Is Your Faith Defeasible?

This blogger has recently been involved with extensive blog comment conversation with two Fundamental Christians. As anyone who has expressed opinions contrary to what these folks believe knows, any discussion with people of this mindset can be frustrating. Why is that so?

There is a concept in legal and philosophical thought called defeasibity, which means that an idea can be overturned or nullified if countervailing evidence becomes known. The opposite of this is called incorrigibility, which is being unable to be corrected or reformed.

Matt McCormick has posted a detailed article on this vexing situation. All people who have a worldview different than a Fundamentalist of any sort needs to keep the concepts of defeasibility and incorrigibility in mind to know with what you are dealing.


  1. Interesting post Tom. I'm not trying to be a "troll" on your blog, but as one the "fundamentalist Christians" (even though you actually know very little about me or what I believe), I feel that it's OK to respond. No doubt there are Christians who are comfortable in blind faith and begging the question with regards to defending their beliefs. As a classical apologist myself, I feel it's better to start with the reality we all have in common and reason from there. Once again, I've not used the Bible in my conversations with you to this point because we're not there yet. I freely admit that I could be wrong. I'm not omniscient. But, I believe the evidence points to the fact that Christianity is objectively true. If I'm wrong, then I want to know. Even Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 15 (since the Bible keeps coming up).

    But again, what's good for the goose is good for the gander as you eluded to above. But you've admitted elsewhere that you're not going to change your mind. So who's being incorrigible? Perhaps I'm mistaken about you however, and I hope I am. So let me ask you, IF Christianity were shown to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, would you believe it? Would you want to know if you were wrong?

  2. Adam,

    I am certainly not incorrigible. I have clearly stated the I am not certain and that my worldview is provisional. I am only stating that I will not change my mind based on what you say. I have investigated the question of theism from ALL points of view and have considered all evidence. Now, I suspect that you may come back to me and challenge that there is some piece of evidence that I have overlooked. Before doing so, please take the time to read my posts thoroughly. Oh, and I do not consider logical syllogisms to be evidence. I have not seen one presented by a theist that was valid. Either the premise or one or more of the steps were false.

    Any evidence that would change my mind would have to be extraordinary and pass scientific muster. So, yes in principle, if Christianity were shown to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, I would be a believer. As a searcher of the truth in all matters, I certainly would want to know I was wrong. That's the nature of the scientific mind.

    You said above: "I believe the evidence points to the fact that Christianity is objectively true. If I'm wrong, then I want to know." Perhaps I was erroneously putting you in the same category as Dustin regarding the type of apologist you are. From his comments, I put him in the Presupposition camp. From your comments, I assumed the same for you. You stated that you were a "classical" apologist. Is that the same as an evidential apologist?

    Take a look on the right side of this blog and you will see a link entitled "Criteria for Discussion." I have fulfilled my goal of educating you to where I am coming from (level 3 in this link). Only if you are in the level 4 category will I go further with you or anyone else.


  3. Thanks for the clarification Tom. A few things to note. First, I thought I'd been trying to dialog with you on the "level 4 category" by giving counter arguments, etc. and not taking your comments as personal affronts. If you want to dialog, I'm open. If not, I certainly can't "argue you into the kingdom" so to speak. Secondly, I have no idea whether you've investigated theism from "ALL" points of view or not. I'll explore your blog, but certainly don't have the time to read every post in order to have complete knowledge of what you do/don't know or what you have/haven't examined. Thirdly, and quite importantly, you said any evidence that would change your mind would have to be "extraordinary." What do you mean by "extraordinary" here?

    Finally, here's a VERY brief explanation of classical apologetics:

    It's similar to evidential apologetics, except the classical approach seeks to establish the existence of the theistic God first. Thanks Tom.

  4. Adam,

    Thanks for the Classical apologetics link. That clarified your basis foundation nicely. It looks to me that you want to establish FIRST that there is a god, then move into other areas. Sounds reasonable to me. As you know, this is not CLOSE to the Presupposition stance.

    Now, knowing that and realizing that is is not reasonable of me to expect you to "read my blog," I recommend you click on the "Apologetics" link and read everything there at least in a cursory fashion, then focus on the "Arguments from --- ." get back to me after such and we can take it from there.


