Sunday, July 3, 2016

How Does One Infer Ontology?

Debating the existence of god with theists almost always comes with one apparent caveat: The criteria that each of you use in inferring ontology is often different. Many theists and atheists simply use different methodologies when trying to make a case for the existence or non-existence of any particular deity, and they often disagree on what they consider "good evidence." This is why evidentialist apologists like William Lane Craig tend to be so popular. Evidentialism doesn't really assume any epistemological theories dramatically out of line with what most atheists already adhere to. In this sense, evidentialist apologists are trying to compete with the atheists on their own terms by not appealing to faith, revelation, or scriptural authority to make their arguments for god.[1] Almost all atheists are evidentialists in one way or another, whether or not they're familiar with the term. And while evidentialism may be defined as "a theory of justification according to which the justification of a conclusion depends solely on the evidence for it," what counts as evidence and how to properly infer it is still left open to debate. It is reasonable then, for both the atheist and the theist to explain their methodology for how they infer the ontology of their worldview.

Ontology is the branch of metaphysics dealing with existence. In its most simple definition, ontology is concerned with what there is, what exists, what is real, and what is actual, as opposed to what is merely conceptual or imaginary.[2] But what does it mean to exist? Don't I exist, and aren't I justified in believing that I do? If I didn't exist, then who or what would be having the thoughts that I'm having and the experience of writing this blog post right now? Conscious experience can't be an illusion, because the illusion of consciousness is consciousness. And my experience of the external world that I observe is justified by the fact that I experience it, as my experience itself cannot be an illusion.[3] But when dealing with the external world, one should be less confident of the certainty of its existence considering that we have evidence that the experiences derived from the senses are sourced from a feed of electro-chemical data going from our sense organs to our brain, and it is quite possible that this data can be compromised either in transit or when it's interpreted by the brain. We must always keep open the possibility, however remote, that the external world around us is not real, no matter how uncomfortable this notion may be. Most of us grant as our presuppositions that the external world we experience is for the most part real and that our senses are at least capable of discerning it. This is what philosophers call basic beliefs. These are the foundational assumptions that virtually all worldviews have to start with to even have a conversation about what exists apart from ourselves. Otherwise, one would have to adopt solipsism or radical skepticism, and both of these philosophies are non-starters for discerning what exists apart from ourselves. So without these presuppositions, it is very difficult to make any argument about what exists in the world based on evidence, as any attempt to do so will utterly depend on the presuppositions.

In terms of basic beliefs, I adhere to what I call epistemological economy. It is similar to the idea of ontological economy which the philosopher of religion Gregory W. Dawes describes is the view that "we should not posit new kinds of entities without sufficient reason," or more specifically, "we should not posit a hitherto unknown type of cause without sufficient reason."[4] In epistemological economy, we should strive for the fewest foundational assumptions possible and we should not posit new kinds of basic beliefs without sufficient reason. The reason why is because the more basic beliefs you assume, the closer you become to assuming your worldview as a presupposition. If, for example, you assume something like a special "sense" that can detect the existence of one particular god as a basic belief, like a sensus divinitatis, this will necessarily lead you to one particular god being true, and you could claim to be able to justify the ontology of this god on this basic belief alone. You will be on the path to assuming your conclusion from the start in a manner that either is, or comes dangerously close, to being unfalsifiable. This is little different from presuppostionalism. Assuming the fewest amount of basic beliefs prevents this.

With that out of the way, the question of how one infers ontology still remains. There is an array of possible tools we can use for how we decide we are going to best infer the existence of something. The possibilities include (but are not limited to) observation, empiricism, scientific theory and hypothesis, logic, subjective experience, testimony, and faith. How one infers ontology usually depends on the level of importance one places on the epistemologies above, and whether one omits some of them entirely.

