony meeting) when the person making the claim clearly intends to communicate that there is no chance that x may be false.
So to deny the relevance of religious experience for religious questions (like the existence or nature of God) seems odd. It's akin to saying scientific experiences are irrelevant for raising scientific questions.
Clark, I'm not clear on what you mean by religious experience here. If you mean experiences in the context of a religion, then that I would tend to agree with you.
However, if you mean more specifically what we've been calling spiritual experiences, then I don't think we should connect those experiences with religion just because we have done so historically. We should ask if they happen exclusively within a religious context (or exclusively within a Mormon context). If not, we have to ask whether the typical religious interpretations are therefore justified.
Religious experience is just categorized by the class of the experience. Roughly the context and meaning I suppose. It's clearly a rough category though. But I think it's useful enough. We can, of course, differentiate between scientific experience and religious experience. But the boundaries are ill defined.
I take religious experience to be broader than spiritual experience. Consider you're around the time Jesus lived and you see him walk on water and heal the blind. It might not be spiritual for you in the least. You might be amazed but not particularly spiritually impressed. (I'm taking "spiritual" here in the more LDS sense of a particular class of phenomena) Clearly though this is a religious experience due to the context and meaning.
Interestingly I think the reverse is true as well. I can easily think of spiritual experiences that aren't really religious. (I'd argue that mathematics done right is, for instance)
Regarding epistemology, if I can ever get out of this lack of time I've had the past few months I'll return to that topic. As is, posting is spotty.
The issue of interpreting any sign is a complex one. Roughly one is attempting to derive a Code that fits in a normative and lawlike fashion a class of signs. How one does this varies but I believe the process can best be understood semiotically. (Which is not to say everyone doing this engages in formal Peircean thinking, although I think Peirce and semiotics is useful for understanding how people are thinking)
Clarke: Despite what Rich says, I think Mormon theology entails strong limits on God, although he may have maximal power, as Blake says. But it seems to me that most Mormons accept pretty significant limits as opposed to what one finds, for example, in most Protestant theology.
I think you misinterpreted what I was trying to say. I recognize there are limits placed upon God. However, these are limits He placed on Himself. When he covenanted with us He limited Himself. Therefore, I don’t believe that we can go from there and divine the nature of God. We are comparable to two-dimensional beings trying to understand the nature of a three-dimensional being. We simply do not have the conceptual tools to do so. We have the tools to gain salvation. We do not have the tools to understand the nature of God, at least in this terrestrial state.
The question of limits must, I believe, be discussed in relation to attributes. Limit seems to me to imply an attribute which is not allowed to be expressed for some reason (either internally or externally) Attribute seems to me to address the question of having a particular ability as part of one’s nature. Thus attributes defines the nature of the being. God cannot lie. Is that a limitation? I would say no because a limit implies an ability which is being kept from expression. The fact that God cannot lie goes to the nature of God rather than a limitation of God. Can a tree walk? No. Is that a limitation? No. It is not within the nature of trees to walk.
It seems to me that we can extend the discussion of natures to the creation of the universe. This universe was created based on particulars laws set forth by God. Change those laws and you no longer have this universe. By changing those laws you are changing the nature of the universe. You have a compound that, when the individual elements are mixed in a particular ratio will have the property of explosion. You can change the elements of the compound or change the ratios such that no explosion occurs but in doing so you no longer have the original compound. Is this a limitation? No. It happens as a result of changing the nature of the original compound.
We can look at the nature of suffering as a result of natural events in the same light. What kind of world is needed in order for human life to appear? Our world is the result of laws by which life can be created. Change the nature of the laws probably results in a quite different world in which life may not be able to appear. If this is correct, in order for God to create a world in which man appears, the creation must reflect the nature of such a universe. Thus the question before God is to create or not create. If he does create, this is the world which must appear. This is the nature of creation. Change the attributes of this creation and you change the result. You cannot change the attributes and expect the same result as the result is based upon those particular attributes. In other words, for us to be here we must have this kind of world. For God to change these attributes means a destruction of this world. One could say then God is not all powerful and I would respond that God is all powerful within the attributes of what it means to be God.
I found what you said, Clark, about Greek absolutes extremely fascinating. Although I think the idea of holding back evil as expressed in Job is problematic. Such terms as all-powerful, and all-knowing, etc, needs to be discussed with a particular framework. For LDS that framework, I think, should be the Plan of Salvation. Thus all-powerful needs to be understood within the nature of God, the framework in which he works and in reference to us, his children. If this is done, I believe God’s relationship to suffering due to natural causes ceases to be a problem.
"I recognize there are limits placed upon God. However, these are limits He placed on Himself. "
If we are co-eternal with God then there are limits he didn't place upon himself.
I think this confuses the term ‘limits’ with that of ‘nature’. To define the nature of God is to acknowledge what God is not. I do not equate that with limits. I’m addressing limits as expressed in Michael’s Epicurean question. “Limit seems to me to imply an attribute which is not allowed to be expressed.” If God does not have those attributes as an aspect of his nature, the term limits is not relevant.
If other beings are co-eternal then the limits are not due to nature but something beyond this. This is a fairly discussed issue and is one reason why, philosophically, ex nihilo is often defended and why there can be (for such advocates) only a single divine being. Mormons are radical on this point and there are logically wide ranging implications of God not creating everything from nothing.
Let me explain it this way, God has matter and form. The implication from this is that God cannot be in more than one place at any one time. The Holy Ghost, on the other hand, can be in more than one place because He is a being of spirit. Is this a limitation. No. It is not part of the nature of God to be in more than one place at any one time. It is not part of what it means to be God. If He could but was restrained from doing so, that would be a limitation.
It seems to me that what it means to be God is to be one who can take intelligences (whatever they are) and create a way by which these intelligences can become Celestial beings. Thus terms like omniscient, omnipotent, etc., should be viewed in terms of this concept of what it means to be God. In essence, what I’m doing is to jettison the Greek idea of absolutes. Thus what many see as limitations are not limitations at all. They are part of what it means to be God.
The traditional view of God and limits is what is logically possible. Put in a fixed nature and by definition you've created limits. I suppose put an other way the issue is over the nature of God.