  5. Adam,

    Regarding "extraordinary", I mean evidence that is clearly beyond possible explanations from known science.

  6. Thanks Tom. I will peruse that section of your blog and I look forward to our dialog. In the meantime, you defined "extraordinary" as "evidence that is clearly beyond possible explanations from known science." Does this mean when I present evidence that cannot be scientifically explained you won't then respond with "science will explain it one day"? I've heard the "science of the gaps" argument as many times as I've heard the "god of the gaps" argument. I like science mind you, and not opposed to scientific investigation at all. Thanks again.

  7. Adam,

    What I mean by extraordinary evidence is that which is not explainable by natural activity studied by science. Probability enters the equation also -- if science cannot explain it, is it more probable that a deity can?

    Can this be construed as a "science of the gaps?" When there is a gap in knowledge, a skeptic says "I don't know", whereas, a theist may say "God did it." The theist may be correct, but how would you know?

    As I'm sure you have heard from other skeptics, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Theists have the obligation to show something is more probable through the actions of a deity. You and I both accept the reality of the natural world. From a skeptical/evidence-based view, the totality of the natural world fits more into a non-theist reality.

    Hope that clarifies it.

  8. Thanks Tom. One more clarifying question if you don't mind. Do you think science (i.e. empirical evidence) is the only means of knowing truth?

  9. Adam,

    Great question. Short and complete answer --- yes. Is there another way of knowing the truth? Perhaps. Humankind has not found an alternative at this point in our existence. You have hit on the difference between a skeptic and a theist. As our discussion proceeds, I'm sure I will have opportunity to expand on this thought.

    May I ask you a question or two?

    1) What is your opinion of the role of science in understanding knowledge?
    2) Are you an inerrantist/literalist regarding the Bible?

    I am sorry that I mistook you for an Presupposition apologist. Please accept my apology. I just assumed such from your comments. Just shows you how the human mind can deceived us. A point I hope to expand on as our discussion proceeds.

    If you would prefer to carry this discussion more privately, perhaps we can continue through email. Just let me know. If this public forum is suitable to you, then we can just continue to expand the comments. Your choice.


  10. Thanks Tom. No need to apologize, but apology accepted nonetheless. Thanks also for the answer to my question. I think this may be a sticking point and prevent much of a conversation beyond this point if we can't get past it. Allow me to explain. As someone who values reason and clear thinking, I do hope you'll hear me out. The claim that science is the only means of knowing truth is self-defeating. The statement itself cannot be proven scientifically. Moreover, the scientific method itself cannot be proven via the scientific method. Furthermore, science presupposes the laws of logic, the laws of mathematics, the fact that a real world exists and that real minds perceive it, the usual uniformity of the laws of nature, etc.

    So before science became so pigeon-holed, it was known as philosophy. And philosophy, in addition to physical science, can tell us a great deal about reality.

    To answer your questions:
    1) Science is very valuable as long as it's used as it's intended, to study the physical world. It can't, in principle, prove or disprove God or anything immaterial. But it can point to the need for such things I think. I like this definition of science, "Science the attempted objective study of the natural world/natural phenomena whose theories and explanations do not normally depart from the natural realm."

    2) Yes, and yes. But in regards to being a "literalist," I think the Bible should be read as literature. In other words, there are histories, poetry, metaphors, sarcasm, etc., etc. But please keep in mind we're no where near discussing the Bible at this point.

    As far as taking this to email or whatever, I'm fine either way. Whatever is easier and more convenient for you. Thanks Tom!

  11. Adam,

    Thanks for your courteous response. Lets just keep posting here.

    I certainly understand we are far from talking about the Bible, I just was curious at this point regarding your views on the Bible. I will not address the Bible at this time.