Many of us today in our everyday lives think just like evidentialists. When we're confronted with issues like climate change, how to best grow the economy, what the most healthy lifestyle choices are, whether or not a particular drug is harmful, whether or not a rouge state is harboring nuclear weapons capabilities and so on, we want to see the evidence. Few of us are willing to take seriously a person who's arguing a particular view on these kinds of issues who doesn't present good evidence in their favor. Reason seems to demand evidence. If we're critical thinkers, we're not going to accept a particular view on something like climate change based on someone's testimony about how good it makes them feel. And yet, when it comes to religion, this is all too often the case. The critical thinker, regardless of whether they believe in god or not, demands more than mere emotion and subjective experience, and this is why evidence is so important. But that brings up an important question.

What is evidence?

Definitionally, evidence is the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid. The best kind of evidence is empirical, objective, logical, reproducible, and falsifiable. Modern science strives for evidence of this nature. This is why the discipline is so successful and so highly respected. When dealing with the ontology of a thing, scientific evidence is the most reliable. If, for example, we had actual scientific evidence of god, not an effect of god, but of god, that would be good evidence, and we'd all agree. To verify something's existence does not require the methodology of science. However, given our inherent cognitive biases, scientific methodologies add a protective measure against the mistakes that are often the result of these biases. We'll perhaps never achieve perfection, but that's no reason to think scientific methods are just as good as everything else, like faith and supposed revelation.

The whole quest to infer ontology presumes that there isn't any empirical evidence for the thing in question, otherwise we wouldn't have to infer it. That means we must logically infer the existence of the thing in question. With logic, we have induction, deduction, and abduction when it comes to inferring the existence of a thing based off of the available evidence. We employ all three in our everyday reasoning, and a toolbox approach perhaps might be best depending on the situation. Science employs induction, which works by taking generalizations and reasoning from them probabilistic conclusions. For example, we know that E=mc2 as it has been confirmed repeatedly by experiments. But tomorrow it is logically possible that E=mc2 could be falsified. There's no absolute proof Einstein's famous equation will always be true. But since every experiment that has ever happened affirms it, we have good reason to accept the regularity and constancy of E=mc2 inductively. 

Deductive logic works by reasoning from universals to a necessary conclusion and seems to give us the most reliable way of inferring ontology possible. In deduction, if the premises are true the conclusion necessarily follows. Its problem is that the premises that support the conclusion can be based on induction, and thus some deductive arguments can suffer from the same problems as induction. That means conclusions in deductive arguments are only as strong as the certainty of the truth of the premises. In such cases, all one needs to successfully demonstrate is that the premises are more likely true than not, and I would argue that this is best done with evidence is that is empirical, objective, logical, reproducible, and falsifiable. In order for the conclusion of a deductive argument to truly be inescapable, the premises must be logically true. Deductive arguments are very popular among apologists because they give the appearance of "proving" god's existence. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is a popular example. But its first premise that Everything that begins to exist has a cause is based on induction and contestable on numerous points that I won't go into here.

The process of abduction, or inference to the best explanation, would seem like a catch-all and is also used commonly when inferring ontology that is unobservable by many evidentialists, atheists and theists alike. Although it does have its problems, abductive reasoning is concerned with what's the best explanation for an observed fact. That explanation could be supported by an inductive argument and so it seems we can never completely avoid induction in all reasoning processes. Induction only gives you reasonable probability, not the certainty or near-certainty that deduction offers. When using abductive reasoning, I think it's best to use Bayes' theorem to assess the probability of a claim, and to generally prefer simplicity over complexity when considering explanations. 

Abductive reasoning is something we all do whether we're familiar with the term or not. Suppose you observe some kids out on the street throwing a baseball around from your kitchen window. Moments later a baseball comes shattering through the kitchen window and you look outside and notice the kids are gone, even though you heard them just a minute ago. Using abductive reasoning (observation of kids throwing a baseball around + baseball breaks window from the direction you saw the kids) the best explanation of who broke your window would be the kids you observed throwing the baseball around who most likely scattered once they saw what they did. Now it's possible that someone else threw a baseball into your window coincidentally at the same time the kids happened to tire and go somewhere else making it seem as if it was the kids who did it. That's always possible. But absent any additional evidence the best explanation is the kids who you observed throwing a baseball around moments prior to a baseball crashing into your kitchen window—even though you didn't observe them do it directly.