    Actually, I do not find anything significant to disagree with regarding your comments on science as a response to 1) above. However, your first comments about "science being the only way of knowing is self-defeating" and "can't be proven scientifically", etc. are unclear to me. Yes, science evolved out of philosophy (prior to that, it was called natural philosophy) and was only given the name "science" about 150 years ago. The so-called "Scientific Method" (I don't really like the term, as there are more than one method) has worked very nicely in expanding our knowledge. Again, what other way of knowing is there that can be verified by others? (not a rhetorical question) Revelation and personal experience cannot hold up to the scrutiny of science in support of a diety. It is the only tool we have to minimize individual bias and imperfections, as well as minimize the effects of humanity's overactive agency and pattern detection. Yes, it is not perfect, but you can trace an expansion of our knowledge through it, and at the same time a decrease in the need to posit a deity for phenomenon.

    If we go through this process, I will give you details to support my comments above. I have been frank and firm on my commitment to science as being the best way of understanding reality. You can state your objections but they will not change my stance on science. In your mind, I may have "invincible ignorance", as we used to say when I was a Catholic. Perhaps, indeed, this stance will bring an end to our conversation.

    Why don't we do this: Send me your BEST argument/evidence for a diety and I will respond. If we are still at loggerheads, then we can just agree to disagree. If there is any change in either one of us, then we can continue. What do you think? I don't want to waste my or your time but I think this suggestion is worthwhile.


  12. Thanks Tom. If it's OK with you, because I think this is an extremely important point, I'd like to stick to the science thing for a bit before offering my "BEST" argument/evidence. Because, as you'll hopefully see, you're stacking the deck from the get go and any evidence I provide will not meet your standards because of your self-defeating view of science. Also, I want to again reiterate that I value science and I think it's a wonderful tool when used as it's intended.

    By way of recap, to say that "science is the only means of determining truth" is self-defeating because that is a philosophical claim, not a scientific one. If it's self-defeating, it is by necessity false. Science is very useful and I would sum it up as being a search for causes. Those causes could be intelligent or non-intelligent. As I said, in principle, science cannot prove or disprove God. We simply examine the evidence, and we should be able to follow that evidence where it leads. To say that science is the only means of determining truth is to rule out anything non-physical from the get go since science, by definition, only deals with the physical world. That of course begs the question. I like this quote from philosopher Greg Koukl, "The object and domain of science should be the physical world, but it’s goal should be truth, not merely physical explanations. Though science is restricted to examining physical effects, when causes are inferred, there should be no such limitation."

    I actually agree with you in regards to personal experience. That may be good evidence for an individual that something is true (which is debatable), but it's not very good evidence for someone else to believe it. In regards to revelation, however, I disagree. If it can be shown that the source of revelation is a trustworthy authority, then that revelation can be trusted. I actually think you agree with this in principle because I highly doubt you have personally conducted every experiment and examined every piece of evidence with your own eyes in regards to the science you endorse. Rather, you probably take it on what you consider to be a trustworthy authority.

    Moreover, even if you had conducted the experiments, you're still forced to use philosophy. Science may be the "process" so to speak, but your philosophical commitments dictate how to conduct the "process" and how to interpret the data. This I think is one of the key points. Science doesn't say anything, scientists do, which is why philosophy and so important. And again, that's not even to mention all that science presupposes as true before the "process" can even take place (logic, math, ethics, etc.).

    I hope that makes sense and clarifies what I'm saying. Thoughts?

  13. Adam,

    I'm still lost when you say the statement about science being the only way of knowing is "self-defeating." We know through science. Other ways of "knowing", such as Revelation and personal experience are flawed and cannot be independently verified by others.

    Yes, science only deals with the physical world, the only one exposed to our 5 senses. It operates under the principle methodological naturalism and assumes a regularity (no active supernatural intervention) for it to work. And it does work. If anything can effect us, then it has to operate within the physical world and can be observed. If there is a supernatural world and it does not effect us, why consider it?

    Science is not in the business of proving anything. It can only falsify an hypothesis and make probability statements. Its findings are always provisional and able to be superseded with better evidence.