Now suppose you do get additional evidence. Suppose you dust the baseball for finger prints and track down the kids you saw and find the prints on the baseball don't match any of the kids. And suppose you take finger print samples from all of your neighbors and you find that the prints on the baseball do match your next door neighbor whose house is right across from your kitchen window. That would be good evidence against your initial abductive inference to the identity of the person who threw the baseball into your kitchen window. But absent this evidence, you were justified in inferring the kids as the most likely culprits. This highlights a potential complication with abductive reasoning, which is that it may be reasonable to accept a false explanation if one is unaware that it's false. In either case, empirical objective evidence should be the strongest sources of information in how you inferred who threw the baseball into your window (in this case the finger prints). This is also what science often uses. In science, observations are made, hypotheses are developed, and then they are tested against new data and other competing hypotheses. If what a hypothesis entails is falsified by new data, the hypothesis is either reformulated, or it's rejected and a new one is either formed or adopted. When a hypothesis best explains all known facts about a particular subject and has withstood many attempts at falsification, it becomes a scientific theory. So far, there is no theistic explanation that comes close to the explanatory power that a scientific theory has.

Scientists make ontological inferences all the time. To take a contemporary example, scientists infer the existence of dark matter to explain the gravitational force holding together galaxies and the gravitational lensing effects made in some observations, even though no empirical evidence exists for dark matter itself. At present, we have no idea what dark matter is. It is either some new kind of particle that interacts extremely weak, or something entirely different. Its existence is inferred because observations of galaxies do not account for the amount of matter necessary to keep their outer most stars rotating. That is to say, there simply aren't enough stars, planets and dust in galaxies to account for the matter necessary to produce the measured gravitational effects. In fact, only about 4.9% of the observable universe is made up of the physical matter that everything we can see is made of. So what justification do scientists have in inferring the existence of dark matter absent any direct observable data for it? Many scientists argue that the existence of dark matter is inferred due to its gravitational effects, which offer us the ability to calculate and measure it through the equations of General Relativity, and because there are similar elementary particles like the Higgs boson which had been hypothesized for 50 years as a result of theory and were only recently discovered as a result of extremely sophisticated high energy colliders that rely on technology we didn't have decades ago. Scientists are hopeful that the recently upgraded Large Hadron Collider will shed some light on the nature of dark matter, as well as particles predicted in supersymmetry. But we'll have to wait and see. Without the inference of dark matter, the behavior of galaxies becomes inexplicable with that we already know.

When I say that the best kind of evidence is empirical, objective, logical, reproducible, and falsifiable, I'm saying that this is an ideal standard that we should strive for. The closer to this standard that the evidence for an ontological claim is, the better that evidence is. But of course, we are not always going to have evidence that meets this standard. As I mentioned, right now we have no empirical evidence of dark matter directly, but we have a methodology of scientific theory based on inference from empirical evidence that has a long track record of success and that can make testable predictions — an area where theology is sorely lacking. I'm arguing, as an evidentialist, that methodologies for inferring ontology that oppose this standard and that emphasize alternative kinds of evidence, like a sensus divinitatis, or faith, are not reliable ways to infer ontology. [5] And in logic, there are many methods of inference, including deduction, induction, and abduction, all of which science utilizes. But logic alone, as useful a tool as it is, never could have enabled us to understand the behavior of particles in the quantum realm. Only empirical evidence filtered through science — which takes into account our innate cognitive biases — could have discovered such a world. That means that when dealing with fundamental ontology (the very foundation and nature of reality as we know it), logic without observation is not always a reliable tool for inferring ontology. This is one reason why so many arguments for god that rely on "common sense" logic derived from our experience with the macro world fail.