    Science is more that "the search for causes". Yes, it does follow a causation trail within the natural world as part of observing and testing for the best understanding of reality. However, as you well know, science has only been able to trace the causation trail back to a certain point (which has been pushed back dramatically with recent findings in physics and astronomy.) You and I obviously have different opinions regarding what is beyond the known causation trail. I say we don't know, you posit a supreme uncaused being. How does your claim add to our knowledge? In addition, the history of the cosmos has been from the simple to the complex. I say it is more reasonable to speculate that "beyond" that causation trail is more simplicity. Can I support it with evidence? No. Can you support a deity hypothesis? No. You will deny it, but your causation hypothesis is an argument from ignorance ("god of the gaps").

    I do agree with your statement concerning authority. We do have to rely on the consensus opinion of true experts in whatever field is under discussion. However, I do have some reservations over your statement of "If it can be shown that the source of revelation is a trustworthy authority, then that revelation can be trusted". I expect you will not agree with what I am about to say but my investigation supports it. "Biblical studies" have not operated under the same principles of historical methodology as other historical fields and have been dominated by folks with a vested interest in the outcome. I have posted several times on this situation.

    Adam, I am a "nuts and bolts" guy. Your language about philosophy does not change the facts of what I have presented about science. If you think differently, then it's just another point of disagreement.

    Now, please give it your best shot. Based on what I have said already, I would not recommend the Argument from First Cause.


  14. Thanks Tom, and I appreciate the fact that you're a "nuts and bolts guy." But your blog is entitled "Reason Foremost," and I think it's very important that our discussion be a reasonable one and not one that begins by begging the question or holding to a necessarily false presupposition. So please forgive me, but I must belabor this point a bit more. I will try to be as clear as I possibly can.

    You said that you think science (i.e. empirical proof) is the only means of knowing truth. Can you prove that statement scientifically? How much does it weigh? What does it smell like? Etc., etc. Moreover, you would have to presuppose the validity of science in order to attempt to prove it scientifically which is circular reasoning. Again, such a claim is a philosophical statement about epistemology, it is not a scientific statement. As such, if it is true, then you've just discovered a truth without using science, so it's necessarily false. If the statement is not true, then there are other means of knowing truth, so it's again necessarily false. Either way, the statement "science is the only means of knowing truth" is necessarily false. Now it doesn't seem very reasonable to hold to a necessarily false view. Please know, I'm not trying to be difficult. I'm simply trying to be logical.

    Furthermore, as I've stated previously, science presupposes the truths of logic, mathematics, ethics, the fact our senses can be trusted, etc. There are numerous things, perhaps even the most important things in life, that are not known scientifically. Do you love your wife and family? Do you think I should discuss this matter with you with respect? Can you show me a test tube full of love and give me the molecular structure of respect? How about the very idea that science is the only means of truth? I mentioned this earlier. What's the chemical composition of that idea? How much does it weigh? These things simply aren't things science can tell us about.

    You said something else that caught my eye which I think would be appropriate to address right now. You said, "We know through science. Other ways of "knowing", such as Revelation and personal experience are flawed and cannot be independently verified by others." This brings up a few points. It doesn't necessarily follow that because revelations or personal experience can be flawed that they must always be flawed. Similarly, the only way I know that you love your wife, or anything about how you feel, is if you tell me. That's revelation. It can't be known scientifically. But based on what you've said I should never believe that you love your wife even if you do. Furthermore, if certain things are necessarily false because they are flawed, this rules science out as well because, as you admit, it constantly changes and some conclusions are found to be flawed and later changed. Once again, this notion is self-defeating.

    One last note regarding what I meant about showing that a source of revelation is a trustworthy authority. I was referring to God as the source of the Bible, not about biblical studies in general. If God is shown to be a trustworthy authority, then it's reasonable to trust his revelation. Thanks Tom!

  15. Adam,

    Okay, we are just going round and round here. I have told you where I am coming from. I will only respond to two questions:

    1) Beside science, what can give us knowledge that can be verified by others?

    2) What is your best evidence for a god?

  16. Hey Tom,
    My apologies for my slow response. I was on baby duty all day yesterday. This is an interesting response from you because now you've implied yet another standard for truth. You've essentially said, "The only meaningful truth claims are those that can be verified by others." This is interesting, and problematic, on a number of levels.

    First, this is yet another philosophical claim and not a scientific one. So you've contradicted your original self-defeating standard of truth again.

    Secondly, why should I accept this arbitrary standard for truth claims without any argument from you? I know how I feel, what I think, etc. without having to verify that with others. I can't verify what you think or how you feel with others either. You have to tell me. Do you love your family? If you say yes, must that be verified by others in order to be true? We know plenty of other things that don't need to be verified by others as well. I don't need to verify with others that 2+2=4 or that opposite ideas cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. I also don't need to verify with others that torturing babies for fun is objectively wrong.

    Moreover, I think you're actually ruling out a lot of science with this view. We can't verify with others that the big bang occurred or that life somehow arose from non-life. We can all examine the evidence together and draw conclusions, but we can't verify what actually happened because no one was there. The same holds true for anything historical. I can't verify with others (nor I can repeat in a lab) that George Washington was our first president, but I have every reason to believe it's true.

    Finally, does the truth claim "The only meaningful truth claims are those that can be verified by others" need to be verified by others or is it just true? It seems to be self-defeating again. To reiterate, I value science a great deal. But when we over-emphasise it we end up in a self-defeating, and hence necessarily false, way of thinking.

    The last portion of your blog post says, "In all fairness, we must demand the same from skeptics, doubters, and atheists. They are just as guilty of conflict if they rail against religious beliefs for lacking rational justification, but in turn there are no possible considerations that could ever lead them to relinquish their doubts. So before we can get down to the real issues, is your view defeasible?"

    I've shown, hopefully in a respectful manner, how your current stance on what counts as meaningful truth is illogical and self-defeating and hence, necessarily false on multiple levels. Again, as someone who values reason, as I do as well, are you willing to have a logical dialog or is your view indefeasible? Thanks Tom.

  17. Adam,

    Again, we are getting nowhere on my first question concerning the source of knowledge. I will consider your latest response as a non-response because you did not give me an alternative to science, only criticisms of it. Thus, I have to assume, after this length of time, that you have no alternative to science for knowledge that can be verified by others. By the way, what I mean by "verified by others" seems to misunderstood by you. All I am talking about is evidence noted by more that one person (i.e. observations and experiment results reported by an individual or a group that has been peer-reviewed.

    I will not respond again to anything you say regarding science and knowledge unless it is a presentation of an alternative to such. Philosophical jargon will not be considered by me as a valid response to this question. If you can't accept this, then lets just agree to disagree to avoid further frustration on both sides. By the way, since you are throwing philosophical arguments at me, understand that I was aware of them prior to our discussion and consider them to be invalid, as does the author of this critique:

    Now, you may present your best argument for the existence of a deity.

  18. Tom, you're simply being irrational, and I mean no disrespect by that. I gave a whole list of things we know without relying on science, and most of which can't be known by science (in the way you mean it). I don't think I misunderstood your view of verifiability. I think my critique still stands. You can call this "philosophical jargon" all you want, but it's simply logic. Again, you're the one posting such ideas on a blog entitled "Reason Foremost." Reason hinges on logic, and I've shown your epistemology to be irrational. Science is certainly valuable in gaining understanding of our reality, but it hinges on philosophy. So philosophy, in addition to science, self-reflection/intuition, and revelation are all ways of gaining knowledge. And of course we test all those ways of knowing to make sure, one, that they're not illogical, and two, that they're supported by good evidence.

    I'm very interested in checking out the link you posted. I appreciate that. But as it stands now, your criteria for evaluating any evidence/argument I present is irrational and question begging. Hence, any further dialog is futile. If you're comfortable with holding to a necessarily false view of knowledge, then I can't do anything about that. But please keep in mind the blog post above that started this conversation. You seem to be doing the very thing you chide in others. Please let me know if you change your mind, and I thank you for your time.

  19. Adam,

    I'll simply take it you have no alternative to science for obtaining knowledge that is verifiable by others, and that you do not wish to present to me an argument for the existence of a diety.

    I wish you well. This is my last communication with you.



  20. Wow Tom, if you got that from my all my posts then I'm very sorry. I must be a very poor communicator. If you wish to hold to irrational and indefeasible views and not proceed in a logical dialog that's your choice my friend...