The epistemology for privileging scientific empiricism above all is sometimes known as scientism, which is often used in a pejorative sense in describing how many scientists and atheists think. But there are at least two forms of scientism: strong scientism and weak scientism. For example, if one claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality, then one subscribes to strong scientism. If one merely claims that science is the most reliable method to render truth about the world and reality, but one among many methods that can render truth, then one subscribes to weak scientism. I subscribe to weak scientism. That means I'm open to logical inference bereft of empirical data as a basis for inferring ontology. I'm also open to testimony as a basis for inferring ontology in at least some cases, and I wouldn't completely rule out subjective experience as a basis either, although any claims about the fundamental nature of reality would not be justified by testimony or subjective experience alone. This is because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If a claim is extraordinary its prior probability should be low.

Weak scientism is not science itself, it is philosophy derived from the success of science that shows science is a better and more reliable methodology for determining what's real. For example, for hundreds of years people thought consciousness played a causal factor that animated our brains and bodies. This was often coupled with a dualistic sense in a non-physical soul that acted like a "ghost in the machine," a view sometimes called dualistic interactonism. This view of the mind or soul's relationship with the body is empirically ruled out by neuroscience which shows that there is a one-way relationship between mind and brain, and that is always brain → mind. And quantum mechanics has ruled out any particles or forces that can interact with the atoms in your brain without violating the laws of physics — which having a soul would have to do. (See also my Argument from Core Theory for further justification). Philosophical rationalization about ontology without science to guide it often is wrong, and therefore untrustworthy. Hence weak scientism. This doesn't mean that things like philosophy, art, literature, and things like mathematics aren't important or have no value. They have tremendous value. It means that these fields are not reliable for inferring ontology without science as its primary guide. So weak scientism, as I've defined it, is a philosophy that states science is our most reliable guide for inferring ontology.


The more rare, unusual, or remarkable a claim is, the more evidence it requires. For example, if my friend told me that he met a new girl at work and that he's now dating her, I'm willing to believe this at face value on testimony. Men meeting women at work is very ordinary. These things happen all the time, and certainly nothing about this changes my view of the universe or challenges any of my extant knowledge of what's possible or what's likely. If my friend is a known liar, then I might have suspicion. If I have reason to doubt his claim, I have reason to require more evidence. I may need to see this girl and perhaps ask her how they met. And if he said he's dating a supermodel and I know he's not the type of guy to date such women, then I will definitely require more evidence than mere testimony. In other words, the more extraordinary the claim the more extraordinary the evidence is required to justify the claim.

Some people (mostly theists) try to deny this principle, but here's a little exercise one can use to test it. Suppose your friend is visiting you and he lives thousands of miles away. How would you react to each of the following claims he made to you?:

(a) your friend claimed that he flew on a jet airplane to visit you
(b) your friend claimed that he flew on a flying carpet to visit you

Would you accept each of these claims on testimony alone? If you're a rational person, you wouldn't accept claim (b) without any evidence because it's an extraordinary claim. In order for something to be ordinary it has to be common, routine, standard, or typical. That's the definition of ordinary. Flying carpets are anything but ordinary, as would be miracles and the existence of the supernatural. The Christian apologist Randal Rauser strongly disagrees. On his blog he's wrote:

Let’s say that N.T. Wright tells me “God raised Jesus from the dead.” Is it possible that this testimony might also be properly basic, and thus fully rational to accept? Of course it is.

Of course it is! Hey, my next door neighbor told me he knows President Obama is secretly planning on forcing us all into FEMA concentration camps. My Hindu coworker told me with plausible sincerity that Vishnu spoke to him in a vision and said that he's the supreme god of Vaishnavism. Is it possible that their testimony might also be properly basic and thus fully rational to accept? Why, of course it is! That's it. Testimony is all the evidence Randal needs to accept that a human being rose supernaturally from the dead (which of course contradicts everything we know to be physically possible. But hey, N.T. Wright said it happened.) If you don't see the problem with this let me provide you an example. Consider this:

Let’s say that Richard Carrier tells me “God didn't raise Jesus from the dead.” Is it possible that this testimony might also be properly basic, and thus fully rational to accept? Of course it is.

If one is true, then so is the other. And so it's possible the theist who holds to an epistemology that grants testimony alone as sufficient evidence to believe any claim could have their view completely undermined by the mere testimony of someone saying the opposite. Without any empirical, objective, logical, reproducible, or falsifiable evidence to refer to, testimony as a basic belief is a game of he-said he-said. This is a major reason why the evidentialist rejects mere testimony as sufficient evidence on claims that are extraordinary. Testimony alone is simply unreliable when dealing with claims that violate everything we have good evidence to be true, and when it comes to religion there are too many conflicting accounts of god, and what he did, and what his message is to take any claim without evidence seriously. We also know that people lie, confabulate, and hallucinate quite easily. Therefore, evidence that meets or at least aims for all or part of the criteria I mentioned above is required to be sufficient. Otherwise, I argue, it just isn't justified. Randal's view that testimony is only acceptable "absent defeaters" provides no coverage. The reasons I give above are defeaters to the justification of supernatural claims merely on testimony.

Subjective experiences

Subjective experience can usually at best give us insights into the human condition, not whether fundamental reality is filled with demons, ghosts, and gods. This is because part of the human experience is felt, and not observed. Any claim about whether god exists based solely on subjective experience is neither reliable nor justified. There exists too many contradictory claims about the supernatural and there are good scientific and psychological explanations why we have this tendency to sense the presence of others that aren't there [6] and to infer design and purpose in nature as the result of some deity. Here's a quote from a New York Times article by psychologists Paul Bloom and Konika Banerjee on why we tend to believe all things happen for a purpose:

This tendency to see meaning in life events seems to reflect a more general aspect of human nature: our powerful drive to reason in psychological terms, to make sense of events and situations by appealing to goals, desires and intentions. This drive serves us well when we think about the actions of other people, who actually possess these psychological states, because it helps us figure out why people behave as they do and to respond appropriately. But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.

The bottom line is that we simply cannot fully trust our subjective experiences and should air on the side of caution when proclaiming sweeping ontological statuses of the nature of god and the universe as the result of them. I myself have had subjective experiences in religious contexts that one could deem spiritual. But I'm not going to convert to Hinduism and believe in the ontological status of its many deities on the bases of a feeling.


That leaves us with faith as an epistemology. Faith is a dirty word among many atheists, and acts like the pejorative equivalent to theism what scientism is to atheism. If you define faith as I do as the belief in something absent any good evidence, then faith is one of the least reliable epistemologies around. Indeed, faith-based beliefs are often grounded in subjective experiences, superstitions, and cultural norms that often derive from the testimony of religious texts. Some theists consider this "good evidence." Fideism is the view that faith is superior to reason at arriving at truths and is held by some theists. If what I've argued above is true, then faith that relies upon these epistemologies renders faith as unreliable as the epistemologies it relies on. In contrast, others define faith as synonymous with trust. Faith to some means "trust in something you have good reason to believe is true," or "trusting something that you know or think you know to be true," as William Lane Craig puts it.[7] The problem with this is no matter how you define it, it ultimately comes down to what epistemologies are underpinning your trust, belief, or knowledge of whatever it is that faith is in. If this "good evidence" is a subjective experience or the testimony of a supernatural claim, then I'm arguing as per the reasons above that this is not a good reason to believe anything extraordinary. (That is, anything very rare, unusual, or remarkable, like a miracle.)

In Conclusion

One reason I suspect so many theists, even evidentialist theists, reject weak scientism, is because they know that there's simply no good empirical, objective, logical, reproducible, and falsifiable evidence that god or anything supernatural exists. Every god that is believed in seems to be playing a game of cosmic hide and seek, whereby this god apparently creates a universe that looks exactly as if it were natural, and makes itself completely invisible to all possible objective verifications (even though god could in principle easily make itself objectively known.) So theists have become adept at inferring god's existence using the supposed effects of their god in the same way scientists infer the existence of dark matter, or so it's claimed. This is why natural theology tends so popular with apologists. But even here, without testimony, subjective experiences, or faith, there exist arguments that try to infer god that are about as bad as the epistemologies above. For example, appealing to the social consequences of a belief says absolutely nothing about whether the ontological claims that belief has are true absent any independent evidence for them. If believing in the Mormon deity and religion makes a society more peaceful, charitable, and more content, that doesn't in any way indicate that Mormonism's ontological claims (like the existence of its god), are in any way real. And neither would it be for any other religion. This is, I hope, common sense for critical thinkers, but all too often it gets used by theists of all different religions to try to infer the existence of their personal god.

I don't think there's any comparison between the inference of dark matter that scientists make and the inference of god that theists make.

  • God is not calculable in anyway, nor is he understood as part of any well tested scientific hypothesis or theory, nor are theists able to make any good testable predictions about god and thus be open to verification and falsification.
  • The other particles in the Standard Model, such as the W and Z Bosons were predicted years before they were verified showing the success of good science to infer ontology. 
  • Theistic explanations also have no successful track records in their explanatory value, unlike naturalistic explanations, which always end up being the accepted explanation of something when the two are in conflict. Every single thing that god was used as an explanation for that was eventually explained turned out to have an explanation that was naturalistic. 
  • And using god as an explanation of something unknown has the tendency to discourage further scientific research, hindering intellectual progress.

This highlights a criticism of the very nature of theistic explanations. In his book Theism and Explanation, the philosopher of religion Gregory W. Dawes concludes that theistic explanations "are not consistent with the rest of our knowledge." (Ch. 8.1) It isn't necessarily the case that theistic explanations (which try to infer the existence of god) fail. God could in principle be an explanation of something, but as it turns out, given our universe and the history of proposed theistic explanations, god is barely a potential explanation for something in question. Dawes explains the distinction between potential and actual explanations.

A potential explanation is one which, if it were true, would make the fact to be explained (the explanandum) intelligible. It would make the explanandum what we would expect to observe, in these circumstances. An actual explanation, by way of contrast, has another feature, namely that it is true (or, at least, that we have sufficient reason to accept it []). (Ch. 2.1.2)

He goes on to write:

We are warranted in regarding a theistic hypothesis as a potential explanation of some state of affairs only if we cannot conceive of any better way in which the posited divine goal could have been attained. If we cannot make any of these judgements, as sceptics would argue, then there can be no theistic explanations. But even if we can, we can have only a modest degree of confidence in the outcome. We can never be confident that any particular theistic hypothesis has explanatory force. It follows that even a moderate degree of scepticism—such as that urged by many theists themselves—will undermine our confidence in a proposed theistic explanation. (Ch. 5.5) 

Futhermore, from a philosophical point of view, there are issues with the idea of theism as an explanation at all. For example, if god is a rational agent, then it must be the case that god never thinks, desires, or does anything irrational. And yet, as Dawes presses, "the theist must show that the world with all its suffering is precisely what we would expect an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being to create. He must show that this world is what we 'would, beforehand, expect from a very powerful, wise, and benevolent Deity.'"[8] This highlights the rationality principle that we can form some kind of idea how a supremely rational divine agent would be expected to act with a certain posited intention. But theism can never make detailed predictions like the kind we see in the sciences. This leads to two different kinds of objections to theistic explanations which infer the existence of god as an explanation. Dawes distinguishes between these two kinds of objections:

A de facto objection accepts that some accounts of divine action are potential explanations. If they were true, then the explanandum is what we would expect. But it argues that such proposed explanations have been superseded by secular alternatives, which we have more reason to accept. An in principle objection goes further. It argues that no account of divine action could have any explanatory force. Even if such an account were true, there is no conceivable state of affairs which it could be said to explain. (Ch. 5)

To infer ontology, I argue that the best way to do so is to use the criteria I've outlined above as an ideal. Not everything we accept as truth is going to be supported by this ideal. Many claims that are rather ordinary in nature can be accepted on little evidence, like testimony. When I say I'm an evidentialist, I mean that in relation to all the other standards I've outlined here so that it adds layers for when, and to what degree, evidence that meets or strives for the ideal should be met. As such, if a theist cannot make a reasonable inference to the existence of god without adhering to this criteria as close as possible, there is little reason to be confident that their case is sound and that their claim is right. What reason does an atheist have to accept a theist's claim that god exists because the Bible says so? Or that god exists because believing in god could make a society behave better? None. Those are horrible reasons to accept the existence of god. The best way to argue for god is through the methods evidentialist apologists try to maintain via natural theology. A perfect example of an argument that tries to infer the existence of god that meets this criteria is the fine-tuning argument. It tries to infer god based on actual empirical scientific evidence we all have access to. Those are the only kinds of theistic arguments even worth considering.

This is not supposed to be an all-encompassing description of how to infer ontology that covers every possible detail and caveat, but rather a summarized outline that is meant to begin a discussion on the topic. There is so much more I could mention here that I simply don't have the space for.

In summary

Here is an outline of my methodology for inferring ontology:
  • I adhere to epistemological economy where I grant the least amount of basic beliefs necessary.
  • My basic beliefs are:
    • I exist
    • An external world exists
    • My senses are at least sometimes capable of understanding this external world
    • Reason and logic are methods to rationally interpret the external world
  • I adhere to evidentialism whereby the justification of a conclusion depends solely on the evidence for it (aside from what one must grant as a basic belief).
  • Evidence is the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid. The best kind of evidence is empirical, objective, logical, reproducible, and falsifiable. Although this is ideal and what we should strive for, we may not always meet all of them.
  • For inferring the existence or truth of something we use a combination of induction, deduction, and abduction to interpret the best available evidence, preferably the kind that meets the standards above.
  • I adhere to weak scientism, whereby science is the most reliable method to render truth about the world and reality, but one among many methods that can render truth about the world and reality.
  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, which means:
    • The more rare, unusual, or remarkable a claim is, the more skeptical we should be and the more extraordinary the evidence we should require to justify it.
    • Subjective experience and testimony are not ruled out when inferring whether a belief or proposition is true or valid, but are not able to justify extraordinary claims by themselves
  • The sense of god and sense of purpose and design are best explained as psychological illusions such as the sensed-presence effect and the hyperactive agency detection device.
  • Faith as an epistemology, especially in the form of fideism, often relies on subjective experiences and testimony and is inadequate to justify extraordinary claims like the existence of god, demons, angels, or miracles.
  • I define faith as the belief in something absent any good evidence, where "good evidence" adheres to, or strives for, my criteria above. No matter how you define faith, it ultimately comes down to what epistemologies are underpinning your trust, belief, or knowledge of whatever it is that faith is in.

Notes and references

[1] This is something William Lane Craig, who is arguably the most well known evidentialist apologist, actually doesn't do, as he says first and foremost that evidence aside, he believes in Christianity on the basis of the "inner witness of the Holy Spirit." See also William Lane Craig On The Use Of Reason.

[2] Although there are views like conceptualism, which state that conception is an ontological state, it doesn't permit existence independent of minds or brains.

[3] That doesn't mean that the external world isn't an illusion, it just means that my experience of what seem to me like an external world isn't.

[4]  Theism and Explanation, by Gregory W. Dawes, 2009 Chapter 7.5

[5] Thus, if you want to get really philosophical, you can say I support a more restricted position on justification beyond evidentialism, and that is reliablism.

[6] Known as the sensed-presence effect.

And the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD):

[7] What is faith?

[8] Theism and Explanation, by Gregory W. Dawes, 2009 Chapter 5.4.4

Subquote: Hume, "Dialogues," xi (107; emphasis original).

*All quotes emphasis in original

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